The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Editorials Wed, 04 May 2016 08:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Another View: Ruling supporting free speech a victory for nonprofit donors Wed, 04 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Free speech is crucial to our democracy. And after explicitly backing candidates or initiatives, essential to free speech is financial privacy. It’s good to know, for example, who is giving money to a political candidate because politicians have direct control over our lives. But if nonprofit groups and foundations cannot keep donor lists secret, then the donors can be harassed into ending their gifts, silencing the groups’ work.

That’s why we cheer federal Judge Manuel Real’s decision last month to keep secret the donor lists of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. In order to solicit donations in the state, California Attorney General Kamala Harris demands that nonprofits reveal donor names, claiming that the so-called Schedule B forms are needed to look for violations of state law.

Real replied, “Over the course of trial, the Attorney General was hard pressed to find a single witness who could corroborate the necessity of Schedule B forms in conjunction with their office’s investigations.”

Harris said the forms would be kept private. But the judge found that the attorney general has failed to keep the lists confidential.

Harris has been investigating ExxonMobil on whether it “lied to the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change, and whether the company’s statements over the years constitute violations of securities laws,” as The New York Times reported. But the oil giant also has free speech rights and can express itself as it wishes.

Now that Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has been chastened over Schedule B disclosure, we urge her to drop her probe of ExxonMobil. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

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Our View: Rise in child shootings should provoke action Wed, 04 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Twenty-three times so far this year, according to The Washington Post, a child age 3 or younger has found and fired a gun. In 11 of these shootings, somebody – usually the child – was killed. Incidents like these are shocking, tragic and largely preventable. But that means fully, and finally, committing ourselves to policies and technology that help keep firearms out of kids’ hands.

The figures presented by the Post on May 1 show an acceleration in the pace of toddler shootings. However, they’re just a small part of the gun violence involving children in our country. In 2015, at least 265 people in the U.S. were unintentionally shot by children under 18. Eighty-three died, including 41 of the children who carried out the accidental shootings.

There are proven ways to stanch this epidemic. For example: Twenty-eight states have child access prevention laws, which, to varying degrees, hold gun owners liable if a child accesses their firearms. Over 800 injuries were prevented and $37 million in medical costs were saved in 2001 in 10 of the states that have these laws, according to a 2005 study for the National Bureau for Economic Research.

On the technical side, guns are now being designed with features that prevent the wrong person from pulling the trigger, such as biometric sensors (like fingerprint readers) and “James Bond”-style grip recognition. One such “smart gun,” the iP1, requires the single authorized user to enter a five-digit PIN into a special watch before firing. (The code is good for eight hours at a time.)

But the company that makes the iP1 hasn’t been able to sell it because of boycott pressure from the National Rifle Association and its allies. Invoking fears that mandating gun-safety technology will pave the way for greater gun control, gun-rights advocates have also come out against a recently announced White House plan to use federal funds to help develop smart guns and to subsidize their purchase by police agencies.

President Obama should focus on fighting terrorism, an NRA spokeswoman declared after the president’s announcement last week. But the threat that militants present to Americans must be put into context. Twenty Americans died at the hands of potential or suspected terrorists in Paris, San Bernardino, California, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2015. Accidental shootings by children, on the other hand, took over four times as many American lives last year.

When it comes to protecting children versus protecting rapid access to guns, our priorities should be clear. Most Americans want safer firearms – just as they support policies to require that guns be stored out of children’s reach. It’s time for this silent majority to speak up and demand action.

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Our View: Riverview Psychiatric Center gets right man for turnaround Tue, 03 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Rodney Bouffard, a special education teacher by training, has become a turnaround expert of sorts for some of Maine’s most troubled institutions.

After overseeing the closure of the Pineland Center in New Gloucester, a state-run home for the developmentally disabled that was beset by dysfunction, Bouffard became superintendent of the Augusta Mental Health Institute and helped forestall a federal investigation, getting the psychiatric hospital in line as it wound down toward its eventual closure.

Then he led the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland as it addressed allegations of abuse and became a model juvenile corrections facility.

Those experiences make him the right person for his new job: superintendent of Riverview Psychiatric Center, AMHI’s successor, where low staff morale and a nearly three-year fight for federal recertification have hindered the hospital’s ability to deliver care.

It won’t take long to find out if the confidence in Bouffard is warranted.

Just a few days into his tenure, Bouffard is confident that he can fix almost immediately what is Riverview’s foundational problem – staffing shortages that have run direct-care workers to the bone in the last year-plus, threatening worker safety and making clinical gains more difficult.

As of late January, nearly one-third of nursing positions and one-tenth of mental health worker positions were empty, about one-seventh of all positions at the hospital.

As a result, Riverview staff endured more than 2,000 hours of overtime a month over the last year, much of it mandated and handed out at the last minute, forcing workers to extend shifts without notice.

The situation has left nurses and mental health workers tired and frustrated. Many have left Riverview for better pay and hours, and the ones still there are struggling to do their jobs in a difficult atmosphere.

Bouffard will have some help on that end, as lawmakers last week approved, over a veto by Gov. LePage, a bill to provide raises to nurses and mental health workers at Riverview and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital in Bangor, making the pay in those positions more competitive with other employers.

These workers are on the front lines at the hospital, providing day-to-day, face-to-face interactions with patients in desperate need of good, attentive care. There is no fixing Riverview without first fixing the staffing problems, and Bouffard knows it.

“That hospital is only going to be as good as the people who essentially are interacting with the patients, so if (the workers) can plan on whatever their day is going to be, they’re going to be a lot happier,” Bouffard told the Kennebec Journal. “My sense is if I can resolve that, get a little more infrastructure on the units, I think we can really be moving the place in the right direction.”

The staffing shortage can be solved in four to six weeks, he said, setting the stage for other improvements. If so, it’s a good shot that Riverview will be another successful turnaround for Bouffard.

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Another View: Sentence recognizes true victims of Dennis Hastert’s betrayal of trust Tue, 03 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A federal judge sentenced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison, more than prosecutors had recommended. The judge apparently was unmoved by Hastert’s poor health, his courtroom appearance in a wheelchair and pleas from the likes of ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who wrote the court, “He doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”

We say: Good for the judge.

Hastert is not the victim here. The victims are the men who, as teenage boys, were sexually abused by Hastert when he coached their wrestling team in Yorkville, Illinois, decades ago.

“A serial child molester,” said U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin last week. Hastert, 74, had pleaded guilty to a banking violation, not sexual abuse, but his aim in illegally structuring bank transactions was to cover up his predatory behavior. Hastert falsely told investigators that one victim – to whom he was voluntarily paying money as recompense for pain and suffering – was extorting money from him.

That Hastert’s molestation of multiple victims was uncovered almost by happenstance points to the difficulties in detecting these crimes. One victim, before his death, told his sister he had never said anything because he didn’t think he would be believed.

Hastert has now admitted to the sexual abuse, but he can’t be criminally or civilly held liable, which underscores the need to change laws that give victims and prosecutors too short a time in which to seek redress. Defenders of restrictive laws argue the need to protect people against latent claims, but that’s why we have juries. As Judge Durkin said, “Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is.”

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Our View: Hiking Maine’s minimum wage could narrow enforcement gap Mon, 02 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A $10.10-an-hour minimum wage has been in place in Portland since January, but it’s unclear whether workers are actually getting all the money they’ve earned. That’s because enforcement depends on employees coming forward and reporting wage violations. And many workers fear retaliation if they speak up.

Exact figures on the extent of wage-law compliance and violations are hard to come by. But the annual loss to workers totals in the hundreds of millions, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The left-leaning think tank based its estimate on the total amount of money recovered for employees who retained private lawyers or complained to federal or state agencies in 2012.

When Portland joined the growing number of U.S. cities and counties that have raised local base pay above state minimums, it also took over the responsibility of enforcing the new ordinance.

Like many other small cities with legislated higher wages, Portland’s enforcement model calls on underpaid workers to turn in their employers. Elsewhere, violations are uncovered in court – like SeaTac, Washington, where over a dozen class actions have been filed since its wage ordinance took effect in 2014.

Of course, many workers who’ve been shortchanged never sue or contact the government. They don’t have the time or the money, or they’re worried that they’ll lose their job, have their hours cut or be demoted for whistleblowing.

This could change if Maine voters were to pass the $12 minimum that’s on November’s statewide ballot. Unlike Portland, the Maine Department of Labor has designated staff to handle investigations of minimum-wage complaints.

And researchers have identified best practices that governments can adopt to ensure that workers get promised minimum-wage hikes, such as:

Partnering with community organizations to educate workers and businesses.

Tightening penalties to deter retaliation and further wage-law violations.

Focusing resources by targeting high-risk industries and repeat offenders to find violators before employees turn them in.

Wage violations hurt not only employees but also honest businesses, whose labor costs are undercut by unscrupulous employers, and state and local economies, which lose out when fewer dollars are circulating to businesses. Passing a $12 state minimum would pave the way for stronger enforcement, rewarding fair-minded Maine employers and helping make sure all Maine workers get paid what they’ve earned.

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Another View: Congress has no reason to delay Zika funding Mon, 02 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Over two months after the White House asked Congress for more than $1.8 billion to fight the Zika virus, Congress has yet to provide it. President Obama, Republicans claim, has failed to explain in sufficient detail how his administration would spend the money.

Most of the money will go to help states control the mosquito that carries the virus, expand programs to test for it and work on developing a vaccine.

The case for action now is overwhelming. Come summer, the Zika-bearing Aedes aegypti mosquito will begin to spread the disease across much of the continental U.S. Pregnant women who contract the disease are at greater risk of giving birth to children who are stillborn, have microcephaly or experience eye and brain lesions.

Among the questions Republicans say remain unanswered is what portion of the money is needed for the current fiscal year. That level of detail wasn’t necessary in 2005 when President Bush requested and received emergency funding to combat avian flu.

Republicans also argue that the federal government has enough money left over from the fight against the Ebola virus to deal with Zika. But the administration has already transferred $600 million in Ebola funds to fight Zika, and it claims that taking more could leave Americans exposed to another outbreak; there have been Ebola cases recently in Guinea and Liberia.

Finally, House Republicans say that any request for new money to combat Zika should come through the regular appropriations process, not as an emergency request. But if a disease that could endanger newborns across the southern half of the U.S. by July doesn’t qualify as an emergency, it’s hard to say what does.

This is a delay that could endanger lives. There have already been 891 cases of Zika in the U.S., including 81 pregnant women. Republicans need to move, and quickly.

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Our View: Maine education task force should focus on achievement gap Sun, 01 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A “blue ribbon” commission created by Gov. LePage began work last week on an important review of the way Maine funds and delivers education. The panel represents a wide range of views and constituencies, and for it to produce anything meaningful, the members will have to find common ground.

In that way, there are parallels to be drawn with the diverse group of stakeholders that for months worked to find a bill on solar power that was acceptable to (almost) all sides, only to have it killed by LePage’s unwillingness to compromise.

But if you’re choosing to be hopeful, there are signs that this case could be different.

Speaking last week at events in Portland and Auburn, Bill Beardsley, Maine’s education commissioner-in-waiting, outlined what should be one of the tenets of his department, saying that it is the state’s “moral obligation to help the kids most in need.”

That should be the commission’s starting point, and its focus.


At both of last week’s lectures, Beardsley laid out in broad strokes the challenges he sees facing Maine schools. Enrollment is falling, he said, yet costs continue to rise, test scores are not rising along with spending, and teachers are being asked to do too much.

There’s a lot of room for debate in that simple statement, and the members of the commission will no doubt find it, and find themselves, stuck in a familiar political morass.

The question of equal opportunity for all Maine students, however, could make for some common ground.

Beardsley last week talked about the widening gap between the performance of students in Maine’s most affluent school districts, most of which are found in the southern and coastal parts of the state, and the students in its poorer districts, largely in northern and western Maine.

“Somehow we have got to break that achievement and income gap,” he said in Auburn.

That is not by any means an easy goal, but it is the right one. There is a wide disparity in the resources available to school districts in Maine, and thus a big difference in what those districts are able to offer students.

What’s more, the less affluent districts have to educate more students who come from low-income families, and who are more likely to come to school hungry and tired and thus have a harder time learning.


