The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Editorials Mon, 25 Jul 2016 03:44:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Another View: Caron makes grave charge against nation’s police officers Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 On July 10, columnist Alan Caron said: “We can also see that while racism has always existed in America, it now expresses itself in new ways. Gone are the days of slavery, lynchings and open segregation. In their place are white flight to the suburbs, the politics of walls and deportations and the hair-triggered application of sanctioned violence against people of color.”

I ask: Moving to the suburbs is racism?

Moreover, Caron makes an extremely serious accusation: that an unnamed organization or group of people at some undisclosed location in this country has conspired to officially approve violence against people of the black race, thereby depriving them of their basic human and constitutional rights, an offense we usually associate with totalitarian countries.

It is clear from the context of Caron’s column, and from another statement he made on July 17, the broad identity of those to whom he was referring: “For decades, the black community has sought the country’s support in the face of institutionalized racism in police forces.”

Caron has issued a blanket indictment, without a shred of evidence, against the entire edifice of law enforcement in this country, hundreds of thousands of police officers and guardians of public safety who daily risk their lives to protect us.

That incendiary condemnation of the police demands a specific answer: Who are the police and where are the police who have sanctioned violence against people of color?

Caron’s statement implies that he knows who they are and where we can find them – individuals, not anonymous entities, approve sanctions. If they exist, it is in the public’s interest to root them out and prosecute those bogus officers of the law before they do further harm.

Every person or group of people, especially the police in this time of imminent personal danger, have the right to defend themselves against accusations of wrongdoing, particularly accusations of such gravity and magnitude.

Caron has an obligation to provide the FBI and the public with factual evidence to back up his statement, or to issue a retraction for bearing false witness.

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Our View: LePage keeps flouting people’s right to know Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s hard to know what’s going on inside the LePage administration because that’s the way Gov. LePage wants it. We are often forced to put together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces found in news releases, tightly controlled town hall meetings and appearances on friendly talk radio shows to get a picture of what our government is really up to.

Lately, the puzzle pieces are revealing a pattern of sneakiness and obfuscation, obscuring the people’s right to know about some of the most important functions of government, including education policy, public health and law enforcement.

This tendency to hide is often written off as an example of the governor’s rocky relationship with the press, but this is not about the press. The governor is directing his employees to put a lid on public information and to communicate with handwritten notes that are never archived, hiding information from everyone, not just the media.

A government without oversight is an environment where corruption gets a chance to grow. That might not be the intent, but history shows it will be the result if the governor keeps fighting to keep the sunlight out.


For instance, the governor’s aides were found to have used text messages to communicate in April when they were shutting the public out of a Blaine House meeting of a blue ribbon commission on education funding.

LePage had previously banned state officials from doing state business by text, after a former Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention employee testified that she had been instructed to use texts because they weren’t subject to the public records law.

Copies of the LePage aides’ texts were included in a court filing by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, part of a civil action against the administration for violating the state’s right to know law. The text messages made clear that the reason the meeting was going to be closed to the public was that LePage wanted it that way.

And why? The lawmakers and others on the commission who attended the session reported that nothing sensitive occurred, no confidential information was shared. They said it was a typical first session of a fact-finding group. Closing the doors had no purpose other than satisfying the governor’s desire to make his own rules and control the flow of information.

Last week, the governor’s Department of Health and Human Services asked the attorney general to review a rule change that would allow the department to keep certain data confidential: namely, the location of outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The department claims that releasing this information might inadvertently identify individuals in places like a school, where the population is small and everyone knows who’s out sick. But even if that’s true, warning people about an infectious disease outbreak would seem to be a bedrock duty of an agency that has “disease control” in its name. If that’s not a public health organization’s responsibility, what is?


The reason behind the rule change may be a 2015 settlement with this newspaper, in which the department agreed to release previously embargoed information about chicken pox outbreaks the previous school year. The paper argued that exposure to the virus could be deadly to a person with a compromised immune system, so information about where it is spreading is vitally important.

Having lost its case to keep the information secret, the administration is looking to change the rule that required officials to disclose the data.

There are many other examples, notably the six-month effort by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to review email communications between the Maine Warden Service and a reality TV production company that filmed a raid on suspected poachers in Allagash. The warden service has slowed every effort to research whether the cameras provided any incentive for the agency to push harder in Allagash.

What are they hiding? Maybe nothing. But the fact that a law enforcement agency won’t turn over routine communications is reason enough to be concerned.

After five years in office, Gov. LePage is not getting any better when it comes to maintaining the public’s right to know. His aversion to conducting public business in public is not only a waste of resources, it’s against the law.

It’s time that a court put the pieces of the puzzle together and sanction the governor for acting as if right to know laws do not apply to him.

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Another View: Turkish leader responds to coup with a political coup of his own Sat, 23 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded to a failed military coup with what amounts to a political coup of his own. Since last weekend, tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or fired from their jobs: not just military officers involved in the rebellion but also teachers, university professors, judges and thousands of other civil servants.

A state of emergency has been declared; hundreds of schools have been closed; dozens of journalists have had their credentials revoked. According to Turks monitoring the purge, those targeted include not just supporters of the exiled Islamic leader Erdogan blames for the coup, but also anyone suspected of not supporting his government, including members of minority groups and secular liberals.

Erdogan, who called the failed putsch a “gift from God,” is not just moving to further consolidate what already had become an authoritarian regime. He is also trying to force the United States, Turkey’s NATO ally, to aid his crackdown – in particular by handing over the alleged mastermind of the coup, Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. President Obama’s administration is rightly resisting –- and it must continue to do so even if it means a breach in cooperating with Turkey against the Islamic State.

Gulen leads a peaceful, if secretive, Islamic movement that operates schools in Turkey, the United States and other parts of the world. For years, his followers in the Turkish police and judiciary were allied with Erdogan’s own Islamist party – ironically, the two combined to purge the Turkish military of officers suspected of coup-plotting. But the two leaders fell out in late 2013, when the government moved to close some Gulenist schools and prosecutors suspected of Gulenist sympathies brought major corruption cases against the government.

Erdogan needs to understand that the United States cannot be bullied into abetting his consolidation of a dictatorship.

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Our View: Democrats must find counter to Trump’s rage Sat, 23 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 After this week’s Republican convention, Democrats face a risky choice: Do they dare to play it safe?

The nomination of Donald J. Trump did not go smoothly. The candidate’s wife read a plagiarized speech. Sen. Ted Cruz told Republicans from the rostrum that they did not need to vote for Trump, and was booed off the stage. Electronics malfunctioned, major figures in the party stayed away and most nights the delegates left early.

But when it came to stirring up anger and fear, everything worked fine.

Trump yelled from the rostrum for 75 minutes, booming out phony statistics and half-baked policy ideas, blaming scapegoats for all the country’s ills, which in his telling are huge.

For four days they attacked Democrat Hillary Clinton, and now millions of Americans believe that she is one step away from the jailhouse, not the White House.

Trump was especially effective making her look like a tool of big business and media elites – quite a trick, considering what he does for a living.

Most of the charges were exaggerated or outright lies, but the blows landed, and Clinton goes into her convention with millions of Americans convinced that she is a criminal.

The premise of Trump’s convention was that the country is being torn apart by enemies that only he can destroy.

He might be wrong on the facts but he’s hitting an emotional truth.

If the Democrats counter with programs and proposals for incremental change, they could lose this election. The anxiety people feel about the future in places like rural Maine is real and it demands a response that speaks to the desire for fundamental change.

The kind of enthusiasm that propelled the Bernie Sanders campaign should show Clinton where the voters want to go.

This election will be won by the most motivated party, and judging from Thursday night, that party is the Republicans.

Clinton does not seem like the natural candidate to deliver that kind of message. She has been cautious her entire career, and caution has made her very successful.

But in this cycle, caution is risky. Democrats underestimate the people’s impatience with the pace of progress at their peril.

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Our View: Maine CDC should share, not squelch, disease data Fri, 22 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When an infectious disease is spreading through a community, the public needs to know. So the fact that the state wants to put a lid on the release of that information is both puzzling and troubling.

At issue is a rule change that would give the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention greater discretion to refuse to name the locations of outbreaks of diseases such as measles, chicken pox and whooping cough.

The proposal comes a year after the Portland Press Herald sued over the state’s refusal during the 2014-15 school year to identify the site of four chicken pox outbreaks – the highest number since the chicken pox vaccine became mandatory for school attendance in 2003. (There were 84 total cases of the illness, at three schools and a day care center; the newspaper published the facilities’ names after settling with the state last fall.)

Though schools send notices home to parents during outbreaks, public notification could make it easier to publicly identify specific patients, the CDC argued when denying the newspaper’s request last year.

How that could happen is unclear. What’s more, this rationale apparently didn’t apply in 2006, when the agency identified the Brunswick school where over 30 cases of chicken pox had broken out. The state also named the locations of a 2004 whooping cough outbreak and a 2008 spate of hepatitis cases.

And that was the right thing for the state to do. Without a public announcement, people without school-age children wouldn’t know about an outbreak. Contagious diseases can make unvaccinated adults seriously ill. The same is true for the elderly, pregnant women, babies too young to be immunized and people with weakened immune systems, like those with cancer and AIDS. Public notification gives these vulnerable people a heads-up on the need to avoid certain settings and time, if possible, to stave off illness by getting vaccinated.

Making the public aware of outbreak sites also spotlights areas where parents are forgoing recommended vaccinations for their children, serving as another check on how the state’s public health policies are working to protect residents from contagion.

The proposed CDC rule change is just one in a series of events that point to the LePage administration’s disregard for the benefits of transparency. Those who truly want to protect the health of the Maine public will speak up early and often for disclosure and against obfuscation.

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Another View: Don’t ground airplane deal between Boeing and Iran Fri, 22 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In the wake of the Iran nuclear nonproliferation treaty agreed to last year, Boeing has reached a historic deal to provide passenger airplanes to Iranian national carrier Iran Air to update its aging commercial fleet, but many in Congress – mostly Republicans – are trying to scuttle the transaction. This would represent a large setback for a major U.S. business, and all the jobs it would create here, but it would be even more damaging to long-term foreign relations and the prospect of peace.

In exchange for Iran’s adherence to reductions and limitations on its nuclear activities and infrastructure under a deal, some economic sanctions have been eased. This opened the door – if only a crack – to increased economic ties between the two countries, though trade with the U.S. is still generally prohibited and Iran is still banned from using the dollar and accessing the U.S. financial system.

The Boeing deal, worth up to $25 billion, would include the sale of 80 passenger airplanes of various models for $17.6 billion, plus the lease of an additional 29 Boeing 737s. But the House Financial Services Committee recently passed three measures designed to block it. European rival Airbus has already reached a $27 billion deal with Iran for 118 aircraft. Should the Boeing deal be scuttled, that business would presumably be given to Airbus or other international businesses.

Iran has upheld its end of the bargain so far, having gotten rid of two-thirds of its installed centrifuge capacity and reduced its stockpile of low enriched uranium by 98 percent.

In the spirit of breeding trust, it is time for the U.S. to uphold its end of the deal. It is time to live up to the noble ideal of free trade – especially with nations such as Iran with which tensions are high and we have strong disagreements. The voluntary cooperation and shared prosperity through increased jobs and economic growth that will develop will enrich the lives of people in both nations, while making armed conflict between their governments more costly.

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Our View: Court ruling on Harpswell beach access shows need for public land Thu, 21 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A defeat for a small group of Harpswell residents should sound an alarm for anyone in the state who assumes that private property owners will always welcome public access to their land.

In a unanimous opinion issued Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court struck down a lower court ruling that had given the public the right to walk down a private road on Bailey Island to access two beaches. The court found that the public can still use the beaches, but only if they get there by boat.

The case was decided on a technical legal issues based on the review of a long history and a complicated set of facts. But there is nothing opaque about the result: Even though generations of neighbors have been able to reach the beaches by walking down the road, the current owners have the right to change the rules.

That should send a message to critics of land conservation programs, especially Land for Maine’s Future, which has been securing public access to special natural places that are currently in private hands for three decades. It should also prompt opponents of the possible declaration of a national monument in the Katahdin region to think twice.

What this court case shows is that unless access is secured, the right to use treasured spots can disappear in a blink of an eye.

According to court records, Eugene McCarty owned Cedar Beach Road from 1927 to 1956, and allowed the public to use the road to get to the beach. After McCarty’s death, the land passed through several owners, and there were times when they tried to block or limit public use of the land. In 2011, the owners blocked the road completely. Now the court has upheld that move, making a trespasser out of anyone who used the same road that their parents and grandparents had used to get to the water.

Maine is 90 percent forested, but the vast majority of it is privately owned. Residents and visitors have been able to count on access to private property to hunt, fish, camp, hike, ski and snowmobile. But as large tracts of land have been subdivided, new owners have exercised the right to post their property and keep the public out.

Gov. LePage has repeatedly argued that land conservation is something that benefits only the wealthy, but the Harpswell situation shows how wrong he is.

The people who could afford to buy the land haven’t been denied access to the beach, and neither have the people who have boats. The people who used to walk down the road to get to the beach have been closed out, and the same thing could happen at other cherished spots all over the state.

