Opinion – Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel https://www.centralmaine.com Features news from the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Maine and Morning Sentinel of Waterville, Maine. Thu, 22 Feb 2018 05:11:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Our View: Land conservation not to blame for rising taxes https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/our-view-land-conservation-not-to-blame-for-rising-taxes/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/our-view-land-conservation-not-to-blame-for-rising-taxes/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=807150 For years, Gov. Paul LePage has blamed schools for being unwilling to control costs. Now, he says, it was the land trusts all along.

On the radio, in his State of the State address, and in a new report to legislators, the governor says it is the land trusts who are to blame for rising property taxes in Maine, as the land they protect is taken out of development and “off the rolls.”

He’s right about taxes have been rising, but despite the change in his target, he remains wrong about the reason.

In making his case, the governor keeps saying that Maine has more than $18 billion in tax-exempt property, equaling a total tax loss of more than $330 million a year.

But $11.8 billion worth is owned by federal, state and municipal governments, and no one is suggesting it be taxed.

Another $3 billion is owned by nonprofits like hospitals, and another $2 billion belongs to colleges and universities. LePage has tried to tax those two groups before; there are a number of good reasons not to, and he’s lost each time.

The rest is conservation land, but only some of it has been conserved through land trusts.

It’s that small piece that the governor blames for rising taxes, even though taxes are paid on some level on the vast majority of land conserved through trusts (and in other cases, land trusts make payments in lieu of taxes).

It’s not the same level of taxation that would be provided to a municipality if the land were fully developed, but that is a trade-off worth making in most cases. It’s hard to look at the working forestland conserved in recent years and say it would be better off as a housing development, or that the coastline preserved for use by all Mainers would be better off as an exclusive resort. It’s not like private development is being crowded out by conservation.

The governor may have a point that some communities are able to withstand that trade-off better than others. A recent report from the Maine Center for Investigative Reporting shows how conservation is felt more acutely in places like Lubec in Washington County, and how officials in those towns want more of a say in what land gets conserved.

But that’s a fix that requires a scalpel, not LePage’s usual hammer. And if the people of Lubec are worried about property taxes, they should look beyond land conservation and on to the State House and the governor’s office.

Property taxes have gone up in recent years, but they’ve gone up throughout the state, not just in the places where land has been conserved. In fact, the amount of tax-exempt property has not changed much in the last eight years, even as property taxes go up.

What has changed, however, is the amount of state aid to schools and municipalities.

According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the state has underfunded municipal revenue sharing by a total of $602 million from its traditional level since LePage took office. The percentage of school funding provided by the state has fallen too; if it had been held at 2010 levels, there would have been another $500 million helping to offset property taxes.

That’s far more money than conservation lands could have generated under any plausible scenario.

Guess it’s time for Gov. LePage to find a new scapegoat.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/our-view-land-conservation-not-to-blame-for-rising-taxes/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/1334925_107886-LandTrust.jpgThe public has access to trails along the rugged coastline of the Frenchboro Preserve in Hancock County through the conservation work of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.Tue, 20 Feb 2018 17:49:11 +0000
George Smith: See some trash? Pick it up https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/george-smith-see-some-trash-pick-it-up/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/george-smith-see-some-trash-pick-it-up/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=807148 Talking with our dump attendant recently, I was told our town could save a lot of money if people would do more recycling. Mount Vernon makes it easy to recycle, allowing us to dump all recyclables in a single bin. Yet too many residents still fail to participate.

From our oceans to our roadsides to our fields and forests, people are dumping their trash, harming fish and wildlife and our environment, and costing us a lot of money.

A Jan. 28 story in this newspaper reported that a survey by Friends of Casco Bay found small pieces of plastic waste known as microplastics in all four regions they checked out along the Maine coast. That didn’t really surprise me, but I did not realize that much of our marine life eats that plastic, which could be very harmful to them.

Do you enjoy eating mussels as I do? Well, almost 2,000 pieces of microplastics can go through their systems in a day. And after 72 hours of filtering water, dissected mussels still had traces of microplastics in their systems. I doubt you enjoy eating microplastics.

My wife Linda is a serious composter, something that could be very easy for you to do. Almost anything biodegradable can be put in the compost pile. A household pilot program to collect food waste in South Portland has increased recycling rates. But you don’t have to wait for an official program to come to your town.

You can start a compost pile in the backyard, and after it breaks down you can put the compost in your flower and vegetable gardens. If you don’t have a garden I’m sure your neighbor would love to have the compost for his or her gardens.

I am also hoping that our newspapers will launch a project to reuse and recycle the yellow plastic bags they deliver our newspapers in whenever it is snowing or raining. Linda and I collect the bags, putting them into one of the bags until it is full, then leave it out in the roadside box for our carrier to take and — we hope — reuse.

You can also participate in a project called Keep Maine Clean, created to remove litter from our waterways, woods, and roadsides.

A couple years ago, the Legislature, in response to legislation I proposed, expanded the landowner relations program at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by including the Keep Maine Clean project. Unfortunately, the agency only agreed to do the project in the woods, not along roadsides.

So I was very grateful when the Maine Resource Recovery Association stepped up to sponsor the project statewide. We hope to build an army of good folks who pick up trash along our roads and highways. And MRRA is focusing some of this effort on recycling the roadside trash, a great idea.

Glance out your car window as you drive Maine’s roads and you’ll know how important this is. Our roadsides are filled with trash, except where Mainers are picking it up. I’ve been doing this and writing about road slobs for several years now.

And I was doubly grateful when the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund gave a grant to MRRA to help get this project up and running. The latest MOHF email alert told us about this important project.

Keep Maine Clean is a statewide initiative dedicated to conserving Maine’s natural beauty by working to reduce litter, increase recycling and promote the responsible use of private lands used for public recreation.

Founded in a response to increasing amounts of roadside litter and illegal dumping on private lands, Keep Maine Clean recruits and engages outdoor enthusiasts willing to pick up and recycle trash along our roads, on our beaches and lakes, and in our fields and forests.

Keep Maine Clean works to encourage folks to pick up and recycle this trash as they walk Maine’s roads, beaches and forests and utilize private lands for public recreation.

To publicize the program and attract volunteers, a new website, www.keepmaineclean.org, was built and launched with two original PSA videos produced by O’Chang Comics. And you can also follow Keep Maine Clean on Facebook for more info.

Please do all of this, and help keep our state clean.

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

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/george-smith-see-some-trash-pick-it-up/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2015/06/405540_783382-2015-0624-community.jpgSomerset County Jail inmates take part in a community service project Wednesday by picking up litter along U.S. Route 201A in Norridgewock. From left are Jason Oliver, Richard Austin, Andrew Vesey and Brett Ward.Tue, 20 Feb 2018 17:43:50 +0000
View from Away: The FBI let us down https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/fbi-let-us-down/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/fbi-let-us-down/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=807152 In a stunning admission, the FBI announced Friday that a person close to Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, contacted the department on Jan. 5 to report concerns about Cruz’s disturbing behavior. That’s six weeks ago. Yet the Bureau did absolutely nothing with the information. It was an unforgivable lapse. And it became a deadly one.

Quickly, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign. Yes, the governor is carrying water for his pal President Donald Trump, jumping on the Bureau, and Wray, at the very time other Republicans, too, are badmouthing it, hoping to derail its role in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relations with Russia. Still, someone should lose a job over this one.

By admitting its error before it was discovered by outsiders, the FBI came clean and said it did not appropriately follow established protocols with the tip to its public line. Even more damning, agents didn’t bother to pass on the information to the Miami Field Office.

There’s no way to credibly say, “Oh, we’ll do better next time.”

The FBI also was warned in September about a school shooting threat from a YouTube user with Cruz’s name, according to a Mississippi video blogger. Ben Bennight said he reported the post to the FBI. It said: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” and it came from a user named Nikolas Cruz.

Bennight said FBI agents talked to him, but the agency said it could not track down the owner of the social media handle. Yet, Cruz flaunted his social-media persona; he definitely didn’t hide it.

It’s an infuriating act of negligence by a government agency charged with protecting Americans, and it came at such a painful human cost.

If the Bureau had just dug a little further, it would have found that local law enforcement responded to Cruz’s former family home on 39 occasions over a seven-year period. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said it wasn’t immediately clear why the officers had been called to the house.

Israel also defended the FBI. “Make no mistake about it America,” Israel said at a news conference. “The only person responsible is the shooter himself.”

That’s true, and in a country where such threats and risks and perils seem endless, there’s no telling how often the FBI has gotten it right. We have no doubt that agents’ hard work has thwarted domestic attacks, bombings, shootings and other mayhem planned by the sick and angry among us.

The regretful words “If only” haunt this tragedy. If only Cruz had received proper mental health treatment. If only the teenager couldn’t legally buy semi-automatic weapons. Now, we are left with one more: If only the FBI had done its job.

Editorial by the Miami Herald

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Maine Compass: Public access to information is at the heart of our democracy https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/our-view-public-access-to-information-is-at-the-heart-of-our-democracy/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/our-view-public-access-to-information-is-at-the-heart-of-our-democracy/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=807151 There were two stories recently that, taken together, illuminate a dangerous trend in Maine from the governor’s office to our local cops and school boards — the erosion of government transparency, and what we can do about it.

“Transparency” is a fancy term for what we used to call being open, telling the truth and having public servants keep the public fully informed of what those public servants, elected by the public, were doing with the public’s resources financed by taxes and fees paid for by the public. Pretty sure that’s why they call it “public service.”

The first story appeared Feb. 5, headlined “Governor’s office dodges requests for travel receipts.” It describes how Gov. Paul LePage and his security detail have traveled widely, to destinations as wide-ranging as California, Texas, Iceland, Finland and Washington, D.C., but have failed to produce detailed accounts of how much tax money they spent on what.

That article also describes how, in a similar display of stonewalling, a Portland lawyer last year was forced to sue the governor’s office to obtain public records regarding legal action LePage had taken against former President Barack Obama.

I support giving any public official the appropriate resources — including travel, lodging and reasonable expenses — to fulfill the duties of their office. But I demand to know exactly how that tax money was spent. Being elected does not somehow exclude you from following the law; it demands that you serve as an example abiding by all laws — even the ones you find inconvenient.

My concern goes way beyond our chief executive’s apparent disdain for transparency. The news is full of examples of town councils and school boards trying to evade public accountability by invoking questionable rationales for “executive sessions” where public business may be conducted in secret. And of police chiefs who refuse to open their activity logs, or politicians who don’t want to tell us who financed their campaigns.

A 2017 task force convened by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court simultaneously recommended that: (a) records of court proceedings are “presumptively public” and courts should be “open and transparent” and, (b) only lawyers should have online access statewide, while the rest of us will need to drive to whichever courthouse might possess the public records to view them. Go figure.

I have a simple question for these folks, from governor to dogcatcher: Who the hell do you think you are?

All public officials should err on the side of openness. We shouldn’t need lawyers and lawsuits to simply discover what the Freedom of Access Act clearly defines as public information. Maine has a wonderful tradition of bean supper-fueled town meetings where the entire populace turns out to vote, line by line, on the town’s budget and whether it’s time to buy a new snowplow. Every time a public official denies a request for public information, we’re losing another piece of that vital Maine tradition. Nothing less than the integrity of our democracy is at stake.

The second pertinent news story was headlined “Library’s essay contest focuses on role of media.” It announced that Skowhegan’s Margaret Chase Smith Library is inviting Maine high school seniors to submit essays on the importance of a free press to democracy. The library holds Sen. Smith’s papers and is dedicated to advancing the ideals of public service and civic engagement.

Encouraging young people to get involved with such civic-centered endeavors is a great response to the trend of politicians acting like they own the place.

The Maine Humanities Council offers similar opportunities for civic engagement through its “World In Your Libraries” speaker program. Under this program, the council sends expert speakers, free of charge, to Maine libraries for discussions on a variety of topics central to the principles of our democracy. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them.) More information is at the council website, under “Library Programs.”

There’s one more thing we can each do as we enter the 2018 election season. Every candidate for public office in Maine should answer this question: If elected, what will your policy be regarding the public’s right to public information?

Transparency is foundational to our democracy. We all have a right to know, not just the media, not just people who can afford lawyers. In our democracy, public officials don’t own the information, we do. So when we want to see it, public servants should never stand in our way.

Chet Lunner, a retired newspaper editor and national news correspondent, was a founder of the Maine chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He lives in Cape Elizabeth.

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Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/todays-editorial-cartoon-1546/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/todays-editorial-cartoon-1546/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=807153 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/todays-editorial-cartoon-1546/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/807153_846873-Russian-trolls.jpgTue, 20 Feb 2018 17:45:44 +0000 Greg Kesich: Students need to stay mad long enough to replace policymakers https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/greg-kesich-students-need-to-stay-mad-long-enough-to-replace-policymakers/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/greg-kesich-students-need-to-stay-mad-long-enough-to-replace-policymakers/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/21/greg-kesich-students-need-to-stay-mad-long-enough-to-replace-policymakers/ When I heard about another random massacre at a school, I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen next.

Nothing.

Some people would demand some mild form of gun control, maybe a ban on large magazines or a better background check system. Then others would rail about the Second Amendment and claim that a slippery slope toward total disarmament would result from these innocuous proposals.

We’d make all the familiar arguments and then we’d go back to doing what we had been doing before, and no one would be any safer.

But what if it was different this time? What if the traumatized but articulate student survivors of Parkland, Florida, did not just let us see their pain before leaving the stage in time for the next outrage? What if they demanded that we do something – and they didn’t stop until we did?

It doesn’t feel like the well-established pattern is about to be blown apart, but it never feels that way. It just happens. Maybe it will happen now.

If it does, it will be because the survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are innocent.

I don’t just mean that they didn’t deserve to be randomly shot at – no one does. But they are politically innocent. They are so far outside the process that most of them are too young to vote. They are not steeped in the back and forth of proposals and counterproposals and they are not burned out from the fight.

What they are is mad as hell. They are mostly mad at the National Rifle Association and the politicians who take the organization’s money and scuttle any attempt to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. But they are furious with all of us – the adults who have built this dangerous world where:

A deeply troubled teenager waving every red flag imaginable can walk into a gun store and buy an assault rifle.

The same kid can post about killing people on social media, freaking out enough people to prompt a call to an FBI tip line, yet still can’t be stopped.

Then he can walk into a school building and shoot for five minutes without encountering the armed guard on duty – the famous “good guy with a gun.”

And this is acceptable because we have a long tradition of gun ownership? Or because most gun owners are law abiding? Or because the only answer to gun violence is more guns?

You can see why Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez shouts, “We call BS!

If anything is going to change, young people like Gonzalez will have to stay mad. They will have to meet the emotional intensity of gun owners, which does more to drive policy than just the money the NRA spends on elections.

If Gonzalez and others like her are going to re-frame the debate, they need to vote, not just in this election (if they’re old enough) but also the one after that and the one after that, the way the NRA supporters do.