Together, those circumstances create the achievement gap. Students start off ahead or behind based on where they were born and who their parents are, and that gap only grows as they go through school.

We can see the effect in third-grade reading proficiency, one of the best predictors of future academic success and another of Beardsley’s topics this week.

Well-funded, well-run preschool programs are proven to help close the achievement gap for young students, but those improvements tend to slip away in the ensuing years as funding falls away and the demographic realities take hold.

Conservatives may not like to hear it, but part of solution is additional spending. In order to close a gap based on available resources, it has to be. One study suggested Maine spend an additional $250 million to fully fund state school aid and special education.

But spending is not the only answer. As we’ve argued before, there are school districts doing more with less, and others should learn from them.

In fact, that’s one of the commission’s goals, and it should be the basis for finding bipartisan solutions to the growing achievement gap.

That’s not an easy task – the fate of the solar bill shows as much.

But for the sake of Maine students, we hope Beardsley’s comments are a sign the same won’t happen to the education commission.

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Another View: British can’t be excused for brutally suppressing Irish Sun, 01 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I know of no one in my Irish network who would agree with John Henderson (“Maine Voices: Honoring the Irish fight for freedom,” April 24) that “Britain can be excused its harsh response to the (Easter) Rising.”

In World War I, 210,000 Irish served under the British flag and 49,647 Irish died while Ireland continued to be an occupied country after 700 years.

The greater tragedy was that when Ireland sent a memo in 1919 to the Paris Peace Conference, to petition to put its case to exercise the right of a democratic people for self-determination, it was ignored.

History still asks two questions “What if the Irish envoys had been admitted to the Paris Peace Conference?” and “What if President Woodrow Wilson’s principle ‘governments derive power from the consent of the governed’ had been applied to this small nation?”

Would not the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Civil War and the Troubles have been avoided?

Beneath the rivers of ink about the 1916 Rising, this fact is ignored: Britain made a colossal mistake in Paris in 1919 and, in doing so, committed, once again, an assault on the exercise of democracy by the Irish people.

What England rebuffed in 1919, it would be forced to negotiate in 1921 in the peace treaty with Ireland.

Ireland put forth a vision to the Paris Conference that is as refreshing now as it was nearly 100 years ago: “The international ambition of Ireland will be to re-create, in some new way, that period of her ancient independence of which she is proudest, when she gave freely of her greatest treasures to every nation within her reach and entertained no thought of recompense or of selfish advantage.”

That was and still is the desire and legacy of one of the world’s youngest nations and oldest civilizations.

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Our View: Portland mayor, council having wrong fight on city budget Sat, 30 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There’s nothing wrong with conflict in city government, as long as people are fighting over the right things.

In Portland, a contentious budget process derailed this week, and elected officials and city staff will have to work hard to get it back on track.

The heart of the dispute is the city-run India Street Public Health Center, which would be closed under City Manager Jon Jennings’ budget proposal, and replaced by services provided by the nonprofit Portland Community Health Center. India Street is the primary care provider for about 2,000 people. It also has special services like a needle exchange and care for people with HIV/AIDS that are interrelated and not easily transferred to another facility.

The conflict arose when Mayor Ethan Strimling criticized the budget, pointing out that Jennings proposed increasing spending to fix streets and sidewalks at the same time that he would cut a clinic. “Does choosing public works over preventative health reflect our shared values?” Strimling asked rhetorically.

The answer he got was a rebuke from a majority of city councilors, who considered the comparison a low blow.

The criticism is largely deserved. Strimling knows that budgets as large as Portland’s are the product of many independent decisions that have little to do with each other.

Public infrastructure doesn’t get better when it’s neglected. The city has a responsibility to maintain public assets, regardless of what goes on in other departments. It’s true that the public health budget is under fire, but the attack comes from Augusta, not the city manager’s office. Portland is losing close to $1 million of grants funded by tobacco settlement money, because the Healthy Maine Partnerships program was changed by the LePage administration. That’s part of what’s driving these proposals.

However, the city councilors’ response was also off base.

According to the city charter, the mayor has a duty to comment on the manager’s budget, not rubber stamp it. He just won a citywide election, and he is supposed to represent public opinion.

Strimling expressed valid concerns about the aggressive pace for a decision on the India Street clinic closure. There are only three weeks to go before a final vote on the plan, with the details of the transition to be worked out later. That’s creating anxiety among the clinic’s patients and the people who advocate for them.

The council should be having a debate over whether it’s wise for the city to provide direct clinical services, or whether those services would be better delivered elsewhere.

It’s not a question of public works over preventative health, but of the most effective way to marshal limited resources to take care of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents .

That’s the debate that should be taking place – through this budget process and beyond. There is nothing wrong with conflict when it’s a fight worth having.

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Another View: GOP convention city in spotlight after Rice case Sat, 30 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Cleveland’s proposed $6 million settlement with the family of Tamir Rice is a reminder that its Police Division needs to get its house in order for the Republican National Convention, to be held there in late July.

Tamir Rice was the black 12-year-old fatally shot in 2014 by a white police officer while holding a pellet gun outside a recreation center. His death was one in a string of incidents damaging police-community relations in Cleveland. Two weeks after Tamir’s death, the U.S. Justice Department released a report – in the works well before the youth’s shooting – concluding that the Police Division “engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force.” Last year, Cleveland agreed to take corrective action. The $6 million settlement with Tamir’s family, which is pending court approval, would include no admission of wrongdoing by the city. That itself is a crime. But lessons learned from Tamir’s death and other incidents should be ingrained in officers in time for the GOP convention, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors. Those numbers likely will include protesters of various stripes, and the risk of more violence in a campaign season already punctuated by it is very real.

Managing a political convention would be a challenge even for the most respected police department, let alone a troubled one that plans to supplement its ranks with hundreds of officers rented from other communities.

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Our View: Solar bill offers right answers for Maine Fri, 29 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s easy to tear apart a complicated piece of legislation by latching onto a few details and blowing them out of proportion.

But lawmakers who are considering voting to sustain Gov. LePage’s veto of L.D. 1649, the modernization of the state’s market for solar energy, should take a hard look at his arguments. They simply don’t hold up.

The bill sets four-year targets for a 10-fold expansion of solar power in Maine, from small rooftop installations to large commercial ones that would feed power onto the grid. Through long-term contracts at fixed prices, the state would agree to buy a certain amount of electricity generated by various kinds of solar installations.

The major arguments against the bill run from misleading to just plain wrong. No legislator should vote to kill this bill until they have taken this quiz.

True or False: The solar bill would drive up the cost of electricity.

False. There would be an increase in electric rates in the near term, peaking in the fourth year of the plan, adding an estimated 31 cents a month to the average home electric bill. But by locking solar power producers into long-term contracts, the price for solar would stay constant while other sources of electricity get more expensive. Over 20 years, every customer, whether they have solar power or not, would benefit from downward pressure on rates.

And it is misleading to look at only one side of the transaction. By aggregating all of the power produced on Maine rooftops into a single pool, the state would be able to sell renewable energy credits to companies that pollute, offsetting the impact on Mainers’ rates. Without this bill, the state is leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table that could be used to help Maine consumers.

True or False: The solar bill steals from the poor to give to the rich.

False. The solar bill was designed to share the benefits of solar power among solar customers and non-solar customers alike. Aside from having a positive long-term effect on everyone’s rates, the solar bill provides ways for people without solar panels to benefit from low-cost power from the sun. Renters and people with small roofs, for instance, would be able to participate in community solar farms, and earn credits that lower their bills. Municipalities would be able to cut energy costs by installing solar arrays that would take pressure off property taxes.

True or False: The solar bill would kill jobs.

False. In its current form, this bill is projected to generate 650 jobs in sales, installation and maintenance of solar systems and maintain the 300 jobs that currently exist. These are good-paying jobs that are dispersed all over the state, including areas like Somerset County that have been hit hard by job losses in the paper industry.

Large manufacturing facilities and other businesses that have competitors in states with lower electric rates would have an ability that currently does not exist to install solar capacity on their buildings, sell the power they don’t use and cut their electric bills. The real job killer would be voting against this bill.

True or False: The solar bill was cooked up by environmentalists and people who make money off renewable energy.

False. Yes, environmentalists and representatives of the solar industry were part of the task force that created this compromise, but so were Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, utilities that have been no fans of solar power in the past. Tim Schneider, Maine public advocate, was also on the task force. He is a state official, appointed by Gov. LePage to represent ratepayer interests at the Public Utilities Commission, not to promote renewable energy.

Lawmakers have a choice: They can create a system where Maine can take advantage of new technologies that would provide low-cost, clean power now and in the future, or they can cling to an antiquated system that will become more expensive over time.

That’s a quiz that we cannot afford Maine to fail.

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Our View: High parental incarceration rate puts Maine children at risk Thu, 28 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The children of incarcerated parents lose a mom or a dad for the length of their sentence, but it doesn’t stop there.

Once the sentence is over, and after the child has endured the separation and disruption that came with it, the parent still has to face the stigma, loss of income and loss of opportunity that result from their time behind bars. Those effects can linger for years, and as much as they keep the parent from moving forward, they often also condemn the child to an early life of instability and poverty, ensuring that the effects will echo even longer.

It’s a cycle that cannot go unaddressed in Maine, where in 2011-12 roughly one in 12 children had at least one parent who was incarcerated at some point during their childhood. That’s the highest rate in New England, and the 14th highest nationally, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.


Nationally, the number of children with incarcerated parents has, not surprisingly, soared along with incarceration rates. From 1980 to 2000, there was a 500 percent increase in the number of kids with a father in prison or jail, driven largely by tough sentencing guided by drug-war policies.

More recently, those policies have been affecting women caught up in the opiate crisis – women make up a bigger proportion of the prison population than ever.

In Maine, the population of the one women’s prison, in Windham, has grown from fewer than 80 inmates in September 2014 to a daily average of 135 now, with another 70 or so women in a pre-release facility in Alfred.

That has left a lot of kids without at least one parent, putting pressure on the remaining parent – if he or she is involved – and grandparents to provide a home, guidance and the basic necessities while short a major source of income. It has forced the adults left in the child’s life to balance child care and employment. Often, it forces the child to move again and again as those arrangements are sorted out.

The various pressures and challenges push families further into impoverishment. One study cited in the Casey Foundation report found that the U.S. poverty rate would have fallen by 20 percent in one 24-year period were it not for the increase in incarceration.

And once the parent’s sentence is over, new problems arise. They often have court fines, legal fees and accumulated child support to pay, and a new life to start, but their conviction makes it difficult to find a job, and the time apart – and whatever behavioral problems caused it – can make it difficult to reconnect.


The Maine Department of Corrections said that in the past few years it has initiated new programs to help women in prison stay connected to families, including peer-parenting groups and the availability of online video chatting between inmates and their children.

But, as the foundation report suggests, additional supports are necessary to make sure children are being adequately taken care of, and inmates are receiving the training and education they’ll need when they are released.

Maine also has to continue to reform sentencing and bail guidelines so that parents are not unnecessarily incarcerated when alternatives exist that would keep their family intact.

And, of course, better access to drug treatment and a continuation of the good work being done with juvenile offenders would help keep Mainers out of jail in the first place.

It should be the goal to reduce the use of prisons and jails and spend the savings on community-based treatment, housing and re-entry support.

Maine should also join the “ban the box” movement. Twenty-three states, as well as federal agencies, do not allow employers – with some exceptions – to ask about criminal convictions on the initial employment application. That would keep employers from dismissing out of hand the applicants with criminal records, denying them an opportunity to showcase their skills and potential.

When too many people are incarcerated, and too little is done to help transition them back into society, the cost is enormous. When children are involved, the cost increases exponentially, and right now, Maine is paying that price far too often.

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Our View: Fine would teach Maine education funding panel about open-meetings law Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The first meeting this week of a special state commission on education funding has made clear that the panel has a lot to learn about government transparency and accountability. The group flouted Maine’s open-meetings law by getting together behind closed doors. Each member of the commission could now face a hefty fine – and they should, if the public’s right to know is to stand for anything.

