The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Columns Thu, 26 May 2016 17:06:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Maine Voices: It’s not too late for Rep. Poliquin to stop being a bystander and back gay rights Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was one of seven House members to switch their vote at the last minute to save an amendment legalizing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers by government contractors. By caving in to the pressure from his Republican peers, Poliquin has let down all of the LGBT Mainers from his district once again.

Poliquin made it clear that he did not care about the equality of his gay constituents as soon as he was elected. He picked Matt Hutson, a former official with an anti-gay rights group, as his chief of staff. As campaign director of Protect Marriage Maine, Hutson was tasked with exploiting the prejudices of voters in an effort to deny gay Mainers the right to marry.

Hutson’s appointment was a particularly egregious affront to gay Mainers because Poliquin holds the office previously held by Maine’s first openly gay congressman, Mike Michaud. Michaud was widely praised throughout Maine for his brave decision to come out of the closet. By contrast, LGBT Mainers in the 2nd District now have to live with the knowledge that the most senior staff person on the team representing them in Washington considers them to be second-class citizens.

Poliquin is in an awkward position politically and personally when it comes to LGBT rights. I know the Poliquin family and have personally met the congressman. People he’s close to have come out of the closet to him, and he’s been supportive of them.

At the same time, he is a vulnerable candidate in one of the most tightly contested campaigns in the nation this election cycle. Many of the rural Republicans whom Poliquin will rely on this November are likely wary of LGBT rights. Indeed, when Maine voted to legalize gay marriage in 2012, a majority of voters from Poliquin’s district opposed the law. If Poliquin has long-term political ambitions, as his compliance to Republican pressure last week suggests, he also may also not want to alienate his Republican peers by abandoning the Republican platform.

Poliquin has taken the politically savvy position of avoiding the issue of gay rights as much as possible. He has conveyed soft opposition to gay rights when pressed. His position is at times absurdly discordant: He supports legislation plainly legalizing discrimination against gay people, but claims that he “abhors discrimination in any form and at any place.”

Poliquin would say that criminalizing anti-gay discrimination would deprive people of their religious freedom. This is the same tired argument used by politicians from earlier decades to justify discrimination against black people or interracial couples. Religious belief is simply not an excuse for legal discrimination.

Unfortunately for Poliquin, politicians who stand against equal rights are not remembered kindly. The good news for him is that it is not too late for him to stop being a bystander and to embrace gay rights.

House Democrats have announced plans to propose another anti-discrimination amendment this week, which Poliquin could support. I suspect, from his initial opposition to the anti-gay amendment last week and from his acceptance of gay people he knows, that Poliquin is privately sympathetic to LGBT people.

As a conservative member of Congress, Poliquin holds special power. LGBT support from brave House Republicans is the catalyst required to upend the status quo and eventually usher in a Republican Party willing to back anti-discrimination legislation. Every prominent Republican who embraces gay rights moves equality away from the realm of partisan issues and closer to that of consensus causes.

Poliquin also has a personal responsibility to demonstrate his support for LGBT people, leading as an example for other resistant conservative Mainers to accept those they know who are gay. As such, LGBT people and allies in Poliquin’s orbit must make it clear to Poliquin that his anti-gay stances are unacceptable.

Emily Cain, Poliquin’s opponent in November, should make LGBT rights a nationally targeted campaign theme to command financial and corporate support.

To make amends to the LGBT community, Poliquin must immediately fire Hutson as his chief of staff. He also needs to co-sponsor and vocally support the Equality Act, a bill before Congress that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in places of public accommodation. The Equality Act is stalled in Congress because it has almost no Republican co-sponsors.

As Poliquin and his peers ensured a victory for prejudice last week, House Democrats in the chamber chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Rep. Poliquin must have been feeling that shame most of all.

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Commentary: Obama administration’s commitment to transparency turned to stonewalling pretty quickly Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Some things just aren’t cool. One of those, according to our no-drama president, is ignorance.

“It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about,” President Obama said during his recent Rutgers University commencement address. It was a swipe clearly intended for he-who-didn’t-need-to-be-named: Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president.

OK, no argument there.

But the Obama administration itself has been part of a different know-nothing problem. It’s kept the news media – and, therefore, the public – in the dark far too much over the past 7½ years.

After early promises to be the most transparent administration in history, this has been one of the most secretive. And in certain ways, one of the most elusive. It’s also been one of the most punitive toward whistleblowers and leakers who want to bring light to wrongdoing they have observed from inside powerful institutions.

That’s why I’m skeptical that Americans will soon know what they need to know about drone strikes – the targeted killings that have become a major part of the administration’s antiterrorism effort in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

How many of the dead were terrorists or militants? How many were civilians, killed as collateral damage? The administration’s accounting – promised three years ago – will arrive when it hardly matters anymore for holding this administration accountable. But it’s also going to be incomplete, omitting what’s happened in Pakistan, where hundreds of strikes have taken place.

Jennifer Gibson, an attorney for the international human rights organization known as Reprieve, made this pointed statement: “Excluding the vast majority of drone strikes from this assessment means that it will hardly be worth the paper it is printed on.” Reprieve and another British organization, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, have long challenged the administration’s accounting of drone deaths, using their own research to insist that there are far more fatalities, and a higher percentage of civilian deaths, than the government admits.

Meanwhile, Obama’s on-the-record interviews with hard-news, government reporters have been relatively rare – and often limited to a single subject, such as the economy.

Remarkably, Washington Post news reporters haven’t been able to interview the president since late 2009 – about 6½ years. Think about that. The Post is, after all, perhaps the leading news outlet on national government and politics, with no in-depth, on-the-record access to the president of the United States for almost all of his two terms.

I couldn’t get anyone in the White House press office to address this, despite repeated attempts by phone and email – which possibly proves my point.

But a thorough study by Martha Joynt Kumar, a retired Towson University professor, describes the administration’s press strategy. The president does plenty of interviews, she writes – far more than any other president in recent history. But these interviews are tightly controlled, targeted toward specific topics and, it seems to me, often granted to soft questioners. (All of this is a major shift from a time when press conferences and short question-and-answer sessions allowed reporters to pursue news topics aggressively and in real time.)

More interviews; less accountability. Feet kept from the fire.

Meanwhile, on press rights generally, the Obama administration hasn’t walked its talk. It has set new records for stonewalling or rejecting Freedom of Information requests. And it has used an obscure federal act to prosecute leakers. It continued the punishing treatment of a National Security Agency whistleblower, Thomas Drake (dismaying new details have emerged recently in book excerpts by John Crane, a former Pentagon investigator), and threatened to send New York Times investigative reporter James Risen to jail for his good-faith insistence on protecting his confidential source.

Promising transparency and criticizing ignorance, but delivering secrecy and opacity? That doesn’t serve the public or the democracy. And that’s deeply uncool.

— The Washington Post News Service

with Bloomberg News

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Dana Milbank: Unable to pin scandal on Obama, Republicans go fishing for one Thu, 26 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Everything Rep. Darrell Issa knows about impeachment, he learned from Wikipedia.

At Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing to consider the impeachment of Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen, Issa, the California Republican and dogged investigator of the Obama administration, confessed that he was relying on an open-source website.

“You and I are not lawyers,” Issa told Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who was presenting the panel with the legal case for impeaching Koskinen, “so we’ll tax each other a little bit on a constitutional question. According to Wikipedia, at least, the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors constitutionally says it covers allegations of misconduct … ”

Issa then questioned Chaffetz about each of the examples cited by Wikipedia contributors.

This was a fitting close to the congressional investigations of the Obama years. Again and again, Republicans in Congress have dug into President Obama’s White House, and each time they have failed to unearth high-level scandal.

Now House Republicans are taking up the low-probability impeachment of the IRS commissioner – even though Koskinen wasn’t even working at the IRS until well after the behavior in question, the targeting of conservative political groups, had allegedly occurred.

Only three executive-branch officials have been impeached by the House in all of U.S. history, as my colleague Lisa Rein has noted: presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and a secretary of war (in 1876). The case against Koskinen is weak: The Justice Department declined to launch a prosecution, saying its investigation found no evidence that IRS officials acted on political motives. Both Justice and an inspector general first appointed by President George W. Bush cast doubt on lawmakers’ allegations that there was a conspiracy to destroy evidence or hide it from investigators.

And so Obama’s congressional accusers defined impeachment down.

“I don’t believe you have to prove intent,” Chaffetz alleged Tuesday.

“False testimony or dereliction of duty is still impeachable whether or not the Justice Department determines it as a crime,” Issa intoned.

“The notion that you can only impeach someone that commits an actual violation of the criminal code is nonsense,” asserted Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

The Obama-hunters have been thwarted by a relatively scandal-free administration. Second-term scandals are the norm: Richard Nixon had Watergate, Ronald Reagan had Iran-contra, Bill Clinton had Monica Lewinsky, and George W. Bush had the Valerie Plame affair, which led to the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. But Obama?

“The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free,” David Brooks, a conservative New York Times columnist, wrote in February. Conservative critics of the administration protested that assessment by listing a variety of controversies: a gun-running sting gone bad, mistreated veterans, the botched rollout of, the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange, stimulus funds wasted, Edward Snowden’s leaks, Secret Service debauchery, the harassment of whistleblowers and journalists, the IRS targeting, Hillary Clinton’s email server and Benghazi.

There have, no doubt, been screw-ups: failures of policy, misbehavior and poor management. But Obama’s accusers have yet to document high-level malfeasance or corruption, and in the case of Benghazi, even some investigations led by Republicans have discredited the allegation.

Support for the impeachment inquisitors Tuesday was iffy: Half the seats in the room were empty when they began, and two hours later, 25 percent were filled. Koskinen blew off the panel. Republican leaders, who stalled the hearing for months, didn’t allow “impeachment” to be used in the title.

Chaffetz made the case for impeachment with a 10-minute video – part documentary, part attack ad – narrated by one of his staffers: “This was orchestrated. It was planned. … Possibility of criminal activity.”

Chaffetz rationalized his use of the nuclear option of impeachment this way: “Rather than Congress continuing to whine and complain about … the executive branch, the founders gave us tools.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, asked if this tool might connect the scandal to the White House.

Chaffetz acknowledged that “I’ve seen no evidence of that.”

But who cares about evidence? By the impeachment standard House Republicans set, the punishment needn’t fit the crime – or any crime.

“There are lots of ways to screw up in your job that don’t rise to the level of meeting the U.S. criminal code,” Gowdy argued. “The failure to perform the duties of your office could be an impeachable offense.”

If so, half the members of Congress would be out of work.

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

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Greg Kesich: Here on Earth, Maine suffers with LePage in a world of his own Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 How would you like to live in Paul LePage’s world?

You would live in a country in which the president hated white people – 72 percent of the population. Hated ’em.

The same president would oversee a tax collection agency that would be about as bad as Hitler’s Gestapo, killing people by rationing their health care.

And it’s not like things would be better at home.

The whole southern half of your very own state would be corrupt. The rich would be stealing from the poor with nice-sounding programs like “land conservation” and “senior housing.”

The poor would be stealing from the middle class by using welfare benefits to buy tattoos and lottery tickets. Immigrants would be lying their way across the border, so they could get welfare and spread disease.

And to top it off, children would be overdosing on opiates right in the schools, and the school nurses would do nothing but restart their hearts with a little Narcan and send them back to class. Then the school officials would cover it all up, hiding the truth as they step over the bodies.

What a nightmare!

Thankfully, we don’t live in that world, because it only exists in one guy’s head. Unfortunately he’s a very powerful guy.

By now, everyone should have heard the Deering High School anecdote that was part of the governor’s set remarks on his recent road show in Lewiston.

Explaining why he vetoed a bill to make the overdose antidote Narcan available without a prescription, LePage told a tale about a Deering High School junior who was revived from overdose three times in a single week.

“And the third one, he got up and went to class,” LePage said.”He didn’t go to the hospital. He didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it he just came out of it and went to class.”

While we can all admire the young man’s commitment to his education, we should not overlook a significant problem with the governor’s story. It never happened.

It’s not that LePage made a mistake on an unimportant detail. It’s not that the kid was a sophomore, not a junior, or that it was Portland High School, not Deering.

It’s just that the incident that the governor described never actually happened in a way that other humans would consider to be an actual thing.

At least not according to Portland’s acting superintendent of schools, or the principal of Deering High School, or Portland’s chief of police, or the school resource officer, who LePage says told him the story. They all say that the governor misunderstood something said by Officer Steven Black, who works at Deering during the school year and on patrol during vacations.

The person that Black said had been revived and walked away without any treatment was in Deering Oaks Park, not Deering High School. OK, so the governor made a mistake.

No. Not in his world. Where he lives, he’s right and all those other people are a bunch of liars. These overdoses happened, he said, and the problem is much bigger than what he claims occurred at Deering (but didn’t).

He said he knows about cases in two other schools, apparently including a middle school because one of the overdose victims he cited was an eighth grader. There are probably even more, he said.

“I’m thinking of calling (U.S.) Attorney General (Loretta) Lynch and asking for her investigative arm to come up and look at the school systems in Maine,” LePage said on the MPBN show “Maine Calling” on Monday. “I think it’s serious enough. I believe it happened.”

(Note to Attorney General Lynch: Please understand the local terminology. In Paul LePage’s world, “I believe it happened” is considered to be enough evidence for a conviction. In the places you’re used to, a little more might be required.)

It’s not like our world is perfect. People here are overdosing on opioids at an alarming rate. School-age kids are abusing dangerous drugs (mostly alcohol), sometimes with tragic results. Some people who get what should be the ultimate wake-up call – being revived after what would have been a fatal overdose – go back to using rather than seeking treatment.

Those things really do happen. They just didn’t happen all at once to the same person at Deering High School, except in Paul LePage’s world, a dark and dangerous place.

It’s a good thing we don’t live in it. It’s bad enough that he has to be such a big shot in ours.


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Leonard Pitts: By sustaining futile campaign, Sanders looms as Trump’s useful idiot Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “You can’t always get what you want.”

— The Rolling Stones

A few words in defense of pragmatism.

That ideal has taken quite a beating lately, mostly at the hands of Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The Vermont senator faces a virtually impossible deficit in his battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Pragmatism would seem to suggest it’s time for him to pack it in.

But pragmatism don’t know Bernie. Or Bernie Nation.

If this weren’t clear before, it has been made abundantly so in the last two weeks, beginning with Sanders supporters in Las Vegas tearing open the Nevada Democratic convention in a protest so angrily chaotic it was shut down by security, fearing violence. But Sanders supporters weren’t done yet; they also sent death threats to party officials.

The proximate cause of this Trumpish behavior was a dispute over rules, a claim that, as Sanders’ campaign manager put it, the convention had been “hijacked” to award more delegates to Hillary Clinton. Politico rated that false.

Not that this has made much difference to Sanders, now locked in a battle with the party he ostensibly seeks to lead. His denunciation of the convention chaos was as tepid and belated as Donald Trump at his worst. He has blasted the party for being, as he sees it, in the pocket of the rich, and specifically denounced Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In a Monday interview, Sanders told the Associated Press that this summer’s convention could be “messy,” though he later insisted that was not a tacit suggestion of violence.

Given the intensity of the emotions at play and the behavior of his supporters in Vegas, it’s hard to see how it could have been anything but. Which is disappointing. A few days ago, Sanders’ campaign seemed headed for an honorable legacy. But he has apparently decided instead upon a legacy of peevishness and sore losing, which is, as Frank Bruni noted a few weeks back in The New York Times, a hallmark of this political epoch.

Look: There is something to be said, under certain circumstances, for fighting to the last breath. Under certain circumstances, it is noble to stand one’s ground, come what may. Under certain circumstances, it might even be heroic to soldier on past the point of defeat.

These are not those circumstances. Trump awaits. And every second the left spends arguing with itself is a gift to the presumptive Republican nominee.

Let’s not get it twisted. For all that some people now seek to normalize him and his campaign, for all that they fool themselves into thinking he wouldn’t be so bad, for all that a party once appalled to find him its leader now coalesces behind him, Trump is still what he’s always been: a tire fire in an expensive suit.

Yes, Clinton is, putting it mildly, a flawed candidate, stiff at the lectern, shameless in her pandering and disliked for reasons both substantive (she sometimes seems to have only a nodding relationship with truth) and not. (Since when is it a sin – or a surprise – for a politician to be ambitious?) But she’s also intelligent and experienced. And compared to Trump, she’s a plate of Lincoln with a side of FDR.

As such, she might make a good president, might be a middling president, might even be a bad president, but at a minimum, she would be a president unlikely to hand out nuclear weapons like party favors or require customs agents to ask would-be visitors, “Are you now or have you ever been a Muslim?”

Clinton is, in other words, a good, pragmatic choice. And no, that’s not an inspiring battle cry.

But a reality show buffoon unburdened by knowledge, decency or dignity is closing in on the White House. We should probably take a little inspiration from that.

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

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Maine Voices: Our politically correct culture reaches too far to protect transgender rights Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — “Dear Colleague”: This is the salutation used by two Obama administration officials who followed up a federal appellate ruling siding with G.G., a teenage Virginia girl who identifies as male, by sending a “guidance” letter May 13 that cites Title IX and calls on all public colleges and schools that get federal funding to make single-sex restrooms, locker rooms, showers, housing and sports teams available to “transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

Enacted in 1972, Title IX is a one-sentence federal statute prohibiting sexual discrimination at a public or private institution that gets federal funding.

The intention of this law was to ensure that women had the access and opportunity to participate in what traditionally had been male-only sports programs and athletic activities. There is nothing in Title IX that empowers anyone to individually decide to expand that statute.

Making significant changes to existing laws – after open hearings to a properly notified public for comment – is the constitutional prerogative of Congress. Although the “guidance” letter does not have the force of law, it employs the word “must” in threatening loss of federal funding for noncompliance. This is an executive edict, not a legislative act, from two federal functionaries with a political agenda – a classic example of the law of unintended consequences as well as bullying.

If schools that receive federal funding must make single-sex bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, housing and sports teams available to “transgender students consistent with their gender identity,” consider these possible scenarios: a 19-year-old male who self-identifies as female must be offered a dormitory room with females regardless of their discomfort; a 6-foot-2, 250-pound male must be allowed to compete for women’s sports teams if he self-identifies as female. And high school boys can use the girls’ locker rooms and showers consistent with their “gender identity.” No medical diagnosis required.

Tenured professors of gender studies at our overpriced colleges and universities teach our fragile students that gender (now a synonym for sex) is merely a “social construct,” while equally certain gay activists proclaim that sex is hard-wired in our DNA. So, on the one hand gender is nothing, and on the other hand gender is all. And both sides ignore science and empirical evidence for their hare-brained theories – the sex-obsessed, politically correct culture of our time run amok.

I quote from a May 23 National Review blog post by Edward Whelan: “A person discriminates on the basis of a trait when it makes that trait relevant to how a person is treated, and doesn’t discriminate when it treats that trait as irrelevant. A baker (my example) discriminates on the basis of homosexuality when he factors that trait into his decision whether to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, but doesn’t discriminate when he disregards their sexual orientation. In this context, a school is non-discriminatory on the basis of a student’s gender identity when it disregards that trait and assigns the student to the bathroom or facilities that correspond with his or her biological sex.”

And I paraphrase from a piece in the online magazine Slate by Michael Goldberg: There is no coherent ideology in which transgender students have a right to be shielded from facilities that may upset them, but non-transgender students do not have the same right. If we’ve decided that certain people have the right to feel safe, then what’s the standard for refusing that right to gender-stable people who may feel unsafe? Is it simply that we don’t believe them when they describe their trauma? Aren’t we supposed to believe all victims – no matter what?

I think a better case can be made for one to feel a different age than a birth certificate would show if all this means is that you’re only as old as you feel. I have no major ailments, low blood pressure and take only one medication for a hiatal hernia I’ve had since my 40s.

By affixing a rug to my bald head, substituting contact lenses for my eyeglasses, getting a face-lift and a shot of testosterone (without plumbing alterations), I could self-identify as as a member of the baby boom generation rather than the generation that came of age during World War II. Like Popeye the Sailor, I might say: “I am what I feel I am, and that’s who I am.” But I wouldn’t expect preferential treatment.


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Kathleen Parker: Given the candidates, American voters are facing an unpalatable choice Tue, 24 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 On rare occasions, Americans coalesce around a common cause, usually following some calamity – a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or, say, during a presidential election.

Take today. Or rather, take the past several months during which Americans have begun to face the likely probability that they’ll elect a president they don’t much like. Polls suggest as much, as do my own conversations with strangers, family and friends, from which I’ve deduced the following: When it comes to whom they’ll select for their next president, most Americans are stranded in a political no man’s land. There’s no one to vote for.

“What are we going to do?” people keep asking me.

Obviously, the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump bases are as un-confounded as ever. Hillary Clinton has her usual camp, including half of women voters. But a vaster number of people who identify as independent or moderate – or have become so thanks to the past year’s cannibalizing circus – are dissatisfied with both presumptive nominees.

The adage that our presidential election is a nose-pinching exercise – or a choice between lesser evils – doesn’t approach the rising level of ennui flooding the American street.

I would characterize this larger constituency as also including people who, though they may lean left or right, suffer a greater repulsion to the political moment than to a single candidate, though there’s plenty of revulsion to go around. To the extent that the remaining candidates are central to the current environment of anger, paranoia and, in some cases, violence, all are equally unappealing.