That’s not going to be easy. Polls show that most Americans support moderate gun control, but the passion is all with the minority who don’t.

No victims could be more heartbreaking than the 20 first-graders who were gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. But in the months that followed, Congress could not agree even to tighten the background check law that makes it harder for felons and severely mentally ill people to buy guns.

Even after 59 people were gunned down at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Congress could not limit the sale of bump stocks – an after-market device that makes semi-automatic rifles fire in bursts.

In the current political climate, there is no limit on gun ownership that would be considered small enough by the NRA. It’s hard to imagine the decades-old current regulations on fully automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns becoming law today.

The current group of policymakers won’t change their minds. They will have to be replaced with people who see the issue differently, and that’s the significance of the young activists getting their start in Parkland, Florida. They can keep this fight going a long time.

Nothing ever changes until it does.

I remember when it was considered rude to ask someone not to smoke in your house. I remember when politicians thought they would commit career suicide if they supported gay rights or same-sex marriage.

I remember when Hollywood producers could famously exploit aspiring actors without fear of reprisal.

All of those things have changed in what seems like an instant. And every time, we were all surprised.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

gkesich@pressherald.com

Twitter: gregkesich

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Our View: ‘Health homes’ come up short in opioid fight https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/our-view-health-homes-come-up-short-in-opioid-fight/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/our-view-health-homes-come-up-short-in-opioid-fight/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805823 Hailed by the LePage administration as an answer to the shortcomings it saw in many drug treatment programs, and by a bipartisan group of legislators as at least a step in the right direction, the opioid health homes funded last February provided hope that Maine was finally taking seriously, in some small way, the state’s dearth of treatment options.

Almost a year later, the Portland Press Herald reported last week, the health homes have served only a fraction of the Mainers planned, and only a handful of the uninsured who so desperately need help, leaving us to wonder when the state will meet the opioid epidemic with anything approaching a proportionate response.

As presented early last year, the plan was to use $4.8 million in state and federal money to provide comprehensive addiction treatment to more than 400 Maine residents, including about 170 who do not have insurance and thus have trouble accessing health care services, a problem that worsened when the governor cut the state’s Medicaid program.

The opioid health home model delivers treatment through primary care providers, who the administration feels are better equipped to care for people with addiction than traditional providers of the medication-assisted treatment provided by methadone clinics. The idea is that these medical offices can provide the medication Suboxone along with counseling, mental health care and peer recovery services and other forms of treatment under one roof.

But it appears that the model is asking a lot from doctors. The complicated structure of the opioid health homes, along with their cumbersome regulations and low reimbursement rates for the services provided, have kept many away.

According to a Feb. 6 memo from the Department of Health and Human Services, less than $60,000 has been spent on the program, and just five uninsured Mainers and fewer than 50 Medicaid recipients have been enrolled.

With so much riding on the opioid health home model, that is a failure, and it is disappointing.

The approval of funding for the initiative came just a few months after the Department of Health and Human Services pledged to spend $2.4 million to create 359 new treatment slots for the uninsured, seen as a signal that the LePage administration was finally embracing medication-assisted treatment, which has been shown to be the most effective strategy for treating opioid addiction.

But perhaps the celebration came too soon. Even if they were all filled, the 700 or so new treatment slots did not match the need, which treatment providers and anti-addiction advocates put in the thousands, but which DHHS continues to assert is much, much lower.

And providers recognized early on the problems with the health home model, shooting through the optimism of the moment and predicting what has happened so far.

DHHS did not respond to the Press Herald’s questions about the program’s underwhelming performance thus far. Officials should say whether they believe the program can be salvaged, and what we can expect over the next few months.

With an average of one person a day dying from a drug overdose, and thousands more in need of help, we need to know where they will go from here. It can’t be their best and final answer.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/our-view-health-homes-come-up-short-in-opioid-fight/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/08/opioids-1stld-writethru-13a3e3fc-8216-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab.jpgArt Gutierrez, 42, left, sits at a storefront in July, as another man sleeps on the sidewalk in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Fentanyl has been creeping into the heroin supply there, leading to a rise in overdoses. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Salwan GeorgesFri, 16 Feb 2018 16:26:02 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/todays-editorial-cartoon-1545/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/todays-editorial-cartoon-1545/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805822 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/todays-editorial-cartoon-1545/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/805822_846873-2-16-If-You-See-This.jpgFri, 16 Feb 2018 16:29:23 +0000 Maine Compass: Maine State Prison making great strides https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/maine-compass-maine-state-prison-making-great-strides/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/maine-compass-maine-state-prison-making-great-strides/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805821 Many inmates enter Maine State Prison detached, rebellious and refusing to cooperate with the programs available to them. At the prison, high-quality services are made available to inmates who wish to increase their knowledge and change the course of their lives. When a staff member takes the initiative and taps into the innate interests and needs of an inmate, that person learns that the programs offered can lead to many positive things, including greater confidence and an increased sense of self-worth.

In other words, the prison is becoming a positive environment supported by a staff of caring professionals who take their positions seriously. The administration offers a wide variety of academic, vocational and life-skills programs that are evidence-based and that offer a means for self-improvement to the people who participate. Staff members increasingly recognize that effective programs can empower inmates to take control of their lives. Good programs offer valuable tools which give people hope for change in the future. That in turn leads to lower recidivism rates, to the benefit of all.

One course of study is called “Psychology of Incarceration.” The program was developed by a man who endured over 20 years of incarceration within the confines of various maximum-security programs. Along with attaining a master’s degree over the course of his sentence, he developed this new educational model in conjunction with administrators and other inmates.

“Psychology of Incarceration” takes a cognitive behavior therapy approach: The person is led to understand that it was his own thinking that got him into prison, and it was that thinking process which could lead him out. Program participants come to realize that their lives are in their own hands, and it is they themselves who are responsible for any future success. They develop a positive self-image and renewed interest in education, employment and family connection. These attitudes provide a firm foundation for success after being released.

One inmate I know described to me how cocaine and heroin had seduced him, and how he even had traded food for drugs. He had been in and out of jails and mental hospitals most of his life, where he was exposed to people with “broken thinking” and no real code of moral behavior. He was sick and tired of living this way, and needing to maintain a false life on the outside. He described how the program reinforced what he had learned in an anger management program earlier, how to think constructively and develop the ability to focus and work towards his goals.

This man is artistically inclined and states that he always wanted to transcend the prison culture through self-expression. He stated that art for him is a means of putting the world into perspective, of taking the bad and the ugly and transforming that into something positive and beautiful.

He stated that “Psychology of Incarceration” got across to him that it was important to be in touch with his feelings, and how to deal with intense emotional responses to situations. “It opened up a new whole side of me, one that has allowed me to heal,” he says, and he calls it a “useful tool” that has brought hope into his life and has enabled him to move on. He has become a true inspiration for those of us who know him, and he shares his artistic skills with others in the prison.

It has become evident to the administration at the Maine State Prison that effective programming can help lower recidivism and serve as a gateway to a productive life after release by allowing allowing people to take control of their lives. The public and the Legislature need to understand the magnitude of the issues created if there is inadequate investment in treatment for those offended. The public must become more receptive to the possibility of transformation of those who are incarcerated.

Inmates need support to bridge the gap between life inside and the outside world and should be given a good opportunity to reassemble their lives in a positive way. The prison experience should be made as productive as humanly possible. Despite limited funding, Maine State Prison is making strides in that direction.

Jeffrey Libby is a certified literacy tutor and an inmate at the Maine State Prison.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/maine-compass-maine-state-prison-making-great-strides/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2016/02/797317_170376-libby0001.jpgWarren, Maine 12-31-2015— Convicted murderer Jeffrey Libby talks with Portland Press reporter Scott Dolan during a jail house interview on Thursday, December 31, 2015. Kevin Bennett PhotoFri, 16 Feb 2018 16:27:59 +0000
Former BIW CEO: Maine fortunate to have shipyard https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/former-biw-ceo-maine-fortunate-to-have-shipyard/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/former-biw-ceo-maine-fortunate-to-have-shipyard/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=806274 Opponents of Bath Iron Works’ efforts to secure a Maine tax concession to help win shipbuilding contracts over the next 10 to 20 years have been very outspoken in criticism of BIW and General Dynamics. Critics are entitled to their views, but as an old BIW shipbuilder, I know there are two sides to this debate.

Growing up in a shipbuilding family, I lived through periods of shipyard prosperity and times when BIW’s survival was the primary subject of conversation in Bath.

Later, as a BIW employee, I served under both circumstances, gaining first-hand evidence of the beneficial impacts to Maine when the shipyard is a beehive of activity. Most agree, psychologically and economically, Maine needs a healthy shipbuilding presence in Bath, but some demand shifting from naval to commercial shipbuilding and others oppose tangible forms of state support for BIW efforts to remain competitive.

Following World War II, BIW cycled through periods as a diversified shipyard building surface combatants and several classes of merchant marine vessels, while concurrently undertaking ship repair and maintenance contracts. Merchant shipbuilding in America essentially ended when shipbuilding subsidies were discontinued.

Subsequently, BIW evolved into a world-leading and highly specialized organization, focused on major United States Navy construction programs. That change was unpopular with peace activists, but I have always believed BIW builds ships that deter aggression and help keep the peace — hopefully, with freedom and justice for all. Realistically, I know there is no viable alternative market for BIW.

With the award of Aegis cruiser and destroyer contracts in the 1980s, BIW moved into the big leagues of world shipbuilding.

That transition required tremendous investments in people, machinery, equipment, technology and buildings. BIW ships are the most complex and sophisticated being built, constructed to rigid specifications requiring a wide variety of employee skills.

General Dynamics recognizing the need to dramatically change BIW’s shipbuilding processes invested hundreds of millions to attain a leadership position in the industry — to retain that position, it must continue to invest.

What is Maine’s incentive to cooperate in this effort? While our state’s manufacturing jobs are rapidly disappearing, BIW will be hiring approximately 2,000 new employees — for the most part into skilled positions. Average Maine production workers earn approximately $38,000 per year, while BIW production workers average $53,000 and BIW’s average wage overall is $60,000 per year compared to $44,000 for Maine as a whole.

In total, BIW’s annual payroll is approximately $350 million. If BIW is successful in this competition, that payroll should increase.

Those dollars flow into Maine from the U.S. defense budget, with spinoff benefits to hundreds of smaller businesses. Impacts of BIW’s payroll and local purchases will multiply many times over — a terrific stimulant to Maine’s economy.

Roughly $500 million has been invested to create a “state of the art” shipbuilding facility in Bath since General Dynamics acquired BIW. Without those investments, it is highly unlikely BIW could continue as a viable shipbuilding operation today. General Dynamics is a major U.S. corporation and a leading producer of United States’ Navy ships.

Its management has been highly successful — and Maine is indeed fortunate to have BIW, one of our state’s leading economic engines, owned by General Dynamics.

The Department of Defense is committed to strengthening our navy and the new ships will be constructed in American shipyards. BIW’s requested shipbuilding tax credit of $3 million per year for 10 to 20 years has gone to our legislature in an effort to help make BIW’s bid as competitive as possible. If approved, BIW’s competitive position will be enhanced via meaningful Maine support-representing a partial offset to the tens of millions Mississippi has provided Ingalls (BIW’s competitor).

Three million dollars per year for 20 years is a large amount of money. But at stake is a contract to build ships valued in the billion dollar range each — helping create an annual payroll in Maine over 100 times larger than the annual tax credit. Most important, the tax credit (if approved) would pale by comparison to the economic benefits received by Maine people if BIW wins and secures the largest number of ships awarded in this competition.

Our navy will also receive superior ships if BIW wins — but I admit to lacking objectivity on that point.

William Haggett is a former CEO of Bath Iron Works.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/20/former-biw-ceo-maine-fortunate-to-have-shipyard/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/01/1324654_20140501_zumwalttour002.jpgBath Iron Works says it has invested more than $500 million in the shipyard since 1996.Sun, 18 Feb 2018 08:39:15 +0000
Our View: #MeToo movement comes to Augusta https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/our-view-metoo-movement-comes-to-augusta/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/our-view-metoo-movement-comes-to-augusta/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=806269 If you believe the official record, the Maine Legislature has no problem with sexual harassment.

But common sense would tell you that the official record is missing something. Some of those gaps were filled last week when AFL-CIO lobbyist Sarah Bigney testified about her experience working in the State House, and the kind of conduct that she and other women have had to put up with on a regular basis.

According to a public records request fulfilled late last year, there have only been two complaints of harassment by lawmakers, both House members, in the last decade. But Bigney says that’s way off.

“It is happening here,” she told the Joint Committee on the Rules, which is considering a proposal to toughen the sexual harassment training requirement. She went on to list a wide range of inappropriate behavior she has been subjected to while trying to do her job.

Bigney said that she had been groped by a lawmaker, looked up and down, subjected to daily suggestive comments by a staffer and even told that she would have to trade a kiss for a legislator’s vote. On one occasion, she said she ran home to change her clothes because she had a meeting scheduled that afternoon with a lawmaker who had been staring at her all morning. Other women relayed to Bigney stories about unwanted touching, inappropriate text messages late at night, as well as comments about their appearance, made either directly to them or within their hearing and in the presence of others.

These stories should not come as a surprise. If we have learned anything from the #metoo reckoning of the last six months, it’s that sexual harassment happens everywhere and the State House has the characteristics of an especially high risk environment.

Perpetrators thrive where they are on the right side of a power imbalance. That kind of inequality is built into politics, where people often need help from others more powerful than themselves.

It is difficult to report harassing behavior when doing so could damage your career or the hurt cause for which you advocate. That’s especially tough in a political setting where personal bias and grudges can turn into career roadblocks. Staff members or lobbyists risk more by speaking out against an inappropriate comment than a legislator would risk making one.

And many of the usual boundaries are indistinct in political work. Whether during a campaign or in the last days of a legislative session, long hours are the norm and work life and social life merge. There is no human resources office. There may not even be a common employer. It’s easy to be confused about where you could even take a complaint against a lawmaker if you wanted to make one.

Senate Democratic Leader Nate Libby of Lewiston has proposed making annual sexual harassment training mandatory for all members of the Legislature. That would be a good step, but it would also help if everyone who is involved in state government, from elected officials to a citizen advocate in the state house just for a day, was given information about what to do when someone crosses the line.

It’s happening here, and, no matter what the offical record says, we should all stop trying to pretend that it’s not.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/our-view-metoo-movement-comes-to-augusta/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/806269_837001-20140108_state_hous.jpgPeople at the State House work long hours in close quarters making it a high risk workplace for people to abuse power by perpetrating sexual harassment. Lawmakers should not pretend it's not happening.Sun, 18 Feb 2018 08:39:49 +0000
Maine Compass: Invest in parents today to boost children tomorrow https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/maine-compass-invest-in-parents-today-to-boost-children-tomorrow/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/maine-compass-invest-in-parents-today-to-boost-children-tomorrow/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=806268 When a parent walks onto the stage on graduation day, they are not walking alone. They bring their children along — whether they join them on stage or not. As they reach for their degree, they are also reaching for better employment, higher earnings and greater stability for their family. In helping children escape the harms of poverty, nothing is more effective than supporting their parents’ college success.