Those who came to Augusta for Monday morning’s education task force gathering could be forgiven if they thought they’d been transported to a New York nightclub with a rigorous screening policy. LePage policy adviser Aaron Chadbourne stood outside the Blaine House, where the event was being held, and repeatedly informed legislators, reporters and others that the meeting was off limits.

“If you were not invited, then the governor has asked that you not be allowed into the breakfast,” Chadbourne told state Rep. Brian Hubbell, a member of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, in a video recorded by a state teachers union staffer.

But under Maine’s sunshine laws, the case for allowing a closed-door meeting of the commission is weak at best. The task force was created by publicly elected state legislators to develop recommendations on how best to spend the taxpayer money allocated to Maine’s K-12 public schools. And there’s no evidence that the meeting’s agenda included any of the very few topics that a public group is allowed to discuss in private.

Attorney General Janet Mills and state public access ombudsman Brenda Kielty have both declared that the LePage administration violated state law by holding the education commission’s inaugural meeting in private. If the Attorney General’s Office decides to proceed with sanctions, each person at the meeting could be fined up to $500.

We believe that the attorney general can’t let these violations go by. Twelve of the 15 people at Monday’s meeting are elected or appointed officials who are expected to know the state Freedom of Access Act, which includes the open meeting law. But nobody left Monday’s gathering – which indicates that they either don’t know what state public access regulations entail or that they’re not worried about being penalized for violating them. Neither is very comforting. And it will go on this way unless officials are held responsible for conducting the public’s business where the public can see them.

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Another View: ‘Fog of lies’ clouds case for how military prosecutes sex crimes Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In war, the confusion generated by fighting and killing is often referred to as “the fog of war” at the Pentagon. According to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group committed to changing how the military handles sexual misconduct allegations, a “fog of lies” has been standard operating procedure at the Pentagon, too.

Protect Our Defenders uncovered an effort by the Pentagon to undercut support for a Senate bill that would strip military commanders of their authority to decide which sexual assault complaints go forward to trial. According to internal government records used to buttress the Pentagon’s argument, civilian authorities are less likely to hold people in the military responsible for sexual assault than military prosecutors are.

Not so. The number of cases brought by local district attorneys and police against those in the military was either dramatically low-balled or omitted completely. This shady data even alleges that military authorities aggressively prosecute sexual assaults where civilian authorities refuse to, which is the opposite of what happens in reality.

The Pentagon’s testimony before Congress was a series of untruths designed to undermine efforts to move jurisdiction for prosecuting sex crimes from the military to civilian authorities. Protect Our Defenders wasn’t able to find one case of sexual assault that was prosecuted over the objections of civilian authorities.

The military stands by its characterization of the data, which is a standard response. Someone in the Pentagon hierarchy should be held responsible. Even if the military wasn’t consciously lying during its testimony, this episode doesn’t bode well for its ability to interpret straightforward data.

]]> 0 Tue, 26 Apr 2016 20:45:18 +0000
Another View: Democratic candidates give up on education reform Tue, 26 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Neither Bernie Sanders nor Hillary Clinton is defending one of President Obama’s most important legacies: education reform. Instead of taking on the teachers’ unions, as the president did, both candidates offer an agenda that amounts to spending more and demanding less. It’s not a winning combination.

Sanders beats the drum for his plan to provide free college tuition for rich and poor alike, yet remains virtually silent on how to improve failing elementary, middle and high schools. His campaign website provides explanations of his position on more than 30 issues – but not K-12 education.

Clinton at least devotes more words to the issue on her website. She calls for implementing a law Congress passed last year, the Every Child Succeeds Act, which gave states more leeway in setting (and lowering) standards, investing in teacher training, and helping students with disabilities. In debates, she has hardly gotten more specific, calling for an “education SWAT team” to rescue failing schools.

The past two decades have produced some encouraging gains in student achievement. Teachers are vital to this progress. But they are not the only constituency, or even the most important one, whose interests candidates should consider. If this generation of children is to succeed in the global economy, and if the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots is to continue shrinking, voters will have to demand better.

]]> 1 Mon, 25 Apr 2016 19:03:12 +0000
Our View: Enhanced food stamps help Maine farmers, families Tue, 26 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Spring has finally arrived, and with it comes the reopening of local farmers markets. Fruits and vegetables fresh from a nearby farm are among the things that some Mainers dream about over the course of a long, dark winter.

Now a program called Harvest Bucks is helping to extend this seasonal bonus to people who might otherwise not be able to afford to partake. Money distributed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, goes 50 percent further when spent at participating farmers markets. That not only sends nutritious food to homes where it’s desperately needed, but also puts money in the pocket of hardworking farmers, expanding the market for their goods.

It’s rare to see a program that provides such a clear benefit for both sides of the transaction, and more farmers markets and individual vendors should make sure that they have the technology to participate.

Food insecurity is a serious problem in Maine, affecting 16 percent of the population. It’s even higher among children (24 percent) and seniors (23 percent).

When food is scarce, good nutrition becomes a luxury. Low-income families might not have a grocery store in their neighborhood or own a car to drive to one, but fast food is everywhere. Refined grains and processed food with sugar can make a cheap meal, even though they’re bad for long-term health.

Fresh local produce is a much healthier choice, but it looks to be much too expensive.

Maine’s farmers have struggles of their own. Although the state is in the midst of an awakening around the pleasure and benefits of local food, growing it is still a tough way to make a living.

Farmers markets and farm stands are a way for the people who grow the food to keep more of the proceeds. Anything that will expand the number of people shopping at farmers markets can only help farmers, and we all benefit when working farms stay in business and conserve valuable open space.

People often forget that food stamps is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and was designed to help farmers as much as people with low incomes. The beauty of the enhanced SNAP benefits is that some of the help will go to Maine farmers instead of agribusiness giants far away.

There has been a dramatic increase in food stamp usage at farmers markets in the five years the program has been in place, going from $12,560 in 2010 to $120,549 last year. Mainers received $321 million in food stamp benefits, and more of that should be kept in Maine.

About one-third of farmers markets have the ability to read electronic benefit transfer cards. Some farmers have their own EBT readers and can give premium credit, but most do not.

The experience of the last five years has shown the Harvest Bucks program is something that deserves to grow.

]]> 0, 25 Apr 2016 23:06:32 +0000
Our View: Maine DOT should stop nickel-and-diming safety Mon, 25 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Use it up. Wear it out. Thriftiness is a quality Mainers value with an almost religious reverence.

No state agency better displays this way of thinking than the Maine Department of Transportation, which every year manages to make do with inadequate resources.

It’s admirable, except for one thing: The resources actually are inadequate.

Nickel-and-diming safety is a poor way to make decisions, but that’s just what the state has been doing for too long. The age of Maine’s roads and bridges, combined with legislators’ stubborn refusal to raise the gas tax, is delaying needed maintenance and putting people at risk.

Earlier this month, an SUV crashed through a railing on the Bath viaduct, tumbling down to the street below and landing upside down in the bed of a pickup truck. The safety of the railing had been the subject of two inspections since 2014, but recommended repair work had been put off.

A visual examination of the viaduct by a Press Herald reporter revealed over a dozen places where anchor bolts attaching the rail to the bridge were broken or missing, and places where the concrete was cracked and crumbling.

The viaduct is scheduled to be replaced this year, but there are 30 other Maine bridges with the same design, which should be raising alarms throughout the state about the safety of our roads.

Maine DOT engineers have the difficult job of prioritizing maintenance work on the state’s transportation infrastructure. When the department delivered its work plan to the Legislature, it projected a $168 million gap between the cost of the work that needs doing and the money available.

Gaps like that every year are partially filled with state bonds, which have to be repaid by all taxpayers, largely state residents. But even with the borrowed money, there are still a number of projects that are sloughed off from one year to the next.

That kind of budgeting might work for a homeowner, but it’s a dangerous way to operate for a state that needs roads and bridges that can safely move both heavy trucks and light vehicles.

The deficit is created by a gas tax that doesn’t bring in enough to meet Maine’s need. An effort to increase the 30-cent-per-gallon levy was thwarted in the Legislature this year. If they had been able to raise it only 5 cents, Maine would have $35 million more to maintain its roads, with much of it coming from tourists and out-of-state trucking companies.

A modest increase in the gas tax would help, but it would not fix the problem. The gas tax should be based on the state’s actual maintenance needs, not on what some politicians think that their constituents want to pay.

Maine has missed an opportunity to modernize its infrastructure during the recovery from the Great Recession, when interest rates were at historic lows and construction companies hungry for work bid aggressively. It would be a mistake to get further behind by clinging to a 30-cent gas tax.

The DOT deserves credit for finding efficiencies and managing resources. But we are not going to scrimp our way out of this problem.

Letting state infrastructure fall apart is not thrifty – it’s just dumb.

]]> 37Â-20160421_bathviad4.jpgSun, 24 Apr 2016 18:22:31 +0000
Another View: Columnist wrote false claims about ‘thugs’ at Trump rally Sun, 24 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Portland Press Herald must take responsibility for publishing columns by Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer has entered the realm of the truly dangerous.

His column of March 18, “Campaigns on both sides engage in dangerous political thuggery,” shows Krauthammer joining the demagogues when he implies that protesters at the Chicago Donald Trump rally were “thugs.”

The protesters were college students (the rally being held on campus) and local community members. There are plenty of news articles on who these people were. There’s no evidence to support Krauthammer’s claims of outside organizing or support, certainly not from or the like.

Like the Trump protest in Portland, the Chicago protest appears to have been spontaneous, inspired by Trump. Krauthammer’s column chooses to vilify this group of students as being of some “totalitarian left that specializes in the … silencing of political opponents” and says of this imaginary group that “its pedigree goes back to early 20th-century fascism and communism.”

Pardon me? There is no truth in these statements. Krauthammer, by these statements, acts the authoritarian, who hates the educated because they see through their lies.

Let’s set this right: Those who protest Donald Trump are not “thugs.” There is no conspiracy. They are people who have the right to protest. Free speech applies for all; rally attendees and protesters of Trump’s demagoguery.

The “thug” is Donald Trump, making xenophobic statements and encouraging violence (as supported by the New York Times’ recently published list of Trump events where he has called for or endorsed acts of violence).

As Alexander Hamilton warned: “Of those men who have overturned the liberty of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by playing an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

]]> 8 Mon, 25 Apr 2016 11:49:57 +0000
Our View: School rankings are useful, but we need to look closer Sun, 24 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Americans love rankings. Indeed, they are one of the top 10 reasons the Internet is so popular.

But while no one takes seriously “The Ten Best Videos of Turkeys on Attack” or the “Top 10 Funny Dog Videos on YouTube,” the various school rankings published each year are watched closely.

Not all of these rankings are created equal, however, and even the best of them are only useful if looked at in the right way. Otherwise, they only reinforce the shallow way in which schools are compared, and get in the way of the progress that is necessary to make sure all students have a shot at success.

Last week, U.S. News & World Report released its national rankings for high schools, and Maine did well, placing seventh overall, up from eighth a year ago. In addition, four Maine schools ranked among the top 500 nationwide, and 12 landed within the top 1,500.

U.S. News uses graduation rates and state test scores as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam scores to formulate its rankings, which are as well-regarded as these things go. For the first time this year, the publication even attempted to account for variables such as income and race.


But it should be acknowledged that the rankings do not show that Maine has the seventh-best schools in the country. Rather, they show that the state’s schools perform comparatively well on those metrics, which is not necessarily the same thing.

The rankings also do not show how the schools that did well got that way, which is the key question for building an educational system that creates mature, curious students and prepares them for all the challenges of the workforce.

Instead, the rankings tell us what we already know – that, for the most part, communities with significant financial resources, such as Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth, all of which were ranked in the top 350, score the highest in the categories used for these kinds of broad rankings.

That’s the same conclusion reached by the state’s own school report card ranking system, put in place by the LePage administration.

The rankings don’t say much, though, about what kind of student each school produces, whether they are tenacious and engaged, and excited about coming to school, or whether they largely go through the motions, yet do well because of other factors.

Schools in wealthy communities score well in large part because the students come from well-off families, and get all the privileges and advantages that implies – more parental involvement, extra help outside of school, a warm, safe and hunger-free place in which to do homework.

But most people only see the ranking at a superficial level, so they attribute the ranking entirely to the school itself. That draws more wealthy families to the school district, pushing out others and reinforcing the geographic and economic isolation that plagues schools in Maine, and all over the country.

