All cheers for surveillance

The Founders created a system of checks and balances. Those overseeing the nation’s spying have switched to a system of cheers and bouquets. This was the impression given by members of the House intelligence committee as they held an open-to-the-public hearing Tuesday on the National Security Agency’s snooping into Americans’ … Read more →

Published June 20, 2013, at 11:02 a.m.     |    

All cheers for surveillance

Published June 20, 2013, at 11:02 a.m.

The Founders created a system of checks and balances. Those overseeing the nation’s spying have switched to a system of cheers and bouquets.

This was the impression given by members of the House intelligence committee as they held an open-to-the-public hearing Tuesday on the National Security Agency’s snooping into Americans’ phone and Internet records.

“That’s a patriot!” Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said of Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director.

“Your leadership in NSA has been outstanding,” added Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Only his spymaster’s cool kept Alexander from blushing. “Thank you for the kind words,” he replied. “As you noted, we have extraordinary people doing great work.”

The hearing was really a pep rally, as lawmakers praised the officials involved in the surveillance programs and then yielded the floor for an hour so the officials could make statements about how responsible and restrained they’ve been. The congressional overseers of the intelligence agencies quite clearly are captivated by — if not captives of — the people they are supposed to be supervising.

Rogers, in fact, seemed irritated by the notion of letting the public in on their little secret, a disclosure made necessary by Edward Snowden’s leaks. Rogers spoke disapprovingly of being “forced into the position of having so publicly discussed intelligence programs due to irresponsible criminal behavior.”

FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, one of the witnesses, joined in the complaint that the “egregious leaks” have hurt national security because “now here we are talking about this in front of the world.”

Those responsible for the programs shared few new details but offered many “trust us” reassurances. “These programs are limited, focused and subject to rigorous oversight,” Alexander testified.

“Rich and rigorous oversight,” added Chris Inglis, Alexander’s deputy.

“Extensive oversight,” agreed James Cole, the deputy attorney general. “Robust and fairly intimate.”

“Extensive and serious … multilayered,” amended Robert Litt, general counsel to the national intelligence director, James Clapper.

As evidence of this robustness, Cole cited a “report” issued last month finding that U.S. law “imposes at least as much, if not more, due process and oversight on foreign intelligence than other countries.” He didn’t mention that the “report” was published by a big lobbying firm.

Alexander said he would provide the committee with classified documents describing 50 cases in which the surveillance programs were helpful, but he only made two public Tuesday. The officials didn’t explain why those cases, involving a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange and a terrorist financier in California, couldn’t have been done with less-sweeping data collection.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who said the officials would have been better off providing information about the program “up front,” asked whether their newfound transparency would include the public release, with redactions, of secret court opinions related to the surveillance programs.

“It’s been a very difficult task,” was Litt’s noncommittal response.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked how soon Litt would have an answer on declassifying the opinions.

“I’m hesitant to answer any question that begins ‘how soon,’” Litt said.

Schiff, in the minority of lawmakers challenging the witnesses, suggested that the NSA might want to get the phone “metadata” from the telecommunications providers on a case-by-case basis rather than amass all the data for all Americans.

“The concern is speed in crisis,” Alexander told him.

Schiff wasn’t persuaded. “I think that the American people may be much more comfortable with the telecommunications companies retaining those business records,” he said. As for the intelligence officials’ boasts about self-supervision, Schiff added, “all those internal checks are valuable, but they’re still internal checks.”

While there’s bipartisan consensus that the programs are valuable, it’s a mystery why more lawmakers don’t question the intelligence officials’ just-trust-us assurances. After all, only three months ago, Clapper publicly told Congress that such programs didn’t exist.

Congressional overseers have become apologists, assuring the public that the programs are “legal, court-approved and subject to an extensive oversight regime,” as Rogers put it.

“This is very important that we get the message out to the American public that what we do is legal,” Ruppersberger concurred. To that end, he asked Alexander about “unfortunate” criticism of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court as weak because it rarely turns down a government request.

“Do you feel in any way that the FISA court is a rubber stamp?” Ruppersberger asked.

“I do not,” Alexander replied. “The federal judges on that court are superb.”

When the executive branch thinks those checking its power are “superb,” it’s time for rebalancing.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. His e-mail address is danamilbank@washpost.com.

Inmates who were completing their sentences in the Maine Coast Regional Reentry Center in Belfast pose in 2011. The Waldo County Sheriff’s Office received an award for the program for successfully lowering the recidivism rate among people who spent time there.