There is only one candidate for whom this middle bloc of voters could reasonably stomach voting. Given that Trump is such an unpleasant character and, by virtue of his own statements, unqualified to lead the most powerful nation on earth; and given that Sanders wants to create a nation that most Americans wouldn’t recognize; be it resolved that the saner choice is Clinton (notwithstanding everything you hate about her).

Hence the malaise that passeth all understanding.

If only by default, Clinton holds the higher ground. That even many Democrats find her unappealing – and others wouldn’t like her if she saved every beast and bog from extinction and cured cancer with a single pill – is understood. As lightning rods go, she has no peer.

Add to the well-known list of public concerns about her – a lack of transparency, perceived deceptions, those emails, Benghazi and the current FBI investigation – a potentially more damning development: Her pivot to the left.

This was made necessary, of course, by Sanders’ anthem of class warfare, but as Clinton pirouetted stage left, she added another layer of doubt to the disenfranchised middle, gave progressives another reason to question her loyalty to their goals and made it more difficult for Trump-repelled conservatives to consider her as acceptable alternative.

One might wish that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s quip about a contest between her and Trump were correct. More or less, he said that corrupt beats crazy every time. But even Graham has surrendered, locking arms in the Trump parade. “Party before Clinton” has prevailed as well among most of the stop-Trump crowd, a fleeting movement among a handful of Republican “formers.”

For Clinton to prevail over Trump, she’ll need to win over Sanders’ supporters, a dimming prospect at the moment, as well as the vast middle where mortals roam in wounded unity. But support among the latter depends on the answer to a tricky question: Is she really as liberal as she’s promising to be, or is she faking? Trump-leaning voters face the same challenge: Is he really as awful as he seems, or has he just been bluffing?

Given the high stakes, a contest between a scheming fake and a dangerous bluffer inspires little confidence and possibly little interest in voting. To the plea – what are we going to do? – the correct answer is, of course, vote. The high ground may be more molehill than mountain, but it still beats the gutter.

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

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Maine Voices: At Hiroshima, Obama should begin leading world back from the brink Tue, 24 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When President Obama speaks at ground zero in Hiroshima on Friday, he must do more than recall the horrific consequences of the first atomic bombing.

Seven years ago, on April 5, 2009, President Obama declared to the world: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

His record of progress toward that goal is mixed. It is true that this administration negotiated the New START agreement with Russia and soon both sides will have reduced deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 each. Yet this is still vastly more than enough to destroy all that we cherish in our fragile world.

Shockingly, more than half of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert on submarines and in missile silos. Whether as a consequence of miscalculation or accident, they are ready to be launched in less than 15 minutes and able to destroy their targets across the globe 30 minutes later.

In 1986, the New England Journal of Medicine devoted an entire issue to the health consequences from any use of nuclear weapons. Dr. Arnold Relman, then editor of the journal, wrote: “What we physicians urgently need to be telling our government and our fellow citizens is that even 1 percent (or less) of the total destructive power now in possession of the superpowers is enough to doom our two countries and inflict untold damage on the rest of the world. … That is why most physicians … agree that our government ought to be exploring every possible initiative to achieve an agreement on the early reduction of nuclear stockpiles.”

Our nuclear arsenals have been reduced significantly over the past 30 years. Yet in a nuclear war with Russia involving just a fraction of current arsenals, millions of Americans would still be killed and our entire economic, medical and public health infrastructure would be destroyed.

Equally frightening, we have learned that detonation of a small number of warheads anywhere in the world (for example, in a war between India and Pakistan) would result in catastrophic consequences for all of us. In a series of professional journal articles, Rutgers environmental scientist Alan Robock, University of Colorado atmospheric and oceanic scientist Owen Brian Toon and others document that the likely impact of a so-called “limited nuclear war” on climate and global food production would put the world’s population at grave risk of mass starvation.

Certainly, there are many urgent national security threats that must be dealt with. However, these doomsday weapons are simply unusable in addressing any of them.

Without public debate and with our leaders ignoring the reality of the threats nuclear weapons pose to us all, we are now on the verge of an unnecessary, expensive and terribly dangerous new nuclear arms race.

President Obama has proposed and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are supporting spending a trillion dollars over the next 30 years on a nuclear weapons spending binge, including new land-based missiles, bomber aircraft, ballistic missile submarines and cruise missiles. This ill-conceived plan is leading the world in exactly the wrong direction.

President Obama will soon be in the perfect location to announce his intention to lead the world back from this brink. The Humanitarian Pledge, supporting legally prohibiting nuclear weapons, has been signed by 127 countries. This month in Geneva, preliminary steps are being taken to begin negotiations on such a treaty. On Friday in Hiroshima, President Obama should announce that the United States will join these negotiations.

While these negotiations move forward, President Obama should demonstrate that the United States is prepared to do more than talk. He should announce that he is ordering our nuclear weapons be taken off hair-trigger alert and challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the same.

With just eight months left in Obama’s presidency, we’re about to find out if his legacy will include real progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons or the beginning of a dangerous new nuclear arms race putting our survival at risk.

When it comes to nuclear weapons policy, we and our elected leaders face a fundamental choice. We choose life.

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Charles Lawton: Without initiation rituals, how do we pass along wisdom? Tue, 24 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The first lesson of initiation is to teach the young man not to try to get rid of his pain until he has first learned whatever it has to teach him. – Richard Rohr

Theologian Richard Rohr has been writing recently about the absence of initiation rites in modern societies, rituals that he says took place “in every age and every continent for most of human history” and “were considered central to the survival of most cultures.” The demise of such rites and rituals, therefore, has dire consequences. A society without initiation rites is a society in which whatever wisdom it may have accumulated is lost to younger generations.

The driving force in our public life today is the overwhelming urge to avoid pain, or even anything vaguely unpleasant. In fact, the growing fascination with the differences among the baby boom generation, Generation X and the millennials has generally turned the concept of wise elders on its head.

From baby boomers struggling to set up a PowerPoint presentation to venture capitalists struggling to avoid missing the “next big thing” among the billion-dollar gazelles that seem to emerge weekly, anyone trying to understand the changes flowing from the most disruptive trend of the past 30 years – the digital communication revolution – does the same thing: look to the youngest person in the room for the answer.

If wisdom comes from accumulated experience, the older generations seem to be admitting that it is experience unavailable to them and thus something to be sought in youth.

Such abdication of responsibility for cultural continuity is as much a problem for the older generation as it is for the younger. Our civic discourse has increasingly descended to the adolescent shouts of “I want this, and I want it now.”

On one side, we hear would-be executive leaders who are little more than archetypes of banana republic strongmen inflating themselves by expressing the pain their supporters undoubtedly feel, while offering no meaningful explanation for what the pain means and how we can learn from it. On the other hand, we have romantic, fairy-dust socialists channeling the same pain into promises of a revolution in which someone else will provide the healing salve.

Nowhere, it seems, are there grown-ups who have suffered reversals, experienced pain, survived and stayed around, able and willing to share the lessons they have learned. When I was a young policy analyst in the 1970s and ’80s, I was blessed to be able to work with and learn from men like Allen Pease, Maine State Planning Office director, and Dick Barrringer, founding director of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, and to see and respect the leadership of legislators such as Joe Brennan, Joe Sewall, Harrison Richardson and Neal Rolde.

On commissions established to address significant state and municipal problems, I was fortunate to serve, observe and work for months at a time with political and civic leaders such as Ed Muskie, then-Bates College President Hedley Reynolds, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Sidney Wernick, banker Bob Masterson, educators Linda Abromson and Marcella Violette and multi-faceted Portland leader John Menario.

While all these women and men rarely agreed on any given issue, to a person they were gracious, engaging and above all eager to learn and committed to finding feasible (though rarely ideal) ways to address major state issues from education reform to river protection to civic leadership. In many ways, service on such commissions served as rites of initiation for people such as David Flanagan, Charlie Colgan, Alec Giffen, John Dorrer and many other young idealists who have spent their lives working to find useful solutions to the public policy issues that Maine has faced over the past 30 years.

The structure of state leadership has changed significantly over that period. Where once there were many major Maine-based businesses whose leaders lived in the communities where they built their careers, we now see branch managers cycling through their corporate bureaucracies. Where once we had long-serving legislators who carried with them extensive institutional memories, we now have term-limited officeholders increasingly dependent on a professional staff and lobbyists. Where once we had governors who brought substantial legislative experience and existing relationships with those in the legislative branch, we now have news-cycle celebrities speaking largely to their political bases.

But a new generation of leaders, often with business, administrative or philanthropic rather than political backgrounds, is now coming to the fore – at the Maine Development Foundation, the Maine Technology Institute, the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, the private colleges and the ever-richer and increasingly important Maine-based foundations. It is now incumbent on those of us who enjoyed the initiation rituals now 30 years past to find ways to transmit whatever lessons we have learned to this new generation of Maine leaders.

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

]]> 2, 24 May 2016 17:47:55 +0000
Maine Voices: Wealth – or lack of it – needn’t be major factor in determining lifespan Mon, 23 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The amount of money you make may determine how long you’ll live. This according to new research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, which analyzed demographic information from the tax records of all Americans between 2001 and 2014, found that the rich in America are living significantly longer than the poor, and that this difference in life expectancy is increasing over time.

As a whole, the top 25 percent of earners (those in households making more than $85,000 per year) live seven years longer than those in the bottom 25 percent ($25,000 or less per year). Moreover, between 2001 and 2014 the longevity of the richest Americans increased by 2.5 years while those at the bottom of the income distribution gained only a few months of life. In some places, the poorest Americans even had shortened lifespans!

Maine, specifically, leads the country with some of the longest lifespans among its wealthiest citizens. A 40-year-old man in Portland, making more than $85,000 annually, can expect to live up to 87 years, and a woman in the same income bracket to 89. But the state’s longevity gap is larger than average, with men and women in the bottom 25 percent of income living only to 79 and 81 years, respectively.

This study didn’t explore the specific causes of this disparity, but previous research has shown that one’s level of income is correlated to a number of healthy behaviors. For instance, those who earn less money tend to exhibit higher rates of obesity and tobacco use, report increased levels of stress and are less likely to participate in health maintenance programs – factors that, put together, can lead to poorer health. This study did uncover another surprising factor, though: For the poor, where you live has a dramatic effect on your health.

Across the country, wealthy individuals enjoy similarly long lifespans. However, there is wide variation among the poorest Americans, with expected longevity ranging anywhere between 77 and 82 years.

This data is discouraging, but the study provided a glimmer of hope. While it’s clear that some cities and counties are providing only meager health care for their poorest citizens, others are excelling. Putting it another way: Many municipalities have found innovative ways to improve the health of their richest and poorest citizens alike, and should serve as models for the rest of the country.

Maine, it turns out, provides some leadership.

In 2011, a survey identified several counties nationwide that achieved significantly better health outcomes than would be expected by their socioeconomic status. Franklin County, one of Maine’s poorest, topped the list.

To explore why, researchers from Maine published a study last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzed health trends in Franklin County between 1970 and 2010.

Franklin County, they reported, received a federal grant as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the late 1960s. This money was used to hire primary care physicians, build clinics and fund the Franklin Area Health Plan, an organization that provided coordinated health care to 3,200 of the county’s poorest residents at little or no cost.

These initiatives dramatically expanded access to health care, but medical providers pushed even further. Physicians and nurses identified cardiovascular disease as the county’s most pressing health concern, and teamed up with community members to implement several public health initiatives. Together, they screened people at churches, schools and workplaces, and intervened to reduce cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, tobacco use and diabetes.

These interventions had a dramatic impact. Hospital admissions in the county declined, and by 1979, Franklin County achieved the lowest mortality rate in the entire state!

Since then, spurred on by societal health trends and high-priced medical technology, mortality rates have fallen to record lows statewide, and have, on the whole, caught up to Franklin County. However, as last month’s study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows, these gains have been appreciated predominantly by those at the top of the income distribution.

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) contains several provisions aimed at reducing health disparities across the country. It provides expanded health care access for low-income individuals and calls for funding to support public health interventions similar to those in Franklin County.

The historical experience of Franklin County suggests that this ground-up approach can work, but that it requires the concerted effort of health care providers, payers and community members alike. Though it may take years for the benefits of novel public health interventions to pay off, Maine should, once again, take the lead.

— Special to the Press Herald

]]> 10 Sun, 22 May 2016 19:23:10 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Sanders is losing fair and square Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As Maine goes, so goes the nation, Bernie? Because we know what happens when a stubborn, left-leaning candidate stands on principle complaining about persnickety party politics, and it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s insane by definition: We do it over and over again and expect different results.

“I am not standing down … and neither should those voters whose consciences compel them to cast a vote for me,” Eliot Cutler said defiantly, with zero chance of winning – and then Maine re-elected the man Politico magazine called “America’s craziest governor” with 48 percent of the vote, the majority of votes split between two far-superior candidates.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out the math had Cutler urged his team to put on the blue jerseys in 2014. And it’s pretty simple math that says Bernie Sanders can’t win the Democratic nomination in 2016, but his ego and the affluenza of his advisers insist on fighting until the end – one that looks to become increasingly more bitter by the day.

The arc of Sanders’ campaign has gone from extremely inspiring to incredibly annoying, and the latest temper tantrum in Nevada is inexcusable. Whining about “unfair” rules that have been on the books since 2008. Outrage that delegates not registered as Democrats were refused a seat at the official convention of Democrats to select the Democratic nominee. Indignation that the higher number of Clinton delegates trumped the higher volume of Sanders delegates. Astonishment that “Bernie Bros” rushing the dais, throwing chairs, cursing and shouting caused security to shut down the convention four hours after the designated end time. Accusations of another conspiracy by establishment.

Hillary Clinton is winning the Democratic primary fair and square by the same rules by which she lost to Barack Obama in 2008. She won the recent contest in Nevada for the same simple reason she’s winning overall: She got more votes. That’s not “establishment” – that’s democracy.

The reaction of the Sanders people – trashing the place and threatening the state party chairwoman – was immature at best, and if it weren’t for the fact that their antics increase the probability of a Trump presidency, we could gently close the door and let them cry it out.

But that’s what Maine did in 2014, and who’s crying now?

What’s sold as a “political revolution” looks more and more like just another power trip. Bernie and Jane Sanders are high on crowds and crowdfunding, and through the haze it’s crystal clear why virtually none of Sanders’ colleagues in the capital support him. It’s not because he’s “anti-establishment.” It’s because he’s an angry, unreasonable man with a chip on his shoulder as big as the state of Maine.

America’s economic system might be rigged to favor the rich and powerful, and maybe the nominating process is, too, but hello? Sanders’ campaign is pretty darn rich and powerful.

A Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission reports found that “by the end of March, the self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont had spent nearly $166 million on his campaign – more than any other 2016 presidential contender, including rival Hillary Clinton. More than $91 million went to a small group of admakers and media buyers who produced a swarm of commercials and placed them on television, radio and online.”

Sanders is losing fair and square in the voting contest, so why must he torch every bridge along the way? Why must he incite volatile people and provoke useless rage? Sanders has been in Washington for decades, and he still can’t manage to disagree with people without being disagreeable.

There’s a word for somebody with these characteristics, and it’s not “leader.”

Clinton has won 2.9 million more votes than Sanders and has won 1,768 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1,494. The so-called superdelegates are not to blame for these numbers. Sanders is not going to be the nominee because he hasn’t won enough votes or delegates, and his latest stunt – an anti-democratic pitch suggesting that polls point to him as the best nominee – is ridiculous. Elections are rigged, so we should use polls to determine who gets to be president of the free world? Is that what socialism looks like: Polls determine a future that we must believe in? The same polls that Sanders himself was against before the polls were for him?

Elections, rules and math are as American as hot dogs and apple pie, and we love an underdog who accepts defeat with grace after a rigorous contest, but none of us – even bleeding-heart liberals – likes sore losers.

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

Twitter: dillesquire

]]> 155, 23 May 2016 11:23:52 +0000
Alan Caron: Northern Maine deserves better Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Over a thousand Mainers converged on two northern Maine public gatherings last week to argue over a proposal to set aside 87,500 acres of the North Woods as a so-called national monument.

Opposition arguments were familiar to anyone who’s been in Maine for more than a few decades. Protecting the land, say opponents, will destroy Maine’s traditional forest industries and lead to the eventual collapse of the northern economy. Proponents argue that a protected natural forest area will attract a new stream of national and international tourists that will help expand the economy.

These arguments are echoes of ones we’ve had many times through the years, as we cleaned up our rivers and imposed limits on bad practices in the forests. Ironically, they repeat similar arguments that were made long ago, when the state debated setting aside land in the Great North Woods to create the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

In each of those cases, opponents argued that the proposed change would undercut the traditional natural resource economy and that forestry is incompatible with any other activity. Supporters argued that we can have a strong forest economy and be a good, attractive place for visitors, and that the two should be allies rather than enemies.

Rural Maine is at an unmistakable crossroads, grappling with what kind of future it wants and what it can have. After a long and slow decline in farming and now papermaking, there are too few road signs pointing to a brighter future.

Many Mainers are anxious and angry about how the world around us is changing and how our opportunities are dwindling. They’re worried about losing even more of what little they have. But instead of pulling together to promote the region positively, they spend too much time stuck on the idea that they can keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing but have it now produce a better result.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people hard at work in northern and rural Maine, trying against all odds to guide the area toward a new prosperity. They are getting almost no help from their elected leaders, who seem to spend most of their time driving wedges between people and exploiting anger and regional jealousy for political gain.

I give you, as a case in point, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. While U.S. Sen. Angus King engineered two hearings that were open to all views, as part of a healthy and spirited debate, Poliquin immediately invited the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee to come to Maine and lash out against the proposed project.

King was looking for information and understanding. Poliquin isn’t looking for any of those things. All he wants, and all he’ll get, is to inflame people further to help his campaign along.

Northern Maine deserves better. It deserves a full and open conversation about its future, free of partisan politics, trumped-up divisions and scapegoating. It deserves leaders who understand the pain that rural Maine is experiencing but don’t rush to exploit that pain. Angry speeches may feel good, for some, but they do nothing to help northern Maine find the kind of common ground it needs to compete with others for tomorrow’s jobs.

Northern Maine, like the rest of the state, needs leaders who love Maine’s heritage and people, but who also understand that we must change in order to grow.

The first step in that change is a hard one. It requires us to accept the reality that yesterday’s jobs are not coming back. In northern Maine, that means that there can be no real prosperity if the only game in town is the traditional forest industry. One-industry economies are notorious for their instability and failure rate. The remedy – as hard as it is – is to diversify the economy.

That means moving from simply protecting what you have now to becoming open to new ideas. One of them, after all, may be the ticket to a brighter future.

None of that can happen if politics continues to get in the way. Politics, especially now, is enormously skilled at division and miserable at addition. It divides people but rarely unites them. It too often fans fears and prejudices, punishes conversations and collaboration with “the enemy,” and rarely produces anything but short-term victories and long-term morass.

I submit, as exhibits A and B, the U.S. Congress over the last decade and the gubernatorial administration of Paul LePage over the last five. Both produce copious amounts of loud and angry speeches and almost no tangible results.

Northern Maine, and for that matter all of Maine, deserves better and needs more. And we have no time to lose. While we’re debating, the rest of New England is slowly leaving us behind.

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

]]> 41, 20 May 2016 17:26:27 +0000
Maine Voices: Portland has a hero working in Haiti Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 WATERVILLE — During our lives, we cross paths with various individuals. Some linger in our minds, prompting questions that need answers, and the desire to share their stories tugs at our heartstrings, not allowing us to disengage. I have one of those stories, crying out to be told.

What moves a legally blind, nearly deaf, 97-year-old man with prostate cancer to travel to Haiti to ease the suffering of the poor?

I first had the pleasure of meeting Coleman “Coley” and Anna Gorham of Portland as their foot care nurse. I learned about their work in Haiti, and I went there with Coley in January.

The Gorhams’ kindness and generosity have touched the lives of people in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Believing that everything happens for a reason, I feel that I’ve been chosen to be their storyteller.


It began 18 years ago. After watching a video about Haiti, Coley was compelled to fly there. He visited orphanages, schools, churches and the slums of Cité Soleil.

Standing behind a chain link fence, with fingers clutching the wires, stood several barefoot children wearing soiled T-shirts, their eyes focused on the school Coley was visiting.

With sadness in his voice, Coley said he knew what they were thinking: “Why can’t I go to that school?” (Almost all schools in Haiti are privately run; they usually require tuition fees, putting education out of reach for hundreds of thousands of children.) That was when he knew his work in Haiti had just begun. “I could not turn my back on those children,” he said.

As a retired educator and builder, Coley had the desire, know-how and funds to do projects in Haiti. He began at St. Joseph’s orphanage in Port-au-Prince, where he constructed a computer lab. In Jacmel, he completed a partially built orphanage and bought an adjacent lot for recreation. Following the earthquake of 2010, he made major repairs to 108 homes; all received concrete floors and tin roofs.

He went on to Charlier, on the outskirts of Petite Rivière de Nippes, and built a church on a high promontory overlooking the Caribbean. In Ti Rivière, as it’s known, he purchased some land and built 33 homes for the homeless. Each family received a water purification kit and the deed to their new home.

