The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Editorials Sat, 27 Aug 2016 04:21:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Our View: Message to America: Sorry we gave you LePage Fri, 26 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dear America: Maine here. Please forgive us – we made a terrible mistake. We managed to elect and re-elect a governor who is unfit for high office.

He has a gruff exterior and blunt way of talking that some of us find refreshing, but he has shown again and again that he governs by grudge, and uses his power to beat up on people who cannot fight back.

You probably heard about the latest episode. He was asked about the toxic racial environment that he created in the state with insensitive statements about people of color. The questioner, an entrepreneur from New York, wondered how he could ever bring a business here.

This should have been an easy one for the governor: Maine is a state where more people hit retirement age than graduate from high school, and our traditional industries are shedding jobs. We desperately need new businesses and young people – of all races – who would be willing to move here to work.

The question was an opportunity for the governor to undo some of the damage that he has caused by giving members of minority groups around the country the impression that Maine is a white state where no one else is welcome.

Instead, the governor repeated one of his worst libels: That Maine’s drug crisis is the fault of black and brown transient thugs who come here not only to sell their poison but also to take advantage of “white Maine women.” It’s a matter of fact that heroin comes to Maine from other states – they don’t produce it here – but the governor is adamant about identifying the drug runners by race, leaving it to his audience to fill in the blanks of why that might matter.

This was not a slip of the tongue. He has said the same thing before, denied saying it, and then said it again before the latest incident. This time, he offered it as proof that the racial divide in Maine was not his fault – that it was the fault of black and Hispanic criminals that he keeps track of in a three-ring binder on his desk.

LePage knows that his words are widely understood to mean that he thinks that the color of their skin makes some people more likely to commit crimes. Rather than clarify or withdraw those statements, he repeats them.

We wish we could say that he is the only one in the state who feels that way. When LePage makes these comments, some of our fellow Mainers applaud him for defying what they consider to be oppressive political correctness.

But as a famous Mainer once said: “Rejecting the conventions of political correctness is different from showing complete disregard for common decency.”

Those words were written by Sen. Susan Collins in her denouncement of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Like Trump, LePage is a repeat offender.

It would be nice to think that Le-Page would reflect on what he says and learn from these incidents, but he appears to be completely incapable of change. He will probably blame the media again for any embarrassment he suffers, but everyone has heard the tape and knows what the governor said.

On the bright side, America, Le- Page isn’t going to be governor forever, and when his successor takes office in 2019, Mainers of all political parties will have to work together to fix the damage he has done to our reputation. We hope that this person will be a leader who will welcome people of all races to live in Maine, and invest in our wonderful state.

Until then, please accept our apology. We’ll try not to do it again.

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Our View: Roxanne Quimby’s historic gift marks new era for Maine Wed, 24 Aug 2016 23:40:00 +0000 Some of the sting of the paper industry’s retreat could be eased by a more diverse economy.

When historians look back on Aug. 24, 2016, what will they say about the decision to take 87,000 acres of land in the heart of Maine’s northern forest out of production and turn it into a national monument?

We have heard a lot of predictions. Opponents claim that it represents a toe in the door for an ever-expanding federal presence in Maine and a disruption of the already struggling forest-products industry, the region’s primary source of jobs for more than a century.

Supporters of the monument envision a future in which tens of thousands of visitors will come to the Katahdin region every year to experience woods and wildlife that they can’t find at home, creating a new industry for a region hit hard by the permanent loss of two paper mills.

We think the supporters are right, but now it’s time to put the talking points away. Fighting against the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will do no good for the people who hope to build a new diverse economy in the region. The designation of this monument marks another step in a painful transition away from reliance on a single industry, and changes this big are never easy.

The arguments have been boiling for two decades, since RESTORE: The North Woods first proposed putting 3.2 million acres into permanent conservation as a national park. That drew an understandable negative reaction from the businesses community and residents, who depended on working the largest forest east of the Rockies and enjoyed hunting, fishing and snowmobiling, which had been allowed on commercial forestland.

In the intervening years, philanthropist Roxanne Quimby quietly bought almost 90,000 acres east of Baxter State Park through her family foundation, with the plan of donating the land to the people of the United States. Her plan inherited most of the opposition that had been aroused by RESTORE’s idea, and she and her son Lucas St. Clair have spent years listening to their neighbors and trying to put their suspicions to rest, not always successfully.

The plan that resulted in the new national monument divides the land into two parts, with everything east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River remaining open for hunting and snowmobiling. Forestry operations will retain the right to cross the preserved land to log remote woodlots. Quimby is donating $20 million to the National Park Foundation to serve as the basis of an endowment that will support the development of visitor amenities. She also has pledged to raise another $20 million for the endowment.

People will have to travel a long way from the nation’s major population centers if they want to walk in these woods that so many Mainers take for granted. Maine Conservation Commissioner Walt Whitcomb denigrated the parcel Wednesday, calling it “swampy woodlands” that no one would want to visit. We suspect he’ll be proven wrong.

There probably will never be another large national park created in the eastern half of the country. Population growth and development elsewhere could make this precious piece of forest a refuge for anyone who wants to see the stars or spy a moose.

But that is a prediction of what might happen, and we should put speculation aside as the people of Maine work with the National Park Service to make the monument as successful as it can be. The park is open right now, and local businesses should be given the support they need to provide services to its first guests.

In the meantime, what do we say today about the decision by the president to accept Quimby’s gift of land and money to benefit this and future generations? There is only one thing to say: Thank you.

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Our View: Maine legislators should seize reins, reallocate slot machine revenue Wed, 24 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The 2003 citizens initiative to allow slot machine gambling in Maine was presented to voters as a way to revive the state’s long-suffering harness racing industry.

The initiative was approved, but harness racing is still in bad shape despite receiving over $100 million in slot proceeds since Maine’s first legal gambling venue opened 10 years ago, a stunning MPBN report revealed last week. It’s a safe bet that the sorry situation won’t improve unless Maine legislators finally speak up and stop letting the gambling industry dictate public policy.

Allotted part of the net take from Maine’s two casinos – in Bangor and Oxford – the harness racing industry has received at least $7 million a year in stipends since the opening of Hollywood Slots in Bangor in 2006, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network reported. (Oxford Casino opened in 2012.)

Despite this influx of revenue – in the form of higher racing purses, aid to the state’s agricultural fairs and direct payments to Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs – the number of harness-racing stallions, mares and foals registered in Maine has declined steadily, MPBN found. So has the amount of money bet each year on horse races in the state.

Who determines how casino proceeds are divvied up in Maine? The same people who’ve written the many casino ballot questions that Maine voters have weighed over the years – namely, the casino operators. Maine legislators have consistently taken a back seat, abdicating their responsibility to regulate the industry, set limits on its growth and determine how to spend the state’s share of gaming revenue.

Casino proponents have argued that slot machine revenue will help protect farmland from development and support a traditional Maine industry. There are other ways, however, for property owners to preserve open space, such as working with a land trust. And if at least $7 million a year in subsidies isn’t enough to shore up harness racing, why should the shrinking industry keep getting the stipends?

As state Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who co-chairs the committee that oversees gambling in Maine, told MPBN: “If you’re giving $100 million to something, you really have to make sure that it works.”

Exactly. Instead of allowing gambling interests to lead the way, it’s time for Maine lawmakers to seize the reins and the opportunity to advocate for the people they serve.

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Another View: Governments use wrong weapon against misguided activists Wed, 24 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If you think a boycott is wrong, should you boycott those who engage in it? That’s up to consumers and investors to decide – but for governments, the answer is no.

The question arises in the context of the movement to punish and isolate Israel – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a bill last week barring the state’s pension fund from investing in any company that supports the BDS movement. Illinois and Florida also have passed such laws, and other states have banned these companies from receiving state contracts.

Anti-BDS laws are an understandable reaction to a movement that is wrong on both moral and geopolitical grounds. Israel is a democratic nation in a region dominated by autocrats, and it is committed to protecting freedoms – including religious expression and equal rights for women – that its neighbors do not recognize. Israel is also America’s strongest regional ally in the fight against terrorist groups that strike at liberal democracies wherever they find them. Trying to wage war on its people through economic deprivation is as foolish as it is dangerous.

But the best way to combat and marginalize wrong-headed political movements such as BDS is through popular opposition, not state law. Pension fund trustees, along with state legislators and governors, have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. When political considerations displace financial ones in selecting investments or awarding contracts, taxpayers lose.

Attempting to discriminate against companies because of their political views or policies will become increasingly problematic as more and more companies take positions on controversial issues. Consider a company that supports expanding abortion rights or gay rights. Should a conservative legislature prohibit that company from winning state business?

By all means, oppose the BDS movement vociferously. But do it without putting public dollars at stake.

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Our View: Maine doesn’t need more barriers to addiction treatment Tue, 23 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Gov. LePage’s budget proposal last year sought to remove all state funding for methadone treatment, following through on his years-long promise to close clinics providing what is perhaps the best course of therapy for opioid addiction.

Thankfully, that effort failed. Unfortunately, the governor has another plan that would have a similar effect, albeit much more slowly.

New MaineCare rules proposed by the state Department of Health and Human Services would put additional burdens on methadone clinics at a time when they are already struggling to deliver services, and when delays in addiction treatment are exacerbating the state’s opioid crisis.

The new rules would, among other changes, increase counseling requirements for new patients.

Counseling is an important part of treatments involving methadone, a low-level opioid that eases the withdrawal symptoms and cravings of heroin users, allowing them to function without illegal drug use and the criminal activity and other negative behaviors that go with it.

But since lawmakers cut MaineCare reimbursement rates for methadone treatment – from $80 per patient per week in 2010 to $60 today, giving Maine one of the lowest rates in the country – clinics have been unable to serve as many patients, or to give their patients as much attention as they need.

Acadia Healthcare, for instance, was treating 611 patients at its Bangor clinic in 2010. That’s down to around 500 now, with those patients having fewer counseling opportunities.

The low reimbursement rates were also cited in the closure of programs in Westbrook and Sanford last year, and the burden is being felt elsewhere.

In drug treatment in Maine, waitlists are the order of the day. Acadia said it had around 80 people waiting for treatment, while another Bangor clinic recently cited a waitlist of 173.

With drug treatment, people are ready when they are ready, and failures to capitalize on that moment can be deadly. People waiting for treatment need to fend off withdrawal, so they’ll continue to buy drugs, contributing to the demand that drives the crisis. Some will end up in the emergency room or jail. All will suffer to some degree, as will their family and friends.

Maine has too few doctors prescribing Suboxone, another form of medication-assisted treatment, leading to the same end result.

With so many people waiting for treatment, it’s not hard to see why the problem is not going away – overdoses and arrests continue to rise.

State Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, earlier this year proposed raising the reimbursement rate to $80, which is what it was when Maine first established methadone clinics in the mid-1990s, bringing into question whether even that is enough. But the effort failed.

Now, the DHHS wants to make it even more difficult for clinics to operate.

It is inconceivable that the LePage administration wants to erect more barriers to treatment when it should be knocking them down. Officials should listen to doctors and treatment advocates, scrap this plan immediately and go about giving methadone clinics the tools they need to fight a crisis that is growing by the day.

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Our View: Westbrook police chief stands with threatened Muslim residents Mon, 22 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Terrorism came to Maine last week, and Muslim residents of Westbrook were its victims.

Several found notes – three on the ground and another stuck to a car bumper – threatening their lives because of their religion. That’s terrorism, which is the practice of using violence or intimidation for political ends. It’s also terrorizing, which, under Maine law, is to threaten to commit “a crime of violence dangerous to human life.”

If the notes were intended to frighten the Muslim families, who are also recent immigrants to America, and make them question whether they could trust their neighbors, the terrorists succeeded.

Fortunately, Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts stood with the victims, and she may have been able to undo some of the damage that had been caused. That’s leadership.

Roberts met with members of the Muslim community last Thursday and assured them that the authorities would investigate the incident and seek to prosecute the perpetrator. She also pledged that law enforcement would take the threats seriously and take the steps needed to protect the families.

“Some members of our community have been truly traumatized by this experience,” Roberts said Thursday. “For the people out there who thought this wasn’t much of anything, have some empathy and try to put yourselves in their shoes.”

After the meeting, Westbrook resident and Iraqi refugee Sahib Altameemi, seemed relieved by the response. He said, “People in America are good. The police are good.”

Roberts’ stand is inspiring, especially when compared with the lack of leadership shown by Gov. LePage on a related issue last week.

When LePage heard that an Iranian refugee and former Freeport resident had died in 2015 fighting for the so-called Islamic State, he took advantage of the situation to beat two of his favorite drums: the alleged public safety danger posed by immigrants and welfare fraud.

The governor ordered his Department of Health and Human Services to investigate how many legal immigrants are receiving aid through federal programs and promised to take action against them, even though he has no authority to do so. Nevertheless, he has created suspicion throughout Maine that people should be wary of the new Americans in their neighborhoods, promoting the unfounded notion that they could be disloyal to the country as well as be welfare cheats.

