Opinion – Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel http://www.centralmaine.com Features news from the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Maine and Morning Sentinel of Waterville, Maine. Wed, 13 Dec 2017 10:50:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Trump signs defense spending bill, but there’s a catch http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/trump-signs-defense-spending-bill-but-theres-a-catch/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/trump-signs-defense-spending-bill-but-theres-a-catch/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 20:24:11 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/trump-signs-defense-spending-bill-but-theres-a-catch/ WASHINGTON – President Trump on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping defense policy bill that authorizes a $700 billion budget for the military, including additional spending on missile defense programs to counter North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons threat.

But there’s a catch. The $700 billion budget won’t become reality until lawmakers agree to roll back a 2011 law that set strict limits on federal spending, including by the Defense Department – and they haven’t yet.

The law caps 2018 defense spending at $549 billion.

Before he signed the bill at the White House, Trump called on Congress to “finish the job” and eliminate the cap on defense spending.

“I think it’s going to happen,” said the president, joined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and other senior military leaders. “We need our military. It’s got to be perfecto.”

He urged Democrats in Congress to quit threatening to shut down the government and “send clean funding and a clean funding bill to my desk that fully funds our great military. Protecting our country should always be a bipartisan issue, just like today’s legislation.”

Temporary government funding is set to run out on Dec. 22, the deadline for lawmakers to send the White House a broader government funding bill or risk a partial government shutdown.

Many Republicans favor easing the caps for defense spending only. Democrats also want increases in other government spending.

Trump released a lengthy statement after signing the bill in which he complained that multiple provisions amounted to congressional overreach that he argued infringed upon his executive authority.

Trump used the signing ceremony to address a separate threat, repeating his call to overhaul U.S. immigration law following Monday’s blast in a New York City subway passageway. It was the second incident authorities have described as terrorism in New York City since late October.

The president noted that the individual involved in October’s deadly incident came to the U.S. through the visa lottery program, and that the individual in this week’s attack arrived based on a family connection to an American citizen.

Trump vowed to end both immigration programs quickly. “The lottery system and chain migration, we’re going to end them fast,” he said, calling on Congress to “get involved immediately.”

The 2018 defense bill allots about $634 billion for core Pentagon operations and nearly $66 billion for wartime missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. The funding boost pays for more troops, jet fighters, ships and other weapons needed to halt an erosion of the military’s combat readiness, according to the bill’s backers. It also grants troops a 2.4 percent pay raise, slightly higher than what the Pentagon sought.

Trump’s 2018 request sought $603 billion for basic functions and $65 billion for overseas missions.

The defense legislation includes $12.3 billion for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and orders a more rapid buildup of the nation’s missile defense capabilities “as we continue our campaign to create maximum pressure on the vile dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said.

“We’re working very diligently on that, building up forces,” Trump said.

Trump thanked the bill’s chief sponsors, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas, who joined Trump at the White House, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona, who did not.

McCain issued a written statement afterward that called on Congress and the White House to work “expeditiously” on a budget agreement that secures the increased $700 billion for the military following years of spending cuts.

Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/trump-signs-defense-spending-bill-but-theres-a-catch/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1301360_Trump_09072.jpg-a5212.jpgPresident Trump holds onto a box containing the National Defense Authorization Act in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Tuesday.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 15:35:02 +0000
Our View: Collins should drop support for tax bill http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/our-view-collins-should-drop-support-for-tax-bill/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/our-view-collins-should-drop-support-for-tax-bill/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=785240 Republican leaders in Congress could be doing the nation a big favor by reneging on the promises they made to Sen. Susan Collins when they were trying to secure her vote on the tax bill.

When she gets another chance, Collins should vote against the bill that’s now being negotiated in a House-Senate conference committee and stop this process before it’s too late. There is no shortage of reasons for her to withdraw her support.

Conferees are looking for the middle ground between two bad pieces of legislation, either of which would explode the national debt in order to fund tax cuts for corporations that are enjoying near-record profits and individuals in the richest 1 percent who have gobbled up most of the growth since the Great Recession.

The changes Collins demanded for her vote wouldn’t be enough make this a good bill. But losing her vote would put it on the brink of collapse.

So far, the leaders have done more than enough to alienate her.

The biggest take-back is the “ironclad” commitment Collins got from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan that passage of the bill and the explosion of the deficit would lead to automatic cuts to Medicare, under what are known as “pay-go” rules. McConnell and Ryan say they expect those rules to be waived, as they have been in the past, but the promise is a very temporary one.

Despite the agreement, Ryan has said that early next year he plans to pursue cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, affecting health coverage for the elderly, disabled and poor.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said on a talk radio show. “… Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements – because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”

Collins can try to explain why intentional cuts are better than automatic ones, or she could say that the pledge wasn’t kept and vote “no.”

Collins also received promises that two bipartisan health care bills would pass in conjunction with the tax bill: one that extends some cost-sharing subsidies for two years, and a second, which she sponsored with Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, that would create a reinsurance fund to help states put a lid on premiums.

But Ryan says that he was not a party to that deal, and House Republicans in the right-wing Freedom Caucus say that they won’t support any legislation that would prevent the collapse of individual insurance markets that are organized under the Affordable Care Act.

Collins wants these bills in the package because she believes they’d offset anti-Obamacare provisions in the tax bill that would result in a decade of annual 10 percent increases in the cost of health insurance on the individual market and leave an additional 13 million Americans without health insurance. Failure to follow through on these measures should be enough to get a “no” vote from Collins.

Other promises, regarding the local property tax deduction and pension tax relief for retirees from charitable organizations, are also at risk because some Republican House members don’t approve.

Collins should not reward the tea-party right or President Donald Trump’s Wall Street insiders by voting for a bill that does so much for so few who don’t need it. If leadership is offering her an escape route, she should take it.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/our-view-collins-should-drop-support-for-tax-bill/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/785240_Tax_Cuts_Collins_59860.jpg-.jpgFILE- In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, with reporters looking for updates, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and other senators rush to the chamber to vote on amendments as the Republican leadership works to craft their sweeping tax bill in Washington. Collins said she is confident President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will ensure passage of two bills aimed at shoring up the insurance markets, a demand she made before supporting the Republican tax overhaul. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)Mon, 11 Dec 2017 18:13:12 +0000
Maine Compass: Unprecedented partisan divide may benefit Moore, as it did Trump http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/maine-compass-unprecendented-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/maine-compass-unprecendented-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=785151 One explanation for Republican Roy Moore’s staying power against Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama U.S. Senate race might center on policy preferences. Moore’s closing pitch seems all about abortion, with a caboose of other Christian-conservative policies. Alabama voters are especially conservative, so this might seem logical.

And in many ways it echoes the 2016 presidential contest, where voters in a few swing states seemed willing to put aside Donald Trump’s transgressions in the hope that his policies would make America great again. Much commentary since the election has indeed focused on how Hillary Clinton and the liberals overlooked the plight of white, working-class Americans, for instance, and all good progressives now have J.D. Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” on their nightstand.

The problem is that, in both cases, a policy-centered explanation is wrong.

Beginning about a decade ago, our politics took a radical turn. Elections became exceedingly partisan. Straight-ticket voting, for example, has reached unprecedented levels.

More importantly, the very meaning of “party identification” has changed. Whereas in the past, our attachment to a political party centered on policy disputes or cues from family and associations, today’s version is grounded in fear and loathing of the other side. We believe that members of the “other” party are crazy, dangerous, a true threat to the nation.

Pew Research Center data tell the story: Politics was rather heated in 1994, as you may recall, but that year only about 21 percent of Americans had a “very unfavorable” view of those in the other party. Today, that figure stands at 58 percent. Many other studies point to increasingly hostile attitudes toward members of the other party. We don’t trust them and are less likely to socialize with them or to hire them. About a third of Americans say they would be upset if a member of their family married one of “them.” Playdates with conservative/liberal kids? I don’t think so!

At the end of the Obama administration, the Pew Center reported, 59 percent of Republicans said they felt “very coldly” toward Michelle Obama, and 40 percent of Republicans gave her a zero on a scale of 1 to 100. Michelle Obama gets a zero?

As noted by Emory University scholars Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, “Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose.”

We choose to live in ideologically homogenous communities, and the promise of the internet to broaden perspectives and associations has morphed into blinders and the purifying of sources, arguments and facts. Voters no longer explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. Adding fuel to the fire, a new book by scholars Chris Achen and Larry Bartels has shaken our understanding of voter rationality.

“Issue congruence (between voters and parties), in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content,” they write. Voters align themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups.

Group identity determines vote choice, not policy preferences. People do not seem to understand or even like the policy choices they make.

So when Donald Trump tells votes in Alabama that Doug Jones is a liberal, and when Steve Bannon says that Roy Moore is “righteous,” they’re ringing the tribal alarm. Sure, Moore might have done those things to teenage girls, but at least he’s one of us.

And as to the economic interpretation of Trump’s win, a growing pool of studies suggests attitudes toward immigration, blacks and social welfare were much more important than were perceptions of personal finances or the state of economy.

It’s hard to label Donald Trump strategic these days, but he seems to know what he’s doing when he tweets “We need (Moore’s) vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment.”

Ring that tribal bell, Mr. President. Ring that bell.

Daniel M. Shea is a political science professor at Colby College in Waterville.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/maine-compass-unprecendented-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2016/12/1118269_France-Macedonia-Fakes-Ne2.jpgStories from USA Daily News 24, a fake news site registered in Veles, Macedonia. An Associated Press analysis using web intelligence service Domain Tools shows that USA Daily News 24 is one of roughly 200 U.S.-oriented sites registered in Veles, which has emerged as the unlikely hub for the distribution of disinformation on Facebook. Both stories shown here are bogus.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:47:11 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/todays-editorial-cartoon-1474/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/todays-editorial-cartoon-1474/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=785175 ]]> http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/todays-editorial-cartoon-1474/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/785175_846873-12-11-Christmas-at-C.jpgMon, 11 Dec 2017 15:52:58 +0000 Fredette: By avoiding federal law, sanctuary cities endanger public safety http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/fredette-by-avoiding-federal-law-sanctuary-cities-endanger-public-safety/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/fredette-by-avoiding-federal-law-sanctuary-cities-endanger-public-safety/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=785152 You may not know who Kate Steinle was or care. But you should. She was killed in a sanctuary city.

On July 1, 2015, the 32-year-old was walking along a pier in San Francisco with her father when the unthinkable happened. She was shot and killed by a five-time-deported illegal immigrant and felon. San Francisco had earlier passed an ordinance prohibiting city employees or use of funds from assisting immigration officials, thus becoming a sanctuary city.

Last week, a California jury found Garcia Zarate not guilty of murder or manslaughter — only convicting him of being a felon in possession of a gun.

Zarate had been deported five times before Steinle was killed. He was scheduled to be deported a sixth time, but that did not happen in time to protect Steinle. Local law enforcement had to let him go because San Francisco chooses to protect illegal immigrants.

California has some of the most stringent and draconian gun control laws in the nation, so the left can’t blame Steinle’s death on guns. She’s dead because a sanctuary city refused to comply with federal law enforcement and detain her killer, who was in the country illegally, opting instead to set him free.

While this crime occurred 3,000 miles away from us, we’re not immune to this here in Maine. Several Maine communities have discussed becoming a sanctuary city, only to water down the wording to avoid losing federal funds for not cooperating with federal officials and law enforcement on illegal immigrants. Earlier this year, two Maine sheriffs (Kevin Joyce of Cumberland County and William King of York County) said they would no longer hold inmates past their release date for federal immigration officials – a practice eerily similar to the one that caused the death of Steinle in San Francisco.

As public officials, we have a duty to obey federal law and we have a duty to protect our citizens, first and foremost. Advocating for tougher immigration policy and an end to sanctuary cities doesn’t make us “racists” and it doesn’t make us “anti-immigrant” — it makes us pro-public safety. We are a state of immigrants. Let me be clear: I’m not against immigration, but what I’m for is legal immigration. A family friend of mine became an American citizen and was naturalized in Bangor this past week. My own family came to Maine from Canada three generations ago. They all came legally.

Legal immigrants are vital to the long-term economic vitality of our state. We are acutely aware of the workforce challenge facing Maine. Immigration can be an integral part of meeting economic work force demands. Many of these immigrants have college educations or skills our employers so desperately are seeking.

In 2010, in one of his first orders of business, Gov. Paul LePage signed an executive order reversing the Baldacci-era policy that barred law enforcement officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status, trying to put an end to sanctuary cities in Maine.

In 2015, I opposed legislation that extended General Assistance welfare benefits to asylum-seeking immigrants for up to two years. Most of this money goes to two cities in Maine. It seems to me actions like this by the Maine Legislature are an invitation for cities in Maine to become “sanctuary cities” like San Francisco. Cities where crimes are committed by illegal immigrants that then go unpunished.

Today we are spending taxpayer dollars to give welfare to noncitizens while thousands of severely disabled Mainers languish on waiting lists for state funding. I prefer to follow federal law; to protect the citizens of our state and to prioritize funding for those severely disabled who are waiting for the Legislature to do the right thing.

In June, Republican primary voters will get to choose a nominee to be Maine’s next governor. Earning the nomination of our party shouldn’t be a steppingstone along the way, but a reminder of the responsibility all of us, as candidates, have to lead by example. I’ve been a Republican my entire life and support law enforcement’s efforts to protect the public. Part of that leadership should require us to not support sanctuary cities that intentionally avoid and violate federal law, and instead, put the public safety of Mainers first.

Ken Fredette of Newport is a Republican candidate for governor and a graduate of the Muskie School of Public Service, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and the University of Maine School of Law.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/fredette-by-avoiding-federal-law-sanctuary-cities-endanger-public-safety/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1295633_San_Francisco_Pier_Shoot10.jpgFlowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle formed a memorial on Pier 14 in San Francisco after her death in July of 2015.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:49:02 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/todays-editorial-cartoon-1475/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/todays-editorial-cartoon-1475/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=785177 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/todays-editorial-cartoon-1475/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/785177_846873-12-11-Christmas-at-C.jpgMon, 11 Dec 2017 16:01:11 +0000 View from Away: Let states lower Medicaid prescription drug prices http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/view-from-away-let-states-lower-medicaid-prescription-drug-prices/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/view-from-away-let-states-lower-medicaid-prescription-drug-prices/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=785180 Drug prices are too high, and Congress lacks the political will to do anything about it. These are two of the most uncontroversial assertions in the contentious debate about U.S. health care policy — and they explain why states should be allowed to act on their own.

The high price of medicine is a familiar lament from presidents and pharmaceutical executives alike, and there is no shortage of viable suggestions for making them cheaper: The federal government should negotiate Medicare’s drug prices and end tax breaks for direct-to-consumer drug advertising. It should restrict the coupons that drug companies give out to coax patients to choose expensive brand-name drugs. It should limit Medicare patients’ out-of-pocket drug costs, police pay-for-delay deals that keep generic medicines off the market, and require that all drug prices be made public.