The more wealthy families a district gets, the more resources it has for teacher pay, facility upgrades and the like. Rich schools get richer, and poorer schools get poorer.


The rankings become helpful, though, when we dig deeper into the metrics to find the schools that outperform their destiny, so to speak. We can then ask ourselves why those schools are successful, and how those successes can be duplicated elsewhere.

There are many more schools with demographics similar to Madison Area High School than to Cape Elizabeth, for instance, so it’s worth exploring why Madison scores so well.

And it’s far easier to analyze the innovative work getting results at Casco Bay High School in Portland than it is to replicate the wealth found in Falmouth.

The news that Maine high schools are outperforming others by some measurements is good, as far as it goes.

But the better news is that some schools are doing great things despite inherent, seemingly intractable circumstances, and that’s something we can definitely learn from.

]]> 14, 22 Apr 2016 20:03:35 +0000
Another View: Tubman $20 bill will add to historic understanding Sat, 23 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The usual concern of an editorial page is government ineptitude or corruption, but it is also our occasional pleasant duty to call attention to cases of government competence – the most recent of which is Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s proposed redesign of U.S. currency. In fact, “competent” is too weak an encomium for Lew’s elegant handling of a sensitive task – to include images of women and minorities on heretofore white-male-dominated paper money.

In responding to a groundswell that began with Internet-based petition drives to replace Andrew Jackson’s image on the $20 bill with that of a woman, Lew had to navigate all the treacherous crosscurrents that characterize identity politics in 21st-century America. He initially planned to meet the demand for a woman by replacing Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, which was due for a redesign anyway.

When that met with resistance from Hamilton’s admirers – ranging from former Federal Reserve chair Ben S. Bernanke to fans of the eponymous Broadway musical – Lew took their good arguments into account and pivoted to a wider, and even more inclusive, plan to modernize several bills, not just the $10 or the $20.

The hallmark of Lew’s plan is addition, not subtraction; to embroider ever more of the country’s complex history, and the characters who made it, into these most widely used of government documents – as opposed to purging them or dumbing them down.

]]> 9 Fri, 22 Apr 2016 20:18:16 +0000
Our View: Low pay puts Riverview workers, patients at risk Sat, 23 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The problems are complex at Riverview Psychiatric Center, which has lost accreditation and $20 million a year in federal funding. But some of the solutions are straightforward.

There is high employee turnover at the hospital, leading to chronic staff shortages and forced overtime shifts for the workers who remain. It’s easy to understand why – these workers are grossly underpaid, with wages starting at $11.91 an hour.

A hospital working with a short staff makes for a more dangerous work environment and leaves less opportunity for effective treatment. Workers on forced overtime are likely to be less tolerant and more prone to making mistakes.

In the last hours of the legislative session, lawmakers passed an emergency bill that would raise the pay of mental health workers and nurses at Riverview and the Dorothea Dix hospital in Bangor, in an effort to stabilize the staffing situation, giving $2-per-hour raises to direct care workers and $4 per hour more for nurses. It received strong bipartisan majorities in both houses and was sent to the governor’s desk. His signature, like the one he put on the bill that raised the pay of law enforcement officers, would put the raises on track to begin July 1.

But, as with so many worthy pieces of legislation, Gov. LePage has signaled his intention to veto the bill, and it is anybody’s guess whether Republican lawmakers will stick by their earlier votes or cave in to the pressure and vote the governor’s way.

The Department of Health and Human Services opposed the bill, saying that the raises are unnecessary and the recruitment problem has been fixed, but DHHS lacks credibility when it comes to assessing the problems at Riverview. Ever since the hospital was cited for using stun guns, pepper spray and handcuffs to manage difficult patients, DHHS has failed to convince federal regulators that Riverview has gotten a handle on its problems.

We put more stock in the analysis of retired Chief Justice Daniel Wathen, who is charged with overseeing a court order that protects the interests of patients in the mental health system. He wrote in a progress report filed Feb. 8 that staff turnover at Riverview is a serious problem.

“At present the hospital is experiencing significant turnover in the psychiatric and nursing staff, thereby limiting the opportunities for continuity of care and the establishment of trusting relationships,” he wrote. “The most critical issue at present is the need to fill serious staff vacancies that exist in the ranks of direct care workers.”

Lawmakers will have to ask themselves whether they can believe the promises of administrators who have repeatedly failed to deliver. Staff shortages have put patients and employees at risk. It’s past time to address these problems, rather than waiting for them to solve themselves.

]]> 0, 22 Apr 2016 18:46:25 +0000
Our View: Lawmakers should support expanded access to overdose antidote, override LePage veto Fri, 22 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When someone lives through a car crash or a house fire or a near-drowning, they’re often the subject of news coverage that has photos and lots of details. But the same isn’t true for the hundreds of Mainers each year who survive opioid overdoses because they’ve been given the antidote naloxone.

They’re nameless, faceless and easy to stereotype – as we saw this week when Gov. LePage vetoed L.D. 1547, a proposal to make naloxone available over the pharmacy counter, on the grounds that it merely extends lives “until the next overdose.” His groundless and heartless rejection of the measure advanced a one-dimensional view of people suffering from addiction. Maine legislators know better than to buy into this broadbrushing, and now it’s time for them to show it by voting to override the veto.

Heroin use has soared in Maine over the past several years, and so has the number of heroin-related deaths. The Legislature has taken steps to counter this frightening trend by passing legislation in 2014 that increased access to naloxone by first responders and friends and relatives of people who have substance use disorders.

L.D. 1547 aims to make the antidote even more widely available by allowing a pharmacist to sell it without a prescription to those “at risk of experiencing an opioid-related drug overdose” or their loved ones. The bill acknowledges reality: Requiring people to get a prescription for naloxone can keep them from getting it at all.

Heath Myers, overdose prevention specialist for the city of Bangor, told legislators about the barriers he faced in two different hospital systems. One bars people from being prescribed naloxone if it’s for someone else’s use. Another, Myers said, saw just two doctors in two years who were willing to prescribe naloxone, though the system’s chief medical officer supported access and a full-time pharmacy resident worked to increase prescribers.

But naloxone is not meant to be a treatment for opioid addiction. Though naloxone can bring someone back, it can’t combat the cravings that are the result of chemical changes to that person’s brain structure. So, yes, some people who are addicted do relapse after they have been revived from an overdose. What this reflects is a lack of treatment resources.

Keeping naloxone out of the hands of people who are suffering from addiction won’t keep them from wanting to get high again. It will, however, make it more likely they’ll die when they do get more opioids. Legislators who truly see people with addiction issues as fellow human beings should give them the chance to put their lives back on track by standing firm on over-the-counter naloxone access.

]]> 21, 22 Apr 2016 08:09:56 +0000
Another View: Cleaning up the threat of terrorists’ dirty bombs Fri, 22 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The risks of nuclear terrorism are commonly misunderstood. It’s unlikely, given technological difficulties and security measures, that an extremist group could build a large-scale atomic weapon. But a group could easily obtain material for a smaller radiological weapon: a so-called dirty bomb.

Thousands of businesses and hospitals around the world, for example, keep potentially deadly stockpiles of the radioactive isotope cesium-137. While a cesium-137 blast would kill no more people than a conventional explosion would, millions of people in the fallout area could be exposed to cancer-causing radiation. Cleanup could cost tens of billions of dollars.

Yet supplies of cesium-137 and three other substances – cobalt-60, iridium-192 and americium-241 – are ill-protected from theft. What’s needed is an international effort to secure these radiological materials – just as the International Atomic Energy Agency has helped member countries protect nuclear energy waste.

Cesium-137 is used in about 500 U.S. hospitals to purify blood for transfusions. These irradiators aren’t even necessary anymore. High-powered X-ray machines can now do the same job. Cobalt-60, used in so-called Gamma Knife cancer treatment, and iridium-192 and americium-241, which have industrial applications, are not so easily replaced. But the growing terrorist threat should give industry and government agencies new incentive to ramp up research to find alternatives.

All 168 member states of the IAEA should make mandatory the agency’s recommendations for increasing security of stockpiles, notifying neighbors of potential thefts and phasing out the use of dangerous isotopes.

Small, deadly and capable of spreading terror: Extremist groups such as Islamic State and deadly isotopes have a lot in common. Keeping the world safe means keeping them apart.

]]> 0 Thu, 21 Apr 2016 20:38:57 +0000
Another View: Competitive cable TV access
 starts with owning set-top box Thu, 21 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Like a lot of Americans, President Obama thinks cable TV costs too much. Unlike a lot of Americans, he is in a position to do something about it – and even if he fails, it’s still worth the effort.

Last Friday, Obama took the unusual step of announcing his support for a Federal Communications Commission proposal intended to make it easier for customers to buy their own set-top cable boxes. Whether the idea would actually save consumers money remains to be seen, but it could help bring more competition, improved technology and greater choice to viewers.

About 99 percent of cable-TV subscribers rent their set-top boxes from their local providers. The average household pays over $200 a year, generating up to $20 billion in revenue for the companies (the cable industry disputes these numbers). The FCC’s past attempts to open up the cable-box market have failed – in large part because cable providers did their best to make buying third-party boxes a hassle. This time, though, the government has powerful new allies: Google and other tech players.

The FCC wants a world in which consumers need only one box and a single remote control to explore all the information coming through their cable wires. This seems unlikely. More plausible is a future in which all these competing services, along with new app-based technologies, combine to give viewers even more choices.

Either way, the FCC proposal is likely help bring more disruption and more competition more quickly – which Americans should be able to appreciate on whichever screens they choose.

]]> 4 Wed, 20 Apr 2016 19:14:35 +0000
Our View: Case for EU ban on live Maine lobsters doesn’t hold water Thu, 21 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Thirty-two lobsters. Taken off the same shore in one day, and it’s a grand start toward a summer feast.

But picked out over a long stretch of coast in an eight-year period? That hardly warrants an absent-minded mention at the dinner table, much less an international trade incident.

But that’s just where Sweden is taking its find, as the country seeks to ban all imports of live American lobster into the European Union’s 28 member nations.

The ban would be a $10 million annual hit to the pockets of Maine lobstermen – and roughly $150 million for the U.S. industry as a whole – all over a number of bugs that would have a boat captain cursing if it were one day’s haul.

Sweden’s proposal, backed by dubious science and questionable motives, is now in front of the EU, which should reject the ban, and tell Sweden to find a solution much more on scale with the problem.

Ostensibly, some Swedish factions are concerned that American, or Maine, lobsters, after being dropped in the waters off their west coast after the long boat trip east, may spread disease, or possibly breed with the native lobster species.

But according to scientists, the argument doesn’t pass muster.

Advocates of the ban say they are concerned about three diseases, but none of those concerns really holds water.

Epizootic shell disease, for instance, is not contagious, so it could not be spread from American lobster to its smaller, spiny European cousin. And gaffkemia, or “red-tail,” hasn’t been seen in an American lobster in 10 years, and is in all likelihood a thing of the past. Finally, white spot syndrome, though fatal and contagious, does not even affect lobsters.

As for crossbreeding, it’s possible, scientists say, but not at the numbers needed to affect the population, and it is unlikely young American lobsters could survive in the water off Sweden, which differs in temperature and salinity from our part of the ocean.

“I think what they’re saying, for the most part, is incorrect,” said Robert Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute.

One contention from the Swedes does ring true – that a ban would be “beneficial in terms of profits and jobs” for the commercial fishery of the European lobster.

But whatever the motivation – disease, environmental impact or provisional economic interest – an outright ban is overkill. This is a law enforcement problem, and policing, education and fines are much more appropriate and proportional responses.

After all, when the invasive plant milfoil began invading Maine lakes, doing much more damage than a few lobsters are doing in Sweden, the state didn’t shut down the borders or ban boating. Instead, a monitoring and informational system was put in place, and the results have been good.

The EU is now conducting an independent report, and with any luck they will see through Sweden’s argument.

And if not, maybe Mainers can react in kind. Does anyone know if Swedish fish really come from Sweden?