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Another View: Bar all Russian athletes from competing in Olympic Games Thu, 21 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 At the Winter Olympics in Sochi in early 2014, no Russian athletes tested positive for doping, and to much celebration they took home 33 medals, more than any other nation. But behind the scenes, a system was in place that concealed the use of performance-enhancing drugs by the Russian athletes. Moreover, doping and cover-ups have been carried out by Russia across a range of international competitions from late 2011 to 2015, according to the report made public Monday by the World Anti-Doping Agency and led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren. The International Olympic Committee said Tuesday it is studying the legal options for collectively banning Russia from the 2016 Rio Games and taking other measures. In fact, the cheating exposed by McLaren more than justifies barring Russia from the Games.

The probe by McLaren established Russian doping and coverups before and after Sochi and “beyond a reasonable doubt.” McLaren concluded it was the Russian government that oversaw and directed the “entirety” of the falsification of test results.

Throwing Russia out of the Olympics may sound harsh, but so is the fact that Russia’s government has been cheating with drugs for years and covering it up. At one point in late 2014, some 8,000 urine samples were destroyed to prevent detection of forbidden drugs. President Vladimir Putin, who promoted Sochi as a symbol of Russia’s revival, was in fact boss of a rule-breaking machine. Putin, the onetime KGB officer and later FSB director, shows little respect for a rules-based international order; the drugged athletes and falsified test results are just the latest examples of his subterfuge and corrosive behavior. The world’s response ought to be unwavering: This is not acceptable.

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Our View: Partisanship stalls fight against Zika virus Wed, 20 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Congress left for vacation last week without crossing off a critical item on its agenda: resolving a stalemate over how to fund efforts to combat the Zika virus. A compromise proposal stalled over Republican stipulations that none of the Zika-prevention funding go to family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood. Given that the biggest threat posed by Zika is to pregnant women and their newborn children, Republicans made a serious mistake by shortchanging a major provider of care to women in their childbearing years.

Four out of five of those affected by Zika suffer no symptoms at all. But if pregnant women become infected, especially during the first trimester, the consequences can include miscarriages, stillbirth and microcephaly, a grave birth defect marked by abnormally small heads and lack of brain development. And although developing fetuses are at greatest risk, children and adults can become seriously ill as well. The first Zika death in the continental U.S., which occurred late last month, was that of an elderly man.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,306 people in the U.S. have already been infected with the virus – including 346 pregnant women – and there have been nine births involving Zika-related defects.

Preventing unintended pregnancies will prevent these tragic outcomes. That’s why, in order to fight Zika, which is transmitted both by infected mosquitoes and sexual contact, the CDC and the World Health Organization are urging women to delay getting pregnant.

And that’s why the $1.9 billion Zika emergency spending proposal presented by President Obama in February included funds to promote increased access to contraception.

But Republicans came back with a $1.1 billion compromise that would block any Zika-related funds from going to Planned Parenthood (or similar groups) for birth control. Democrats rejected the plan, resulting in a stalemate that will likely outlast the seven-week congressional recess.

The bill that stalled in Congress targeted the groups that serve the women who are most likely to get pregnant unintentionally: the young and the poor. Many of those women live in states like Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, where access to birth control has been decimated by budget cuts, politically motivated attacks on Planned Parenthood and the rejection of Medicaid expansion. This is also the region of the U.S. that’s expected to be hardest hit by Zika.

Some in Congress argue that women have an option to Planned Parenthood: local clinics that provide family planning services with federal Title X funds. But the House Appropriations Committee recently approved a Republican proposal to defund Title X programs (though Title X is barred by law from covering abortion services).

Thousands of women and children could be devastated by the lack of resources to fight Zika – but that’s what happens when politicians fail to put their constituents’ best interests first, and allow partisanship to take precedence over public health.

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Another View: Desperate Venezuela must get beyond military control, abuses Wed, 20 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 President Nicolas Maduro’s decision last week to put Venezuela’s armed forces in charge of food and other basic goods won’t ease the average Venezuelan’s growing hunger pangs. He must be shown that there are consequences to this frightening expansion of military control by the government of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves.

Venezuela’s abuses disqualify it from heading Mercosur, the region’s trade group – or even belonging to it. Venezuela’s neighbors, as well as the European Union and the Vatican, must step up the scrutiny and pressure.

The U.S., meanwhile, can beef up its forensic accounting and quietly make clear to Venezuela’s military how easily targeted sanctions for corruption and human rights abuses can be expanded. These measures should also be accompanied by offers of immediate humanitarian assistance.

In the last year, crippling shortages of food and medicine have only gotten worse. Yet those with access to dollars at the gwovernment’s preferential exchange rate – roughly 1/100 of the black market rate – are doing mostly fine. Maduro’s willingness to tolerate a 1,000 percent inflation rate shows his contempt for the middle class. He seems intent on following in the bootsteps of the Castros’ Cuba, where the military owns well over half the economy.

Stopping this power grab will require an end to the toxic impasse between Maduro’s government and the legislature controlled by the opposition: the freeing of political prisoners, judiciary and electoral reforms, and tolerance for free expression and dissent.

From peace in Colombia to new governments in Argentina, Brazil and Peru, the arc of history in the Americas is bending in a brighter direction. It would be a shame if Venezuela were the exception.

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Our View: Poor students are a low priority for higher education Tue, 19 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Malcolm Gladwell has built a career on making cute, thought-provoking, sometimes specious connections between the seemingly unconnected. By analyzing, say, the heights of Fortune 500 CEOs or the birthdates of professional hockey players, the author tries to reveal our unspoken preferences and prejudices, and to highlight in a new way where we are going wrong.

And he was too cute by half last week when, on his new podcast, he criticized Bowdoin College in Brunswick for offering high-quality food in its cafeterias, supposedly at the expense of offering aid to low-income students.

In doing so, Gladwell pointed to what is certainly an escalating problem in higher education – the relative dearth of low-income students. However, that problem isn’t caused by the menu at Bowdoin.


In the podcast, Gladwell compares Bowdoin with Vassar College, a similar liberal arts school in Poughkeepsie, New York. Twenty-two percent of the students at Vassar qualify for need-based Pell grants, compared to only 14 percent at Bowdoin. The difference, according to Gladwell, is that Bowdoin has a top-flight food service program, while Vassar, apparently, serves barely edible scraps, using the savings to reach out to low-income students.

Gladwell doesn’t mention – or never knew – that food service at Bowdoin is self-supporting, paid for by the students who use it, and that by one expert’s estimation, the total funding for food service, if shifted, would help only about 11 students a year.

He also doesn’t note that Bowdoin is one of the few colleges remaining that uses need-blind admissions, ensuring that admission decisions aren’t based on which students can pay, and that it doesn’t require loans as part of aid packages.

Bowdoin’s PR staff made those points in the school’s blistering response to Gladwell.

But they didn’t make this one – Bowdoin’s share of Pell-eligible students is right around average for similar schools, part of a worsening trend that threatens to exacerbate the stark inequality already at play in the United States. Almost across the board, the country’s top institutions of higher education are failing to attract students from poor families.


According to a recent Jack Kent Cooke Foundation study, 72 percent of the students at America’s most competitive institutions of higher learning come from the wealthiest 25 percent of the population, while only 3 percent come from the poorest 25 percent.

Part of the problem is informational. Only about 23 percent of high-performing low-income students even apply to a selective school.

Better outreach would help – simply putting an admissions packet in a student’s hand increases the likelihood they will apply.

But the problem is also institutional. Low-income students often cannot afford to take test preparation classes, participate in extracurricular activities, or even visit the schools in question, all making them lesser candidates for admission.

What’s more, colleges and universities, particularly public schools that have seen their funding cut, need to attract students who can afford to pay full tuition.

This need is only made more dire by the “amenities arms race,” in which colleges build larger and more opulent living and recreational facilities in order to attract students, driving up debt.

Something is needed to counteract those perverse incentives. Increased funding for public colleges and universities would help, as would a requirement for schools to disclose the income breakdown of their student body.

Perhaps then they would be shamed into admitting more low-income students, by implementing, like Bowdoin, need-blind admissions, or by giving preference to poor students, just as preference is already given to athletes and the children of alumni.

Those are real solutions, unlike making Bowdoin switch from pesto chicken pizza to Salisbury steak.

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Our View: LePage’s views on addiction compound Maine’s overdose crisis Mon, 18 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We mostly see people with addiction at their worst, when bad choices and altered impulses lead to public consequences, and often a mug shot on the evening news. But to solve the opiate epidemic, we need to see them as the people they were before addiction hijacked their brain circuitry, and as the people they can be again.

More and more, the public is getting there, pushed by a drug crisis that more than any before it has hit suburban, middle-class America. Political leaders, historically too quick to ask law enforcement to solve what is a public health problem, are coming around, too, as evidenced by the pact signed last week by 46 state governors that focuses on saving lives, not prosecuting addicts.

Unfortunately, Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, is still stuck in the past. LePage refused to sign the agreement, calling it, through a spokesman, a “feel-good measure” that fails to address the full scope of the problem.

It’s hard to see what is wrong with an agreement that calls for reducing inappropriate prescribing of opioids, improving the country’s understanding of addiction, and ensuring that people with addiction have a pathway to recovery. Yet the governor found plenty.

According to the governor’s office, LePage was most upset that the pact did not call for beefing up law enforcement. That’s been the default response to drugs in Washington and state capitals across the country for decades.

Plus, the country has thrown billions of dollars in law enforcement efforts at the drug problem, and has only ruined innocent lives and brought cheaper, stronger, more plentiful drugs to our neighborhoods.

No, it’s better for governors to focus on stopping the overflow of addictive pain medications – an area where LePage has been a leader – and changing the views of Americans who see addicts as criminals and addiction as a moral failing that should be punished, not a disease to be treated.

On the latter point, LePage’s actions and rhetoric have been harmful, and concerning for their lack of depth and knowledge.

Just last week, during a radio appearance, the governor disparaged the use of methadone – shown to be among the best courses of treatment for heroin addiction – while in the next breath saying his administration endeavors to use “the best science” to formulate policy.

Worse, in response to the governors’ pact, LePage restated his absurd objection to the overdose antidote naloxone, saying through his spokesman that the medication “has not been proven to get drug addicts off deadly opiates.”

Thankfully, that illogical line of thinking has been rejected by advocates, police and a majority of Maine legislators. Naloxone was never meant to treat addiction, just as a heart stent doesn’t lower your cholesterol. It simply revives a person near death from overdose. Making it less available won’t get more people into treatment; it will only ensure that more people die.

Also last week, LePage said again that only 10 percent of people with addiction to heroin recover, a claim that has no basis in reality and which along with his statements on naloxone make us wonder just where he is getting his information.

LePage is the most visible speaker in the state on this important and deadly matter, and his uninformed views are poisoning attempts at progress. By essentially, and incorrectly, saying that addicts are a lost cause, he is playing to the worst impulses and prejudices of the public, and giving up on thousands of Mainers who are struggling with a disease.

It’s that attitude that all but guarantees we haven’t seen the peak of the pain and suffering caused by opioid abuse.

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Our View: Dark-money spending changing Maine elections Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Wealthy individuals, special interests and industrial lobbies will be doing everything they can this political season to influence our choices.

Too bad that much of the time, we won’t know who they are.

So-called “dark money,” or anonymous donations behind the TV ads and mailers that bombard us in the weeks before Election Day, has grown dramatically in the eight years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case. When donations are filtered through innocent-sounding groups, we end up knowing little about what the source is hoping to get for their money in this transaction.

While most of the discussion about the dangers of dark money has focused on the federal level, the real impact may be in state races, where relatively small amounts of money, spent at the last minute, can make a big difference in a race where voters know much less about the candidates than they know about the people running for president.

It’s also a way to carry the day in a referendum, where a business with a direct financial interest in the outcome can hide behind an innocuous-sounding organization with a name like “Neighbors for Neighborhoods” and conceal their motive for getting involved.

A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice looked at outside groups’ involvement in elections in six states, including Maine, and found that there a dramatic increase in dark money spending that increases every election cycle.

In Maine, it jumped from just $16,000 in 2006, the last election before the Citizens United decision, to $1.6 million in 2014. Nationally, the center says that three times as much has been spent by outside groups so far for the 2016 election than at a comparable period in 2012.

Does it matter? Of course it does.

Every day, we evaluate the information that we hear based on its source. We are impressed when someone speaks against their self-interest. We don’t treat an opinion about a used car offered by a salesman on the lot in the same way as one that came from our neutral next-door neighbor – even if it’s the same opinion. The context of the information is so important that courts give special weight to a witness’ immediate response to a shocking event, or the last words of someone who is dying.

Who tells us something can be as important as what they say. Except when it comes to politics, where we are forced to listen to the message without knowing the messenger.

It’s the shady system given to us by the Supreme Court.

In Citizens United, the court said that super PACs can spend without limit on “electioneering communications” as long as they do not coordinate with campaigns. Donors to super PACs are disclosed under federal law, but often the donations come from politically active nonprofits, called “social welfare organizations,” which can give to the super PACs without limit and do not have to say where their money comes from.