Yet Congress has failed to take up these proposals, and the prospects are dim for legislation anytime soon. So two states, Massachusetts and Arizona, have asked the federal government for permission to pick and choose which drugs they will cover for Medicaid beneficiaries. The idea is to save money by providing reimbursement for only the most cost-effective drugs.

As things stand, state Medicaid programs are required to cover all drugs that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That gives them zero leverage to press drug makers to offer rebates beyond those that are federally mandated.

And state Medicaid drug expenditures have been rising fast. In Massachusetts, they’ve more than doubled in the past seven years — to nearly $2 billion last year. It’s a big reason why the state now devotes 40 percent of its budget to Medicaid. In other states, the share is 25 to 30 percent — which is why, if Massachusetts and Arizona get permission to restrict medicines, other states can be expected to follow suit.

A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine sensibly argues that all Medicaid programs should be able to exclude some drugs from coverage. Making such a change without depriving beneficiaries of essential treatments would take careful planning. States would need to create a process to accommodate patients with a demonstrated need for excluded drugs.

Most Americans want the government to take such action. So far, states seem to have greater motivation to do so than the federal government has. But the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services should cooperate by letting Massachusetts and Arizona proceed. Then Congress should take up other practical strategies to make medicines affordable.

Editorial by Bloomberg View

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Sustain Mid Maine Coalition: Making a mindful holiday season http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/sustain-mid-maine-coalition-making-a-mindful-holiday-season/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/sustain-mid-maine-coalition-making-a-mindful-holiday-season/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784334 Winter holidays are a time for family, food … and consumerism.

According to blackfridaydeathcount.com, there have been 10 deaths and 111 injuries nationwide related to Black Friday shopping since 2006. Why are people being trampled, run over, and even shot for these sales? Is 30 percent off a plastic doll — which will inevitably end up in a landfill — really worth risking lives? It is a tradition to exchange gifts during the winter holidays, but those gifts don’t have to be detrimental to our health or to our environment.

The best gifts are those that benefit others and don’t wind up in landfills. Buying locally is a great way to ethically purchase one-of-a-kind gifts for your loved ones. Farmers’ markets and craft fairs can be ideal venues to support the small businesses in your community while finding the perfect meaningful present. Even better, the most heartfelt gifts are ones that you create yourself. Knitting a scarf, crafting pottery, or painting a picture would show the recipient the time and effort you dedicated to creating the perfect gift. Baked goods are a quick and easy way to show appreciation for the special people in your life.

After gifts are opened, trash bags are usually filled with shiny, non-recyclable wrapping paper. According to Stanford University, “Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week.”

There are multiple easy ways to cut down on this waste. As a quick fix, you can purchase reusable gift bags, tins, jars, or decorative boxes instead of wrapping paper. If you are feeling more creative, you can wrap the gift in a garment of clothing, like a scarf, that is part of the gift. If you have young kids, it can be especially fun to purchase plain brown craft paper and have each person decorate their own wrapping paper.

Some of the most memorable gifts don’t require wrapping at all. Rather than paying for a gift that someone will use up, break, or get tired of, you can give the gift of life experiences. For adults, gifting cooking classes, fitness classes, and sport events tickets could be the perfect break from routine they really wanted, much more so than another extra kitchen gadget or another knick-knack to dust.

For people of all ages, a museum membership, zoo admission, and concert or show tickets can be much more exciting than a figurine of a movie character that will end up under a couch somewhere. Gifts like these will never go out of fashion, be outgrown, or end up broken in the garbage.

An essential activity for the holiday season is driving around to see the houses with their lawns decorated with joyful reindeer and gutters lined with twinkling lights. Adding additional lights will inevitably cause your lighting bill to rise, but using LED lights can drastically reduce the cost. According to Christmas Lights Etc, “The cost to power an incandescent can be up to 90 times greater than powering an LED … LED lights consume 80 to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last up to 100,000 hours, versus 3,000 hours for an incandescent. Combine this with the durable construction of LEDs, and savings extend beyond electricity.”

In addition to LED lights, you can save money and reduce waste by choosing not to purchase new plastic wreaths, ornaments, or centerpieces. Instead, you can make it a family activity or friend group project to go out to a park to gather branches, pinecones, and other decorations from nature to create custom decor for your home and workplace.

The holidays are a time for family, food, and love. You do not have to get swept up in consumeristic ideals to have a successful holiday with your loved ones. Gifts, lights, and decorations are all holiday traditions that can only bring more joy when you go the extra mile to ensure that they are sustainable.

Have a happy and mindful holiday season!

Amber Churchwell is a second-year Colby student from Georgia. She is majoring in sociology with a minor in environmental studies. She handles most of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s media needs.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/12/sustain-mid-maine-coalition-making-a-mindful-holiday-season/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/780525_537886-CraftShow_6.jpgOver 90 vendors displayed their wares at the Maine Made Crafts show in Augusta on Sunday at the Civic Center. The two-day show attracted shoppers looking for Christmas decorations and holiday gifts from throughout the region.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:50:24 +0000
Our View: USM bus deal a good step for public transit http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/our-view-usm-bus-deal-a-good-step-for-public-transit/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/our-view-usm-bus-deal-a-good-step-for-public-transit/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784821 Public transit in Maine has a chicken-and-egg problem.

You need population density to produce enough ridership to make frequent service viable. But in places there is no service, everyone needs a car to get around and development tends to sprawl.

What comes first? Supply or demand? Service or riders?

Greater Portland Metro, the quasi governmental regional transit authority, has done a good job breaking the stalemate by leveraging relationships with institutions that have transportation needs as a way to make serivice more convenient to the general public.

Two years ago, the Portland School Department stopped running buses for high school students, and bought them Metro bus passes instead.

The schools saved money, the students gained flexibility, and Metro riders benefitted from more frequent trips and new routes.

NEW CONTRACT

That’s the thinking behind the University of Southern Maine’s new contract with Metro. For the same price it has been paying for a charter shuttle bus service between its Portland and Gorham campuses, USM’s nearly 8,000 students and employees would get bus passes that allow them unlimited access to the Metro system. Metro operates all year, not just the academic year, and it’s buses run seven days a week.

With increased ridership from USM, Metro can afford to extend frequent service between Portland and Gorham via Westbrook, enabling residents along the way take a bus to Portland, the Maine Mall and Freeport to shop or work.

It’s a good deal for the university and its students. It’s a good deal for Metro and it’s a great deal for the municipalities of Westrbrook and Gorham, which will have reliable public transit for the first time.

It’s not a good deal for, Custom Coach and Limosene, the private bus company that has operated the Portland/Gorham shuttle for USM students. Other local motor coach business are speaking up in support, claiming that USM entered a “sweetheart” no-bid contract with a competitor at the taxpayer’s expense.

We can understand why they are sorry to lose USM’s business, but the bus companies don’t have a case.

DIFFERENT SERVICE

USM didn’t just change providers of the same service, they changed services entirely. Metro is the only public transportation system with regional coverage, so there could never be a competitive bidding process for a service that only one entity is capable of providing.

Instead of a point-to-point shuttle, the university is particpating in a regional transportation network.

This matters because most USM students don’t live on the Gorham campus, and many have financial hardships. Connecting students with low-cost transportation to employment centers and affordable off-campus housing will advance the university’s mission.

There is also a community benefit from expanded transit that the charter companies can’t duplicate.

People who would never been able to ride the student shuttle will benefit, either by riding Metro themselves, or by having fewer cars on the roads, choking traffic and competing for parking spaces.

This kind of creative cooperation should be a model for other big institutions with transportation needs. USM and Metro have taken a step toward solving Southern Maine’s public transit chicken-and-egg problem.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/our-view-usm-bus-deal-a-good-step-for-public-transit/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/784821_977172_20131002_metro001_2.jpgBy working with Metro to extend bus service to Westbrook and Gorham, University of Southern Maine will be contributing to the health of the regional economy.Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:26:26 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/todays-editorial-cartoon-1472/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/todays-editorial-cartoon-1472/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784374 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/todays-editorial-cartoon-1472/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/784374_846873-12-6-Trump-Endorses-.jpgFri, 08 Dec 2017 12:13:47 +0000 Maine Compass: A bipartisan caucus for the climate emerges in US House http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-compass-a-bipartisan-caucus-for-the-climate-emerges-in-us-house/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-compass-a-bipartisan-caucus-for-the-climate-emerges-in-us-house/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784440 The Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Noah’s Ark Caucus.” A representative can only join by bringing in a colleague from the other party — “two by two,” just like the Ark. Two congressmen from southern Florida, Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch, founded the caucus in 2016 and serve as co-chairmen.

The goal of the caucus is to educate members on economically viable options to reduce climate risk while protecting our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.

The caucus came out of meetings initiated by Jay Butera, a volunteer with the Citizens Climate Lobby. He travelled from his home in Philadelphia to South Florida because he saw that part of the country as most impacted by climate change, most notably by rising sea levels and exposure to hurricanes.

“When you actually see salt water flooding the streets of Miami, something changes in you,” he said. “Suddenly climate change gets very real. I began saying to myself, ‘Salt water in the streets will trump party politics.'”

With billions of dollars of property threatened by rising seas and worsening storms, Butera figured that members of Congress representing the Sunshine State would be highly motivated to appear proactive on the climate issue, regardless of their party affiliation.

There were lots of twists, turns and roadblocks for Butera. He learned that “yes” actually means “maybe,” and that “maybe” sometimes means “probably not.” Yet, with the patience of Job and great persistence, he continued in his mission for two years.

His reward is a caucus now 62 strong, and growing.

Since the current Congress began, members of the caucus and their staffs have been working to generate bipartisan legislative initiatives to fight climate change. The caucus already has its stamp on two bills introduced in the House of Representatives.

The first is the Climate Solutions Commission Act of 2017, which has a group of 15 co-sponsors (including eight Republicans). It establishes a bipartisan National Climate Solutions Commission that will be responsible for reviewing economically viable public and private actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Perhaps most importantly, this bill includes a directive that the “goals for emissions reductions should be in line with the latest scientific findings of what is needed to avoid serious human health and environmental consequences of a changing climate.”

Next came the Technologies for Energy Security Act, recycled from the 114th Congress, and now with a bipartisan mix of 116 cosponsors — including many in the Climate Solutions Caucus. This bill will extend the residential energy efficient property tax credit through 2021.

On top of these legislative actions, four Republican members of the caucus joined their colleagues in April in a letter addressed to President Donald Trump urging him to maintain the United States’ commitment in the Paris agreement, despite his oft-repeated vow to leave.

More is coming.

We in Maine have a great interest in the deliberations of the caucus. Our climate change indicators on land include more intense rain storms, northern migration of ticks, and unreliable growing seasons. The great warming reported from the Gulf of Maine is causing huge reductions in the catch of shrimp and cod, as well as increases in invasive species such as green crabs. As if that were not enough, we have ocean acidification and rising sea levels to contend with.

Neither of our representatives are members of the climate caucus, at least not yet. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, who has strong interests in both fishing and farming, is determined to join, and is being helped by Citizens Climate Lobby to find a Republican to join with her.

Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, becoming aware of the dangers of ocean acidification from the uptake of carbon dioxide by ocean waters, recently cosponsored the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2017. We think he should become an active member of the caucus.

We urge Sen. Angus King to extend the bipartisanship of the caucus into discussions in the Senate. Sen. Susan Collins is on record as being a strong proponent of bipartisan action on the climate threat.

Peter Garrett, Ph.D., of Winslow, is state coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-compass-a-bipartisan-caucus-for-the-climate-emerges-in-us-house/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/10/1267511_Trump_Climate_Plan_26426.2.jpgPlant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in Juliette, Ga. The Trump administration aims to roll back efforts to slow global warming,Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:18:40 +0000
Commentary: Why would we abandon Trump? http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/commentary-why-would-we-abandon-trump/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/commentary-why-would-we-abandon-trump/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784441 A year removed from our newspaper’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president, the most frequent question I get in emails and letters are from Trump critics asking whether I regret the endorsement.

I find it an odd question. It’s reflective of a similar theme often directed at Trump supporters in columns from many of our nation’s leading op-ed writers, especially after a presidential tweet-storm or inflammatory comment or action. “Will President Trump’s supporters finally desert him?” they ask.

Through the years, it became an accepted tenant of American politics that promises made and personas adopted by presidential candidates to win votes would be abandoned or ignored in the Oval Office. By contrast, the argument could easily be made that few presidential-level politicians have been as indistinguishable as Trump, the candidate, from Trump, the president.

Trump has remained as constant as the northern star. Has Trump really behaved in some new manner that wasn’t on full display during the campaign? The outrageous tweets, the bluster, the self-aggrandizement, the insults — Trump the commander in chief is virtually identical to Trump the neophyte candidate.

But in addition to consistently exhibiting what many see as negative attributes, Trump has also tried to keep his biggest campaign promises on repealing Obamacare, securing the border and cutting taxes, and he stayed true to his word with his pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Now, his declaration of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital fulfills another pledge. No one who backed Trump as a candidate, with all his flaws, has been given much reason to abandon him.

Liberals seem to think the tax bill and other administration priorities will wake Trump country to the phony populism of its champion, but Trump’s voters always understood that business was going to benefit from having such an avowedly pro-business president. Really, the only supporters who might have cause for disillusionment are those who argued, or hoped, that once he assumed the presidency Trump would “pivot,” becoming “more presidential.” But that would probably be the one act that would cost Trump his base.

Among all of candidate Trump’s missteps and outrages, the one that was thought to most assuredly guarantee his demise was the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape and the ensuing allegations of numerous women claiming Trump sexually assaulted them. Those instances are the most frequently enumerated in the correspondence I receive suggesting the need for endorsement regret.

But apparently lost on many is that, in the 1990s, the left won the argument that these stories don’t matter, and that people’s private lives and attitudes, as sordid and problematic as they may be, do not determine their effectiveness as a public servant. So convincingly did President Bill Clinton’s defenders win that debate that even many on the right came to accept it, which is in part why Trump is immune on the topic and Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy remains viable in Alabama.

During the campaign, Trump famously boasted that he could shoot someone and not lose support. That is not literally true, although one could be forgiven for wondering about it. But the point he was making to the media was to quit wasting their time trying to discredit him with lurid details of his private life and times.

Even now, though, the left, along with “Never Trumpers” on the middle and right, keep waiting for Trump supporters to “wake up,” to realize their horrendous mistake, perhaps even rending their garments in an act of self-flagellation.

But the voters who coalesced around Trump understood that everyone’s closet has skeletons, a belief proved truer with each passing day. Through a lifetime of celebrity, laid bare in the media, Trump’s closet door has long stood wide open. No new revelations about his personal life were going to shock or shake his supporters.

The left’s sudden post-Clinton awakening on issues of boorish behavior and sexual harassment has been fascinating to watch. The recent claims against Democratic Party stalwarts such as Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers Jr. have had Democrats pushing for political death sentences in hopes of maintaining the moral high ground. There apparently is no need for courts, judges or juries, and evidence is optional, as long as a claim is determined to be credible by a panel of hastily assembled media pundits.