]]> 1, 20 Apr 2016 22:17:36 +0000
Another View: Trump’s children aren’t the only ones tripped up by arcane voting laws Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There has been a fair amount of chortling over the fact that two of Donald Trump’s children weren’t able to vote for him in New York’s presidential primary because they’d missed the deadline to register as Republicans. But their disenfranchisement is indicative of the needless barriers that prevent far too many people from casting ballots. That is no laughing matter.

Ivanka and Eric Trump ran afoul of New York’s overly restrictive voting laws. New York does not allow same-day registration, party primaries are open only to registered Democrats and Republicans, and new voters must register at least 25 days in advance in order to participate.

Most absurdly, anyone registered to vote who wanted to change their party registration to vote in Tuesday’s primary needed to have done so by Oct. 9 of last year. This is the rule that tripped up the unaffiliated Trumps. Six months before the primary? What purpose does that serve beyond suppressing democracy?

And the Empire State is far from alone in using an arcane system of voter registration. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 1 in 4 eligible voters is not on voter rolls, and 1 in 8 registration records is invalid or has serious errors. What is needed are reforms – such as automatic registration using reliable information from government lists or online access so voters can check and update registration – to make it easier to vote.

Sadly, though, the trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Witness the proliferation of state laws requiring voters to present photo IDs at the polls or requiring proof of citizenship to register. Or the long lines in the recent Arizona primary that kept thousands of voters waiting for as long as five hours, a vivid illustration of not providing sufficient resources for voting.

Ivanka and Eric Trump are right to feel embarrassed about not having voted Tuesday. But the true guilty parties are those responsible for maintaining high barriers to the franchise.

]]> 1 Tue, 19 Apr 2016 19:28:40 +0000
Our View: Maine welfare fraud crackdown doesn’t touch real issues Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine legislators have gotten tough on a problem that isn’t one: welfare abuse. Barring people who get cash assistance from buying things like alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets and tattoos – as lawmakers did just before adjourning last week – won’t do much to help families escape poverty. Meanwhile, proposals that actually would have helped low-income Mainers achieve self-sufficiency were dead on arrival in Augusta, where symbolism won out over substance and left thousands behind.

Several proposals to reform Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – the program that most people think of when they think of welfare – were on the table this session. The only one that stood a chance, though, targeted purchases made with TANF benefits. And what divided Democrats and Republicans was not whether to bar TANF recipients from making questionable purchases using state-issued electronic benefit transfer cards, but how severely they should be punished for doing so.

Nobody thinks it’s a good idea to spend public money on smokes or beer, so supporting a proposal to penalize welfare misuse is a no-brainer for elected officials. But the number of Mainers who get TANF is small – about 5,000 families – and Maine Department of Health and Human Services data show that the number of EBT transactions at places like bars and smoke shops is just a fraction of a percent of all EBT transactions. What’s more, states with similar regulations have found that enforcing restrictions on TANF use can be cumbersome.

What really works in helping families move out of poverty? Addressing the barriers that keep them out of the workforce. Some people need on-the-job training or help earning a college degree. Others need housing assistance so that they can stay in one place and establish stable lives for themselves and their families.

But a Democratic proposal to put such targeted supports into place stalled out. So did a plan to require the state to measure and evaluate public assistance programs so we can find out whether or not they’re doing any good.

Though the drop in the number of TANF recipients in Maine during the LePage administration has been touted as a victory, cutbacks in public assistance have been accompanied by soaring poverty rates, homelessness and food insecurity. It doesn’t reflect well on our legislators that they’ve allowed so many people to remain in such unworkable situations, even as they’ve scrambled to punish a bogeyman that doesn’t exist.

]]> 35, 20 Apr 2016 00:14:40 +0000
Our View: Biomass and solar bills both should be signed by LePage Tue, 19 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Two energy bills passed in the last hours of the legislative session appear to be headed in two different directions.

Lawmakers approved a $13.4 million bailout of the biomass industry that is promised to save hundreds of jobs for those who work in the wood-to-energy plants as well as the loggers and truckers who deliver fuel to the plants.

At the same time, lawmakers passed a comprehensive rewrite of state solar energy policy, which is projected to create hundreds of jobs and dramatically increase the number and types of solar-generating facilities in the state.

Both have been sent to the governor’s desk, where he is expected to sign the biomass bill and veto the solar bill. But really, he should sign both: The biomass rescue measure would buy some time for a troubled industry, while the solar bill would help build a new one. Maine needs both.

Biomass plants have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the paper industry, creating a market for wood waste that would otherwise have to be burried in a landfill. They also have benefited from the move away from coal-fired power plants, because electricity produced at the biomass plants could be sold as renewable energy to other Northeastern states.

But Massachusetts has changed its policies and no longer considers wood-fired plants to meet its carbon reduction standards; Connecticut may follow suit.

Low oil and gas prices this winter have made the price of biomass power uncompetitive. The bill would create a fund administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to offset the cost of above-market-priced electricity, keeping the plants and their suppliers in business.

As a short-term measure, this makes sense, but it’s no solution. If gas prices don’t climb and if other states don’t consider biomass plants to be renewable, these companies will be back in this situation again. Taxpayers can’t be asked to keep the industry afloat forever.

The solar bill is part of a long-term strategy to diversify Maine’s energy mix and keep money that would be sent to out-of-state oil and gas companies here in the Maine economy, circulating and creating jobs.

The bill would establish a market for solar power collected on the roofs of single-family homes, as well as in cooperatively owned community solar farms, or in facilities designed to put power on the grid when the sun is shining. Long-term contracts to buy power at a fixed price from solar producers would be the catalyst for millions of dollars worth of private investment.

Unlike the challenges faced by the biomass industry, expanding the solar power industry is something that Mainers can control, building an industry that can’t be outsourced.

Maine should not turn its back on the people who make their living in the woods, but holding on to what’s left of what we used to have will not be enough to build a thriving economy. Gov. LePage should look to the future as well as the past and sign both bills.

]]> 37, 19 Apr 2016 00:08:38 +0000
Another View: As the research advances, the Zika virus gets ‘scarier’ Tue, 19 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in babies was confirmed last week by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest in a series of increasingly troubling revelations about the mosquito-borne disease.

First, it’s not just mosquito-borne; it can also be passed among humans via sexual contact. That’s alarming because an outbreak can really get rolling when a pathogen can spread without the help of animals or insects. Since symptoms are so mild, if present at all, many carriers of the virus may pass it along without realizing they were infected.

It is a factor in premature birth, blindness and other defects in babies when their mothers are infected during pregnancy. And the mosquito responsible for most of the spread of the infection ranges more widely in the U.S. than thought just weeks ago: 30 states rather than just 12. As the CDC’s Anne Schuchat put it last week: “This virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought.”

Yes, it certainly is. More federal funding is crucial to vaccine development and other programs to stop the virus’ spread. The new information about Zika should weigh heavily on Congress when it decides whether to allocate $1.9 billion in emergency funding. Lawmakers balked when President Obama first asked for the money in February. But that was before we understood just how insidious this seemingly mild-mannered flavivirus can be.

]]> 1 Mon, 18 Apr 2016 22:00:50 +0000
Our View: Anger-based politics stall state’s economy Mon, 18 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The results from Maine’s five-year experiment with hyper-partisan, anger-based politics are in, and they are not good.

While the U.S. economy grew by 9.4 percent between 2009 and 2014, and the New England economy grew by nearly 5 percent, Maine’s gross domestic product shrank by 1.2 percent.

That sobering distinction is noted at the beginning of Measures of Growth 2016, the latest installment in an annual report card assembled by the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine Economic Growth Council. It looks at 25 economic indicators and tracks the state’s progress toward goals for each one. In addition to GDP, Maine has either slipped backward or showed no progress toward its goals in per capita income, worker productivity and poverty rates.

The report also identifies areas of concern that contribute to these dismal statistics. Maine lags far behind the region in its investment in research and development and transportation infrastructure, and has serious deficits in critical areas of education, including fourth-grade reading scores, eighth-grade math scores and post-secondary educational attainment.

Per capita health care spending continued to outpace the nation and the region. Obesity rates – an important factor in disease prevention – remain high, while household food insecurity rose, even as the rate remained stable in New England and the country at large.

These are all familiar, long-term problems for anyone who has been studying the Maine economy, and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers.

But we have a pretty good idea of what will not work.

Take, for instance, the governor’s war on immigrants, which dominated much of the political discourse of the last two years. His misinformation campaign against “illegals,” by which he meant legally present asylum seekers, and his libelous charge that they were the source of infectious diseases straining the taxpayers’ resources, stirred up a lot of anger. He even said at one of his town halls that asylum seekers were “the biggest problem in our state.”

That might have helped get him re-elected, but it has done nothing to address the real problems that were identified in the Measures of Growth report. It has not rebuilt a single road, brought a new invention to market or educated a child.

The governor and his administration have furthered partisan goals of cutting taxes and reducing the size of government, but that has not resulted in private-sector economic growth. Rather than accept responsibility, he takes on a series of familiar punching bags like the “socialists” in the Legislature who he can blame for Maine’s lack of progress.

LePage can’t be blamed for all of Maine’s economic problems. He is not responsible for structural change in the paper industry or Maine’s aging population, but he is responsible for the state government’s response, or lack of response, to those problems.

The authors of the report correctly note that “Human capital is a critical factor in economic growth … .”

The state can’t be economically competitive without addressing “foundational issues” such as poverty, food insecurity and health. Public investment in education pays dividends as children grow up and find their place in the economy. Transportation systems and Internet connectivity are vital to successful businesses. Innovation is the source of most new businesses and new jobs.

Maine did not have five years to waste on meaningless arguments that ignore the state’s real challenges. If Maine’s leaders don’t find a way to make progress on those issues, we can expect another report like this next year.

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Our View: LePage maneuver slows real work on education Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Bill Beardsley, Maine’s acting education commissioner since October 2015, can now remain as the de facto head of the department until April 2018, and he can do it without ever taking questions from the Legislature’s Education Committee and the full Senate, both of which according to the Constitution are supposed to play a role in a commissioner’s confirmation.

That’s because Gov. Paul LePage has withdrawn Beardsley’s nomination and created for Beardsley a new position – “public service executive” and imbued it with most of the power of the commissioner.

The maneuver prevents Beardsley, as he continues to run the state’s second-largest department, from having to say one word to lawmakers.

That’s convenient for LePage and Beardsley, since that one word may very well have been “transgender,” and both have uninformed, regressive attitudes toward transgender people that if put into policy would seriously harm transgender students.

But to everybody who wants to take the temperature of the man overseeing state education policy, and carrying out that policy on a day-to-day basis, it is an affront to public process.

The commissioner of education is not an adviser on the governor’s staff; he is the head of one of the most consequential state departments.

In that role, he oversees a roughly $1.2 billion annual budget and has great influence over the state’s school boards, administrators, teachers and students.

And he is supposed to report to both the governor and the Legislature.

LePage says he is bypassing those checks and balances because he feels Democrats have scrutinized his nominees too closely in the past – a stance that does not really hold up – and now he believes they will scuttle Beardsley’s nomination over his comments on transgender students.

While campaigning for governor in 2010, Beardsley suggested parents were doing trangender students a disservice by allowing them to live as the gender they identify with, similar statements to those made by Le-Page when the governore inexplicably joined a lawsuit against a transgender boy in Virginia.

(Beardsley has also said that protections for gender and sexual identity should be removed from the Maine Human Rights Act.)

That issue warrants clarification by Beardsley in a hearing setting, particularly as the department works on related policy guidelines.

But it’s not the only one.

There is much work to be done on education in Maine.

There are strides to be made on how to evaluate teachers and schools so that students everywhere are getting the education they deserve.

Recent changes to proficiency-based graduation standards will have to be implemented and monitored. There is a new standardized test to be administered, and its efficacy reviewed.

And there is a mountain of work to be done to improve efficiency, including by facilitating the way education is delivered across a large state that is losing school-age population.

All of that takes cooperation between local educators and appointed and elected officials.

By holding back an important piece, LePage is letting his paranoid hatred of the Legislature get in the way of real progress.

]]> 20, 16 Apr 2016 18:42:51 +0000
Another View: Columnist dishonors memory 
of Franco-American ancestors Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Regarding Alan Haley’s April 11 Maine Voices column, “Demographics, xenophobia aren’t working in our state’s favor,” I take umbrage with his barroom generalization about immigrants such as my grandparents.