A new Maine law, approved by the voters last fall, will require outside groups to list the identity of their top three donors on their advertisements. But the statute cannot pull the veil back far enough if the donations come from groups with such opaque finances.

This will be a serious problem in Maine, where voters will elect an entire Legislature and decide five different referendum questions on the ballot. No political ideology has a monopoly on virtue when it comes to campaign spending. There will be special interest money from both the right and the left.

This is where the Supreme Court’s “free speech” ruling has left us. It will be up to voters and the news media to work through the layers of obfuscation and consider the source of the information that we will be hearing as Election Day approaches.

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Another View: Major shift in workplace culture key to reducing Riverview nursing turnover Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’ve read about Gov. LePage’s executive order to cover the costs of four bills passed over his objections. One of these bills – L.D. 1645 – seeks to give almost $2 million in salary increases to select staff at both of the state psychiatric facilities. Although salary increases for hardworking staff are paramount to retention and recruitment efforts, so too is treating staff professionally and with dignity and respect.

During my very brief tenure at Riverview Psychiatric Center as their eighth director of nursing in eight years, I was keenly aware that the retention and recruitment efforts were not focused on an environment that fosters a culture of safety among staff.

It’s essential to an organization’s retention and recruitment efforts that leadership at all levels develop a compassionate and healthy work environment. Unfortunately, what I experienced firsthand was an organizational culture and climate based on violence and hostility within the department of nursing as well as between nursing and other departments.

I observed very little support for the profession of nursing from senior leadership at Riverview, as exemplified by the turnover in nursing directors, the lack of nursing leadership at all levels upon my arrival last fall and the lack of participation by top officials in National Nurses Day and Nurses Week activities in May.

In 2007, The Joint Commission (a major accreditation organization) acknowledged that unresolved conflict and disruptive behavior can impair safety and quality of care. Furthermore, The Joint Commission stated in 2013: “Failing to develop a culture of safety and quality is one of the biggest mistakes hospitals make because the culture forms the foundation of all activities, including those examined by surveyors. Without leadership support and staff engagement in a culture that focuses on safety and quality, hospitals are more likely to either be deficient in certain standards or meet the letter of the law without accepting the full meaning of the standard, which can ultimately jeopardize safety.”

Dollars and cents alone cannot and should not define a successful workplace. To shed light on this phenomenon, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee may want to approve spending money to hire a consultant specializing in organizational culture. Retention and recruitment efforts will never be successful, despite salary increases, if the disruptive behaviors at Riverview are allowed to continue.

]]> 0 Fri, 15 Jul 2016 19:42:05 +0000
Another View: Pence abandons values to run with Trump Sat, 16 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As a conservative crusader, Mike Pence is an incongruous match for the ideologically flexible Donald Trump, who employed Twitter to name the Republican Indiana governor as his running mate Friday. Then again, anyone with a halfway-respectable record in public office would have been an odd partner.

Perhaps Trump can relate to Pence’s time in show business: The governor was a radio host in the 1990s before winning election to the House in 2000. Though Pence is reportedly more easygoing than Trump, he has a bit of Trump’s penchant for the bizarre, as when he claimed in a magazine commentary that “smoking doesn’t kill.”

But it is likely that Trump chose Pence because the Hoosier is a more likeable version of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Trump’s vanquished adversary, whom Pence endorsed in the Indiana Republican primary. During his 12 years in Congress, Pence built up a reserve of credibility with movement conservatives and tea party types. He chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee and mounted one of the many right-wing campaigns to unseat Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as the leader of House Republicans. Boehner later co-opted Pence by appointing him to the House leadership. Now Trump seems to be trying a similar maneuver – neutralizing complaints from conservative true-believers by bringing one of their own into the fold.

Pence’s policy record suggests he will indeed appeal to right-wing voters – but perhaps not many others. He waged war against Planned Parenthood while in Congress, saying in 2011 that he was willing to shut down the government in order to defund the organization.

A staunch opponent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, he favored a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman. He pressed for a constitutional amendment that would cap federal spending at 20 percent of the economy, which would badly hamstring the government as baby boomers begin drawing retirement benefits. He also voted for and defended free-trade deals of the sort Trump has inaccurately blamed for hollowing out the economy.

Pence ran for governor as a fiscal rather than a social conservative, and he began his term by signing a large tax cut into law, which has made finding money for road construction a challenge. He has shown some practicality, taking federal money to expand Medicaid in his state under Obamacare as other Republican governors held out in irrational protest. His defining decision in Indianapolis, however, was signing into law a “religious freedom” bill that encouraged discrimination against LGBT people. He subsequently scaled back the law after a national uproar. Though this unnecessary foray into social issues hobbled him politically, he followed it up with a bill restricting abortions in Indiana. And while he condemned Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, he also tried to suspend the settlement of Syrian refugees in his state.

Pence appears to be executing his biggest mistake, by far, right now. He has called himself “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” But he has agreed to run on a ticket with an uncharitable man who habitually insults minorities, religions and vulnerable people, who wants to economically isolate the United States and who regularly displays his ignorance of the Constitution and policy. As he campaigns with Trump, Pence will have to add “hypocrite” to his list of attributes.

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Our View: Yarmouth Town Council should reject sex offender residency rule Fri, 15 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The drive to shield children from harm is one of the strongest instincts we have as human beings. And setting limits on where convicted sex offenders can live is an idea that appeals to these protective instincts. But there’s no evidence that such restrictions keep children safe, and Yarmouth town councilors should reject a proposal that would make the community the latest in Maine to enact municipal sex offender residency restrictions.

Tuesday’s public hearing on the proposal – which would bar those convicted of child sexual crimes from moving into homes within a 750-foot radius of Yarmouth’s three schools – marks the second time this year that this idea has been debated by town councilors.

Backers of the ordinance pushed for residency restrictions last fall, after the school department told parents that a registered sex offender convicted of possessing child pornography had moved to a location near town schools. But the proposal stalled when it went to the Town Council last winter, prompting a successful signature-gathering drive to force the council to either take an up-or-down vote or send the proposal to voters. The council is expected to vote next week to put the ordinance on the local referendum ballot in November.

Sending the issue to voters may be a good political move – 750 Yarmouth residents signed the petition, nearly double the number required to force a referendum – but it’s not an evidence-based one. The notion that strangers prey on children is belied by U.S. Justice Department research that has found that most sexually abused children are victimized by somebody they know and trust. Moreover, multiple studies show, residency restrictions not only keep sex offenders from finding work and re-entering the community but also make it harder for law enforcement officials to keep track of them.

The ineffectiveness of residency limits was cited by the Legislature’s Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee in 2008, when it recommended in its “Study of Sex Offender Registration Laws” that legislators consider prohibiting cities and towns from adopting their own restrictions on sex offenders. Such legislation was proposed in 2009 but was amended to allow Maine municipalities to impose the 750-foot barrier that’s now being sought in Yarmouth.

The state walked back its original proposal because it didn’t want to pre-empt local authority, Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Association told the Bangor Daily News in 2010, adding that “this is an important issue for municipalities.”

We agree that protecting children is important. One of the most heartening social developments of the past few decades is that we’ve learned more about the devastation suffered by children as a result of sexual crimes, as well as about the need to shield children from sexual predators. But the compromise allowed under state law has enabled Maine cities and towns to put in place regulations that don’t do what they’re intended to do – and Yarmouth shouldn’t be the next community to follow their lead.

]]> 31, 15 Jul 2016 10:48:39 +0000
Another View: Noted for pragmatism, toughness, new British leader will need both Fri, 15 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Theresa May, who has become Britain’s next prime minister by a process of elimination, may nevertheless be the best available choice. Her rivals in the Conservative Party, having persuaded voters to choose to exit the European Union with irresponsible rhetoric and unfulfillable promises, self-destructed one by one. That left May, a veteran cabinet minister and Euroskeptic who nevertheless favored the “remain” side, the last candidate standing.

May, like Britain’s only other female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, has a reputation for pragmatism and toughness; she will need loads of both.

Foremost among the new government’s problems will be facing the choice between seeking a close association with the EU, including full access to its market, and curbing the outward payments to Brussels and inward flow of EU immigrants, as promised by the Brexit camp. Failure to obtain the former could be devastating to Britain’s service- and finance-heavy economy, but surrender on the latter would enrage many voters.

Prudently, May has indicated she will wait until 2017 to formally trigger the withdrawal process. In the meantime, May is signaling that she will seek to build her own political base with a domestic economic program that abandons her predecessor’s fiscal austerity. May delivered a speech Monday in which she endorsed measures to raise working-class incomes and check executive pay and corporate takeovers.

May, however, also appears to appreciate that the Brexit vote was driven by a backlash against the costs of globalization, including growing inequality. As she put it, the referendum was also “a vote for serious change.” The exit from the EU is not likely to answer those demands. While she negotiates with Brussels, May would be wise to pursue more workable responses.

]]> 0 Thu, 14 Jul 2016 20:38:31 +0000
Our View: Subsidies for unhealthy foods are killing us Thu, 14 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that Americans should be eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in refined grains and added sugars. However, through the billions of dollars in subsidies the USDA doles out each year, it is saying something quite different.

Overwhelmingly, tax dollars dedicated to supporting the nation’s food system go to crops that end up as ingredients in the most highly processed and unhealthy foods. Consequently, those foods are cheap, and now they make up most of the American diet, costing tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs each year.

It is a lunacy that has us encouraging farmers to grow the very crops that are killing us, and it has to stop.

The subsidies handed out every five years through the federal farm bill – more than $5 billion each year for corn and soybeans alone – favor large-scale agricultural operations that produce huge amounts of a single crop.

Those crops – mostly corn and soybeans, but also wheat, rice, sorghum and others – largely become feed for the cattle that source the country’s cheap, high-fat meat supply, or they are processed into sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup for soft drinks and high-calorie fruit juices, or as filler for fatty packaged foods.

That’s why soda and snack cakes are so cheap, and so profitable for the companies that make them, while fresh produce remains relatively expensive.

Shoppers have noticed. According to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, more than half of the calories consumed by Americans now come from federally subsidized food.

What’s more, the younger, poorer and less educated the person, the more subsidized food they are likely to eat, and the more likely they are to suffer from obesity, elevated inflammation and abnormal cholesterol.

Americans are buying what they can afford – what government subsidies allow them to afford – and it is making them sick. The problem isn’t that people are allowed to buy sugary snacks with food stamps, it’s that sugary snacks and other unhealthy foods are all people on food stamps can afford.

A few small changes could make all the difference.

According to the left-leaning Union of Concerned Scientists, more than 127,000 deaths and $17 billion in medical costs could be saved each year if Americans simply increased consumption of fruits and vegetables to the level recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate dietary guidelines.

We don’t even have to disrupt the subsidy system much – just making small investments in local growers of fruits and vegetables would do enough to bring down the cost of healthy food, while supporting small-scale, local agriculture to boot.

Other changes would help, too. Farmers who receive subsidies for commodities are not allowed to grow a variety of crops, a restriction that favors large-scale, nationwide producers over smaller regional farms. Lending for small farms is also too tight, crimping the ability of those farms to contribute to the local food system.

It’s not an accident that we’re in this place. Processed food is the most profitable to sell, and subsidies only make it more so.

But what’s good for food companies is killing Americans, and it’s high time our policies reflect that.

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Another View: There’s no place in politics for Supreme Court justices Wed, 13 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Some things are better left unsaid.

Exhibit A: In recent interviews, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed horror at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency: “I can’t imagine what this place would be – I can’t imagine what the country would be – with Donald Trump as our president. For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be – I don’t even want to contemplate it.”

Ginsburg has earned a reputation for delivering pointed opinions. It’s no secret that her politics are liberal, just as it’s no secret that Clarence Thomas’ are conservative. Despite the court’s partisan divide, however, tradition holds that justices stay above the political fray. And there’s much to be said for keeping up appearances.

The Founding Fathers gave justices lifetime appointments to ensure that they could remain impartial, and the court likes to be seen as neutral in political matters. When the president delivers a State of the Union address, justices sit on their hands in the front row, refusing to applaud anything he says.

It’s a charade, of course, but an important one. The public expects justices to decide cases on the legal merits. And the court’s legitimacy rests on public acceptance of its rulings. The more people see the court as arm of a political party, the more likely they are to resist or ignore its decisions.

To sustain the rule of law, members of the court must respect the public’s expectation of judicial neutrality.

Many Republicans are rightly outraged at Ginsburg’s comments, but Democrats should be, too – and they surely would be if the situation were reversed.

Ginsburg’s loose lips should not set a precedent for the court. Publicly or privately, Chief Justice John Roberts ought to make that clear to all current and future members.

]]> 33 Tue, 12 Jul 2016 18:40:36 +0000
Our View: Maine’s anti-drug addiction efforts taking big step backward Wed, 13 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There’s a proven way to fight drug addiction and prevent relapses and overdose deaths, but Maine is shunning it.