Studies confirm that the most important factor in predicting a child’s future educational attainment is how far their parents progressed in school. Parental education level is extremely important for family economic stability and social mobility. College graduates are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to find new employment than those without college degrees. They are also more likely to have a pension and health insurance, thus avoiding the need for public assistance. Parents who complete a college degree can find their incomes doubling.

All of this is profoundly important for children, particularly for the poorest children in our country. For a family in the lowest economic level, a $3,000 difference in annual income is associated with a 17 percent increase in the child’s future earnings, promising a lifelong impact.

Can states help parents succeed in graduating with a college degree?

They certainly can. Several states have chosen to invest in families through supporting parents’ higher education, and now Maine has the opportunity to do the same. L.D. 1774 — An Act to Reduce Child Poverty by Leveraging Investments in Families for Tomorrow (LIFT) — is positioned to promote the future of Maine families. This is an investment that offers generational returns — as poverty can be passed along from one generation to another so can educational attainment.

Recent research has shown that a child born into a poor family is six times less likely to earn a college degree than one born into a higher-income family. And close to half of those who do not graduate from college remain poor — but of the poor children who attain a degree, only 10 percent remain poor.

Another study, which began in 2002, tracked a cohort of 15,000 U.S. high school sophomores, following their academic achievement, college entry and graduation, and work history. Thirteen years later, just 14 percent of the participants from low-income families, had earned a bachelor’s degree, while 60 percent of those from higher-income families had earned a bachelor’s degree.

The positive effects of parental education can begin as early as age 4 and persist though graduation and beyond. Importantly, maternal education has its strongest effect in early childhood, especially on cognitive development and the associated long-term benefits. But not all parents can offer their children a model of college success. A just-released study of high school seniors in Boston found that few low-income youth actually “decide” against college. Of all children from two-degree families, 55 percent obtained a college degree while just 23 percent of children from no-degree families did.

Liz, a Maine Parents as Scholars student, understands this dilemma. She knew her family was supportive of her attending college but they didn’t know how to help, college was not the norm in her family. “Nobody knew anything about it,” she says. “There were no university visits. There was nobody with me. I was completely on my own to figure this out.”

Parents trying to get through college understand that it is the surest pathway out of poverty. They know that most new jobs require applicants to have a college degree just to get in the door. They know they are modeling success for their children — the next generation. Yet, research has found that more than half of low-income single parents who enter college leave without completing their degree.

Low-income parents are doing a triple shift, juggling work, children’s needs and college — it can be overwhelming. That is where the larger community can get involved and make a powerful difference. L.D. 1774 can ease some of the load by guaranteeing vital support services, including funds for child care and transportation, work-study funds and on-campus mentors.

This is not just a helping hand for families trying to gain more education and move ahead. Helping parents in college is a long-term and cost effective strategy to reducing child poverty in Maine. It is an investment in the future of the state.

When young people watch their parents cross the stage and take hold of a college degree, they see their future. What could be more valuable than making sure that day arrives?

Luisa S. Deprez is professor emerita of sociology at the University of Southern Maine, and Lisa Dodson is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University.

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Maine Compass: Closed prison did good work https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/one-liney-across/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/one-liney-across/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=806271 Residents of Washington County have accused Gov. Paul LePage of “Gestapo” tactics in the closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility. In the rush to condemn the emptying of the Machiasport prison, two crucial questions were overlooked: How will the closing affect outcomes for inmates throughout the system? And how will the closing affect community safety?

Essential background information includes two important facts. According to a 2017 New England Public Policy Center report, Maine has the highest recidivism rate in New England: Fifty-six percent of those who serve time in our state will reoffend within three years of release and return to prison.

The second important fact is that Maine’s prison population continues to rise despite falling crime rates. According to Maine Department of Corrections statistics, Maine’s prison population reached an all-time high of 2,414 inmates in 2017. That is an increase of 25 percent (489 inmates) in the four years since a previous high in 2013 — a shocking figure.

Why is Maine’s recidivism rate so high, and how does closing Downeast Correctional Facility affect those numbers? The federal government (see the 2016 Justice Department report titled “Roadmap to Re-entry”) and many individual states have taken steps to correct the last four decades of mass incarceration by implementing strong re-entry programs. These ease a former inmate’s transition back to society and reduce recidivism rates. Maine, under the leadership of Paul LePage, has done the opposite.

In Maine, more money has gone to buildings and less money has gone to rehabilitation. In 2015, eligibility for furlough programs — which allow inmates to arrange for housing, employment, education, participation in treatment and maintain and/or re-establish family ties — was cut from five years to two years prior to release. No matter what the length of an individual’s sentence, rehabilitation programs for addiction are not available to them until the two years before release. Most qualified inmates will never go through a re-entry program.

That is what made Downeast Correctional Facility so important. By closing Downeast, 150 minimum-security re-entry beds were lost. Downeast offered GED certificate programs, rehabilitation programs, training in welding, building trades and clothing manufacture, but more importantly, it offered the opportunity for paid employment in the community.

An inmate who does not go through a re-entry program leaves prison with the shirt on their back, their belongings in a garbage bag and, if they are lucky, a bus ticket to the location of their choice. If they go home, they will become a burden to already financially stressed families. If they have no family, they become the responsibility of whatever community they land in. With a criminal record, no job skills and no education, it is extremely difficult to find employment. Is it any wonder that many turn to the underground community to survive?

Newspapers around the state reported that Downeast inmates were transported to Mountain View Correctional Facility after being moved out. Some were taken to Mountain View, but there was not enough room for all of Downeast’s census to be housed at the Charleston facility. Some were transported to the Bolduc minimum-security re-entry facility in Warren, while others were taken to Maine State Prison. The state prison, also in Warren, is a medium- and maximum-security facility; it offers no re-entry programs. Since all of the state prison’s medium-security pods were already filled, the new inmates were housed in the maximum-security facility. Already approaching capacity, Maine State Prison has been forced to house medium-security inmates in its Special Management Unit (the solitary confinement wing).

We know that closing Downeast Correctional Facility will have a negative effect on the outcomes of many individual prisoners. It has ensured that many Washington County employers were left without employees and many inmates will be released without resources. The closure has also ensured that many communities will be forced to absorb the outcome. Without adequate re-entry services Maine’s recidivism rates are not likely to improve, and we can expect communities in the state to suffer additional criminal activity.

Gov. LePage has touted the closing of the Downeast Correctional Facility as a $5 million savings for the people of Maine. However, the decision simply transfers the burden for re-entry and rehabilitation to other correctional facilities, and to local communities that are already suffering the consequences of increased recidivism.

Jan Collins is a Wilton resident and assistant coordinator of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/one-liney-across/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/1332714_804448-20180215_DowneastLob.jpgLaid-off Downeast Correctional Facility workers, along with union representatives and supporters, gather at the Maine State House before lobbying legislators Thursday in Augusta.Mon, 19 Feb 2018 01:19:18 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/todays-editorial-cartoon-1544/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/todays-editorial-cartoon-1544/#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805818 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/19/todays-editorial-cartoon-1544/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/805818_846873-2-16-Shooter-Warning.jpgFri, 16 Feb 2018 16:28:38 +0000 Our View: No excuse to delay MaineCare expansion https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/our-view-no-excuse-to-delay-mainecare-expansion/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/our-view-no-excuse-to-delay-mainecare-expansion/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805795 There was a hint of nostalgia last week when Gov. Paul LePage used part of his last state of the state address to set up a familiar scene — a big fight with the Legislature over Medicaid expansion.

LePage conceded that he would implement the law, which was passed by the voters last year, but only if the Legislature produced an unspecified amount of money that the governor believes would be needed to fund the program beyond his remaining months in office.

If lawmakers don’t meet his demands, the governor let them know he would not budge.

“Appropriate the money so we can implement the law,” he challenged. “The time is now — not after the next election.”

It’s no surprise to see the governor eager for this fight: A bill to accept federal funding to expand health care access to as many as 80,000 Mainers has been passed by Legislature five times since 2013, and each time LePage knocked it down with a veto. Sometimes the vote to override was close, but in all five cases, he ended up the winner.

This time, however, he may not get his fight.

A governor can’t veto the people, and expanding eligibility for Medicaid, known here as MaineCare, is not a proposal, it’s the law.

Despite LePage’s demand that legislators raise the money to fund the program before he starts implementing it, this time it’s the governor who is on the spot.

He has the money he needs to get the program started, and can’t win this fight just by saying “no.”

The issue is confusing to many members of the public, in part because so many numbers have been tossed around during the years of debate.

The program is almost entirely funded by the federal government, with most costs shared on a better than 90 percent to 10 percent basis. The question in Augusta is, how much does that 10 percent amount to?

According to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, the non-partisan state agency that makes economic projections for the Legislature, expanding Medicaid eligibility to people who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty level — $16,000 for a single person or $32,700 for a family of four — would cost the state approximately $30 million a year.

That accounts for savings that would come from federal spending that replaces existing state-funded programs.

In most contexts, $30 million would be a lot of money, but it’s a small part of the Medicaid budget. The state has approximately $800 million in its Medicaid account for next year, so covering the newly eligible group would be adding less than 4 percent to what has already been budgeted.

If including the newly eligible means the Medicaid account runs out 4 percent faster as a result, the Legislature and next governor would need to find new funds to cover the last two weeks (or 4 percent) of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.

But LePage won’t be in office then, and there is very good reason to believe that the account won’t run out of money so quickly.

The estimate is based on the notion that the people who are eligible would sign up immediately. Common sense would say otherwise.

Much more likely would be a gradual ramp up, as people hear about the program and apply for coverage over time, making the real need for the first year to be less than the full estimate.

The same is true for the administrative costs. LePage said last week that the Department of Health and Human Services would need 105 new employees to determine eligibility, and that may be true someday. But they don’t need to be on hand before there is a single new applicant. The Legislature should be able to give the department the resources it would need to start signing people up with funds that already exist in the current budget.

In the next few weeks, the Appropriations Committee will be receiving an updated projection that includes work from the independent national research firm Manatt. The firm did earlier studies of several states’ Medicaid programs that showed how they were able to save state money by taking advantage of the enhanced federal match.

As much as he would like one, there shouldn’t be a showdown over Medicaid between the governor and the Legislature this time.

The governor will be gone next January, and he has all the money he needs to follow the law and expand Medicaid coverage.

If he refuses to spend it, it will be likely a judge, not the Legislature, that he will have to battle.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/our-view-no-excuse-to-delay-mainecare-expansion/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1284942_625426-20171107_electiond2.jpgA strong vote in favor of Medicaid expansion should send lawmakers the message that most Mainers don't side with the governor on this issue.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:12:33 +0000
Cote’s energy plan misses the mark https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/cotes-energy-plan-misses-the-mark/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/cotes-energy-plan-misses-the-mark/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805748 misses the mark

Adam Cote prides himself as an “energy entrepreneur attorney” working for the wind and solar industries (“Energy moves will crush thousands of jobs,” column, Jan. 29). But those industries are fighting to turn Maine into a place that supplies green energy to wealthy states south of here that do not want those towering turbines in their back yards. He says Maine should be the “Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Maine is lagging New England in job growth by 28,000 jobs. He says 1,560 of these jobs are filled by wind and/or solar here in Maine. He got his report from the “Economic impacts of wind energy construction and operations of Maine” put out by Maine Center for Business and Economic Research of University of Maine in 2014. He should have finished the report and be fair to all, for those were only temporary construction jobs. The report also states that the ongoing employment (after construction) is one to 15 people.

His energy plan aims to reduce energy costs; fact is, wind is the most expensive source of power available to us in Maine. He wants to give Mainers control over their own energy decisions; that is controlled by the utility commission and our elected officials who oversee the commission. He wants to provide Maine with more dependable, local energy sources; it would have to be natural gas pipelines and/or hydropower from Canada, for Maine has no other affordable source. And he wants to create thousands of good-paying jobs; wind and solar are only temporary jobs, and Maine needs long-term, permanent job growth.

If Cote wants to be for governor, he should represent the people of Maine, and not the wind and solar companies.

Richard Harris

Fairfield

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Commentary: ‘Thoughts and prayers’ and fistfuls of NRA money https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/commentary-thoughts-and-prayers-and-fistfuls-of-nra-money/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/commentary-thoughts-and-prayers-and-fistfuls-of-nra-money/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805759 “Today is that terrible day you pray never comes,” Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, tweeted Wednesday minutes after a former student opened fire at a high school in his home state, killing 17.

We’ll assume Rubio’s grief is genuine. But we wonder if, when he’s at home at night, he’s comforted by the thought that he’s one of the golden boys of the National Rifle Association. Over his legislative career, Rubio has been the beneficiary of $3,303,355 in campaign spending by the NRA. That haul places him sixth among current members of Congress.

President Donald Trump, in a pro-forma public statement on the Parkland, Fla., shooting, ordered flags on government buildings to be flown at half-mast through Monday, but didn’t call for any reconsideration of the nation’s inexcusably lax gun laws. Last February, he scrapped an Obama-era regulation making it tougher for people with mental illnesses to buy a gun.

Perhaps Trump doesn’t want to risk disturbing the NRA, which spent more than $30 million in 2016 to support him and defeat his opponent, Hillary Clinton. (These figures come from the Center for Responsive Politics.)

In the aftermath of the Florida shooting, we can expect the usual outpouring of lame “thoughts and prayers” tweets and statements from political leaders, as if mere words can ever be a match for the stupendous political spending of the gun lobby.

As we wrote in October, following the Las Vegas massacre, “There is no better example of the corrosive effect of money on American politics than the spending of the National Rifle Assn.”

The 2016 election marked a high point in electoral spending by the NRA and its affiliate, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, with donations totaling $54 million. Much of that was devoted to the presidential campaign. The total so far this year comes to only $1.65 million, though the campaign season has not quite begun and the candidate roster for November is still in flux.

But the NRA’s partisan pattern of millions for Republicans and pennies for Democrats is holding up: The vast majority of NRA dollars has gone to support Republicans or oppose Democrats — the top Democratic career beneficiary of NRA contributions among current members of Congress, a Georgia congressman named Sanford Bishop, has received about $47,000, lifetime. He ranks 83rd among all members. So far this year, the NRA has spent $337,000 to oppose Democrats, and zero dollars in support.

The NRA’s campaign spending is just one aspect of its decades-long assault on rational American firearms policy. The organization’s fingerprints are all over an effective 20-year ban on federal research into gun violence.

The NRA’s annual lobbying expenditures come to millions of dollars a year: Gun rights advocacy groups, of which the NRA is the kingpin, spent more than $135 million on lobbying in 1998-2017, according to the center. Gun manufacturers spent another $21 million. Those figures swamped the spending of gun control advocacy groups, which mustered only about $19 million in that period.