We obviously don’t condone welfare fraud, and we believe the state should take every reasonable step to maintain the integrity of the programs it administers, but the governor’s thoughtless reaction to incendiary news last week is damaging the very state he is supposed to serve. LePage’s ranting legitimizes the emotions behind the threatening notes.

As Roberts said Thursday, “members of our community” have been victimized by someone who uses terror as a weapon. Instead of supporting the victims, LePage gave aid and comfort to the person who threatened to do them harm.

It’s easy to sow fear and suspicion, but it takes a real leader to bring people together. It’s time for LePage to step up and be a leader.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 3:27 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2016 to clarify where the notes were found.

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Our View: Gov. LePage shirks duty to Maine paper industry Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 New ideas and strong public-private partnerships are critical in determining the next life of Maine’s pulp and paper industry. Unfortunately, Gov. LePage has time for neither.

Representatives of eight federal agencies joined local officials and statewide business leaders last week for a tour of communities affected by changes in the industry. The purpose was to find a way forward for a sector that despite its challenges still employs thousands of Mainers, and still displays a lot of potential.

The effort will produce recommendations for how federal expertise can help Maine capitalize on the new products and processes that are moving the industry beyond the manufacturing of paper. It should be an exciting prospect for anyone wondering what’s next after the closure of five paper mills in two years.

LePage, though, has pulled all state involvement in the effort.

It may be a negotiating tactic over an ongoing tariff dispute, a sign of his continued antipathy toward the federal government, or an indication he has no patience for solutions other than his own. But all he’s really doing is hurting communities that need the forest products industry to thrive.


The federal agencies were called in after Madison Paper Industries announced in March that it would close, costing the state more than 200 jobs.

The Department of Commerce offered the services of an economic development assessment team, which provide the resources of multiple federal agencies to areas in trouble. Teams have previously been deployed to help after the collapse of the New England fisheries and for the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among other places and industries in peril.

The team arrived last Wednesday for a three-day tour that included stops in Bucksport, Dover-Foxcroft, Millinocket, Old Town and Skowhegan alongside the congressional delegation, business development and industry leaders, and local officials. The co-chairs of the team are local – the directors of the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine Forest Products Council.

The team will formulate a long-term economic plan with the help of nearly $8 million in federal grants. The funds will help grow an airplane manufacturing company, facilitate the move of a paper company’s research and development facility from Canada to Orono, support University of Maine research into making jet fuel from biomass, and expand the precision machining technology center at Central Maine Community College.

It is those kinds of investments that are the building blocks for a new economy in rural Maine. But to LePage, they represent “another failed stimulus package” that provides “false hope,” as he wrote in a July 5 letter to the Department of Commerce.


Instead, LePage said Maine has to reduce taxes and energy costs, and improve its forest management. He also asked for the federal government to remove tariffs placed on Canadian paper companies that employ Maine workers. Until those challenges are acknowledged, he said, his administration won’t be involved.

LePage’s single-minded focus on energy and taxes misses important changes in how and where paper is manufactured. They are certainly factors, but so too are transportation costs, product demand, automation and others that Maine and even the federal government have little control over. The international conglomerates that operate mills like Madison Paper are making decisions based on global forces, not only – or even predominantly – the cost of doing business in Maine.

So while taxes and energy costs may be too high, and the tariffs may be harmful, they are part of a much bigger picture that the governor fails to acknowledge.

That kind of thinking will only leave former mill towns in the past, when the future could be so bright if we choose to invest in Maine businesses and their innovative new products.

U.S. Sen. Angus King made that point late last month, when he said Maine has to “think about what comes next – not instead of lumber, not instead of paper, but in addition … What products can we create that we can’t even imagine from the gold mine of fiber found in this state?”

That’s the future of Maine’s forest products industry. Too bad Gov. LePage wasn’t there to hear it.

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Another View: Beach to Beacon is generous supporter of Maine charities Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We are compelled to correct what we consider to be mischaracterizations of the Beach to Beacon 10K road race in both an Aug. 7 Maine Sunday Telegram article and an Aug. 17 Press Herald editorial.

People are drawn to Maine to experience this challenging road race that inspires them to achieve their best. As correctly stated in the article, nonprofits are not required to give to charity but many nonprofit road races do. Many don’t. We do. And we do much more. We fulfill our primary mission of staging a world-class road race in Maine that draws the best runners in the world alongside 6,500 recreational runners from almost every state. Our 2016 online registration filled in under four minutes – faster than any other race in the country.

We carefully align expenses with income from entry fees and sponsors’ contributions to close each race year with a balanced budget. Our focus is not on profit.

Each year the cost of putting on the event grows, from tents to sustainability initiatives to medical innovations that save lives. Our race revenue goes to bringing forth a safe, world-class event. Above all this, we also give back to the community. The race’s Beneficiary Bib Program has generated more than $1.5 million over 19 years for our race charities, in addition to the $570,000 generously donated by the TD Charitable Foundation. We integrate sponsorship partners who give back proceeds to support our charities, we have volunteers who collect every recyclable bottle and give proceeds to the beneficiary, and we allocate PR resources to maximize awareness and support for the race beneficiary. And these are just a few of the things we do.

We are proud of our commitment to both the running community and how we give back to the charities we work with. The paper’s view of what our goals should be will not deter us from continuing our mission to produce a professionally run, world-class road race that has truly become a part of the fabric of people’s lives.

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Our View: Homeless camp argument won’t get to real problem Sat, 20 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 An ongoing police operation to shut down a homeless encampment in Portland has sparked an argument. Unfortunately, it’s not the one we should be having.

On one side of the current dispute we have the property owners of the Tent City’s location and the neighboring homeowners who want to see the improvised village removed along with its inhabitants.

On the other, there are the residents of the encampment themselves, who say they would rather live in a tent than in the city shelter, where they would be exposed to bedbugs, lice, scabies and the “drama” of sleeping in close quarters with scores of others who have nowhere else to go.

But this isn’t an either-or problem. It’s both.

Neither the illegal campground nor the overcrowded “emergency” shelter are adequate ways for human beings to live.

The city has no choice but to evict the campers if the landowners don’t want them on their property, but that is not a solution to a problem; it’s just another complication in a thorny crisis.

It’s overly simplistic to look at homelessness as a lack of housing alone. There are many contributing factors, including domestic violence, untreated mental illlness, difficult re-entry for veterans, drug and alcohol abuse and other bad lifestyle choices.

But those factors have always existed and homelessness has not – at least not in the way we have grown to tolerate it since the 1980s.

That was when the federal government stopped building public housing, pushing the responsibility to state and local governments working with private landlords and nonprofits.

Since the housing market does not provide the right incentives for private developers to build new housing for the poor and near poor, many are left outside – literally and figuratively.

The homeless are just the visible evidence of the affordable housing shortage. For every person lined up at the shelter or pitching a tent, there are many more paying most of their incomes in rent or wearing out their welcomes by sleeping on friends’ and relatives’ couches. The National Coalition to End Homelessness estimates that there is a deficit of 7 million units of affordable housing to meet current needs.

Homeless people can’t just move to someplace where housing is cheaper, as some argue, because cities, where there are the biggest concentrations of homeless people, are also the place where jobs, public transit and other services are concentrated – especially important for people who don’t have cars.

So, it’s pointless to argue whether a tent city or a crowded emergency shelter is the best way for people to live.

Neither should be considered acceptable, and figuring out the best way to finance new low-income housing in the places where it is needed should be the argument we are having.

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Our View: Recent shooting raises red flag
 on preventing violence Fri, 19 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A shooting this week in Jefferson, carried out by a man who wounded his ex-girlfriend before taking his own life, shed light on an aspect of domestic abuse that news coverage rarely considers: the connection between suicide and intimate partner violence-related homicide.

The incident Monday took place around 10 p.m., when Michelle Creamer, 30, was sitting in a car, parked outside a friend’s house, talking on the phone with her 34-year-old ex-boyfriend, Shane Prior.

Creamer got out of the car, police said, only to be forced down the driveway by Prior, who had been hiding on the property. She escaped after being struck in the arm by a shot fired by Prior, who led police on a short car chase before exchanging gunfire with a police officer and then killing himself.

Both from Cushing, they’d recently split up after 16 years together; their two children were on the premises but didn’t see the shooting and weren’t injured.

The circumstances leading up to the incident are under investigation. Police don’t know whether Creamer ever sought a protection order against Prior – or whether he had any criminal history at all. But the fact that Prior killed himself after a dispute that authorities have characterized as an act of domestic violence links the shooting to other high-profile domestic abuse cases in Maine.

In 16 cases that the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel considered for its most recent report, released in June, nine perpetrators threatened suicide, six of whom followed through. These facts accord with the results of multiple studies and analyses that have found a link between a perpetrator’s threats to kill himself and an increased risk to the lives of his loved ones.

Threatening suicide is a coercive tactic, often used to keep a current partner from leaving or to cajole a former partner into a face-to-face meeting. It’s also a way that a perpetrator can keep control without physically abusing his target.

But friends and family members often don’t see these threats for what they are: a declaration that the abuser’s present or past partner is at risk. So when someone in a rocky relationship threatens to harm himself, that’s sufficient grounds for calling 911, according to the homicide review panel.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that while an abuser who threatens suicide may have a mental illness, these conditions do not cause abuse. The illness and the abusive behaviors should be considered separately, and the abusive partner should be held responsible for their actions.

Thankfully, the victim of the Jefferson shooting survived. But there are far too many examples in Maine of domestic violence killings that could have been prevented if more of us took suicide threats seriously.

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Another View: Keeping Klansman in prison ensures justice for girls’ killers Fri, 19 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It will soon be 53 years since a bomb was planted and set off by a hatred-filled group of Klansmen, killing four little black girls preparing to worship inside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

It would be years before justice would come for Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Morris, all 14, and 11-year-old Lisa McNair. Now, the only surviving person convicted in their deaths will remain in prison – where he should stay.

Alabama’s parole board recently did right by refusing to grant a release for Thomas E. Blanton Jr., who was among the Klansmen who put a bomb outside the church. Though for years believed to be a suspect in the case, he was not convicted of the murders until 2001.

The sister of Addie Mae, Sarah Collins Rudolph, who is now 65 and was seriously injured in the bombing, asked the board to ensure that her sister’s killer stayed put. He is in a one-person cell in Springville, Alabama. Two other men convicted in the bombing died in prison.

As heartbreaking as it is to remember what happened that Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, it is equally devastating, and disheartening, that Blanton has neither taken responsibility for the murders nor shown a shred of remorse. The former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blanton agreed that he should not be released. Doug Jones said that letting Blanton out would increase the “insurmountable pain” the children’s families have faced and send the wrong message to anyone with a hate-filled heart.

He’s correct. Healing must always be given advantage. Hate must never be given advantage.

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Our View: Poliquin tries to have it both ways on Trump Thu, 18 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Like many members of Congress, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin doesn’t like to be pinned down.

That is the kind of thing you can do in Washington, where there are many votes on every issue and complicated procedures can obscure the ones that really matter.

But that’s in Washington. Like every other Mainer, Poliquin will be asked to cast just one vote for president in November, and he should not get away with playing both sides on this important question.

Will Poliquin vote for Donald Trump or not? The congressman won’t say.

The question presents itself again because Poliquin is piggybacking on a major part of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. On Tuesday, Poliquin responded to the discovery that a former Freeport resident had become radicalized and joined the so-called Islamic State forces in Syria, where he was killed in combat in January 2015.


Poliquin issued a statement “in light of news regarding a Freeport refugee” that condemned resettlement programs and claimed that President Obama “and his liberal allies are ignoring the rightful concerns of millions of Americans and moving forward with a dangerous Middle East immigration and refugee policy.”

That lines Poliquin up directly with Trump when it comes to taking advantage of Americans’ fears and demonizing people who are trying to escape from murderous regimes during wartime. The Poliquin-Trump position calls for a screening process so strict it would eliminate risk to American communities.

But there is no screening process that would have prevented Adnan Fazeli from entering the country, if you can believe the FBI. According to its investigation, Fazeli self-radicalized in Maine with the aid of jihadi internet sites. The only vetting that would have kept him out of the country would have been the outright ban on all immigration from war-torn countries that Trump proposes, which amounts to an abandonment of America’s historic commitment to humanitarian relief.

Since Poliquin is on the same side as Trump when it comes to immigration, and, according to earlier statements, they agree on trade, it is odd that the Maine Republican will not publicly support his party’s nominee.


Maine Sen. Susan Collins recently made it clear that she won’t vote for Trump because she considers that lack of character and discipline make him unfit for high office. Other Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan have chosen to overlook Trump’s personality flaws because they agree with him on policy.

But where is Poliquin? He won’t say.