It was also in Ti Rivière that Coley built a free public eight-room school known as St. Patrick Youth Center, with six classrooms, an apartment for the director and a dormitory to house eight guests.


With no access to electricity or running water, he had to install solar panels and devise a system that traps rainwater off the roof and channels it to gutters and downspouts, then to a large underground cistern. The water is pumped to a storage tank on the roof, from which it flows to meet the needs of the school.

The school has 30 computers used to teach students the English language with Rosetta Stone software. The goal is to have them become fluent, allowing them to pursue further education through sources like Khan Academy, which offers free high school and college-level courses online.

Though over 40 young adults have completed the English program at St. Patrick, Coley has expressed concern about the school’s future. He’d hoped that a Haitian university would take it over, but that has not happened. Now he envisions a Peace Corps-type system, run by a U.S. nonprofit, in which motivated college graduates teach at St. Patrick alongside local educators.

During our stay at the school in January, I met many students. I couldn’t help but notice the love they felt toward Coley. They came by daily to pay him a visit. He was always quick to give them a short educational lesson. With great respect, they would gather around, listening to the man they refer to as their “father” and “friend.”

Coley says that we in the U.S. have little awareness of the poverty in countries like Haiti. Without seeing it, one can never fully comprehend the magnitude of their desperation. He says if more people would watch videos of daily life on the streets of Haiti, it would have a profound effect on how they see the world.


Through his journey, Coley has been hospitalized with malaria, heat prostration, intestinal infection and cellulitis, but that has not deterred him. Coley’s work began in 1998 and continues today. When asked how he could give so freely, he said, “I don’t see it as my money. I am only a steward.”

The Gorhams laughed when asked how their mission had personally affected them. “We have a tiger by the tail,” said Coley, “and for fear that it might devour us, we have not dared to let it go.”

By the time this column is published, Coley will be 98 years old, still hanging on to the tiger’s tail, and still hoping that an outside group will partner with the St. Patrick school and set it on firm ground for the future.

— Special to the Telegram

]]> 0, 22 May 2016 09:13:47 +0000
Commentary: President Trump? Mon Dieu! Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 BRUSSELS — Here’s the word from Europe: A lot of diplomats, elected officials, intellectuals and European Union officials are pretty freaked out about Donald Trump.

After nearly a year of being told by their U.S. counterparts that the bombastic billionaire had no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, here he is, defying conventional wisdom and even that oracle of oracles, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight fame, who assured the world last August that Trump had only a 2 percent chance of wining the primaries.

What, many ask, is going on?

That was the question on nearly everyone’s lips when I was in Brussels, Paris and Belgrade, Serbia, at the end of last month with co-presenter Sewell Chan, London-based international editor at The New York Times, to help explain the U.S. political scene to our worried trans-Atlantic partners. It was a cultural exchange trip hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, with some events convened by the U.S. Mission to the European Parliament and others by EU40 (a group of young European Parliament members) or the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Science.

How could this man – so obviously unprepared and unqualified for the office he seeks – be on the verge of winning the nomination of what was once the Party of Lincoln, asked the parliamentarians and economists, bureaucrats and journalists, attorneys and businesspeople who came to the events? Could he win the general election? If he did, what would his foreign policy look like?

The concern was palpable. The United States, though diminished since 2001, is still the world’s only superpower, a vital EU trading partner and the presumed guarantor of European security against the renewed territorial ambitions of Russia. Americans might feel they can safely ignore political developments in Paris, London or Berlin, but Europeans don’t have that luxury when it comes to us.

Their worries centered on two things: the potential effect on world economic growth if Trump were to scale back free trade agreements, and whether he has the maturity and self-control to be entrusted with the launch codes of a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world.

Here, for what it’s worth, is what I told them.

Of the 17 people who ran for the Republican nomination, Trump was the only one who failed to voice the laissez-faire mantra, that lower taxes, less government and less regulation will, axiomatically, bring more freedom. Trump hasn’t promised to cut capital gains, introduce a flat tax, cut government programs or roll back regulations. On the contrary, he says he’s against global trade agreements, the free-ish movement of labor into the country and “hedge fund guys” who are “getting away with murder” in the tax code.

Instead, he’s championed a group of people who’ve seen their standard of living decline in the face of globalization: the white working class, whose economic interests haven’t been represented by either party in two generations. He claims he’ll bring back manufacturing and make their America great again. They’ve responded enthusiastically, although Trump is about as far from conservative Christian family values and Republican free market orthodoxy as one can get. They’re the warm water fueling the Trump hurricane.

The downside is that Trump is seeking to protect these “good Americans” in a fashion familiar to Europeans: by threatening to withdraw normal legal and constitutional protections for those seen as “traitorous others.” For European far-right nationalists like those in Hungary’s Jobbik, the British National Party or the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, this class usually includes some combination of Jews, Roma (also known as Gypsies), Muslim immigrants or foreigners from countries they dislike. For Trump, it’s Mexicans, Muslim-Americans, the journalists in the press pen or the black protester at his rally who maybe should be beaten up; he’s promised, in one such instance, to pay the legal bills of someone who tried to do just that.

Some will say Trump doesn’t believe any of this, and maybe he doesn’t. The point is that there’s a pretty big bloc of voters who are willing to endorse these views, and the moderate Republican Bob Doles and Susan Collinses of the world are willing to endorse a man who professes them. Far-right nationalism has, for the first time in at least a century, reached the presidential finals.

By any conventional analysis, Trump can’t win the general election, I told the European audiences. Polling and demographic data argue for an Electoral College landslide for Hillary Clinton in November, and a possible capture of at least one house of Congress. (Trump had won less than 40 percent of Republican primary votes at the end of last month, before his rivals dropped out.) But, I cautioned, by conventional analysis, Trump couldn’t have ended up poised to secure the Republican nomination either, so there’s that.

Trump’s foreign policy is anyone’s guess, in large part because the candidate appears to know very little about the outside world and is his own chief foreign policy adviser. Americans aren’t focused on foreign policy issues in this election, save for ones that affect them directly, like illegal immigration across the Mexican border, the threat of a terrorist attack or possible free trade deals. As for the policy choices in the Western Balkans, I told Serbs, few Americans know or care where that is on the map.

But our system grants a great deal of power to a president in their role as commander in chief, including control over a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying life on Earth. On the campaign trail, Trump has shown himself to be impulsive, thin-skinned and eager to respond to criticism with insult.

How would that play out in brinkmanship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, always eager to use insults, artillery fire or missile tests to try to provoke his adversaries? Let’s hope it’s all just another act, I suggested, just in case there really is a President Trump in the White House this time next year.


]]> 148, 22 May 2016 08:32:21 +0000
Maine Observer: Maine has something hard to describe Sun, 22 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The seed was planted in 2007 when I visited Maine with my mother, sister and niece from the prairie lands of Kansas. Maine, tucked way up there in the hinterlands, just seemed like an exotic location.

Despite only one day of sunshine and an abundance of drizzle on our vacation, I tucked away happy memories that stuck like Super Glue, and I vowed to return.

In fact, I did more than that. In 2014, I actually moved to South Portland with my willing partner, Andy, who actually found employment! At the age of 60 I no longer wanted to dabble in dreams; I wanted to dive headlong into them.

Maine, after all, has something – charm, charisma, mystery, magic … something for which the perfect word hasn’t been invented. That “thing” just seems to grab hold and flow into your soul. All of a sudden you’re a goner – in a good way. And I know I’m not the only one to succumb.

I still need to pinch myself as I cross the Casco Bay Bridge or visit my waterfront grocery store. Hiking trails abound – trailheads are often unexpectedly discovered or divulged by savvy locals who seem to know the best secrets (like where to get the perfect lobster roll at the cheapest price, or where to find a great parking spot in downtown Portland).

There are little jewels of beaches, clear lakes big and small and people who will gladly loan you their kayak or canoe for a couple of hours. And we no longer have to drive nine hours to see the mountains! Colorado, of course, has some lovely Papa Bear-sized peaks, but Maine’s Mama Bear-sized mountains are not nearly as intimidating – though I have yet to visit Katahdin. And I do mean visit – not climb. I feel the pride of climbing up lovely and somewhat challenging Tumbledown, and that will do just fine.

But it’s more than this beautiful piece of earth. It’s the people and that magical network that create such an inviting community. Literally! Near strangers have invited Andy and me to dinners, events, book clubs, tango classes and community fairs. I’m even part of a Spanish conversation group that meets Wednesday mornings at a coffee shop. Someone from yoga invited me to that.

It seems here that if you make one friend, you end up with five. People take time to chat, give advice (like where I would most likely spot a moose or a loon), and they spontaneously invite you to coffee after an aerobics class at the community center. Crazy!

That tiny seed planted nearly 10 years ago has grown to a lovely white pine, and I’m basking in its shade, with my DeLorme atlas, ready for my next Maine adventure. Thank you, Maine, for welcoming me home!


]]> 0 Fri, 20 May 2016 18:43:12 +0000
Commentary: Sportsman’s chief says gun law would be overregulation of the purest kind Sat, 21 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — Earlier this year, one of the writers for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine newsletter wanted to take his two young sons turkey hunting. All his firearms were too big for the boys, so I offered my friend one of my youth model 20-gauge shotguns as a loaner and he accepted. Months later his 9-year-old son harvested his first tom turkey, and a few days later my friend returned my firearm without incident.

In our interpretation of the proposed law, the innocent scenario above – and countless others, including temporarily loaning a firearm to a friend for self-protection – will become illegal in almost all cases, unless the parties first undergo a potentially difficult and expensive background check, if Maine people pass the initiative to expand background checks for private sales, loans, gifts and other kinds of “transfers” of guns.

Under the language of the initiative, backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a new firearm “transfer” law (which resembles a forced sale) will look like this.

In order to temporarily loan my gun to my friend, we would first have to find a dealer with a federal firearms license who would take my gun into his stock and treat it as if it were part of his inventory.

The federally licensed dealer then records our personal information on a federal document called a “form 4473,” which contains a lengthy list of personal questions including mental and legal history, immigration status, firearm details, etc.

Once the federally licensed dealer calls the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and provides them with the information on the 4473 form and my friend passes the background check, the dealer will hand the gun to my friend and charge him a fee ($25 to $50).

The dealer will retain a copy of the form 4473 and make it available to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on a case-by-case basis. By law, the federal government cannot retain 4473 information, but does have a right to access it through the dealer’s records if there is suspicion of a crime involving a specific firearm.

When my friend returns my loaner shotgun, we have to repeat the process again, to conduct another background check of me as the transferee (even though I’m the gun owner) and pay another fee.

What is ridiculous about this scenario is that as the owner of the shotgun, I had to pass a background check when I bought it, my friend had to pass a background check to borrow it, and I had to have another check just to get my gun back: government red tape, extra fees and overregulation of the purest kind.

Are you worried about the creation of a national registry of firearm owners?

A partial state registry already exists, and would be complete if this law passes. This is a component of the initiative that has far-reaching policy implications, and which is virtually unknown.

Maine has a unique state law (15 MRSA, Section 455) that requires federally licensed firearms dealers who “sell, let or loan” a firearm to a person to retain and make a second copy of the form 4473, marked as “state copy.” These dealers cannot “refuse to show or refuse to allow the inspection of a copy of the form by a sheriff, deputy sheriff, police officer, constable, game warden or prosecuting attorney.” It is unclear what rights federally licensed firearms dealers and gun owners have during encounters with state law enforcement, as opposed to ATF officials.

Why is this a problem?

It is well known that the wish list of gun control advocates like Bloomberg and his supporters includes bans on guns such as certain semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, and eventually their registration and confiscation.

It is widely accepted that this type of gun control cannot occur without a complete database of firearm ownership. There is no escaping the simple fact that if this law passes, the government will eventually know where all the guns are and the practical obstacles to effectively implement the wish-list of gun control advocates will be eliminated.

There is a deep-rooted mistrust of our government and the motives of those pushing gun control, including the organizations pushing this initiative. The fears of gun rights groups and individuals are only escalated when presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and her followers say there are too many guns in America.

Although expanding background checks to private “sales” appears sensible, in reality this law would apply to much more than just sales, and will open a wide path for the most extreme gun control policies of the future.

There are good reasons why Congress has repeatedly rejected this policy. It is cumbersome, expensive and nearly impossible to enforce.

In the coming months, Bloomberg’s supporters will spend millions in their campaign, claiming they just want “common-sense” gun regulation.

In fact, this debate will be a poll on whether Maine people trust their government with the power and information to one day take away our constitutional right to own firearms, one new law at a time.


]]> 14 Fri, 20 May 2016 21:43:12 +0000
Commentary: Bad Moon rising: Beer companies pull fast one on consumers Sat, 21 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 MIAMI — I was a beer-drinking revolutionary, defying the mighty corporate machine by sucking down all those damn Blue Moons.

What I didn’t notice, as I stormed the ramparts – supposed microbrew in hand – was that the Blue Moon Brewing Co. actually belongs to MillerCoors, which was sold to Molson Coors by SABMiller last year so the Justice Department would look kindly on SABMiller’s giant merger with Anheuser-Busch InBev. And all that.

Not that the label on a bottle of Blue Moon suggested anything other than that I was gulping down an authentic craft beer. I’ve been an unwitting consumer of America’s leading anti-craft beer, taken in by an international conglomerate’s ploy to fend off these upstart microbreweries.

So Big Beer has been hawking faux craft beers, with crafty-sounding names like Blue Moon, Shock Top, Landshark, Wild Blue. In 2014, The Beer Advocate published internal advertising documents from Labatt’s, another subsidiary of AB InBev, happily noting that 75 percent of consumers wrongly assumed that Shock Top was bottled by a “small/unknown brewer.”

Meanwhile, the big boys have been snatching up sure-enough craft brewers. AB InBev purchased iconic brands like California’s Golden Road, Oregon-based 10 Barrel, Long Island’s Blue Point (which has been distributed in cans in Maine), Virginia’s Devils Backbone, Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery and Chicago’s Goose Island. One wonders, now that AB InBev has purchased Elysian Brewing Co. in Seattle, whether Elysian’s Loser Pale Ale will keep its famous motto, “Corporate beer sucks.”

You’ve got to worry. How about our authentic, home-brewed crafts down there in South Florida? “Due South has been approached in the past by parties interested in purchasing our business. The answer is always the same – Due South is not for sale,” Mike Halker, of Due South Brewing in Boynton Beach, assured me via email.

Florida’s pioneer craft brewer, Cigar City in Tampa, rejected an offer from AB InBev last year but then accepted a deal for less money with Fireman Capital, a Boston-based private equity firm, that reportedly will allow founder Joey Redner to maintain control of the operation.

Luis Brignoni said the giant multinationals haven’t made a play for his Wynwood Brewing in Miami. Not yet.

Both Halker and Brignoni were bothered by the faux crafts peddled by Big Beer. Along with the Brewers Association, a national trade association of craft brewers, which has issued a statement saying, “The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.”

“Overall beer consumption is flat at best,” Brignoni said, also via email. “However, craft sales continue to increase by double digits. So something is giving way, and that’s the major multinational breweries.

“The faux brands are a way for them to stay competitive and an attempt to attract the young millennial consumer who is looking for something with flavor and doesn’t mind paying a little more for it,” Brignoni said.

He noted that the true provenance of some conglomerate faux crafts “are impossible to find out by the label.” Halker was similarly bothered. “It’s unfortunate the macros are trying to sell big beer disguised as craft, but it makes sense if their market share is declining and ours is increasing.”

The weird thing is that even as AB InBev has been buying up craft brewers, its flagship brand, Budweiser, has been running an ad campaign mocking craft beer drinkers. “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”

Except America is clearly losing its taste for the light, watery lager that once dominated the domestic beer market. Budweiser’s latest marketing ploy has been to temporarily rename the beer “America.” Which prompted Peter Sagal of NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me” to mock the un-American company (AB InBev is a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate): “So as a marketing gimmick, why not change its name to America? That was the No. 2 solution they came up with to help with sales after they rejected No. 1: Make it taste good.”


]]> 2 Fri, 20 May 2016 19:44:33 +0000
Maine Voices: Government of, by and for the people? Now it’s just big government Sat, 21 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 FREEPORT — What will be President Obama’s most significant legacy? The Affordable Care Act? Dodd-Frank’s regulation of financial markets? The withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan? The Iranian nuclear deal?

All of these will be recalled as key components of Obama’s efforts to fundamentally alter American society, the economy and the country’s role in the world. But the most significant legacy, and the one hardest to reverse, will be the dramatic expansion in the size and power of the administrative-regulatory state that the president has aided and abetted. This has been an expansion that rivals Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and arguably exceeds that of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Call this one the “Great Transformation.”

In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” But Lincoln’s vision of proper government is now little more than an eloquent memory, if it is remembered at all.

Article 1 of the Constitution is clear about who makes the laws: “All legislative powers shall be vested in a Congress.” That’s what the Constitution says, but the reality is that today a multitude of largely unaccountable executive and independent agencies, the “fourth branch” of government, make most of our laws in the form of thousands of rules and regulations that increasingly affect every aspect of our lives.

In many cases the same agencies adjudicate challenges to their edicts and enforce the regulations with often draconian punishments. An ostensibly democratic governing system couldn’t possibly be more rigged in favor of government power and against individuals and smaller business who do not have the means to engage in prolonged and expensive litigation with uncertain outcomes.

The administrative state is the natural and inevitable outgrowth of the guiding principle of progressivism, which is that society and the economy can improve, but only with the guidance of experts who know better than the rest of us how we should lead our lives and operate our businesses. The Donald Trump phenomenon is the natural and inevitable reaction to the implementation of this principle.

Examples of federal agency impositions and oppressions – ranging from uncompromising environmental policy that has cost thousands of jobs, to micromanagement of labor markets and financial institutions, to rules that repress free speech and due process on college campuses – are all too abundant. And more occur with depressing frequency. The question about government-by-bureaucracy is not whether the results are sometimes desirable, but whether this process of governance has any constitutional validity. If the answer is “no,” as many conservative and libertarian legal scholars contend, then the question is whether anyone will do anything about it.

Not Congress, which has allowed administrative agencies to usurp its legislative authority. Its progressive members are happy to have agencies bypass the majority consensus required for constitutional rule-making as long as they agree with the results, and Republicans, members of the party of Lincoln and theoretical defenders of the concept of limited government, fulminate about too many regulations and executive orders, but are too divided and dysfunctional to do anything about them, even when the Republican Party controls the House and Senate.

That leaves the third official branch, the courts. But the courts have abdicated their responsibility to check administrative power in favor of the doctrine that holds that the judiciary should defer to the expertise of agencies in statutory interpretation unless the interpretation and agency actions are so blatantly unconstitutional that even accommodating courts can’t ignore them.

Courts are starting to push back against regulatory overreach, but the resistance is still spotty and inadequate. Serial abusers of their authority, like the Environmental Protection Agency, take full advantage of judicial deference.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Whether or not we can is now in some doubt. The possibility that the country can escape a growing soft tyranny that is the result of a dangerous imbalance between the power of the administrative state and the people is not zero, but the outlook is bleak.

The country’s founders would be profoundly dismayed at what has happened to their great experiment in representative democracy based on a separation and balance of powers. The anti-federalists, who feared that a strong central government would become too powerful and oppressive, could say “we told you so,” but would do so with more regret than satisfaction.


]]> 48 Fri, 20 May 2016 19:42:06 +0000
M.D. Harmon: Nation’s voters are looking for an outsider this year Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Last week, I discussed in some detail Maine voters’ history of re-electing top-level political figures, a trend that has applied for many decades to senators, members of Congress and governors.

When defeat does happen, it most often occurs at the end of an official’s first term, when voters can actually remember that the post wasn’t held by its current occupant in perpetuity.

Which is why the case of Sen. Angus King is intriguing.

King’s term as an independent governor wasn’t particularly outstanding – the Democrats who ran things back then weren’t always willing to accept his priorities when they differed, as they occasionally did, from their own.

But it also met the typical voter’s minimum requirements for the job, and King had no trouble moving on to the Senate, again as an independent, once Olympia Snowe’s retirement (see “guaranteed to win re-election as long as she wanted the job,” above) produced an open seat.

And that brings us again to Gov. LePage, and the coincidence that the Republican’s second term expires along with King’s first one.

Speculation that the governor would run against King in 2018 is met with a number of objections, one being that current polls show the senator with substantially higher ratings than LePage, and another that King is Mr. Smooth on the hustings, while LePage is, well, not.

But so what? Recall that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is as rough as a buzz saw, and it hasn’t kept him from driving many more-polished candidates from the race.

Where polls are concerned, they showed his prospective opponent well in the lead all along – until suddenly she wasn’t. One poll this week had Donald Trump actually ahead of Hillary Clinton in a nationwide sample. Who knows where things will stand six months from now?

As an aside, wasn’t it fun to watch the Nevada Democratic delegate selection process descend into a booing session (targeting California Sen. Barbara Boxer, certainly a boo-worthy figure) and then become an altercation where the police had to restore order? (The headline on the Real Clear Politics website’s story was “Chaos at Nevada Democratic convention; state party chair flees building as Sanders supporters demand recount.”)