But in light of the recently exposed feet of clay of so many of Trump’s fiercest critics in Hollywood, Washington and the media, making examples of Franken and Conyers is a case of too little, too late. The hypocrisy has been exposed, the high ground surrendered. It turns out that the calls for Trump’s supporters to wake up were coming from a lot of people who were blissfully snoozing away.

Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of the Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, Ohio.

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Maine Voices: Partisan divide may benefit Moore, as it did Trump http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-voices-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-voices-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-voices-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/ One explanation for Republican Roy Moore’s staying power against Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama U.S. Senate race might center on policy preferences. Moore’s closing pitch seems all about abortion, with a caboose of other Christian-conservative policies. Alabama voters are especially conservative, so this might seem logical.

And in many ways it echoes the 2016 presidential contest, where voters in a few swing states seemed willing to put aside Donald Trump’s transgressions in the hope that his policies would make America great again. Much commentary since the election has indeed focused on how Hillary Clinton and the liberals overlooked the plight of white, working-class Americans, for instance, and all good progressives now have J.D. Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” on their nightstand.

The problem is that, in both cases, a policy-centered explanation is wrong.

Beginning about a decade ago, our politics took a radical turn. Elections became exceedingly partisan. Straight-ticket voting, for example, has reached unprecedented levels.

More importantly, the very meaning of “party identification” has changed. Whereas in the past, our attachment to a political party centered on policy disputes or cues from family and associations, today’s version is grounded in fear and loathing of the other side. We believe that members of the “other” party are crazy, dangerous, a true threat to the nation.

Pew Research Center data tell the story: Politics was rather heated in 1994, as you may recall, but that year only about 21 percent of Americans had a “very unfavorable” view of those in the other party. Today, that figure stands at 58 percent. Many other studies point to increasingly hostile attitudes toward members of the other party. We don’t trust them and are less likely to socialize with them or to hire them. About a third of Americans say they would be upset if a member of their family married one of “them.” Playdates with conservative/liberal kids? I don’t think so!

At the end of the Obama administration, the Pew Center reported, 59 percent of Republicans said they felt “very coldly” toward Michelle Obama, and 40 percent of Republicans gave her a zero on a scale of 1 to 100. Michelle Obama gets a zero?

As noted by Emory University scholars Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, “Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose.”

We choose to live in ideologically homogenous communities, and the promise of the internet to broaden perspectives and associations has morphed into blinders and the purifying of sources, arguments and facts. Voters no longer explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. Adding fuel to the fire, a new book by scholars Chris Achen and Larry Bartels has shaken our understanding of voter rationality.

“Issue congruence (between voters and parties), in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content,” they write. Voters align themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups.

Group identity determines vote choice, not policy preferences. People do not seem to understand or even like the policy choices they make.

So when Donald Trump tells votes in Alabama that Doug Jones is a liberal, and when Steve Bannon says that Roy Moore is “righteous,” they’re ringing the tribal alarm. Sure, Moore might have done those things to teenage girls, but at least he’s one of us.

And as to the economic interpretation of Trump’s win, a growing pool of studies suggests attitudes toward immigration, blacks and social welfare were much more important than were perceptions of personal finances or the state of economy.

It’s hard to label Donald Trump strategic these days, but he seems to know what he’s doing when he tweets “We need (Moore’s) vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment.”

Ring that tribal bell, Mr. President. Ring that bell.

 

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/11/maine-voices-partisan-divide-may-benefit-moore-as-it-did-trump/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1285881_Alabama_Senate_Moore_39993.jpgThe National Republican Senatorial Committee is ending its fundraising agreement with former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations that he had sexual contact with a teenager decades ago.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:00:37 +0000
Our View: Just like that, nuclear threats have us closer to midnight http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/our-view-just-like-that-nuclear-threats-have-us-closer-to-midnight/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/our-view-just-like-that-nuclear-threats-have-us-closer-to-midnight/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784470 On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons will receive the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for drawing attention to the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

The award comes not only as the United States is perhaps as close to nuclear war as it has been in decades, but also as many Americans have adopted a casual indifference to the costs of using nuclear weapons, most notably — and worrisome — among them President Donald Trump.

MORE WEAPONS, MORE PROBLEMS

Since the United States used two nuclear bombs to end the Second World War, American presidents have taken seriously their ability to wipe out hundreds of thousands of civilians with a single order and a single bomb.

What’s more, once the post-war arms race between nuclear powers was recognized for what it was — a road to armaggedon — those powers have focused on decreasing the number of warheads and holding firm the number of countries with nuclear capabilities. Rogue actions by North Korea notwithstanding, they have been successful.

From a combined high of around 70,000 nuclear warheads in the mid-1980s, the United States and Russia now command 7,000 apiece. The next highest stockpile belongs to France, with 300.

Under the 2010 New START Treaty, both powers have agreed to deploy no more than 1,550 each. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty requires the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France to move toward disarmament while other countries agree not to pursue nuclear capability.

All of these actions were taken under the mutually agreed upon wisdom that, the more weapons there are, the more likely it is that escalating tensions or a misunderstanding between superpowers would end catastrophically, or that a warhead would be diverted into the wrong hands.

TRUMP CHANGES COURSE

But that wisdom is being questioned by President Trump, who entered office with less of an understanding of the United States’ nuclear arsenal and its history than any chief executive since the Manhattan Project, along with an immense — and often misplaced — trust in his own judgment above those of generals and diplomats. As such, his statements have diverted from decades of American foreign policy.

As a candidate, Trump said he was open to other countries developing nuclear weapons. As president-elect, he tweeted that the U.S. should “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” and told MSNBC that he was willing to restart the nuclear arms race.

As president, he has threatened to rain “fire and fury” upon North Korea, and bragged that his executive order has made the American nuclear arsenal “now stronger and more powerful than ever before,” a logistical impossibility given his short time in office, and a statement that is not backed by any evidence.

Worse, he has indicated again, now with the power of the presidency, that he wants a larger stockpile of nuclear weapons.

To understand how unnecessary that is, and what ignorance that statement betrays, turn to an analysis conducted for the New York Times by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists that looked at the 4,000 active U.S. nuclear warheads (the remainder are set to be dismantled).

With that stockpile, the United States could wipe out more than a quarter of the population of Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Russia and China, and still have more than 2,800 warheads left.

In China alone, the attack would kill 320 million people living in 368 population centers. Tens of millions more would be dead, too, in the Middle East and Asia. And we’d have enough warheads left over to do it two or three more times.

Given the realities, it’s hard to understand why the president would want to expand the United States’ nuclear capability, or why he sees fit to overstate our capability, or abandon policies that focus on deterrence and disarmament.

Maybe it comes from a place of ignorance or ego, as one report said Trump was dismayed to find he oversaw an arsenal far lighter than earlier presidents.

Perhaps he believes it will allow him to negotiate from a position of strength, or that it will keep his opponents guessing that he may strike first, even if he never intends to.

But while empty threats may work in real estate deals, they can be dangerous in areas of international diplomacy, where in times of great tension it doesn’t help for one side to think the other is irrational, or quick on the trigger.

CLOSE TO MIDNIGHT

It is because of Trump’s statements, his “rhetoric and the lack of respect for expertise,” that earlier this year the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the symbolic hands of the Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest its been since 1953. (The Bulletin did not have time to move the clock, a measure of how close the planet is to imminent destruction, during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.)

That’s after a report issued late last year by the Nuclear Threat Initiative found that with mounting points of tension across the globe, “the risks of miscalculation or accident and escalation are unacceptably high.”

World events and now the presidency of Donald Trump have returned the issue of nuclear weapons and war to the forefront, and raised hard questions.

Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Ted Lieu of California, both Democrats, have brought legislation that would limit a president’s ability to launch a first-strike nuclear attack, while preserving his necessary ability to respond to an attack. It deserves discussion, if only to bring the dangers of a first strike into the open.

ICAN, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, also helped pass a treaty through the United Nations signed by 122 countries — though not the nuclear powers — that calls for the prohibitiion of nuclear weapons.

That is unlikely to occur any time soon, but it is a starting point for a discussion on how to continue to lower the number of warheads worldwide, and move toward a safer world.

At one point in the not-so-distant past, it was a given that the use of nuclear weapons — or even an arms race alone — was a failure of diplomacy and a threat to world peace. That consensus appears to be in peril, and with it millions of lives.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/our-view-just-like-that-nuclear-threats-have-us-closer-to-midnight/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2016/02/Nuclear-Missile-Test_Byun.jpgFILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 file photo provided by U.S. Air Force, an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Like a giant pen stroke in the sky, an unarmed Minuteman 3 nuclear missile roared out of its underground bunker on the California coastline Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, and soared over the Pacific, inscribing the signature of American power amid growing worry about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons capable of reaching U.S. soil. When it comes to deterring an attack by North Korea or other potential adversaries, the missile is the message. (U.S. Air Force via AP, File)Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:24:56 +0000
MaineHousing chief: Tax bill would make affordable-housing crisis http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/mainehousing-chief-tax-bill-would-make-affordable-housing-crisis/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/mainehousing-chief-tax-bill-would-make-affordable-housing-crisis/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784401 In the coming days, a congressional conference committee will reconcile the differences between the U.S. House and Senate bills to modify the U.S. tax code. The outcome could affect whether more Maine seniors and families will be able to move off waiting lists and into affordable housing; whether prospective homebuyers will be able to purchase their first house; and whether construction workers will be building multifamily housing vitally needed in a state where housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Under the House plan, the tax-exempt status of private activity bonds would be eliminated, wiping out a critical tool that Maine has counted on for decades to provide below-market-rate mortgages and build affordable rentals for people who earn 50 percent to 60 percent of an area’s annual median income, or between $22,300 and $34,680 for a two-person household.

The Senate version retains private activity bonds. It’s imperative that they are kept in the final version; otherwise, Maine could face a loss of nearly 2,000 affordable-housing units in the next decade, and thousands of prospective homebuyers would not be able to purchase their first home.

The private activity bond program, created in 1968 and modified in 1986, is held in high regard. Here’s how it works: Investors purchase bonds that earn interest that is not subject to federal taxes. They receive a lower interest rate on the bond, and that lower rate is passed on as a low-rate home mortgage or development loan.

In addition to providing below-market-rate loans, private activity bonds are required to access a key component of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Under this program, investors purchase an ownership interest in the rental project and receive a federal tax credit for a 10-year period.

Private activity bonds, together with low-income housing tax credits, finance about 300 affordable apartments each year in Maine. More than 1,075 units were constructed or rehabilitated from 2010 to 2016 through a $147.5 million combined total investment of private activity bonds and housing tax credits. Meanwhile, thousands of seniors and lower-income wage earners have their names on waiting lists for when apartments become available.

Since 2013, the bonds and tax credits have financed the construction or rehabilitation of 587 apartments for seniors and families in 10 southern Maine communities. They include the Malcolm E. Noyes Apartments in Westbrook (38 new units for seniors) and The Ledges in Saco (84 renovated units for seniors).

Also, because of private activity bonds, almost 3,900 first-time buyers have purchased a house using our First Home Loan program in the past five years.

Through these crucial programs, Maine gains private-sector investment that serves an important public purpose — providing affordable housing, which is desperately needed in most of the state. According to MaineHousing’s Affordability Index, in 2016 nearly 58 percent of renter households statewide couldn’t afford the median two-bedroom rent of $872 (plus utilities), and almost 53 percent of total households could not afford the median home price of $184,000.

For homebuyers, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Sagadahoc and York counties are unaffordable in comparison to the state’s other 11 counties. In Cumberland County in 2016, the median home price was $256,000 and the median income was $59,748. Sixty percent of households there cannot afford the median home price.

For renters, all Maine counties except Knox and Lincoln were unaffordable in 2016.

Putting a chill on affordable-housing development would affect Maine’s economy, too. In 2015-2016, 29 housing projects that received $180 million from MaineHousing and all of our leveraged sources added 1,120 units and created 2,444 jobs with $74 million in wages, according to an economic impact study by the University of Southern Maine. The jobs comprised 17 percent of annual residential construction employment.

MaineHousing was established by the Maine Legislature nearly 50 years ago with the mission to assist Maine people in obtaining and maintaining quality, affordable housing and services suitable to their housing needs.

I’m proud of the work our agency has done in collaboration with affordable-housing developers and lenders in Maine to keep costs down while meeting the needs of families, seniors and veterans. Congress should not eliminate successful programs with proven outcomes.

Mainers are counting on us.

John Gallagher is director of MaineHousing.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/mainehousing-chief-tax-bill-would-make-affordable-housing-crisis/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/10/764382_811914-20171002_Maple_Hou3.jpgThe mail is delivered on Monday on Maple Street in Augusta, where a housing development has been proposed the end of the road.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:08:30 +0000
Collins helps make tax code better http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/collins-helps-make-tax-code-better/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/collins-helps-make-tax-code-better/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784325 Sen. Susan Collins knows our tax code is unfair, complicated and stagnates economic growth. Mainers need tax relief and our Republican senator has worked tirelessly to make that happen. She has met with many business leaders from Maine and they have told her they will invest in new equipment and infrastructure, and that their businesses will be more competitive because they’ll be capable of lowering prices on their products. Their employees will receive higher wages and benefits when the tax relief bill passes.

It’s too bad that liberals and progressives have staged all out war on Sen. Collins. They must be afraid of losing their power over Maine people. For far too long, Maine has been under Democrat control, with their tax-and-spend policies and expanding government. We can’t afford government taking our money and “giving” it back in programs while keeping most of it for buildings, employees and overhead.

Thank Sen. Collins for standing up for hard-working Mainers. We need tax relief now and she is a key player, working with our Republican majority, to get it done. We must keep the repeal of the individual mandate of Obamacare in the bill also.

Now that the House and Senate versions of the bill are out and they have gone to conference to work out the differences, I trust we will have a bill on President Donald Trump’s desk for him to sign quickly and before the end of the year.

Penny Morrell

Belgrade

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Republicans squander great opportunity http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/republicans-squander-great-opportunity/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/republicans-squander-great-opportunity/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784328 With control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republicans in Washington have had an opportunity to increase the greatness of America.

Instead, blinded by the anti-government, pro-business ideology of the conservative right, they have squandered the opportunity with payoffs to Wall Street and the immensely wealthy at the sacrifice of benefits to the working wage-earners and the truly needy. No amount of rhetoric can disguise that the current tax bill is a sham.

If they were seriously interested in economic growth, the tax bill would maintain the current level of taxation, which has resulted in strong corporate earning. In addition, carefully crafted tax exemptions and rebates would award pro-growth initiatives such as increased employment, vocational training, full-time employment, increased wages, and benefits including health care and sick leave.

Rather than throwing money at Wall Street in the form of tax reduction, the tax bill could incentivize growth.