It’s easy to see why. Associating with Trump could alienate many independents who might otherwise vote Republican if they weren’t repelled by the presidential nominee. Denouncing Trump risks offending his hard-core supporters, who make up a significant part of the Republican electorate. So he appears to be sending coy signals to Trump supporters while refusing to comment on the record about his support for the candidate.

Neither group of voters should let Poliquin get away with this. There will be only one vote for president, and no one can have it both ways.

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Our View: Beach to Beacon falls short of fulfilling ‘giving back’ mission Wed, 17 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There are a lot of good reasons why TD Beach to Beacon 10K is Maine’s biggest road race – the scenic course, the enthusiastic onlookers, the supportive volunteers and the continuing involvement of Joan Benoit Samuelson, race founder and running icon.

Beach to Beacon’s stated mission, though, is to promote and celebrate “health, fitness and giving back.” And while the event clearly fulfills the first two objectives, the recent news that the race organization gives a negligible percentage of revenue to charity should galvanize organizers into reviewing their financial model and determining whether it’s still working.

Beach to Beacon’s finances were the centerpiece of an Aug. 7 Maine Sunday Telegram analysis by staff writer Steve Craig. He found that while revenue from the race has more than tripled over the past 15 years (from $242,099 in 2000 to $926,967 in 2014), the amount given to charity – $30,000 – has stayed the same.

What’s more, Craig reported, that grant doesn’t come out of race revenue. Instead, it’s provided by the TD Bank Charitable Foundation, an arm of the race’s sponsor. The funds donated by the race organization itself, TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K Inc., come from voluntary fees paid by runners who choose to make a donation when they sign up for the race. In 2014, the race organization gave $5,462 to charity, or 0.59 percent of total revenue.

The same year that Beach to Beacon gave less than 1 percent of proceeds to charity, the nonprofit that organizes Masssachusetts’ New Balance Falmouth Road Race – a bigger event that, like Beach to Beacon, has a sold-out field and draws elite athletes – donated 18.4 percent of revenue to charitable groups. And the Maine Track Club, organizer of the likes of the Maine Marathon, gave 24 percent of its revenue to charity in 2014.

It’s true that Beach to Beacon enables charitable giving that’s not reflected in the race organization’s financial statements. Beach to Beacon chooses a different charitable recipient each year.

Along with the donations from TD Bank Charitable Foundation and Beach to Beacon, the Telegram’s Craig noted, the current beneficiary gets 25 race registration bibs as tools for the organization’s own fundraising and can buy up to 25 more. Past beneficiaries can purchase up to 25 bibs. The groups raised $116,750 in 2011 and $134,300 in 2012, with most coming from the bib-number program.

But this isn’t enough. While competitions like the Falmouth Road Race are showing that they can put on an elite-level event and embrace their charitable aspect at the same time, Beach to Beacon isn’t extending itself for its charity partners.

“It shouldn’t always be about the money. It’s good will,” race director Dave McGillivray told Craig.

This is an excuse, however, for a practice that’s out of line with Beach to Beacon’s own mission – and it shouldn’t be allowed to stand as a mode of operations if the organization wants to maintain its credibility.

]]> 40, 16 Aug 2016 19:21:28 +0000
Another View: Texas is ready to kill a man who didn’t kill anyone Wed, 17 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Even as capital punishment becomes less frequent, killing remains punishable by death in 31 states. In Texas, so is not killing: If the state goes through with the execution of Jeffery Wood, slated for Aug. 24, a man will die for a murder he did not commit and is not accused of committing.

Twenty years ago, Wood made a plan with a friend to steal a safe from a store in Kerr County, Texas. While Daniel Reneau entered the store and shot the clerk, Wood sat outside in a truck. He was never armed. He may not even have known that Reneau, who was put to death in 2002, had a gun.

A provision in the Texas penal code blurs the distinction between killer and accomplice, allowing for someone who did not pull the trigger – or order that the trigger be pulled – to get a murderer’s sentence: execution.

Texas’ policy is as misguided as capital punishment itself is cruel and archaic. But even by Texas’ standards, Wood’s involvement appears to have been limited. He played no part in any underlying felonies, and he had no prior criminal charges. Wood’s lawyers say executing someone with his level of culpability would be unprecedented in the modern era.

Wood, who has an IQ of 80, was twice ruled incompetent in court: once to stand trial, and once – after a state hospital sent him back to court without assessing his ability to aid in his defense – to represent himself as he requested. In the end, the sentencing phase of his trial proceeded with no defense.

Wood’s lawyers have asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott commute his sentence. The board has made that recommendation in two other non-triggerman cases in the past 10 years and is expected to come to its conclusion 48 hours before the scheduled execution. The board should move to let Wood live, and Abbott should defer to that judgment.

]]> 1 Tue, 16 Aug 2016 20:56:56 +0000
Our View: Plan by Maine DHHS to restore Riverview’s federal certification raises serious questions Tue, 16 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The LePage administration’s latest plan to restore federal certification to Riverview Psychiatric Center looks promising, but once again we are seeing only part of the picture.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the Augusta-based state hospital, is planning to build a secure 21-bed facility next to Riverview to house mentally ill patients who have committed crimes and no longer require hospital-level care.

That is likely the best way to regain the federal recertification and funding lost more than two years ago after regulators found significant problems at Riverview. However, the administration has yet to provide key details on how the new facility will be operated.

The 21-bed unit would be privately operated, a DHHS spokeswoman said, but it isn’t clear what criteria the department would use in selecting an operator.

It also isn’t clear who would decide which patients would be moved from Riverview to the new facility and who would be looking after them once they were there.

Finally, it isn’t apparent what level of oversight, and by whom, the facility will be subject to once it is up and running.

Those are the same questions raised by the administration’s plan, brought forward last year, to build a 50-bed privately run facility at a cost of $18 million. That proposal was presented with no further details to the Legislature in the final days of the session, and legislators rightly rejected it.

That led to a proposal to move some patients to the Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Warren, which would have put patients in a correctional setting. It, too, was rightly rejected by legislators, who argued that a separate facility could work, but not at a prison.

Now, we have the latest plan, which has renewed the questions asked of the 50-bed facility.

Answering those questions is vitally important in determining whether the planned facility is the right route for solving the problems at Riverview.

Handing over to a privately operated facility patients whom the state is obligated to treat should not be done lightly, particularly given the problems of other privately run secure facilities, where attempts to cut costs without proper oversight have led to lapses in care.

Unfortunately, the answers may not come. The department plans to build the facility with $3 million to $5 million already within the DHHS budget. As a result, the DHHS does not need legislative approval to move forward with construction, and it seems the administration will use the opportunity to build the facility with only the lightest of public scrutiny.

Neither key legislators nor patient advocates knew about the plan when news broke last week, even though the plan is apparently far along, with the facility on the Augusta Planning Board agenda for next month.

With so many questions still unanswered, it would be a mistake not to include the lawmakers and stakeholders who have been part of the discussion all along.

The administration has viewed any sort of oversight as a impediment to fixing Riverview, when in reality legislators and advocates have rightly rejected past plans as poorly conceived and lacking in detail.

With those previous plans as prologue, legislators and patient advocates have a right to be concerned, and they should be involved as the process moves forward.

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Our View: Poor, not rich, need help with child care expenses Mon, 15 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The cost of child care for low-income Americans is debilitating. For the middle class, it is a significant and escalating strain. For the wealthy, it’s closer to a bother than a burden.

Yet if a proposal by Donald Trump were to be put in place, it’s the latter group that would receive the most help from the federal government.

During his economic policy speech last week in Detroit, the Republican presidential nominee correctly identified the cost of child care as a largely unaddressed problem facing American families. However, as a remedy, he is suggesting that parents be allowed to deduct the full cost of child care from their taxes, a plan that would reap substantial benefits for the upper class while leaving the poor behind.

As it stands now, parents are eligible for a tax credit of up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more. That’s fully refundable, meaning parents can get the credit whether they have an income tax liability or not.

Trump’s plan, as it appears now, is to raise the limit significantly, to the “average cost of child care spending,” but make it a deduction.

That distinction is important. Deductions help only people who have an end-of-the-year income tax liability, meaning that they are of no use to most low-income Americans and many in the middle class, who may have some liability but not enough to benefit from the high ceiling on Trump’s proposal.

Deductions in general favor the wealthy, who end the year with high tax liabilities and generally itemize their taxes, and who are rewarded based on the high marginal tax rates that they pay.

In the case of child care, a deduction would favor those who spend a lot in real terms, not those who spend a lot as a percentage of their incomes, which is where the problem lies.

People in poverty pay over a third of their income on child care, while those just out of poverty pay more than 20 percent of their incomes for child care. In Maine, one of the 10 least affordable states for child care, it costs around 37 percent of the median income for a single mother.

Under Trump’s plan, single mothers and people in poverty and near poverty would see little to no benefit, while the wealthy would receive a much larger tax break than they see now.

That raises a lot of questions about the economic viability of Trump’s plan, especially when considered alongside the mammoth tax cuts he is also proposing for the rich.

But more than that, it is morally wrong.

The skyrocketing price of child care, and its disproportionate impact on the poor and working class, is forcing people out of the workforce and children into suboptimal care arrangements. It is robbing children of care that can help them do better in school, and make them less likely to need special education and more likely to attend college.

To reduce the impact of those high costs, universal pre-kindergarten for children as young as 4, as well as expanded tax credits aimed at the lower and middle class, would do a lot more than what amounts to an expensive handout to wealthy families.

]]> 42, 15 Aug 2016 06:31:12 +0000
Another View: Backers fail to make good case for state-owned bank in Maine Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Re: The Aug. 1 Maine Voices column by Randall Parr and Carmen Lavertu, on the presumed advantages to its state by the Bank of North Dakota:

I have 53 years of banking experience, including about 14 years in senior positions in Maine insured financial institutions. Full disclosure: I have testified before committees of the Maine Legislature against the establishment of a bank owned by the state of Maine. At no time was my testimony “fallacious,” as the column described the statements made by those who spoke against such legislation.

The column’s authors cite the Bank of North Dakota’s annual report as the source for their comments. I have perused the bank’s 2015 annual report and cannot find a citation for the “annual return of 17.1 percent in 2015.” The closest I can get is to compute a return on equity of 17.4 percent, using 2015’s net income and the Dec. 31, 2015, equity amount.

If the 17 percent is a return on equity, it is compared with a recent Maine state treasurer’s report showing an “average annual investment yield (of) 0.72 percent.” Most banking analysts would not attempt to equate a return-on-equity ratio to an annual investment yield ratio. I suggest that the authors are trying to compare apples to eggplants.

Note 13 to the BND annual report says, among other things: “All state funds and funds of all state penal, education and industrial institutions must be deposited in the Bank under state law.” The annual report shows interest-bearing deposits (presumably all state funds) of $5,160,878,000. The year’s deposit interest expense was $12,814,000.

A simple computation shows that BND’s average interest rate paid was less than 0.25 percent. This was over 0.47 percent less than the 0.72 percent average rate that the Maine treasurer earned. With that pool of over $5 billion, Maine’s treasurer would have earned an additional $23.9 million for North Dakota.

Obviously, the authors are proponents of a state bank and anxious for its presumed benefits. They should not delude themselves or the Maine public with fallacious arguments.

]]> 2 Sat, 13 Aug 2016 21:11:47 +0000
Our View: Healthy farms could fuel healthy Maine economy Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Small farms have driven Maine’s agricultural renaissance, as young farmers reclaim land for food production at a rate not seen anywhere else in the country.

As a result, Maine’s economy is poised to benefit greatly from the relatively new emphasis on healthy local food, as long as the state can find a way to harness the power of all those small producers.

That’s the message from two reports released in the last year, and it’s one that needs to be heard. Agriculture, among the oldest of industries, can be new again, and it can help enrich all parts of the state, north and south. But only if it’s given the attention it deserves.


The latest report, from Maine Food Strategy, a broad coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations involved in food production, outlines five goals for capitalizing on all the talent and resources in Maine agriculture.

The report calls for measurable annual increases in global and in-state market share for foods grown and processed in Maine; improved ability for businesses across the supply chain to manage growth and changes in the marketplace; improved wages and benefits for workers; public policies supportive of local agriculture; and a dedication to providing resources to people who are not getting enough food.

To accomplish those goals, the report says, food producers and processors must be more seamlessly connected – all those various small levers and pulleys must be put together in the right way to make a powerful machine.

That means more awareness of the value of local food, better financing and incentives to encourage growth, identification and widespread use of the best business models for Maine, improved workforce development, and the proliferation of cooperatives that allow many small producers to gain the benefits of scale.

The Maine Food Strategy report builds on an analysis last year from the Harvard School for Business and Government, which also called for better coordination among food producers, institutions and public officials.

The state, the Harvard report said, needs a dedicated business accelerator program that can provide networking and coaching to growing businesses, as well as aid in finding investors and developing a business plan. Maine’s various trade groups need to work together, as well, to cut out inefficiencies.