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters aren’t exactly going gently into that good night, a fact that led the state party’s lawyer to caution that they threatened the Democratic convention this summer.

“Having seen up close the lack of conscience or concern for the ramifications of their actions – indeed, the glee with which they engaged in such destructive behavior – we expect similar tactics at the National Convention in July,” wrote Bradley Schrager in a letter dated Monday.

Makes you wonder how many Sandernistas are going to support Clinton in November. Assuming she makes it that far, of course.

On May 11, FBI Director James Comey reinforced that his agency was conducting “an investigation – that’s what we do” – not, as Clinton has often claimed, a mere “security inquiry” into her private-server emails as secretary of state.

Thus, if you believe that Vice President Joe Biden was merely speaking off the cuff by saying that “if” he had run, he would have picked Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as his running mate, you might want to adjust the sensitivity setting on your Democratic Duplicity Detector.

Here’s hoping that Sanders, who has been a Democrat about as long as Trump has been a Republican (and actually does better than Clinton against him in the polls), keeps fighting all the way to the Philadelphia convention.

Would Clinton make him her running mate? If not, wouldn’t a third-party socialist-themed campaign be really exciting? Run, Bernie, run!

Back to LePage: If the conventional wisdom about the extremely unconventional Trump is right, voters – potentially including many Mainers – are looking for an outsider this year. Might they be of the same opinion (or even more so) two years from now?

LePage does the outsider shtick better than almost anyone else – because he actually is one.

If voters want someone to protect them from what is widely believed to be a conspiracy of the elites to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary Americans (who have seen abundant evidence that “crony capitalism” is a Washington way of life), then LePage may be just what the downtrodden-feeling masses ordered.

And the slicker and smoother any insider opponent appears to be, the greater the contrast will become between them.

Still, LePage, who is highly unlikely to make a decision to run any time soon, also seems to believe that if Trump wins the presidency, he might find a place in his administration for Maine’s governor, who is his most prominent state supporter.

I must admit there is a Trump administration job I would love to see Paul LePage accept.

Why, press secretary, of course.

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

]]> 35, 20 May 2016 11:10:59 +0000
Maine Voices: If students take a gap year, they should find a way to make it count Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 ROCKPORT — Everyone is dismayed, but at the same time everyone has seemed to accept this fact: A college degree today can often cost as much as buying a home.

What is surprising is that too few parents and students really ask the tough questions about how to wisely invest in this undertaking. It is about much more than reputation and rankings. The real question is: What are you going to do with higher education, and when will you be prepared to do it?

Would you purchase a home in a town you’ve never lived in and where you don’t have a job? Should you invest in even one of four precious (and outrageously expensive) years of higher education if you don’t know what you want to do with that education and where it may take you? Neither is advisable, unless you have a lot of extra cash and are a compulsive risk-taker.

I won’t argue the old adage that “youth is wasted on the young” (who better to enjoy it?), but as someone who has taught and worked with hundreds of young college students over the years, I can say at least that higher education is often squandered on the too young.

Gaining experience to help make decisions about what to do with college before college can save both time and money in the long run. I am, therefore, an ardent supporter of the gap year experience, as profiled in the recent Press Herald article “More graduates push pause, see benefits of pre-college ‘gap year’ “ (May 2).

The type of programmatic “gap year” highlighted there, however, which often is a packaged commodity with prohibitive fees, is but one variety. The reality is that the majority of students at Maine schools may not have access, financially or otherwise, to these types of typical and typically expensive gap year programs. There are other – and, frankly, sometimes better – alternatives.

My advice to a Maine high school graduate: If your mother or your father is truly well-connected enough to get you a fabulous internship with an employer in London, or Buenos Aires, or Seoul, by all means go for it. And if so, chances are that may also mean that your family has the wherewithal to help you finance such an undertaking.

But if not, perhaps you should save a big and potentially expensive adventure like this for later in your college career, when your higher level of experience may help you secure a better opportunity. If you can get academic credit for it, you also may find that financial aid will help to pay for it then.

In the meantime, take a year (or two, or three) to explore your own world a little more and gain experience and maturity. Get a job at a local lumber yard, intern with a human service agency or work the cash register at your town’s Hannaford while taking a class at your local community college or University of Maine satellite campus.

It may not look as “sexy” on your resume, but don’t assume that a college admissions officer will discount its value. You may not learn the correct way to order wine at a sidewalk cafe in Florence, but chances are you will learn a good deal more about the hard work of real life.

In other words, you may be much better prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities offered to you by higher education (and what comes after) and much less likely to misspend your prime learning years on a social life fueled by the high costs of college tuition.

If you’re determined to travel and see the world, save your money for a self-planned and self-arranged sojourn abroad. Use your time there (even if measured in weeks instead of months) to pursue and learn more about a particular interest or to offer your service through an agency, church or volunteer group that may give you some basic accommodation in return for your sweat and sore muscles.

Or enroll in a program at a language school in another country; these can often provide a productive, very cost-effective way to have a learning adventure overseas and may offer some extra academic credits when you do get to college. It takes work to identify and set up such opportunities, but it can be done and at a fraction of the cost of a packaged program.

Gap year(s)? Absolutely! But make it count, and don’t imagine that its value is defined by its cost or even its distance from home.


]]> 2, 20 May 2016 11:07:30 +0000
Charles Krauthammer: Both Trump, Clinton have to take Sanders factor into account Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Among the abundant ironies of this election cycle, there is this: We are now in the eighth year of the most liberal administration since Lyndon Johnson’s. The primary elections reveal a national mood of anxiety, apprehension and anger, in turn reflecting stagnation at home and failure abroad. Two-thirds of Americans think the U.S. is on the wrong track. Yet after nearly two terms of Barack Obama’s corrosively unsuccessful liberalism – both parties have decisively moved left.

A heretofore marginal, self-declared socialist has forced Hillary Clinton into leftward genuflections on everything from trade to national health care. At the same time, Bernie Sanders has created a remarkably resilient insurgency calling for – after Obama, mind you – a political revolution of the left.

The Republicans’ ideological about-face is even more pronounced. They’ve chosen as their leader a nationalist populist who hardly pretends any allegiance to conservatism. Indeed, Donald Trump is, like Sanders, running to Clinton’s left on a host of major issues, including trade, Wall Street, NATO and interventionism.

It turns out that the ultimate general election question is not where Ted Cruz’s or Marco Rubio’s or John Kasich’s supporters are going – almost all seem to be making their tortuous way to Trump – but where do Bernie Sanders’ supporters go?

Most will, of course, go to Clinton. Some will stay home. But Trump is making a not-so-subtle pitch to those Democrats and independents who gave Sanders his victories in the industrial Midwest.

The Trump and Sanders constituencies are both overwhelmingly white. In the Rust Belt, the appeal is to middle- and working-class voters who have suffered economic and social dislocation. The question is whether Trump can win enough of those voters, erstwhile Reagan Democrats, to flip just a few states that, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, have gone Democratic for the last six elections.

Which is why Clinton is treating Sanders so (relatively) gently. She wants to be rid of him but cannot alienate his constituency – especially after the ruckus made by his supporters at the Nevada state convention and his string of recent victories in West Virginia, Indiana and Oregon and the virtual draw in Kentucky. She needs him.

The Sanders constituency is substantial and very loyal. And rather angry now as they can see the Clinton machine winning the nomination through superdelegates.

She needs his blessing and active support in the general election. If not cultivated and appeased, say, on the party platform and/or vice-presidential choice, Sanders could very well disappear after the Philadelphia convention and leave her to her own devices – which are much lacking, as demonstrated in her recent primary losses.

At the very least, she needs him to warn his followers away from a Trump temptation. That, after all, is Trump’s path to victory: Add a few industrial blue states to the traditional must-win swing states – Ohio and Florida, most obviously – and pull off an Electoral College win.

The Clinton counterstrategy is based on the global demographics. Trump’s unfavorable numbers are impressive: 79 percent among Hispanics, 73 percent among nonwhites, 72 percent among young people, 64 percent among women, 57 percent in the general population.

Which is the more compelling scenario? Right now, Clinton has the distinct advantage. Flipping reliably Democratic states is very difficult. So is lowering Trump’s high negatives.

But we are highly unlikely to go the next six months without a significant crisis. In September 2008, the financial collapse cemented Obama’s victory when he, the novice, reacted far more calmly and steadily than did John McCain, the veteran.

This time around, Trump reacted to the San Bernardino terror attack with a nativist, demagogic, yet politically shrewd call for (temporarily, allegedly) banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Roundly denounced by Democrats and leading Republicans alike, Trump watched his poll numbers go through the roof. Turns out that Republican voters supported the ban, 2-to-1.

A candidate with the tactical acuity to successfully deploy such breathtaking, bigotry-tinged cynicism is not to be trifled with. Under normal circumstances, Clinton wins. But if the fire alarm goes off between now and Election Day, all bets are off. Clinton had better be ready. Trump has shown that he will be.

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

]]> 7, 20 May 2016 11:06:14 +0000
Dana Milbank: Sanders ought to know better than try winning by intimidation Thu, 19 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Let’s examine what Bernie Sanders supporters did in his name this past weekend.

As the Nevada Democratic convention voted to award a majority of delegates to Hillary Clinton – an accurate reflection of her victory in the state’s February caucuses – Sanders backers charged the stage, threw chairs and shouted vulgar epithets at speakers. Security agents had to protect the dais and ultimately clear the room.

Sanders supporters publicized the cellphone number of the party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, resulting in thousands of abusive text messages and threats:

“Praying to God someone shoots you in the FACE and blows your democracy-stealing head off!”

“We know where you live. Where you work. Where you eat. Where your kids go to school/grandkids… Prepare for hell.”

Veteran Nevada reporter Jon Ralston transcribed some of the choice voicemail messages for the chairwoman, some with vulgar labels for women and their anatomy:

“I think people like you should be hung in a public execution.”

“You … stupid bitch! What the hell are you doing? You’re a … corrupt bitch!”

The day after the convention, Sanders supporters vandalized party headquarters with messages saying, among other things, “you are scum.”

And the candidate’s response to the violent and misogynistic behavior of his backers? Mostly defiance. Asked by reporters Tuesday about the convention chaos – in which operatives from his national campaign participated – Sanders walked away in the middle of the question.

Finally, mid-afternoon Tuesday, Sanders released a statement saying, “I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals.” But he blamed the Nevada party for preventing a “fair and transparent process,” and he threatened Democrats: “If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned.”

It is no longer accurate to say Sanders is campaigning against Clinton, who has essentially locked up the nomination. The Vermont socialist is now running against the Democratic Party. And that’s excellent news for one Donald J. Trump.

“The Sanders Campaign spent its time either ignoring or profiting from the chaos it did much to create,” the Nevada Democratic Party wrote in a formal complaint to the Democratic National Committee. “Part of the approach by the Sanders campaign was to employ these easily incensed delegates as shock troops.”

The Nevada Democrats, warning of similar disruptions at the national convention in July, accused the Sanders campaign of “inciting disruption – and, yes, violence.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I wasn’t concerned about Sanders remaining in the race until the very end, because he doesn’t wish to see a President Trump and will ultimately throw his full support to Clinton. Sanders has, indeed, lightened up on Clinton and is instead trying to shape the Democrats’ platform and direction. But his attacks on the party have released something just as damaging to the causes he professes to represent. Coupled with his refusal to raise money for the party, his increasingly harsh rhetoric could hurt Democrats up and down the ballot in November and beyond.

“We are taking on virtually the entire Democratic establishment,” Sanders proclaims.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-money interests?” he asks.

“The Democratic Party up to now has not been clear about which side they are on on the major issues facing this country,” he announces.

This was Ralph Nader’s argument in 2000: There isn’t much difference between the two parties. It produced President George W. Bush. Sanders said at the start of his campaign that he wouldn’t do what Nader did, because there is a difference between the parties.

Yet now his supporters, the Nevada Democratic Party says, are behind “physical threats and intimidation,” “scuffles, screams from bullhorns, and profane insults” and “numerous medical emergencies among delegates pressed up against the dais.”

This, even though they were wrong on the merits. Ralston writes that “the Sanders folks disregarded rules, then when shown the truth, attacked organizers and party officials as tools of a conspiracy to defraud the senator of what was never rightfully his in the first place.”

And this, despite only two additional delegates being at stake, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump points out – not enough to make a difference in the race.

More to the point, no grievance justifies what happened in Nevada. Yet Sanders, recklessly, is fueling the fire.

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

]]> 77, 19 May 2016 17:26:48 +0000
Commentary: Pot issue entails uncertainties aplenty on legalization’s public health effects Thu, 19 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SANTA MONICA, Calif. — In six months, California will join Maine, Nevada and probably a few other states in deciding whether to legalize the large-scale commercial production of marijuana. Residents will be inundated with wild claims about the promises and pitfalls of these initiatives.

You will hear debates about government revenue, criminal justice benefits, the environment and the effect of legalization on Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Public health conversations may prove especially contentious. Some will claim that legalization will constitute a net gain for health. Others will say the exact opposite.

Although you shouldn’t believe either extreme, one fairly safe bet is that if we legalize and allow profit-maximizing firms to produce, sell and advertise recreational marijuana, use will increase.

The data from Colorado and Washington state, where voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, are still preliminary. We do know, however, that the number of Coloradans who reported using marijuana in the past month increased from about 10.5 percent in 2011-12 to nearly 15 percent in 2013-14. In Washington, reported use increased from just above 10 percent to almost 13 percent.

Given that both states’ pre-existing medical systems already provided quasi-legal availability, it is hard to imagine that commercial legalization did not account for at least some of these increases. (That said, other factors could influence marijuana use, and it will be some time before researchers have enough data to conduct rigorous analyses. Some of the increase could also come from respondents being more honest now that marijuana is legal in their states).

But is an increase in marijuana consumption a bad thing from a public health standpoint? Not necessarily.

Much will depend on the types of users who account for the increase – adults or children? Heavy users or light users? No one wants kids to get stoned at school or to become regular users while their brains are still developing. And no one wants adults to be impaired at work or behind the wheel. Some heavy marijuana users, moreover, struggle to control their consumption and this can create challenges for them and their families. But there are real benefits associated with marijuana use, such as medical relief or simply pleasure.

Exactly how people consume marijuana will also help determine public health consequences. In addition to vaporizing marijuana plant material (which reduces inhalation of carcinogens and other substances), people can and do eat, drink, vape hash-oil and “dab” waxes that are high in the intoxicating chemical THC. The negative effects of overconsuming edibles are well-documented, but much less is known about the pros and cons of these other forms.

Perhaps the most important consideration is how increased marijuana consumption may influence the use of other substances.

Although the social costs of heavy alcohol use are much larger than the social costs attributable to heavy marijuana use, we do not know if legalization will lead to more or less drinking. The research on the relationship between alcohol and marijuana use is split down the middle.

This connection is especially important in terms of traffic safety. The bulk of the research suggests that driving drunk is more dangerous than driving stoned, and driving stoned is worse than driving sober. Research also suggests that driving under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana is worse than either by itself.

It would be a real blow to public health if an increase in marijuana use led to increased tobacco use. Even though the bulk of the research suggests this is a possibility, one cannot assume that the relationship would remain the same under a different legal regime. Besides, most of the relevant studies were conducted before e-cigarettes and marijuana vape pens became popular, so researchers and voters alike have to be careful about making projections.

There is also a new and much smaller body of research suggesting that increasing the availability of marijuana reduces problems with opioid painkillers. Some of these studies, however, are working papers that have not yet been subject to rigorous peer review.

When you vote on whether to legalize marijuana, public health consequences may not be at the top of your list. If they are, I’m here to tell you the experts have more questions than answers. That won’t change before November.

]]> 7 Wed, 18 May 2016 18:16:41 +0000
Maine Voices: Pull plug on cyberabuse by connecting with children face to face Thu, 19 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Parents and educators want to create a community for students that is safe and free from violence, but it can often feel like we’re fighting the tide to do so. One issue we often hear about relates to the negative aspects of technology: cyberharassment, online conflicts and inappropriate use of technology.

The sheer number of ways people interact that are not face to face makes it daunting and frustrating for parents and educators to know how to manage issues that arise. While technology does create opportunity, it comes with a responsibility that young people and adults are still sorting out. However, a healthy relationship with technology, media and the Internet is possible – and the solution doesn’t even require you to be a tech know-it-all.

We see this issue not only through our professional eyes as a middle school principal and a violence prevention specialist, but also as parents. As our children grow, we too are sorting out the balance of how technology can positively and negatively influence the lives of our kids. In our view, the most important steps we can take are not so much revolutionary but realistic. We offer these as ideas for anyone who interacts with young people as they navigate virtual reality:

Talk about technology: Talk to your students and kids about what media they interact with and learn about it from them. Doing your own research about what is out there can be empowering, but do not be overwhelmed if you have never heard of Snapchat or Burn Note.

Your energy is best invested in direct conversation with your children/students about the technology they are using. When doing so, it is important to remember to have these conversations without judgment (which can be especially hard for adults!).

Here are some conversation starters: What technology is used at school? What games do you play and what do you like about them? What apps are you using? What do you like/not like about them? How do people talk to each other in this app/game/forum? If someone says something inappropriate on one of these platforms, how is it handled?

Lead by example: Role modeling is an extremely powerful tool, so let young people both observe and hear from you about the choices you make related to technology and virtual life. Tell them why you still use Facebook (even if it’s not cool anymore). Share your concerns about how easily online communication can become negative and even become unsafe. Talk with them about ways to protect privacy online and why that is an essential safety rule.

Children and youth are watching how we interact with each other all of the time – from a much earlier age than we might like to admit – and they are learning a great deal directly from these observations. Modeling respectful communication and conflict resolution in real life and online shows them it is possible.

Commit to the long term: Avoid the temptation to make talking about media and technology a one-time conversation. A healthy relationship with technology and media requires us to communicate honestly with young people on an ongoing basis. Your commitment to this dialogue will help foster their internal sense of what is and is not acceptable to them – which they will need when you are not around.

Building decision-making skills they will need throughout life to determine what is or isn’t acceptable behavior will outlast any of the expensive technology at their fingertips. Providing a comfortable place for them to talk about issues relating to technology will help them see you as an ally, not an adversary, if something bad or scary happens and they need your help.

Seek assistance: If at any point you have significant concerns about what your child/student may have been exposed to, reach out to support networks, other parents, teachers, school administrators or behavioral health providers to help you in supporting the young person.

We join you in trying to find the best possible ways to support children and youth and find ways to prevent conflict. By working together through a grant led by the city of Portland’s Public Health Division and Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Portland Defending Childhood has partnered with schools like Lincoln Middle School to support training for educators to understand, and help prevent, issues of violence and trauma.

We feel strongly that collaboration and honest conversations can help young people develop the skills necessary to make good decisions, avoid risk and positively contribute to their communities, both on- and off-line.

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Leonard Pitts: Worst of American history repeats itself with Zimmerman’s gun for sale Wed, 18 May 2016 10:00:00 +0000 It was not enough just to kill Sam Hose. No, they had to make souvenirs out of him.

Hose was an African-American man lynched by a mob of some 2,000 white women and men in 1899 near the town of Newman, Georgia. They did all the usual things. They stabbed him, castrated him, skinned his face, mutilated him, burned him alive.

Then they parceled out pieces of his body.

You could buy a small fragment of his bones for a quarter. A piece of his liver, “crisply cooked,” would set you back a dime.

The great African-American scholar, W.E.B. DuBois, reported that Hose’s knuckles were for sale in a grocer’s window in Atlanta.

No, it wasn’t enough just to kill Sam Hose. People needed mementos of the act.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough just to kill Trayvon Martin, either.

Granted, it is not a piece of the child’s body that was recently put up for auction online by the man who killed him. George Zimmerman is offering “only” the gun that did the deed. But there is a historical resonance here as sickening as it is unmistakable.

Once again, a black life is destroyed. Once again, “justice” gives the killer a pass. Once again, there is a barter in keepsakes of the killing.

Sam Hose was not unique. People claimed hundreds, thousands, of trophies from the murders of African Americans.

They kept bones. They kept sexual organs. They kept photographs of themselves, posed with mutilated corpses.

It happened with the killings of Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith, Rubin Stacy, Laura Nelson, Claude Neal and too many more to count.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see it happen with Trayvon.

And someone will say, yes, but isn’t there a lively trade in all sorts of murder memorabilia?

One website alone offers a signed postcard from Charles Manson, a letter from Jeffrey Dahmer, pictures of Ted Bundy. So how is this different?

Funny thing, though: All those men went to prison for what they did. Zimmerman did not. Initially, authorities couldn’t even bring themselves to arrest this self-deputized neighborhood watchman who stalked and shot an unarmed boy four years ago near Orlando.

Not that it mattered much when they did. Zimmerman went to court, but it was 17-year-old Trayvon who was on trial.

A nation founded, rooted and deeply invested in the canard of native black criminality very much needed to believe Zimmerman’s improbable tale of self-defense, very much needed to find a way for the boy to be guilty of his own murder.

And so he was.

And the marketing of the gun that killed him by the man who pulled the trigger does not feel like simply another example of flagrantly bad taste. No, it feels like a victory lap on a dead boy’s grave. It feels like America once again caught in its own lies.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”? No we don’t.