Jonathan W. Robbins

Whitefield

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Collins should find fault in own party http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/collins-should-find-fault-in-own-party/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/collins-should-find-fault-in-own-party/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784331 That Sen. Susan Collins remains a Republican suggests a considerable capacity for compartmentalizing and indeed fantasizing. She makes much of having made the tax bill better. To a degree she has, though it is doubtful that the likes of her proposed property tax deduction can make up for most Mainers for the loss of the state and local tax writeoffs.

Beyond this, she apparently has to tell herself, against the preponderance of evidence, that the Republicans’ exercise in comforting the already comfortable will stimulate in unprecedented ways the growth of an economy already close to full capacity, thanks mostly to recovery during the Obama years.

The senator’s wishful thinking, however, is not at the core of why she should be asking herself why she is a Republican. Her party has a long history of appealing to racial resentments; that is what the Reagan-born “Southern Strategy” is all about, and under Trump it has become all the more blatant.

Hers is also a party of various forms of ideological fanaticism. Take your pick: NRA hostility to compromise, crackpot religious fundamentalism, a libertarianism indistinguishable from narrow self-seeking, or unreasoning opposition to any government program aimed at helping the less well-to-do, who they see as the largely undeserving poor.

Now too we have the spectacle of her party, led by our sorry excuse for a president, saying in effect “better a pedophile in the Senate than a liberal.” Is this really the company Maine’s senior senator wants to keep?

Ed McCarthy

Vienna

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Bill Nemitz: Cuddling puppies is the wrong lesson for college students http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/bill-nemitz-cuddling-puppies-is-the-wrong-lesson-for-college-students/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/bill-nemitz-cuddling-puppies-is-the-wrong-lesson-for-college-students/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/bill-nemitz-cuddling-puppies-is-the-wrong-lesson-for-college-students/ When I look back over more than four decades at my college years, I see lots of things.

I see all-nighters spent feverishly cramming for a big exam or desperately banging away on my portable typewriter to finish a term paper I should have started weeks before.

I see handwritten notes from a lecture that, alas, I couldn’t decipher because the professor was talking so fast I couldn’t keep up.

I see graduation looming on the horizon beneath a simple but alarming question: Now what?

What I don’t see are puppies.

“Campus puppy party helps UMF (University of Maine at Farmington) students, staff relieve stress,” pronounced a headline on pressherald.com last week. It continued, “Nearly 500 people took part in an event that included 7 golden retriever puppies in the Farmington Campus Center.”

Allow me to venture out onto perilously thin ice here: At what point did higher education become so stressful that colleges and universities saw fit to soothe students’ end-of-semester distress with – and I still can’t believe I’m saying this – a puppy party?

Welcome to the new realities of campus life, where the puppies get cuddled while Generation Z gets coddled.

Don’t get me wrong. I love puppies. Had a few myself over the years.

I also fully appreciate the role pets can play in helping people cope with trying situations.

In my past travels to Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, I saw many a young soldier latch onto a stray pup as a much-needed antidote to the incoming mortars, roadside bombs and other mortal threats that come with spending a year or more surviving a war zone.

That, my friends, is stress.

But finals exams? Essays? As the Chinese proverb goes, “That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”

Yet, there students and staffers alike stood Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington, anxiously awaiting their admission to the puppy party organized by the owner of the seven golden retriever pups and the university’s health center.

“The two-hour party began at 11 a.m.,” reported the weekly Franklin Journal. “Within the first half hour, 150 students had signed in with a waiting list going out the door. By noon, the number had doubled to 300.”

According to the newspaper, “Students were able to forget the essays due and finals planned for next week as they held, played with or simply watched the puppies. Students took turns sitting in one of seven circles on the floor of  The Landing in the Student Center. One puppy per circle calmly made his or her way from student to student.”

To be fair, this phenomenon is not limited to the University of Maine at Farmington.

At prestigious (and anxiety-ridden) Yale University, students can actually check out dogs from both the medical and law libraries because, as one librarian explained to the student newspaper, “For a lot of students, it’s their first time away from home and they do miss their home comfort – families, pets.”

And, according to dogtime.com (who else?), puppy sessions are part of the curriculum from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to Kent State University in Ohio to the University of Toronto Law School, where, according to an assistant dean, many of the students show up “pet-starved.”

Here’s my problem with all of this: At the very time in their lives when these young (or soon-to-be) adults should be taking a deep breath and making their entry into a complex, confusing and increasingly dangerous world, there are all kinds of things these institutions of higher learning might do to prepare them for what lies ahead.

Things like time management, or how to get the most out of a meeting, or how to write an email that actually adheres to the rules of the English language.

Maybe even a seminar on how to accept a client’s or customer’s gratitude with something slightly less self-centered than, “Not a problem!”

Instead, we have puppy parties. Rather than agreeing with hand-wringing undergrads that grown-up life is indeed a tough journey and they’d best get about navigating it, we’re validating their “suffering” with adorable little bundles of bliss.

Now, by no means am I advocating the keggers, clouds of pot smoke or indiscriminate sexual hook-ups that undermined many a college transcript back in my day. Escapism, be it through a pot pipe or a puppy collar, is still escapism.

But as a society these days, we often seem all too ready to enable the next generation’s jitters rather than push back against them, to shower them in empathy when what they really need are marching orders.

I remember one night when I was only 13, just hours away from taking the entrance exam for an all-boys, Catholic high school.

For weeks, the nuns at my grammar school had relentlessly pounded into me and my fellow applicants that this was a do-or-die moment, that if we messed up this test, we were messing up God’s plan for our entire lives.

So, lying bug-eyed in my bed that night as the hours ticked away, I did what any other Catholic kid would have done in my position. I had an anxiety attack.

Eventually, tears running down my cheeks, I woke up my mother. I told her what the nuns had said, how I couldn’t sleep because I felt like I was on the cusp of total and eternal failure.

I remember the closest thing I got to validation was when Mom, God rest her soul, looked heavenward and muttered under her breath, “Those damn nuns.”

What I don’t remember is getting a whole lot of sympathy.

“It’s 2 o’clock in the morning!” she said. “You will flunk the test if you don’t stop your crying and go to sleep!”

I aced the test. And I learned a lesson.

Fear and worry, those nests in our hair, are our own creations. We can succumb to them or we can see the next hill for what it is and, reluctant as our feet may be, climb it and move on to the next one.

All it takes is persistence, perseverance and perhaps the occasional prayer.

Not puppies.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/bill-nemitz-cuddling-puppies-is-the-wrong-lesson-for-college-students/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/05/nemitz-topstory-e1410365151344.jpgPORTLAND, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:05:22 +0000
Don’t ignore Vietnam veterans http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/dont-ignore-vietnam-veterans/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/dont-ignore-vietnam-veterans/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784310 First of all, let me say I respect and honor all veterans. They have my deepest gratitude and thanks.

However, it greatly disturbs that one group of veterans appears to be totally ignored. I’m talking about the Vietnam vets. It was an unpopular war and these vets came home to no thanks, no parades, and no celebrations. They are never talked about. Now so many Vietnam vets have cancer because of the Agent Orange they were exposed to. Do you ever hear about these vets? No, the subject still seems to be taboo.

I was a sister to one of these great vets. He has since died after a four-year battle with cancer from Agent Orange exposure. These vets make no noise; they die quietly.

I just really feel it is time to honor and thank these particular vets while some are still alive. The American people owe these vets for their service.

What can we do? This issue really disturbs me every time I see a group of vets be honored.

What about our unknown, unacknowledged men and women?

Thank you for listening. Please help.

Patricia Scribner

Skowhegan

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Tax bill a sneak attack on our children http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/tax-bill-a-sneak-attack-on-our-children/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/tax-bill-a-sneak-attack-on-our-children/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784311 Surprisingly, the proposed tax bill threatens the livability of the climate our children will need to survive. Under this tax bill, tax incentives for renewable energy would be slashed and U.S. federal taxpayers would continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry by more than $15 billion each year. Big Oil wins big, with a l5 percent lower tax rate and greater ability to shield their overseas profits.

Why? Because this industry invests $350 million a year in campaign money. They get a 8,200 percent return on their investment. It’s a great deal for them, but not so much for us.

What’s worse, the House tax bill would eliminate tax credits for electric vehicles, essentially crippling that market. It would cut tax credits on investments that make big solar and wind projects possible.

However, wise tax reform now could reduce climate change in an extraordinary way. Without federal and state subsidies, about 45 percent of all new U.S. oil projects would not be profitable enough to pursue. Stopping these subsidies would help balance our budget and force us to transition more quickly to renewable energy, safeguarding our children’s lives. In 2009, the U.S. joined 20 other nations in pledging to eventually phase out fossil fuel subsidies. The GOP tax plan cancels that commitment, but we could change that. When the House and Senate reconcile their tax bills, there is an opportunity to correct the bill’s preferential support of fossil fuels. In the past, Sen. Susan Collins has been courageous in proposing legislation to protect our children’s climate. Her vote is needed to pass this tax plan so she is in a pivotal position now to be the climate hero our children need. Please call her. This is a chance that will not come again soon.

Richard Thomas

Waterville

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Commentary: How the Supreme Court could keep police from using your cellphone to spy on you http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/commentary-how-the-supreme-court-could-keep-police-from-using-your-cellphone-to-spy-on-you/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/commentary-how-the-supreme-court-could-keep-police-from-using-your-cellphone-to-spy-on-you/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784333 The cellphones we carry with us constantly are the most perfect surveillance device ever invented, and our laws haven’t caught up to that reality. That might change soon.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard a case with profound implications on your security and privacy in the coming years. The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unlawful search and seizure is a vital right that protects us all from police overreach, and the way the courts interpret it is increasingly nonsensical in our computerized and networked world. The Supreme Court can either update current law to reflect the world, or it can further solidify an unnecessary and dangerous police power.

The case centers on cellphone location data and whether the police need a warrant to get it or can use a simple subpoena, which is easier to obtain. Current Fourth Amendment doctrine holds that you lose all privacy protections over any data you willingly share with a third party. Your cellular provider, under this interpretation, is a third party with whom you’ve willingly shared your movements, 24 hours a day, going back months — even though you don’t really have any choice about whether to share with them. So police can request records of where you’ve been from cell carriers without any judicial oversight. The case before the court, Carpenter v. United States, could change that.

Traditionally, information that was most precious to us was physically close to us. It was on our bodies, in our homes and offices, in our cars. Because of that, the courts gave that information extra protections. Information that we stored far away from us, or gave to other people, afforded fewer protections. Police searches have been governed by the “third-party doctrine,” which explicitly says that information we share with others is not considered private.

The Internet has turned that thinking upside-down. Our cellphones know who we talk to and, if we’re talking via text or email, what we say. They track our location constantly, so they know where we live and work. Because they’re the first and last thing we check every day, they know when we go to sleep and when we wake up. Because everyone has one, they know whom we sleep with. And because of how those phones work, all that information is naturally shared with third parties.

More generally, all our data is literally stored on computers belonging to other people. It’s our email, text messages, photos, Google docs, and more — all in the cloud. We store it there not because it’s unimportant, but precisely because it is important. And as the internet of things computerizes the rest our lives, even more data will be collected by other people: data from our health trackers and medical devices, data from our home sensors and appliances, data from Internet-connected “listeners” like Alexa, Siri and your voice-activated television.

All this data will be collected and saved by third parties, sometimes for years. The result is a detailed dossier of your activities more complete than any private investigator — or police officer — could possibly collect by following you around.

The issue here is not whether the police should be allowed to use that data to help solve crimes. Of course they should. The issue is whether that information should be protected by the warrant process that requires the police to have probable cause to investigate you and get approval by a court.

Warrants are a security mechanism. They prevent the police from abusing their authority to investigate someone they have no reason to suspect of a crime. They prevent the police from going on “fishing expeditions.” They protect our rights and liberties, even as we willingly give up our privacy to the legitimate needs of law enforcement.

The third-party doctrine never made a lot of sense. Just because I share an intimate secret with my spouse, friend or doctor doesn’t mean that I no longer consider it private. It makes even less sense in today’s hyper-connected world. It’s long past time the Supreme Court recognized that a months-long history of my movements is private, and my emails and other personal data deserve the same protections, whether they’re on my laptop or on Google’s servers.

Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His latest book is “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.”

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Not too late to appreciate vets http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/not-too-late-to-appreciate-vets/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/not-too-late-to-appreciate-vets/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784312 I am a great believer in honoring and respecting our veterans who made great sacrifices in fighting for the freedoms that this country has. It saddens me when citizens do not go up to veterans, shake their hand and thank them for fighting for our country and freedoms.

I know Veterans Day has come and gone, but that should not stop us from still showing our respect and love to these men and women who fought in wars that we didn’t agree with. They were shunned, spit on, and their lives threatened.

It is not too late to walk up to veteran, shake their hand and say, “Thank you for fighting for our country.” It is not to late to appreciate them.

Becky Wiers

Palmyra

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Any expression of joy is welcome http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/any-expression-of-joy-is-welcome/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/any-expression-of-joy-is-welcome/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784313 Here we are again, at the season when so many complain about people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

I’m here to tell you that any well wishes I receive from you the next month or even any future time of year doesn’t offend me. Any expression you might have that is meant to bring joy and happiness to my life is welcome.

What does offend me, however, is when others make derogatory remarks about the poor, people of race or culture other than their own, or any other religion. If your religion claims there to be one God, then that is the one God looking over all.

So I say to all, “May this season bring you much peace and happiness. May you thrive now and all the days of your life.”

Peter P. Sirois

Madison

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Extremely upset at tax reform bill http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/extremely-upset-at-tax-reform-bill/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/extremely-upset-at-tax-reform-bill/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784314 I am extremely upset by the passing of the tax bill in the Senate. I can’t believe that a bill as important as this was pushed through in less than a week. It was voted on without even knowing what was really in there.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King must take several months and gather a bipartisan committee to iron out the details of the tax bill. We are not a one-party system in this country; we are a two-party system, and two parties should have input on this extremely important change to our tax structure.

I do not want you to raise the debt ceiling in order to push the tax bill further along.

Lynn Travis-Stancioff

Lincolnville

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Stop giving Collins free pass to DC http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/stop-giving-collins-free-pass-to-dc/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/stop-giving-collins-free-pass-to-dc/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784316 When do Democrats and independents stop giving Sen. Susan Collins a free pass to the Senate each time she runs? The whole state sings her praises when she bucks her party’s line — which rarely happens. She does a tiny fraction from sincerity but the other times she votes knowing it won’t really count, in effect throwing us Democrats some red meat so as to keep us in her camp.

Look at her total voting record over the years and you’ll understand that she’s in the back pocket of the rich and the corporations, not 99 percent of Mainers. So let’s stop deluding ourselves ever thinking that Collins is on our side. She’s not — let’s not forget this when we go to the polls.