That would help Maine farmers and fishermen, who do well on direct sales to consumers, scale up and reach outside the state to bigger markets, a necessity for the industry to reach its full potential.

Similar programs worked well in Oregon and Vermont, where the Farm to Plate initiative launched in 2009 led to 35 percent growth in food manufacturing jobs, and the addition of 4,189 agricultural jobs.

The ceiling in Maine is even higher. The state has built a reputation for its local, environmentally friendly food industry. The products and innovation coming out of the state – think lobster, craft beer, aquaculture and organic food – show Maine can punch above its weight when it comes to food production, and the rest of New England is looking our way.

The eventual rise of fuel prices and the developing water scarcity in California and the Midwest, among other factors, mean that New England will have to produce more of its own food in the future.

The New England Food Vision imagines a time when the region produces half of its own food – and we should imagine it, too.

Now only 5 percent of land in New England is used for agriculture. To reach the goal – to go from 9 percent local food to 50 percent – another 10 percent of the region’s land would have to be converted to agriculture, and most of the available land is in Maine.

That is a remarkable opportunity to build an industry that could rival paper at its most recent peak, one that would benefit Aroostook and Somerset counties as much as Cumberland and York, and keep local dollars flowing locally, where they do the most good.

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Another View: Clash in Ukraine reflects Putin’s desire to deceive, subvert Sat, 13 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 President Vladimir Putin of Russia is again playing with fire. This time, it may be a summer bluff, or it may be a pretext for the escalation of war with Ukraine. Either way, it reflects Putin’s determination to deceive and subvert whenever it suits his goals, at home and abroad, taking advantage of a distracted United States and Europe.

The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, claimed Wednesday that one of its officers was killed last weekend near the de facto border between Crimea and Ukraine. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014, then backed a violent uprising in Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. The latter continue to simmer with deadly force, but the line between Crimea and Ukraine had been relatively calm.

According to the FSB, the recent infiltrators were armed with bombs and ammunition, intending to destroy infrastructure in Crimea, and a second attempt occurred Monday with support from Ukrainian artillery, killing a Russian soldier. Ukraine responded that it was all “fantasy,” a provocation from Russia.

There is precious little evidence of what really happened, and this conflict has given new meaning to the old adage that in war, truth is the first casualty. But the FSB announcement sounds suspiciously like a gambit by Putin, who swiftly vowed revenge. On Thursday, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, put his troops on combat alert.

We’ve seen this movie before. Putin’s troops stealthily took over predominantly Russian-speaking Crimea with their “little green men,” soldiers without insignia; he has never confessed to Russia’s true role in instigating and executing the Donbass insurrection nor the shoot-down of a Malaysian civilian jetliner. His military campaign in Syria has been carried out with similar disinformation and insouciance. Putin plays by his own rules, even at the 2014 Winter Olympics, his showpiece in Sochi, which the FSB and the Russian state subverted by systematically dispensing performance-enhancing drugs to Russian athletes and then covering it up.

Why spark a new battle, now? The seizure of Crimea was hugely popular at home, and Putin may be hoping for a lift before the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, perhaps distracting Russians from the economic troubles brought on in part by Western sanctions.

Putin may also calculate that – with the United States distracted by a presidential campaign, Europe preoccupied with Brexit and the migration crisis, and the world watching the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio – this might be a window of opportunity to act without fear of a serious response.

After all, Russia repeatedly spurns U.S. requests to cooperate in Syria, and the Obama administration simply responds with more requests. The Donbass region is still riven with violence – 1,200 people have been killed in the past eight months – and the Minsk II cease-fire agreement, never fully implemented, is daily tattered by violations, yet it has all slipped from the headlines.

In 2014, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry urged Putin to take an “off ramp” from a deeper war in Ukraine. But Putin pays no heed to traffic directions. The United States and Europe can ill afford complacency and illusions about Russia.

]]> 0, 12 Aug 2016 20:34:49 +0000
Our View: Maine insurers should do more to help stem tide of opioid addiction Fri, 12 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Misused prescription opioids are a big part of our state’s drug crisis. Four out of five new heroin users come to the drug after abusing painkillers (often shared by or even stolen from a friend or relative). The result: a record number of overdose deaths in Maine last year (most from heroin, prescription painkillers or fentanyl) and tens of thousands of Mainers who want addiction treatment but can’t get it.

Now major Maine insurers are taking laudable steps to shut down the black market in prescription painkillers. But until and unless doctors and patients have access to options other than opioids for managing pain, the health plans’ crackdown won’t lead to lasting change.

Responding to efforts by Maine policymakers and public health advocates to put stringent restrictions on the prescription of opioids, companies such as Aetna, Anthem and Cigna are implementing policies designed to curb overprescribing, such as warning physicians who prescribe high doses of opioids, investigating signs of doctor shopping and setting goals for reducing prescriptions.

This is the smart thing to do, both for the insurers’ bottom line – painkillers, addiction treatment and ER care for overdoses are all expensive – and the public good. And there’s little evidence to back up the benefits of long-term opioid therapy. But the insurers’ tactics to fight prescription abuse won’t reduce the number of people in chronic pain – people who may want to avoid opioid painkillers but are having a hard time finding alternatives.

Although everyone from the Institute of Medicine to the Office of the Army Surgeon General has recommended a model of pain care that doesn’t rely on medication, programs that take this approach are rare, and insurers often balk at paying for their services.

One example is close to home. It’s taken a lot of work to get health plans to cover the program at Mercy Hospital’s Pain Center, which includes exercise therapy, behavioral and cognitive therapy, group sessions and similar pain control techniques, according to the center’s director, Dr. Stephen Hull.

Some services aren’t reimbursed, and Mercy Hospital absorbs the cost so that patients can get the care, Hull said. But in other circumstances, pain patients who don’t want to use opioids have a choice that actually is no choice at all: Suffer or pay up, like the Midwestern mother of three interviewed by the journal Modern Healthcare who opted for physical therapy over Vicodin and wound up spending $40,000 out of pocket.

Reducing the oversupply of prescription painkillers addresses just one facet of the drug crisis in Maine. If insurers want to stem the tide of addiction, they should help make it easier for patients to access alternatives to the medications that are being abused.

]]> 15, 12 Aug 2016 12:36:38 +0000
Another View: Expand education opportunities for nation’s prison inmates Fri, 12 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 This summer, for the first time in 22 years, 12,000 prison inmates can use federal funding to take college courses – a change that could ease their transition to civilian life and reduce the chances they will commit crimes again upon release. A bill in the House and Senate would offer the same opportunity to hundreds of thousands more.

In 1994, Congress banned Pell Grants for prisoners. The rule remains in place, but last year the Obama administration announced a pilot program in partnership with 67 colleges and universities to let some prisoners earn a degree while they serve their sentences. The program launched last month, but allowing all inmates to benefit is up to Congress: Legislation to strike the prisoner prohibition was introduced in the House last year, and a matching proposal was recently brought to the Senate. Both should pass.

Lawmakers made a mistake when they decided that educating prisoners for free would reward bad behavior at the expense of law-abiding students who struggle to pay tuition. Prisoner education encourages good behavior; inmates who make the effort should be encouraged. And the expense is modest: In 1993 and 1994, funding for prisoners took up less than 1 percent of Pell Grants. Congress could reinstate inmate eligibility without depriving students outside of the prison system.

In fact, programs that reduce recidivism save money. Right now, 68 percent of prisoners end up back behind bars within three years of release. Recidivism rates decrease to less than 14 percent when prisoners receive associate degrees and to less than 6 percent when they earn bachelor’s degrees. Every dollar spent on educating prisoners saves $5 in reincarceration costs, a Rand Corp. analysis found.

Inmates leave prison to find a world different from the one they left. Without education, the adjustment is harder and joblessness more likely. As a result, too many prisoners re-enter the outside world only to find themselves serving another sentence after just a few years, and too many other Americans are hurt by their crimes. Congress could – and should – change that.

]]> 0 Thu, 11 Aug 2016 20:00:53 +0000
Our View: Don’t dismiss Trump remarks as ‘just words’ Thu, 11 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Sen. Susan Collins on Monday became perhaps the most prominent Republican to disavow her party’s nominee for president. On Tuesday, Donald Trump showed why others have an obligation to follow her.

Republicans should reject Trump’s brand of politics, not because his comments – which insinuated that Hillary Clinton should be shot – go too far, but because those comments show there is no limit to how far he will go to awaken the worst impulses in the American electorate.

Whether he wins or loses, that bell cannot be unrung. The only right response is widespread condemnation, and a collective agreement that Trump’s way of doing business has no place in the public arena.

Trump’s comments can no longer sanely be brushed off as “just words,” and not just because that argument forgets the power given to the words of someone in such a prominent position.

And they cannot be explained as media overreaction to mere slips of the tongue.

On Tuesday, Trump implied that gun owners should take matters into their own hands if, as president, Hillary Clinton were to try to lessen Second Amendment protections. Only the most blinkered interpretation could see his comments any other way.

It may have been a joke, but it was a joke about assassinating a president of the United States, delivered to a crowd that often shouts, “Kill her!” when Clinton’s name is mentioned.

Trump’s more sane backers can perhaps brush that off as political hyperbole. But they are not his audience.

They are not his audience when he retweets the words of white supremacists. They aren’t his audience when he says the election is “rigged.”

And they aren’t his audience when he disparages a Mexican American judge, calls for “punishment” for women who get abortions, or hints that President Obama was not born in this country, or that Obama sympathizes with terrorists.

His audience is the significant portion of America that feels cheated out of their place in the country and is looking for an explanation, and a catharsis. They haven’t gotten any redress from within the system, so they are looking for some from without, and Trump, through exaggeration and simplification, outright lies and fear-mongering, is giving it to them.

It is entirely possible that Trump thinks of it as some sort of game where getting applause and angry screams is the goal.

But he won’t have to live with the consequences if he loses. The rest of us will be left to deal with a portion of the electorate that has been led to believe that the system is a scam, and that their last, best hope has been swept aside by unjust forces.

Trump may say he is kidding when he touts violence and vitriol as the only response to the country’s problems, but to a sizable portion of his supporters, it is no joke.

That’s why it is so important for political leaders of all stripes – including U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, who has avoided commenting on Trump to the point of absurdity – to stand up for decency.

Trump’s candidacy shows that discontent has been bubbling near the surface for some time, and with every disparaging comment – about women, Muslims, Mexicans or whoever’s next – that anger is drawn out, justified and normalized.

Of course, he keeps those comments just ambiguous enough that he can deny their true meaning. That provides cover to those who keep supporting him out of loyalty to party, or some dream that the conservative policies a Trump presidency would advance are worth having Trump as president.

But after this long, it is clear exactly what he is doing, and we’d be foolish to think otherwise. Forget the presidency – Trump is not fit for the platform of a major-party candidate, and history will speak poorly of those who don’t say so.

]]> 140, 11 Aug 2016 09:21:22 +0000
Another View: Failure to act on abuse reports leaves child athletes in peril Wed, 10 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In Rio de Janeiro, U.S. Olympic gymnasts are going for the gold. But the reputation of the organization that trains them has been deservedly tarnished: An investigation by the Indianapolis Star last week revealed USA Gymnastics has for years ignored allegations of widespread sexual abuse of athletes as young as 10. The report is a sickening testament to a threat that extends far beyond the gymnastics floor.

According to the Star, when USA Gymnastics – the national governing body for gymnastics – is informed of an instance of sexual abuse by anyone other than the abused athlete or her parents, the organization compiles complaint dossiers and files them away in a drawer in Indianapolis. This approach, the Star found, has allowed coaches to molest minors for years, moving from city to city and athlete to athlete, before they finally face punishment.

There is no national civil rights protection for club or Olympic sports, so USA Gymnastics’ obligation to report abuse comes from local laws. All 50 states have statutes that require abuse to be reported, but who is legally responsible for making the report varies. The ethical responsibility to report, however, does not.

It would be well worth looking into practices across the athletic board to ensure that employees are properly trained to report abuse – and that they face consequences when they do not. Releasing the names of coaches once they are banned, as some organizations have done, is not enough.

USA Gymnastics claimed it kept reports quiet for fear of jeopardizing the reputation of its coaches. The reputation of a coach who brags about seeing a 15-year-old girl in her underwear and smugly says he will soon be able to have sex with her does not need looking after. What does need looking after is the safety of countless young women who cannot compete without fearing exploitation and abuse.

]]> 0 Tue, 09 Aug 2016 20:11:33 +0000
Our View: Mental health care access is vital to lowered anxiety Wed, 10 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If your mental picture of northern Maine features rolling hills and peaceful potato farms, chances are you got a big jolt when a recent New York Times analysis found that the small Aroostook County city of Presque Isle is the nation’s “epicenter of anxiety” – in a state whose level of anxiety is the highest in the country.