” … with liberty and justice for all”? No there is not.

One is left breathless, not just with anger, not only with frustration, not simply with a sense of betrayal but also with a grinding fatigue at the need to, once again, ride out an assault on the basic humanness of African-American people.

Like Sam Hose, Trayvon Martin was “thing-ified,” made into something not his singular and individual self, made into an all-purpose metaphor, the brooding black beast glaring through the night-darkened window of American conscience.

And like Sam Hose his murder is now commodified, made into a trophy for display in someone’s den.

African-American life is thereby – again – debased, and the nation, shamed. So when this thing is sold it really won’t matter who writes the check.

We all will pay the price.

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

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Maine Voices: Labor Department’s proposed overtime rules won’t work for nonprofits Wed, 18 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 At Habitat for Humanity in Greater Portland, we work day in and day out to ensure that all Maine families have a decent place to live. Founded in 1985, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland is committed to the development and uplifting of families and communities in 28 communities in the Portland area. Over the past three decades, we’ve built 75 homes, providing hundreds of people with stable, affordable housing. We have engaged hundreds of business and civic partners, and enlisted the support of thousands of volunteers.

Admittedly, this isn’t an easy task. As is the case for many nonprofits, the need for our services is great and ever growing. But we’re up to the challenge and we are always working hard to get better, measuring our performance and using our resources efficiently to best serve as many clients as possible.

While there are always obstacles to overcome, the latest is poised to dramatically affect our ability to provide services. It’s a real game-changer for nonprofits across Maine.

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a new overtime rule that would significantly increase overtime pay obligations for employers and is expected to be finalized this month. The current threshold salary of $23,660 per year would more than double to $50,440. Recent reporting indicates that the Labor Department “compromised” at $47,500, which is still double the current threshold.

In addition, going forward, the threshold would automatically be increased every year (something that has never been done before) based on an unpredictable schedule, with employers given only 60 days’ notice to figure out how they can comply with the change.

As a nonprofit dedicating our resources to serving Maine families, we typically cannot afford to pay high salaries such as other large businesses in more urban parts of the country, but we do offer our employees competitive pay and benefits. Furthermore, our employees choose this line of work because they spend each day helping others to reach their fullest potential. And at the end of the day, they head home knowing that their work has made a difference.

The Labor Department’s new overtime rules will so drastically change our current compensation obligations that we may no longer be able to give our workers the benefits, schedules and other incentives that drew them to us in the first place. Businesses can raise prices to compensate for higher overhead costs (although they often lose sales when they do), but nonprofits have to absorb the loss, often cutting services or jobs when resources are stretched too thin.

We are not alone. Nonprofits in Maine and across the nation are extremely concerned about the overtime change. Services to those in need will be reduced and organizational funding will decline as resources are spent on overhead instead of programs.

Recently, Sen. Angus King sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget outlining his concerns and urging the Labor Department to slow down and consider the impact that such a role will have on organizations such as ours in rural states such as Maine.

There is now legislation, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, that would require the Labor Department to perform a detailed impact analysis before implementing changes to the exemptions. The bill requires the Labor Department to address many of the concerns outlined in King’s letter, including that the agency’s analysis of the rule did not consider the impact the proposal would have on various regions of the country with different costs of living.

We do not disagree that a reasonable increase to the salary threshold might be due, and the bill does not prevent an increase in the salary threshold. It merely requires the Labor Department to more closely examine the impact of possible changes before proceeding with a final rule.

In our state alone, the proposed rule change would affect an estimated 20,000 workers. Maine’s delegation should stand together in support of the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, speak up against this overly burdensome rule change and speak up for those in Maine who benefit from nonprofit services.

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Greg Kesich: Who is really leading Portland, and where are the power lines drawn? Wed, 18 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’m confused. It looks like the City Council voted to adopt a budget Monday that calls for the partial closure of the city-run clinic on India Street. But at the same meeting, Mayor Ethan Strimling announced, “We have saved India Street.”

That’s not what I’m confused about.

Most of India Street’s services will stay where they are for at least a year, so Strimling is declaring victory. That’s just spin, and it’s what politicians do all the time.

No, what confused me was that in the same speech, Strimling referred to himself as “the leader of the city.”

Is he?

The transfer of services from India Street to Portland Community Health Center was City Manager Jon Jennings’ idea and he put it in his budget.

Jennings made that proposal based on his evaluation of the city’s services and his philosophical principle that the government should focus on the things that won’t be done by anyone else.

When there is a private nonprofit health care center around the corner, Jennings reasoned, the city should find a way to get out of the business of providing clinical services.

In other words, he proposed a change in policy, and, with some amendments, the council, signed off, Strimling included.

That sounds like the manager is making policy, not just implementing it.

The mayor is supposed to be the city’s “policy leader,” according to the charter. And by virtue of being directly elected with support of the majority of voters, the mayor is supposed to be the instrument through which people have a say in the city’s direction.

But that’s not necessarily how it’s working.

When Portland had an election just six months ago, the India Street clinic was never mentioned. When the new council and the mayor set priorities early in the year, this wasn’t one of them.

In time, the solution the council approved Monday night may prove to be the right one, but it’s not a change that the people said they wanted during the campaign. The question for Portland voters is whether we are seeing a flaw in the charter’s design or a conflict of personalities. Could you fix it with an election, or would you need to rewrite the charter?

It would be easy to blame Strimling. In only six months on the job, he has accomplished something that it took Michael Brennan three years to do – turning most of the City Council against him.

Early on, Strimling ruffled some feathers by moving the mayor’s office at city expense and advocating for staff support – which reminded everyone that he is the only elected official of the city with a full-time salary.

Then, when he delivered a speech about the budget at a council meeting, he suggested that the India Street proposal was the product of out-of-whack values.

That drew stinging rebukes from the manager and council members who supported the idea, and it fed the imaginations of conspiracy theorists in the public.

Strimling could just be learning the ropes, figuring out where his job ends and Jennings’ begins, but there may be a structural problem as well.

When they were rewriting the charter, the charter commission spent a lot of time setting the balance of power between an elected mayor and a city manager.

But I don’t remember anywhere near as much talk about the relationship of the mayor and the council.

The mayor has the authority to appoint councilors to committees, set the council agenda, provide guidance to the manager on the budget and chair the committee that evaluates the manager’s performance.

But otherwise, the only power the mayor has comes from the council, and since a stronger mayor means a weaker council, the council doesn’t have much incentive to fork any over.

In the last weeks of his campaign, Brennan argued that the councilors who opposed him and endorsed Strimling were also councilors who didn’t like the idea of an elected mayor. Now we are seeing some of the same councilors going after Strimling.

If the India Street experience is any indication, the councilors are getting their leadership from Jennings, not the elected mayor, and the policy agenda is being set in the manager’s office, not the mayor’s.

Confused? I don’t blame you.

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Maine Voices: South Portland on the right track with comprehensive pesticide ordinance Tue, 17 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I support the city of South Portland’s efforts to reduce toxins and protect Casco Bay by passing a comprehensive pesticide ordinance.

When I was a teenager, my family lived on Mill Cove in South Portland. My brother and I would go swimming right off our lawn. Back then, I had no idea that our lawn and the products we used to make it green had anything to do with water quality in Casco Bay.

Modern lawn care practices are based on the chemical advances that came out of World War II: in particular, the development of poison that could kill weeds but leave grass standing.

There was a time when dandelions and clover were a normal and beneficial part of our lawns. The dandelions provided food for bumblebees. The clover took nitrogen from the air and fixed it in the soil, where it served as a natural fertilizer. If you’re old enough, you can remember a time when bags of grass seed from the hardware store came with clover seed mixed right in to serve this important role.

With the new herbicides came the possibility of a perfectly weed-free lawn. However, there were some drawbacks.

First, without clover, the grass turns yellow from lack of nitrogen. This problem is addressed by applying synthetic fertilizer.

 Second, pests like grubs find the tender roots of an all-grass lawn irresistible. Again, modern chemistry can solve this problem with a timely application of insecticides.

This cycle of lawn chemical use is good business for the companies that manufacture and apply pesticides. Here in Maine, the state Board of Pesticides Control has charted an astounding 700 percent increase in the home use of pesticides just in the past 20 years. It takes a lot of chemicals and a lot of money to keep a big lawn looking like a golf course.

A chemically treated lawn also raises health concerns. Pesticides are designed to kill nuisance plants and insects, but they can have unintended impacts on human and animal health. Trained applicators know this. They wear protective equipment while spraying, and they are required to post those little paper warning signs we see around town all spring, summer and fall.

Despite these precautions, pesticide exposure hurts our families, our pets, beneficial insects like honeybees and our iconic lobsters. To pick just one example, a recent study linked pesticide exposure with cancer in dogs. Canine malignant lymphoma is up to 70 percent more prevalent in households that have their lawns treated with pesticides compared to households that have natural lawns.

In light of the financial costs of repeated chemical treatments and the health risks of pesticide exposure, I make the personal choice to keep my lawn chemical free. Unfortunately, lawn care choices have a broader impact beyond the edge of any individual lawn.

Increasingly, Casco Bay is bearing the brunt of our reliance on chemicals to achieve weed-free lawns. Every year, Mainers volunteer hundreds of hours to collect water samples along the coast. This massive effort is organized and led by the Friends of Casco Bay.

Every year they find pesticides, which threaten ocean life, and excess nitrogen, which causes algae blooms. It is estimated that a third of the excess nitrogen in the bay comes from nonpoint source pollution, including fertilizer from lawns carried by rainfall and snowmelt moving over and through the ground.

To address the increase in pesticide use and the decrease in Casco Bay water quality, the South Portland City Council has decided to follow the lead of the town of Ogunquit and promote an organic land care ordinance. This ordinance will restrict problematic chemicals while promoting a natural approach to turf management.

A natural lawn has living soil, a diversity of plants, healthy pollinators and no added chemicals. Organic land care is not about replacing synthetic pesticides with organic pesticides. Instead, it is about creating a robust system that can stand up to weeds, pests and drought.

Maintaining a natural lawn is cheap, and it is better for both the bees and the bay. I applaud the South Portland City Council and city staff for taking a leadership role in protecting our health.

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Kathleen Parker: Don’t approve of Trump? Change the Republican nomination process Tue, 17 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It should be obvious to all by now that Donald Trump knows nothing of what he speaks. His disastrous economic ideas are but the latest in a litany of nonsensical proposals.

Yet, and still, his supporters – that Republican base so carefully nurtured by the very operatives and politicians who now find its members so distasteful – proclaim his supremacy with such bracing observations as, “Well, at least he’s got (gonads),” or “At least he speaks his mind,” or “At least he doesn’t suck up to anybody.”

These selections from the morning mail share a common element – “at least” – which seems apt enough, though “the least” seems more to the point. Trump was the least of so many other Republican candidates who offered governing experience, knowledge and even, in some cases, wisdom.

So why didn’t these superior candidates win, especially given his consistently low favorability ratings? Indeed, both Trump and Hillary Clinton, presumptively speaking, would be the most disliked nominees at this stage of any in the past 10 presidential cycles, according to a recent FiveThirtyEight analysis.

Trump’s average “strongly unfavorable” rating of 53 percent – 16 points higher than Clinton’s – is at least 20 points higher than every other candidate’s rating since 1980.

Never mind the many elected Republican leaders who are distancing themselves from his candidacy. Not enough of them, to be sure, which is disgraceful and surely will be noted by future historians as cowardly. My own running list of sycophants remains handy for the duration of their likely shortened political careers. Nearly half of voters say they’re less likely to support candidates who have aligned themselves with Trump, according to Morning Consult, a group that conducts weekly polls of 2,000 voters.

To answer my earlier question, the better candidates didn’t win because, obviously, so many of them siphoned votes from stronger ones, giving Trump the lead and all-important momentum. Thus, the constant refrain from Trump supporters that the “establishment” is ignoring the “will of the people” is only true to a point. Trump is the choice of a plurality of the Republican Party, but not of a majority – a distinction with a crucial difference.

At this stage, as the Republican Party convenes its circular firing squad composed of party leaders, operatives, hacks, flacks, politicos – if you’ll pardon the redundancy – and, yes, certain media, they might better expend their energies considering alternative voting methods that might have prevented Trump’s ascendancy and likely would prevent future demagogues.

One of these methods, already used by a variety of professional organizations to elect officers, as well as by the United Nations to elect the secretary-general, uses an “approval” ballot, by which voters rank all the candidates of whom they approve rather than select just one. Far from new, this idea was suggested in 1770 by French mathematician and astronomer Jean-Charles de Borda, who expressed concern that several similar candidates would split the majority vote and allow a non-consensus candidate to win.


Through election by order of merit, now known as the “Borda count,” each candidate was awarded a number of votes equal to the number of candidates below him on each voter’s ballot. The candidate with the most votes won.

Fast-forward a couple of centuries to 1977 when New York University politics professor Steven J. Brams and decision theorist Peter C. Fishburn devised “approval voting,” which is similar but even simpler. By their method, voters would cast a vote for each candidate of whom they approve, in no particular order. The candidate with the most votes would win.

Another ranking method, advanced recently in The New York Times by economists Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, was developed by 18th-century mathematician and political theorist Marquis de Condorcet. This process called for ranking candidates in order of approval – or not ranking them at all as an indication of disapproval. The candidate with the highest approval ranking would win.

Longtime voters might find such suggestions jarring, but a Trump nomination could be a rule-changer. He can brag that he has won a couple dozen contests but the reality is that another of the other primary candidates might have beaten him if not for voters scattering their ballots among so many. This is to say, the majority of Republican voters rejected Trump.

Had an approval system been in place, it’s conceivable that John Kasich could be accepting the nomination in July. And Trump would be piling up approval ratings where he belongs – on reality TV.

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

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Charles Lawton: Maine’s economy depends on innovation, disruption Tue, 17 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Innovators generally speak proudly of being disruptive, of creating new and better products and services by disrupting traditional industries and traditional ways of doing things.

Uber has disrupted the traditional taxi industry by applying digital communications to the ride-hailing business. It has grown because a sufficient number of people have found its service preferable to that of traditional taxis and Uber has been able to attract more financing and expand its coverage area. The possibility of similar disruption is threatening the traditional automobile industry, the traditional energy industries and, indeed, all industries.

I was led to think about disruption by continuing my investigation of the interplay between wage growth and education in Maine over the recent past: 2010-11 (the third quarter of 2010 through the second quarter of 2011) and 2014-15 (the third quarter of 2014 through the second quarter of 2015).

Consider, for example, the growth of average monthly earnings. Over the past four years, the major sector in Maine with the highest growth in average earnings was finance and insurance, with an increase of 5.1 percent. The major sector with the lowest rate of increase was information, where average earnings dropped by 2.6 percent over the same period.

How much of this difference, I wondered, was the result of labor shortages, and how much was related to company wage policies or plain old industrial disruption?

In the finance and insurance sector, employment and average earnings rose across all worker education levels (high school or less, some college and bachelor’s degree or higher) between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

Interestingly, however, employment growth was significantly higher for those with some college or no more than a high school education (2.6 percent for both) than for the most educated workers (0.9 percent). And four-year growth in average earnings was greater for the least-educated workers (6.3 percent) than for workers with some college and college graduates (6.3 percent versus 5 and 5.2 percent, respectively).

The information sector is comprised of a disparate group of businesses, including publishing, motion picture and video production, radio and TV broadcasting, telecommunications and data processing. Workers at all education levels lost jobs in this sector between 2010-11 and 2014-15, but job security declined the most for workers with more education.

The number of jobs fell by 7 percent for workers with a high school education, while job loss was 8.1 percent for employees with some college and 12.3 percent for the college-educated.

In terms of average earnings, the skew toward less-educated workers was equally marked. Average pay rose by 3 percent for high school graduates but fell by 0.9 percent for workers in the mid-education category and by 5.1 percent for the most-educated employees.

What led me to think about disruption is this pattern of earnings rising faster for less-educated workers than for more-educated workers in both the finance and the information sectors. That the same pattern occurs in both the sector with the highest growth in average pay and in the sector with the lowest increase in average pay suggests that something more than labor supply and wage rates is at work here.

It suggests that Maine industries, even those with modest rates of growth, may be going the way of the traditional taxi industry. They may be in the process of being Uberized: of being disrupted, if not out of business, then at least limited to the slower growth of businesses that aren’t on the cutting edge of innovation.

This pattern also suggests that true revitalization of the Maine economy depends not just on increasing the educational preparation of our labor force and the wages our companies are willing to pay, but also, and most importantly, on encouraging the growth of innovative companies that are intent on disrupting the traditional ways of doing business – and, thus, of daring to create the sort of change required to provide more jobs and higher wages across the board.

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

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Maine Voices: Higher smoking age would result in a healthier Portland Mon, 16 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My father, a heavy smoker, died of a massive heart attack in 1964, the same year that the U.S. surgeon general released a controversial report linking cigarette smoking to a host of maladies. During the more than 50 years that have elapsed since that report, we continue to grapple with how we can reduce the use of this legal but addictive substance. Progress has been slow, but Maine, and Portland in particular, have much to be proud of in the fight against big tobacco.

In 1983, when I was an internal medicine resident at what was then Brighton Medical Center here in Portland, patients were allowed to smoke freely in their rooms. And many of them did.

If their roommate was suffering from pneumonia or an asthma flare-up, some of these folks politely smoked down the hallway, but others didn’t. As physicians, we didn’t like it, but we were powerless to stop it. Individual rights to a legal substance trumped health concerns.

The following year, Dr. Phil Slocum, a pulmonary and critical care specialist, convinced Brighton to adopt a controversial policy prohibiting patients from smoking in their rooms. Other hospitals soon followed suit. Smoking was moved to designated lounges on each floor of the hospital.

Over time, as evidence accumulated on the dangers of secondhand smoke, the lounges were closed and smoking areas were eventually moved outside hospitals. Portland, which was the first community in the state to prohibit smoking in restaurants in 1998, prohibited smoking in public parks in 2013.

In 2014, CVS pharmacies announced that they would no longer sell cigarettes. This decision made public health sense: Pharmacies are in the business of health. How can they ethically sell nicotine patches and gum, while at the same time fueling nicotine addiction with the sales of cigarettes?

And in fact, there is some evidence that this strategy is reducing cigarette purchases across all retailers in cities and towns where CVS has a high share of the market. Sales of cigarettes are often an impulse decision at the counter. Why not limit their availability?

I support the Portland City Council’s proposal to increase the minimum age to purchase cigarette products within the city limits from 18 to 21. Here’s why.

Raising the age to purchase another legal substance, alcohol, from 18 to 21 came about because of the carnage on our highways. There were simply too many poor choices on the part of our young men and women to ignore the obvious; a young person’s brain is still developing at age 18. Impulse control is not fully formed, and the longer we wait, the more likely responsible decisions can be made.

In the case of cigarettes, the immediate consequences are less obvious, but the long-term effects are just as dire: increased rates of a multitude of cancers, heart disease and emphysema, leading to premature death.

What is not as well known is that smokers who begin the habit early are less able to quit. Two-thirds of all smokers want to quit, and half of smokers try to quit each year. Unfortunately, only about 20 to 25 percent of smokers succeed. Once you’re hooked, it’s a tough, dirty habit to put down.

At a recent City Council meeting, I was pleased to see the council vote unanimously to direct its Health and Human Services Committee to work on an ordinance to raise the age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products in Portland. Once drafted, the ordinance will return to the council for a public hearing and vote.

The new proposal would affect tobacco sellers and e-cigarette vendors. Some business owners have been skeptical of the city’s plan, noting that an 18-year-old is old enough to sign up for the military, vote or buy a gun. But this ordinance is consistent with other public health initiatives. When it comes to society’s interest in delaying exposure to addictive substances, 21 is a more reasonable age to make an informed choice compared to our impulsive teenage years.

The new ordinance won’t solve our cigarette addiction problems, but it will decrease the number of young people who start down the road of this powerful addiction. It’s one that many of them regret.

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Maine Observer: Lessons – and humor – on a field trip Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Summer vacation loomed, as June sunshine spread its beguiling warmth to embrace the group of middle-school students about to embark upon a half-day field trip to a local preserve, the culmination of a science program on surviving in Maine woods.

The science teacher, Rollie, led the group, while I accompanied them to be sure all students stayed focused on the assignment. Rollie drove the school bus and took us to a natural woodland his parents owned in Falmouth. Upon arrival the students scampered off the bus, full of chatter.

Then the serious work began. Slowly we walked the trail. Students had their clipboards, paper and sharp pencils at the ready. Their leader asked them to identify trees newly unfurled and wildflowers, poking up in sunlit corners. Only scribbles could be heard. Rollie shared how people made nettle stew, pointing out a clump of nettles further over. One of the students said his grandmother collected dandelion greens in the spring.

“She and my grandfather like them, but you wouldn’t get me eating dandelions. Yuk.” The others murmured agreement.

As the pine trees pulled closer, their teacher directed students to study the path.

“What kind of scat is this?” he asked, pointing to small marble-like droppings, dark against the washed-out pine needles.

“Rabbit poop,” called out one.

The others tittered.

A few more steps; their teacher stopped again. “Tell me, what is this?”

Answers flew back and forth.

He enlightened them. “A squirrel; deer have been along this path too, as well as a fox.” He pointed out their telltale droppings.