How providing ex-cons with their meds could fix America’s recidivism crisis

IOWA CITY, Iowa — This year more than 650,000 inmates will be released from American prisons, a figure that breaks down to about 75 newly minted ex-cons every hour of every day. Within three years, the federal government estimates, roughly four in 10 of those former prisoners will be back … Read more →

Updated 42 mins ago     |    

How providing ex-cons with their meds could fix America’s recidivism crisis

Published Sept. 19, 2014, at 11:43 a.m.
Inmates who were completing their sentences in the Maine Coast Regional Reentry Center in Belfast pose in 2011. The Waldo County Sheriff’s Office received an award for the program for successfully lowering the recidivism rate among people who spent time there.
Inmates who were completing their sentences in the Maine Coast Regional Reentry Center in Belfast pose in 2011. The Waldo County Sheriff’s Office received an award for the program for successfully lowering the recidivism rate among people who spent time there. Buy Photo

IOWA CITY, Iowa — This year more than 650,000 inmates will be released from American prisons, a figure that breaks down to about 75 newly minted ex-cons every hour of every day. Within three years, the federal government estimates, roughly four in 10 of those former prisoners will be back behind bars, either because they committed a new crime or violated the conditions of their release.

The reasons for this huge recidivism rate are myriad and interconnected. But chief among the many challenges ex-cons face are finding places to live and work—two tasks required under most rules of release and ones made all the more difficult when they have criminal records. Researchers at Princeton University have found that having a criminal record in New York City, for example, can cut the chances of a black applicant landing a job by as much as 57 percent. (The drop for white ex-cons is 35 percent.) Add to those challenges weak personal support networks and the fact that the phrase correctional system is more aspirational than apt in America, and it’s no wonder that many released inmates find themselves back behind bars.

The federal government has tried to address the recidivism crisis. In 2008, George W. Bush signed the bipartisan Second Chance Act into law, providing millions of dollars for states, local governments, and nonprofits to help ex-cons get on their feet. It has been at the state and local level where the lion’s share of innovation has happened: promising initiatives that provide substance abuse help, job training, and housing assistance. But in addition to the more comprehensive programs in places like Colorado and Hawaii, a more pinpointed effort is underway here in Iowa that could provide a blueprint for the rest of the nation.

The latest government figures suggest that more than half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues, a trend that holds true in Iowa. Much has been written about how our justice system fails the mentally ill, from how the police interact with mentally ill people in the first place to how they’re treated while in prison. The mentally ill also face daunting problems upon their immediate release. Consider: A typical inmate who is being treated for mental illness is given a limited supply of medication upon leaving prison, typically between three and 30 days’ worth. Even the 30-day prescription an inmate receives in states like Iowa won’t buy nearly enough time for an ex-con to jump through all the necessary hoops to get a new prescription once he’s on the other side of the prison walls. The average waiting time to see a behavior health provider in Polk County, Iowa’s most populous county, is about three months, and the wait is likely longer for those who live in rural areas with fewer medical resources.

To address this glaring problem, Iowa is experimenting with an elegantly simple solution. Under the Central Pharmacy Pilot Project, an inmate is still given his 30-day supply of medication upon his release but is also handed prescriptions for an additional 60 days of medication. Those prescriptions—for everything from thiothixene for schizophrenia to hydroxyzine for anxiety—can be filled at one of 320 participating pharmacies around the state, at no cost to the inmate. “We found that [the former inmates] were really struggling to get access,” says Jon-Michael Rosmann, the executive director of the Iowa Prescription Drug Corp., a nonprofit that partnered with the state to launch the program. “There are just a lot of things that have to occur. They have to find a place to live, find financial assistance, start a job search—and without access to their medication, the likelihood that all those will occur is incredibly low.”

The logic is obvious. A newly released inmate is more likely to succeed in society if he doesn’t have to make the transition without his meds. By extending the prescription, the government gives the former inmate the time he needs to secure his own medical care—either with the help of a re-entry program or on his own—and a better chance at making the difficult move back into society. (As an added bonus, the Iowa program also helps participants navigate the health care system so they have less to worry about once their 90-day medication supply is up.)

The pilot program has been running for less than two years, but the early returns are promising. Through the program’s first nine months—the last time the stats were compiled—none of the 165 participants had been charged with a violent crime in the first 90 days after his release, compared to 1.6 percent of a similar population of severely mentally ill former inmates who were not in the program. The gains were even more pronounced when it came to the type of smaller violations that can land an ex-con back in prison for violating the conditions of his release. Less than 3 percent of participants suffering from less severe but still chronic mental illnesses had their releases revoked, compared with 11.3 percent of nonparticipants with similar conditions. This is obviously a small population, in which a few cases could potentially skew the results. But it’s a promising start, one that lines up with our intuition that providing medication to people who need it is good public policy.