The state is trying to make it harder for patients to access Suboxone and methadone, two addiction-treatment medications with a track record of success. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that it wants to impose more unfunded mandates on physicians who prescribe methadone and Suboxone – though there’s already a shortage of prescribers. Gov. Paul LePage, who successfully pushed for a two-year cap on Medicaid coverage of Suboxone and methadone, told the radio station WVOM on Tuesday that methadone is “useless” and said he’d like to close the clinics that provide it.

Now, the same reluctance to embrace evidence-based practices is casting a shadow over what looked like good news for people who want to stop using opioids: the planning in Bangor of Maine’s second detoxification center.

At the 10-bed Bangor detox center – established via a $3.7 million drug-fighting bill that legislators unanimously endorsed earlier this year – patients won’t be getting Suboxone to ease the nausea, stomach and muscle cramps and anxiety that are all part of withdrawing from opioids.

Instead, the Portland Press Herald recently reported, they’ll be given a “comfort pack” of other, less-effective medications. Too few clinicians in Bangor are trained and willing to prescribe Suboxone, explained an official with Community Health and Counseling Services, a Bangor agency that’s leading the effort to create the detox there.

Used to help about 80 percent of the patients at the Milestone Foundation detox center in Portland, according to the Press Herald report, Suboxone is a mainstay of medication-assisted treatment, along with methadone. Both are opioids that reduce drug cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms without producing a high.

It’s an approach that’s been shown to be the gold standard for both detoxification and long-term treatment regimens. It’s been endorsed by the broad-based Maine Opiate Collaborative, which worked for over a year on a statewide strategy to combating the opioid crisis. And it’s a model backed by the LePage administration, Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, state health officer, insisted Monday in an interview with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

But informed support for science-based medicine apparently isn’t enough to stop the implementation of unproven policies. So at a time when Maine should be making big strides against the opioid crisis, the state is pushing an approach that will, at best, keep us stuck where we are – and, at worst, could feed the spiral of addiction that has led to too many broken lives and preventable deaths.

]]> 25, 13 Jul 2016 08:26:16 +0000
Our View: Zipper merging by highway drivers is right even if it feels wrong Tue, 12 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Driving on the highway takes a lot of mental concentration and a little physical coordination. But because drivers are human, there is also a big role for emotion.

Imagine this: You are driving down the highway and you see a sign that says “Road work ahead, merge right.” You squeeze into the next lane, which starts to slow down, and watch the drivers to your left whiz by, expecting to be able to move over at the last second.

Right away, you are back in grade school, scowling at the bully who cut in the milk line. You fume as your lane – the good lane! – slows to a crawl, but you’ll get your revenge when those line cutters can’t skate in the left lane any more and have to move right. Then you make sure that you are so close to the car in front of you that there’s no room for them to get in.

You don’t get where you’re going any faster, but at least you have a feeling that justice was served.

But what if the selfish drivers in the left lane were really in the right?

Several states are trying to encourage a practice called “zipper merging” that moves traffic more safely and efficiently – and it’s not what your emotions have been telling you.

According to traffic planners in Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Washington state, the right thing is not changing lanes at the first warning of a lane closure – that will just slow that lane down, creating the dangerous situation that comes when adjacent lanes are moving at different speeds.

When they get to the obstacle, drivers should take turns, one from the left, one from the right, like the teeth of a zipper.

Traffic keeps moving, and nobody gets their feelings hurt. Instead, every driver has the experience of letting someone else go first, and getting the same treatment from somebody else. And transportation planners are aware that emotions have to be taken into account.

“When a rule is being violated by someone else, it frustrates us, it irritates us, it makes us angry,” Dwight Hennessy, a psychology professor at Buffalo State College in New York who specializes in traffic psychology, recently told The Associated Press. “We expect everyone else to follow the rules, and when they don’t and we know that they’re getting an advantage, it ticks us off.”

Zipper merging may not sound so novel to Maine drivers, because it’s already an informal practice in some high-traffic areas, like the Route 1 bridge entrance near Bath Iron Works. There are no signs or instructions – people have just figured it out.

Maine should join the states that have turned this kind of courteous driving into official state policy.

]]> 47, 12 Jul 2016 09:49:11 +0000
Another View: Homeowners should be allowed to profit from short-term rentals Tue, 12 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Home sharing has exploded, and has been met with applause and criticism. It’s wrongheaded for New York state lawmakers to say no to this emerging economy and its largest website, Airbnb. We need to adapt old rules and devise new ones.

Critics worry that the increase in short-term rentals has tightened the housing supply and made it even more unaffordable. They also point to a Harvard Business School study last year that showed hosts were less likely to accept bookings from renters with stereotypically black names than those with typically white names. Those living in Long Island’s vacation communities have other legitimate concerns about transient renters: turnover, liability, cleanliness, noise and safety.

Last month, lawmakers in Albany passed a bill adding stiff penalties for those who advertise short-term rentals in many multiunit buildings. Such rentals – less than 30 days where the host isn’t present – have been illegal since 2010. We urge the governor to veto the bill and revisit the issue.

Making short-term rentals illegal may make sense for homes that aren’t primary residences, but someone who lives in a home year-round and wants to rent it briefly should be able to. Registering users, or requiring proof of primary residence, could guard against abuse. A cap on how long people can rent their homes – say, 50 days, or 10 weekends a year, could help. There must be clear enforcement and agreement on tax collection.

Starting now, including Airbnb in the discussion, and learning from other states, will ensure that legislation can be drafted in the next statehouse session.

Airbnb should be willing to compromise. Peer-to-peer sharing is fast becoming a key economic engine. We have to be ready to accommodate it.

]]> 6 Mon, 11 Jul 2016 18:45:05 +0000
Our View: Student debt load unevenly distributed Mon, 11 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s almost a given that anyone who wants to graduate from college today will have to take on a significant amount of debt.

And we all know why people are borrowing: College costs have grown dramatically while states have simultaneously backed off their level of support, putting more pressure on students to fill the gap. Meanwhile, families have fewer resources to pay college bills after decades of wage stagnation. That leaves borrowing as the only way most people can afford an education. Nearly 70 percent of recent graduates borrowed to pay for school, with average debt exceeding $30,000.

Demos, a liberal economic think tank, has looked at this situation from a different angle. If 70 percent of graduates are borrowing, that means 30 percent come out debt-free. Who are they, how did they do it and what does that say about American higher education as an engine of equal opportunity?

What the researchers found is that our system gives a leg up to people who already had an advantage and puts a burden on those who were already behind.

Evening out that inequity should be the focus of much-needed reforms to higher education finance.

The study punches some holes in notions about why people take out loans to pay for education. Some commentators have argued that there are alternatives to excessive borrowing if students are willing to work after school and on vacations to limit debt.

While that might have been true 20 years ago, when less than half of graduates took out loans, it is not today. The Demos survey found that students who graduate debt free were less likely to have a job while they were in school than their indebted colleagues. They were also less likely to work more than 20 hours a week and less likely to hold down two or more jobs In other words, the more you worked while you were in school, the more likely you were to leave with debt.

Another myth is that low-income people get a free ride in college. Students who received Pell Grants, the federal program to help low-income students pay for college, were far more likely to graduate with debt than students who did not qualify for the program. This was especially true for independent students (those who pay for their own education without family help) with more than eight out of 10 independent Pell Grant recipients graduating with debt.

The need to borrow, the researchers conclude, is closely linked to race and income, with minorities, the poor and middle class having to carry a heavier load after graduation.

Two thirds of those who graduate without debt are dependent family members. Almost half of debt-free graduates come from families with an income of more than $100,000 a year – putting them in the top 15 percent of households. For them, a college degree can be considered an inheritance as well as an accomplishment.

And racial differences are also stark. At public institutions, 81 percent of black students take out loans to pay for their educations as opposed to 63 percent of whites.

That debt load will have a significant impact on those graduates, and even more on those who borrow for school and drop out short of a degree. It delays major life events, like getting married or buying a house. It limits the kinds of jobs graduates can take, steering them away from public service or low-paid internships that could provide valuable experience.

Reducing the cost of attending college has been a major focus of the Obama administration’s education policy, and several positive changes have been made, including linking loan repayment schedules to income.

But if we are really interested in equal opportunity in this country, we should be looking beyond making loans more affordable when we reform the higher education financing system.

Debt-free graduation should not be just another advantage for those who are already wealthy. It should be the way we reward hard work and talent, and give student potential what it needs to flourish.

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Our View: Superintendents aren’t what ails Maine schools Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine schools have a funding problem, but contrary to a popular belief, it’s got little to do with the people who run them.

Blaming the state’s many, high-paid superintendents for busting school budgets has a long bipartisan history. That was partially the basis for then-Gov. John Baldacci’s school consolidation plan, and superintendents for years have been a favorite target of Gov. Paul LePage, most recently at one of his “town hall” meetings last week in Boothbay. But the criticism misses the mark. Maine could certainly stand to operate its school districts more efficiently, but cutting the number of superintendents would have little effect on the bottom line.

According to the Maine School Management Association, there are 96 full-time and 32 part-time superintendents in Maine.

True, as Gov. LePage often says, that’s a lot more on a per-student basis than, say, Florida. But states like Florida that operate much larger school districts, often at the county level, also spend more on mid-level managers who do much of the work asked of superintendents in Maine.

Principals in Florida may oversee more students than many Maine superintendents, but superintendents here are often asked to do the work normally reserved for principals.

In the end, it largely evens out. A review by the National Council of State Legislatures found that Maine spends 10.59 percent of education funding on administrative costs, basically the national average. And that’s in a rural state where geography doesn’t always lend itself to large, efficient districts.

What’s more, even if all superintendents were eliminated – a ridiculous notion – that would free up only $12.3 million a year in a billion-dollar budget.

By comparison, this year the state will miss its mandate to fund 55 percent of K-12 education costs by $178 million. Filling that gap will take more than repeating inaccurate barbs against administrators.

Question 2 on the November ballot would help. By placing a 3 percent tax on all income over $200,000, it would raise an estimated $157 million in the first year and go up from there.

That would protect property taxpayers from continued unsustainable increases, and help give schools the money they need to do all that they are asked to do.

That list grows every year. The cost of special education continues to rise. More and more, students with real behavioral issues tax school resources. More and more, schools are asked to not only educate a child, but to look after their well-being as well, and to provide what isn’t being provided at home — food, school supplies, extra help.

Yet, the state’s commitment to education this year is $983 million, the same as 2008-09.

Spending more doesn’t necessarily lead to success. But when schools are cutting teachers and programs and increasing class sizes to make budget, when teachers are reaching into their own pockets to buy supplies, and when property taxes are going up regardless, it is clear there is a funding problem.

That doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t look for efficiencies. There are initiatives, such as distance learning, that can help smaller or more rural districts offer the best education possible at a fraction of the cost.

However, cutting superintendents would produce only meager cost savings while offering only questionable improvements to education.

Advocating for those cuts is an easy way to gain favor with people upset about the role schools play in rising property taxes. But if that’s your best plan for getting more money into the classroom, it’s time to try harder.

]]> 14, 09 Jul 2016 17:12:21 +0000
Another View: Governor’s vendetta will draw more supporters to NRCM Sun, 10 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 At the conclusion of her recent commentary (“Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue, Natural Resources Council Leader says”), Lisa Pohlmann wrote that “it’s always a good time to speak out and take action” to protect Maine’s environment.

She’s right, of course. While some would subvert or sabotage efforts to maintain a healthy ecosystem with thriving wildlife, clean air and pristine water – the things that make our state so special – it is incumbent on us to speak out.

If stewardship pushes us to speak out for the environment, conscience compels us to stand up to those who bully us.

So I’m lending my voice in support of Pohlmann’s cause. For weeks, she and the organization she leads, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, have been the target of a political smear campaign by our governor. Enough is enough.

Pohlmann was right about something else, too: “Protecting Maine’s economy is not a partisan issue.” Instead of harassing the NRCM’s donors or castigating their leaders in bogus “wanted” posters, Gov. LePage should heed the lesson that the rest of us learned long ago: Maine’s economic future relies on robust and sustainable natural resources. Only if we vigilantly protect our air, soil and water will industries like fishing, tourism, aquaculture and local foods fuel our state’s growth.

All of us who care about Maine’s rivers, lakes, forests, mountains and wildlife will have to stand strong for our environment, and against those who bully us – even if one of them is the governor of Maine.

]]> 13 Sat, 09 Jul 2016 17:20:02 +0000
Our View: Waves of violence come from same source Sat, 09 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If you stand on a beach and watch the waves, you might think that you are looking at row after row of individual peaks, which form, grow and then crash into the sand.

But that’s an illusion. As the Buddhist monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh observes, each wave is just water, wind and current. No wave can be said to exist apart from the ocean and no single wave exists apart from the others.

Maybe that’s the best way to try to make sense of the wave after wave of violence that has washed across this country over these last few weeks.

Start the list wherever you like: 49 shot dead in an Orlando nightclub; two African American men shot by police in separate incidents – with their last moments recorded on cellphone cameras and broadcast over the internet; five Dallas police officers gunned down by a sniper while keeping the peace at a Black Lives Matter vigil; 64 people shot, four fatally, in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend.