The NRA makes its legislative platform crystal clear, and puts its money where its mouth is. I reported last year that the NRA endowed the 54 senators who voted in 2015 against a measure prohibiting people on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying guns with $37 million in support; only one Democrat voted against the measure — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who has never received NRA support.

The NRA also gave $27 million in direct and indirect support to 50 senators who voted against a bill to require universal background checks for firearms purchases (with Heitkamp again the only Democrat voting no).

The gun lobby is strengthened by its affiliation with the right-wing libertarian lobby. In 2014, for example, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action received a $4.9-million donation from what was then known as the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which is affiliated with the Koch Brothers. The president of Freedom Partners at the time was Marc Short, who is currently President Trump’s director of legislative affairs — in other words, his chief lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

But it’s the NRA’s campaign spending that almost certainly poses the biggest roadblock to legislation that would stem the tide of gun violence in America. From 2010 through 2018 thus far, the organization donated $111 million to political campaigns of federal candidates.

In October, we matched the “thoughts and prayers” tweets of political figures against their take from the NRA. Here’s a sampling:

President Trump: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!” The NRA spent more than $30 million to help elect Trump, including more than $19 million attacking his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): “Cindy & I are praying for the victims of the terrible #LasVegasShooting & their families. We appreciate the bravery of all first responders.” NRA spending reached $7.7 million for McCain and against his Senate electoral opponents by 2016, placing him first among all members of Congress. McCain did vote in favor of the 2015 bill mandating universal background checks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “This is a moment for national mourning and for prayer.” NRA support by 2016: $1.3 million.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa): “My prayers are with all of the victims in Las Vegas and their loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence.” NRA financial support since 2014: $3.1 million.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.): “Praying for all the victims & those impacted by the tragedy.” NRA support by 2016: $122,802.

Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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Ban plastic bags to help environment https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/ban-plastic-bags-to-help-environment/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/ban-plastic-bags-to-help-environment/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805749 to help environment

I read with interest two letters to the editor on Jan. 6 urging the city of Waterville to ban plastic bags. This movement started in the southern part of the state and now encompasses 12 of our state’s towns. To be fair to individual merchants, it is best to impose a ban on an area, as otherwise shoppers might choose to shop where “free” bags are given out over a store where there was a fee for bags.

The issue here seems to be convenience and we as a society are used to convenient lives. Unfortunately, the pristine nature of our state is in jeopardy. Roads lined with trees festooned with plastic bags are not going to support our efforts to remain “Vacationland.” And, plastic ending up in the Gulf of Maine will not support our seafood industry. Even phytoplankton are ingesting particles of plastic, so it is no wonder that right whales are dying in record numbers and in danger of becoming extinct. The Ocean Institute and the Bigelow Labs are conducting experiments all over our “pristine” Gulf and finding these discouraging results.

Are we ready to forgo a bit of convenience to cut down on petroleum use and clean up our state? Carrying a canvas tote while shopping seems to be a small inconvenience. I watched the checkout guy bag every other item for the person ahead of me in express checkout. Ten items were bagged in five plastic bags. These bags are only used for about 12 minutes. Some of us reuse these bags to clean up after our dogs, but the poor mutts would have to have severe intestinal problems to keep up with all the bags coming out of our stores.

Let’s consider the world we are leaving behind for our grandchildren and ban plastic bags.

Rob Pfeiffer

Solon

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Maine Compass: Support the Saint Martins https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/maine-compass-support-the-saint-martins/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/maine-compass-support-the-saint-martins/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805760 Some people in Waterville know me and some of the challenges my family has faced with my youngest son’s health, pretty much since the day we moved to Waterville over 10 years ago. Some of your children have played with mine. Some of your children have written “get well” cards to my son, who had three surgeries last year. Friends from our church and work have brought meals and cookies, DVDs, and even offered babysitting to lighten our load. And despite the fact that life keeps throwing us curve balls, even though our closest family members live a 15-hour drive away, we have never felt alone. We’ve never felt like we weren’t welcome. We’ve never felt like we didn’t belong. We’ve never felt like our community’s love and support was dependent on our political affiliation, or religious belief or our background. You have always accepted us just as we are, and we’ve really cherished that. It makes Waterville exceptional compared to some of the other places we’ve lived.

But I am sad and worried for our future. I’ve held on to my faith in our democracy, and to my hometown roots here in Waterville. Yet recently, I read about the plight of the St. Martin family, and I wondered how Waterville would respond. The rally was a good start, but I left with more worry than hope. A few city councilors attended, most did not.

Not all rights of American citizens apply to those who aren’t American citizens. I hear the legal argument. Officials are meant to enforce the laws as written, not interpret them and decide which ones are more important than others. A law is a law, and if broken, there are consequences.

But that isn’t exactly the case; laws are not applied equally to all of us. Our laws were written by the people for the people. As such, laws leave room for discretion, which is exercised every day. This prosecutorial discretion is the reason you might sometimes speed in your car and not be pulled over. Simply put, our resources and efforts are better spent elsewhere. And I know you know this.

You know the difference between right and wrong. We all do. We know there is nothing right about splitting up a family. Lexius Saint Martin broke the law. He served his time. He did what was asked of him, and I do not judge him for making a life for himself. I don’t fault him for falling in love and making a beautiful family. I don’t blame him for loving and providing for his family. And I don’t think you do either. Justice is not served by his deportation. His family is not served by his deportation. Waterville is not served by his deportation.

Prosecutorial discretion exists for a reason. You may not have the authority to exercise it, but others do.

What I ask of you is to act as our community always has acted and come to the aid of its own. I know you as the people who have shown me and my family nothing but compassion over the years. I request that you make a formal statement and do what you can to protect the Saint Martin family, our neighbors and my family.

Yes, my family. You see, I’m also here because I fear for my own family. I’ve been married for almost 23 years and my husband is a legal permanent resident. He is a green card holder and has been here legally for many years. He has not broken any laws, but I now worry, will he be next? Will it some day be my children crying themselves to sleep wondering how we will continue without their father’s income? Will we be forced to choose between keeping our family together in another country or keeping our world-class neurosurgeon?

We are not robots. We are people. We are your neighbors. We are the Saint Martins. And we all need to stick together. Families need to stay together. Waterville needs to stand together. Partisan politics have no place in matters of the heart, certainly not when our laws leave an opening precisely for such compassion.

Please don’t fail the Saint Martin family. Please don’t fail me. And please don’t fail Waterville.

Hilary Koch is a resident of Waterville. This is a version of a statement she recently gave in front of the Waterville City Council.

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Did Obama try to rig election? https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/did-obama-try-to-rig-election/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/did-obama-try-to-rig-election/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805750 to rig election?

With regard to the House Intelligence Committee memo about the attempt to rig the 2016 election, this paper’s hypocrisy is more than evident. If you change the dates on the FISC requests to 2008, and change the names to Bush administration officials at the FBI and Department of Justice, you would be screaming in capital letters on the front page for heads to roll.

Why do you wish to hide information from your readers that indicates the Obama FBI and DOJ may have been involved in an attempt to spy on the Trump campaign in order to rig the 2016 election for Clinton? If this is true it makes Watergate look like an operation by a bunch of amateurs. Take the blinders off, print the memo for your readers. We don’t need you to tell us what to think.

Paul Anderson

Augusta

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Another View: Columnist misconstrues AG’s views on ranked-choice voting https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/another-view-columnist-misconstrues-ags-views-on-ranked-choice-voting/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/another-view-columnist-misconstrues-ags-views-on-ranked-choice-voting/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805794 The inaccuracies in Jim Fossel’s Feb. 11 column concerning ranked-choice voting are appalling coming from a person who holds himself out as someone who is knowledgeable about political issues and political candidates in Maine.

His statement that Attorney General Janet Mills tried to kill ranked-choice voting is wrong. What she did was to read the relevant sections of the Maine Constitution that clearly state that elections of state legislators and the governor will be won by the person winning a plurality of the votes. She then wrote a legal opinion stating that ranked-choice voting for those offices is not allowed under the Maine Constitution. It is her job to interpret Maine statutes and the state constitution. Her job is not to give her personal opinion of what she would like the law to be.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court then issued an advisory opinion stating that Mills was correct in her interpretation of the state constitution. The court’s opinion was unanimous. This does not mean that every member of the court is opposed to ranked-choice voting. It means that every member of the court agrees that the clear language of the state constitution prevents ranked-choice voting for those offices where a plurality of votes means a win.

Fossel states that Mills has “shown no inclination” to support ranked-choice voting. That is also wrong. In fact, it is the exact opposite of her position. She has stated that “as governor,” she will propose a constitutional amendment to allow for ranked-choice voting to reflect the will of the people.

Kim Matthews is a resident of Westbrook.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/another-view-columnist-misconstrues-ags-views-on-ranked-choice-voting/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/07/1225531_14673-Mills1.jpgJanet MillsFri, 16 Feb 2018 15:16:01 +0000
Trump’s despotic words and deeds https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/trumps-despotic-words-and-deeds/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/trumps-despotic-words-and-deeds/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805751 words and deeds

Hey Mainers, did you clap loudly enough while watching President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in January? No? Then Trump says you are treasonous and Un-American. You say you didn’t even take the time to watch his speech? That may be an even worse offense.

All of us need to wake up to the fact that Trump has a tyrannical mindset and is becoming more and more of an actual tyrant. He truly wants to be the Supreme Leader of the United States.

We need to awake and arise. Everyone who is eligible should register to vote and then vote in all elections. We need to hold all elected officials accountable for their response, or lack of response to Trump’s despotic words and deeds. This holds especially true for Republican elected officials.

We need to resist and defy Trump’s efforts to undo our democracy.

Bruce A. Letsch

Litchfield

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Jim Fossel: Congress takes the easy way out https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/jim-fossel-congress-takes-the-easy-way-out/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/jim-fossel-congress-takes-the-easy-way-out/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805796 The good news is that Congress recently came together in a bipartisan manner to fund the government with another stopgap spending bill that extends funding through March 23.

The bad news is that it was literally a spending bill — the only reason it received bipartisan support was because a majority agreed to just spend more. They agreed to raise military spending to $700 billion and domestic spending to $591 billion in the forthcoming omnibus spending bill, which will fund government for the next two years if it passes.

This gives both parties the chance to simply dole out money to their favorite causes without worrying about the deficit or the debt, which is what most of them really want.

While it would be nice to see Congress actually pass a full two-year budget for a change — instead of muddling through on endless continuing resolutions — that success will be muted if all they can agree to is more spending. In essence, Congress will be abandoning its duty to the American people to govern responsibly by adding further to already enormous deficits. They’ll be shirking hard decisions that they should be facing head on and instead placing them on the shoulders of future generations.

Rather than taking the easy way out, Congress should be refocusing its energies toward a concerted, bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit. In order to truly begin to reduce the deficit, Congress would have to take a hard look at two areas that each party wants to ignore: defense spending and entitlement programs.

Republicans generally claim to support reforming entitlement programs, but rarely actually do it when they have the chance. George W. Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security didn’t get enough support to go anywhere, and Donald Trump has consistently evaded the idea all together. Democrats have similarly whiffed on reducing defense spending, preferring instead to pass new domestic initiatives and dodge the issue entirely.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, has released its budget blueprint, which although it proposes significant cuts in domestic spending increases spending overall and balloons the deficit. The cuts are focused not on entitlement programs, but instead largely on non-defense discretionary spending, while Trump pours more money in to defense spending and transportation. As with any president’s budget proposal, there is little chance this one will get enacted into law: many of the cuts Trump proposes are to popular programs, which will be fought tooth and nail by Congress.

The GOP’s willingness to work with the Democrats to increase spending shows that they’re not really the party of fiscal responsibility. Even if one were willing to accept the supply-side argument that tax cuts will help to grow the economy and thereby increase revenue rather than decrease it, it’s completely irresponsible to spend that increase before it even comes in. Republicans continue to prove that their claim to be fiscally responsible is less a governing principle and more of a convenient campaign slogan that they completely abandon after the election.

It’s not enough for Republicans to say they’re going to cut spending — when they’re in power, they have to actually do it. Spending slightly less than the Democrats doesn’t count either, nor does slowing the rate of increase. If they want to really be the party of fiscal responsibility, they’ll have to show a willingness to actually reduce spending in ways that will be painful in the short term.

Before he entered leadership, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was known for his bold ideas to cut spending. While they engendered scorn and derision from Democrats, they were real, substantive proposals to reduce the deficit. Unfortunately, since becoming speaker, we’ve seen him abandon those grandiose plans in favor of maintaining the status quo. That’s not real leadership, but it’s not too late for Ryan, McConnell, and the White House.

If they’re able to shepherd this spending plan through Congress, flawed as it is, it will buy them some relief. Once it passes, it will be difficult for members to use fiscal crises — whether that’s a possible shutdown or the debt ceiling — to hold the rest of the government hostage. That could minimize extremist voices on both the right and the left, and make it easier for Congress to get things done in other areas.

If they’re focused and productive, the two parties might be able to get together and do something worthwhile, rather than just engaging in nonstop partisan bickering. If they can, some good may yet come out of this bad deal.

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

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/jim-fossel-congress-takes-the-easy-way-out/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1305844_Trump_Taxes_44154.jpg-08462.jpgHouse Speaker Paul Ryan speaks while President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence applaud outside the White House on Wednesday as they celebrate the tax cut plan.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 16:23:30 +0000
Be tougher on drug dealers https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/be-tougher-on-drug-dealers/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/be-tougher-on-drug-dealers/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805752 In this newspaper I have read that drug dealers receiving very light sentences to moderate jail time. The reason for this is the D.A. is soft when pleading cases with defense attorneys. The D.A. should be pleading cases strongly. For example, the first count should be 100 percent jail time, no suspended sentence.

The second part of the problem with drug sentences has to do with the judges. They should not accept plea deals unless all sentences include a lot of jail time; if not, reject the deal.

Some say, where are we going to put all the inmates? The state of Maine has a prison that they want to close, the Downeast Correctional Facility. They can be put there.

Finally, any drug dealer who has not lived in Maine for three years should be expelled from Maine. Any return would mean a five-year jail sentence.

Ernest Lake

Augusta

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Commentary: How can I tell my son he’ll be OK at school? https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/commentary-how-can-i-tell-my-son-hell-be-ok-at-school/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/commentary-how-can-i-tell-my-son-hell-be-ok-at-school/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805798 As we waited for the school bus on a recent morning, my 9-year-old son asked me what he should do if a shooter walks into his elementary school and starts killing people.

It was not a question I was expecting. Usually, we talk about things like what he has for snack or whether Darth Vader or Yoda is smarter. So, I wasn’t ready to answer.

I asked him what he thought he was supposed to do. He said he should, “listen to the teacher.”

I told him that was a good idea. He has a beautiful, smart and caring teacher. She’d know best. He seemed satisfied. But, I wasn’t. My heart was racing because my son, my sweet, compassionate and concerned son, was scared of going to school. He didn’t feel safe.