He writes:

“Starting in the 1900s, Maine was overrun by immigrants who spoke a foreign language, practiced a strange religion and who were believed at the time to be dirty, of low moral character and intelligence and owing allegiance to a foreign power. They were, of course, the French Canadians. Owen Brewster, our 54th governor, was elected in 1925, with the help of Maine’s Klu Klux Klan, on the very specific promise to keep this ‘popish’ element in its place and send them back to Canada at the first opportunity. There was nothing special or cultural about the economic surge French Canadians provided … .”

My grandparents were personally reputed to be neat, lawful and required no “fair amount of financial assistance.” With pride, they became naturalized citizens instructed by government manuals written in what was to them “a foreign language,” paid taxes and were notably of good will.

Their personal character and work ethic were extraordinary and appreciated by the industries that eagerly hired them. All of this is corroborated, for example, in the city of Sanford’s annals at The Sanford/Springvale Historical Society as well as by the several homes in our town that the grateful Goodalls or Jaggers gave or leased to them.

Except to add that they were economic assets, Mr. Haley’s wholesale description of their personhood is wrong and hurtful.

Here’s hoping he is less biased (xenophobic) at the Maine Department of Education when comparing Franco-Americans with the 1820 African immigrants who, he adds, became “constitutionally guaranteed citizenship” and summarizes: “We were so proud of that one act that we chose ‘I lead’ as our state motto.”

Wonder not, dear editor, about the cause and malaise of divisiveness in our body politic.

]]> 8 Sat, 16 Apr 2016 18:56:39 +0000
Our View: Portland faces tight timeline to decide on India Street clinic closure Sat, 16 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Moving patients from one free clinic to another one just a mile and a half away might seem easy, but that does not begin to explain the complexity of what the city of Portland is considering.

Not when you are talking about moving roughly 1,000 patients from the city-run India Street Public Health Center to the Portland Community Health Center on Park Avenue, a privately operated nonprofit.

It’s not just the number of people involved but the unique constellation of programs that the city runs in its India Street location, which includes needle exchange, sexually transmitted disease testing, HIV-positive medicine and primary care. In the middle of a heroin epidemic, the stakes couldn’t be higher: If the city doesn’t get this right, people will die.

City Manager Jon Jennings has said that there is more than enough time to work out the details between now and Jan. 1, 2017, when the transfer would be complete. He and city staff are confident that the patients would get better care from a larger health care-focused organization, which would be able to connect them to services not available at India Street.

And because the Community Health Center is reimbursed from the federal government at a higher rate than other providers, the transfer would bring more health care money into the community, helping to pay the cost of caring for people with no insurance.

As a matter of policy, this approach makes a lot of sense. But there are some nagging practical questions that the City Council should answer before signing off on this idea.

One issue is location. The Park Avenue clinic is across the street from King Middle School, making it a bad location for a needle exchange. So is the Community Health Center’s Preble Street site, which is across the street from a community policing station. That may not be a welcoming place for an addict looking for a clean syringe.

Other locations at Franklin Towers, the Riverton Park apartments and near an affordable-housing development in South Portland are also all unsuitable for different reasons.

If the center found a good location for the needle exchange that was separate from the other India Street services, patients would miss out on the integrated care they currently receive, such as when someone comes in for a needle and gets an STD test, or treatment for a cough.

And there is some history that needs to be understood. This is not the first time that services have migrated from the city to the Portland Community Health Center. In 2014, the nonprofit won a grant to provide health care to the homeless, resulting in the closure of a 20-year-old city-run clinic. The results have been mixed.

While the number of homeless patients visiting the new medical clinic exceeds the center’s goals, there has been a steep reduction in the number of dental and behavioral health visits that had been delivered by the city.

Maine Medical Center reports a sharp increase in emergency room visits since the city’s clinic shut down, and the hospital is in talks with another nonprofit to create a new homeless health clinic that would relieve the pressure. This history should be fully understood before the council signs off on such an ambitious plan.

The council is due to vote on the budget May 16, which does not leave much time to answer these questions. That’s a tight timeline for such a complex decision.

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Our View: Portland should increase age for buying tobacco Fri, 15 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Young adults can’t buy alcohol before they turn 21, and for a very good reason: It presents health and safety risks that they aren’t ready to handle. The same can be said of cigarettes – yet tobacco is widely available to anyone 18 or over.

But that could change in Portland, where city councilors voted this week to move ahead with a proposal to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21. This measure would help keep vulnerable teenagers from getting hooked, and Maine’s largest city should support it.

Youth smoking rates in Maine have plummeted, from 40 percent of high school students in 1997 to 12.8 percent today. But the success of tobacco-prevention efforts here shouldn’t overshadow reality. Twenty percent of high schoolers in our state use tobacco products, according to the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine, and each year, over 2,000 Mainers under 18 become daily smokers.

Tobacco companies know that maintaining their customer base depends on getting their product into the hands of adolescents, whose developing brains predispose them to becoming addicted to nicotine and continuing the habit into adulthood. As an RJ Reynolds researcher concluded in 1982: “If a man has never smoked by age 18, the odds are 3-to-1 he never will. By age 24, the odds are 20-to-1.”

Most underage users get tobacco through what researchers call “social sources” – classmates and friends who are old enough to buy. And there are plenty of high school students who are 18 and willing to purchase tobacco products for their younger buddies. But raising the legal age makes that scenario less likely, because 21-year-olds generally don’t hang out with people who are still in high school.

The tighter restrictions have run into predictable opposition from tobacco retailers in the places where they’ve been implemented: the state of Hawaii and over 100 cities nationwide, including Boston, New York and Chicago. Doctors and public health experts, however, say that the short-term financial impact of the change has been overstated. They estimate that increasing the legal age for buying cigarettes will cut into total tobacco sales by 2 to 3 percent a year.

The long-term benefits, on the other hand, will be substantial. The earlier that someone starts smoking, the greater their risk of high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease, lung cancer and other disorders. The cost of treating these illnesses totals $811 million a year in Maine. So anything that discourages tobacco use will save money and lives.

While it’s true that nothing in the Portland proposal will keep young people from going to South Portland or Westbrook to buy cigarettes, the ordinance would set an example for other communities. Raising the minimum age in Portland will be worth it if it keeps even one teenager from becoming addicted, and we call on city officials to embrace this measure as a step forward.

]]> 13, 15 Apr 2016 00:09:03 +0000
Another View: Flap over satire gives Merkel chance to defend free speech Fri, 15 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has all but crushed domestic criticism of his regime by taking over newspapers, jailing journalists and bringing slander cases against over 1,800 people. Now he is trying to export his repression by demanding that Germany prosecute a comedian who read an insulting poem about the Turkish strongman on television.

At issue is a March 31 stunt by Jan Böhmermann, who said he wanted to find the line between satire, which is protected by German law, and “abusive criticism” of a foreign leader, which, regrettably, is not. He then read a poem that called Erdogan an obscene name.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a defender of free expression, but an anachronistic law allows foreign leaders to launch slander cases against German critics.

What’s more, Merkel just struck a deal with Erdogan to return Syrian refugees arriving in Europe to Turkey, in exchange for some $6 billion in European Union aid and other concessions. In their desperate pursuit of this bargain, EU leaders have muffled their objections to Erdogan’s excesses.

Last week Merkel issued a statement calling Böhmermann’s poem “deliberately offending.” When that didn’t satisfy Erdogan, it was announced that her government is “carefully reviewing” his request for prosecution.

We’d like to believe that Merkel’s rejection of any prosecution of Böhmermann is a foregone conclusion. Even so, her waffling is likely to encourage Erdogan’s and other regimes that are trying to suppress critical speech outside their borders as well as within.

]]> 0 Thu, 14 Apr 2016 21:25:22 +0000
Another View: Real people hurt by backlash against LGBT equal rights progress Thu, 14 Apr 2016 08:00:40 +0000 Some degree of backlash to the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage was to be expected. That does not excuse the actions of several Southern states over the past few weeks.

North Carolina’s leaders approved a law barring cities and towns from offering protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people based on trumped-up fears about transgender people using bathrooms that conform to their gender identity. Transgender people make up a small and often-misunderstood group that poses no risk to bathroom users; those most injured by the bill will be children and teenagers who do not conform to traditional gender norms. Then Mississippi lawmakers passed a bill allowing businesses and government officials to refuse to serve same-sex couples seeking to marry. The bill specifically assures bakers, venue owners, photographers, DJs and others that they can turn away same-sex couples. Lawmakers argue that all they are doing is protecting religious liberty. That is misleading. No one, and certainly not the Supreme Court, is requiring pastors or other religious officials to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. But when businesses enter the public arena, they should expect to serve all customers.

Even as these skirmishes heat up, it is important to keep the big picture in mind. The cause of nondiscrimination has advanced rapidly over the past several years – further and faster than seemed possible only a decade ago. Those pressing for essential civil protections are winning the war. But the battles they lose along the way will cause real harm to real people.

]]> 17 Wed, 13 Apr 2016 19:11:03 +0000
Our View: Broken promise to New Balance saps faith in trade partnership Thu, 14 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Obama administration wants us to believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. But from what we have seen in New England, the new rules look a lot like the old rules, which have shipped too many manufacturing jobs overseas.

The latest evidence against TPP comes from New Balance Inc., a Boston company that employs 900 people in Maine. New Balance is one of the last makers of athletic shoes that does most of its manufacturing in the United States, and it stands to be a big loser under the TPP because the agreement would phase out tariffs on footwear made in Vietnam, flooding the domestic market with cheap imports.

In exchange, New Balance was promised that the U.S. military would adhere to the letter of a 1941 law known as the Berry Amendment that requires all uniforms to be American made. Recently, it has been government policy to give service members a stipend to buy any athletic shoe they choose. If the military followed the Berry Amendment, New Balance would be able to weather a flood of imports.

But the Department of Defense has delayed requiring service members to buy American-made athletic shoes, putting the future of the company and hundreds of Maine families in jeopardy.

While this is not technically an issue with the TPP, it does blow holes in the administration’s promise that American workers would be better off in the end because U.S. exports would have better access to foreign markets.

That will almost certainly be true for some industries, but it won’t be true for them all. And over the last two decades of globalization, we have seen that hollowed-out communities are the price we pay for cheap clothing and shoes.

A job is not just a number on a paycheck. A good, steady job with benefits supports a stable family, and hundreds of jobs like that build the social fabric of cities and towns. Money saved by buying cheap imports from overseas can be invested elsewhere in the economy, but communities are not so portable. When the jobs go away, what’s left?

The Obama administration claims to understand that, and it promotes what it calls tough, verifiable standards in the agreement that would protect American workers from unfair competition.

But if the administration will not even enforce a U.S. law that is already on the books, how will it enforce labor and environmental standards on overseas manufacturers?

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are right to be angry about the Pentagon’s reluctance to end the athletic-shoe exemption. No assessment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership should be made without considering this disappointing record.

]]> 6, 13 Apr 2016 22:30:46 +0000
Our View: Cannabis doesn’t belong on DEA’s ‘most dangerous’ list Wed, 13 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Consensus is growing among Maine physicians that cannabis can effectively treat some medical conditions, and the number of people seeking prescriptions is rising right along with it.

But access to medicinal cannabis is still complicated by federal guidelines that hinder research on the effectiveness of medical marijuana and hamper the development of cannabis-based medications. Federal regulators should finally remove cannabis from the most dangerous class of drugs and enable thousands of doctors and patients to benefit from policymaking grounded in evidence, not outdated fears.

Over 300 doctors and nurse practitioners in Maine certify patients to use medical cannabis. Some have a background in holistic medicine, the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Gillian Graham reported this week. Others are skeptics swayed by improvements in patients who were able to trade hundreds of pills a month for medical cannabis.

Both advocates and providers say there aren’t enough caregivers willing to certify patients. Medical practices and doctors are concerned about the lack of evidence in favor of medical cannabis, as well as the lack of Food and Drug Administration approval for cannabis products, the Maine Hospital Association told the Telegram. And since health insurers don’t cover a medication unless it has the FDA’s endorsement, medical cannabis can be financially out of reach even for certified patients.