There is a strong desire to see these as separate events, but they are not. They are what happens when forces such as hatred, fear, poverty and systemic racism crash together. The kind of random violence we are seeing in America today is what happens when we treat each other like enemies and fail to recognize our common humanity.

America has survived other violent periods. We fought a Civil War that took 620,000 lives. Lynchings were common in the Jim Crow era, and the 1960s saw a wave of riots and political assassinations.

Robert F. Kennedy was at the center of that turbulent decade, first losing his brother to an assassin and then being shot down himself five years later. In 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and just two months before his own death, Kennedy gave a short speech on violence that still rings true today.

“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded,” Kennedy said.

He saw violence as the result of “false distinctions” such as race and class and our willingness to tolerate the suffering of people who are different from us. Violence breeds violence, he said, repression breeds retaliation and nothing ever gets resolved.

Kennedy said: “Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”

It’s human nature to focus on the ways in which we are different and on what separates us from each other. But that kind of thinking just expands the distance between us, and creates the conditions for those waves of violence.

Whether we like it or not, we will all end up in the same future. If we want it to include peace and justice, we need to make sure that they exist for everyone right now.

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Our View: Too many abuse victims remain at risk in Maine Fri, 08 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 All too often, guns and family violence are a deadly combination, so it was a big step forward last week when the Supreme Court ruled that convicted domestic abusers lose their right to own firearms, whether or not their crimes were premeditated.

The court ruled June 27 on a challenge to the Lautenberg Amendment, a 1996 federal law that bars those convicted of domestic violence from owning guns. After their respective convictions on domestic-violence charges, Stephen Voisine of Wytopitlock and William E. Armstrong III of New Vineyard each was found with guns during unrelated police investigations.

The two argued that the firearms ban didn’t apply to them, since they’d been convicted only of misdemeanors: crimes committed in the heat of passion that are considered to be less serious than felonies, which are intentional acts. But the high court rejected their argument and concluded that the federal prohibition applied to exactly the type of misdemeanor charges of which Voisine and Armstrong had been convicted.

Still at risk, though, is the safety of Maine victims whose abusers are awaiting trial. If a victim can show that the abuse involved a gun or that there’s a heightened risk of immediate violence, they can get a restraining order requiring the accused batterer to relinquish their guns.

However, defendants don’t have to turn over the designated weapons to law enforcement. Instead, they have the option of relinquishing their guns to a private individual – who could be a family member or friend. And no system is in place to check whether the guns have been surrendered.

To bring much-needed accountability to the system, legislators should change state domestic-violence laws to require defendants who have been ordered to surrender their guns to hand them over to police or licensed gun dealers. To cover the cost of the change, which has sunk similar proposals in previous years, a small fee could be charged to the accused, Nicole R. Bissonnette recommended in a 2012 Maine Law Review article.

Bissonnette also calls for creating a database of those subject to restraining orders. If a defendant in the database didn’t comply within 24 hours of a surrender order, the courts and law enforcement would be notified automatically. The costs for this program could be offset by fining defendants for noncompliance.

Domestic assaults are 12 times more likely to be fatal when firearms are involved, researchers have found, and a victim whose abuser has a gun is five times more likely to be killed. The ruling in Voisine, et al. v. United States recognized the obvious connection between firearms and domestic violence, but there’s still more work to be done in Augusta to ensure victim safety.

]]> 15, 08 Jul 2016 10:42:57 +0000
Another View: NASA’s Juno boldly ventures to a mysterious, faraway planet Fri, 08 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 On the Fourth of July, NASA’s Juno spacecraft was the source of a light show that put to shame anything happening on the planet of its origin.

After Juno’s five-year, 1.8 billion-mile trek, NASA scientists initiated a 35-minute engine burn to slow the solar-powered spacecraft from its 40 miles-per-second trajectory to one that would allow it to be captured by Jupiter’s gravity.

Some engineers have described it as the trickiest maneuver NASA has ever attempted with any mission. Jupiter has the most formidable magnetic fields and radiation belts human technology has ever encountered, so there was a high probability of failure for the $1.1 billion mission.

At Mission Control, nervousness gave way to celebration once Juno confirmed it had survived the high-speed rendezvous with the oldest and largest planet in our solar system. Eventually it will maintain an elliptical orbit 3,000 miles above clouds that could dwarf Earth’s continents in size. Jupiter is 300 times more massive than Earth.

Once all of Juno’s instruments are back online, its main job will be to map the world beneath those mysterious clouds. Scientists want to find out if the gas giant has a solid core and whether its atmosphere contains water. NASA also wants to know why Jupiter’s northern and southern lights are so active above the poles.

Because of Jupiter’s status in the birth order of our solar system, we are finally in a position to learn things about conditions that led to the formation of Earth and its neighboring planets. Beginning in August, Juno will provide scientists with the closest encounters we’ve ever had with Jupiter thanks to multiple flybys.

The Juno mission may be one of NASA’s finest hours yet.

]]> 0 Thu, 07 Jul 2016 20:43:47 +0000
Our View: Lack of indictment won’t end email scandal Thu, 07 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 So, we now know that Hillary Clinton won’t face criminal charges for using a personal email server to conduct sensitive government business when she was secretary of state. But that’s about all we know.

The lack of an indictment does not resolve much. Clinton is not just another former government official. She is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, and presidential elections are evaluations of judgment and character. Her mishandling of this matter raises serious questions about both.

FBI Director James Comey said the former secretary and her staff had transmitted some classified information through the private email account, and were “extremely careless” with sensitive communications. But the FBI investigation found none of the aggravating factors that have led the government to seek criminal convictions in the past, such as a large volume of material, criminal intent, lying to investigators or disloyalty.

Comey made the right call when he said, “No reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

But we are left with a political question, not a legal one: What should a “reasonable voter” do?

Clinton and her supporters think that voters should move on and focus on the differences between her and her likely opponent, Republican Donald Trump. But that’s not so easy.

In 2008, political math wizard Nate Silver developed a five-part test to determine when a news story about a politician qualifies as a scandal – he calls it EMPSCAT, or the Electric Minor Political Scandal Acid Test.

Under Silver’s rules, Clinton’s email controversy gets a very bad score. These are the questions:

1. Can the scandal be reduced to a one-sentence sound bite (but not easily refuted or denied with a one-sentence sound bite)?

Yes to the first – the secretary mishandled secret information, putting national security at risk. No on the second – her explanation is complicated and evolving.

2. Does the scandal cut against a core element of the candidate’s brand? Yes. Clinton’s experience, especially as secretary of state, is the cornerstone of her campaign.

3. Does the scandal reinforce a core negative about the candidate? Yes. Clinton’s biggest problem is that many people find her to be untrustworthy or dishonest.

4. Can the scandal readily be employed by the opposition, without their looking hypocritical? Yes. Clinton’s situation is unique. Most previous secretaries of state did not rely on email, and the one who did, Colin Powell, used a private account but not an unsecured private server. Trump has many attackable weaknesses, but he has not yet been trusted to take care of state secrets.

5. Is the media bored, and does the story have enough shock value to crowd out all other stories? It’s hard to predict that any story could push Trump out of the public eye, but Clinton should have no illusions that the media will stop looking for new angles on this story, or that voters will forget about it.

The problem is that Clinton’s response to the controversy has been incomplete at best and deceptive at worst. She has said that setting up a private email server was a mistake, but she has never fully explained why she did it. She has claimed that it was a matter of convenience, but it seems that there is much more that she is not saying.

Her behavior suggests that she was more afraid of political enemies in the U.S. government and the press than she was worried about the intelligence services of rival nations. That’s a dangerous mindset for a secretary of state, but a potentially catastrophic one for a president of the United States.

Clinton has not held a news conference since Dec. 4, 2015. It’s high time she faces the media now, and answers unscripted questions about this whole affair. She needs to say what she did, why she did it and what she learned from the experience if this story is not going to haunt her campaign.

Some will argue that the computer system Clinton employed seven years ago to send email is an insignificant detail compared to the consequences of a presidential election in 2016. But that’s what makes Clinton’s handling of this matter so troubling.

The direction of the country – affecting billions of people around the world – could be determined by Americans’ suspicions about Clinton’s judgment and character. How she responds to those questions will be a telling test of her leadership.

]]> 281, 07 Jul 2016 00:15:16 +0000
Our View: Maine can’t wait to address lack of senior housing Wed, 06 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine’s senior housing shortage is a matter of demographics and economics: There are too many seniors struggling to pay their bills, too few houses and apartments that fit their budget and not enough incentives for developers to build more.

There are already enough obstacles to ensuring that Mainers 65 and over have access to affordable, quality homes. Nobody needs to be making the process even harder. Yet someone is – Gov. LePage, who continues to stand in the way of the problem’s one proven fix.

By withholding $15 million in voter-approved funding for senior housing – itself only a weak response to the shortage – LePage is allowing the already dire problem to get worse. If he won’t offer a solution that is based on the facts, lawmakers should take it out of his hands by passing a bill to bypass the governor.

Time is not on the state’s side. Every year, more than 18,000 Mainers turn 65, and many of them do not have the retirement resources available to prior generations, making affordable housing a priority. There is an immediate need for 9,000 units for low-income older Mainers, and one study found that 15,000 units will be needed by 2020.

You don’t need to rely solely on the numbers – there are hardly any Mainers without a older relative or friend who isn’t struggling with housing. That means they either pay too much of their income on housing that is too big for their needs, and must cut back on health care and food, or they are forced out of their home and away from their community, sometimes into assisted living situations before they should need it.

The solution is clear. Subsidies for developers to build affordable senior housing have always worked well, creating places where seniors can live safely, happily and within their budgets. Now that the problem is bigger, the response must be, too.

At this rate, we won’t get there. The Maine State Housing Authority has averaged about 120 new units a year in recent years and has approved funding for 310 at the present time.

The $15 million bond, approved by nearly 70 percent of voters last November, would build about 225 units over the next few years – a good step, but still only a fraction of what is needed.

But LePage is standing in the way of even that. The governor has criticized the senior housing plan – a pet project of his political rival, House Speaker Mark Eves – saying it would not offer the right services to seniors, and that it was designed only to make a “few people millionaires.”

The former claim ignores the success of prior senior housing projects, while the latter is utter lunacy. The bond funds will go to developers, who, instead of building homes for the highest bidder, as the market dictates, will instead create units for elderly Mainers now living in substandard housing.

Given his strong feelings, however wrongheaded, it is unlikely the governor will change direction, and the shortage will continue to grow. If the governor has not issued the bonds by the time the new Legislature is seated, lawmakers should do it for him. Maine cannot afford to wait.

]]> 7, 05 Jul 2016 23:24:20 +0000
Another View: Film academy gets more diverse, but there’s far more work to do Wed, 06 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to invite into its ranks 683 new members – its largest, most diverse class ever – earned the organization a somewhat less derisive Twitter hashtag, #OscarsNotSoWhite. But even though the group is 46 percent women and 41 percent people of color, those numbers will barely move the needle on the overall percentage of women and minority members in the academy, which is best known for nominating and selecting the Oscar winners each year.

And the bigger problem in Hollywood remains the lack of diversity in the film and television industry as a whole. Until the industry makes a concerted effort to hire a more diverse roster of directors and writers, rethink casting decisions and trust the bankability of actors who are not white men, there will be a substantial imbalance.

That said, the academy deserves some credit for literally scouring the globe to bring in professionals from a wider array of backgrounds. Clearly they were out there. Many of the people invited have been doing well-regarded work for years.

Lambasted for its overwhelmingly white male ranks, and flogged with #OscarsSoWhite tweets after going two straight years without nominating an actor of color for an Oscar, the academy took its mission to diversify seriously. Last week’s invitations represent a strong step toward fulfilling the initiative President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (herself a black woman) announced to double the number of women and minorities in the academy by 2020.

A more diverse group of professionals inside the academy could speed the pace of change in the industry in which they work. There’s still more for the academy to do – besides finding even more people of color – but let’s give it the award for most improved casting.

]]> 0 Tue, 05 Jul 2016 18:34:03 +0000
Another View: Congress plays partisan politics while Zika virus spreads Tue, 05 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 No one knows exactly when the first Aedes aegypti mosquito will transmit the Zika virus inside the U.S., but it might happen before lawmakers manage to pass a bill to pay for its prevention and control.

Last week, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican plan to partly fund President Obama’s request – issued over four months ago – for money to fight Zika. The White House had asked for almost $1.9 billion to help states control mosquitoes, create faster tests for the virus and develop a vaccine, among other things. Congressional Republicans offered $1.1 billion, with strings attached.

One of them was that none of the money go to women’s health clinics such as those run by Planned Parenthood. That’s nonsensical, since Zika can be sexually transmitted, and its worst effects can be prevented with birth control. Republicans also proposed other dubious conditions, such as loosening Clean Water Act restrictions on some pesticides and cutting the budget for Obamacare.

Naturally, the partisans disagree over which side is more heartless in its disregard for pregnant women and their babies at risk of developing Zika-related microcephaly. Meanwhile, as they have dithered, 265 pregnant women in the U.S. have been infected with the virus. Zika-related birth defects are believed to have been found in at least four newborns and in four lost pregnancies. And mosquitoes continue spreading the virus in dozens of other countries.