And, I as his mother, the trusty solver of his problems, the bandager of all of his boo-boos (physical, mental, emotional) couldn’t guarantee that everything would be OK.

I thought the worst had passed. It hadn’t. He had a second question.

“So, what happens if I’m in the hallway when the shooter comes?”

He meant, what if there was no teacher there to tell him what to do.

I told him to think about where he could go to be safe. Run there. And stay put until he saw someone he trusts.

He nodded grimly. I think he believed he might not see me at the end of the school day. That this conversation might be our very last.

He said he was cold and leaned on me. That’s pretty rare. At the bus stop he tends to stand apart from me; just in case the bus comes around the corner and the other kids see us having a mom-son moment. I get that. But, he was all about the hugs.

He needed courage. I told him that school shootings are rare, so the chance of one happening in his school is pretty slim. But, I admitted, school shootings do happen.

He nodded. Then, he asked the saddest question of all.

“Why would someone want to kill me?”

I told him that there are sick people in the world, and that trying to understand a person who would harm a stranger is impossible. I told him that people who do these sorts of things aren’t healthy. And that most people would help a stranger and never hurt one.

I told him what Mr. Rogers said, so smartly — whenever there’s a terrible thing, look for the helpers. Because, there are always helpers.

Right? Most people are good. They see suffering and they want to stop it. We cook for the hungry, run holiday gift drives for those down on their luck and help our neighbors in need. We are a caring, loving species.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people on Wednesday was reportedly the 18th school shooting in the U.S. since New Year’s Day. It’s hard to believe. Of course, I didn’t tell my son how many there have been. How does a mother explain that the all-knowing adults around him haven’t been able to fix this? That shootings are a fact of life because nothing has happened to make them stop.

As parents we try to make the world feel secure for our kids. We know grownup life is turbulent and unpredictable and scary. We want our kids to be calm and at peace so they can focus on the difficult task of growing up. But, reality intrudes on us all.

I wish we had the collective will to alter this reality.

The bus came and my little guy squeezed me for all he was worth.

“Bye, mom,” he said.

“I love you,” I said. “See you at the end of the day.”

He got on the bus and I watched him walk to a seat and sit down. He immediately looked out the window at me. He usually ignores me completely and plays with his friends.

The bus door closed and the bus drove away.

My guy’s face didn’t move. It was pressed against the glass and he kept staring at me. I waved. He continued to stare at me until his bus turned the corner and disappeared.

Alisha Berger Gorder wrote this for The Hartford Courant.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/commentary-how-can-i-tell-my-son-hell-be-ok-at-school/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2016/09/1080111_APTOPIX-School-Shooting.J2.jpgA Townville Elementary student looks out the window of a school bus as she and her classmates are transported to Oakdale Baptist Church, following a shooting at the school in Townville on Wednesday.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 15:18:01 +0000
Visiting team a little too rowdy https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/visiting-team-a-little-too-rowdy/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/visiting-team-a-little-too-rowdy/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805753 a little too rowdy

I recently attended a girls’ varsity basketball game between Winthrop and Richmond high schools at the Winthrop gymnasium. My companions and I were seated directly behind the Richmond bench. Throughout the game, whenever Winthrop had possession of the basketball, the Richmond bench, including the coaches, clapped their hands loudly and in unison. Since I doubt they were applauding the Winthrop players, I can only assume this is a tactic employed by Richmond to distract and disrupt the opposition. Does this kind of activity pass for sportsmanlike behavior these days? I sincerely hope not.

As the Winthrop announcer says before the start of every game, “Let the players play, the coaches coach, and the officials officiate.” I would never presume to tell the Richmond team how to behave in their house, but when you are in our house, I wish you would follow our lead in terms of decorum.

Barbara Hamblin

Winthrop

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Tip credit helps workers https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/tip-credit-helps-workers/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/tip-credit-helps-workers/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805754 helps workers

Michael Landgarten’s Jan. 31 opinion piece, “Federal proposal to let restaurant owners disburse tips is unfair, absurd” pontificates about a hot topic and misleads Mainers to feel that they will be in jeopardy when they will not.

First of all, Landgarten’s eatery doesn’t even have table service; it’s a counter-service restaurant, making it an entirely different business model than the one he discusses.

Landgarten claims implementing “One Fair Wage” would be “best for everyone.” False. If Langarten spoke to any of the more than 5,000 restaurant servers in Maine who last year vigorously fought against eliminating the tipped minimum wage (known as the tip credit), he would know most servers don’t agree with this plan because it actually means less income for them.

And since Maine server’s won the battle to reinstate the tip credit last year, the Department of Labor’s proposal to reinstate tip pooling wouldn’t even affect Maine, making Landgarten’s op-ed even more irrelevant.

Landgarten seems to be affiliated with the left-leaning Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a union front group who lobbies for higher minimum wage policies for service industry employees. ROC likes to tout Hollywood actors as their spokespeople when advocating for tipped employees, without speaking with actual servers first. As a founding member of the recently formed Restaurant Workers of America, an organization with members who actually work as servers and bartenders, we believe that the tip credit best ensures prosperity for service industry employees. And we will continue to push back against ROC and their front groups.

Wendyll Caisse

Freeport

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Respect might relieve North Korea tension https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/respect-might-relieve-north-korea-tension/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/respect-might-relieve-north-korea-tension/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805755 North Korea tension

North Korea and Israel share a history. Decades ago, Israel felt the need for a deterrent, a defensive nuclear arsenal because of concern over hostile neighbors. They tested and developed nuclear rockets in north Africa and today are perhaps the third or fourth most powerful nuclear nation in the world.

Today North Korea is closely following Israel — only doing their testing at home. While demanding respect they are only getting threats. They want the same respect we give Israel today, respect that would relieve the tension that now grips the region.

Eliot Chandler

Augusta

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LePage too cold toward people with addiction https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/lepage-too-cold-toward-people-with-addiction/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/lepage-too-cold-toward-people-with-addiction/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805758 toward addicts

I read with interest the Jan. 28 article, “State falls behind in reversing overdoses”. The most bothersome thing for me was a quote by our governor, “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

It struck me about that many could say the same about bariatric surgery to lose weight. In many cases this surgery is very successful, as it has been thus far for the governor and his wife. In others, it merely extends to the next cheeseburger and fries. This leaves me to wonder, how could a man that appears to struggle with addiction himself, as does his wife, be so cold when thinking of others?

A year ago I lost someone I cared very much for. He was not a bad person. He worked, paid taxes, provided for himself, and was a person who never hurt anyone other than himself. I now mourn him, and watch his family and loved ones struggle with missing him every day. This is something I would never wish on my worst enemy.

Sometimes we all need a little crutch, a little extra support to get us through the rough spots.

After what we must assume were several attempts to take off the weight on their own, the LePages sought help for what they could not accomplish. They were able to choose a doctor, their local hospital, and I assume insurance to access what they needed. Families are really looking for so much less.

I ask the governor to please stop stalling. If one person is saved and rehabilitated, isn’t it worth it?

In a recent public service announcement the governor has taken on a campaign against distracted driving, which is of course a serious problem today. It shows families mourning at their child’s grave. Can one honestly think that the families of an addict suffer less?

Judy Russell

Fairfield

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Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/todays-editorial-cartoon-1543/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/todays-editorial-cartoon-1543/#respond Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805756 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/18/todays-editorial-cartoon-1543/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/805756_846873-2-16-Parkland-Shooti.jpgFri, 16 Feb 2018 14:59:15 +0000 View from Away: Continued gun violence is America’s great shame https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/view-from-away-continued-gun-violence-is-americas-great-shame/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/view-from-away-continued-gun-violence-is-americas-great-shame/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805710 The great shame of modern America continues as another ghastly school shooting, this time in Florida, points out the inexcusable failure of politicians to impose more reasonable gun controls.

Must we wait for children to be slaughtered in every political district across the country for members of Congress and legislatures to grow spines? We might not have to wait long, at the current pace.

Who will defend our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

That right is diminished because Congress and legislatures are allowing the proliferation of military-style assault weapons that are designed to kill multiple people quickly and are being used to do so on a regular basis.

That right was denied to the children and families in Columbine, Newtown, Mukilteo and now Parkland, Florida, where at least 17 students and teachers were killed at a high school on Wednesday. It might have been denied to students at an Everett high school if it weren’t for a grandmother who discovered a plan and a military-style weapon among her 18-year-old grandson’s belongings Tuesday and called police.

That right should trump strained interpretations of the Second Amendment, which authorized a well-regulated militia, not flooding the country with millions of barely regulated weapons of mass human destruction.

No wonder Russia thinks it can bamboozle American voters. Years of dithering over gun control and brainwashing by the gun lobby has shown the world how easily Americans lose their bearings when bombarded with slogans and propaganda.

The gun lobby’s greedy manipulation of emotions and the political process led to the absurd situation we’re in today. A minority of the population wanting easy access to a particular class of dangerous weapons is prevailing over a nation begging its government to address the horrific mass shootings of children.

Additional gun restrictions will not end murder or shootings. There will always be aberrant behavior. But the frequency and severity of shootings will decrease if the country imposes more reasonable limits on firearms.

That should include a ban on semi-automatic, customizable, military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 type used in Parkland and other recent mass shootings.

There should also be a national ban on high-capacity magazines that increase the lethality of these attacks, and reduce opportunities to escape or intervene when the shooter reloads.

Concerns of law-abiding gun owners must be taken into account. Gun ownership is a right and deeply held belief for some. Their views deserve respect. But this right was never absolute. Gun sales are regulated and regulations must evolve as conditions warrant.

Several promising steps were introduced in the Washington Legislature this year. But struggles to pass them show this is a bipartisan failure of leadership. The cynical take is that too many representatives are more concerned about winning their next election than addressing an immediate public-health and safety crisis.

Democrats control the Legislature, but measures addressing assault weapons or high-capacity magazines stalled.

A bump-stock ban passed the Senate. Now it’s up to the House to ban the devices that can be used on semi-automatic guns to emulate the performance of automatic weapons, as demonstrated in the Las Vegas massacre.

Especially disappointing is the failure of Senate Bill 5444, sponsored by Sen. David Frockt at the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson. It defines assault weapons and would require buyers of them and high-capacity magazines to undergo background checks comparable to those on handgun buyers. That includes a local law-enforcement check to see if buyers are subject to social-services or domestic-violence court orders.

The measure never reached the Senate floor before the cutoff date. Frockt said it didn’t have enough votes to pass anyway.

“You want to make progress but there are limits to what the system will bear at the moment,” he said. ” Right now we just don’t have the votes.”

Perhaps the Parkland school massacre will help motivate lawmakers to approve the bump-stock ban.

Really, that’s the least they can do to address the shame and horror of America’s mass-shooting crisis.

Editorial by The Seattle Times

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/view-from-away-continued-gun-violence-is-americas-great-shame/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1283575_APTOPIX_Church_Shooting_T9.jpgKenneth and Irene Hernandez pay their respects as they visit a makeshift memorial with crosses placed near the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Monday. In the initial aftermath of Sunday's massacre, officials were searching for answers about how the gunman, Devin Kelley, obtained his weapons.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:41:40 +0000
Maine Compass: With smart planning, potential negatives of wind farms can be mitigated https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/maine-compass-with-smart-planning-potential-negatives-of-wind-farms-can-be-mitigated/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/maine-compass-with-smart-planning-potential-negatives-of-wind-farms-can-be-mitigated/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805709 Gov. Paul LePage’s recent announcement of a moratorium on wind farms in certain areas of the state, as well as the establishment of a commission to study the effects of wind farms on tourism and migratory birds, has drawn both condemnation and praise.

As an environmental economist, I am in favor of increased wind power in the state. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and, in certain circumstances, hydropower, will help with the transition away from fossil fuel-based energy that our state and country so badly need. Furthermore, wind power provides well-paying jobs in construction in primarily rural areas of the state, as well as property taxes, the potential for income for rural landowners, and other tangible benefits to host communities.

However, concerns about large-scale wind farm development include potential negative impacts on nearby residents, tourism and wildlife. Questions include:

• Do wind farms enhance or detract from tourism? Answer: It depends on the context. Some studies have found that proposed wind farms affect potential demand for tourism, but those studies deal with hypothetical situations, not actual ones. A recent study in Scotland found that there was no correlation between existing wind farms and tourism-related employment. Other case studies have shown that wind farms can actually be a boon to tourism, if local tourism agencies market them as a tourist attraction.

More work needs to be done on looking at the effect of actual, operating wind farms on tourism in different contexts. In any case, the concern about conflicts between wind farms and tourism can be mitigated by proper planning and siting.

• Do wind farms have a significant impact on migratory birds? The answer here depends on what you consider significant, and again, it depends on the context. Wind turbines in migratory corridors have been linked to avian mortality, and those deaths are increasing as wind power generation itself increases. Still, some studies suggest that wind power-related avian deaths are less than those associated with other forms of energy, and much less than those associated with the average house cat.

However, that does not mean we should brush those concerns away lightly. New technologies in turbine and blade design, as well as proper modeling and siting procedures — and simply shutting down generation during peak migration — should mitigate this concern.

• Do wind farms increase or decrease property values or property taxes? Evidence shows that large-scale wind development in residential areas does have a negative impact on the value of homes in direct proximity (much like any other energy-related infrastructure), and that this effect declines as distance from the wind farm increases.

However, rural communities that are host to a turbine can see an increase in the tax base, as the potential for income from the land is realized. There also is evidence that the added property tax revenue from a wind farm can reduce a town’s overall property tax rate. Again, these concerns can be mitigated by proper planning and siting.

In other words, evidence abounds on both sides of the debate, and is context-specific. I agree that these issues need to be systematically studied in a Maine-specific context. However, such a study (or studies) need to be done in an open, transparent manner. Meetings need to be open to the public. The data, analysis and conclusions need to be easily accessible and replicable.

The commission that the governor proposed meets none of these requirements (although the governor backpedaled during a recent Maine Public radio appearance on whether his proposed commission will be exempt from the Freedom of Access Act, despite the clarity of the executive order establishing it).

There is no need for a moratorium on wind farm development while such a study is being commissioned (if one is even legal). Such a move only heightens the widespread suspicion that the governor is hostile to any form of renewable energy (other than hydro). The timing of his announcement, coming the day before the announcement of the winner of a clean energy request for proposals in Massachusetts, is highly suspect.

Finally, there is something inconsistent about someone who professes concern for migratory birds but not migratory fish (the negative effect of hydroelectric dams on migratory fish is well-established). It is also disingenuous to profess concern for the natural assets on which our tourism industry depends but still support offshore drilling, which has a much greater capacity to harm the natural assets on which our fisheries and ocean-based economy depend.