But the possibility of change is on the horizon. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced last week that it will decide by July whether to remove cannabis from its list of Schedule I drugs: dangerous substances, like heroin and LSD, without any “currently acceptable medical use.”

Of course, this status – which has been in place since 1970 – is self-perpetuating: It discourages scientists from doing the research on dosages, safety and effectiveness that’s needed for a medication to get federal approval. And it deters colleges and universities from funding studies that could be of value to millions. One example – an investigation into the use of cannabis to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder – has been trying to get off the ground for several years.

Reclassifying medical cannabis won’t legalize it. What it will do is to pave the way for the gathering of hard evidence on whether the plant has medicinal value. We hope that all citizens, no matter what their political leanings, want their leaders to develop and implement an information-based drug policy – because all of us deserve better than to continue to be kept in the dark.

]]> 25, 13 Apr 2016 00:26:49 +0000
Another View: EU mitigates immigration crisis, but military conflicts drive it Wed, 13 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It is hard to argue that the issue of how to deal with the ongoing wave of migration from the east into Europe isn’t the biggest problem facing the European Union. It is thus a source of cautious optimism that the controversial measures the EU more or less agreed upon to deal with the problem seem to be beginning to work.

Arrivals in Greece, the first EU stop of the migrants, have seen a steady drop since January, although the fear had been that with the milder weather and calmer seas of spring would come an increase in the flow of migrants.

The migrants come from war-torn, economically underdeveloped countries to the east and south of Europe. These include Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, all targets of continuing American military action. Their normal route is to pass by sea from Turkey or Libya into Greece or Italy. Greece is probably the EU country least able to absorb them in economic terms.

It is also difficult to sort out the difference between refugees truly in danger at home, and economic migrants looking for a better life in richer Europe. The EU worked out a complicated procedure by which true refugees are accepted in EU states in return for economic migrants who are repatriated to Turkey, marked to return to their countries of origin by the Turks.

It appears that the actual agreed-upon procedure is working. The returnees, presumably, are carrying the message back to those considering the risky sea journey that it isn’t worth the money or the danger to their lives.

It may seem hard to deny a better life to unsuccessful migrants, but the justice of a measured flow into Europe cannot be denied. The end of the wars in their home countries that prompt and force them to leave is the only real solution to the migrant problem and deserves intense, continuing work.

]]> 0 Tue, 12 Apr 2016 20:52:41 +0000
Our View: Maine would benefit from seafood traceability Tue, 12 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Worldwide, seafood is having an identity crisis.

It’s not only that so much seafood is mislabeled — one-third of all samples, according to a 2012 Oceana study of 674 U.S. retail outlets – but also that it may come from questionable sources, such as the Thai companies exposed last year as violators of human rights.

That makes knowing exactly what one is buying at the seafood counter both a practical and ethical question.

In Maine, it is also an economic one.

Together, that makes transparency in the supply chain an absolute imperative.

That reality is well known throughout the Maine seafood industry, where initiatives to verify and label local seafood are already thriving.

Restaurants and supermarkets throughout the region, for example, use the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested brand to show customers they are buying seafood that is certified to come from the Gulf of Maine using sustainable practices that ensure the fisheries’ survival.

That’s a selling point not only for individuals but also institutions. Colby College and the University of New England, among other schools, have agreed to purchase 100 percent of their whitefish through the brand, good for thousands of pounds of new sales for local fishermen.

The Gulf of Maine brand can also be used to introduce consumers to underused species, such as dogfish, that are numerous in the region, and will likely become more so as sea temperatures continue to rise.

There are traceability programs for lobster, too, such as Trace My Lobster, a Whole Foods initiative launched in Maine that uses coded tags to allow consumers to find out when and where a lobster was caught, and even who caught it.

It’s important for the industry to be able to tell the story behind the lobster – that’s part of the reason people seek out the Maine product. It is also crucial that what is being sold as fresh, Maine lobster lives up to its billing.

But not everyone is playing by the rules.

The Oceana study found that mislabeled seafood is everywhere, the result of an exceedingly complex supply chain that practically condones fraudulent activity. Unscrupulous retailers, after all, have no reason to ask suppliers whether snapper is really snapper as long as the price is right.

So, imperiled fish such as Gulf grouper are passed off as the more sustainable black grouper. Or high-mercury tilefish are sold as the more desirable red snapper and halibut.

In fact, Oceana, in a test of 1,200 samples in 21 states, found snapper was misrepresented 87 percent of the time and tuna 59 percent of the time. The results were not much better for other popular species.

And that doesn’t even address the matter of the Thailand seafood export industry, a $7 billion-a-year endeavor that, as the Associated Press reported, relied heavily on slave workers.

Shrimp processed by those workers made its way to major U.S. retailers and restaurants, though until the AP’s report, the murkiness of the supply chain allowed the purchasers to stay in the dark.

A proposal from a presidential task force would create a system to track data related to the catch and chain of custody of fish and fish products that are brought into the U.S. It is being backed by environmentalists and seafood industry officials, and it should be implemented.

Customers who purchase seafood should know exactly what they are buying, and whether it comes to their table as the result of inhumane or unsustainable practices. And Maine seafood producers who take pains, often at a cost, to keep customers informed and to take care of their fisheries should not have to compete against others who are corrupt or deceitful.

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Our View: Orono-Machias merger smart move for UMaine System Mon, 11 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Delivering public higher education in a state with a rapidly aging population is a complicated puzzle for the University of Maine System chancellor.

But it’s not just a problem for him. When the state lags behind its neighbors in degree attainment and businesses have to look elsewhere for qualified workers, the drag on Maine’s economy affects us all.

Last week, the UMaine System announced a small but important step in a much larger reform project.

The smallest campus in the system, UMaine Machias, will be working with the largest, the flagship campus in Orono, to integrate administrative and academic programs. If successful, the partnership could help Machias survive troubling trends.

Machias currently has an enrollment of 786, which is not enough to maintain staff and infrastructure. It needed $1 million in emergency funds from the rest of the system to balance its last budget. The number of Washington County high school graduates has declined by 31 percent since 2007, drastically cutting the pool of potential future students.

It is in one of the poorest corners of the state that desperately needs the university’s presence, not just as a major local employer but also as a catalyst for business growth.

The extent of the cooperation between Machias and Orono will be roughed out by a team of faculty and administrators from both campuses over the next eight months. The possibilities are exciting.

Machias could be able to focus on what makes it unique in the system – its location on the coast. It could be the go-to institution for marine resource research and education, and students enrolled there could do additional coursework at Orono, just 100 miles away.

UMaine could also offer its students an opportunity to do projects or spend a semester at the oceanside campus.

That kind of experience would be an added selling point for the flagship campus in its recruitment of students from other states.

Thanks to innovative marketing and financial incentives, the university has stopped its enrollment decline and fended off program cuts. Offering prospective students the chance to live and work near the ocean for part of their education would be a strong attraction for many.

This effort should be good news for Washington County, which can continue to depend on having a healthy university campus that improves people’s lives.

The challenge for the university system is to adapt to a state that has fewer college-age residents at the same time that higher education itself is becoming more important to the state’s economy. The state can’t just cut programs or campuses; it has to redirect scarce resources more efficiently.

The partnership between the Machias and Orono campuses is a step toward building a sustainable university that meets many needs, and it’s a welcome one.

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Another View: So-so baseball career ends, but taste of perfection lingers for Philip Humber Mon, 11 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Pitcher Philip Humber retired this spring after playing eight seasons for five major league teams, including the Chicago White Sox. He lost more games (23) than he won (16) in a tepid career that would be perfectly forgettable except for one afternoon in 2012.

Playing with the Sox on April 21, at Safeco Field in Seattle, Humber pitched a perfect game, one of only 23 in the major leagues since 1880.

In a perfect game, the pitcher retires all 27 opposing batters over nine innings without allowing anyone to reach base by hit, walk or error. It is a pitcher’s greatest achievement. Most never even come close to hurling a perfect game.

To appreciate how improbable Humber’s performance was: Statisticians calculate the chances of a pitcher throwing a perfect game on any day at about 1 in 100,000. For a modestly skilled pitcher such as Humber, the odds certainly are steeper.

Yet he did it. Or should we say, they did it. Perfection takes more than perfect execution by a pitcher. Everything else, everyone else on the diamond plays a role. Fielders must catch and throw flawlessly. Batters on the pitcher’s team must score. Humber won fewer games in his career than any other perfect-game pitcher. But he will be forever on the list at Cooperstown, inches from other perfect-game pitchers including Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Cy Young and Randy Johnson.

He left baseball at 33, with time for second, third and fourth acts. Will he experience a more perfect day?

]]> 1 Sun, 10 Apr 2016 18:14:36 +0000
Another View: Opponents of tipped-wage hike overlook, downplay key facts Sun, 10 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Having worked as a dining room hostess for several years in the 1980s, I’m dismayed at the attitude of restaurant owners toward a proposed minimum-wage increase for their service workers.

The base wage for some of these workers is as low as $2.95 per hour, and they have to rely on tips to meet their financial needs. What hasn’t been mentioned yet is that these workers are, by law, required to claim 8 percent of their sales for income tax purposes, whether or not their base wage, plus tips, actually equals 8 percent of what their customers ordered.

In her March 22 Maine Voices column, Five Fifty-Five restaurant owner Michelle Corry claimed that an increased minimum wage would “wipe out margins and put restaurants in peril.”

I’m not sure what margins she was talking about, but it’s more than likely profit margins. Low base wages assist in maintaining low overhead, which affects profit margins. She also claimed that if you asked her employees “if they would prefer to make a set wage or hustle,” they “would always choose their own initiative.” Well, that’s not so!

In a March 29 Maine Voices, one of Corry’s employees, Heather McIntosh (who has since resigned), said that she and four other employees of Five Fifty-Five support “a real minimum-wage increase that includes waiters and waitresses.”

McIntosh also says that “our schedules and incomes are inconsistent week to week and season to season. We never know if we’ll make enough to pay the rent or … child care,” noting that “tipped workers are three times more likely to live in poverty … .”

Why is this the only employment venue that forces its employees to rely on making a living wage based on the generosity of others?

A war was fought to abolish slavery, yet it still exists in the food service industry.

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Our View: Gov. LePage’s remarks serve as cover-up for lack of economic plan Sun, 10 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We don’t know for sure what the as-yet-unnamed southern Maine company told Gov. Le-Page about upcoming mass layoffs. With this governor, you can never be sure.

But whatever it was, the company apparently did not mean for him to make it public.

Of course, the governor didn’t exactly identify the company in question at his latest town hall-style forum, last week in Orono. Instead, he said just enough so that anybody with a passing knowledge of the Maine economy could hazard a handful of guesses, but not enough to ward against anxiety-ridden speculation.

To LePage, it seems, the bottom line in the news that 900 good jobs may be lost was not that people could soon be losing paychecks, but that it was another opportunity to sing his one-note remedy for the state’s problems.

Unfortunately, in his haste to make a point, LePage put anyone working at a large southern Maine employer on notice that they may be losing their job.

And, at this point, who knows just how accurate the governor’s assessment is of this mysterious conversation. After all, he’s made a habit of passing on or just blurting out bad information that fits his point of view.

Sometimes it’s silly, as when he said that a wind turbine in Aroostook County was equipped with a motor for when the wind wasn’t blowing, or when he reported that a number of Maine towns were on the verge of default.

Other times, it seems he hears only what he wants to, such as when he erroneously blamed “our welfare and our energy” for a poor ranking by Forbes magazine, or every time he cites the connection between taxes and Maine’s “prosperity,” using measurements that have little connection to reality.

The habit can be damaging. Every time a business closes, LePage wastes no time in declaring energy costs and taxes as the culprits, yet he offers only limited plans backed by faulty preconceptions as ways to address those issues.

And he never, in any real way, addresses other factors, such as foreign competition and changing markets, or articulates a specific plan for how state policy should be adjusted to reflect the changing economy.

With the governor, everything funnels back to energy costs and taxes.

Last week in Orono, he could have used Maine’s struggling paper mills to make his point on energy costs. He wouldn’t have been right, as there are many other factors hurting those mills, but at least the crowd, aware of the complex situation surrounding mills, could have made a determination on the governor’s argument based on its merits.