It’s possible that Congress’ latest failure is merely posturing – that lawmakers have made their partisan points and plan to approve funding for Zika when they reconvene before their summer recess. If so, it’s small comfort.

]]> 1 Mon, 04 Jul 2016 17:23:19 +0000
Our View: Massive embezzlement from small Maine town should be wake-up call Tue, 05 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Claudia Viles was a fixture in the government of the central Maine town of Anson for 42 years, elected and trusted to collect taxes – often in cash – with no hesitation, or oversight, until hundreds of thousands of dollars were discovered missing. Late last month, she was found guilty on 13 counts related to the theft of $500,948.

The amount she stole put Viles in “a league of her own,” according to the state prosecutor, but her crime gave her plenty of company. Municipalities, nonprofit organizations and businesses throughout Maine have been targeted by embezzlers, and the cases often share similar circumstances: a trusted employee who had access to cash and was subject to little or no oversight, either by co-workers or computer software. Unfortunately, these circumstances still exist in many Maine organizations. Previous cases should have been warning enough, but they weren’t. After the Viles case, organizations shouldn’t wait any longer to make changes.

The court proceedings in the Viles case covered money stolen from 2009 to 2014. Authorities believe the theft went back further, but the cost of investigating acts prior to 2009, and the slim chance of recovering the money, prevented the town from making sure. And Viles likely would have continued to steal town funds if a new computer system hadn’t put an end to her deception two years ago.

Viles stole cash paid by residents to the town for excise taxes, manipulating an adding machine to change receipt totals. With no one beside herself checking to see who was paying what on a day-to-day basis, Viles was free to take what she could, as long as the annual totals didn’t vary too much from year to year.

That’s similar to cases in the last 20 years in Fort Kent, Norway, Madison, Chelsea, Newport and Somerset County. In addition, in recent years, the Maine Trial Lawyers Association, York County Community Action, a Kiwanis Club in Milo and a public library in Old Orchard Beach were all the victims of embezzlement.

And those are just the ones that were prosecuted – others certainly are settled quietly before allegations are brought to authorities.

In these cases, someone was eventually caught and the theft stopped, but not before money and organizational trust were lost.

It didn’t have to be that way. The points of vulnerability are clear and remarkably consistent – no one employee should be allowed unfettered and untracked access to money, not when internal oversight and technology can provide the appropriate checks.

In the case of municipalities, positions like town clerk and tax collector should be appointed, not elected, making the town’s governing board or top administrator their direct boss.

The town of Anson was warned that they had these deficiencies, but they acted too late. Others don’t have to make that mistake.

]]> 4, 04 Jul 2016 18:31:41 +0000
Our View: Celebrate the Fourth and reject nationalism Mon, 04 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 John Adams, our second president, wanted the Fourth of July to be an annual patriotic festival.

“It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other … ,” he wrote to his wife, Abigail, in 1776.

This year we should add one item to Adams’ list: A complete rejection of nationalism.

This may sound like the wrong day to do it, but it’s not. Patriotism is love of country, and a country isn’t the same thing as a nation.

One is a self-governing political entity; the other, a group of people who share a common culture. You can have one nationality spread out across many countries or many nationalities within the borders of one.

Nationalism is tribal loyalty, and it is an ideology that’s inconsistent with the spirit of ’76.

As we celebrate 240 years of independence, it’s disturbing to see nationalist politics on the rise here, challenging basic ideas of what it means to be an American.

It’s most obvious in the rhetoric of Donald Trump, who draws tribal lines that exclude immigrants, Muslims and others from full membership in the American nation as he defines it.

There have been nationalist voices throughout our history, but they usually came from marginalized fringe groups. Donald Trump is just one step away from the White House, and the concerted power of the Republican Party establishment couldn’t stop him from getting this far. His election would signal a seismic shift in the way Americans relate to each other and in the way the country relates to the world.


But it’s not just Trump. All over the developed world, global trade and technological advances have resulted in a concentration of wealth, the loss of industrial jobs and a threatened middle class. Random acts of terrorism against civilians by groups like al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State have fueled fear of outsiders.

Far-right, anti-immigrant parties are gaining power in France, Hungary and Austria – where a nationalist candidate barely lost a presidential election last month. Anti-immigrant appeals played a role in Great Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Trump supporters say “he tells it like it is,” and what he tells them is classic nationalist dogma: Build a wall to keep out invaders; round up and deport millions of internal enemies; ban a religious group from entering the country; withdraw from international treaties and trade agreements; make America great again.

The way Trump alters and abandons his positions on issues from abortion to waterboarding, it’s fair to wonder whether he believes half of what he says. But nationalism is nothing to fool around with.

History shows that it’s a destructive force. It’s behind the worst atrocities ever recorded and was the spark that started two world wars at the cost of 100 million lives.

world of enemies

Nationalists always see a world full of enemies and celebrate their own unique virtue, wrote Holocaust scholar Hannah Arendt. They create their own morality, which justifies anything they do, said English writer George Orwell. “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their merits, but according to who does them.”

A world full of nationalist actors can’t be at peace long.

It’s easy to confuse nationalism with patriotism. Americans, like Abraham Lincoln, have referred to our country as a “nation” because we aspire to have a common culture that includes everyone – “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal.’ ”

But the nationalism on the rise today is not what Lincoln was talking about at Gettysburg.

When Trump calls an American-born federal judge a “Mexican,” he is saying that some people can never become real Americans.

When he promises to arrest and deport 11 million people, or to stand at the border and deny entry to Muslims, he’s advocating actions that he would call crimes if they were committed against people like him.

He can wave the flag as much as he wants, but that’s not patriotism.

While we mark the day our forefathers rejected rule by a king, let’s reject the politics that seeks to divide us when we could be celebrating together. Liberals and conservatives should be able to agree at least on this: Nationalism has no place in this country.

]]> 163, 03 Jul 2016 18:02:53 +0000
Our View: Treatment for addiction still too hard to find Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In Sanford, in southern Maine, six people overdosed, including one dead, over the course of 24 hours. In Monmouth, in central Maine, three overdosed, one who remains on life support, at nearly the same time.

That’s the state’s heroin crisis at its most headline-grabbing, but it’s only part of the toll. Thousands of Mainers struggle with addiction every day, many of them while looking for help that just isn’t there. That’s been the crux of this devastating problem for years, and it remains so today, and until there are more treatment options, we’ll continue to see overdoses and deaths at an alarming rate.


Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly, for one, has had enough. Connolly, who has studied addiction extensively and sees its impact every day on the job, told the Press Herald, “We just go around and around and around with it. The simple solution is that we’ve got to have more low-cost outpatient treatment for these people everywhere, so that if people want to get help, they can get help.”

Connolly is right. For all the attention the heroin crisis has received, progress in fighting it has been slow. Police and treatment providers have done what they can, but even they have said it is clearly not enough.

The Legislature last session passed a series of anti-drug initiatives that represented a small step in the right direction. Once in place, the initiatives will ensure that a few more people who need help will get it, and perhaps that somewhat fewer drugs will get into Maine.

But the LePage administration has been slow to implement some of those initiatives and others related to heroin, some of which were approved more than a year ago. Just last week, the administration missed a deadline for distributing funds for a new detoxification center; a request for proposals is just now being sent out.

Administration officials have touted work being done on a new 200-bed facility to be built at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. That could be a great use of treatment resources – the facility could help end the cycle of addiction and crime that puts a lot of people in prison. But it targets only the prison population, and it won’t be built for three to five years.Help is needed now. Unfortunately, none of the initiatives approved so far targets in a meaningful way the most significant problem – the lack of options related to medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone.

That is proven to be the best course of treatment, but unfortunately it is the subject of political controversy, making it a difficult sell in the Legislature.

But we can’t forget that, right now, there are people seeking treatment who cannot find it. The longer they have to wait, the less likely it is that they will make it. By not giving them a way out when they are ready for it, we extend the crisis, person by person, and make it far more likely that the individual’s story will end up on the front page, or in the obituaries.


The people on the ground in this crisis can see it clearly. The director of a methadone clinic in Bangor, one that is trying to expand from 300 beds to 500, told the Bangor Daily News that the clinic has a wait list of 173 patients, some of whom have been waiting for more than 120 days. The clinic receives at least three to five new requests every day, the director said.

The drug problem is infinitely complex, and there is no consensus on how to best address it.

But at its heart are people with a real illness, however difficult it is to understand. They need help – right now, today – and it’s not there.

That can be changed. It has to be, or we’ll keep seeing stories like the ones out of Sanford and Monmouth, just in a different community.

]]> 5, 02 Jul 2016 18:13:03 +0000
Another View: Pitts column pushes transgender issues too rapidly Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Here is columnist Leonard Pitts’ advice (June 1) to a woman who encounters a transgender female, but physically intact male, in her locker room: “Relax. You have nothing to worry about.”

That’s comforting to know, but the matter isn’t as simple as Pitts makes it sound.

Pitts is right that “left to their own devices, good people usually find ways to figure this sort of stuff out … .” And they were figuring it out until the federal government big-footed its way into the debate.

Most Americans are sympathetic to the physical and psychological dilemmas that transgender individuals face. What they object to is having social and moral standards crammed down their throats by an unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucracy whose one-size-fits-all mandates make compromises and accommodations that fit individual cases and local needs irrelevant.

This is what happens when every progressive social goal is elevated to the level of a civil right that was never contemplated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, much less the Constitution.

And it adds insult to injury for the nation’s attorney general to tell those who object to federal bathroom rules that their discomfort doesn’t matter, and to foolishly compare today’s debates about transgender accommodations to the Jim Crow era of racial inequity.

Welcome to the progressive culture and soft tyranny of the nanny state in which identity politics is the fashion, the natural evolution of social norms is never fast enough and respect for unfashionable things like privacy, modesty and traditional customs becomes bigotry and discrimination.

]]> 0 Sat, 02 Jul 2016 19:53:46 +0000
Our View: Portland should not rush school overhaul vote Sat, 02 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Public schools are public infrastructure, as important to a community as roads, bridges, water lines, sewers, fire engines, ambulances and police cars. But we don’t treat them that way.

Too often we think of education as a benefit for the minority of families who have kids in school at a particular time – and an expensive benefit at that. That’s how you get a situation like Portland’s, where maintenance on the city’s elementary schools was shortchanged for 30 years, leaving all but the newest buildings in a state of decay.

Hall School is going to be replaced this year with a new building, funded mostly by the state. Four others – Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche – are in need of a major overhaul. The only questions are how much work needs to be done and how quickly it can be accomplished.

The Board of Education offers an answer to both questions: Send a $70 million bond out to the voters in November, and begin work as soon as possible. There are skeptics on the City Council who are balking at the cost and the estimated 5 percent boost it would give to the tax rate. And because the schools are not the only public asset on which maintenance has been deferred, they are concerned about fitting these projects in with other capital needs.

Since the council’s approval is required to send a measure out to the voters, a showdown between the city’s two elected bodies would be counterproductive.

A much better course of action is the creation of a special committee made up of four councilors and four school board members, which has been proposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling and will be voted on by the council Wednesday.

The ad hoc committee would be charged with thoroughly reviewing the plan and, if necessary, revising it in a way that would be acceptable to all. This extra step in the process could push the question past the deadline for a November vote, but rushing such a big package to the voters could be a big mistake.

As they dig into the details, committee members should not lose track of the public need for good school facilities. A study by the University of Salford in Manchester, England, found that things such as noise, lack of natural light, mold, temperature and air quality can have an effect of as much as 25 percent on student performance. Modern communication technology makes a big difference in both learning and school security.

It should not come as a surprise. Students learn better when they are not distracted, sick or uncomfortable. But what is not often taken into account is that communities benefit when students achieve.

Good schools boost property values and attract families. Schools are neighborhood hubs where residents interact with each other and their government. Studies show a correlation between school performance and economic growth, because employers can count on a well-prepared workforce.

There is a limit to how much local taxpayers can afford without state help, but they don’t have any more interest in letting schools fall apart than they would living with collapsed bridges or broken-down fire trucks.

The council and school board owe it to the city to find the right balance, and move forward the best bond package that the city can afford.

]]> 6, 01 Jul 2016 23:44:51 +0000
Our View: Acadia’s centennial should spotlight need to clear the air Fri, 01 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Visits to Maine’s Acadia National Park are meant to be a chance to enjoy what the best of what nature has to offer. But too often, the manmade world comes along, in the form of pollution that not only clouds the air but also makes it hard to breathe. Acadia is celebrating its 100th anniversary next week, and to mark this milestone – and protect the park’s air and climate – improvements to the federal Clean Air Act should be allowed to move forward.

The unhealthy air that sickens Maine residents and visitors is the result of emissions from coal-fired power plants in states to our south and west. So by setting the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan – one of the new Clean Air Act rules that federal regulators are considering – could do a lot to improve public health here.

There’s no downside for Mainers, in fact, because our participation in a regional emissions compact means that we’re already well on the way to meeting the proposed federal standards. But industrial polluters have challenged the Clean Power Plan in federal court, leading the Supreme Court to put the new emissions restrictions on hold pending a judicial review.