Students continued to write furiously.

Suddenly, Rollie stopped. “Listen up,” he said loudly, catching our attention. “What kind of scat do we have here?”

The young people gathered around staring intently at the couple of brownish-black oblong droppings directly in front of us. They shook their heads.

“Now,” said their leader solemnly. “This is a very unusual form of scat. You see it’s quite edible.” He picked up an oblong dropping, popped it into his mouth and chewed hard.

Immediately the girls squealed. A couple doubled over. “I’m going to be sick,” moaned one. Even the boys turned pale green, horror-struck as their teacher continued chomping. I stood frozen, stomach turning over.

Then a broad grin lit across his face. “Ah, come on, you guys. These are Tootsie rolls. I came along here before school and placed them on the path.”

An uproar followed and we hustled them quickly back on to the bus.

Once at school the students couldn’t wait to rush into the building to share with their friends their science teacher’s latest prank!

This happened many years ago, yet I am sure those students of Cape Elizabeth, now possibly parents of teenagers themselves, still remember that field trip when their teacher ate scat!

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Commentary: Retirement could have crippling effect on states Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 California has a problem: 52 percent of its managers in the state workforce could decide in the next five years that they’re tired of working, grab their retirement packages and go. Their departure would create a serious brain drain for the state, which has the largest number of state employees in the country: 220,000.

So Jeff Douglas, California’s chief of workforce development, is trying different tactics to keep senior workers on the job: offering a flexible work schedule, promoting work-life balance and creating the first government-wide employee management survey to assess the needs of workers. The idea is to find out who is leaving – and why.

Douglas knows that efforts to keep senior workers – especially managers, specialists, and highly educated and knowledgeable employees – on the job are at best stopgap measures. Eventually, the state will have to shore up its talent reserves as baby boomers age out of the state workforce. “Because people can walk right now, we have to be ready if they do,” he said.

Like California, nearly every state and locality faces the imminent departure of retirement-eligible employees. Anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of state workers are eligible for retirement, said Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives. And states are scrambling to find ways to retain their most valuable seasoned employees.

Finding replacements won’t be easy. State employees are more educated than the rest of the nation’s workforce, including federal and local government employees, according to the Congressional Research Service.

So state personnel executives are experimenting with a variety of approaches to hang on to experience, including job-sharing and telecommuting, delayed retirement programs that pay lump sums to would-be retirees to keep working, training and development, and reward and recognition programs. They also are stepping up recruiting efforts to attract older employees who work in the private sector.

The idea, Douglas said, is to create a work environment “where you can stay longer and work longer.”

In Tennessee, where 32 percent of the state workforce is eligible for retirement, state workers can take advantage of the “temporary employment option.” The program allows retirees to work for up to 120 days during a 12-month period. This way, the state can “recruit” high-performing retirees to assist with special projects, said Rebecca Hunter, the state’s commissioner of human resources.

“This allows an agency to benefit from the transfer of institutional knowledge and is a nice transition to full retirement for the employee,” Hunter said.

In Ohio, state workers in the Office of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities are allowed to schedule their work hours as they see fit, as long as they work somewhere between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

In Colorado, where 20 percent of the workforce in the state’s information technology division is eligible for retirement, the agency encourages retirement-age professionals to work with younger workers to ensure that knowledge is passed down to the next generation.

This is particularly important when it comes to dealing with older, “legacy” technology and other specialized fields, said Karen Wilcox, director of human resources in the Colorado governor’s information technology office. “Knowledge loss is the most critical issue,” Wilcox said.

In Virginia, where a quarter of state employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years, state human resources executives use “intense data” to predict who will be retiring and what is pushing them out, said Sara Redding Wilson, Virginia’s director of human resources.

“Only a small fraction is going, and we know why,” Redding Wilson said. Armed with data, she said, the state can tailor its retention efforts – while finding ways to recruit the next wave of talent.

The areas with the highest turnover rates are in corrections, juvenile justice and behavioral health, Redding Wilson said, fields with less flexibility in scheduling and that don’t pay as much.


Some states, such as Alabama and Arizona, and some localities, such as Los Angeles, Pinellas County, Florida, and St. Louis, let potential retirees take advantage of the Deferred Retirement Option Program. It works this way: public workers – such as police officers – who reach retirement age commit to continuing to work for a fixed period. They go on collecting their regular paycheck. And when they retire, they are paid a lump sum bonus of as much as 90 percent of the salaries they earned while continuing to work.

DROP programs can be an attractive incentive to keep talented employees on the job longer, while reducing costs for recruiting and training new employees, said Angela Curl, assistant professor of family studies and social work at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

But not all states have kept them going. In 2001, Missouri implemented a similar program, called BackDROP, which offered state workers more flexibility in the start and stop dates. (Roughly a quarter of Missouri’s state employees are eligible to retire this year.)

Public sector employees skew older than private workers. In 2013, 52 percent of full-time federal, state and local public employees were between ages 45 and 64, compared to 42 percent of full-time private sector workers, according to the Congressional Research Service. Fifty percent of state workers and 52 percent of local government workers were in that age group in 2013.

And states and local governments have already seen their workforces shrink in the past decade, thanks to budget cuts enacted during the Great Recession, according to the Center for State and Local Government Excellence.

State agencies also cut back on training and development programs, NASPE’s Scott said. As a result, younger employees aren’t prepared to step in to key management positions, she said. Meanwhile, many state workers – those who weren’t laid off in the midst of cutbacks – postponed retirement.


In Maine, where roughly a quarter of the state’s IT workforce is eligible for retirement in the next two years, “about 3,000 years of experience is going to be walking out the door,” said Jim Smith, Maine’s chief information officer.

“It’s going to be transformational. We’re going to need to do something radical to address this change.”

For the past couple of years, his agency has been focusing on how to keep seasoned employees on the job while attracting new talent. His agency allows retirement-age employees to work part-time. But, he said, “That’s a short-term solution.”

To attract millennials, his agency drastically streamlined its hiring process. Now, applicants can apply for jobs using a mobile app. Applications have increased 35 percent since the app launched, Smith said.

The state also launched an intern-mentor program, partnering with local universities and community colleges to identify potential hires and pair them with veteran workers. Since the program started in 2013, 70 percent of the interns have become full-time employees, he said.

But the state isn’t just focused on hiring young workers. It’s also recruiting seasoned professionals who’ve spent their careers in the private sector and don’t mind taking a pay cut to work in civil service.

One example of this: Smith. In 2012, after more than 30 years working in the private financial services sector, he decided, rather than retiring, he’d go to work for his home state. “I wanted an opportunity to give back,” Smith said.

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Alan Caron: LePage vs. King would be a test for Democrats Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It started out as a kind of April Fool’s joke, garnering a few chuckles and some raised eyebrows. Gov. Paul LePage said he might run against Sen. Angus King for the U.S. Senate. Then he added this punch line: “I’ve done more for Maine than King.”

Someone should send a note into the isolation chamber that the governor and his closest allies are living in. King has been very popular in Maine since he was the governor. He’s well-liked for his accomplishments, intelligence, nonpartisanship, decency and good humor. Recent polling show two-thirds of Mainers approve of King. Just over one-third have the same feelings about LePage.

The reasons are simple. LePage has gotten almost nothing accomplished since his first two years in office. He’s relentlessly partisan, mean-spirited and destructive. He regularly misdiagnoses the state’s ailments and then applies the wrong medicine. And as his power wanes, he’s becoming increasingly erratic and thin-skinned.

Last Sunday, LePage offered a preview of his campaign themes in a guest column on these pages. It repeated his standard applause lines for speeches to friendly audiences, full of partisan attacks and finger-pointing.

When LePage first ran for governor, in 2010, his main argument to voters was that 30 years of Democratic rule had impoverished Mainers, put wilderness ahead of people and prioritized welfare cheats over taxpayers. It was an effective appeal, primarily because Democrats had no response on the economy and were so defensive about the rest of it that, for all practical purposes, they didn’t respond.

He’s updated those arguments in some interesting ways. Instead of blaming 30 years of Democratic liberalism for Maine’s woes, he now attacks 40 years of Democratic “socialist” thinking. That will come as a shock to former Govs. Brennan and Baldacci.

LePage argues that he has no responsibility for Maine having the slowest-growing economy in New England. It’s not his fault that most of his major initiatives were killed with the help of his own party in the Legislature. Or that his grand tax plan was so radical that even Republican leaders couldn’t support it. Somebody else must be to blame for the quiet death of his idea to bypass the Legislature in favor of government by referendum, which couldn’t get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

LePage apparently thinks someone else has been governor these last six years.

Part of the problem for LePage is that he has a deeply engrained habit of blaming others for whatever goes wrong, which means that he rarely learns from his mistakes. And he usually blames the wrong people. He recently argued, for instance, that our paper mills were closing because of Democrats’ policies on taxes and energy, ignoring the fact that we have the lowest electricity costs in New England and the market for paper is collapsing as more of us communicate online rather than through the mail.

In last week’s op-ed and in his “town meetings” around the state, LePage has unveiled his main arguments for this fall’s elections and for his own possible future run. It’s not much of a campaign slogan, but here it is: “I did nothing, and it’s their fault.”

Let’s help the governor think through this Senate idea before it’s too late. There are only two reasons why LePage is the governor right now. One is that Democrats twice put up insider candidates when the public was clamoring for outsider change. The other is that he ran in three-way races where he could win with less than a majority.

My old friend Al Diamon wrote recently that LePage could win a race against King if Democrats put up a candidate who will siphon votes from King, and he’s right. For two election cycles, now, Democrats have been blaming independent “spoilers” for LePage’s rise rather than looking in the mirror. “Spoilers should put aside their personal ambition and get out of the race,” they’ve said, “for the good of the state.”

If a race actually materializes between LePage and King, Democrats will have a chance to walk their own talk. Since no major Democrat will run against King, the best they could do is to put up a “spoiler” with no chance of winning but every chance of tilting the race to LePage.

That would not only infect the country with LePage, it could also help ensure that Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

What should Democrats do, if a King-LePage race unfolds? Practice what they preach. Put Maine and the country ahead of the party. Then get behind Angus King.

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

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Trump’s boast: He pays as little in taxes as possible Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 With the battle continuing to rage over Donald Trump’s ongoing suggestion that he may not release his tax returns before the November election, this exchange with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulous, which took place Friday, provides a glimpse into what Trump really thinks about all this:

Trump: I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

Stephanopoulos: What is your tax rate?

Trump: It’s none of your business. You’ll see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

Trump’s claim that his tax rate is “none of your business” is generating buzz Friday. But the more important quote is his boast that he “fights very hard to pay as little tax as possible.” He deliberately repeated this, as if to make sure we would not miss it.

In one sense, this is dream fodder for Democratic ads, particularly since Dems are hoping to continue pressuring Trump to release his returns, and to portray his refusal to do so as evidence he’s trying to hide shady or immoral business practices, a line of attack that was probably effective against Mitt Romney in 2012.

But Trump plainly sees this as a positive for him, and that goes to the heart of his whole case for the presidency. In the interview, Trump said that he fights to keep his tax burden low because government “wastes” our tax dollars. Trump’s immediate goal is to undercut the potency of the attack on him over taxes: By openly boasting that he works to keep his tax burden low, he hopes to dispel the notion that he’s hiding something.

There’s more to this, though. With Dems likely to grow more aggressive in unearthing and targeting Trump’s business past, his pushback on whatever revelations pop up will basically be this: You’re damn right I’ve been a scummy businessman. Now I want to be a scummy businessman on your behalf and on America’s behalf.

It cannot be overstated how important this idea is to his candidacy, and indeed, to his entire self-created mystique. The idea is that, having long been a member of the elite that has milked the corrupt system for decades, he is very well positioned to end their scam – he knows how it works from the inside – and reform that corrupt system.

On the topic of campaign finance, Trump has said this explicitly, arguing that he knows how to deal with the problem of bought-and-paid-for politicians, since he has personally bought and paid for them himself. I strongly suspect that Trump will soon begin saying something like this about his taxes: Since I fight so hard to pay as little as possible, I get how the whole con works; I will fix things so people like me can’t get away with it anymore. That, too, will be a scam, since his tax plan would actually deliver a huge windfall to the rich that is pure fantasy, fiscally speaking. But no matter. Scam can be layered on top of scam, and Trump is certain he will get away with all of it.

The crux of the matter here is that Trump is betting he’ll be perceived very differently from Mitt Romney. The latter was a venture capitalist with an aloof, patrician, plutocratic manner, while Trump brashly flaunts his wealth and invites all of us losers to have a cut of it. But Dems will likely adjust their attack accordingly: While Romney was depicted as a heartless outsourcer and symbol of the cruelties of global capitalism, thus revealing his true governing priorities, Trump will be depicted as a sleazy fraud who is selling voters an economic bill of goods.

Trump hopes to elude that attack by wearing his ability to milk the system as a chintzy badge of honor. But at a certain point, general election voters will begin to decide how credible he is, and they may not be as easily fooled as GOP primary voters were – particularly since Democrats are likely to prosecute him far more mercilessly than his GOP rivals did. Trump is confident that his credibility is inexhaustible, but that could prove as inflated as his stated bottom-line worth appears to be.

]]> 4 Sat, 14 May 2016 18:06:04 +0000
Maine Voices: Frances Perkins converted to heal the world Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Christianity is a religion of conversion, both a turning from and a turning toward. Christian conversion takes diverse forms. In many cases, there is not simply one conversion per person, but a series of turnings toward. These turnings toward can include, for example, turning toward God, Christ, the church, the sacraments, the Scriptures. Conversions (and reconversions) can be subtle or dramatic, gradual or sudden.

There can be conversion toward the world. Here the world is not to be taken as creation or society organized against God, but rather creation or society as beloved by God and suffering because of human sin, as broken and desperate for repair.

The Christian converted to the world responds to the world’s belovedness and brokenness through compassionate service, which may include political action. This was true of Frances Perkins, a devout Christian (specifically an Episcopalian) who served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor and is rightly seen as “the woman behind the New Deal.” Perkins recognized the world as beloved by God. She saw its brokenness and responded through compassionate service that led her to high public office.

Even when a Christian’s conversion to the world is a gradual process, in many cases there can be an episode that proves to be pivotal. One such episode, perhaps the most significant one for Frances Perkins, began on March 25, 1911, when she became an eyewitness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

That afternoon, Perkins was visiting at the home of a friend who lived on Washington Square in Manhattan. The guests were just sitting down to tea when fire whistles and shouts disrupted them. A big fire was blazing across the square. Perkins saw flames coming out of a 10-story building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist company and where hundreds of workers were employed, most of them young and impoverished immigrant women. The building was a crowded, dangerous firetrap with locked doors. Firefighters on the street did not have ladders long enough to make a difference, and many workers fell or jumped to their deaths.

Frances Perkins was deeply shaken by what she saw. She knew that almost two years earlier, these workers had been rebuffed and persecuted for complaining about the conditions where they worked.

A week later, Perkins attended a public meeting at the Metropolitan Opera House called by a group of leading citizens.

Rose Schneiderman, an immigrant trade union leader, and like Perkins, in her early 30s, gave a historic address, speaking passionately about the numerous workers maimed and killed because of horrendous sweat-shop conditions.

Frances Perkins took what she heard as a call to action. She began to realize that much more might be required of her than she had previously imagined. She recognized that making workplaces safer and more humane called for a lifelong commitment on her part. She also saw that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire could be the starting point for significant social change.

Journalist Will Irwin, a close friend of hers, put it this way: “What Frances Perkins saw that day started her on her career.” True enough. But for this woman of faith, it was also a major moment in her continuing conversion to the world, which came to be immensely fruitful for the world. In 2009, the Episcopal Church added to its calendar a May 13 feast day in honor of Frances Perkins.

Some politicians today readily talk about their faith when they believe that doing so may win them public support. The Constitution disallows a religious test for public office. So does my Christian conscience.

When it comes to deciding how to vote, I am not concerned with the conversions that a candidate may have experienced, with but one exception. I would like to know if the candidate has undergone significant conversion to the world.

Such conversion can happen to people of different religious commitments or none at all. What matters to me is whether or not the candidate deeply recognizes the beauty and brokenness of creation and humanity and wants to share in what a phrase from Judaism calls “the healing and transformation of the world.” And as a sign of this conversion, I do not rely on anything other than the candidate’s record of attitudes and actions.

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Commentary: As you grow older, embrace your own age and own your own lines Sat, 14 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I am 59 years old and I weigh 154 pounds. Embrace Your Age And Own Your Lines. That’s how I start every lecture I give because that way the women in the audience can listen instead of trying to guess my age and weight as if trying to win a prize at a state fair.

It’s what women otherwise do: We want to know: “Is she younger than I am, or older? Are we the same size?”

I’m serious. Women I have never met before will ask for my size during the Q-and-A sessions after a panel discussion concerning, say, the future of the humanities or whether coeducation is beneficial for girls in middle school. They’ll work it into a conversation about self-esteem.

Smart, erudite, sophisticated women have asked directly, “Listen, what size are you?” And I tell them the truth, that in Armani I’m a 12 and at Dot’s Dress Barn I’m a 22W. Because every woman knows the more money you spend, the smaller size you will be. If I could spend serious cash on clothes, I could be in a Chanel and in a size 8. But I’m on a state salary.

Here’s the trouble: Women have been corralled into believing that somewhere out there is this band of Uber-Women who do everything perfectly. And no actual woman has ever fit into that image because it isn’t real. It’s a hologram. Or maybe it’s Gwyneth Paltrow; it’s hard to tell the difference.

But when we don’t fit that image, we then become convinced that there’s something wrong with us. How about if we figure out how to tailor the world to fit us, not to construct ourselves to fit the world? After all, the architecture of conventional femininity as it was designed and put into patterns wasn’t made with any real human being in mind.

For example, I refuse to spend money on so-called “anti-aging” products.

I want to age. The opposite of aging isn’t staying young; that is not an option. The opposite of aging is death. And for that, you don’t need neck cream.

Wrinkles are our autobiography. As a writer, I write lines on a page; as the co-authors of my existence, fate and nature write their lines on my face. Every line on my face is earned and at this point, for all the flaws I see every time I look in a mirror, I still wouldn’t swap it for anyone else’s. Just as I wouldn’t change my handwriting, my imagination or my memories for anyone else’s, I would not change my face to be more fashionable or more youthful-looking.

The lines on my face are, in a way, my book cover – and that’s why I am happy to have them face out there on the shelf.

I’m also cheering on my hair as it goes white. It’s not rust – it’s decorative. When I lived in England in the 1980s, I purposefully bleached sections of my hair, almost as if practicing for my look now. When students tell me, “I can’t wait for my hair to do that thing that yours does!” and I say, “There are very few things I can promise you in life, but this is one of them.”

On rare occasions, I’ve had less than subtle comments from the age-and-body police who ask, “Aren’t you going to dye it?” I reply by telling them I’m not trying to lose weight – that my plan for bathing suit season is simply to get a bigger tan – and then watch them blush as they try to explain how they weren’t talking about losing weight, but about coloring my hair.

And if you become intrigued by high-priced products promising to make you look barely post-adolescent, remember that those selling the products are looking at a commission, not at your face. I can write you a note to keep in your purse saying, “It has nothing to do with your wrinkles and everything to do with their bottom line.”

Real beauty is being able to laugh out loud and to make others laugh – not at ourselves, but at the absurdities of the lives that we’ve been told we should live.

Here’s to having all the best lines.

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The humble Farmer: You don’t have to abandon the rat race to appreciate good science Sat, 14 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 You are missing out if you don’t have a Roku apparatus on your television set. Roku enables you to watch the countless lectures that are now available on YouTube as you vegetate in your favorite chair. There are Yale lectures on Rousseau and Schopenhauer and evolution and medicine.

My favorite, however, is an informative series by Stanford neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky. He talks about the brain and why we do what we do. You might have read one or more of his popular books. Long before I discovered Professor Sapolsky’s lectures on my TV set, I read three of them. One was “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.”

To save you the price of that interesting book, here’s the spoiler. When the zebra escapes from the lion – when he stops running and his heart rate returns to normal – he soon forgets about it. A human being would continue to worry about the lion for weeks until hospitalized by heartburn, indigestion or nausea.

When Professor Sapolsky mentioned some grad students who, in the course of an experiment, patted their rat for three seconds, I sat upright in my chair. When the good professor was still in grade school, I was already a grad student at the University of Rochester with my own laboratory rat. I named him “Vilkas,” which, you might know, is “wolf” in Lithuanian.

If you’re not used to working with animals, it takes a while to get onto it. Rats that don’t know you are likely to be a bit skittish and make a bid for freedom, so you have to learn how to hang on to them. Vilkas got away from me the first time I picked him up, and I have a vivid memory of trying to retrieve him from beneath a rack of stainless steel trays.

Vilkas would gently bite my finger if I put it in front of his nose, just to check out the texture or to see what it was.

Unlike many students in disciplines where it was necessary to “sacrifice” their pet, I took Vilkas home to Maine for the summer.

If you’ve ever had a dog, cat or disagreeable spouse, you already know that you can become attached to most anything. We bonded as I spent hours teaching Vilkas to drive a small mechanical toy car.