State spending on corrections quadrupled over the last two decades, making it the fastest-growing area of state budgets other than Medicaid, according to the Pew Center on the States. Together, states are spending more than $50 billion a year on their corrections systems, the bulk of which is funneled to prisons. It costs an average of about $33,000 a year to incarcerate someone in Iowa—that’s $90.81 per day. Given that the state has spent an average of just $93.85 per participant in the pilot program, the initiative seems like a no-brainer, an outlay that will pay for itself if it keeps even a tiny percentage of inmates from reoffending. “It’s such a small investment with such huge returns,” says Rosmann. “And, obviously, it’s the right thing to do.”

The pilot program—originally launched with cash the state Attorney General’s Office won in a pair of class-action suits against two large pharmacy benefit managers, and continued with a settlement from a different suit against a major drugmaker—is set to run for at least another three years. If its early success continues, there’s no reason why other states shouldn’t follow Iowa’s lead. State governments might also consider making a relatively small investment upfront in the form of permanently free prescriptions for mentally ill ex-inmates. Sure, that would cost more than providing medication for 30 or 90 days. But that sort of expenditure would also help a lot of people, and it could help cut down on potentially huge prison bills at the same time.

Josh Voorhees is a senior writer for Slate. He lives in Iowa City.

 

Maine Governor Paul LePage's name tag sits unused on a table at an Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine forum at Hannaford Hall in Portland on Friday morning.

Word search in the race for governor: Waiting to hear about what really matters in Maine

We’ll leave it to a psychologist to determine what it means that the most frequently used word in ads for Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor, is “I,” while the campaign for Paul LePage refers to the Republican governor in the third person. The more interesting finding from a BDN … Read more →

Updated 1 hour ago     |    

Word search in the race for governor: Waiting to hear about what really matters in Maine

Published Sept. 19, 2014, at 10:29 a.m.     |      Modified Sept. 19, 2014, at 10:57 a.m.
Maine Governor Paul LePage's name tag sits unused on a table at an Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine forum at Hannaford Hall in Portland on Friday morning.
Maine Governor Paul LePage's name tag sits unused on a table at an Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine forum at Hannaford Hall in Portland on Friday morning.

We’ll leave it to a psychologist to determine what it means that the most frequently used word in ads for Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor, is “I,” while the campaign for Paul LePage refers to the Republican governor in the third person.

The more interesting finding from a BDN analysis of the most often used words in TV ads for the three candidates for governor is what they are not saying.

None of the three men in their ads is talking about growing population in a state that’s seeing anemic growth, preparing Maine’s students for tomorrow’s jobs and the attitude needed to make Maine attractive to the people we need to move here. These are some of the most important areas where Maine will need to focus in order to pull itself out of the economic doldrums it finds itself in well after most other states have pulled themselves out of the Great Recession.

“Jobs” is a frequently used word in the candidates’ advertising. But there’s no way Maine can expect substantially more jobs without significantly more people. But none of the three candidates has articulated a plan for drawing more people — who are preferably young and educated — to Maine. A Maine-themed race car and military-approved footwear made in Maine aren’t going to draw new residents in the numbers needed to make a meaningful difference.

With some spikes here and there, Maine’s population growth has been slowing for decades, and it’s now hitting milestones that are cause for grave concern. Maine now has more deaths than births. It has the oldest median age in the country at 43.5 years. It has a declining number of workers. And it lost population between 2012 and 2013, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau at the end of December.

In a report released last fall, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Development Foundation concluded that Maine can’t grow its economy without more growing its population. As an old state, Maine’s workforce is shrinking as workers reach retirement age and, without a growing population, they aren’t being replaced in the workforce. Maine will lost 20,000 workers by 2020, the report warns. To change course, the two groups recommend increasing workforce participation (by bringing more veterans, disabled adults, seniors and disengaged youth to the workforce) and attracting more workers from other states and countries to Maine.

This is the biggest crisis facing Maine — not a few people cheating welfare or undocumented workers coming to the state or whether there are more gubernatorial debates. Yet it’s not one that those who seek the state’s top leadership role are honestly talking about.

Also, conspicuously absent from the most-used words list is “education,” “schools” and “students.” Because of the population trends noted above, many towns are struggling to maintain schools that are educating a shrinking number of students. Between the 2006-07 and 2013-14 school years, Maine public school enrollment dropped by more than 15,000 students, a decline that would have been steeper without a nearly four-fold increase in the number of public pre-K programs across the state. At the same time, rural communities face a declining tax base to support their schools.

The declining numbers of high school students in Maine is also applying financial pressure on the state’s university and community college systems, yet none of the three candidates is talking about those trends.

A leader with the right attitude would acknowledge the state’s shortcomings and offer concrete plans for addressing them.

Sadly, from now until Nov. 4, we can instead expect to hear more about welfare, mills, taxes and illegal immigration.

 

Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014: Cameras, Obama and ISIS, endorsements

Smile for the camera The media news surrounding the Ray Rice incident has yet to mention a side story that could be written. If I were a news reporter I’d title it “Smile, you are on camera.” The Sept. 11 front page story “Will recordings damage personal politics in Maine?” … Read more →

Published Sept. 19, 2014, at 9:15 a.m.     |    

Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014: Cameras, Obama and ISIS, endorsements

Published Sept. 19, 2014, at 9:15 a.m.