David Puff

Arrowsic

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Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/todays-editorial-cartoon-1471/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/todays-editorial-cartoon-1471/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784372 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/todays-editorial-cartoon-1471/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/784372_846873-12-8-Calif-Firefight.jpgFri, 08 Dec 2017 12:14:20 +0000 Jim Fossel: Now we’ll find out what voters think of debt http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/jim-fossel-now-well-find-out-what-voters-think-of-debt/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/jim-fossel-now-well-find-out-what-voters-think-of-debt/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784400 Although the Republican Party has thus far made a spectacular mess of any attempts to repeal — or even modestly revise — Obamacare, they were more successful with another top priority about a week ago, when a tax cut package narrowly passed the U.S. Senate. To critics, the tax cuts are a gigantic giveaway to the wealthy that will explode the deficit and provide no benefit to working-class Americans. Republicans, however, have been arguing that the benefit of the tax cuts would create enough economic growth to make up any shortfall in revenue, and that argument carried the day — among members of their own caucus, at least.

The immediate question, though, is not just whether Republicans are correct about the impact of the tax cuts on the deficit, but whether the public as a whole believe them. Since the bill won’t have any effect on taxes until people file their 2018 returns, it won’t have any direct impact on anyone until long after the next election. Even then, it’s unlikely to produce a sudden, dramatic impact on the economy, so the effects might not truly be felt until after the 2020 presidential election. We may not know the real impact of this legislation on the deficit or the economy for years to come, but it will nevertheless have an enormous impact on campaigns immediately, beginning with next year’s midterm elections.

Republicans are essentially gambling that, rather than seeing this as backtracking on years of concern about the deficit, voters will believe them that the tax cuts will not end up increasing it. Now, it’s nothing new for the majority party to suddenly forget their concerns about the debt or the deficit; it’s become almost a given in American politics that the deficit is something that the minority party uses as a political cudgel against the majority. In his first term as a United States senator, Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling; later, as president, he decried it when Republicans did the same. During his presidential campaign, he frequently railed against the deficit created under President George W. Bush, but then ended up adding to it when he moved in to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

So, in one sense, Donald Trump may be simply perpetuating a long tradition of railing against the deficit as a candidate while adding to it as a president. There’s plenty of reasons for Republicans to believe that, even if voters don’t accept their arguments about the deficit, they won’t be held politically accountable for increasing it. Poll after poll has shown that voters generally want less government spending and lower taxes, but don’t want to cut any specific programs that they like. In a democracy, voters themselves are just as responsible for the debt and the deficit as the politicians.

Every once in a while, though, voters actually do get frustrated about the deficit. We last saw this in a substantial way in 1992, with the independent presidential campaign of Texas businessman H. Ross Perot. He challenged both parties on spending, and if he hadn’t run such a disorganized campaign, he might well have won. Even with his bizarre approach — which included dropping out and re-entering the race, and refusing to run a traditional advertising campaign — he got nearly 20 percent of the vote nationwide and placed second in Maine. That ended the Republican Party’s longtime domination of presidential politics here, and two years later we elected Angus King as our second independent governor. After the campaign, both parties eventually took heed of Perot’s shot across their bow and worked together to reduce the national debt.

Today, the Republican Party’s willingness to risk increasing the deficit might not help Democrats, but it still could hurt Republicans. If voters again begin to see the deficit and the debt as a major pressing issue, as they have in the past, they might not trust either party to solve the problem. In that case, an independent or third-party candidate could well take advantage of the opening.

To win a presidential election, an independent would need all of Perot’s strengths with none of his weaknesses. They’d need to run a tough, disciplined campaign, but it’s not impossible. Even if such a candidate did not win, though, they might be able to scare the two parties into coming up with a solution. If both parties managed to set aside their differences long enough to focus on coming up with a permanent fix for the debt and the deficit, that would certainly help all of us.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: jwfossel@gmail.com

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/jim-fossel-now-well-find-out-what-voters-think-of-debt/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1281254_APTOPIX_Trump_Tax_Overhaul_.jpgPresident Trump speaks during a meeting on tax policy with Republican lawmakers in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Thursday in Washington, with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, left, and Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 15:05:21 +0000
Outstanding story on Mass of Ordination http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/outstanding-story-on-mass-of-ordination/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/10/outstanding-story-on-mass-of-ordination/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784317 In the Nov. 25 edition of Central Maine Sunday, Maine Sunday Telegram reporter Megan Doyle provided the most outstanding coverage of the Mass of Ordination to the priesthood of the Rev. Anthony Cipolle.

The description of the ceremony was complete, beautiful and a blessing for all. It made me feel as if I was present — Doyle has a beautiful gift.

Connie Warren

Sidney

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View from Away: The US military’s mystery detainee http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/view-from-away-the-us-militarys-mystery-detainee/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/view-from-away-the-us-militarys-mystery-detainee/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784389 Nearly three months have passed since the U.S. military took custody of an American citizen believed to be an Islamic State fighter. Since early September, the Defense Department has detained the man in Iraq without making public the most basic information about his identity or his case. Disturbingly, it’s not even clear whether he knows of his constitutional right to contest his detention in court.

The detainee allegedly fought alongside the Islamic State in Syria, where he was captured by Syrian rebel fighters on Sept. 12 and handed over to U.S. forces. Reporting suggests that his continued detention may stem from the government’s uncertainty over whether the case against him would be strong enough to win a conviction in U.S. criminal court. But extended military detention could spark a court battle over the government’s authorization to use force against the Islamic State.

The detainee’s future might be complicated. What’s not complicated is his constitutionally guaranteed right to habeas corpus. If he wishes it, the government must allow him access to the justice system to make a case against his detention with a lawyer’s help. Yet while the Justice Department says the man asked for a lawyer before being questioned as part of a criminal case, it also suggests that he hasn’t been informed of his habeas rights. The government reasons that it can withhold those rights until it makes up its mind as to the detainee’s fate.

Because the man remains anonymous, there’s no way to identify family members who could sue on his behalf — or determine whether those family members are already aware of his detention and have chosen not to litigate. To fill the gap, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit on the man’s behalf. But the Justice Department is arguing that the ACLU can’t represent the detainee without his or his family’s approval. While it’s true that courts don’t usually allow third parties to jump into lawsuits on behalf of others, they also shouldn’t let the government effectively block a prisoner’s access to the justice system by keeping his identity secret.

To be sure, the government isn’t arguing that it can put off the man’s exercise of his habeas rights forever. And courts have ruled in the years since 9/11 that a detainee captured on the field of battle need not receive immediate access to counsel. But at this point, more than two months have passed without the government making any case for why this delay is necessary or constitutional.

If the detainee has already been in contact with a lawyer — or if he has decided he doesn’t want one — the government should make that clear. It should also make clear whether his relatives know of his detention and of their own right to litigate in his stead. And if that’s not the case, the judge should allow the ACLU to make contact with its potential client so he has the chance to have his day in court.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/view-from-away-the-us-militarys-mystery-detainee/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1282857_Syria_66928.jpg-e65cd.jpgSyrian troops and pro-government gunmen gather near a sign that reads, "Deir el-Zour welcomes you," after the Syrian city was taken from Islamic State fighters earlier. The Islamic State has continued to lose ground three years after they swept through the region.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:22:21 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/todays-editorial-cartoon-1473/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/todays-editorial-cartoon-1473/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784375 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/todays-editorial-cartoon-1473/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/784375_846873-12-6-Lost-Tribes.jpgFri, 08 Dec 2017 12:30:43 +0000 View from Away: Russia’s Olympic own goal http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/view-from-away-russias-olympic-own-goal/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/view-from-away-russias-olympic-own-goal/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784390 The International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea will certainly enrage and disappoint many Russians. They may point out, correctly, that sports doping and cheating exist in the West, too — witness Lance Armstrong. But what’s important this time, as multiple investigations have revealed, is that doping in Russia was a state-sponsored activity, under the sports ministry and with help from the Federal Security Service, a successor agency to the Soviet KGB. The unprecedented action by the IOC was justified.

Investigations have shown Russian cheating to be widespread. Richard McLaren’s report last December for the World Anti-Doping Agency, based in part on evidence obtained from the computer of a Russian whistleblower, found that Russia had carried out an “institutional conspiracy” involving both summer and winter athletes, the Ministry of Sport and the FSB “for the purposes of manipulating doping controls.” Moreover, the “systematic and centralized cover up and manipulation of the doping control process” extended from the London 2012 Summer Games to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, and for a while after that, too.

Perhaps the most remarkable and brazen corruption took place at Sochi, the extravaganza that President Vladimir Putin hailed as a symbol of Russia’s resurgence. Unbeknownst to the world at the time, the Russian government ran a scheme to tamper with the urine samples of Russian athletes, including those who had been given a cocktail of steroids. According to McLaren, at a Sochi laboratory, dirty samples were passed through a “mouse hole” where they were swapped for clean ones. In the “well-oiled systemic cheating scheme,” if any athletes using drugs to cheat were not shielded from detection by the various field mechanisms Russia had put in place, they were protected by a “final fail-safe mechanism” that would falsify their test results. McLaren found evidence that the deputy sports minister was in charge of the process.

Russia’s Olympic gold medals at Sochi have been revised in light of the findings from 13 to nine; silver from 11 to four; bronze from nine to eight. All told, McLaren reported that more than 1,000 Russian athletes were either involved in or benefited from the coverup and manipulation of the doping control process. In South Korea, individual Russian athletes who are clean, based on “strict conditions” and a review by a special panel, are being invited as “Olympic Athlete from Russia” with a uniform bearing that name. There will be no Russian flag or anthem. This seems a reasonable way to avoid penalizing innocent athletes. Putin said Moscow will not boycott the games.

In Russia, the IOC action may provoke howls of protest that the West is maltreating Russia to gain some advantage in a new Cold War. But this would be quite wrong. The Russian cheating was homemade, and Russian fans ought to be angry at their leadership for such reckless disregard for the integrity of international sport.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/view-from-away-russias-olympic-own-goal/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1297637_IOC_Russian_Doping_42892.jp_.jpgInternational Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach from Germany, left, and Samuel Schmid, president of the IOC Inquiry Commission and former president of Switzerland, right, comment during a news conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics as neutrals despite orchestrated doping at the 2014 Sochi Games, the International Olympic Committee said.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:24:13 +0000
George Will: Nobody knows if a tax cut bill built on hope will stir growth http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/george-will-nobody-knows-if-a-tax-cut-bill-built-on-hope-will-stir-growth/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/george-will-nobody-knows-if-a-tax-cut-bill-built-on-hope-will-stir-growth/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784387 The Republicans’ tax legislation is built on economic projections that are as confidently as they are cheerfully made concerning the legislation’s shaping effect on the economy over the next 10 years. This claim to prescience must amaze alumni of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which were 85 and 158 years old, respectively, when they expired less than 10 years ago in the unanticipated Great Recession.

The predictions of gross domestic product and revenue growth assume, among many other things, continuation of the current expansion. It began in June 2009 and has been notable for its anemia relative to other post-1945 expansions: Its average annual growth rate has been 2 percent; theirs, 4.3 percent. But it also has been remarkably durable. It is 102 months old; the average since after World War II is 58 months. Unless the business cycle has been repealed, a recession is almost a certainty during the 10-year window for which the tax bill has been tailored.

What the legislation’s drafters anticipate, indeed proclaim, is that Congress will not allow to happen what the legislation says, with a wink, will happen. So, this might mark the historic moment when Washington decided that it no longer will bother to blush. The legislation says the tax reductions for individuals will expire by 2025. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, however, says “we have every expectation that down the road Congress will extend them.” Of course Congress will. The phantom expiration is an $800 billion fudge, a cooking of the books in order to cram the tax bill into conformity with arcane parliamentary procedures that make the measure immune to filibuster. We have been down this road before: For the same reason, some George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 were scheduled to expire at the end of 2010; 82 percent of them (measured by revenue) did not.

The Democrats’ denunciation of the Republicans’ tax cuts because they especially benefit the wealthy is a recyclable denunciation of any significant tax cut. The top 1 percent of earners supply 39 percent of income tax revenues, the top 10 percent supply 70 percent, the bottom 50 percent supply 3 percent, 60 percent of households pay either no income taxes (45 percent) or less than 5 percent of their income, and 62 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. So, any tax cut significant to macroeconomic policy – any that might change incentives sufficiently to substantially change businesses’ and individuals’ behaviors — must be primarily a cut for the affluent.

Democrats pretend to worry that Republicans are executing a diabolical double play, using tax cuts to placate donors, then citing the cuts’ enlargement of the national debt as an excuse to cut entitlements. Surely Democrats know that Republicans are not insubordinate to their president, who has vowed to oppose any significant (i.e., touching Social Security or Medicare) entitlement reforms. Besides, whenever Republicans run large budget deficits — the tax legislation probably means that the next decade’s will be even larger than they would have been — they serve the Democrats’ basic agenda: They legitimize the bipartisan penchant for making big government seem cheap. Republicans, too, give people $X worth of government services and charge the recipients $Y, with Y significantly less than X.

In 2002, when Dick Cheney — a strict constructionist, but not of economic data — said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” the publicly held national debt was 33 percent the size of GDP; today, it is 75 percent. At some point, the debt’s size matters, and we seem determined to learn the hard way where that point is.

This tax legislation, an amalgam of earnest hoping and transparent make-believe, is a serious lunge for sustained 3 percent growth. Without this, the economy, and hence the entitlement state, will buckle beneath the strain of 10,000 of the elderly each day becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans purport to know how changed tax incentives will affect corporations’ and individuals’ decisions, and how those decisions will radiate through the economy. Republicans do not know — nobody, including the Republicans’ equally overconfident critics, does — but they might be right, and their wager is worth trying.

Economics is a science of incentives, and like all sciences it is never “settled.” Both sides, with their thumping predictions, have given hostages to the future, which will deal harshly with some. Perhaps most. Possibly all of them.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/george-will-nobody-knows-if-a-tax-cut-bill-built-on-hope-will-stir-growth/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1295405_APTOPIX_Congress_Taxes_212.jpgSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon, left, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., speaks to small-business owners Thursday on Capitol Hill as Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:29:32 +0000
Maine Compass: Deadline for federal health insurance enrollment is just days away http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/maine-compass-deadline-for-federal-health-insurance-enrollment-is-just-days-away/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/maine-compass-deadline-for-federal-health-insurance-enrollment-is-just-days-away/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784388 As we all prepare for the holidays, it is important to remember that it’s open enrollment time. If you need health coverage, you should know that this year, individuals have a shorter period of time to enroll and select their plans — and fewer options to choose from. The open enrollment period this year is only six weeks — half as long as last year. The enrollment deadline is Dec. 15 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. Maine residents who want individual health insurance must go online soon and shop for the plan that best fits their needs and the needs of their family.

It has been widely reported that premiums are going up around the country, and unfortunately, this is also true of Maine. The cost of health care services continues to rise, and recent administrative and legislative decisions made in Washington have directly led to increasing insurance premiums.