It turns out that people in isolated areas have good reasons to feel anxious. Compared to residents of more populated areas, however, rural Mainers have a much more difficult time getting treatment for mental health issues – though it doesn’t have to be that way.

The level of anxiety in Maine is 21 percentage points higher than the national average, according to the Times analysis, which looked at the rise in anxiety-related Google searches over the past eight years. The Times determined that the places with the highest search rates have three things in common: lower levels of education, lower median incomes and a greater percentage of the population in rural areas.

Maine is poorer than other states – and the same can be said of those in Presque Isle compared to people in most other parts of Maine. Over 20 percent of Presque Isle residents live in poverty (the state poverty rate is 14 percent), and over 16 percent are unemployed (Maine’s average is 3.7 percent).

It’s a mix that unsettles families and causes a lot of stress, Brent Scobie of Acadia Hospital, a private Bangor psychiatric hospital, told the Press Herald this week. But the same financial instability that causes the need for mental health services is also a significant stumbling block to getting them.

That’s because thousands of Aroostook County residents – like other low-income people all over Maine – don’t have insurance and can’t afford to see a care provider, thanks to the LePage administration’s rush to cut MaineCare rolls and its repeated rejection of proposals to expand Maine-Care eligibility. Lacking coverage, too many people don’t get preventive mental health care, increasing the chance that they’ll end up in the emergency room and in crisis.

There are other roadblocks, of course. As in many small towns and rural areas, the stigma of a mental health diagnosis and the lack of anonymity likely keeps some northern Mainers from seeking assistance. Then there’s the shortage of mental health professionals in the area, though there’s good news here: Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems (which includes Acadia Hospital and a medical center in Presque Isle) is stepping up the use of telemedicine, which lets patients in rural Maine “meet” with doctors over a video link.

Many of the tens of thousands of Mainers who suffer from anxiety and other mental health issues aren’t getting the help they need to get better. The efforts by caregivers and administrators to bridge this access gap will help only incrementally, unless Maine’s legislators do their part, stand up to Gov. LePage and stand behind Medicaid expansion.

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Our View: Payment plans not enough to lower college barrier Tue, 09 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 More people than ever are paying off their college debt in affordable monthly installments, following the expansion of a federal income-based repayment program aimed at lessening the stunting impact of the country’s growing student debt load.

There are indications, however, that the program is reaching the wrong people, providing a slight cushion to those who can most afford to pay while missing those who can’t. It is yet another force making higher education less accessible to low-income Americans, and it is another sign that more needs to be done to cut the cost of a college diploma and make sure that people who start college are able to finish.

Anyone with a federally subsidized direct loan can now cap their monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income, and people are taking advantage. A new report from the White House found that 20 percent of all borrowers enrolled in a payment plan have capped their payments, up from 5 percent in 2012.

However, 64 percent of the people enrolled in the income-based repayment program have a college degree, and one-third have a graduate degree. These folks typically carry the highest debt loads, but thanks to their degrees, they are usually able to fit higher payments within their budgets, particularly as they get older.

That’s because a person with a college degree – from associate to advanced – can expect a high rate of return on their investment in higher education. The debt doesn’t feel good, but it’s not crippling – in fact, in a lot of cases, it’s part of the cost of doing business.

Unfortunately, many Americans get a portion of the debt and none of the return. They are predominantly low-income and often attend school part time in an effort to improve their economic standing. That mindset was prevalent during the Great Recession, when so many people went back to school to acquire new skills.

Instead, when money ran out or family obligations got in the way, many were forced to drop out, leaving them with new bills to pay but no path to a better job. For people who enrolled in a for-profit university, this was a particularly common scenario.

That’s why student debt defaults are concentrated in low-volume loans. Individual debt loads of less than $10,000 account for nearly two-thirds of defaults; 35 percent of defaults are on debts less than $5,000.

That holds true in Maine, where 180,000 to 230,000 residents have attended some college but haven’t earned a degree, and where between 70 percent and 90 percent of residents who have defaulted on loans never finished college, according to a 2014 report.

More often than not, people who take on loans but don’t graduate are stuck with debt and unable to get the right job to pay it off. They need income-based repayment more than anybody, but they are not signing up, perhaps because, after dropping out, they don’t receive repayment information that is provided upon graduation, a weakness that needs to be addressed.

But more than a better payment plan, they need to finish school, or to avoid that debt in the first place. They need to have the right information about which degrees to seek and at which institutions, so they don’t waste money.

And they need the kind of targeted support – financial, academic and familial – that helps low-income Americans go to college, and stay there through graduation.

]]> 21, 08 Aug 2016 23:31:55 +0000
Our View: Maine economy needs more immigrants to grow Mon, 08 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s an unfortunate fact in Maine that even if every native-born son and daughter became a lifelong resident, the state would still not have enough people for its future workforce.

That makes immigration reform so necessary for the future of the country even more so for Maine, one of the oldest states in the nation, and one of only two with more deaths than births from 2011-14.

To grow its economy, Maine absolutely needs more foreign-born workers, and to get them, Maine absolutely needs help from Washington, where unfortunately the immigration debate is mired in a swamp of fear and partisanship.

Even in that morass, foreign-born workers are here in Maine and contributing greatly to the economy, providing a low-scale preview of what the state could look like under a sane immigration system.

According to a report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, Maine immigrants earned $1.3 billion in 2014 and paid $360 million in local, state and federal taxes.

Maine immigrants were 53 percent more likely to hold a graduate degree than other Maine residents, and 4,107 foreign-born residents were self-employed.

Those immigrant-owned businesses generated $61 million in 2014 and employed more than 14,500 Mainers.

Immigrants also made up significant portions of some of the state’s most vital sectors: 40 percent of all computer system analysts, 19 percent of physicians and surgeons, and 10 percent of traveler accommodation workers. They made up around half of all farm workers as well.

Immigration, here and throughout the country, is a net positive, not an out-of-control invasion. The latter view, however stubborn and loudly stated, is nonetheless incorrect.

Immigration from Mexico, for instance, has fallen heavily since 2004 and is now outnumbered by India and China. Illegal immigration is likely at its lowest point in at least two decades, the result of better border security and increased deportations.

The workers who are here, undocumented and otherwise, do vital jobs that prop up industries from food to technology, and they pay taxes, whether or not they are here legally.

That’s why 59 percent of Americans now say immigrants “strengthen the country,” while 33 percent say they are a burden, a reversal from 1994.

Seventy-five percent say undocumented workers should be allowed to stay in the United States if they meet certain requirements.

In a perfect world, policy would follow public sentiment. Congress, however, has refused to act. President Obama, in the face of that inaction, attempted to allow 5 million undocumented workers to live here without fear of deportation, but the effort was blocked in the courts.

The country’s 11 million undocumented workers, so fully entwined with the U.S. economy, need a sensible path to citizenship, just as the visa system needs changes that make it easier for companies to match workers to jobs, and for foreign entrepreneurs to come to the U.S. to start businesses.

Those improvements would ensure that workers are not exploited and jobs are not left unfilled, and they would give Maine a fighting chance against its own demographics.

]]> 152, 07 Aug 2016 18:32:05 +0000
Another View: Maine would do well to invest in renewable energy projects Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Portland Press Herald reported facts, last week, on Maine’s anemic economy and the painful increases in electricity rates coming soon. You might consider an issue titled “Putting the squeeze on budgeting families.” This is my first summer in Maine, from the regressive state of Florida, and I hope to share a profitable notion in appreciation for your wonderful summer.

The increase is being attributed to the need for more gas pipelines and cleaner power plants. Many billions are to be spent on these upgrades, followed yearly by billions for imported fuel. The low cost of gas at present won’t help matters much, as the big cost increase relates to a complicated plan to insure excess power is available at a premium during peak demand. Then after new pipelines are complete, in a few years, rates may decrease.

Relatively little consideration seems to be given to renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, purportedly due to their variable nature. Why haven’t the power companies invested similar billions to plan for a flexible grid for renewables with storage capacities from batteries and a myriad of other storage systems? Who might not benefit from Maine not purchasing fuel from the Marcellus Shale wells? The Solution Project demonstrates how Maine could produce 100 percent of it’s electricity from renewables, about 70 percent from wind. That would mean billions of dollars annually staying in Maine. The same project demonstrates a transition to renewable energy creating 30,000 permanent jobs over a 40-year period.

I’m no economist, but wouldn’t the money that stays in Maine boost income for it’s residents? Florida and the Southeast has yet to incentivize green energy like New England. How can we all not call for a rapid transition to renewables? Good for the economy and good for our planet.

]]> 21 Sat, 06 Aug 2016 17:23:58 +0000
Our View: LePage policy undermines overdose crisis response Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine can’t get out of its own way when trying to deal with the opioid epidemic. After another record year for overdose deaths, the vast majority caused by heroin and prescription pain killers, a request for proposals to run a 10-bed “social” rehab facility in Bangor may attract zero bids, because of the category of the patients it would be required to serve.

By law, 40 percent of the new facility’s patients have to be people who don’t have health insurance. That requirement would make it difficult for the program to balance it’s budget on the income it could get by billing private insurance and Medicaid, known here as MaineCare. Providers have until Aug. 24 to submit proposals, but people in the medical community are concerned that there will be no interest unless the uninsured requirement is lifted.

The requirement may look like a flaw in the law, but it’s not. A major component of the crisis is a lack of treatment options for opioid abusers who don’t have health insurance, and any new facility that excluded that population would be aggravating the problem, not curing it.

It’s no accident that there are a significant number of drug dependent people who don’t have health insurance – it is the direct result of the Le-Page administration’s human services policy – a blind rush to cut the MaineCare rolls without considering the consequences. Not only did the governor veto legislation that would have extended health coverage to 60,000 people, he and allies in the Legislature pushed through cuts that made thousands of childless adults ineligible for coverage.

The people who are now being denied drug treatment – and who in some cases are overdosing and dying – include the “able-bodied adults” the administration was so proud of dropping from the program. That’s not only a problem for those individuals, it hobbles treatment efforts generally. Without the ability to bill MaineCare, the Mercy Recovery Center had to close its doors last year, and the same problem could doom the Bangor detox, denying care not just to uninsured patients, but anyone else who would need its services.

The crisis can be seen as simple matter of supply and demand. The number of people seeking treatment for heroin use alone tripled in five years, going from 1,115 in 2010 to 3,463 in 2014. In 2015, there were about 15,500 people who received treatment for all opioid use, including heroin. The response by the public sector has been nowhere near enough.

This year President Obama signed a $94 million initiative to fight opioid use around the nation, with $1.2 million going to Maine clinics for medication assisted treatment. That might sound like a lot of money, but it’s not by a long-shot.

Before the bill was sent to Obama, the Senate failed to approve a $600 million package, despite the support of Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. During that debate, King told his colleagues that “We can’t solve this problem without money … The old saying in Maine, and I suspect elsewhere, is ‘put your money where your mouth is.’ ”

That same challenge should go to Augusta. Everyone agrees what the problem is and there is substantial agreement over what to do about it. We need law enforcement to disrupt supply chains, education to deter new users and treatment for the people who are addicted. A half century of data shows that medication-assisted treatment has the best rate of success. It costs between $5,000 and $7,000 per patient per year. The math is simple.

We know where trying to solve a public health crisis on the cheap will lead – more addicts in the community, more overdoses, more deaths. It’s time for the administration to get out of the way, and get treatment to the people who need it.

]]> 12, 05 Aug 2016 19:48:01 +0000
Another View: Like Trump, most of us have not sacrificed for our country Sat, 06 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It is appropriate and even necessary to rebuke Donald Trump for his attacks on the Gold Star father and mother whose poignant story became a centerpiece of last week’s Democratic convention. Even prominent Republicans agree that Trump went too far. But it also is important for all of us to take this opportunity to reflect on the larger issue of sacrifice.

Khizr and Ghazala Khan appeared on stage to make the point that they, as Muslim Americans, had made the ultimate sacrifice that any parent can make for his or her country.

Their son, an Army captain, was killed in Iraq in 2004. He ordered his troops to stand back while he approached a suspicious vehicle that exploded and killed him.

Their son’s story of heroism and sacrifice simultaneously exposed and shattered Trump’s hate-mongering toward Muslims, which has included the suggestion that Muslims be banned from entering the U.S.

In a memorable moment, Khizr Khan asked if Trump ever had read the Constitution and offered to lend Trump his copy.

Khan also issued this rebuke: “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Trump’s response has been shockingly inept.

He suggested that Ghazala Khan had stood silently beside her husband because, as a Muslim woman, she was forbidden to speak. In fact, she still is so overcome by grief for her son that she was unable to speak without breaking down.

Regarding sacrifice, Trump said: “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs – tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”

That absurd response stirred social media to rain down scorn on Trump.

An example of the well-deserved mockery, under the hashtag #TrumpSacrifices, was:

“Once survived an entire week at Mar-a-Lago with just one can of hairspray.”