Rachel Bouvier is an environmental economist and owner of rbouvier consulting, specializing in environmental and natural resource issues. For more information about her background and work, contact her at: rachel@bouvierconsulting.com

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/maine-compass-with-smart-planning-potential-negatives-of-wind-farms-can-be-mitigated/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/01/432533_386486_danforth_windmills1.jpgWind turbines at SunEdison’s Stetson wind farm in Washington County near Danforth. The company has reached agreement on a $2.5 million conservation program, forged after anti-wind group Friends of Maine Mountains earlier this year dropped opposition to a 56-turbine wind farm in Bingham.Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:51:06 +0000
Community Compass: Plastic bags should not be a part of Waterville’s future https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/community-compass-plastic-bags-should-not-be-a-part-of-watervilles-future/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/community-compass-plastic-bags-should-not-be-a-part-of-watervilles-future/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805712 Plastic shopping bags have been ubiquitous in our society since first being introduced in the late 1970s. They are made from fossil fuels, they do not biodegrade, and they pollute our environment. Even worse, only about 5 percent get recycled.

According to the United Nations, the average American uses 300 plastic bags per year. There are about 16,000 residents of Waterville. That means 4,800,000 plastic bags are used in Waterville alone every year. Look at it this way — that’s 72 plastic bags in each of the 66,829 seats at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. That’s just Waterville, in one year.

That amounts to a lot of waste, and it needs to change.

Plastic bags create many problems for our communities and our environment. When they get in our city sewers, they end up clogging storm drains and putting a strain on our wastewater infrastructure. When plastic bags go in our recycling bins and make it to ecomaine, they clog the equipment that sorts recycling. When plastic bags get in our rivers, lakes, and the ocean, they slowly break in to thousands of small pieces and are ingested by wildlife, threatening their health. Reusable shopping bags are a cheap, readily available alternative.

All told there are about 140 different plastic bag ordinances in state and cities around the United States. A dozen Maine towns have already banned or placed a small five-cent fee on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use. The communities of Bath, York, Freeport, Brunswick, Kennebunk, Saco and Belfast have all banned plastic bags. The communities of Portland, South Portland, Topsham, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have all placed a five-cent fee on them to deter their use.

Big cities are acting too. The Boston City Council just overwhelmingly voted to ban plastic bags throughout the city.

Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team is working on an ordinance to bring forward to the Waterville City Council this spring. The ordinance would do the following:

• Prohibit Waterville businesses with 10,000 square feet or more of retail space from giving out or selling plastic shopping bags at checkout. This does not apply to thin plastic produce, meat, and seafood bags at the grocery stores, dry cleaning bags, or plastic newspaper sleeves.

• Paper bags would still be available at checkout. This will support the forest products industry rather than the oil industry.

• Folks would be encouraged to bring their own reusable shopping bags from home to the store with them.

Now, this is just a starting point, not a final ordinance proposal. We want to hear from you, the residents and business owners of Waterville, to incorporate your feedback into the proposed ordinance before we bring it forward to the City Council.

On Election Day in November, we had a table at the polls in Waterville. We spoke with nearly 1,000 voters and handed out about 300 free reusable shopping bags. The response we got was overwhelmingly positive.

As our city continues to revitalize itself, we need to consider how clean streets, parks, trails, and riversides can contribute to the revitalization. Limiting the use of plastic bags is one way, and I hope we can move this initiative forward in the coming months.

If you would like to join us to help make this happen, the next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 a.m. at Waterville City Hall. Also, please also join us Sunday, Feb. 18, at 11 a.m. at the Waterville Congregational Church, 7 Eustis Parkway, for a free screening of the documentary film “Bag It,” which examines the problem of plastic pollution. All are welcome to attend.

Todd Martin, of Waterville, is a member of the Sustain Mid Maine Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Team. He also works at the Natural Resources Council of Maine in Augusta.

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View from Away: US right to criticize new Polish law https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/view-from-away-us-right-to-criticize-new-polish-law/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/view-from-away-us-right-to-criticize-new-polish-law/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805711 The United States was absolutely correct to criticize a new Polish law that makes it a crime to blame Poland for atrocities committed by the Nazis on Polish soil. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while acknowledging that “terms like ‘Polish death camps’ are painful and misleading,” insisted that such false characterizations must be countered by open debate, scholarship and education, not by criminal sanctions. The new law, Tillerson said, “adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry.” He’s right.

The law signed last week by Polish President Andrzej Duda says that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”

Poland is understandably sensitive to unfair characterizations of its role in the crimes of what was, after all, an occupying power. Germans, not Poles, built and operated the death camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka. While some Poles no doubt collaborated with the Nazis, that’s no justification for besmirching the entire nation.

But criminalizing false opinions about history is inconsistent with principles of free speech and free inquiry.

To be sure, Poland isn’t alone in attempting to criminalize attempts to rewrite history. In 2012, France enacted a law making it a crime to deny that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians in 1915. The law was later ruled unconstitutional, though it remains a crime in France — and in some other countries – to deny the Holocaust.

Poland’s new law sacrifices an important individual freedom — freedom of speech — on the altar of offended national pride.

Editorial by The Los Angeles Times

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/view-from-away-us-right-to-criticize-new-polish-law/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2015/08/Poland-Nazi-Train_Wake.jpgFILE - This file photo from March.2012, shows a part of a subterranean system built by Nazi Germany in what is today Gluszyca-Osowka, Poland. According to Polish lore, a Nazi train loaded with gold, and weapons vanished into a mountain at the end of World War II, as the Germans fled the Soviet advance. Now two men claim they know the location of the mystery train and are demanding 10 percent of its value in exchange for revealing its location. (AP Photo,str)Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:49:09 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/todays-editorial-cartoon-1542/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/todays-editorial-cartoon-1542/#respond Sat, 17 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805706 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/17/todays-editorial-cartoon-1542/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/805706_846873-2-16-Ignored-Signs.jpgFri, 16 Feb 2018 14:52:02 +0000 Our View: We are not hopeless amid gun violence https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/our-view-we-are-not-hopeless-in-stopping-gun-violence/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/our-view-we-are-not-hopeless-in-stopping-gun-violence/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805402 We are not hopeless in this.

As we absorb another school shooting, as more students learn what it means to feel terror in a supposed place of safety, as more parents hear the most devastating news possible, we cannot forget that we can do something.

It doesn’t always feel like that, as we go back through the familiar cycle that ends with the tragedy fading from popular memory then starts anew with the next breaking news alert.

But that can’t be the end of it. We can’t let that cycle be hijacked by politicians and lobbyists with no interest in an uncorrupted discussion on gun violence, or in reflecting on this uniquely American phenomena.

They offer thoughts and prayers, then empty criticisms of the country’s mental health care system, which has been systematically weakened by many of these same politicians. They avoid any mention of the problem staring us in the face.

Since 20 kids were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, more than 400 people have been shot in school shootings.

But they are not just school shootings — they are part of an epidemic found nowhere else; among high-income nations, 91 percent of the children under 15 shot to death are American.

There are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the United States — 96 a day, including seven children and teenagers. That’s 3.6 for every 1,000 residents, more than seven times the rate in Canada, 18 times the rate in Australia, and 90 times the rate in Great Britain.

And, no, the criminals in those countries don’t just find another way to kill. You’re as likely to get robbed in London as you are in New York City, but the stateside robbery ends in death 54 times more often, all because of the presence of a gun.

We are a nation that owns 42 percent of the world’s firearms but only 4.2 percent of its population. It is absolute lunacy to discuss gun violence and not focus on that fact. Other nations have mental illness, poverty and violent crime, but only the United States has so many guns, and only the United States has a problem on this scale with gun violence.

Addressing that problem is not easy, but it is also not impossible or impractical. There are effective gun laws that would likely cut down on the number of shootings without infringing unduly on anyone’s rights, and they don’t include giving teachers guns, or placing armed guards at every school, mall, nightclub, movie theater and church. A better background check system and further restrictions on domestic abuse perpetrators and other violent offenders are two good ideas. Cutting access to the kind of deadly rifles present at almost all these shootings is another.

That’s not to say that schools should not have a police officer present, or that the mental health system is not in need of reform.

But we can’t stop gun violence without dealing with guns. We are not hopeless in this, as long as we are honest about what it is.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/our-view-we-are-not-hopeless-in-stopping-gun-violence/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/AP18045832546220.jpgStudents released from a lockdown embrace following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:05:56 +0000
View from Away: After a cop is killed, Chicago’s grim ritual https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/view-from-away-after-a-cop-is-killed-chicagos-grim-ritual/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/view-from-away-after-a-cop-is-killed-chicagos-grim-ritual/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805336 In coming days, Chicagoans will witness something they dread but occasionally endure: the funeral of a police officer killed in the line of duty. His name was Cmdr. Paul Bauer. He was 53. The married father of a 13-year-old daughter. His colleagues said he was the best of the best.

A police officer’s funeral is a stirring pageant of solidarity. A tribute to a fallen comrade. A time for crisp salutes and unrestrained tears. Bauer is the first officer slain in the line of duty since the 2011 fatal shooting of Officer Clifton Lewis in an Austin neighborhood convenience store. Since the 1850s, these killings of police have occurred in spasms separated by long stretches in which everyone goes home safe.

On Tuesday, not everyone went home safe. Gunfire. Officer down. Suspect in custody.

Ashen-faced Chicago police clustered on sidewalks — cold tears on blue coats — around the Thompson Center and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Streets were blocked by yellow tape; traffic clotted; pedestrians gathered in knots to talk and gawk. The entire Chicago Loop seemed like a crime scene. Because it was.

Bauer, a 31-year Chicago Police Department veteran, had joined the foot chase of a suspect, a four-time felon. Bauer confronted the man, who opened fire. The suspect was wearing a protective vest and had an arrest record dating to at least 1994. Much more to come on that.

This shooting hits hard because of where it happened — the generally safe Loop — and because it happened to a high-ranking officer who just as easily could have been behind a desk.

Bauer was on his way to a meeting with two Chicago aldermen to discuss cooperation between the Near North District and Northwestern University police. He could have kept walking to his meeting. He’d have made it home to his wife and daughter. Instead, he joined the chase. Because he was a cop.

Now there will be a funeral.

You’ll read more in coming days about Bauer and how he tried to make the city safer. About why a repeat felon was again menacing Chicago’s streets. About Bauer’s haunting remarks just months ago, expressing his frustration that repeat offenders aren’t locked behind bars for longer stretches. About what can and should be done about that by lawmakers and the courts.

But that’s for another day. Today, we remember not just Bauer but all the dedicated officers who help protect this city.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/view-from-away-after-a-cop-is-killed-chicagos-grim-ritual/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/11/1281843_Gun_Deaths_16384.jpg-0a2d2.jpgHOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL FRIDAY, NOV. 3, 2017 AT 12:01 A.M. EDT. THIS STORY MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST OR POSTED ONLINE BEFORE FRIDAY, NOV. 3, 2017, 12:01 A.M. EDT. - FILE - In this July 7, 2014 file photo, Chicago police display some of the thousands of illegal firearms confiscated during the year. In a government report released on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, the U.S. rate for gun deaths has increased for the second straight year, following 15 years of no real change. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:27:13 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/todays-editorial-cartoon-1540/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/todays-editorial-cartoon-1540/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805337 ]]> https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/todays-editorial-cartoon-1540/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/805337_846873-2-15-Bug-Game.jpgThu, 15 Feb 2018 14:52:29 +0000 Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/todays-editorial-cartoon-1541/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/todays-editorial-cartoon-1541/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805339 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/todays-editorial-cartoon-1541/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/805339_846873-2-15-Bug-Game.jpgThu, 15 Feb 2018 16:29:47 +0000 Maine Compass: LePage coldly wreaks havoc on the lives of prison workers in a poor county https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/maine-compass-lepage-coldly-wreaks-havoc-on-the-lives-of-prison-workers-in-a-poor-county/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/maine-compass-lepage-coldly-wreaks-havoc-on-the-lives-of-prison-workers-in-a-poor-county/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805334 Imagine for a minute that you are working a midnight shift at a state prison in the poorest county in your state. It is a job few people want or can even do, but you and your 50 co-workers and their families depend on it to keep food on the table and a roof over your head.

Then, under the cover of darkness and without notice, buses, state police and a SWAT team show up at 4:30 a.m., inform you and the entire staff that you no longer have a job and haul off the prison’s 63 inmates to another lockup, 122 miles away in Charleston.

This is what played out in the lives of stunned workers last Friday morning at the minimum-security Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. Neither the prison’s director; nor legislators and other Washington County elected officials were notified in advance of this decision by Maine’s controversial and divisive governor, Paul LePage.

Washington County, which includes Machiasport, is the poorest county in the state. It is a place of incredible natural beauty, and home to about 30,000 people. But beauty doesn’t pay the bills, feed families or keep them warm during those long, harsh eastern Maine winters.

Most jobs there are seasonal self-employment. These people are commercial fishermen — lobsters, crabs, scallops, clams, quahogs and such — or work the commercial low-bush Maine wild blueberry harvest in late summer. In November, they “tip” fir trees and make Christmas wreaths during “wreathing” season.

Good, steady hourly jobs with health benefits are few and far between. It is a hard life, with poverty rates way above the national average. About one in every three children in the county lives in poverty.

So when the state’s chief executive, without warning, throws 51 people out of work in the dead of winter in Washington County, it is a huge deal. The likelihood that these workers can quickly find another job in the county is pretty much zero. Oh, they will get a paycheck for a couple of weeks, but they will be formally laid off March 3.

LePage has a track record of treating his office like a dictatorship, acting without legislative approval on matters like the prison’s closing. The governor has had the Downeast Correctional Facility in his sights for years, claiming its cost is a budget-breaker. Still, lawmakers earlier had approved funding the prison through June and were working on a long-term plan to improve facilities there.

On the morning when Le-Page’s decision to clear the prison was carried out, one civilian employee, a woman, was in the dining hall preparing food when a state trooper carrying a rifle and wearing a protective vest came in and ordered her to get out. Other workers were similarly relieved of their duties on the spot. Even the day-shift workers had no clue until they drove in for work and were met by state police telling them they no longer had a job and turning them back.

The governor has no legal authority to shut down a prison, but does have the authority to transfer inmates. So, while only the Legislature can shutter a prison, LePage has effectively “closed” the Downeast Correctional Facility, since there is no one left there.

The state obtained the property, a former radar site, from the Air Force in September 1984. The first inmates began arriving in June 1985. While many locals at first had safety concerns about it, the prison soon proved invaluable. Many of the inmates performed jobs in the area. They built a boat ramp at no cost for the town of Machias, assisted in other projects around the county, helped firefighters clean up after fires and more. While it cost money to have the prison, the inmates there also saved communities money on projects or jobs.

A LePage spokesman claims the governor could not broadcast his plans because of security concerns: You don’t announce when and to where you are moving prisoners. I get that, but you still tell administrators so they and their staff can prepare.

My heart aches for these families, who now have to worry about how they will make their house, rent and car payments, buy food or oil to heat their homes or pay for medical care and prescriptions, since their health benefits also end with their jobs. This needs to be a national story. It is a true tragedy in a county whose people cannot afford it.

