As a faculty member who teaches at the Maine State Prison, I was warmed and touched by the graduation ceremony Nov. 4.

Fourteen men graduated with college degrees, thanks to the generosity of Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation. Commencement is the culmination of years of academic work, and academics at the prison is challenged by life behind razor wire, life in an environment often wracked by violence.

I know how hard incarcerated students work, to find space to think, to concentrate on reading, to order library books, get computer time to write papers. They are some of the most dedicated and diligent students I have known.

For all this, from a personal level (not necessarily representative of the University of Maine at Augusta), I was disappointed that the Press Herald coverage reported little on the achievements, and instead on the crimes committed by two profiled students (“Maine prison inmates receive UMA degrees,” Nov. 5).

My sympathies go out to the victims and families of the victims affected by the crimes these men committed. Their punishment is incarceration, sentences determined by a judge.

Now these men are trying to change. With knowledge, they will be productive brothers, sons, partners and parents. They will contribute to society within prison, and beyond when released.

Rather than focus on the commencement speaker, Dr. T. Richard Snyder, the students’ heartfelt remarks, the joy of the families and pride of faculty members, the generosity of Doris Buffett, this reporter decided to report on the past. Instead of reporting on the gold cords showing students’ honors status, the reporter printed information available to anyone who can type “Google” and two names. Is this journalism?

Readers deserve more. To read about crime and punishment, just turn the page. To read about rehabilitation, redemption and hope, that’s another story. Maybe one day, some journalist will cover it.

Ellen Taylor


Nuclear pact with Iran nothing to cheer about

Sept. 30, 1938: The Munich Pact. Aug. 23, 1939: The Hitler-Stalin Pact. And now Nov. 24, 2013: An “agreement with Iran.”

I recently watched the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg”; a chill went through me because no one was able to stand up and say “no” to fascism. There are troubling similarities in history to the recent agreement with Iran.

Governments enter into agreements hoping to slow the tide of threat and aggression. Citizens claim no knowledge of events or responsibility for poor outcomes. History clearly shows that most of these agreements are at best a naive process to claim political cover and do nothing to eliminate a threat or dissuade aggression. Remember the North Korean agreement to halt their nuclear weapons program?

As citizens we sit by and hope, accept or even submit to political decisions, treaties and/or pacts that do nothing more than give a false sense of security.

John Kerry stated we have six months but the actual language gives Iran one year to comply. We cannot accept such a weak pact! We must say “no” unless there is actual elimination of existing and future nuclear weapons infrastructure and development in Iran as a first step to multinational acceptance of the elimination of such programs throughout the world.

We have an agreement with Syria, and already the program to eliminate chemical weapons there has failed. Yes, failed. And yet we enter into another agreement.

I hope it works. I doubt it will, and yet we will continue the illusion of false hope for political purposes. Our government cannot even work to solve domestic problems and yet we believe they can solve international problems. Another can kicked down the road, but this one may explode into a deadly outcome.

James Smith

North Yarmouth

Affordable Care Act already good and is getting better

Yes, the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has been a rocky road. But, history tells us we shouldn’t be surprised.

When Massachusetts introduced its insurance plan (on which Obamacare is based), fewer people registered in the first month (123) than the number in Maine who registered for Obamacare in the first month. (And the Massachusetts rollout was only for one state – Obamacare tried to do 50 states at once!).

One hundred six thousand signed up for the ACA in the first month and nearly 400,0000 have signed up for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. On Nov. 22, the deadline for sign up was extended to Dec. 23 for plans to take effect by Jan. 1.

In 2005, when the Plan D Medicare Prescription Plan was introduced, 79 percent of people had an unfavorable opinion of it. Now seniors are grateful for it. And Obamacare has already improved it so that more than 6.6 million seniors in the “doughnut hole” have saved more than $7 billion on their prescription drugs.

Those on Medicare are not part of the ACA, but because of it, preventive services are now covered: mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap tests and annual “wellness” visits are fully covered (no Part B copay required).

Millions of Americans have already benefited because their insurance no longer can be canceled or denied because of a pre-existing condition and because the lifetime limit on health care coverage has been abolished.

I believe that those who have been critical of Obamacare do not realize the magnitude of this coverage. And the Medicare prescription “doughnut hole” has been halved for 2013 and will be gradually phased out by 2020.

Give it time – there are many more benefits to come. Insurance costs will finally be more affordable and provide better benefits. Let’s be patient.

Polly Shaw


Decline of Clean Elections puts outsiders in control

After reading the Nov. 18 State House Notebook (“Outside groups spending big on Maine elections”), you have to wonder: Why is all of this money flooding Maine state elections? I suspect we can attribute this perversion of our democracy to the repeated measures seeking to weaken Clean Election laws.

For nearly a decade (2000-2010), Maine’s elections were virtually immune to outside spending, with some exceptions.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McComish v. Bennett, an essential system of matching funds was in operation, giving little incentive to out-of-state special interest to immerse Maine elections in money. In 2012, the first year without matching funds, we saw an unprecedented development: Outside spending exceeded that of our legislative candidates.

As Steve Mistler mentioned in his column, “more than 60 percent of the $156,000 spent to lift state Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Dresden, to victory” was spent by outside labor interests.

Another incident we saw in 2012 involved a contest in Bangor and Hermon. The District 32 race between now-state Sen. Geoff Gratwick and former state Sen. Nichi Farnham saw more than $450,000 spent by national interests. They both ran as Clean Election candidates but were unable to access matching funds to combat the attacks.

These are clear examples as to why we need to strengthen Maine’s Clean Election Act. Each election year, citizens of this state (and country) are bombarded with more and more misleading commercials, sponsored by faceless entities controlled out of state. This makes Maine particularly vulnerable because we have such a small population relative to the rest of the country. We need campaign finance reform now!

Edward Burrage Jr.