Fortunately, most Maine residents purchasing on the exchange will be protected from these increases. While premiums are going up, many Mainers will also see their premium subsidy increase. These subsidies, known as the advanced premium tax credit, offset the cost of health insurance and will allow some residents to purchase health insurance with either very low or zero monthly premiums, depending on their income.

Additionally, certain eligible individuals will also find that another federal subsidy, called cost-sharing reduction subsidies, will dramatically reduce their deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. These cost-sharing reduction subsidies, however, are available only for so-called “Silver” plans, which may have slightly higher monthly premiums. While you may have read that funding for this subsidy has been ended by actions in Washington, these affordable and attractive plans are still offered on the exchange.

Therefore, this year more than ever, it is extremely important that consumers carefully consider all the costs associated with a health insurance plan, including the premium, deductibles, co-payments, coinsurance and any other out-of-pocket expenses. If individuals have questions about the health plans available on Healthcare.gov, they should know that there are health navigators and certified assisters throughout the state of Maine who can help them with their concerns. These trained professionals have an extensive background in health care and can be reached online at enroll207.com or toll-free by phone at 800-965-7476. Consumers can also contact a licensed broker or even call a health plan directly.

Lastly, consumers will also notice that this year there will be fewer health insurers participating on the exchange through Healthcare.gov, so individuals will find fewer choices than in previous years. Health insurer participation rates around the country have declined, but in Maine, consumers will still find options from two quality health insurers, including Harvard Pilgrim, and be able to choose from several health insurance plans.

In Maine, much credit for the survival of the public health exchange is due to the leadership of the Maine Bureau of Insurance. Amid indecision from Washington about whether or not the cost-sharing reduction payments would be funded, Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa was fair and decisive in his approach to regulating the marketplace for 2018. His foresight ensured that residents both had the opportunity to voice their concerns during the process and that Mainers would have a choice in health plans for 2018.

Harvard Pilgrim is proud to have participated in the Maine health insurance exchange for the past three years. As a company celebrating our 50th anniversary, and with over 20 years of serving Maine residents, our commitment to the state of Maine goes well beyond our role as an insurance provider – we hope to be a strong corporate citizen, in line with our not-for-profit mission and our core values.

So, before you get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, please take the time to review your individual health insurance options for 2018 at Healthcare.gov. Dec. 15 and the end of open enrollment are right around the corner.

Edward Kane is Maine vice president for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/09/maine-compass-deadline-for-federal-health-insurance-enrollment-is-just-days-away/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1285128_Health_Overhaul_Sign_Ups_2.jpgThe Healthcare.gov website is seen on a computer screen. The government says more than 600,000 people signed up for Affordable Care Act coverage in the first week of open enrollment season, and nearly 8 in 10 of those were current customers renewing their coverage.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:26:59 +0000
Our View: No time to let up on veteran homelessness http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/our-view-no-time-to-let-up-on-veteran-homelessness/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/our-view-no-time-to-let-up-on-veteran-homelessness/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784046 Veteran homelessness in 2010 was a nationwide problem, and a national disgrace. Since then, it has been cut nearly in half, and effectively ended in many communities.

That’s no mistake — a concerted effort between federal agencies and their state and local partners lasered in on the problem. Through a joint HUD-VA program, housing has been found or maintained for more than 138,000 veterans in the last seven years.

Despite this clear success, the Trump administration moved recently to end the program, known as HUD-VA Supportive Housing. After an outcry, the VA yesterday appeared to step back from its plan, saying instead that it would take time to review its funding.

In military terms, advocates won the battle, but the war is far from over. There remains an unacceptable number of homeless veterans that need help, and those recently helped by the program continue to need support. It is a difficult population, one dealing with poor health, mental illness and other vulnerabilities — if the program is ended and the supports not adequately filled in, the successes of the last few years can go away as fast as they came.

The HUD-VA Supportive Housing targets homelessness through a combination of housing vouchers through HUD and case management, which the VA provides. Case managers can work with landlords, and help veterans pay bills, access agency services and find work.

Veteran by veteran, this program has lowered the rate of homelessness among former service members. The 2016 homelessness count found slightly fewer than 40,000 homeless vets across the country, the sixth straight year showing a decline, and a 46 percent drop from 2010. Some communities have even declared an end to veteran homelessness in their area. Maine, too, has made great strides.

But the problem is far from over. The nationwide count this year found a slight uptick, about 1.5 percent, which can be almost entirely attributed to an increase in the Los Angeles area, where high housing prices have meant that housing vouchers are not as attractive to landlords.

That might mean that an adjustment in strategy is necessary in attacking homelessness in high-cost areas. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that 40,000 veterans still need homes, and that many more continue to need ongoing support from the HUD-VA program. It certainly doesn’t warrant a complete dismantling of a program that has worked so well.

The Dec. 1 announcement to end the program was met with gasps from advocates, state officials, even HUD representatives. All 14 members of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction-VA Subcommittee — Democrats and Republicans alike — sent a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin asking him to reconsider.

On Tuesday, Shulkin seemed to acquiesce. “Over the next six months, I will solicit input from our local VA leaders and external stakeholders on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most,” he said. “Based on that input we will come forward with proposals for fiscal year 2019 on how to improve the targeting of our homeless program funding.”

That’s a delay, not a promise. A program that has proven itself so effective at solving an immensely difficult problem deserves a whole-hearted endorsement, and advocates shouldn’t rest until Shulkin provides one.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/our-view-no-time-to-let-up-on-veteran-homelessness/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2014/11/899071-20141030_homeless-ve.jpgPORTLAND, ME Ð OCTOBER 30: Mike Gavitt sits outside the Oxford Street Shelter in Portland, Thurs. October 30, 2014. With help from the staff of the shelter, he has found a room in a local sober house. But Gavitt, 70, a Vietnam veteran who has lived on and off the streets for years, talks about moving on to another state.Ê(Photo by Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer)Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:38:55 +0000
View from Away: Undermining America’s lands http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/view-from-away-undermining-americas-lands/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/view-from-away-undermining-americas-lands/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784049 President Donald Trump entered the Oval Office an avowed enemy of environmental protection. This week the degree of his shortsightedness became clearer, with announcements suggesting he will aggressively undermine the measures his predecessors took to preserve precious lands and resources.

In Salt Lake City on Monday, Trump withdrewsome 2 million acres of spectacular landscape from two national monuments in southern Utah: Bears Ears National Monument, which President Barack Obama declared late last year, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has enjoyed protection from drilling and other disturbances for two decades. This single move constituted the largest ever reduction in protected federal lands. Then on Tuesday it emerged that Ryan Zinke, Trump’s fox-in-henhouse interior secretary, will recommend paring back or loosening restrictions on 10 more national monuments around the country.

Several environmental and Native American groups immediately filed suit over Trump’s withdrawal, claiming that, while the president can unilaterally preserve land by creating or expanding national monuments, the White House cannot on its own withdraw acreage from existing monuments. The question has not been tested in court. But the groups face an uphill fight, considering that the law is extremely deferential to the president and stipulates that monuments should be only as large as is necessary to protect objects of interest requiring preservation. The administration will argue that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama each abused their authorities, setting aside vastly more federal property than necessary to preserve American treasures, such as the ruins scattered around Bears Ears and the geological wonders in Grand Staircase.

Yet while the legality of Trump’s move is debatable, its ill wisdom is less so. In general, public lands and waters should be open to development, including drilling, so that the nation’s resources can drive national growth, enable all sorts of recreation and benefit nearby towns and cities. But the federal government owns some lands that are simply too precious to permanently sully in pursuit of temporary economic gains. Bears Ears, with its spectacular canyons, buttes and unspoiled archaeological sites, is one such place. Grand Staircase, a natural wonderland of ancient topology and fossilized prehistory, is another. When administering such unique places, the government must err on the side of conservation.

Even as Utah ran an expensive national ad campaign encouraging Americans to visit the state’s natural treasures, its congressional delegation fought Bears Ears and they have cheered Trump’s announcement. Yet even for them, the reduction in size was radical. Utah officials had previously proposed protecting an area much larger than the truncated Bears Ears that Trump left as he departed Salt Lake City. Now it is their responsibility to fill the conservation gaps that the president has left.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/view-from-away-undermining-americas-lands/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/09/759009_164284_20170615_monument_6.jpgThe East Branch of the Penobscot River near Whetstone Falls in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, as seen on June 15.Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:40:40 +0000
MaineHousing director: Tax bill will make our state’s affordable-housing crisis even worse http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/mainehousing-director-tax-bill-will-make-our-states-affordable-housing-crisis-even-worse/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/mainehousing-director-tax-bill-will-make-our-states-affordable-housing-crisis-even-worse/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/mainehousing-director-tax-bill-will-make-our-states-affordable-housing-crisis-even-worse/ AUGUSTA — In the coming days, a congressional conference committee will reconcile the differences between the U.S. House and Senate bills to modify the U.S. tax code. The outcome could affect whether more Maine seniors and families will be able to move off waiting lists and into affordable housing; whether prospective homebuyers will be able to purchase their first house; and whether construction workers will be building multifamily housing vitally needed in a state where housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Under the House plan, the tax-exempt status of private activity bonds would be eliminated, wiping out a critical tool that Maine has counted on for decades to provide below-market-rate mortgages and build affordable rentals for people who earn 50 percent to 60 percent of an area’s annual median income, or between $22,300 and $34,680 for a two-person household.

The Senate version retains private activity bonds. It’s imperative that they are kept in the final version; otherwise, Maine could face a loss of nearly 2,000 affordable-housing units in the next decade, and thousands of prospective homebuyers would not be able to purchase their first home.

The private activity bond program, created in 1968 and modified in 1986, is held in high regard. Here’s how it works: Investors purchase bonds that earn interest that is not subject to federal taxes. They receive a lower interest rate on the bond, and that lower rate is passed on as a low-rate home mortgage or development loan.

In addition to providing below-market-rate loans, private activity bonds are required to access a key component of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Under this program, investors purchase an ownership interest in the rental project and receive a federal tax credit for a 10-year period.

Private activity bonds, together with low-income housing tax credits, finance about 300 affordable apartments each year in Maine. More than 1,075 units were constructed or rehabilitated from 2010 to 2016 through a $147.5 million combined total investment of private activity bonds and housing tax credits. Meanwhile, thousands of seniors and lower-income wage earners have their names on waiting lists for when apartments become available.

Since 2013, the bonds and tax credits have financed the construction or rehabilitation of 587 apartments for seniors and families in 10 southern Maine communities. They include the Malcolm E. Noyes Apartments in Westbrook (38 new units for seniors) and The Ledges in Saco (84 renovated units for seniors).

Also, because of private activity bonds, almost 3,900 first-time buyers have purchased a house using our First Home Loan program in the past five years.

Through these crucial programs, Maine gains private-sector investment that serves an important public purpose – providing affordable housing, which is desperately needed in most of the state. According to MaineHousing’s Affordability Index, in 2016 nearly 58 percent of renter households statewide couldn’t afford the median two-bedroom rent of $872 (plus utilities), and almost 53 percent of total households could not afford the median home price of $184,000.

For homebuyers, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Sagadahoc and York counties are unaffordable in comparison to the state’s other 11 counties. In Cumberland County in 2016, the median home price was $256,000 and the median income was $59,748. Sixty percent of households there cannot afford the median home price.

For renters, all Maine counties except Knox and Lincoln were unaffordable in 2016.

Putting a chill on affordable-housing development would affect Maine’s economy, too. In 2015-2016, 29 housing projects that received $180 million from MaineHousing and all of our leveraged sources added 1,120 units and created 2,444 jobs with $74 million in wages, according to an economic impact study by the University of Southern Maine. The jobs comprised 17 percent of annual residential construction employment.

MaineHousing was established by the Maine Legislature nearly 50 years ago with the mission to assist Maine people in obtaining and maintaining quality, affordable housing and services suitable to their housing needs.

I’m proud of the work our agency has done in collaboration with affordable-housing developers and lenders in Maine to keep costs down while meeting the needs of families, seniors and veterans. Congress should not eliminate successful programs with proven outcomes.

Mainers are counting on us.

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Maine Compass: Tax bills would be an assault on educational opportunities http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/maine-compass-tax-bills-would-be-an-assault-on-educational-opportunities/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/maine-compass-tax-bills-would-be-an-assault-on-educational-opportunities/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784050 As Congress works to reconcile differences between the House and Senate tax bills, it is worth pausing to consider the impact of both on the nation’s young people and their life prospects. After an election driven in no small part by concerns that, for the first time in U.S. history, our children’s lives might not be better than their parents’, this legislation’s assault on educational opportunity is as puzzling as it is ill-conceived.

According to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Commission on Taxation, the House version of the bill would cost America’s students an estimated $71 billion over the next decade. Cuts directed at students will eliminate a range of tax benefits for undergraduates and their families, hike taxes on graduate students by thousands of dollars and place unprecedented burdens on colleges and universities.

LOAN INTEREST DEDUCTION

The House bill repeals the student loan interest deduction, which allows borrowers making less than $80,000 per year to deduct the interest they pay on student loans. In 2015 alone, this provision offered tax relief to 12 million American households.

The House proposal also targets continuing education, eliminating the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Hope Scholarship Credit and the deductibility of employer-provided tuition assistance. These supports are sorely needed in Maine, where barely 40 percent of residents hold college degrees, and where economists estimate that 15,000 new high-skilled positions will go unfilled unless more residents complete some level of higher education. Work is changing rapidly, and workers need to keep up. Eliminating deductions that allow working adults to retool with new skills and credentials will only widen the skills gap in Maine, making it harder for individuals to earn a living and harder for the state to attract new businesses.

Taxing graduate school tuition waivers would create insurmountable financial barriers for our most talented and ambitious scholars, and seriously threaten the American research enterprise, which has long been the innovation engine of the world. These students power American research by teaching undergraduates and working in labs while pursuing their graduate degrees. Advances in medical technology, global positioning systems, antibiotics and weather forecasting, among countless other examples, all originated in university research.

Colleges and universities also face real burdens from both versions of the bill.

• The House would eliminate tax-exempt private activity bonds, which colleges use to finance the building of dormitories, classrooms and laboratories that support learning and research.

• Both the House and Senate versions also raise the standard deduction, reducing the incentive for donors to make charitable contributions that colleges — and all charitable organizations — depend on.

• Both proposals levy an excise tax on investment income from college endowments above a certain level, depriving colleges and universities of an estimated $2.4 billion over 10 years that is currently used to support programs, like financial aid, that directly benefit students.

• Finally, eliminating or capping the federal deduction for state and local taxes – measures contained in both bills — will put pressure on states to cut income taxes, reducing a key revenue source for Maine’s perennially strapped community colleges and public universities.

LONG-TERM INVESTMENT

Seventy-three years ago, in 1944, as soldiers returned from World War II, the American Legion proposed a new kind of veterans benefit designed not as a short-term cash bonus, which had been the norm, but as a long-term investment in the education and life prospects of returning soldiers. The GI Bill, enacted with bipartisan support, provided veterans with, among other benefits, tuition and living assistance to attend high school, college, graduate school or training programs. By 1957, 7.8 million veterans had taken advantage of these educational benefits.