There was a crank on the front of the car. The thirsty Vilkas would push the crank, which started the noisy motor, and jump on the car for his water reward. We started with the car up on blocks, but it was my intent to eventually remove them so Vilkas could amaze my friends as he ceremoniously drove into the dining room.

Why teach a rat to drive a car? If you are going to teach a rat to press a bar to get a food pellet or a drop of water, you might as well have him pick up some useful skill at the same time.

You’ll probably be surprised to hear that I wouldn’t pat your dog. When I touch a dog, I feel I must immediately wash my hands. Anyone who has seen a dog rolling on his back, coating himself with some fresh identifiable substance on the lawn, knows why I need to do this.

I’m deathly allergic to cats and horses, so touching them was never an option – although, having read Swift, I’ve always thought of horses as being nice people.

Yes, one develops not only a tolerance but also a fondness for one’s own pet, and I did. You’ve seen people fondling snakes. My friend Clyde has a pet pig who lives in his house. And there came a time when I’d walk about with my rat perched on my shoulder.

The summer I was home with Vilkas, Jack Neubig from Friendship was building a brick fireplace in the house next door, and he’d come over at noon to socialize and eat his dinner with me. One day I went in the next room, put on a sport jacket and dropped Vilkas down into the sleeve by my armpit. Then I went back into the kitchen and sat down at the table across from my guest.

Vilkas slowly crawled down inside my sleeve until he finally stuck his head out by my wrist. He wiggled his whiskers at Jack and smiled a welcome with his big, yellow teeth.

Jack Neubig was a tough old mason who had seen his share of things. But he told me that watching that rat stick his head out of my sleeve at the dinner table was the worst thing he had ever seen in his life.

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

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Maine Voices: Solar energy bill extinguished by lobbying based on false, misleading information Sat, 14 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 April 29th was a dark day for solar energy in Maine. It was the day that an innovative solar energy bill with tremendous potential to create hundreds of jobs was killed. It was a particularly dark day for those of us who watched it happen.

As the owner of Maine Solar Solutions, I care a lot about solar policy. Over the past few years, I’ve created a company that’s installed solar systems in towns across Maine, including Bethel, Limington, Standish, Gorham, Hollis, Rockport, and Lyman, to name a few. My goal is to help Mainers secure clean, renewable energy from the sun and create jobs for Maine people.

But with the demise of the solar bill, small businesses like mine now face the prospect of shedding jobs instead of adding them.

This groundbreaking bill was the product of more than seven months of negotiations among diverse stakeholders who rarely agree. In this case, however, utilities, businesses, Maine’s ratepayer advocate and environmental groups came together around a bill that would benefit Maine ratepayers and the state as a whole.

Lengthy, intense negotiations led to compromises on all sides and the result was compelling: a big increase in solar energy, 650 new jobs, and more than $58 million in reduced electricity costs for non-solar customers, according to Maine’s Public Advocate, whose job is to protect ratepayers. The big innovation in the bill was a transition away from net metering, a policy allowing those who generate solar power to swap that generation with power from the grid. The new approach would involve long-term contracts at rates expected to be below market prices; hence, the savings to ratepayers.

The bill received a strong bipartisan vote in the House and unanimous support in the Senate, before it was vetoed by the governor. What happened next was troubling for Maine’s future.

As citizens from across Maine arrived at the State House in yellow shirts signaling support for solar, Republican Minority Leader Ken Fredette, behind closed doors, worked the bill.

I watched as key Republican legislators were called into Ken Fredette’s office for private meetings. Multiple Republican lawmakers later described his heavy-handed lobbying. Several refused to budge, but others would end up caving under the pressure.

During the floor debate, Rep. Fredette was the lead opponent, attacking the most significant solar energy bill Maine has ever seen with a speech littered with false and misleading information.

He claimed that he supports solar energy but opposed this “rush to judgment.” Seven months of negotiations, a public hearing with more than 100 testifying in support, and five work sessions by the committee was not a rush to judgment.

He claimed solar is growing and will continue to grow, regardless of the bill. But the facts are clear: Maine lags far behind other states in capturing the economic benefits of solar. We have fewer solar jobs per capita than any state in New England. Last year alone, Vermont added more than twice as much solar (45 MW) as Maine installed in the past 40 years (20 MW).

He made the divisive claim that the bill was aimed at “socializing the costs of solar.” Far from it, the bill would socialize the benefits of solar.

As demonstrated by the Public Utilities Commission’s 2015 “value of solar” study, each kilowatt-hour of solar provides 33 cents of benefits, in avoided supply, transmission, and distribution costs, and air quality improvements – far exceeding the 13 cents per kilowatt-hour that residential solar customers receive as a bill credit. Expanding solar thus benefits all ratepayers.

Ironically, Rep. Fredette ignored the PUC study, yet urged lawmakers to vote against the bill because he trusts the PUC with an upcoming review of net metering. However, he failed to disclose that the PUC may scrap net metering, which would kill as many as 300 existing solar jobs in Maine.

Mr. Fredette’s efforts worked. Some of his target Republicans, who had promised their own constituents they would support the bill, flipped against it or “took a walk” and didn’t vote.

This defeated a carefully-crafted, bipartisan, job-creating clean energy bill that would have delivered big benefits to Maine. This means that existing jobs will be lost and many new hires won’t happen.

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Maine Voices: Portland budget would prioritize gentrification over needs of poor Fri, 13 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 For years we’ve heard that Portland is becoming an unlivable city, where far too many people cannot afford to live in the place they work. The fiscal year 2017 budget proposed by City Manager Jon Jennings and heralded by the majority of the City Council continues this trend of gentrification through slashing public health funding by nearly a million dollars.

I wouldn’t use a political buzzword like “gentrification” unless it were absolutely necessary, which it certainly is in a city where market-rate apartments go from $1,300 to $1,700. Perhaps a thought exercise might help those sitting on the City Council understand and empathize with those who are not as fortunate as they are.

This thought exercise centers on a single mother who works for one of the many fast-food chains operating in Portland, earning the citywide minimum wage of $10.10 an hour while working 40 hours a week. If we keep in mind that the national average age for a fast-food employee is 29, we’ll see that this is a very plausible scenario.

Say we’re generous and it costs only $1,200 a month for a two-bedroom apartment to house her and her two children. That leaves our single mother with $416 a month to cover groceries, health care, utilities and any surprise expenses.

Unfortunately for this single mother, the City Council opted to spend $1.27 million of taxpayer money on a luxury golf course and adjoining restaurant, as opposed to investing money in subsidized housing or direct public health care.

She might take solace in the recent endorsement of the budget proposal by the Community Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps one of the wealthier citizens moving to the city might take pity on her with their property tax money.

But in reality, the proposed budget is a part of what appears to be a concerted effort to push the working poor and homeless out of the city by not affording them basic health care or affordable housing.

The excuse provided by Jon Jennings, the city manager, is ultimately unsatisfactory. The loss of grants for public health and refugee services (worth around $801,000) do certainly create a challenge for the City Council. And yet, the budget Jennings proposed somehow managed to increase the police allocations by over a million dollars.

While I believe many residents would be thankful for what we can assume will result in increased policing during an ongoing drug crisis, we also should realize that law enforcement will not solve this issue alone. Most people don’t choose to commit crime because of some moral defect – they do it because of lack of opportunity.

The budget’s reorganization of city parks, recreation and facilities management has also resulted in an increase of nearly $2 million in a foolish attempt to further beautify the city. This is the perfect example of the City Council’s misplaced spending priorities.

The argument cannot be framed as having to make difficult decisions that just happen to harm Portland’s poor – not while the City Council increases other portions of the budget by millions of dollars. It’s clear the City Council does not serve the majority of its citizens – not while they pander to those who don’t worry about how they might afford health insurance or paying rent.

It’s farcical to expect that the public-private partnership between the city and the Portland Community Health Center will simply be able to absorb the India Street Public Health Center’s clientele, while still providing the same standard of care with a million dollars less in resources.

India Street serves a diverse population of people who are best cared for by remaining with service providers they trust. To offload those clients onto the Portland Community Health Center is a mistake that will likely result in reduced access to care and lower quality of care.

The challenge of striking a balanced budget should be important to every Portland taxpayer and voter. The budget Jon Jennings and his cohorts intend to pass could lead to the deaths of our most disadvantaged citizens, while beautifying a city already seen as a destination spot by millions. It is painful to watch any governing body choose to serve the interests of the few over the needs of the many.

Keeping in mind future elections, I must ask the City Council how much the lives of its citizens are worth. Is the death of one Portland citizen worth having marginally prettier parks and a few less potholes?

]]> 7, 13 May 2016 12:15:56 +0000
1st District GOP candidate: Unlike Pingree, I take the drug problem seriously Fri, 13 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 BRUNSWICK — For the last 15 months, I have crisscrossed the 1st Congressional District listening to people talk about their concerns. The heroin problem always comes up – because it touches nearly every Maine family in some way.

As a counselor, I know that drug addiction crosses every socioeconomic boundary, age group and profession. Prescription painkillers offer relief to sufferers of accidents and horrible diseases, but their use can also fuel the flames of drug addiction.

The direct connection is when someone becomes addicted to painkillers, and moves to heroin and other opioids to avoid the misery of withdrawal. The indirect connection between painkillers and heroin addiction is that legitimate patients with prescribed pain medicines can become targets of addicts who will do anything to get their “fix.”

When heroin becomes too expensive or otherwise out of reach for an addict, chronic pain sufferers like cancer patients become targets for criminals. As a result, cancer patients prescribed opioid medications live in fear of home invasions.

I’ve had elderly residents of Biddeford describe the terror of seeing discarded hypodermic needles on sidewalks near their homes, because it means that desperate addicts (who will do anything to get high) are probably watching them.

Also, Maine parents of heroin addicts live in paralyzing fear of that midnight call from police telling them their child was found unconscious and unresponsive, and that Narcan treatments failed to revive him or her.

Maine law enforcement agencies are working tirelessly to stem the flow of street drugs to reduce the supply. Unfortunately, focusing on stopping the supply of illegal drugs seems as futile as trying to bail the water out of Casco Bay with a thimble. To make a meaningful difference in this crisis, the demand needs to be addressed. We need more effective behavioral mental health treatments to augment the medication-assisted treatments commonly used, so people don’t leave treatment and return to illicit drug use within hours or even minutes!

I will provide the leadership in Congress to bring about new research on behavioral mental health treatments for substance abuse. I will push for the development of modern 21st-century treatments to break the disastrous and deadly cycle of substance abuse, rehab and relapse.

Unfortunately, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has been absent without leave on this issue. For example, she signed on to a letter asking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate “gun violence” – as if it’s a disease instead of a law enforcement issue.

As a man of science, this is abhorrent to me, because as inanimate objects, guns are no more lethal than spoons or butter knives. But the agenda-driven Ms. Pingree wants to grab at any straw until all guns are confiscated and our citizens are totally pacified. That’s been the socialists’ agenda around the globe, and now they’re trying to equate constitutional gun ownership with a disease. Please!

Actually, she’s got it backward. Violence, using guns or anything else, is a law enforcement issue, not a matter of disease control. Drug addiction, and the demand for heroin, need more disease control. The supply side of illegal drugs is a law enforcement issue, but erasing the demand is the job of mental health professionals.

That makes good sense, doesn’t it? It’s one example of how I will be a transcendent leader in Congress. I’m not a politician and will not look at this or any other issue through the standard lenses used by political establishment types in either party.

In closing, I have a question: When is the last time Ms. Pingree spoke to an unscreened audience in Maine? How many town hall meetings has she hosted? Have you ever seen her in public and had the chance to walk past her entourage and ask her a question?

As your representative, I promise to hold monthly town hall meetings throughout the district. These will be open to anyone, to ask anything of me – and get an honest answer! Please support me in the June 14 primary, and I will replace Chellie Pingree in Congress.

— Special to the Press Herald

]]> 4 Thu, 12 May 2016 21:34:08 +0000
M.D. Harmon: De facto Democrat Angus King poses looming Senate dilemma Fri, 13 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If Maine voters have one persistent electoral trait, it is that once they elect someone to a statewide office (including Congress), they are highly reluctant to reject that person later on.

Oh, it’s happened. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith was a fixture for four terms, but she finally concluded that she didn’t really have to campaign anymore.

Voters, diagnosing disrespect, replaced her with the obscure 2nd District Democratic U.S. Rep. William Hathaway, who so undistinguished himself in office that his successor in Congress, Republican Rep. William Cohen, easily defeated him six years later.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. George Mitchell went on to become Senate majority leader before retiring and turning his seat over to Olympia Snowe (a move that had some Democrats I know furious at him for a long time afterward).

In the 1st District, Rep. Peter Kyros, a Democrat, lasted four terms before being beaten by David Emery in 1974.

A possible reason that Kyros, a somewhat slippery character who had occasional run-ins with the law, was atypically defeated was that, a former Press Herald editorial writer told me, “More than half the people in the district finally got the chance to meet him.”

Another 1st District casualty was James Longley Jr., the son of the independent governor. Likely too conservative for the district, he lost his re-election bid to my college classmate Tom Allen.

But every other holder of the seat post-Kyros left it voluntarily, Emery to run for the Senate (and lose); John McKernan to run for the governorship (and win); former Gov. Joseph Brennan to run for his former office again (and lose); Tom Andrews to run for the Senate (and lose); Allen also to run for the Senate (and lose) – until finally we come to the current incumbent, Chellie Pingree, who, true to form, is in her fourth term.

The 2nd District seat after Cohen voluntarily retired was Snowe’s until she left it for the Senate, when she beat Andrews like a rented mule. Then John Baldacci used it to ascend (or descend) to the Blaine House, whereupon Michael Michaud held it for six terms until he unwisely retired to run for governor, and was replaced by Republican Bruce Poliquin, who will himself win re-election if history holds true.

And with the exception of Gov. Longley, who kept his promise not to seek a second term, Maine’s governors have had no trouble winning twice in a row after the Maine Constitution was amended to permit two four-year terms.

Kenneth Curtis served the full eight years, as did Brennan, McKernan, Angus King (elected senator when Snowe retired in 2012) and Baldacci, while Paul LePage has half a term left to make it.

(At this point, I’m telling myself, “You’ve written a Jim Brunelle column” – because my former colleague, a politics and history buff and “Maine Almanac” editor whose column once occupied this Friday space, loved this stuff.)

All that, however, is prologue. Sen. Susan Collins, elected in 1996, easily won a fourth term in 2014 and seems destined to bask in perpetual voter approval.

However, Sen. King faces his first (and therefore most vulnerable) re-election campaign in 2018, when Gov. LePage is term-limited out of office. The governor has saidseveraltimes (retracting one reference “as a joke,” but not the others) that he would considerchallenging King.

Where does one start? King is one of Maine’s most popular politicians, and Republicans would be hard put to unearth any other rival with LePage’s name recognition – or his hard-core support. Poliquin’s unlikely to challenge King, and the party will be focusing on a primary battle for governor that year.

So, considering how different our politics could look after this year’s presidential race, who’s to say where any advantage would lie?

Meanwhile, what will Democrats do? They, too, must find a gubernatorial candidate (preferably one who won’t pull a faceplant like Michaud’s). Cynthia Dill’s name gets mentioned, but she’s had some full-length frontal impacts of her own.

So, what’s on Rep. Chellie Pingree’s mind? If the House remains in Republican hands, will she grow tired of being in the minority and strike out for the Blaine House or the Senate (leaving her seat open for, perhaps, an ambitious legislative leader – or an equally ambitious mayor)?

My (wildly premature) guess? Well, since King is a Democrat in all but name, the party would be crazy to oppose him seriously. So if Pingree moves at all (a very open question), it will likely be for Augusta, not Washington.

But if the Democrats run any old doofus as a Senate placeholder, they risk siphoning votes from King. Could they give this race a pass and still remain a serious party?

Or – just maybe – could Angus be persuaded to swap his “I” for a “D”?

Jim Brunelle would be so proud.

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

]]> 27, 15 May 2016 18:22:39 +0000
Commentary: Take government work – TSA – out of airline screening business Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Millions of Americans have learned to dread going to the airport. An unfortunate combination of surging passenger volumes and declining numbers of screeners have led to security lines that can average over an hour in length.

Thousands of passengers are missing flights daily. Meanwhile, airports and airlines nationwide are struggling to contain passenger anger. In desperation last week, one leading U.S. airline trade group asked passengers to troll the Transportation Security Administration by tweeting photos of long lines with #ihatethewait.

While no doubt satisfying, such stunts aren’t going to speed up security checks before the upcoming summer travel rush. This problem has been years in the making. To solve it, the government may have to get the TSA out of the screening business altogether.

The idea is neither new nor outlandish. Canada and most Western European countries employ private contractors to screen passengers. Before the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. did as well. The Federal Aviation Administration set security standards and guidelines but allowed individual airports to choose the companies responsible for doing the actual screening.

Obviously, the system missed the 9/11 hijackers. (That said, the federal government didn’t specifically ban box cutters from flights back then, so screeners had little reason to search for them.) Even after federalizing airport security, though, the TSA allowed five U.S. airports to opt out and continue using private contractors. Today, under the Screening Partnership Program, 21 U.S. airports employ their own screeners.

Why would an airport want to go through the trouble of hiring and supervising its own contractors? Flexibility, for starters. Under TSA rules, airports need to obtain federal permission if they want to adjust the number of TSA screeners on-site. The process is time-consuming and makes it hard for airports to ramp up staffing during peak periods. Worse, if the TSA wants to hire more inspectors, it needs to go back to Congress for the funding, with uncertain results.

There’s a strong efficiency argument as well. Under the current system, the TSA both sets the rules for airport security and enforces them. In effect, the agency regulates itself. Local authorities have few if any means to seek redress if TSA screening proves inefficient, ineffective or weak on customer service. Firing a contractor is easy; firing a unionized government employee much less so.

TSA managers themselves have little professional incentive to fix problems. The resulting culture of mediocrity has real safety consequences. The TSA’s own studies found 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports between 2001 and 2011. Last year, Homeland Security investigators achieved a 95 percent success rate in smuggling mock explosives and weapons through TSA checkpoints.

Are private screeners able to do better? Despite long-standing efforts by the TSA to keep such comparisons out of the public eye, the data strongly suggests they are. On safety, a classified 2007 TSA study showed private screeners were better able to detect bombs than TSA inspectors (a result attributed to more frequent training).

In 2011, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also released a report showing that private screeners in San Francisco were more efficient than their TSA counterparts in Los Angeles, processing an average of 65 percent more passengers while receiving the same wages and benefits. Among the possible explanations cited were higher employee retention rates in San Francisco. Indeed, subsequent government hearings have found persistently low morale at TSA – in part because of a persistent culture of “fear and distrust” at the agency.

At this point, it’s too late to prevent snarled security lines over the summer. But that’s no reason to delay reforms. To start, Congress should restructure the TSA’s mission: The agency should set standards but give up its operational role in screening. To accelerate the transition, the TSA should draw up a list of pre-qualified security firms that will be allowed to bid for new contracts to screen passengers.

Though no system is perfect, many passengers would argue it’s hard to do worse than the current one. For the TSA, it’s time to get out of the way.

]]> 4 Wed, 11 May 2016 19:35:44 +0000
Dana Milbank: So much for ‘pro-life’ – Republicans slow to combat Zika threat Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican, has called himself “pro-life” since he came to Congress a decade ago. This month, he’s proving it.

Buchanan last week announced his support for President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion to fight the Zika virus – a decision he based in part on “new research revealing that Zika eats away at the fetal brain and destroys the ability to think.”

He’s right about that. The mosquito-borne virus is going to cause thousands of babies in this hemisphere to be born with severe birth defects, and Zika is on the cusp of devastating the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico and of spreading to the southern United States. Untold numbers of the unborn are being irreversibly harmed.

And yet the supposedly pro-life majorities in both chambers of Congress have done nothing with Obama’s request, more than three months after he made it in early February. Republicans demanded that the administration repurpose money that was supposed to have been spent fighting Ebola, and the administration did so even though that virus has resurged in Africa. Now, the congressional delay is hampering our ability to monitor the spread of Zika, to test possible victims and to prepare a vaccine.

In fairness, the congressional lethargy isn’t limited to Zika. The House has been in session only 210 of the 491 days of this Congress, including 36 days on which no legislative business was done, according to House Democrats’ tally. Only 150 bills have been signed into law – a fraction of historical totals – and 25 of those were ceremonial renamings of buildings and roads.

But with Zika, the delay is inevitably going to cause more fetuses to be deformed – and perhaps aborted – and a caucus supposedly devoted to protecting them is silent. There may never be a consensus on abortion, but can lawmakers not agree to fight a virus that destroys the brains of fetuses?

The few Republican officials who have called for action on the Zika funds have close-to-home reasons. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where the risk of spread is high, is coming to Washington this week to urge Congress to act. His fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, pleaded for action, too. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has also supported Zika spending; she’s pregnant with her second child.

On Monday, the National Governors Association, whose mostly Republican members will be on the hook when Zika arrives, urged Congress to act, saying “the nation is on the threshold of a public health emergency” and the prospect of “children born with severe, lifelong birth defects.”

But there’s quiet from the anti-abortion lobby. Groups I checked with haven’t taken a position on the Zika response, other than a few that have said laws against abortion should not be loosened in Latin American countries because of the virus.