Paul Sylvain is a former Maine resident who covered Washington County for the Bangor Daily News, the Machias Valley News Observer and the County Wide Newspaper. He now lives in Summerville, South Carolina, and can be contacted at: Paul.Sylvain@yahoo.com

 

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/maine-compass-lepage-coldly-wreaks-havoc-on-the-lives-of-prison-workers-in-a-poor-county/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/01/1200103_28647-Downeast-correctional.jpgGov. LePage has made clear that he wants to shut down the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport, but he leaves many questions about the staff, inmates and local economy unanswered.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:04:29 +0000
From the State House: Maine should support its shipbuilding industry, verify the results https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/from-the-state-house-maine-should-support-its-shipbuilding-industry-verify-the-results/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/from-the-state-house-maine-should-support-its-shipbuilding-industry-verify-the-results/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805335 It’s rare to encounter a Mainer who doesn’t know about Bath Iron Works. Founded in 1884 right here in our City of Ships, BIW has built private, commercial and military vessels, most often for the United States Navy.

Maine’s economy, and Bath’s in particular, benefit a great deal from major employers like Bath Iron Works continuing to expand, create good-paying jobs and hire new generations of Mainers.

With our ever-changing economy, the give and take of increased globalization and the growing number of jobs being replaced by automation and technology, my top focus during my time in the Legislature has been supporting both the preservation and creation of jobs across our heritage industries, including shipbuilding and construction.

These are the kinds of jobs that, at one point, formed the foundation of a large and strong middle class. Today many Mainers still get in their cars before the crack of dawn and drive from many miles away all over the state to come here and earn what they can to support their families.

When Bath Iron Works, as the largest employer in my district, approached me to sponsor legislation to continue an existing tax incentive program to spur innovation across shipbuilding industries, I agreed.

I agreed because I wanted to do everything in my power to protect all the men and women working in shipbuilding jobs and the families they help support. I agreed because of how the shipbuilding industry supports a wide range of businesses all over the midcoast and beyond. I agreed because I want our young people to have the best possible chance to begin a manufacturing career with good pay and benefits right here in Maine, especially as many of our older workers retire.

By providing a tax incentive tied to job creation and investments companies make in themselves, I believe we can spur job growth in our shipbuilding industry, help preserve our city’s heritage and increase the chances that our economic future will be bright.

I have heard from many people who oppose this bill as originally written on both economic and philosophical grounds, and I agree with those who have told me that we need a better way to verify that our hard-earned tax dollars are being spent on Maine workers, and that any tax credit actually serves its intended purpose.

After extensive conversations with both opponents and supporters, I utilized that feedback to develop an amendment presented to the Legislature’s Taxation Committee that I believe addresses some of the concerns people expressed. Among other things, the amendment strengthens the reporting requirements so we can make sure the tax credit is purchasing real benefits for Maine taxpayers.

L.D. 1781 as amended reduces the size of the tax credit by half of what was originally proposed. Now BIW would receive a $30 million tax credit, provided that employment levels are maintained at 5,000 or more employees. The tax credit would no longer be refundable but would instead be a carry-forward credit. The minimum investment BIW would have to make to qualify for the credit is $100 million.

Further, the credit would be spread over 10 years. BIW could ask lawmakers for a second 10-year credit, but the Legislature would first take the time to evaluate how effective the credit has been before making a decision.

Additionally, in order to receive the credit, BIW would have to use part of its investment to train new workers and help facilitate a transition to a younger workforce as a disproportionate number of older workers near retirement age.

We know that wherever a single dollar of taxpayer money is spent, whether on job creation or to support Maine businesses, accountability and transparency should be a top priority.

Accordingly, my amendment would require BIW and any other qualifying shipbuilding facility to report to the Legislature annually on April 1 on a series of performances measures, including the number of qualified employees in jobs added since the previous year, and the number of qualified employees who are union members.

The report would also include the range in salary and wages and the average and median salary of employees, the types of jobs filled, the average number of contracted workers and the amount of investments made in the previous year.

And lastly, reporting would focus on measures of industry competitiveness and the overall economic impact to our state.

Making sure Maine families have access to good-paying jobs is at the core of my responsibility as a legislator and as a community member, but that priority must always be balanced with protecting our state’s limited resources.

As this bill moves through the legislative process, I hope you’ll continue to share your feedback with me and other representatives.

Jennifer DeChant is a third-term Democratic state representative from Bath.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/16/from-the-state-house-maine-should-support-its-shipbuilding-industry-verify-the-results/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/09/1262440_762518_christening_0189.jpgBath Iron Works has a new contract for Arleigh Burke class destroyers, like the U.S.S. Rafael Peralta in 2015.Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:28:40 +0000
Our View: Low gas tax, not electric cars, causing shortfall https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/our-view-low-gas-tax-not-electric-cars-causing-shortfall/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/our-view-low-gas-tax-not-electric-cars-causing-shortfall/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=805012 Maine has a free-rider problem when it comes to infrastructure, but it’s not the one they are talking about in Augusta.

Gov. Paul LePage and his allies in the Legislature want to charge an annual fee to the owners of electric and hybrid vehicles because they don’t pay as much in the taxes that fund maintenance and repairs of the state’s road system.

But the proposed bill, L.D. 1806, is an inadequate response to a much bigger problem, which is that nobody is paying their fair share. Gas tax rates have not kept up with either inflation or our needs, leaving the state with more roads than their users are willing to support.

Gov. LePage’s swipe at a few hundred electric vehicle owners might look like a step in the right direction, but it’s such a small step that it’s useless, and just delays constructive discussion on how to pay for a 21st century transportation system.

Maine will likely have another nine-digit shortfall in its highway fund this year, with an estimated $159 million less in receipts from fuel and excise taxes than is needed to keep roads and bridges safe for travel.

We will also probably be asked to approve another bond on Election Day, as we did in 2017, 2016 and 2015 to supplement the inadequate income from the dedicated taxes.

Borrowing money for ongoing expenses is a recipe for fiscal disaster. The state needs to generate more revenue to maintain the road system that we already have, and save the bonds for new projects.

The increasing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles are a part of the problem — but a tiny part, for now. There are 19,000 hybrids registered in Maine and 410 all electrics. If they were all charged the fees that LePage proses ($150 a year for hybrids, $250 for plug-in electrics), the state would take in an estimated $2.9 million, not even making a dent in the shortfall.

Electric vehicle owners aren’t the only ones who avoid the tax. High mileage gas vehicles are also paying less tax per mile and that disparity will grow every year as older cars go off the road and are replaced with more efficient models.

But by far the biggest problem is not fuel efficiency, it is the fact that no one seems to think that they should have to pay the real cost of maintaining the transportation system.

The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents, where it has been since 1993. Maine’s gas tax is 30 cents (31 for diesel) and has not been increased since 2011. Both are a fraction of what they were at the time when most of the roads and bridges that we use were built.

When the federal Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 to build the Interstate Highway System, the federal gas tax was only 3 cents a gallon. In 1959 it was bumped up to 4 cents and if it had risen with inflation it would be 34 cents today. Instead, its been stuck at less than half that for the last 25 years.

In 1932 Maine voters turned down a referendum that would have increased the gas tax from 5 cents a gallon to 6 cents. In today’s money, 5 cents would be 87 cents and 6 cents would be $1.04. The current rate is one third of what it would have been if it had kept up with inflation.

If people who use the roads of Maine — residents, tourists and commercial drivers — would contribute to road maintenance with the same effort that their grandparents made, there would not be any shortfall in the highway fund. But because we all want someone else to pay, the problem just keeps getting worse.

Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, House chairman of the Transportation Committee proposed a bill last year that would take a more balanced approach. It would introduce a fee for electric vehicles, but it would also raise the gas tax by 7 cents. That really would be a step in the right direction.

The real problem, for Maine and the country as a whole, is that the system of taxes and fees that built the road system in the 20th century no longer generates enough revenue to maintain them. We should be talking about the future and designing a system that will work.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/our-view-low-gas-tax-not-electric-cars-causing-shortfall/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/1329207_973576-20141125_electric_ca.jpgThe Maine DOT is proposing a $250 annual fee on all-electric cars, like this Nissan Leaf owned by the city of South Portland, and on gas-electric hybrids. A letter writer wonders if the fossil fuel industry is behind the idea.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:59:03 +0000
View from Away: Netting improves ballpark safety https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/view-from-away-netting-improves-ballpark-safety/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/view-from-away-netting-improves-ballpark-safety/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804876 A pitch arrives at the plate, the batter swings and a baseball or a bat rockets into the stands. In most cases, there is no harm beyond a few spilled nachos. But sometimes a fan fails to get out of the way, with grim consequences.

Last fall, a toddler sitting with her grandparents at Yankee Stadium was struck in the face by a 105-mph foul that broke her nose and orbital bones and caused bleeding in her brain. In 2010, a 39-year-old mother of two attending a minor league game in Texas suffered a fatal injury from a drive that hit her head.

These are not as rare as you might think. A Bloomberg News investigation found that some 1,750 fans are injured each year at major league games.

Major League Baseball has been slow to address the dangers of such distraction for those sitting close to the plate but beyond the protective netting behind it.

In 2015, it recommended that teams extend the nets to the inside edge of each dugout. Most teams, to their credit, went even further, installing protection to the far end of each dugout. Last month, with spring training fast approaching, the last two holdouts, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays, said they would do the same before opening day.

The teams are wise to look for ways to make the game safer for spectators. Some fans don’t like to watch behind nets, but most quickly forget their presence.

But the change was not entirely altruistic. A New York City councilman had proposed an ordinance requiring the Yankees and Mets to string netting all the way to the foul poles — which is the norm in Japan. Some injuries have led to lawsuits, and delaying improvements amounted to inviting more legal troubles.

The professional sport has long enjoyed the shield of the “Baseball Rule,” which is printed on tickets to warn that spectators attend at their own risk. But that protection, though recognized by the courts, has been called into question by the nature of modern ballparks, where interaction with smartphones is an obvious distraction.

Last year, the Atlanta Braves reached a settlement with the father of a 6-year-old girl who suffered a fractured skull from a foul ball. Team owners would rather not write that kind of check. Fans would rather not incur that kind of injury. With expanded netting in place, both will be a lot safer.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/view-from-away-netting-improves-ballpark-safety/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/02/694363_Red_Sox_Spring_Baseball_697.jpgStadium workers look out over the field at JetBlue Park at Fenway South, the spring training ballpark of the Boston Red Sox, as the sun sets in Fort Myers, Florida on Monday.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 16:25:56 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/todays-editorial-cartoon-1539/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/todays-editorial-cartoon-1539/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804870 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/todays-editorial-cartoon-1539/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/804870_846873-2-14-MeToo-Valentine.jpgWed, 14 Feb 2018 16:29:01 +0000 Maine Compass: Maine lobstermen’s conservation efforts an investment in the future https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/maine-compass-maine-lobstermens-conservation-efforts-an-investment-in-the-future/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/maine-compass-maine-lobstermens-conservation-efforts-an-investment-in-the-future/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804872 How many of you keep money in the bank? Savings accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit or investments — we all use different methods to ensure that we have something set aside for the future. Maine lobstermen have been doing just that for the past century, making sure that there will be lobsters in the Gulf of Maine for their children and grandchildren to harvest. In doing so, they have earned a worldwide reputation as leaders in stewardship of marine resources.

Their conservation practices certainly have paid off, according to a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Maine’s lobstermen have built one of the world’s most sustainable fisheries by implementing common-sense conservation measures aimed at ensuring that lobsters are able to reproduce before being caught.

It started more than 100 years ago, long before the establishment of extensive government survey programs or sophisticated computer models. Lobstermen began marking female lobsters that were carrying eggs with a notch in their tails, a practice now known as “v-notching.” It was a simple method that let any lobsterman who might catch that female later, without eggs, know to not harvest her order to allow the lobster to spawn again. Since that time, lobstermen have rallied behind other important conservation measures, such as protecting large lobsters, because the bigger the lobster, the more young they can produce. Lobster traps are equipped with vents to allow smaller lobsters to escape and grow to legal size. Only lobster traps, rather than nets, can be used to catch lobsters, a passive gear that ensures that under- or oversized lobsters can be returned to the sea alive.

Conservation does not come without cost. At certain times of the year, Maine lobstermen throw back more than 50 percent of the lobsters in their traps. Those oversized, undersized and v-notched lobsters were legal to land in the southern New England states until slightly more than a decade ago. They are still legal to land in most parts of Canada. But Maine lobstermen do not complain about their short-term financial sacrifice. They practice conservation because they recognize the investment they are making in their future.

The recently published study confirmed what Maine lobstermen have long understood: Protecting egg-bearing females and oversized lobsters is good both for the lobsters and for lobstermen. This research, by scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the University of Maine and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, finally quantified just how much these conservation practices have paid off. Through their efforts, Maine lobstermen helped to more than double the abundance of lobster during the past three decades. Lobstermen have achieved a rare accomplishment in fisheries by simultaneously building an economically robust and sustainable fishery while also increasing the size of the lobster population.

It is important to note that scientists and fishery managers have not always agreed with Maine lobstermen on the importance of these measures. Led by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Maine alone fought to keep its long-standing v-notching practice and protections for oversize lobsters on the management books. The association went as far as to successfully lobby to move management of the lobster fishery to the interstate Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission so that Maine’s conservation practices would set the standard for other Gulf of Maine states out to 40 miles from shore.

Maine lobstermen have long been at the mercy of Mother Nature and understand that the future is never certain. Success in any fishery requires a flexible business plan and constant ability to adapt to change. We are thrilled to see an esteemed scientific journal acknowledge what Maine’s lobster industry has long understood: Strict conservation practices that allow lobsters to successfully reproduce are the key to a sustainable lobster resource and resilient coastal communities.

Maine lobstermen should feel proud that their sacrifices have played such a large role in the success of today’s lobster fishery. The state’s young lobstermen should feel confident that continuing the practices of their fathers and grandfathers bodes well for their future.

Patrice McCarron is executive director of the Kennebunk-based Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

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Douglas Rooks: A veteran leader takes the helm at UMA https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/douglas-rooks-a-veteran-leader-takes-the-helm-at-uma/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/douglas-rooks-a-veteran-leader-takes-the-helm-at-uma/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804873 A veteran leader takes helm at UMA

Rebecca Wyke became president of the University of Maine at Augusta just seven months ago, but she displays the assurance of a State House veteran — undoubtedly because she is one. Starting at the Secretary of State’s Office in 1986, she’s been in state service for three decades; one stint at an accounting firm convinced her the public sector was where she was meant to be.

A native of Rockport, Wyke is a rarity: a campus president who’s also mastered the legislative and executive branches. In an interview this week at her office, tucked away behind the Farmhouse on the Augusta campus, she describes herself as “a problem solver” who likes a challenge.

She’s had plenty. When she became director of corporations at the Secretary of State’s Office, she inherited a defunded division that had a six-month backlog in filings, and $600,000 in uncashed checks. Soon, there was a two-day turnaround.