Trump’s hard-core supporters might forgive him for showing no compassion and little understanding of the sacrifice made by the Khans, but elsewhere condemnation was swift and bipartisan. Groups representing Gold Star parents demanded an apology. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam POW Trump once refused to call a hero, said Trump does not have “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

While Trump deservedly twists slowly in the wind, it can be beneficial for all Americans to think about the challenge Khan issued to the Republican nominee. What have you sacrificed? Who have you lost?

Nearly 7,000 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands more have been wounded.

Still, for most of us, the answer will be that we have sacrificed nothing and lost no one.

As individuals, we have been extraordinarily untouched by the American military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Let that sink in.

We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 – after the 9/11 attacks – and have been at war in the region ever since. Yet there has been no draft, no rationing, no special war tax.

It is crucial for those who are untouched by war to appreciate the sacrifices made by the men and women – and their families – who are directly affected by everything from long absences by a parent or spouse to the toll taken by PTSD to the combat death of a loved one.

When we ignore their sacrifices, it is too easy to shrug when the country provides inadequate veterans’ services.

When we ignore the sacrifice it will entail, it is too easy to go to war in the first place.

Of all people, the commander-in-chief must understand and appreciate the sacrifices that war requires.

For evidence that Donald Trump does not, consider his decision to declare a verbal war against Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan.

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Another View: Recent string of legal rulings 
uphold the right to vote Fri, 05 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A federal appeals court decision striking down parts of North Carolina’s election law – including a photo ID requirement – is only one of several recent judicial rulings that have breathed new life into the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution’s protections against abridgment of the right to vote.

But the decision is also notable for its recognition of an important truth: that a law that makes it harder for minorities to vote can constitute intentional racial discrimination even if might be primarily motivated by a desire to achieve partisan advantage.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down several provisions of the North Carolina law enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, including a photo ID requirement, a cutback in early voting options and the abolition of same-day registration. The court found not only that those changes disproportionately made it harder for African-Americans to exercise the franchise but also that the law was enacted with “discriminatory intent” – a more serious indictment.

To a layperson, “discriminatory intent” might suggest that the legislators who enacted the bill had to be driven by conscious racial prejudice.

But it may be that in North Carolina, as in other states that have approved restrictions, the “problem” wasn’t the voters’ race as such but the fact that minorities tend to vote Democratic.

As the court concluded: “Using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose.”

]]> 2 Thu, 04 Aug 2016 20:59:07 +0000
Our View: When Trump slurs Somalis, he insults Portland Fri, 05 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump came to Portland Thursday and attacked innocent people who have never done him any harm. It may not be a new low for his campaign, but that’s just because low blows are the only kind he throws.

Buried in his rambling hour-long address at the Merrill Auditorium, Trump took the time to smear refugees from Somalia, suggesting that they pose a threat to the rest of the community.

“We’ve just seen many, many crimes, getting worse all the time. And as Maine knows – a major destination for Somali refugees,” he said. “They’re coming from among the most dangerous territories or countries anywhere in the world.”

Trump claimed “We have no idea of who they are … this could be the great Trojan horse of all time!”

Mr. Trump can relax. We know who they are. They are our neighbors and our friends. Some of them work in our schools and hospitals. Some are students. Some own businesses. They pay taxes, which are used for, among other things, maintaining the stage from which he spoke.

Among the Portland residents of Somali descent that Trump wants us to fear is Officer Zara Abu of the Portland Police Department. She was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, worked two jobs to get through college, and now protects and serves her community.

Trump tried to suggest that immigrants like Officer Abu are responsible for “many, many crimes,” but he has no evidence to back that up. Every ethnic group includes individuals who break the law, but solid research shows that native-born Americans are more likely to commit crimes than the people who move here from other countries. Trump’s libelous insinuations are just an attempt to boost his standing by dividing the rest of us.

And then he made the even more outrageous claim that this particular subgroup of Portland residents would be a fertile recruiting ground for Islamic terror groups. Is he kidding? He is the best recruiter that the extremists have ever had. His indiscriminate slurs against American Muslims stoke the myth that the West is out to destroy Islam.

There are 67,318 people, more or less, who live in Portland. Some of them were born in America, some in other countries, but all of them belong.

Trump, not the city’s Somali-American community, was the outsider in Portland on Thursday, and he represents the danger of which the people of this community should be very afraid.

]]> 354, 05 Aug 2016 12:48:27 +0000
Our View: LePage’s state workforce cuts must be backed by solid evidence Thu, 04 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 According to a memo from his legislative policy director, Gov. Paul LePage is preparing a budget proposal that would drastically reduce the size of state government. Nothing shocking or nefarious there – just the governor doing what he has long pledged to do.

At some point, that proposal will go to the Legislature, and if the process plays out as it has before during LePage’s tenure, the budget will change greatly before it is passed.

Still, LePage is setting the terms of a debate over the number of employees the state needs, forcing the union that represents state workers to justify the positions included in the budget. The governor, for his part, will continue to make his simple argument – state government is just too big, and the powers-that-be will stop at nothing to protect it.

LePage has advocated for those changes for years – though he hasn’t before included them in a budget. To get them, he’ll have to do better.

We are already getting a preview of the impact of a reduced workforce. State government is operating with more than 1,200 fewer positions than are funded by the Legislature. Some of that is normal, but other positions have been left unfilled for reasons that do not make sense, and there are signs that the understaffing has stressed some agencies.

If the state is already feeling the strain, it is hard to see how departments could absorb the elimination of another 2,300 or so positions, to get to the 9,500 laid out in the memo.

There are indications that the governor himself is not aware of the full impact of such a move. After the memo was made public, LePage defended his plan by saying that it included “all vacant positions that have been vacant for a long time,” a statement contradicted by the memo as well as his own Department of Administration and Financial Services.

It wouldn’t be the first time the governor pursued a political goal while appearing to not fully understand its consequences.

Just recently, at one of his “town hall” meetings, LePage seemed to misunderstand who has lost health care coverage under the MaineCare cuts he championed. And in a radio address arguing against a referendum question that would force the state to pay 55 percent of education costs, he said, “Superintendents decide what the 55 percent will be, and they move the goal posts every year,” even though what is included in the 55 percent is set by law and has very little to do with actions taken by superintendents.

There may be an argument for reducing the size of state government, but LePage hasn’t made it. That puts the burden on him to convince legislators that eliminating 20 percent of the state workforce is the right thing to do, and not just a ploy to pay for income tax cuts of questionable efficacy. It puts the burden on him to show that the positions should be eliminated because they are truly not needed, not because he holds some personal vendetta against their function.

Cutting positions should come only after careful consideration. It shouldn’t be done unilaterally, and it shouldn’t be done just to fulfill some sort of ideological wish.

]]> 28, 03 Aug 2016 22:46:11 +0000
Another View: It happens: Trump is right about poor debate schedule Thu, 04 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Even a broken clock is right twice a day. And so it is that Donald Trump has a point about the schedule proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The commission has scheduled two of the three debates on nights that feature prime-time National Football League games, which are among the most-watched events on television. Those games will compete directly with the debates, likely depressing viewership. Many voters who do not follow politics closely tune in to see the candidates side by side.

By choosing Sunday and Monday nights, the commission has failed to serve the interest of voters who must make one of the world’s most consequential decisions.

The commission set the dates a year ago and now refuses to budge. It claims the schedule cannot be changed because preparations take far too long, television stations have already set their lineups, and fundraising could be affected. Please.

There is nothing sacred about the dates of the debates, and there is still plenty of time to adjust the schedule to avoid a conflict with nationally televised NFL games. The commission is a creation of the two major political parties and has traditionally been more concerned with the parties’ interests than voters’. It ought to acknowledge its blunder and correct it.

]]> 13 Wed, 03 Aug 2016 18:52:58 +0000
Our View: Trump proves he has no place in the Oval Office Wed, 03 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There are plenty of words to describe Donald Trump’s comments over the weekend. Appalling. Hurtful. Tasteless.

But there is one thing they were not: surprising.

By maligning the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq, and belittling their sacrifice, Trump reached a new low. But not by much.

After all, this is a man who mocked a disabled reporter, questioned a judge’s impartiality based on his ethnicity, and said of Sen. John McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

And those are just a few of his ever-expanding collection of vulgar, false and narrow-minded diatribes, with each new one enough to show that he has neither the disposition for the presidency nor a grasp of the office’s incredible weight and responsibility.

Trump is scheduled to make his second appearance in Maine on Thursday, a sign that the state’s electoral votes may be up for grabs, particularly in the 2nd District. Mainers must say no to his hatefully divisive campaign of egomania, casual bigotry, and willful ignorance.

That applies especially to Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Sen. Susan Collins, both of whom continue to offer nothing of substance on the presidential candidate of their own party.

Poliquin has implied that he will vote for Trump – saying that “only one candidate now has been a major job creator” – yet he refuses to even say his name. As the freshman congressman prepares his opinion on who should be the leader of the free world, he should ask himself if Trump’s (questionable) job-creation skills are enough to elect a president who regularly disparages whole sections of the population.

Sen. Susan Collins, who is holding back her endorsement until Trump begins “acting more presidential,” has to ask herself if supporting the party is worth electing someone who thinks nothing of disparaging allies and emboldening rivals.

And surely at this point, a change in Trump’s act should not satisfy Collins. Three months of a slightly lesser Trump wouldn’t change anything.

No, the excuses for Trump are getting thinner by the moment. His dangerous conduct and factious slurs can no longer be dismissed as the performance of a TV star or the missteps of a political newcomer. They are part of his character. They are who he is.

And his personality flaws cannot be brushed off as inconsequential. As a candidate, he has proven himself to be astonishingly shallow, dangerously divisive and utterly incurious. As a president, when dealing in the volatile and complex world of diplomacy, or when trying to calm or heal the country in times of crisis, that erratic and unseemly behavior would be disastrous.

We have questions about Hillary Clinton, and understand voters’ suspicions about her honesty and judgment. But she is objectively qualified to be president, and there is no doubt she respects the office, and understands its magnitude.

By almost any measure Trump is unfit for the presidency. He is, in the worst way possible, unlike any one other modern presidential candidate. It is stunning that his candidacy has come this far, and it should go no further.

]]> 172, 03 Aug 2016 10:09:21 +0000
Our View: All U.S. citizens should have the right to vote Tue, 02 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There will not be a national election this fall – not really. Instead, we will have 50 state elections where officials in more than 3,000 counties administer a patchwork of different rules and ballots.

And if applying those rules keeps citizens from casting their votes, they will have very little recourse with the federal government. That’s because there is no constitutional right to vote.

That comes as a surprise to most Americans, but a careful look at the Constitution reveals that it is the states that are charged with selecting electors for the Electoral College, and there is no direction on how those selections are made. It’s a matter of states’ rights, not citizens’ rights and states for the most part get to decide what’s fair. Amendments prohibit people being denied the ability to vote based on their race (the 15th), sex (20th) and age (28th) but there is no established right to vote for all citizens that can be protected by federal oversight.

It’s time to pass a constitutional amendment that would establish such a right, to protect individuals and ensure the integrity of our elections.

A bill to start the process is now before Congress. House Joint Resolution 25, sponsored by Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., would do two things: Establish a fundamental right for every citizen who is of age to participate in every election in the jurisdiction that they live, and give Congress the authority to pass legislation that would enforce that right.

Local control is good for some things, but not for elections. Every year we hear about some jurisdiction where voters wait in outrageous lines, find their names purged from lists or are otherwise prevented from casting a ballot.

There are discrepancies among the states. Some states require voters to have a photo ID before they can vote. Some states require registration months in advance. Some states allow early voting with mail-in ballots.

Felons can be banned from voting for life in 10 states; while on probation or parole in 24 states; and while incarcerated in 14 others. In Maine and Vermont there are no restrictions at all and felons can vote even while they are still in prison. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson called it “a separate but unequal system” in a July 28 letter to the editor published in The New York Times.

In the landmark case Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election, the majority found that “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College.”

It’s time that individual citizen acquired that right.

We urge Maine’s congressional delegation to move this amendment forward and send it back to the states for ratification.

]]> 22, 01 Aug 2016 23:42:33 +0000
Another view: Democrats no longer see gun control as third rail Tue, 02 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 President Barack Obama’s appearance at the Democratic National Convention was preceded by almost 10 minutes of introductory video. Such gauzy tributes have become standard fare at political conventions. But what was unusual about Wednesday night’s footage is that it didn’t just dwell on Obama’s accomplishments but also spotlighted a singular failure of his time in office: the inability to get Congress to enact gun control. Remarkably, gun control has emerged as a central element of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – and it is clear from the careful way the convention choreographed the issue that Democrats think it will help them win in November. The attention paid to gun violence and the need for gun restrictions over the four days in Philadelphia represents a sharp departure for Democrats and, of course, a contrast with the rigid Republican embrace of unconditional gun rights.