This influx of talent and ambition into the nation’s colleges and universities, combined with federal support for university research, created the greatest engine of innovation in the world, expanded the pool of highly skilled labor and ushered in an unprecedented period of U.S. economic growth.

Congress’ current efforts at tax reform stand in sharp contrast to the expansive vision of the GI Bill. By increasing the cost of education for both students and institutions, the tax bill will constrict access to education at a time when it has never been more vital to individual advancement or national prosperity.

It is ironic that a measure called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” promises to constrain development of the labor force needed to do these jobs.

Clayton Spencer is president of Bates College in Lewiston.

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Maine Compass: Retailers, consumers and state will benefit from tax reform bill http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/maine-compass-retailers-consumers-and-state-will-benefit-from-tax-reform-bill/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/maine-compass-retailers-consumers-and-state-will-benefit-from-tax-reform-bill/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784051 After more than three decades, Congress finally passed much-needed and long-overdue tax relief for millions of families and businesses. For Maine and its nearly 9,000 retail establishments and more than 80,000 retail jobs, this is a welcome relief for small businesses.

We owe Sen. Susan Collins a heartfelt “thank you” for helping push the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act over the finish line. As she has done many times throughout her career, Sen. Collins was a critical force during the negotiations and was able to make significant changes to the bill addressing some of her major concerns.

SMALL COMPANIES ARE BIG WINNERS

We elect all of our congressional representatives to work hard for the people of Maine, and if these issues were all easy, all four would vote the same way each time. However, the issues are often complex and the process can be frustrating, but we rely on our elected officials to work hard and make informed decisions. Tax reform is a great example of that, and Sen. Collins used her leverage wisely to improve the bill.

Retailers in Maine have been advocating for tax reform for years, calling on Congress to push against tax breaks that benefit only select industries and instead use that revenue to lower rates for all companies, including small businesses. The retail industry is Maine’s largest private-sector employer and contributes $1.5 billion to the state gross domestic product, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Maine deserves legislation that will help generate jobs and economic growth.

While some critics will argue that this tax bill only benefits large companies, that is simply not true. They need to remember that 95 percent of retailers operate in just one location and 98 percent of retailers have 50 or fewer employees. Retailers are truly small businesses, and it’s clear they will be much better off under this bill.

Not only will Main Street retailers see the lowest tax rates in decades, they’ll benefit from a fairer and simpler tax code that leads to lower compliance costs. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate, small businesses spend nearly $16 billion complying with our nation’s complicated tax code, which is money that could be better spent on growth, job creation and higher wages. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will free up resources for retailers in a variety of ways, including by simplifying inventory accounting rules and promoting capital investment.

RETAILERS GET BADLY NEEDED RELIEF

Here are the three main reasons why passage of this new tax bill is good for Maine’s retail industry and the state as a whole:

• First, it addresses retail’s high, unequal tax burden: This legislation cuts business tax rates and closes loopholes, thus lowering retail’s high and unequal tax burden and leveling the playing field for the industry. Retail currently pays the highest effective tax rate of any industry, the National Retail Federation has found. Most tax breaks and loopholes are not applicable to retail.

• Second, it will enable reinvestment: By lowering retail’s tax burden, this bill will enable employers to reinvest in their businesses and employees. That means stronger retailers, better pay and more jobs.

• Third, it provides vital tax relief to consumers: Consumers will receive much-needed tax relief and therefore, increase discretionary income. By one estimate, a family of four with an income of roughly $73,000 would save $1,500 each year in taxes. More consumers with more money to spend would be a long-lasting boon for retailers.

HELPING STATE BE COMPETITIVE

While the new tax bill isn’t perfect, it goes a long way in helping retailers and their employees. It creates a fairer tax code, triggers reinvestment in Maine and the rest of the country and boosts the spending power of consumers. These are all key ingredients for retailers in Maine to continue to grow and for our state to stay competitive.

As the bill continues its way through the final process of a committee of conference and additional votes in the House and Senate, we have no doubt that Sen. Collins will be a respected, thoughtful voice and continue to do the best she can for Maine.

Curtis Picard is president and CEO of the Augusta-based Retail Association of Maine.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/maine-compass-retailers-consumers-and-state-will-benefit-from-tax-reform-bill/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2015/11/721504-20151128_smallbiz_4.jpgPORTLAND, ME - NOVEMBER 28: A stretch of stores along the base of Munjoy Hill had open signs out and were ready for business as part of small business Saturday, November 28, 2015. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 07 Dec 2017 16:43:02 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/todays-editorial-cartoon-1470/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/todays-editorial-cartoon-1470/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=784047 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/08/todays-editorial-cartoon-1470/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/784047_846873-12-7-Texting-While-D.jpgThu, 07 Dec 2017 16:41:18 +0000 Douglas Rooks: Collins’ health care betrayal http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/douglas-rooks-collins-health-care-betrayal/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/douglas-rooks-collins-health-care-betrayal/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783715 Susan Collins had a choice, and made the wrong one. Her vote for the misbegotten Republican tax bill made a crucial difference, allowing Senate leadership to gain a 51-49 majority, not needing the embarrassing expedient of another tie-breaker from Vice President Mike Pence.

But the depth of Collins’ political iniquity is measured by her betrayal of constituents who lionized her for “saving” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when it was up for repeal earlier.

The Senate bill — unlike the House version — repeals the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance, so Collins bears particular responsibility for the “death spiral” of the insurance market Republicans always predicted for the ACA, but would now happen through their own malfeasance.

The individual mandate is usually described as the “most unpopular” ACA component, and it is, because no one likes paying a penalty for not buying a product. But requiring everyone to participate is essential to a stable market; the only alternative is to have government provide insurance directly, something most Republicans hate even more.

This explains Collins’ desperate claims that her amendments “mitigate” the damage from mandate repeal, citing “assurances” and “promises” from President Donald Trump — a risky bet.

And it’s impossible to “mitigate” the disaster of mandate repeal; pouring subsidies into a leaky bucket just throws good money after bad.

As it happens, Maine has relevant experience in solving the same problem Collins’ vote would create. It once had an unusually high number of uninsured drivers, who, because most couldn’t pay for damage and injuries they caused in accidents, drove up insurance rates.

It took six years and three versions, each stronger than the last, but the Legislature finally created an effective system of mandatory liability insurance — a national model. And, not coincidentally, Maine now has the nation’s lowest automobile insurance rates.

Collins can’t plead ignorance. Her major government post, before joining the Senate in 1996, was as Maine’s commissioner of Professional and Financial Regulation, overseeing insurance markets.

So why, after she opposed ACA repeal, did she vote to make its key new component, a national individual market, die a slow death? Congress’s official scorecard charts the consequences: 13 million more Americans uninsured, and soaring premiums for everyone left in the individual market.

The answer may be simpler than we think: Republicans have proven singularly bad at crafting legislation, such as the necessary “replacement” had they repealed the ACA. Only one thing still unites them: tax cuts, the more the better, especially when directed to the 1 percent and the world’s biggest corporations.

Collins’ explanations here are even weaker than on health insurance. She tweeted that the bill would spur “creation of good jobs and greater economic growth.”

That fantasy was exploded by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive tapped by Donald Trump to lead the National Economic Council, who asked top CEOs assembled by the Wall Street Journal whether they’d invest their enormous tax breaks to create new products and services. Almost none said yes; instead, they’d add to reserves or merge with other companies — the latter, as Republicans say, a proven job-killer.

There’s usually some short-term stimulus when the federal government cuts taxes, but it always increases the deficit and long-term debt. Collins couldn’t answer NBC’s Chuck Todd, who asked why she said a $14 trillion debt under President Barack Obama was problematic, but that it’s fine to increase the current $20 trillion debt.

If stimulating growth is the aim, it’s more effective to have government spend directly — on roads and bridges, higher education, job training, and a dozen other priorities that withered amid the Great Recession, and haven’t come back.

Now, the only hope for the individual insurance market would be the House rejecting the Senate’s mandate repeal — highly unlikely. Mainers aren’t convinced; some 80 percent of readers from Collins’ hometown Bangor Daily News said she voted wrong.

One question remains about why Republicans persist in making tax cuts their sole policy priority every time they control Congress.

The answer lies with Democrats. Despite their consistently better management of the national economy while in office, they can’t bring themselves to say tax cuts don’t work. Even in the Trump round, more economically irrational than the Reagan and Bush II versions, they object only to the distribution of cuts — not to making them.

Democrats must finally say what just about everyone already knows: Making income distribution even more unequal, while gutting public services most Americans depend on every day, is a formula for disaster, both for the country and democracy itself.

When Democrats say “no more tax cuts,” Republicans will face actual opposition, both in Congress and in elections. Until then, nothing will change.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 33 years. His biography, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at: drooks@tds.net

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Warren Watson: Millions saved by Pacific war that never happened http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/warren-watson-millions-saved-by-pacific-war-that-never-happened/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/warren-watson-millions-saved-by-pacific-war-that-never-happened/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783717 My father — New Yorker Charlie Watson — nearly fought two wars during his combat time in World War II.

The first was in Italy, where he and his 91st Army Division methodically chased the Germans up the Italian boot for two years in the days just before VE Day in the spring of 1945.

But just as he was preparing for a new life and a new fiancée back in the U.S., he learned he was to be part of what would be the biggest single engagement of the Pacific campaign, a massive million-man assault of the Japanese mainland.

My dad was a humble soldier, decorated with the Bronze Star, focused on the task at hand. Later, in 1986, I did a video interview with him and he casually mentioned Japan and his possible fate. No big deal, he suggested.

It was called Operation Downfall. But it never happened, as it was rendered unnecessary by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in late summer 1945, much to the surprise of the world.

It was to be epic in scope. Forty percent of U.S. soldiers still in uniform in 1945 would be deployed. More than 180,000 paratroopers would join the landing craft. Fear of kamikaze attacks and poison gas drove military planners to drastic decisions.

It was all part of the peculiar final days of the war. Secretly, the Manhattan Project had been developed, and atomic tests conducted. The worrisome Soviets entered the theater as a full combatant on the Allied side against Japan. Conventional fire-bombing of cities was stepped up in an effort to bring Emperor Hirohito to his knees.

The United States desperately wanted the war over, to bring all its troops home. But the Japanese wouldn’t budge, fighting with ferocity and skill.

The U.S. had opened up Japan to the world in the mid 1850s. We then encouraged and condoned Japan’s muscle-building and development as the strongest power in the region. Japan later flexed those muscles, vanquishing Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and later initiating full-scale hostilities throughout Asia by invading China in the 1930s and then attacking the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

War raged around the world. In Europe, Hitler commanded a continent. In the Pacific, Japan’s legions gobbled up thousands of miles of islands. Our Asian war conjurs up images of the arduous and bloody island-hopping moves to roll back and to destroy Japan. Midway. Guadalcanal. the Philippines. Guam. New Guinea. Finally, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where 94 percent of 117,000 Japanese defenders perished.

The ending months in the Pacific were horrific at best. The U.S lost 111,000 dead and 253,000 wounded by the summer of 1945. U.S. forces vaulted closer to Japan. Local newspapers in Maine filled with combat obituaries.

Historian James Martin Davis wrote in the Omaha World Herald, “It might have been one of the bloodiest campaigns in the history of man.”

But Operation Downfall was abandoned when Japan surrendered following Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Set to start in November 1945, the campaign was intended to capture the southern third of Japan.

If Downfall had taken place, it would have been the largest amphibious operation in history. The war could be extended into 1947, some planners said.

Casualty predictions varied widely. One estimate predicted 6 million Japanese dead. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would be in peril.

So Dad, 24 at the time, went about his business, visiting New Hampshire, courting Claire St. Cyr, his future spouse, but putting off marriage plans until 1946.

And there were his brothers — John, 21, and George, 19. Both were already fighting in the Pacific theater in those uneasy times.

The atomic bombs ended it all. Suddenly the war was over.

Warren Watson, former executive editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, recently published his first book, a family memoir entitled “Claire and Charlie: An Unlikely Wartime Love Story,” available through major booksellers, including Amazon. He can be reached at: 765-702-8824

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/warren-watson-millions-saved-by-pacific-war-that-never-happened/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2015/08/689415_AP_798106571437.jpgOn Sept. 8, 1945, an allied correspondent stands in the rubble of Hiroshima, Japan. The building in the backgound is preserved as the Atomic Bomb Dome. Hiroshima was bombed on Aug. 6, 1945. Nagasaki was bombed three days later.Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:51:40 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/todays-editorial-cartoon-1469/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/todays-editorial-cartoon-1469/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783713 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/todays-editorial-cartoon-1469/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/783713_846873-12-6-Pearl-Harbor-2.jpgWed, 06 Dec 2017 15:59:00 +0000 View from Away: Two parties, two messages on sexual harassment http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/view-from-away-two-parties-two-messages-on-sexual-harassment/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/view-from-away-two-parties-two-messages-on-sexual-harassment/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783716 Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., finally — and thankfully — recognized he really had no choice but to resign as Congress’ longest-serving member in the face of mounting accusations from multiple women that he had sexually harassed them. His is the first departure as Congress confronts issues of sexual harassment. Surely it won’t be the last — not if Congress is serious about putting an end to workplace abuse and sexual misbehavior.

Conyers, 88, on Tuesday announced from a Detroit hospital where was being treated for a stress-related illness that he was immediately giving up the seat he has held for 52 years. It was sad to see the storied career of the longest-serving African-American in congressional history and an icon of liberal policymaking end so gracelessly. Having tried to delay the inevitable, he was defiant in his refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing and selfish in seeking to anoint his son as his successor. Voters, not legacy, will decide who represents the Detroit-area district.

Meanwhile, Conyers’ departure hopefully will serve as an example with lessons to be learned. Foremost to women who have been victims of sexual harassment and who saw themselves until recently as powerless to fight back and get justice. The women who stepped forward with credible claims of mistreatment were heard and believed, and there was an appropriate reckoning.

Some credit for that goes to the Democratic Party, which worked to force Conyers out of office after determining the allegations had merit. Seemingly first working behind the scenes and then publicly calling on him to resign, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made clear after some initial hesitation that the party will not tolerate sexual harassment. It’s a message that has been reinforced with Pelosi’s demand that another Democrat, Rep. Ruben Kihuen, Nev., accused of propositioning his campaign finance director, resign, and with Democratic party leaders welcoming a Senate ethics committee inquiry into allegations that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., groped women at public events.

Republicans, sad to say, are sending a very different message. It was recently revealed that Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim against him from his former spokeswoman. The woman, as detailed by Politico, saw her life upended. But there has been no call for Farenthold’s resignation from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., even though he was quick to want Conyers gone in the wake of similar allegations. Does Farenthold’s offer to pay back the $84,000 really set things right? Where’s the outrage?