At the Ethics and Elections Commission, she worked to rebuild confidence after a 1993 ballot-tampering scandal sharply eroded it, prompting the end of House Speaker John Martin’s long tenure and installation, by voters, of legislative term limits. While much of state government resisted reform, new election procedures and security measures helped restore the sense that Maine elections are clean and fair.

In 2002, her husband, Joe Mayo — a longtime legislator and later House clerk — was dying from ALS. He urged her to join what was soon to become the Baldacci administration.

He advised her to ask for a specific job — “otherwise you probably won’t get it” — and she focused on commissioner of finance and administration, the state’s budget chief.

Wyke got her wish, though, she said, “It was a little strange to be congratulated on getting the job before I’d even had the interview.”

For more than five years, she “plugged holes in the dike,” initially facing a $1.4 billion structural deficit and a revenue situation that, for various reasons, never really improved. In 2008, she became vice chancellor of the University of Maine System, beginning a years-long effort, spanning two administrations, to centralize administrative functions from seven campuses and reconfigure programs.

More recently, she served as interim president at UMA, then — after the new president lasted only 18 months — returned, settling down for the long term. Those who know her well say campus president is, perhaps, her ideal posting.

She’s taken stock of UMA’s assets and liabilities, and re-emphasized UMA’s unique role as the hub for the system’s offerings to “non-traditional” students, those 25 and older who may already hold jobs, be parents and own a home. Enrollment is about 5,800, making it the third largest campus, after Orono and Portland-Gorham, in terms of students.

Only 1,000 are on the Augusta campus, with another 1,800 at University College in Bangor, which UMA has administered since 1992; the rest are at eight regional centers or online. Wyke credits former UMA President George Connick with pioneering “distance learning,” but said experience shows that many students do best with face-to-face classes initially, gradually moving off campus as they balance work and study.

The need for this kind of higher education has never been greater, she said. Maine’s much discussed “demographic winter,” with deaths outpacing births, and a median age exceeding 44, can only be stemmed through immigration and higher educational attainment; while not every good job requires a college degree, almost all require some post-secondary training.

Wyke says that UMA, while well-positioned to attract such students, can’t neglect successful bachelor’s degree programs, including a five-year architectural degree program, now located downtown on Water Street, and a four-year aviation program, as well as strong nursing and jazz music offerings. It’s these students who’d be attracted by campus housing, something the Augusta community has long desired.

UMA recently unveiled 20-year plans for both the Augusta and Bangor campuses, and in Augusta, residence halls and an aviation building would occupy the center of the campus.

“We’re dramatically short of space here,” Wyke said. “We need room to grow.”

Any expansion, however, will require more state support for the system, which has lagged badly since 2008, falling $58 million behind what would have been required simply to match inflation.

With another new administration on the horizon, Wyke seems cautiously optimistic about UMA’s future, which has the lowest student costs of any campus. “Where else can you find a bachelor’s degree program, tuition and fees, for $8,000 a year?” she said.

For Maine’s economy to grow again, higher education has to be part of the prescription, Wyke said. “We must increase our personal income. And the proven way to do that is to better educate our citizens.”

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, opinion writer and author for 33 years. He lives in West Gardiner, and welcomes comment at: drooks@tds.net

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/15/douglas-rooks-a-veteran-leader-takes-the-helm-at-uma/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/06/729084_916468-Wyke-e1497023765334.jpgRebecca Wyke will take over as the new president of the University of Maine at Augusta, the university system announced Friday.Wed, 14 Feb 2018 16:27:26 +0000
Our View: There’s a lot to like in Trump’s plan to fight opioids https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/our-view-theres-a-lot-to-like-in-trumps-plan-to-fight-opioids/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/our-view-theres-a-lot-to-like-in-trumps-plan-to-fight-opioids/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:10:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804513 A president’s budget proposal is more of statement of priorities than a spending plan, as Congress typically tosses it aside quickly in favor of its own work. And for most of the Trump administration’s budget, a cruel and irresponsible proposal released Monday, the bottom of a trash can would be too good of an end.

But before the proposal is thrown promptly into the proverbial circular file cabinet, Congress should rip out the section on the opioid epidemic. For the first time, the Trump administration has provided a hint on how it wants to fight the deadly crisis — and there is a lot to like. As long as you ignore the bad stuff.

First off, Trump’s proposal offers funding that attempts to meet the size of the epidemic — $13 billion in new funding over two years, following the $6 billion Congress included in the two-year budget approved earlier this year.

For context, the U.S. spent $24 billion a year on HIV/AIDS at the peak of that crisis in the mid-1990s, when it claimed around 41,000 lives a year.

Last year, opioid overdoses killed 64,000 Americans, and the epidemic is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion and counting since 2001. Costs may exceed $500 billion for the next three years as the crisis worsens.

Secondly, the proposal embraces what the police officers and treatment providers on the ground of the epidemic have been saying for years — that this crisis will only be overcome when proven forms of treatment and rehabilitation are available everywhere.

Trump’s budget would expand grants to states for prevention, treatment and recovery support services. More importantly, it suggests expanding Medicaid coverage of medication-assisted treatment.

More details are needed here, but just putting medication-assisted treatment at the head of the discussion is a step forward. Medications such as methadone or buprenorphine are the most effective form of intervention available, yet they are — inexcusably — still scarcely available. Making them more so could save thousands of lives.

The budget is not all rosy on this topic, however, Any gains from this plan could be lost due to the effects of initiatives elsewhere in the budget, and in the administration.

The budget calls for significant cuts in Medicaid, through which 40 percent of nonsenior adults with addiction get their health care coverage. Again, the administration wants to repeal Obamacare, which some experts feel could wipe out any gains from the increased spending on addiction.

It also once again attempts to all but eliminate the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That’s after the president nominated for its director a congressman who had sought to limit the DEA’s ability to investigate the opioid manufacturers and distributors who contributed so heavily to the start of the epidemic.

Trump has also put Kellyanne Conway, a political operative with no public health experience, in charge of his office’s response to the opioid epidemic. Reports say Conway has frozen out addiction experts; her group’s contribution to the debate so far has been to back the useless and costly Mexican border wall, and to call for a renewal of the widelydiscredited “just say no” campaign.

It’s hard to make sense of such conflicting actions, and there’s really no reason too. We’ll just say that the president has offered a real plan for the opioid epidemic, one based on evidence and experience, and we’ll forget the rest. Congress should too.

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https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/our-view-theres-a-lot-to-like-in-trumps-plan-to-fight-opioids/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/1227175_APTOPIX_Needles_Everywhere_-e1513228961523.jpgDiscarded used needles without protective sheaths are shown at an encampment where opioid addicts shoot up along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Mass., in June.Tue, 13 Feb 2018 16:57:16 +0000
Today’s editorial cartoon https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/todays-editorial-cartoon-1538/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/todays-editorial-cartoon-1538/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804462 https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/todays-editorial-cartoon-1538/feed/ 0 https://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/804462_846873-2-13-Women.jpgTue, 13 Feb 2018 16:06:57 +0000 Greg Kesich: L.L. Bean has promised full satisfaction, not full surrender to return requests https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/greg-kesich-beans-promised-full-satisfaction-not-full-surrender-to-return-requests/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/greg-kesich-beans-promised-full-satisfaction-not-full-surrender-to-return-requests/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://www.pressherald.com/?p=1331544 It’s not true that everyone who lives in Maine has worked for L.L. Bean, but it sometimes feels that way.

That’s because the outdoor retailer hires thousands of people every fall during the holiday rush, and, at least for a few months, it tries to make them all feel like they are part of the Bean family.

When the rosters shrink in the new year, the seasonal workers fan out across the state and won’t shut up about the incredible bargains they got at the employee store.

Count me as a family member, a distant one – like a fourth cousin, maybe. In the winter of 1990-91 I was a member of Bean’s famous customer service team, and for the past 27 years I have basked in reflected glory every time I hear somebody gush about how well they were treated.

So I got a little defensive last week when my old employer was getting hammered – unfairly, I felt.

“No more lifetime returns,” read a typical headline. “L.L. Bean gives legendary policy the boot.”

The problem is that word “lifetime.” It showed up in nearly every story. But that was never what the company really promised.

No one ever guaranteed that a pair of shoes would last forever – that’s madness.

Bean’s real promise, one that’s still valid with a few caveats, is that the buyer will be “100 percent satisfied,” a much more subtle and complicated concept. Satisfaction means different things to different people and can’t be achieved the same way in every case. It’s more of a philosophical concept than a business plan.

Which is why, before I ever got on the phone with a single customer, Bean’s put me through 80 hours of paid training. It was, by far, more training than I have ever had for any job, including the one I have now.

The “100 percent satisfaction” guarantee was at the heart of it. People were calling us with problems, and they wanted to hear someone on our end take responsibility. Once I finished training I was empowered to do that, and I began repeating the words “I’m sorry” for eight hours a night. After work I couldn’t stop and went around apologizing for everything – the weather (“I’m sorry”), the S&L crisis (“I’m sorry”), the popularity of gangsta rap (“I’m sorry”) – even if it wasn’t my fault. It was good practice, and probably why I’m still married after almost 30 years.

Not all of the calls were complaints. We would get questions about products, too. I liked helping people decide what size shoes to buy.

Me: “Are you wearing shoes now?”

Caller: “Yes.”

Me: “OK. What size are they?”

Caller: “They’re a 10.”

Me: “And how do they feel?”

Caller: “Pretty good.”

Me: “Hmm. I think I’d go with the 10 then.”

Caller: “Thanks, I’ll do that!”

The shoes might not fit, but at least he didn’t have to make the decision alone.

Most of the complaints were from people who had been sent the wrong item, and early on those were easy to resolve because we could ship out replacements, by overnight mail if necessary. As we got deeper into the season, items might be out of stock and we couldn’t correct the order in time.

At that point, my job was to listen, apologize and see if there wasn’t some way we could make it right. Sometimes there was not.

A great lesson from this job was to see that there was very little relationship between how mad people got and how badly we had screwed up their order. The lady whose whole family would be opening envelopes with pictures cut from the catalog on Dec. 25 because her order had been shipped to Alaska instead of Arkansas could be perfectly understanding. But it would be the one who got a small wreath instead of a large one who would hiss, “I want you to know that you ruined my Christmas!” as she slammed down the phone.

I heard some incredible return stories – like the guy who bought a $5 replacement watchband that had fallen apart during a mountain climbing trip. He had no receipt and no watchband, but the company not only replaced his purchase, it gave him a brand-new watch.

Even in those days, however, there were times when we were instructed to say “no.”

A man called to say he had lost a lot of weight and wanted to know how to trade in his old clothes for smaller ones. I had to check with my manager and come back to tell him that we were very sorry. No company could guarantee that you’ll always be fat.

I think people need to lighten up about Bean’s new policy and be thankful for the valuable lessons it imparts: Nothing lasts forever, and satisfaction is a state of mind.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

gkesich@pressherald.com

Twitter: gregkesich

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Commentary: Budget abandons fiscal conservatism, as does hypocritical GOP https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/commentary-budget-abandons-fiscal-conservatism-as-does-hypocritical-gop/ https://www.centralmaine.com/2018/02/14/commentary-budget-abandons-fiscal-conservatism-as-does-hypocritical-gop/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.centralmaine.com/?p=804464 Remember Republicans’ enduring commitment over most of our lifetimes to eliminate the federal budget deficit and trim the national debt? Well, forget it.

In fact, with the GOP controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, the government this year will likely inflict nearly an additional trillion dollars on the existing $20 trillion national debt. And just like your credit card balance, the total federal obligations will also increase right along with now rising interest rates.

Amazingly after all the promises and pleas for more than two generations, it seems everyone, except maybe a showboat senator making a futile late-night legislative gesture, seems good with such overspending.

This week President Trump unveiled the White House $4.4 trillion budget, which isn’t worth its own printing costs. It includes numerous program cuts and increased military spending.

But White House budgets are always doomed, since Congress thinks it does the annual budgeting, or better said, in recent times fails to do the annual budgeting. But even Trump’s 2019 document anticipates a $984 billion deficit, 48 percent larger than the last complete fiscal year.

Additionally, the administration released a much-anticipated, or at least much-talked about, $1.5 trillion nationwide infrastructure repair proposal. “We’re trying to build roads and bridges,” said Trump, “and fix bridges that are falling down. And we have a hard time getting the money. It’s crazy.”

Everyone pretty well agrees that much of the nation’s infrastructure is badly corroded, even crumbling, from delayed maintenance.

“This,” a White House briefing official said, “in no way, shape or form should be considered a take-it or leave-it proposal. This is the start of a negotiation, bicameral, bipartisan negotiation, to find the best solution for infrastructure in the U.S.”

Sounds reasonable. Also hopeful, very hopeful. The usually cranky minority Democrats could be expected to embrace such grand-scale Washington spending, much of which could be touted to their union supporters beginning in an election year.

Trump will need that Democratic support. That’s because after the tax cuts that will add over $1 trillion to the deficit in the next 10 years even with an improving economy, a fair number of Republican hypocrites are now likely to rediscover their yellowing notes on fiscal responsibility.

Those tired words recall how terrible were Obama’s four straight trillion-dollar budget deficits. And how vital it is for the nation’s future that current budgets be balanced. And how imperative that an incomprehensible national debt with 15 zeros be slashed over time, likely by some future generation of pols.

The need for bipartisan support also sounds atypically realistic for Capitol Hill, which is good for a change.

Picture this: Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan will fall under the umbrellas of at least six committees in the House and another five committees in the Senate, all chaired by Republicans” for now. Even Amazon’s vast cloud computers can’t calculate all the permutations, obstacles and political cross-currents such a legislative journey would witness.

Perhaps more importantly, all this spending and proposed spending underlines the death of the GOP’s traditional fiscal conservatism under the leadership of a political insurgent and real estate billionaire whose companies declared bankruptcy a half-dozen times.

The longtime Democrat donor promised to nominate conservative judges and cut regulations. He has delivered there. As a campaigner, he complained about the costs of many things. But he never promised fiscal conservatism.

To be fair, Republicans never invited Trump to take them over. In fact, they ran 15 men and one woman to stop him. They each failed because the even wealthier son of a wealthy man heard the heartland anger and frustration all the others missed.

Now, facing the dark prospects of a foreboding midterm election, his Republican Party is going along with the predictably unpredictable man they chronically grumble about. Gone is the gospel of the House Budget Committee’s detailed 10-year tax-and-spending plans that would eliminate budget deficits for good. Oh, look! That committee’s former chairman is now Speaker Paul Ryan.

We’ll surely hear more fiscal hyperbole and see some political blocking plays this year from the alleged conservatives of the Freedom Caucus. After all, like every House member and a third of the Senate, they too must face voters on Nov. 6.

And as for reforming costly entitlements, the largest expense and real fiscal volcano beneath the molten federal spending dilemma, that must await another year and a crop of elected office-holders brave enough and willing to commit political suicide. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Andrew Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.

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