Fearful of the clout of the National Rifle Association – particularly after the party lost the House in 1994 after pushing through a ban on assault rifles – many Democrats viewed gun control as a third rail of electoral politics, something to be avoided at all costs. A ban on assault weapons was one of the common-sense reforms Obama sought unsuccessfully in the wake of the slaughter of elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. “That’s the closest I came to feeling disgusted,” Obama said in the video.

We hope voters will agree with him and his party that such inaction is no longer tolerable.

]]> 7 Mon, 01 Aug 2016 19:14:44 +0000
Our View: Shootings by police may be justified but not necessary Mon, 01 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Against a backdrop of nationwide angst and intense scrutiny over the use of deadly force by law enforcement, Skowhegan police Chief Don Bolduc praised his officers last week for safely ending an incident when more fatal means would have been “clearly justified.”

Certainly, the incident, in which a man threatened family members and challenged officers to shoot him, could have ended badly, and because the man had a knife, a shooting likely would have passed legal muster.

But holding police-involved shootings to the legal standard has never been the problem, particularly in Maine, where every police shooting dating back at least three decades has been found to meet the legal definition of the justified use of deadly force.

The problem is when mistakes or misunderstandings by police escalate a situation to the point that deadly force is required – legally justified, perhaps, but wholly unnecessary. That’s where change is needed.


When someone is mentally ill, suicidal or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or some combination of the three, they can seem threatening or uncooperative when they have no ill intentions. Trained officers can recognize the difference, and adjust their approach accordingly.

Race can also be a factor in escalation, and training and a strong departmental culture of tolerance can help counter ingrained bias.

There are also matters of police policy that can unnecessarily escalate situations, such as using disproportionate force, issuing contradictory commands or employing SWAT tactics to serve petty warrants.

De-escalation training, particularly in dealing with the mentally ill, is being used more and more in Maine, though there are still many departments and individual officers who lack the right kind of expertise.


Transparency is also on the upswing, though it has little to do with changes in policy. Smartphones are now routinely giving the public another view of police shootings.

Previously, the officers’ side was the only point of view that made it into the public record. Not only does an officer have an incentive to tell the story in a certain way, but moments of extreme stress can alter time and perception in a way that makes a person’s account of a shooting problematic. Officers frequently get wrong key details, such as the amount of time that elapsed during an incident or how many shots were fired.

And until The Washington Post began its exhaustive reporting on police shootings, there was no central point of information on the matter, and where there was information, it came only from police reports.

The collection and contextualization of information related to police shootings needs to improve, so it can be better understood how unnecessary shootings happen, and how they can be prevented.

The point here isn’t to punish good officers. We shouldn’t rush to judge officers who must make snap judgments in life-or-death situations, often based on incomplete information.

And it should be noted that on a daily basis, officers enter dangerous settings and defuse them – just as they did in Skowhegan last week – without the public’s ever knowing.

Still, a police officer taking a life in a justified shooting is among the most consequential state-sponsored acts, and when it happens, we should be sure that it is necessary.

]]> 15, 30 Jul 2016 20:34:29 +0000
Our View: Pipeline politics should remember power users Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 They say politics makes strange bedfellows. When you see who is lined up against projects that aim to lower the cost of electricity in New England, you can see what they mean.

In Massachusetts, environmentalists are trying to stop a natural gas pipeline project, arguing that the resources would be better used to promote efficiency and renewable resources.

Down in Washington, the environmentalists’ usual enemy, power-generating companies, are fighting on the same side, arguing to federal authorities that the states should not help bring cheaper natural gas into the region because it would “artificially suppress prices.”

But just because they agree (on this one point) doesn’t make them right. The Maine economy has suffered when it competes with states that enjoy low energy costs, and industries that had supplied good jobs to many rural communities have been hurt. Maintaining uncompetitive energy prices – whether the goal is to improve the environment or to improve the corporate bottom line – is a lot to ask from people who need these jobs to get by.

While there is a worldwide glut in natural gas, none of it comes out of the ground in New England, even though the region generates about half of its power in gas-fired plants. Looking ahead, the reliance will grow even greater as older nuclear and oil-fired plants are decommissioned.

During the summer, there is enough gas coming into the region to keep the gas plants running. But in the winter, when home heating gets priority, power generators buy gas on the spot market, and prices can spike.

When that happens, all the generators get more for the power they produce, which makes it worthwhile to fire up an oil-powered plant, like Yarmouth’s Wyman Station. But while the companies make more, customers pay more. Industrial users who pay a variable price for power get hit right away, while residential customers feel the pinch over time.

Environmentalists argue that while gas is cleaner than coal or oil, it is not clean enough. Rather than flood the market with cheaper gas, which would likely bring new gas generators online, they argue that it would be better to move more decisively to “locally made” power like solar and wind, while investing more in efficiency.

We support those efforts. Overreliance on a single energy source, even though that source is in ample supply now, makes us vulnerable. And as technology brings the price of renewables down, they will play a valuable role in the energy mix. Efficiency is not only good for the environment – investing in ways to use less power also costs less than the cheapest power on the market.

But Maine and New England rely on power generated by natural gas, and will for some time to come. It makes sense to do what we can to avoid seasonal shortages that drive up prices.

The new pipeline, as first envisioned, may never materialize even with public help. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will soon rule on the project backed by Maine regulators, Access Northeast, and could knock it down.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission’s approval comes with the condition that Maine won’t participate unless four other states in the region also agree to take part.

But even though high electricity prices might temporarily put environmentalists and polluters on the same side, they are not good for most Mainers. Efforts to increase the gas supply in New England makes sense for Maine.

]]> 22, 30 Jul 2016 17:23:24 +0000
Another View: Harmon column didn’t consider all benefits of quality education Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In a recent column (“Raising taxes without genuine reforms actually harms education,” July 8), M.D. Harmon argued against the Stand Up for Students referendum question on this November’s ballot.

He suggested that highly paid people, such as doctors, would choose to move to New Hampshire, Florida or Texas because those states do not have income taxes. There are several problems with this argument.

Such people already have an incentive to move, yet they have chosen to live here and remain here, despite Maine’s income tax. Those of us who choose to reside here understand that living in Maine provides many benefits that are not reducible to financial rewards.

One such benefit is the solid education Maine provides to its children. A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Maine 15th in public K-12 education quality. Florida ranked 30th and Texas 32nd.

A highly paid professional might realize that moving to such a state could decrease one’s tax liability but require spending more money on private education.

Since these professionals are likely to have benefited from excellent educations and to value one for their children and their neighbor’s children, they might choose to stay in Maine and to support the referendum, which will raise their taxes by $30 for every $1,000 they make in excess of $200,000.

The money raised by passing the Stand Up for Students referendum will allow us to invest in our public schools, which will attract such professionals and help us to turn more of our own citizens into people who help to generate wealth and contribute significantly to Maine’s future prosperity.

]]> 5 Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:43:04 +0000
Another View: Dropped charges shouldn’t be the end of Freddie Gray case Sat, 30 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Unable to secure a single conviction in the previous trials of Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all charges against the remaining three officers. Prosecutors were right to accept the inevitable; the judge presiding over the cases had made clear he found the evidence presented by the state to be insufficient to secure a criminal conviction. That, though, does not mean that police were not culpable. Simply put, a man died who should not have. That should cause some soul-searching about whether other remedies are needed to make police accountable so that in the future such needless deaths can be prevented.

“We do not believe Freddie Gray killed himself,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said at a news conference discussing what she called the “agonizing” decision not to proceed with charges against three officers who were awaiting trial in the April 2015 death of Gray. The 25-year-old black man died from a severe neck injury he suffered after police placed him, his wrists and legs shackled, in a van without being secured with a seat belt. His death, ruled a homicide, sparked protests and riots in the city.

Mosby moved quickly in bringing charges against six police officers, a decision that has brought her both praise and criticism. Some changes have already resulted from the Gray case. Vans have been equipped with cameras and officers with body cameras.

The Justice Department is conducting a policy and practices review of Baltimore police. We hope that will lead to more reforms.

]]> 0 Fri, 29 Jul 2016 21:04:57 +0000
Our View: Sanders’ campaign changed our politics Sat, 30 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The biggest winner of the presidential primary process may be someone who lost.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders left Philadelphia this week as the leader of a progressive movement that is tentatively allied with the Democratic Party, which needs him more than he needs it.

Sanders’ campaign priorities are the basis for the party platform, and his focus on economic justice, through a $15 minimum wage, debt-free college and aggressive Wall Street regulations, are now at the heart of nominee Hillary Clinton’s policy agenda.

Sanders could have a big role in the fall campaign, both as a surrogate for Clinton, and as a star attraction in Senate and House campaign events. If he can get young voters to turn out and vote for others the way they turned out and voted for him, his influence in Washington will be substantial. But even if that doesn’t happen, Sanders’ has already changed our politics.

First, he revealed that millions of Americans are ready for progressive change, something that might have gone unnoticed if he had not gotten into the race. Sanders’ unapologetic commitment to New Deal liberalism shows the way for more-cautious politicians who might now try to pursue his ideas.

And he has exploded the myth that refusing to use corporate money through super PACs amounts to unilateral disarmament. Sanders was able to go toe-to-toe with Clinton through state-of-the-art crowdfunding, raising $227 million, mostly in small donations. It’s no longer plausible when a candidate says “I had to take the money.” Proving that this kind of fundraising can work at the highest level could affect who will try to run and how they will campaign for every office, not just the president.

And he has built a political organization that could survive this campaign, advocating policy ideas and recruiting candidates that could have an effect throughout the system.

If not for the strange rise of Donald Trump, Sanders would be seen as the political phenomenon of the year. We saw it in Maine. Last summer he came to Portland and packed the Cross Insurance Arena, delivering his no-frills stump speech, free of biographical anecdotes and “humanizing” touches to an enthusiastic crowd. They turned out again in March, giving him an overwhelming victory in the Democratic caucus.

The Republican primary process left its losers beaten and diminished. But Sanders comes out of the process more formidable than he was when he came in, a little-known, elderly, former socialist from a small state. Sanders and the ideas he championed are going to play a role in this election and beyond, which makes him and his supporters winners.

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Our View: Alternative sentencing can pay off for Maine offenders, taxpayers Fri, 29 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Criminal offenders don’t get much benefit from spending time behind bars, and neither does the community. This is the philosophy behind programs that allow Mainers convicted of nonviolent crimes to do their time outside of Maine’s jails. The latest such effort has just been launched in Somerset County, and although there are challenges to getting it off the ground, there are also advantages for both inmates and the community.

More than half of Maine’s county jails offer alternative sentencing programs, which allow inmates to work outside the jail during the day and receive substance abuse and mental health-related education in the evening. The programs’ focus reflects the fact that many of the participants have been convicted of operating under the influence (although some counties also allow participation by those with misdemeanor and other nonviolent convictions).

Starting a program isn’t easy, Teresa Brown, Somerset County community corrections program supervisor, recently told the Morning Sentinel. State corrections officials must approve the community service site in advance (the inmates Brown supervised painted walls at Madison Junior High School). The prospect of having inmates working in the community is daunting to some members of the public, too.

But the benefits of the program are also obvious. Taxpayers save the $90-a-day cost of housing inmates at the jail. Inmates give back to the community by doing work at public facilities. And the educational component of the program offers participants a chance to learn from experts and from one another.

Alternative sentencing isn’t an option for every nonviolent offender in Maine. That’s because the counties that offer these programs charge participants a fee to take part.

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, told the Sentinel that the fact “the person is paying for their incarceration rather than having taxpayers pay for it” is part of “the beauty of this program.” But the fee also means that the programs aren’t going to reach all of the people who could benefit from them – and that some of those people might wind up in one of Maine’s notoriously overcrowded county jails.

That said, effective policymakers are those who don’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Most of the people in our nation’s prisons and jails are there for nonviolent offenses, and Somerset County is wise to move ahead with an initiative that deals with these offenders in an innovative way – but the program should have room for everyone.

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Another View: Trump’s cozying up to Putin deserves Republican outcry Fri, 29 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The defining features of Donald Trump’s foreign policy agenda thus far have been obliviousness and instability. Either is disqualifying in a potential commander in chief. Encouraging Russian espionage and interference in a U.S. presidential election, however, represents a depressing new low.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a news conference Wednesday, referring to emails sent and received by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Some Republicans with deep foreign policy experience have already abandoned Trump because of his erratic ways. Whatever’s left of the Republican foreign policy establishment needs to make it clear that Trump’s flirtation with Russia – especially President Vladimir Putin’s strongman ways – has gone too far.

Politics is a tough business. No one, least of all Trump, should give Clinton a pass for her poor judgment in using a private email system while she was the nation’s chief diplomat. Her actions are the subject of legitimate debate and deserving of criticism.

But inviting Russia to participate in that debate – and to influence it through treachery – is well beyond the pale. If there is no outcry about Trump’s behavior from responsible Republicans, the party will be setting a dangerous precedent that its members, not to mention the country, will come to regret.