That’s bad news for people who come to Maine wanting to explore the stunning landscapes around them. Registered Maine Guide Rich MacDonald had to wrap up a recent outing early, when he saw a yellowish haze, and some in the party he was guiding to Acadia’s Pemetic Mountain started struggling just to breathe.

“The family wanted to go on, but it was clearly unsafe for the boy’s lungs,” MacDonald told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network on Tuesday.

Mount Desert Island Hospital’s ER director, Dr. Nathan Donaldson, told MPBN that an 11-year-old park visitor with asthma wound up in the ER because she couldn’t breathe after a day when Acadia’s ozone levels were particularly high.

“Nebulizers and steroids were able to prevent having to put a breathing tube down her throat,” Donaldson said, “but we see the patients like this often with asthma.”

Maine has one of the nation’s highest rates of asthma – it affects about 1 in 10 children here – and carbon emissions feed conditions that can lead to asthma attacks, such as ozone pollution and longer pollen seasons. And attacks like the one recalled by MDI Hospital’s Donaldson send a lot of Maine kids to the ER, an experience that frightens them and their families and drives up health care costs.

So although dirty air in Acadia attracts attention because it’s so dreadfully out of place there, pollution is a public health issue throughout Maine, and Acadia’s birthday should spotlight the need to keep cheap power produced outside our state from affecting the health of people who live and travel here.

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Another View: Horror in Istanbul shows where anti-terrorist efforts fall short Fri, 01 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Paris, Brussels and now Istanbul: The horrific attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Tuesday evening, which killed at least 41 people, suggested that the Islamic State’s capacity to mount major raids on strategic international targets remains robust in spite of its losses of territory and key operatives in Iraq and Syria.

The self-styled caliphate did not claim responsibility for the assault by multiple gunmen. But Turkish officials were right in saying it had all the hallmarks of the Islamic State.

One disturbing aspect of the Istanbul assault is that it succeeded in spite of tight Turkish security. The attackers were spotted soon after they emerged from a taxi outside the airport; at least two were shot by security forces, and only one made it inside the international terminal. The explosives they detonated were nevertheless able to slaughter dozens of people, some of whom were waiting in security lines. That suggests airport authorities may need to re-examine procedures for screening people as they arrive.

More broadly, Istanbul shows that the threat of major, coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic State has not been much diminished by successes such as the recent recapture of the Iraqi city of Fallujah, or the killing of senior Islamic State commanders and organizers in U.S. raids and drone strikes. The elimination of the terrorists’ two principle bases, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, is necessary.

What was merely the latest in a series of Islamic State attacks inside Turkey came just as its president was moving to repair his regime’s threadbare relations with Israel and Russia. A Turkey that is less at odds with fellow enemies of the Islamic State will increase the pressure on the terrorists; the horror in Istanbul merely underlines the need for that.

]]> 2 Fri, 01 Jul 2016 09:49:52 +0000
Another View: Volkswagen’s checks to U.S. car buyers aren’t the end of ‘dieselgate’ Thu, 30 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Checks for $5,100 to $10,000 written to Americans who bought Volkswagen diesel cars equipped to fool emissions tests may appease those owners, but they hardly constitute a victory for clean air. Rather than declare the matter closed, regulators in the United States and Europe need to redouble efforts to end all varieties of test-gaming in the auto industry.

Since VW’s “dieselgate” broke last September, Mitsubishi has admitted it cheated on fuel-efficiency tests, and Renault recalled 15,000 vehicles with faulty pollution-filtering systems. And independent studies of real-world driving, as opposed to laboratory testing, have found that brands including Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan and Volvo emit more greenhouse gases than advertised.

In Europe, oversight of testing is left to individual nations, leading to longstanding complaints that governments favor their own domestic brands. Testing both there and in the U.S. is done mostly by private firms hired by the car companies.

In the U.S., where there are relatively few diesel vehicles, diesel pollutants like nitrogen oxides are not as big a concern as carbon dioxide emissions. On average, vehicles in the U.S. give off 24 pounds of climate-warming gases for every gallon of fuel burned. So U.S. authorities need to broaden their scrutiny of fuel-efficiency testing.

And as anyone with a daily commute can attest, the miles-per-gallon numbers written on showroom stickers are pure fantasy. Just this week, U.S. carmakers urged federal and California regulators to ease future mileage standards, admitting their failure to live up to an agreement reached in 2011.

The car companies will do anything they can to beat tests, and lax rules play into their hands. Regulators need to clamp down or risk losing major battles against air pollution and global warming.

]]> 1 Wed, 29 Jun 2016 19:45:39 +0000
Our View: Gov. LePage’s order may halt gains at Riverview Thu, 30 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 After years of trouble, there is good news out of Riverview Psychiatric Center. Officials have, over the past several months, made real progress toward addressing the staffing deficiencies that have affected safety and care at the state-run hospital.

However, actions by Gov. LePage, whose administration has reacted poorly to the problems at Riverview since it was stripped of its federal certification, threaten to undo that good as part of an ill-conceived and wrongheaded effort to show up the Legislature.

The governor said he signed an executive order Monday putting in place a hiring freeze at Riverview, part of a larger effort to pay for four bills he contends weren’t funded last legislative session, a position that simply is not supported by the facts.

It is an unnecessary and empty action by the governor, done only to get his way when he couldn’t do that through the legislative process. And it could harm the patients and workers at Riverview, who have already suffered enough under his administration.

The poor atmosphere at Riverview in recent years has been well-documented. The chief cause of the discontent was insufficient staffing, which forced nurses and mental health workers into long, undermanned shifts, placing them in often-dangerous positions that also were not conducive to providing adequate care.

The staffing shortages resulted in 18,000 to 24,000 hours of overtime last year, a lot of it mandated. As a result, it was not a good place to work – by January, one-third of nursing positions and one-tenth of mental health worker positions were vacant – 51 positions out of 364. And that’s after 29 vacancies were filled in the previous month.

In response, and over the governor’s veto, the Legislature approved raises for Riverview workers. That is one of the bills whose funding LePage has questioned, although it was clearly worked out months ago.

Daniel Wathen, who serves as court master for a consent decree setting guidelines for the state’s treatment of people diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness, told the Bangor Daily News that as of last week, there are nine nursing vacancies, as well as two vacancies for acuity specialists and one or two for mental health workers.

The true test will be whether this momentum can be maintained, or whether high turnover rates will persist. Stopping new hires now will only make it more likely that they do.

Also, there are still job opportunities in central Maine – in and out of health care – that pay better than Riverview, so the raises remain necessary to retain employees.

More work is needed, but Riverview appears finally to be headed in the right direction, as long as the governor doesn’t get in the way.

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Our View: Police, not public, should defuse shootings Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Two legally armed bystanders stopped a violent, apparently drug-related altercation Sunday evening in an Augusta Wal-Mart parking lot, according to police, without anyone being injured by gunfire.

But the events in Augusta represent the best-case scenario, and they shouldn’t encourage similar interventions by other armed civilians. Like every other bystander to violence, “good guys with guns” are better off getting themselves and their families to a safe place than trying to step in.

The intervention, which unfolded after the last of four shots was fired, was carried out by Daniel Chavanne of Washington and another, unidentified man, both of whom were legally carrying their guns in plain view. Neither Chavanne nor the second man fired his weapon, say police. The four people involved in the altercation are now under arrest on a variety of charges.

Law-abiding, gun-carrying civilians are uniquely well placed to save lives at the scene of a shooting, Todd Tolhurst, president of Gun Owners of Maine, told the Kennebec Journal.

But armed civilians can actually complicate dangerous situations. Case in point: Joe Zamudio, who was in a nearby drugstore during the 2011 Tucson, Arizona, rampage that killed six people and injured then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Zamudio, who was armed, ran to the scene and was poised to draw and fire when he saw a man holding a gun. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’ ” Zamudio told “Fox & Friends.” But the man who Zamudio had assumed was the killer was actually an unarmed civilian who had helped tackle and wrest the weapon away from the perpetrator. Zamudio came within seconds of shooting an innocent man, he acknowledged.

Tolhurst, of Gun Owners of Maine, points to the danger of police shooting innocent bystanders. There’s no denying that this happens. Even trained soldiers fire on and wound or kill the wrong person. This doesn’t mean, however, that armed civilians, who don’t have the same training or experience, are better equipped to handle enormously stressful decisions.

Evidence is sparse to support armed citizen intervention in gun violence. Of 160 “active shooter” incidents that took place from 2000 to 2013, for example, only one was stopped by an armed citizen who wasn’t a security guard, the FBI concluded in a 2014 study. Pete Blair, a Texas State University criminal justice researcher, recommends that civilians should take physical action to defend themselves during a shooting only when it’s impossible to escape.

In the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, it’s tempting to embrace incidents like the one in Augusta as an argument in favor of armed citizen intervention in gun violence. But the chance of escalation is too great, and the risks too dire, for this to be the best way to react to potentially deadly confrontations.

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Another View: Nonprofit groups offer lesson in cutting college textbook costs Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every year, college students shell out thousands of dollars for tuition. Then they face an additional cost: textbooks. Students spend as much as $1,300 over their college careers on books alone. A pilot program from a community college reform group just outside Washington, D.C., could help.

Achieving the Dream this month announced $9.8 million in grants for developing degree programs that use online, open-source materials instead of expensive printed books. The initiative takes advantage of teaching resources in the public domain to cut costs for at least 76,000 students at 38 community colleges in 13 states.

Textbook prices rose 82 percent between 2003 and 2013 – almost three times the rate of inflation. It doesn’t help that some publishers release new editions of their textbooks each year, so students looking for a required text can’t buy used. Those financial barriers force students to fall behind in their classes, lowering their grades and raising withdrawal rates.

OpenStax, a nonprofit that produces peer-reviewed, open-source textbooks, estimates it has saved over $66 million for nearly 700,000 students – most of them at four-year institutions. But community colleges draw a larger share of disadvantaged students. By focusing on two-year programs, Achieving the Dream hopes to fix the hole that most needs a patch – not just for the schools it funds, but also for other colleges that adopt the programs its grantees will develop.

It’s important work, and it’s hard: When your product is free, there’s not much opportunity for profit. Achieving the Dream received funding for its grants from a few charitable organizations, but it may need more to scale up after the pilot program ends. OpenStax also relies primarily on philanthropy. Policymakers could help by providing more funding. Yet it’s also up to schools to take advantage of the resources already available. By integrating open-source materials into their curriculums, colleges would make learning better and cheaper at the same time.

]]> 0 Tue, 28 Jun 2016 19:58:41 +0000
Our View: Major Supreme Court ruling upholds women’s right to choose Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Supreme Court issued its most important abortion decision in a generation Monday, striking down one of the most restrictive state laws in the country and opening the door to legal challenges of many others.

Twenty-four years after Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the court permitted states to pass laws restricting abortion as long as they did not put an “undue burden” on the women seeking the procedure, the pendulum has swung the other way.

On the surface, the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt shoots down two parts of a Texas law that would have cut in half the number of abortion clinics in the state by imposing expensive regulatory requirements on facilities and physicians. But more importantly, the court ruled that states cannot use professed concern for women’s health as a shield to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.

The five-vote majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer will have an immediate impact in Texas, but it could also affect similar bans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin, which are experiencing their own self-inflicted access shortage. And the doctrine could be applied to other abortion restrictions, such as waiting periods, scripted “counseling” and mandatory ultrasound laws designed to delay an abortion until a woman changes her mind or it’s too late for her to get one.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that required abortion clinics to be regulated as ambulatory surgical centers, and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – ostensibly to ensure better care for patients in case of serious complications. While protecting women’s health sounds like a noble goal, it was clear that there was something else behind the concern.

No matter where you stand in the abortion debate, you cannot dispute that it is already a very safe procedure without any new laws. A 2014 study by University of California researchers reported that fewer than 2 percent of abortions resulted in any complications, far less than the complication rate for wisdom tooth extractions (7 percent) or for tonsillectomies (9 percent).

Only two-tenths of 1 percent of abortions in the study resulted in major complications (requiring surgery or a blood transfusion), compared with the 0.35 percent serious complication rate for colonoscopies. But no special laws are being passed to guarantee the safety of colonoscopies or tooth extractions.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said there had to be something other than a concern for women’s health behind the Texas law because it would have made abortions much more risky, not more safe.

“It is beyond rational belief that (the law) could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,” Ginsburg wrote. “When a state severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners … at great risk to their health and safety.”

By striking down this and other similar laws, the court has done a great service. Regardless of which state they call home, women have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies, and state governments should not be allowed to interfere.

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Our View: Use of terror no-fly list won’t cut gun deaths much Mon, 27 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Finally, members of the U.S. House and Senate are showing some resolve to do something about gun violence. But is this the best they can do?

On Wednesday, Democratic members of the House of Representatives sat on the floor of the House chamber, determined not to allow any business to be conducted until there was a debate and vote on several gun control measures, including a version of “No fly, no buy” that would require that anyone prohibited from buying an airline ticket because their name is on a government terrorist watch list to be also prohibited from buying a firearm.