Instead, LePage opted for cryptic remarks – and took a ridiculous shot at southern Maine, referring to it by the tired phrase “northern Massachusetts” – causing unnecessary worry.

And while the governor may have found some glee in watching reporters and municipal officials scramble to find out who, exactly, he was talking about, he should be more concerned about the thousands of workers now unsure about their futures, and about the fact he has for them only one answer, and no real plan for addressing the challenges facing the Maine economy.

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Our View: Police can’t arrest Maine out of drug problem Sat, 09 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As opiate addiction spikes in every corner of the country, hitting rural and suburban communities in places like Maine for the first time, there is a unanimous call for government to do something, but a paralyzing debate on what to do.

Too much time has already been wasted arguing whether addiction is a public safety problem or a public health problem.

For those who argue that addiction is a failure of willpower, and what we need are tougher laws to scare addicts away from their habit, they ought to pay some attention to the people who are tasked with fighting that war. In greater numbers, law enforcement leaders are saying that they are not the answer.

Consider this statement, which Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck made at a forum in Portland this week:

“I’m standing here as the chief of the largest municipality in the state of Maine telling you that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, period. It’s not going to happen. As a warrior in the war on drugs – I was an agent in Maine Drug Enforcement, I ran the Cumberland County task force for Maine Drug Enforcement – I am telling you we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”

Or this from an April 3 Maine Voices column by Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel A. Merry and Bath Police Chief Michael Field, who said what they need to fight the drug epidemic is expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income Mainers who need treatment:

“We know that treatment saves lives and health coverage is important in accessing treatment. We see coverage as a vital community wide benefit that can prevent crime, violence and suffering, saving our criminal justice system resources, time and money.”

Forty years of the war on drugs shows what will work and what won’t.

A 2015 report paid for by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed the weakness of an aggressive enforcement response. Researchers estimate that the chances of a drug trafficker being arrested during a transaction is about one in 15,000, obliterating any effective deterrence. Of the drug offenders who are caught and sent to prison, approximately 75 percent return within three years.

What has been proven to work is a coordinated effort of targeted law enforcement to break up drug networks and drive up street prices, combined with access to high-quality treatment. When fighting opioid addiction, medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone or buprenorphine, combined with behavioral therapy has the best records of success.

But while the state mourns hundreds of overdose deaths every year, it is official state policy to drop people on MaineCare from life-saving medicine assisted treatment when they hit an arbitrary two-year cap. Addicted patients with insurance coverage cannot find clinics or qualified physicians to treat them without traveling long distances.

These policies perpetuate addiction, creating an impossible problem for law enforcement.

No one knows better than the police that treating drug addiction as a crime only makes the problem worse. It’s time that we listen to them.

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Our View: Maine’s homeschooling laws don’t make the grade Fri, 08 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 How and where their children will be educated is one of the more significant decisions that parents make on their children’s behalf. And an increasing number of parents in Maine are opting to teach their children at home.

Homeschooling can work in children’s favor when their parents are committed and motivated instructors. But Maine’s regulations, like those in most states, fall short of fully protecting children’s basic educational interests.

About 5,500 Maine children were home-schooled last year, up 36 percent from a decade earlier; over the same period, public school enrollment dropped by 8 percent. The Maine Sunday Telegram’s Noel K. Gallagher recently talked to several homeschooling families, and while each had its own motivations – from deep Christian faith to skepticism about organized education to their commitment to a cooperative, sustainable lifestyle – all said they appreciated being able to tailor curricula and lessons to their children’s interests and learning styles.

The Telegram article presented parents who seem sincerely invested in homeschooling and equipped to meet their children’s needs. But Maine law doesn’t do much to help ensure that all home-schoolers live up to this standard. In fact, it’s lacking in several areas, according to the pro-oversight Coalition for Responsible Home Education.

Parental qualifications: There’s no minimum education requirement for parents who choose to home-school. Homeschooling parents don’t have to have a high school diploma or a GED certificate, even if they’re home-schooling through 12th grade.

Parental accountability: While homeschooling parents in Maine are required to teach specific subjects, there’s no way to hold them accountable if their children fall behind. That’s because the state’s annual assessment requirement for home-schooled students doesn’t stipulate official intervention if the child isn’t making progress.

Child well-being: Maine’s vaccination mandate covers home-schooled children, but only some homeschooling parents have to show proof that their child has either been immunized or has received an exemption. Maine is also one of the 48 states that has no background-check process for parents who home-school.

The academic gaps can be addressed by offering support where needed to homeschooling families. Mandating that each child be at grade level in each subject would be unfair and unreasonable – but if a child’s portfolio or assessment test shows that they’re truly having trouble learning, they would get time to improve, and their parents would have access to resources and advice.

Similarly, parents who don’t have a high school education would be able to keep teaching as long as they’re being supervised by a certified teacher or are studying toward a GED diploma.

When it comes to students’ health and safety, homeschooling families should have to meet the same standards as other parents and teachers, including providing proof of child immunizations and passing a criminal history records check.

Every child is entitled to a sound and well-rounded education. With the input of the state’s large homeschooling community, Maine policymakers should work to tighten homeschooling laws here so that they continue to allow for innovation while also ensuring greater parental accountability.

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Another View: Obama’s tax inversion plan doesn’t go far enough Thu, 07 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “One of the most insidious tax loopholes out there” just got a little smaller. But President Barack Obama, who announced the change on Tuesday with much fanfare, didn’t go nearly far enough: The tax code itself, not just its loopholes, is what needs fixing.

It’s hard to overstate just how bad the U.S. corporate tax code is. Imagine it was designed by foreign saboteurs – and prepare to be impressed by their ingenuity.

It taxes profits at 35 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. This excessive rate applies to a base riddled with exemptions and exceptions.

U.S. companies pay taxes on their non-U.S. earnings, but only when the money is brought home, thus creating an incentive to park profits abroad. In these and other ways, the system manages to combine maximum economic damage with relatively meager revenue collection. To avoid this tax, some U.S. companies have bought smaller foreign firms and switched their residence for tax purposes overseas.

These are the so-called inversions that new Treasury rules are intended to block. They may have already had an effect, with Pfizer’s termination of its $160 billion takeover of Allergan.

A sensible tax system would eliminate the incentives both for inversions and for parking income abroad. Actions like the administration’s shouldn’t be confused with reform.

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Our View: Breweries show how to create future Maine jobs Thu, 07 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If you want to see the future of job creation in Maine, look no further than the craft beer industry.

Following five years of truly astounding growth, Maine breweries now employ 1,500 people and generate nearly half a billion dollars in annual sales. It wasn’t the arrival of a large, out-of-state company that created that economic activity, but the collective work of dozens of local entrepreneurs who make products that are distinctly Maine, and which people from around the world will specifically seek out.

That’s a long way from where it started, with the creation of Portland-based D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in 1986, followed shortly thereafter by Gritty McDuff’s, back when craft beer was not even a blip on the radar in a market dominated by Budweiser, Coors and Miller Lite.

Now the big breweries are being forced to take notice, with craft beer accounting for 11 percent of the market by volume, up from 6 percent in 2008. Americans spent $19.6 billion on craft beer in 2014, a 22 percent rise over the previous year.

Maine is taking full advantage. Two of the state’s breweries – Shipyard and Allagash – are among the top 50 in sales in the country. Allagash, in Portland, and Maine Beer Co., in Freeport, frequently have their beers ranked among the very best in the world, while other Maine beers are often cited among the best in their style.

The high quality of Maine beers is satisfying not only critics and locals, but also aficionados from around the world, who are increasingly coming to Maine to get a taste of what they’ve heard so much about. As a result, the craft beer industry is providing a boost to places that are greatly in need of one.

A cluster of breweries now surround Allagash, turning a Portland industrial park into a destination for beer tourists. Breweries also anchor a section of the city’s up-and-coming East Bayside neighborhood.

In rural areas, breweries have moved into old mills and barns, providing activity and energy in places where recent economic news rarely has been good.

Breweries also support Maine farms growing hops and barley, as well as the fabricators, plumbers and engineers who are necessary to keep stainless steel and pipe contraptions turning out beer.

That support will only grow. Since 2011, the number of Maine breweries has more than doubled, from 34 to 71, and every day there are more looking to make the move from home kitchens and garages to commercial warehouses. And there is plenty of room to grow. Craft beer is winning converts by the day, and its share of the market is sure to continue to grow. Craft beer drinkers are always looking for what’s new, interesting and, most of all, good.

Maine’s got that in spades, and the industry’s overall focus on quality means the Maine beer brand will only gain in prominence.

And that’s the thing about Maine beer – it can only be made in Maine; that’s where it gets its value.

That should be a lesson as the state builds its future economy.

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Another View: Washington NFL owner should take a hint from baseball Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Washington Post

Chief Wahoo first got kicked off the road cap of the Cleveland Indians. Next he got booted from the home batting helmet. Then he got nudged aside by the team’s emerging block-“C” logo. Just in time for the start of this year’s baseball season, the team officially demoted Chief Wahoo as its primary logo.

This grinning caricature, which so many people see as an insult to Native Americans, is on his way to being completely dropped, though not quickly enough. Let’s hope his inevitable demise opens the eyes of Washington’s professional football team to the reality that it needs to drop its offensive name.

“We do have empathy for those who take issue with it,” Indians owner Paul Dolan said last week in announcing the secondary role for the long-standing logo. “We have minimized the use of it and we’ll continue to do what we think is appropriate.” The announcement didn’t contain specifics about how the team’s usage of the logo will change, and Dolan was careful to include a paean to its importance as a “part of our history and legacy.”

But the acknowledgment of official discomfort was nonetheless significant. Activists calling for Chief Wahoo to be dropped can claim a symbolic victory that will energize their protests, which will not end now. Having minimized use of an admittedly inappropriate image, the team will find it increasingly difficult to explain why any use at all is acceptable.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, the team is prolonging Chief Wahoo’s run to further capitalize on its marketing to fans who think his end may be near. At least, though, the Cleveland owners are moving in the right direction. In that, they offer a sharp contrast to Washington football team owner Daniel Snyder, who has been unwilling to recognize – or do anything to correct – the offense caused by his team’s name.

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Our View: Paid leave could ease stress of Maine’s burgeoning ‘sandwich generation’ Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The number of working adults who are caring for both children and parents is on the rise. So is the stress these workers face as they try to deal with the economic impact of taking time off for caregiving. Momentum is growing for states to launch programs that supplement caregivers’ lost wages – and Maine should step up for families here and get on board.

Maine is fertile ground for the growth of the so-called “sandwich generation.” We have 20 percent more baby boomers than the national average, and about 50 more people here turn 65 each day.

And the high price of professional care – little, if any, of which is covered by Medicare – means that most older Mainers who need assistance receive it from family members. Women are twice as likely as men to care for an aging or ill parent – whether it’s hands-on (physical care, housework, meal preparation) or indirect (arranging services; helping with finances).

Two-thirds of those caring for parents are employed, and these workers pay a high price for taking on more responsibilities at home. They wind up having to miss work, pass up promotions, scale back their hours or even quit, researchers have found.

Just 13 percent of employers offer paid leave to family caregivers. Taking an unpaid leave of absence, which employers are required to provide under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, isn’t a realistic choice. The vast majority of workers can’t afford it. In fact, of those who use the FMLA, 10 percent must turn to public assistance to make up for losing a paycheck.

California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island are the only states to address the high price of caregiving head on. They require employers to offer paid family leave for anywhere from four to 12 weeks, during which workers can receive part of their wages.

The family leave insurance mandate is funded by a portion of payroll taxes, and despite dire predictions, it hasn’t been bad for business. In California, a 2011 study found either a positive effect on worker productivity or none at all. Similarly, New Jersey employers reported no change in productivity or turnover, according to a 2014 study.

U.S. workplaces are designed on an outdated model: the worker who earns enough to support a household, including a spouse who takes on all family caregiving responsibilities. This is no longer the norm. It’s time for Maine to recognize this and make it possible for “sandwich generation” workers to care for their children and older parents without putting themselves – and their families – at financial risk.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial was updated at 1:11 p.m. on April 6, 2016 to reflect the passage last week in New York state of a bill mandating up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for most employees.

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