]]> 36 Thu, 28 Jul 2016 21:34:09 +0000
Another View: Putin’s repressive governance weakens Russia’s economy Thu, 28 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 While Americans argue about the extent of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin is battling both a recession and growing popular dissatisfaction at home.

It’s no surprise that Russia’s economy is struggling. The Putin regime’s grasp on power depends too much on subverting the rule of law to enrich allies and punish opponents – an approach that has undermined a long list of businesses, from Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil company to, earlier this year, the RBC media group, which had the temerity to investigate Putin’s friends and family.

So companies are sitting on cash, investment is down and local producers have failed to expand despite the help of a ruble devaluation and a ban on many Western imports. Economic growth is expected to stay below 2 percent for years to come, far short of the 5 percent-plus pace seen in the 2000s.

To generate ideas, Putin has created a council of economists who agree on one thing: Russia cannot prosper without reforms aimed at strengthening property rights and easing the bureaucratic burdens on business. This would require, for example, creating a truly independent judiciary and sharply reducing the number of entities that have the power to inspect and fine.

But reforming the economy requires fixing the political system as well. If Russia is to have an impartial justice system, then the Kremlin elite can’t trump up charges against perceived enemies or take assets away from supporters of the opposition. And if the opposition can’t so easily be silenced, Putin may have to submit to more competitive elections.

It’s extremely hard to imagine that Putin would consider such a change. Yet if he wants to address an economic malaise that could ultimately threaten to topple him, that is precisely what he must do.

]]> 5 Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:47:54 +0000
Our View: Maine needs immunity law to help stem overdose deaths Thu, 28 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Two men revived from drug overdoses by Westbrook police this week are alive because bystanders were there to call 911. Friends of the victims had failed to seek help.

That says a lot about the dissolution caused by drug addiction, as well as the state of mind and personal ethics of the so-called friends. But it is also a reminder that Maine law puts the punishment of petty drug possession ahead of the lives of those suffering from addiction.

Maine is the only state in New England, and one of only two on the East Coast, that does not offer some sort of immunity for people who seek medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose, making it less likely that emergency personnel will arrive in time to administer lifesaving aid.

With overdoses at a record high, and law enforcement embracing a more humane approach to addiction, that makes no sense.

The Legislature tried to correct that wrong last year, passing a bill that would have provided an affirmative defense to prosecution for drug possession – and only possession – for people who call for help during an overdose, meaning that, once charged and in court, the person could use in their defense the fact they were arrested because they came to someone’s aid.

It wasn’t much, but it was something. However, Gov. LePage vetoed the bill, arguing that an arrest, and a sentence to drug court, is the best path to sobriety.

More often, though, an arrest is never made. As Westbrook police Chief Janine Roberts pointed out this week, police don’t always make an arrest in the event of an overdose, or at least they don’t make it a priority.

In any case, without an immunity law, it is more likely that the call never happens, and a person’s life is left to chance. That the police may not arrest the caller is just not enough assurance.

That is backed by a study in Washington state, which has an overdose immunity law. It found that when immunity laws are in place and people know about them, the vast majority of drug users will call for help during an overdose.

However, when laws are not in place, or when they are and drug users are not aware, emergency personnel will not be called, and people will die unnecessarily.

That makes it imperative that Maine pass a law that grants narrow immunity in such cases, and lays out a plan for making it known that drug users who call for help will not be arrested.

That would be in line with other law enforcement strategies being adopted in Maine and elsewhere as the drug crisis continues to grow.

Recognizing that drug possession is often just a symptom of addiction, police departments are now opening their doors to help, without judgment or prosecution. Why should this be any different?

After all, overdose immunity laws are not for the person witnessing the overdose – they’re for the person on the ground, taking shorter and shorter breaths.

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Another View: Selecting U.N. leader should be open, transparent process Wed, 27 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The 15 members of the United Nations Security Council took their first straw poll last week to pick the U.N.’s new secretary-general. But they won’t tell the world the results, much less how any of them voted.

That’s one of many ways in which the U.N. needs to improve the way it selects its leader. The process has been basically unchanged for 70 years. With the blessing of its five permanent members, the Security Council presents one candidate to the General Assembly, which approves him (and so far they have all been men).

The U.N. now has to deal with crises that require cooperation among a much wider range of actors – not just states, but also global corporations, philanthropists and networked activists. The U.N.’s future legitimacy and effectiveness depend on giving these new players more of a voice.

The required changes to the U.N.’s rules wouldn’t necessarily trespass on the prerogatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council (the U.S., China, Russia, the U.K. and France). And let’s be realistic: Without the disproportionate influence granted to them by their veto power, the P-5 inevitably would have let the U.N. go the way of the League of Nations.

But nothing prevents the U.N. from releasing straw poll results (more will follow) without identifying how individual countries voted.

Even better would be for the General Assembly to request, and the Security Council to present, a choice of candidates – something that U.N. “elders” have proposed. Of the 12 candidates in the running, including several former prime and foreign ministers, eight have high-level U.N. experience, eight are from Eastern Europe and six are women.

Finding the ideal blend of diplomat, politician, manager and moral champion is not easy. Making the process more open can only help.

]]> 0 Tue, 26 Jul 2016 20:25:42 +0000
Our View: Unlike its neighbors, Maine lacks plan as water shortage deepens Wed, 27 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Although this summer’s consistently dry, sunny weather has been great for outdoor recreation, the lack of rain has a significant downside for the health of the public water supply. Officials in states around the region have been speaking out about the risks of the water shortage and the need to rein in water use. Given the potential economic and environmental impact of the expanding drought, Maine should do the same.

Throughout the northeastern U.S., states are feeling the impact of a second year of below-average rainfall, compounded by a mild winter and little snow. In the hardest-hit areas – southern Maine, southern New Hampshire, western New York and Massachusetts – conditions are dryer than they’ve been in the past decade. (A lot of snow fell in the winter of 2014-15, but it wasn’t very moist.) As a result, the risk of wildfires is up, and lawns and crops, including blueberries and corn, are languishing.

Because of the ongoing lack of precipitation, a drought watch has been issued for northern New Jersey, much of Massachusetts and all of New York state. Following the state declaration, over 120 Massachusetts communities have put water usage restrictions in place. So have at least 70 municipalities and public water providers in New Hampshire.

This is the kind of response that Maine needs to launch for our state to weather the water shortage. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over 611,000 people live in the Maine counties most affected by the drought, including Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, York and Sagadahoc.

But our state hasn’t taken the collaborative approach needed to tackle such a big problem. New Hampshire, for example, is prepared to call together public and private stakeholders to make recommendations based on the state’s drought management plan if there’s no relief soon. And Massachusetts’ Drought Management Task Force has already been meeting; they’re the ones who declared the drought watch there.

Maine had a Governor’s Drought Task Force in place during the state’s last drought, in 2001 and 2002, including representatives of federal, state and private-sector agencies that deal with water issues. Convened in August 2001, the task force met regularly throughout the following winter and spring and issued reports during and after the crisis. But the only evidence of the group now is a link to a page of water-saving tips on the Maine Emergency Management Agency website.

The dry, hot weather that has caused the Northeastern water shortage isn’t going away anytime soon, forecasters say. It’s past time for Maine officials to recognize this reality and step in to help keep the drought’s effects from getting any worse.

]]> 33, 27 Jul 2016 07:10:13 +0000
Our View: Over-65 insurance tiff highlights other issues Tue, 26 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Progressive Corp.’s interest in raising insurance rates for Maine drivers after their 65th birthday is attracting justified criticism from senior citizens and their advocates, including the AARP. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, chairwoman of the Senate special committee on aging, wrote her own strongly worded letter, asking the company to justify its request.

The critics are right: The company should not be able to squeeze more money from Maine seniors, including many who are on low, fixed incomes and need their cars to maintain their independence.

But the insurance company has raised a valid point: As people age, driving becomes more difficult and less safe. Unfortunately, development patterns in Maine make driving a necessity in most communities.

Seniors should be protected from an unfair hike in their expenses, but the discussion should not stop there. Maine badly needs new senior housing built in walkable communities served by public transportation so that seniors will not have to choose between safety and independent living.

Most new residential development over the last half-century has been designed to accommodate automobiles. Cars let people live farther from work, schools and other services. Single-family homes with ample parking on low-traffic roads were highly valued.

But if you can’t safely get behind a steering wheel or you would just prefer not driving at all, suburban development is a great impediment. Destinations are too far apart to walk to, and public transit is impractical.

That’s why there is such demand for housing in urban neighborhoods that had been abandoned decades ago. Portland is seeing a housing shortage based in part by “empty nesters,” older couples who are trading a big house in the suburbs for an in-town apartment. This influx has stimulated growth in restaurants, shops and other small businesses to serve people who would prefer not to drive every time they want to fill a prescription or pick up a quart of milk.

Some changes to public policy are required to make this kind of living available to people of more modest means.

The AARP has been advocating for livable communities, where senior housing is mixed into historic downtowns, giving people transportation options beside driving. That thinking was incorporated in the $15 million senior housing bond, which was passed overwhelmingly by Maine voters last year.

Unfortunately, that money is sitting in Augusta, because Gov. LePage refuses to issue the bonds. That means that Maine seniors will not be able to move into a more appropriate kind of housing, which may force some of them to keep driving, even after it is no longer safe for them.

Progressive should not be able to arbitrarily boost the insurance premiums of customers just because they turn 65, but the company should get credit for raising an important issue. Car-centered development creates serious problems for Mainers as they age. Policymakers should do more than just fight to keep their insurance rates from rising.

]]> 33, 25 Jul 2016 19:16:30 +0000
Another View: Affordable tech schools a better choice than debt-laden college Tue, 26 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ appeal among younger voters has hinged in no small way on his pledge to make four-year colleges tuition free.

Many Bernie supporters have echoed their candidate’s call for the nation’s so-called 1 percent to pick up the tab, while sharing their tales of being saddled with ridiculous student debt. But let’s not forget: These underwater college graduates chose their fate. They could have attended a technical school, such as Blackhawk Technical College, and greatly reduced their debt load, if not completely avoided it.

Whether pursuing an associate degree or taking credits with the intention of later transferring to a four-year school, technical colleges offer terrific value in many respects compared to their four-year counterparts.

If some of these students had pursued technical college, they might not be in such dire straits and potentially on more stable career paths.

But despite the clear financial advantages offered by technical schools, enrollment at many of these institutions has been declining for several years. The Sanders campaign highlighted how debt is hurting college graduates, and we don’t fault these graduates for feeling angry. But we need more discussions about sensible, lower-cost alternatives.

]]> 4 Mon, 25 Jul 2016 19:12:30 +0000
Our View: Gun debate should focus on everyday violence Mon, 25 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The aftermath of each high-profile shooting plays out the same. One side says it’s the result of a culture engorged and enamored with guns, while the other blames, well, almost anything else – terrorism, mental illness, race, poverty, a weak and divisive president. Predictably, nothing changes.

Because of how wrapped up it is in personal and political identity, the cause and effect of gun violence is parsed like no other issue, and it is paralyzing. Most people understand it is a complex interplay of factors that gives the United States an almost unprecedented number of firearm deaths each year, yet when a high-profile shooting hijacks the country’s attention, people almost instantly, reflexively run to one side or the other.

Few other issues are like this. After the number of car crash deaths peaked in the late 1960s, a series of measures were put in place to make it safer to be on the road. Yet when a safety belt fails to save a life in a single accident, we don’t say the laws are useless. When a person is ejected from a vehicle, we don’t say, “See, what good are airbags?”

Each shooting, however, becomes a referendum on a specific factor related to gun violence.

If the killer in a mass shooting pledges allegiance to the Islamic State, the sole problem must be terrorism, never mind any other personal problems and prejudices exhibited by the shooter, or the ease in which they acquired firearms meant to kill multiple targets.

If the weapon of choice among mass killers is an assault rifle, then the problem must be the proliferation of military-style firearms, nevermind that the vast majority of firearm-related homicides involve handguns.

The reason this happens has almost nothing to do with mass shootings themselves.

Proponents of gun control, justifiably upset at the daily toll of gun violence in the U.S., want to capitalize on the outsized attention that mass shootings receive, and leverage it into action. However, when gun laws are only part of the equation, opponents are happy to point that out, and use it to obstruct even the most sensible of measures.

And besides the deadly use of guns, the mass shootings that grab headlines have little in common with the unremarkable everyday violence that constitutes most deaths by firearm.

The very real need for sensible gun control, and for a public health approach to gun safety, does not hinge on shootings like those in Orlando and San Bernandino.

Instead, action should come in response to the daily killings in places like Chicago and Baltimore, or to the abused women killed disproportionately by guns, or to the children who are victims of so many accidental shootings.

Stopping the rare madman is one thing. Ending systemic, entrenched violence is quite another. The debate should reflect that.

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