National Right to Life published an argument in March questioning whether Zika causes birth defects and citing a study that said only 1 percent of babies born to mothers with the infection have the brain condition called microcephaly. “Abortion advocates would have had us believe the risk of microcephaly was much higher,” it said.

But Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Washington Post editorial board meeting Tuesday that “I can almost guarantee you” that the rate of birth defects is higher than 1 percent; another study puts it as high as 29 percent.

Fauci said “it is very likely we’re going to see local outbreaks of Zika in the United States,” and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico “is on the precipice of a really serious disaster.” Extrapolating from the pattern of the chikungunya virus, spread by the same mosquito, Fauci said that 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s population of 3.55 million can be expected to contract Zika over the next year – including “a lot of pregnant women.”

And Ed McCabe, chief medical officer for the March of Dimes, told me Tuesday that Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes is on the “doorstep” of the mainland, too. “Every day we wait, we’re at greater risk,” he said. “Congress needs to act.”

Will Republican congressional leaders listen? Democrats have proposed replacing the ad hoc responses to outbreaks (Zika, Ebola, pandemic flu) with $5 billion a year for the moribund Public Health Emergency Fund. This won’t happen in the current political environment.

But taking a sensible step to stop Zika’s spread? Let’s hear no more from so-called defenders of the unborn until they’ve done it.

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

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Maine Voices: Facts show transfer of India Street center’s health services makes good sense Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When Jon Jennings was hired as city manager of Portland, he made clear that he intended to evaluate everything the city does, with an eye toward “right-sizing” municipal government. His goals are: 1) to achieve efficiencies and increased productivity by better delivering those essential services that can be supplied only by the city; 2) to reduce costs; and 3) to improve customer service.

Reflecting these goals, his recommended operating budget, now before the City Council, proposes (among other structural changes) to transfer clinical health care services currently provided by the city’s India Street Public Health Center to the Portland Community Health Center.

Not affiliated with the city, this highly regarded nonprofit provides comprehensive, team-based primary care for underserved and vulnerable populations. This is the same treatment approach that the India Street clinic uses, and these are the same populations currently served at India Street.

Understandably, some clients of the India Street clinic and others in the community are concerned about the impact of this transfer on the essential services on which they depend. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, what has emerged is an emotional response to this issue, as opposed to the considered “community conversation” that City Manager Jennings envisioned.

It seems to me important to focus on some facts regarding this proposed change.

Fact: The services provided at the India Street clinic will not be eliminated; they are being transferred to a fully qualified service provider.

Fact: The city took the lead in establishing the Portland Community Health Center in response to a 2007 federal initiative to bring quality care to underserved populations.

Fact: The detailed plan to transfer services will be developed under the direction of two capable professionals – Portland Community Health Center CEO Leslie Clark and city Health and Human Services Director Dawn Stiles – who have made career-long commitments to serving vulnerable populations.

Fact: Individual transfer plans will be developed and implemented for each client.

Fact: The city’s Health and Human Services Committee, ably chaired by Councilor Edward Suslovic, will actively monitor the implementation plan until it is completed, to ensure that there is a seamless transfer of services.

Fact: Portland is an outlier to comparable New England cities in providing direct care clinical services.

Fact: Federal and state funds that have supported these services are being reduced, shifting a greater funding burden to Portland taxpayers.

Fact: The city of Portland has one of the highest tax rates in the state, if not the highest, and can no longer continue to provide services that can be provided by other qualified organizations.

Fact: Portland is not alone in focusing on core services that can be provided only by a municipality, such as police, fire protection, road and sidewalk maintenance, parks and open spaces, etc.

With these facts in mind, one must ask two very fundamental questions:

Why should Portland continue to provide taxpayer-supported services that another community-based service provider is fully qualified and prepared to assume?

Why should Portland’s taxpayers continue to provide duplicative services when much of our basic infrastructure, hard-scale and parks/open spaces, is in dire need of attention?

For these fact-based reasons, I believe that the proposed transfer of direct health care services makes a great deal of sense and is totally consistent with Portland’s community values and the city manager’s overarching budget goals.

These health care services can be provided by another fully qualified community entity with an identical service approach. The city will save money by eliminating the cost of duplicative services and not having to invest significant taxpayer dollars in needed systems upgrades. Client satisfaction may well improve under one service provider and with additional support services provided.

This is a win-win for vulnerable people needing reliable and responsive health care services and for the city’s taxpayers. Please join me in letting our city councilors know that you support the city manager’s well-thought-out recommendation.

]]> 4, 11 May 2016 22:48:18 +0000
Leonard Pitts: When Trump emboldens the violent, we must ask: Will there be blood? Wed, 11 May 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Will there be blood?

That question has gone conspicuously unasked as we enumerate the possible outcomes of November’s election. The potential impact on the nation’s economy, its foreign policy and its standing in the world have all been duly analyzed. But there has been little, if any, discussion of the potential for violence.

It is, of course, Donald Trump’s name on the ballot that necessitates the discussion. His rallies have erupted into brawls with depressing frequency; his followers assaulting demonstrators while he eggs them on.

And then, there’s this: Last year, two South Boston brothers – Scott and Steve Leader – were arrested after allegedly peeing in the face of a homeless, 58-year-old Mexican immigrant sleeping on a bench. They beat him with a metal pole, breaking his nose. Authorities say Scott Leader explained himself thusly: “Donald Trump was right. All these illegals need to be deported.”

Trump’s initial response was simply to note that his followers “love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” If that is the sort of “passion” a few rallies and speeches incite, how much worse would it be in the event – God help us all – of an actual Trump victory? How emboldened in their bullyboy behavior would people like the Leader brothers become with one of their own in the White House?

And that’s not even the worst-case scenario. What if the far more likely thing happens? What if Trump loses? His followers are already filled with fury and an exaggerated sense of their own victimhood and entitlement. What happens if an embarrassingly emphatic repudiation is added to that mix?

Hate crimes might be the least of our problems. The greater worry might be terrorism.

In a nation conditioned to think of terrorism as the exclusive province of Muslim fanatics with difficult names, the idea will strike some as ridiculous. But to be sanguine about the danger of radical right violence is to pretend Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff in Nevada and the armed takeover of federal property in Oregon never happened. And it is to ignore a litany of radical right terror plots enacted or interdicted in recent years.

From the Oklahoma City bombing to the Atlanta Olympics bombing to a New York state plot to murder Muslims by radiation poisoning, to a massacre at an African-American church in Charleston, to the attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, to the crashing of an airplane into an IRS office in Austin to a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs to, literally, dozens more, the radical right has hardly been shy about using violence to frighten people as a means of achieving their political goals – the dictionary definition of terrorism.

Small wonder Mark Potok, editor of Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, does not laugh off the possibility of violence from aggrieved supporters of Donald Trump.

Radical right terror, Potok says, “is a worry anyway, as we go through this huge demographic transition in the United States. But the thing about Trump’s voters is that they are angry, they are riled up, and they are expecting to win.” If and when they don’t, he says, terrorism might well be their response.

It’s not as unthinkable as some of us will want to believe. Too often, as the right has descended into tribalistic incoherence, the rest of us have underestimated the crazy, baselessly reassuring ourselves that they’ll go this far, but surely no further.

And too often, we’ve been wrong. Maybe it’s time to abandon baseless reassurance. Maybe it’s time to take crazy at face value.

Will there be blood? Here’s a better question:

Will you honestly be surprised if there is?

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

]]> 21, 10 May 2016 19:43:18 +0000
Maine Voices: Common-sense restrictions on truck drivers’ hours must be preserved Wed, 11 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — Both here in Maine and across our country, the safety of our roads is a top priority. In order to have safe roads, our nation’s safety laws and regulations must be driven by good policy and good data.

Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, is a longtime champion of the safety of our roads and has proven through her actions that she is committed to making our roads safer through reasonable, data-driven safety improvements.

I have the honor of representing Main Street businesses across our state, including independently owned and operated grocery stores and supermarkets. Many of these businesses rely on trucks to transport goods. It is of the highest importance to our local businesses that these trucks are safe for the driving public and for commercial drivers.

For this reason, we pay special attention to safety provisions included in the transportation funding bill that Congress must pass every year. Sen. Collins is chairman of the Senate committee responsible for this important legislation. Under her leadership, the committee unanimously passed this bipartisan bill 30-0. The full Senate is expected to consider the bill this week, and each senator will have the opportunity to offer amendments and openly debate the bill on the Senate floor.

Unfortunately, a few so-called “safety groups” have sought to deliberately spread misinformation about the important safety provisions included in this overwhelmingly bipartisan bill. These unfair, perplexing and inaccurate statements center on what is called the “restart rule” – and they must be addressed.

This complicated rule is very important to the safety of our roads. Under current law, truck drivers may not drive more than 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period unless the driver takes a minimum of a 34-hour rest period to reduce fatigue. This rule allows a driver to restart his or her weekly clock after the 34-hour rest period.

Since the restart rule went into effect in 2004, fatal truck crashes have declined by 25 percent. When accounting for increased truck traffic, the reduction is more than 40 percent. For this reason, Sen. Collins has long fought to protect it.

In 2013, the federal Department of Transportation imposed two restrictions to the restart rule without conducting research.

Instead of making our roads safer, the 2013 restrictions pushed more truck traffic onto the highways during the morning rush hour, when America’s commuters were going to work and children were heading to school, and limited the driver’s ability to take additional rest periods and restart his or her clock. The number of truck crashes leading to injury is five times greater between 6 a.m. and noon than during the overnight period of midnight to 6 a.m.

Furthermore, the DOT admitted that it did not consider the safety and congestion impacts of large trucks being forced onto our highways in the daytime rush hour before imposing these new restrictions.

To address this failure, Sen. Collins successfully advocated for a bipartisan suspension of these two new restrictions in 2014 while leaving in effect the other hours of service restrictions. The provision required the DOT to study the unintended effect of these restrictions, including shifting more trucks to the time when traffic is the heaviest. This common-sense solution helps keep our roads safe.

Without an important technical correction to the recently enacted bipartisan transportation funding bill, however, the restart rule is in jeopardy of lapsing when the DOT releases the results of its study.

Sen. Collins has worked to ensure that the important restart rule is preserved.

Moreover, this bill goes one step further by eliminating the improbable possibility that any driver – even on his or her busiest week – could manipulate the restart rule and drive up to nine more hours after having worked more than 73 hours a week. It is important to note that this limitation of 73 hours includes not just driving time, but also the required pre-trip and post-trip inspections, time spent loading and unloading and the required meal breaks. This bipartisan provision implements a pro-safety cap for the first time, eliminating even the chance that a driver could drive after having worked 73 hours in a week.

This bill would not change the limit on the number of hours a driver can be behind the wheel each day or the total number of hours (10) a driver must be off duty between shifts. Nor would it change the mandatory 30-minute rest break during a shift.

I am the leader of one of more than 80 associations that support Sen. Collins’ efforts to preserve the pro-safety restart rule. I applaud her unwavering commitment to keeping our roads safe and to ensuring that our public policy is based on data and facts.


]]> 0, 11 May 2016 18:20:14 +0000
Our ballot questions reveal much about the state of our politics Wed, 11 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 By the end of the 19th century, much of Maine had been sold to a small number of individuals and corporations.

The so-called “wild lands” had very low valuations on the tax rolls, but harvesting the timber resulted in huge profits for their owners.

Sitting at his desk at the Somerset Reporter in Skowhegan, editor Roland Patten thought the system was rigged. The landowners and railroads were too powerful to be checked by state government.

He became convinced that the answer was public ownership of utilities, and that the only way to overcome the power of the land barons was to get state law changed through the process of citizen initiative and referendum. So he began fighting to create a process for the people to be involved in direct democracy.

Patten’s idea has been part of Maine’s system of government for the last 108 years. The state never took ownership of the utilities, but Patten succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

In November, voters will be presented with five citizen-initiated referendum questions – as many questions as Maine voters answered in the half-century between 1920 and 1970. The number of ballot questions and what they address should tell us something important about the state of our politics: Like Patten, we are living in a society with serious problems and there is a growing sense that our government is not set up to deal with them.

Take a look at this year’s questions:

 Ranked-choice voting – a reform that would create instant runoffs in multi-candidate elections where no candidate gains a majority.

 Increasing the minimum wage to $12 over four years – a 60 percent increase.

 Universal background checks for private gun sales.

 A surtax on high incomes to raise money for education.

 Legalization of recreational marijuana use for adults.

Why weren’t these issues dealt with by the state government? Because it won’t. Anyone advocating a major change to state law has got to view representative democracy in its current state as a waste of time.

Former state Sen. Dick Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, thinks it’s a function of divided government.

In a panel discussion recapping the just-completed legislative session on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network last week, Woodbury said that most Mainers remember a government dominated by one party or another, but that has not been the case since 2012.

“When you have these divisions of power, it’s a really different dynamic. It’s not one party developing its agenda and passing its party agenda with the power it has,” he said. “It’s more of a situation where the parties have to work with each other or not and you either end up with gridlock – or, potentially, the most beneficial situation of all, the parties work together well and accomplish some things that are really important.”

The last four years, we’ve seen mostly gridlock, and all the big policy ideas like tax reform, Medicaid expansion and reform of the solar energy market have been killed or whittled down to almost nothing. As for this year’s referendum questions, Woodbury said, “Every single one of them is a bigger issue than anything that the Legislature accomplished in the last term.”

There are signs that we won’t see one-party government for a while. Control of the Legislature has become more volatile, with the Senate changing hands three times in the last six years and the House twice. Both houses could flip this year, leaving a Democratic Senate and Republican House instead of the other way around.

Gov. LePage still has another legislative session in his term, and he’s proven that he doesn’t even need another part – he can have gridlock with Republicans as easily as with Democrats. Meanwhile, getting questions on the ballot is far easier than moving a bill through the legislative process. especially if the backers are well financed.

The referendum process designed in the 20th century fits perfectly with the 21st-century aversion to compromise. These days politicians are called flip-floppers if they shift slightly to make a deal. That’s not a problem with a referendum. Since one side writes the question, the question is one-sided. The voters say “yes” or “no” – no amendments allowed.

There’s a lot of potential for mischief with the referendum process. Special interests can hire signature gatherers and make a sweetheart deal look like a grass-roots movement.

But if the state government can’t deliver on the big issues, the 2016 ballot will be nothing compared to what comes next.

]]> 9, 10 May 2016 20:29:04 +0000
Charles Lawton: Drawing skilled workers to Maine hinges on paying enough to attract them Tue, 10 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The most recent news from the labor market last week – at least on the national level – was mixed. Employment didn’t go up as much as many analysts had expected (less than 200,000 jobs), but average earnings did rise somewhat, leading many to believe that consumer spending could continue to keep the national economy from falling prey to the slowing growth outside the United States.

Using data from Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, a joint U.S. Department of Labor-Census Bureau program, it is possible to dive more deeply into this “jobs and pay” question, particularly by level of education. And the findings for Maine are quite startling.

Using four-quarter annual totals from 2010-11 (the third quarter of 2010 through the second quarter of 2011) and 2014-15 (the third quarter of 2014 through the second quarter of 2015 – the most recent period for which data are available), total employment in Maine rose by 19,280 jobs, or 2.9 percent.

Then break down these totals by level of education, using three broad categories: low (workers with less than a high school education, a high school diploma or the equivalent, plus workers age 24 or younger for whom no educational data are available); medium (workers with some college or an associate degree); and high (workers with a bachelor’s or an advanced degree).

For workers with no more than a high school education, employment grew by 14,639 jobs, or 4.5 percent, between 2010-11 and 2014-15. For those who have some college or an associate degree, employment grew by 4,736 jobs, or 2.6 percent, over the same period. And for the most-educated workers, employment actually fell by 95 jobs, or 0.1 percent.

For average earnings over these three educational groupings, the variation is equally stark. The average annual earnings of the least-educated workers increased 10.9 percent, from $26,900 to $29,800. For those with some education, average annual earnings increased 7.9 percent, from $38,500 to $41,500. And the average annual earnings of the most-educated workers increased just 6 percent, from $57,000 to $60,400.

In other words, the rate of increase in average pay in Maine over the most recent four years for which data are available is inversely related to the level of education of the worker. That’s certainly one way to solve the problem of growing income inequality.

There is a clear difference in the labor market between employers who feel the pinch of a tight labor supply (virtually all of them) and those who are willing to do something about it, who feel the need so strongly that they are willing to raise wages significantly to attract needed workers. From this level of detail, it is no wonder that we are suffering a brain drain.

Obviously, recognizing that pay and job growth varies according to workers’ educational attainment, across all employers in all sectors, is a long way from doing a detailed examination of exactly what skills are needed and which employers in which sectors are raising wages to attract needed workers.

Nonetheless, even this first cut at delving beneath the raw totals of the labor market reveals several important facts about both the underlying structure of the Maine economy and the changes we must make if we are to achieve a higher level of prosperity.

 The first point is that the Maine economy is still highly dependent on workers with relatively low levels of education.

The second is that employers in these sectors recognize that their continued existence depends on paying higher wages to draw these workers and that (on the whole), they have been doing just that over the past several years.

The third point is that this “We have to pay more to attract the talent we need to survive” attitude has not fully penetrated the consciousness of many of Maine’s employers.

Perhaps this is simply a reflection of an attitude that can be summed up as “We have survived the worst recession since the 1930s by holding firm with the workers we have, so why risk a change now?” If so, it is just so much whistling past the graveyard. The educated workers employed today will soon become the educated retirees of tomorrow.

If Maine is to thrive in the coming decade, its employers are going to have to pay more attention to attracting talented workers today. And that includes offering them substantially higher pay.

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

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Kathleen Parker: Full-blown Republican identity crisis: Signed, sealed … delivered in July Tue, 10 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It wasn’t precisely an act of moral courage, but House Speaker Paul Ryan’s comment that he’s not ready to support presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump was at least … something.

Whether it’s a start or a finish remains to be revealed, but it would seem that we’re witnessing the beginning of the end. To wit: A Republican friend, who has abandoned her behind-the-scenes work of getting conservatives elected, called me recently to express her condolences. “I feel sorry for you,” she said, “because you (given your job) can’t ignore the collapse of Western civilization.”

Now a renegade from the nominating process, she is like so many others disillusioned by the Trump movement who’ve slipped the noose of politics in search of meaning beyond the Beltway. But Trump’s triumph, though most insiders thought it impossible, should have surprised no one. He was inevitable not because he was The One but because he’s a shrewd deal maker who has deep pockets and is unencumbered by a moral compass. Both his platform and style were crafted to fit the findings of extensive polling that he commissioned before announcing his run.

In other words, Trump didn’t write a book you loved; he wrote the book you said you’d love. If people were outraged about immigration, why, then he’d build a wall. If they were upset about manufacturing jobs lost overseas, well, fine, he’d kill the trade agreements.

Trump was never about principle but about winning, the latter of which he kept no secret. What this means, of course, is that his supporters have no idea whom they nominated. He simply paid to read their minds and then invented a drug that would light up the circuit boards corresponding to pleasure and reward.

“Believe me,” he crooned to the roaring crowd.

“I’m not there right now,” said the speaker, crossing himself in the sign of the cross.

Poor Ryan – a man of conscience in an unconscionable time. He wants to support the Republican nominee, but, at the end of the day, he has to answer to a higher authority. Trump, the party’s standard-bearer, isn’t bearing the standard, Ryan said.

But what Ryan expressed as the basis for a desired meeting of the minds isn’t about those standards, except the hope that Trump will behave better in the future. You know, act presidential and all that. Otherwise, Ryan is standing by the phone to hear that Trump will unify the party. How, pray tell? What would satisfy the Ryans of the party? For Trump to say, “Hey, I was just kidding”?

The problem, as with all relationships, is that certain words, once expressed, can’t be taken back. No amount of backtracking can erase memories of what Trump really thought and said in a particular moment. It isn’t only that his wildly conceived and frequently revised positions are at odds with those of leveler heads, but Trump has embarrassed those who can still be embarrassed.

Among those with either the gumption or nothing to lose by expressing no-support for Trump are both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. Neither will endorse the Republican nominee. Laura Bush, a consistent voice of sanity, recently hinted at a “Women in the World” conference that she’d rather see Hillary Clinton as president than Trump.

This is utterly treasonous to most Republicans. Not only is Clinton a Clinton, notwithstanding her Rodham-ness, but the next president likely will select up to four Supreme Court justices. Republicans magically think that at least Trump would pick good justices.

But upon what shred of fact or fiction do they base this assumption?

Still other Republicans are expressing disapproval by vowing not to attend the party convention in July. These include the last two Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, though McCain is on record saying he’ll support Trump, which can be viewed as loyal or merely sad.

The “sads” have it.

McCain seemingly has forgiven Trump’s remark that he was a war hero only because he was captured. “I like people who weren’t captured,” said the anti-hero who managed to avoid service and once compared his navigation of the sexually risky 1960s to “sort of like the Vietnam era.”

This is the man who would become commander in chief.

Meanwhile, we’re told, the party that adopted Trump without really knowing him is suffering an identity crisis and facing a moment of truth.

Phooey. The Republican Party began digging its own grave years ago and dropped one foot in when McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. With Trump’s almost-certain nomination, the other foot has followed.

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

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