We gather it’s in the same place Republicans parked their principles when they decided that helping elect an accused child sex predator to the Senate — or giving a pass to a president who boasted about assaulting women — was OK because it served their political purposes.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/view-from-away-two-parties-two-messages-on-sexual-harassment/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1297538_Sexual_Misconduct_Private_S.jpgRep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, announced his retirement Tuesday. Conyers has been accused of sexual harassment of his staff.Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:54:37 +0000
View from Away: The foundation of our democracy http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/view-from-away-the-foundation-of-our-democracy/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/07/view-from-away-the-foundation-of-our-democracy/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783781 Given how far President Donald Trump strays from the norms of democratic rhetoric, we think it useful from time to time to recall how a more presidential president might speak. This is another such time. Following the guilty plea of former national security adviser Michael Flynn in the special counsel investigation, Trump’s lawyer said a president cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice, and Trump himself has been attacking federal law enforcement:

“Many people in our Country are asking what the ‘Justice’ Department is going to do about the fact that totally Crooked Hillary, AFTER receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and ‘acid washed’ 33,000 Emails? No justice!”

“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.”

Here is what a presidential president might have said:

“I have the greatest respect for the men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department, who every day serve their country with honor – and at times put their lives on the line to do so. Because I am a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, it would be improper for me to comment on the specifics of the special counsel’s work. But in this heated political environment, I feel it’s important to emphasize my faith in the honesty and integrity of federal law enforcement.

“Justice must be served regarding any wrongdoing that took place during the election or the transition to my administration – the American people deserve nothing less. That’s why I’ve pledged my full cooperation with Mr. Mueller. I give my word that the special counsel will be able to continue his probe without political interference of any kind, and I ask my supporters and fellow Republicans equally to pledge the same.

“I am confident that the special counsel will proceed with the utmost honesty and care. When an agent was discovered to have sent political text messages during the election, Mr. Mueller seems to have moved expeditiously to remove him from his team. I’m confident that the Office of the Inspector General will address this matter professionally as part of its investigation into the bureau’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.

“I often think back to the words of my former Drug Enforcement Administration chief, Chuck Rosenberg, to his staff: ‘The neighborhoods in which we live are better for your commitment to the rule of law, dedication to the cause of justice, and perseverance in the face of adversity.’ That applies equally to all of our law enforcement professionals. I thank you for what you do every day.

“The rule of law is the foundation of our democracy. It is particularly important that I, as the president, be answerable both to the demands of justice and to the public. That’s true in my official actions – which is why I’ve rejected as utterly outlandish a proposal to establish a private-sector intelligence apparatus outside the usual structures of accountability. And it’s true regarding my conduct during the campaign and transition.

“In our great country, no person is above the law. In fact, that’s one of the attributes that makes our country great.”

Editorial by The Washington Post

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Our View: Maine’s next governor has to plug leaks along education pipeline http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/our-view-maines-next-governor-has-to-plug-leaks-along-education-pipeline/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/our-view-maines-next-governor-has-to-plug-leaks-along-education-pipeline/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783279 When Maine’s next governor takes office in January 2019, he or she will be faced with a problem that is as important as it is persistent: How does Maine make sure that each and every student gets the opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of their zip code?

Educators, policymakers and business owners have known for some time about the achievement gap between students that exists largely because of economic disadvantages, and that overcoming those disadvantages in order to keep students in school and learning is not only key for the student’s success but for the state economy too.

That, however, is easier said than done.

On Tuesday, Educate Maine, a business-led education advocacy organization concerned with college and career readiness, released its annual report on a series of indicators covering preschool through college graduation. While not much has changed in the last year, the indicators show some improvement since the first report in 2013 — just not enough to reach Educate Maine’s 2019 goals, or to sufficiently alter the conditions that are holding back the state economy.

The Educate Maine report looks at public education as a pipeline. It follows a hypothetical class of 12,800 Maine students as they start school, and shows what we can expect if state averages hold firm.

At the end, 11,150 will graduate high school. About 6,800 will go on to college, and about 3,250 will graduate with a two- or four-year degree.

With each falling number, you can see the leaks that occur along the pipeline. Sometimes, the students who fall out of the pipeline earn a trade certificate and enter the workforce, or come back to school later; in either case, they can do just fine.

But most of those students will struggle to find their place in the workforce, and as a result their future prospects will suffer. If it happens enough times, Maine businesses find it hard to fill positions.

The numbers are significant. Data suggests that around 14,000 Mainers ages 16 to 24 are not working or in school.

Programs such as Jobs for Maine Graduates have expanded to help these Mainers, who otherwise would see their supports diminish once they leave high school. Maine schools have a renewed focus on technical training too that can be aimed at students who aren’t drawn to the typical high school experience.

But to be effective, Maine has to look at the beginning of the pipeline, when students from economically disadvantaged households first start to fall behind.

The state is in some areas on the right track. Preschool access is on the way up, thanks to legislative changes that mandate pre-kindergarten and help local districts pay for it.

But more has to be done — the forces pushing in the other direction are too strong otherwise. The pressures of poverty and near poverty are hard on students. They move around more than other kids, have greater health challenges, and don’t get the same attention at home. They miss more school and have lower aspirations. They regress during summer break.

All of these factors make it more likely a student will fall off the pipeline before their time. That’s a loss for them, and for Maine.

That’s nothing that policymakers haven’t heard before — the problem and the stakes are clear.

Now it’s time to do something about it, and that takes leadership. Each of the candidates for governor should make solving this problem a central part of their campaign, so we can know who’s ready to take on this issue in 2019.

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George Smith: How to reinvigorate rural Maine http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/george-smith-how-to-reinvigorate-rural-maine/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/george-smith-how-to-reinvigorate-rural-maine/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783278 When Alan Caron announced his campaign for governor, it reminded me of an important and visionary report, Reinventing Maine Government, commissioned by GrowSmart Maine and issued by Envision Maine in 2010. Alan created GrowSmart, and in 2009 moved on to create Envision Maine, which he led until recently deciding to run for governor.

I enjoyed working with Alan over the years, especially on the Summit on the Rural Maine Economy that I helped Alan organize earlier this year in Bangor, where 350 people gathered to talk about what could be done to rescue rural Maine.

Reinventing Maine Government was a collaborative report that both analyzed Maine’s problems and recommended solutions. Sadly, most of those solutions have been ignored as our state continues to struggle.

Today I’m going to share some of those recommendations with you, hoping they can be resurrected and achieved.

The action plan presents the challenge this way: “Only a stronger economy can allow us to meet our many needs, change the demographic direction of Maine as an aging state, and pull the two Maines together. All of the following recommendations are designed with that purpose in mind: to free up resources for targeted investments in tomorrow’s prosperity.”

Here are the eight recommendations in the action plan.

1. Ending unfunded liabilities — pay our bills on time and stop adding more unsustainable obligations.

2. A smaller, smarter Legislature. Limit the number of bills, shrink the Legislature, and shorten the sessions.

3. A flatter, leaner, more responsive state government. Create a 21st-century government by gradually replacing outdated hierarchical bureaucracy with a flatter and more decentralized structure.

4. Fewer counties that do more. Create eight combined counties professionally run and more representative, to become the regional service delivery provider of the future.

5. Increasing collaboration between towns. Expand and accelerate regional cooperation and, where it makes sense, develop greater regional service delivery.

6. Innovating in public education. Move Maine toward the national average on student-teacher ratios, further consolidate administration, evaluate performance and put all savings into the classroom.

7. A fully coordinated system of higher education. Increase funding while coordinating overlapping systems, eliminating duplication and reducing excessive autonomy.

8. Slowing the climb of health care costs. Emphasize prevention, pay for health not sickness, increase competition and coordinate care.

The plan offers many details about how to achieve these goals as well as a history of each of our major problems. I particularly liked the section titled “The Hard Work” because, yes, all of this is hard work.

In that section you read about the difficulty of making one Maine out of two. The prosperous Maine is the southern section of our state with a strong and diverse economy. The other Maine, the rural Maine where many of us “want to live,” is a place where for a half-century or more the economy has been flat. Where for working families and the less educated, it has actually grown worse.

It is the Maine where agriculture and fishing jobs have succumbed to new technologies, new market demands and competition from overseas. Some of the areas in this Maine are rife with hardship and hopelessness. Here, stress and anger are on the rise, dropout rates and substance abuse are high, and good jobs and optimism are scarce.

Since this report was produced in 2010 this situation has only gotten worse. The report includes the 10 myths that hold us back, some guiding principles for reinventing government, and a very interesting analysis of state government spending. “If Maine spending on government were at the national and rural state average, we would save over $1 billion a year,” notes the report.

We learned in that section “as a percentage of our income we spend about 13 percent more on state and local government than the national average and 16 percent more than other rural states, making us the six highest spender in the nation in that category. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we get better results. In some cases we simply spend more and get less.”

In the section titled “The Three Great Ticking Time Bombs” the report explores our aging state. At that time Maine spent 24 percent more per person on health care than the U.S. average.

There’s a very good chapter on the inefficient structures of our state government and another on the unwieldy and overextended Legislature. “Maine ranks 40th in total population in the country but our legislature is the nation’s 10th largest. The cost of the legislature relative to income is 132 percent higher than the U.S. average and 68 percent higher than average of similarly rural states.” I really like the recommendations for modernizing the Legislature so that it can be more effective and efficient.

If you google “Reinventing Maine Government” you’ll find the report. It is definitely worth reading.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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Today’s editorial cartoon http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/todays-editorial-cartoon-1468/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/todays-editorial-cartoon-1468/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783280 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/todays-editorial-cartoon-1468/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/783280_846873-12-5-Utah-Monuments.jpgTue, 05 Dec 2017 16:10:20 +0000 View from Away: How to turn the tax bill from worse to bad http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/view-from-away-how-to-turn-the-tax-bill-from-worse-to-bad/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/view-from-away-how-to-turn-the-tax-bill-from-worse-to-bad/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=783284 Both Houses of Congress have now passed tax bills, and GOP lawmakers will over the next couple of weeks try to reconcile the two versions. Neither is an improvement over the status quo, and we’d be delighted if the conference collapsed and everyone agreed to start from scratch to craft a bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill. Still, that’s not likely — and there are worse and worser possible outcomes from a conference agreement.

The first step to a less-bad agreement would be to excise extraneous provisions tacked onto one bill or the other in order to pay off a particular lawmaker or to satisfy narrow ideological preoccupations. The Senate bill eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate, a big step toward repealing Obamacare without any sufficient replacement policy included or promised, and it allows drilling in the precious Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These should go. The House bill would open a gigantic campaign-cash loophole that in the name of “religious freedom” would enable people to funnel vast amounts of dark money into politics and claim a tax deduction for it. Strike that, too.

Next, bicameral negotiators should reduce the impact on the debt by scaling back the most unjustifiable giveaways to the wealthy. Rather than lowering the top individual income tax rate, they should agree to keep it at 39.6 percent, as the House bill would. Rather than accepting the House proposal to eliminate the estate tax, which applies only to very wealthy heirs, they should keep it as is. They should accept the Senate’s plan to maintain the individual alternative minimum tax, which ensures that wealthy wage earners cannot use loopholes to entirely escape paying a fair share.

Negotiators should take up President Donald Trump on his willingness to drop the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 22 percent, rather than the 20 percent each bill currently prescribes. Instead of spending the extra cash, they should use the savings to limit the damage GOP tax cuts would do to the nation’s already stretched budget.

Finally, negotiators should soften their blatant attacks on Democratic states and other constituencies Republicans have singled out for punishment. Instead of chopping away at the deduction for state and local taxes, which would target taxpayers in blue states, they should reduce tax breaks in a fairer way, perhaps by further limiting the home mortgage deduction. The House bill, for example, would cap the applicability of the mortgage deduction at $500,000 in loans. And negotiators should drop all of the provisions in each bill that would slam universities and their students. These provisions raise little money, serving primarily as shortsighted legislative assaults on the country’s crucial institutions of learning and innovation.

Even if House-Senate negotiators took every one of these recommendations, the product would still be an expensive tax cut bill that a country in the midst of an accelerating economic recovery does not need and, over the long term, cannot afford. But the consequences would be less extreme.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/06/view-from-away-how-to-turn-the-tax-bill-from-worse-to-bad/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1296423_Congress_Taxes_74974.jpg-ec.jpgSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber to his office as the Republican tax bill nears a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington late Friday night. The Senate passed the measure, 51-49 on party lines, early Saturday morning.Tue, 05 Dec 2017 16:11:20 +0000
Commentary: Collins is wrong that the tax cuts will pay for themselves http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/05/commentary-collins-is-wrong-that-the-tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves/ http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/05/commentary-collins-is-wrong-that-the-tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 11:51:19 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/05/commentary-collins-is-wrong-that-the-tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves/ Sen. Susan Collins speaking on “Meet the Press” defended her vote on the Senate GOP tax bill based on the claims of the signatories to the nine economists’ letter that we have criticized over the last week. The Maine Republican explained: “If you take the CBO’s formula and apply it, just four-tenths of one percent increase in the GDP generates revenues of a trillion dollars. . . . So I think if we can stimulate the economy, create more jobs, that does generate more revenue.”

This is essentially a claim that the tax bill will pay for itself. The NBC show’s host, Chuck Todd, pointed to three contrary studies – none of which come from left-leaning institutions — that found that that tax cuts fall far short of paying for themselves. He then challenged Collins to produce a study suggesting that tax cuts do not create larger deficit. The senator responded, “Well, talk to economists like Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who used to be head of CBO, and they will tell you otherwise.”

In light of Collins’ statements and her central role in the tax policy debate, we believe it very important for public understanding that Holtz-Eakin, Hubbard and Lindsey make their views on tax cuts paying for themselves clear. If they believe as we do, as all the members of a nonpartisan panel of distinguished economists assembled by the University of Chicago, as Holtz Eakin asserted earlier this year, and Hubbard asserted some time ago, that tax cuts do not come close to paying for themselves, this seems essential to clarify.

In fact, we believe it would be useful for any of them to clarify that the Republican-appointed Joint Committee on Taxation’s (JCT) modeling is nonpartisan, expert and superior to more partial and partisan analyses. Moreover, we would note that the JCT’s estimate of less than a 0.08 percentage point additional annual growth rate increase is not inconsistent with the long-run output increases the authors claimed in their letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as they clarified in their response to us.

Alternatively if Holtz-Eakin, Hubbard and Lindsey now believe that tax cuts will pay for themselves, we think it appropriate for them to provide a basis for this belief in light of the many issues we have raised about their letter to Mnuchin.

Lawrence Summers and Jason Furman wrote this for The Washington Post.

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http://www.centralmaine.com/2017/12/05/commentary-collins-is-wrong-that-the-tax-cuts-will-pay-for-themselves/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1295805_978841-AP_17335745540736.jpgSen. Susan Collins with colleagues Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, and Luther Strange, R-Ala., on Friday. Debate on the Senate tax reform bill continued late Friday night.Tue, 05 Dec 2017 07:07:53 +0000