The demonstration was led by civil rights-era hero Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and joined by Maine’s 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, who said, “If you were to walk outside the House right now and stop someone on the street and ask the simple question, ‘Should terrorists be allowed to buy guns?’ You would get a simple answer. They would say, ‘No, of course terrorists should not be allowed to buy guns.’ But they can, and Republicans here in the House won’t even let us have a debate and vote on it.”

Meanwhile in the Senate, Maine Republican Susan Collins was working hard to draft a bipartisan version of “no fly, no buy,” which was able to withstand a procedural vote. Her colleague, Maine Sen. Angus King, called it “good ol’ Maine common sense.”

But is it, really? All it takes to get on a watch list is a government agent’s unsubstantiated suspicion. Collins’ amendment refers only to the most restrictive terror lists that require a higher standard of proof, but still do not call for judicial oversight. If there were real, credible evidence of terrorist activity, criminal charges would be more appropriate than denying the suspect access to air travel or gun buying.

In the absence of evidence of a criminal act, letting the government take action against citizens doesn’t sound like common sense.

And only a small subset of gun homicides involve terrorists, at least in the way that terrorism is thought of in the post-9/11 world. Of the approximately 11,000 U.S. gun homicides in 2015, only 22 meet the common definition of terrorism (six in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and 16 in San Bernadino, California). The other 10,988 or so could not have been affected by the use of a terrorist watch list.

Gang violence is not considered terrorism, even though gangs use violence to intimidate. Domestic violence is not considered terrorism, even though abusers use violence to control.

When we say terrorism, we are almost always talking about violence perpetrated by political/religious groups connected with outside-the-mainstream sects of Islam based in the Mideast and southern Asia.

So names on the watch list are bound to overrepresent people from certain national and religious backgrounds. People likely to commit crimes with guns do not fall into such neat categories.

Terrorists strike where they find a weakness, and America’s tolerance of gun violence has proven to be a public safety weak point, as evidenced by the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks.

But attempting to reduce terrorist shootings would do almost nothing to limit gun violence and probably very little to prevent terrorism, because terrorists have shown a willingness to use whatever means are available to them.

Pingree, Collins and King deserve credit for trying to do something about gun violence in the wake of the Orlando massacre, but they should work harder to do something more meaningful. “No fly, no buy” might be a step in the right direction, but it’s a very small step.


CORRECTION: This editorial was updated at 6:10 p.m. on June 27, 2016, to clarify that the terror watch lists that Collins proposes using would require law enforcement to meet the “credible information” standard of proof, not the less-restrictive “reasonable suspicion” standard. Also, the Senate remains in session this week.

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Our View: Future of Maine economy depends on innovation Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The economic recovery of the last six years, unlike any before it, has been carried by the activity in only a dozen or so metro areas, while the rest of the country has struggled to replace the jobs lost in the 2008 recession.

Those areas, anchored by cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, have two things in common – they are all heavily populated, with each of the 10 largest counties among the highest in job creation, and they have all embraced an economy built on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Maine can’t match the sheer size of the country’s biggest cities, but it can follow their lead when it comes to encouraging growth. In the 21st century, there may be no other way that has a chance to succeed.


In the past, the areas hardest hit by economic downturns were the first to show significant gains in a recovery, bouncing back to add new jobs at a high rate until pre-recession levels were reached everywhere.

That meant the recovery was spread around. After the recession in the early 1990s, for example, gains in the 125 fastest-growing counties, including Cumberland County in Maine, accounted for half of the total new businesses that formed as investment and spending rebounded.

But since the economy began to turn around in 2010, the economic expansion has been concentrated in just 20 counties nationwide, according to an analysis by the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group. All the counties include or are near large cities that weathered the recession relatively well, and are now booming by encouraging the kind of startups that drive job growth.

And it’s not that highly populated counties are producing more jobs than in previous recoveries – smaller areas are just not producing any. In the recovery of the 1990s, more than 1 in 4 new jobs came from less populated counties. In the recovery following the 2002 crash, it was 1 in 5 jobs. Now, it’s fewer than 1 in 10.

According to the Brookings Institution, the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have recovered all the jobs they lost in the 2008 recession and added nearly 6 million more. All other areas combined are barely 300,000 jobs over pre-recession levels.

It’s those areas that have taken the worst of the economic changes over the last 30 years. They’ve suffered historic losses in manufacturing and construction, and they’ve seen their local businesses pushed out in favor of big-box stores. As a result, they are losing people or barely staying level. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that doesn’t bode well for rural America.

“It’s going to get much, much worse,” said John Lettieri, a former Republican congressional aide who co-founded the Economic Innovation Group. “As bleak as these numbers are now, these may be the good years.”


And it doesn’t bode well for Maine. The state’s metro areas – Portland, Lewiston and Bangor – are accounting for all of Maine’s growth in the post-recession period, but they are still stagnant, particularly when placed alongside places like Dallas, Miami and San Jose.

But the future is not set in stone. In fact, there is plenty to be optimistic about.

Growth doesn’t necessarily require that you have a lot of people, just that you have the right kinds of people. Large cities tend to have more of the innovators and risk-takers who are driving growth in the new economy, but Maine can attract them, too.

The high quality of life here is certainly a draw for entrepreneurs and workers who can do their jobs anywhere – as long as we solve problems related to slow internet speeds.

But Maine’s natural resources are also an advantage. Imagine our mountains and forests as testing grounds for new outdoor recreation products, or our innovative small farms – the wave of the future – as laboratories for agriculture and aquaculture technology.

In one example, Sampriti Bhattacharyya wants to test her underwater drone in Maine. One day, it could be used to track fish species.

Bhattacharyya was a speaker at Maine Startup and Create Week, which wrapped up Friday in Portland. In its third year, Startup and Create Week is part of a statewide effort to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Maine, one that should be supported by public policy.

And it can’t stop there. Our schools, kindergarten through graduate school, cannot be content to create just the workers of tomorrow – they have to form entrepreneurs, too. Students have to come out of school with aspirations to build world-class products and businesses, and into a culture that encourages them to exchange ideas, collaborate with other innovators and not be afraid to fail upward.

The jobs and industries of tomorrow will come from within, created by people who live here by using the attitudes and attributes that are special to Maine. That’s the path for the 21st century, and we have to follow it with will and passion.

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Another View: Cynthia Dill column missed the point on Clinton’s emails Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Cynthia Dill’s May 29 Insight column on the State Department inspector general’s report leaves the impression that it is uninformed and outright stupid to investigate Hillary Clinton’s misuse of a private email server to conduct U.S. government business.

How does illegal use of such a secretive mechanism “prove” Hillary Clinton is the “most qualified and trustworthy candidate” for president? Ms. Dill acknowledges the “breaking the rules” portion of the report is only six pages long. Is she kidding? Six pages about rule breaking and confidential U.S. documents on a private server?

Shouldn’t we expect a secretary of state to make it his or her priority to review the existing Foreign Affairs Manual or to have it reviewed by qualified legal counsel? To blame such gross failure to do so on “longstanding systemic weaknesses” (debunked lie) is ridiculous.

If Clinton felt that her hiding personal emails was business as usual, what else might she be hiding? Wasn’t the existence of a secret, personal email server blurted out in a congressional hearing on Benghazi? Was this business as usual?

But wait – didn’t President Obama direct that there be no such use of private email servers to conduct government business? Clinton decided this directive did not apply to her. She left office, declaring all emails had been relinquished to the government. Not so! She kept 30,000-plus emails to destroy at her leisure, destroying them only after they were requested by a government investigating authority.

Look, it’s not just emails. It is the continuous scheming, sleazy handling of official documents and dodging responsibility (remember Benghazi) without any reprimand. She should have been fired!

Blaming the death of four Benghazi personnel on a video; telling one victim’s father that she’d “have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of (your) son”; having Susan Rice lie to us; denying this was a terrorist attack; and blowing her cool in a congressional hearing, asking “What difference does it make?” when referring to their deaths.

Ms. Dill is flat out wrong in trying to convince us of Clinton’s unbiased evaluation on such an important national concern.

]]> 21 Thu, 30 Jun 2016 08:28:47 +0000
Our View: Child well-being in Maine headed in wrong direction Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A disappointing report on child well-being in Maine should be an agenda-setter for the upcoming election.

Maine was ranked 17th from the top among the 50 states, slipping five places since last year, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book, released each year by the Children’s Alliance of Maine.

While a stronger economy has improved life for children in other states, Maine children are falling backward in several important areas, including the number of children without health insurance, an increase in the percentage of low-birthweight babies and a lack of improvement in reading scores.

While these reflect problems with health care, education and family structure, they all stem from economic disadvantage, an area in which Maine has not made progress since the financial collapse of 2008, and the beginning of the anti-government LePage administration.

Childhood poverty in Maine has not subsided as the economy has been otherwise improving. Last year, 18.2 percent of children and 21 percent of children under the age of 5 were living under the poverty line.

That matters because the effects of growing up in a low-income household can have lifelong effects on health and education that perpetuate a cycle of generational poverty. One troubling data point in the Kids Count book is the rate of disconnected youth in Maine communities. In Maine, about 6 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 are neither employed nor attending school. That means that in just a few years, there will be thousands of men and women who will not have had the solid foundation they need to start and support a family. It would be much more effective to help them now than it would be after they are struggling to care for children of their own.

All candidates for the Maine Legislature should be prepared to talk about what they plan to do to arrest and reverse these troubling trends. It’s not enough to offer bromides about tough love and self-sufficiency – government is the only entity that can intervene in health care and education in a significant enough way to overcome the negative consequences of childhood poverty.

There’s no mystery about what needs to be done. The only question is whether the people in government will have the resolve to do it.

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Another View: Brexit reminds us to never underestimate the power of the angry voter Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Britain’s stunning vote Thursday to leave the European Union was part of a dramatic internal struggle over the country’s identity, culture and independence that will transform its role in the world for the foreseeable future.

It will undoubtedly cause economic pain for its citizens while likely sparking a fresh Scottish referendum on independence, as well as a possible reassessment within Northern Ireland of its place in the United Kingdom.

The Brexit vote may turn out to have been a blunder of historic proportions: Instead of affirming Britain’s identity and independence, it could tear the country apart.

Americans would be wrong to see this as a faraway dispute with no bearing on our own politics. In the United States, demagoguery, populism and the stoking of nationalist fears are also winning hearts and minds – as well as votes for presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. His popularity is rooted in anger and frustration – and those emotions are not only felt on the right.

A different sort of dissatisfaction – but dissatisfaction nonetheless – propelled Sen. Bernie Sanders’ improbably strong showing in the Democratic race.

Does this reflect a failure of democracy or of politics? Maybe a little of both. Elections are the foundation of a democratic system, and even when voters opt for a path that is contrary to their best interests, they need to be respected. It is through elections that competing visions and, yes, grievances, are mediated.

Yet the Brexit vote also points up just how much work needs to be done by those who believe in a society that is pluralistic, pro-free-trade, non-isolationist and pro-immigration.

The skeptical need to be persuaded and the disengaged need to be brought into the process.

]]> 6 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 18:41:09 +0000
Our View: Panel’s agenda keeps warden service’s evasion in the spotlight Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mainers concerned about government accountability got good news Wednesday. That’s when the state’s Right to Know Advisory Committee reversed course and decided that it will discuss the Maine Warden Service’s handling of requests for public records on its undercover operations.

The warden service has been under fire since the publication May 8 of “North Woods Lawless,” reporter Colin Woodard’s six-month Maine Sunday Telegram investigation into allegations that an undercover warden enticed poaching suspects into breaking the law by giving them alcohol and violating the regulations he was supposed to be enforcing.

The warden service wouldn’t talk to Woodard. And it has refused to give the Telegram public records, including copies of its communications with the producers of the reality TV series “North Woods Law,” who filmed the raid that was the culmination of the poaching sting. Of the documents that have been turned over, some have been heavily redacted – including a copy of the service’s undercover policies.

But hopes that the warden service would be pressured into transparency soon were dashed. First, legislators on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee announced June 1 that they were letting the entire matter drop, apparently taking their cue from warden service Col. Joel Wilkinson, who declared at a one-sided hearing that day: “I’m not going to put my officer under investigation because someone misprints false allegations.”

Then last week, the Right to Know Advisory Committee announced that it had no plans to take up the stonewalling at its monthly meeting June 22. Why? Well, the public records panel normally takes its direction from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, state Sen. David Burns, who chairs both panels, told the Press Herald. And since Judiciary Committee members had made no such request, that was that.

Fortunately, the advisory panel as a whole recognizes the significance of the warden service’s actions, or lack thereof: It unanimously backed a motion by board member and Maine Public Broadcasting radio reporter A.J. Higgins to put the matter on the agenda for next month’s meeting July 20.

While the Right to Know Advisory Committee doesn’t have investigatory powers or the authority to subpoena witnesses, it can recommend new legislation or changes to existing law. And, just as importantly in this case, the committee can keep the spotlight on the warden service’s resistance to legitimate public records requests. Serious questions about how the service uses its authority have been raised but not answered, and bringing at least part of the matter before an advisory panel is a step in the right direction.

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