Smile for the camera

The media news surrounding the Ray Rice incident has yet to mention a side story that could be written. If I were a news reporter I’d title it “Smile, you are on camera.” The Sept. 11 front page story “Will recordings damage personal politics in Maine?” touched on it somewhat, as did the story about the sex offender snapping a photo of a young boy in a restroom.

As we go about our daily business, we should all be aware that the camera is rolling in one form or another. One estimate says that video cameras record the average person who is out and about at least 200 times a day. I think it’s more but you get the point

We hate it when the unblinking eye of the video camera catches us doing something we should not be doing, or saying something we wish we’d not said. On the flip side, we are grateful that a recording backs up our story that we were “right,” were not at fault or did nothing wrong.

Some will say it’s Big Brother watching. Maybe so, but sometimes it’s the person standing next to you or a passerby who happens to have a cell phone. Can it be abused? Absolutely! We need to be vigilant for that abuse. Personally, I think it encourages accountability and honesty, which seems to be in short supply today but that’s just my opinion. Now smile.

David Winslow

Brewer

Bellows vote

I am a grandmother with three beautiful grandchildren and several more foster grandchildren growing up in Maine. The most important campaign issue for me is climate change and how it will affect their future. There are dire consequences for our planet if we fail to act boldly and immediately to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and convert to clean energy. Yet our so-called “moderate” senator, Susan Collins, has demonstrated over and over again her disregard for our endangered earth.

Her stated position against a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and her willingness to take campaign contributions from big money like the Koch brothers and oil companies, shows me that her loyalties are not with the people of Maine. I personally collected signatures at the last election on just such an amendment, and voters overwhelmingly supported the idea — Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike. The people of this country want to get big money out of politics.

We need to say goodbye to Collins. We need Shenna Bellows in the U.S. Senate. She will vote for my children and grandchildren’s future and for our planet earth.

Nancy Davis

Owls Head

America Beheaded?

Our U.S. military always prevents the “ultimate end,” whenever Satan pursues its evil trend.

But now the Golfer In Chief has no strategy in place. No plan to preserve the Christian race.

Instead, the news media reports a golfing ploy, while ISIS is beheading Americans.

Our country is being destroyed from within. President Obama’s telling all extremists “Come right on in, our borders are an open door, and prisons have inmates that teach hate.” Obama can’t see because he’s vacationing or asleep, with a cabinet of wolves guarding the sheep.

This Commander in Chief has no resolve, no strategy to fight, while ISIS is as evil as the 1940 Nazi’s Third Reich. Our present debt of $17 trillion puts our country in crisis. The USA has the most powerful military in the world. It’s past time we allowed the American Eagle to unfurl.

Rowland V. Gilbert Sr.

CWO/USN/RET

Damariscotta

Cutler for Maine

I am writing in response to Sam Gath’s Sept. 10 letter “Job creation in China.” I found the piece to be uninformed and reminiscent of the Democratic playbook from the 2010 election. While I was living in China, I knew Eliot Cutler and his work focused on stimulating Chinese investment in the U.S. and in opening up new markets in China.

Since the election in 2010, the Chinese market for such products as Maine lobsters has grown four-fold. Rising household income, concerns over the environment and food safety have also led to an increase in the number of Chinese interested in U.S. schools and investment opportunities in the U.S.

At the same time, rising wages and changes in the exchange rates have many U.S. and Chinese companies looking at locating manufacturing back in the states.The question for Maine voters is who is going to work hardest/smartest to get these dollars?

Compared to our other New England neighbors, Maine has only succeeded in attracting a small fraction of what it could if the state put in place more effective measures to build brand in China and stimulate long term economic and cultural exchange programs.

Sen. Angus King is supporting Cutler because he believes, as I do, that he is the best candidate qualified for the job not only because he understands the challenges that Maine faces but because he has proposed concrete solutions, inclusive of plans to tap the immense opportunity that Maine has to grow the Chinese market.

Tony Kieffer

Portland

Clean election

The effort to challenge the Supreme Court decisions that brought an avalanche of secret money into our elections was defeated in the Senate last Thursday, and one of our senators, Susan Collins, was among the Republicans who prevented passage of this constitutional amendment proposal that all Democrats supported. (Never mind Collins’s empty gesture earlier in the week to bring the amendment proposal to the floor for debate.)

Voters who have participated in the movement to reverse the damage done to election campaigns by recent Supreme Court decisions should not despair. A constitutional amendment may not be possible, but it is possible to make good decisions about the people we elect to represent us on this issue in Washington and Augusta. It is necessary to read Sen. Angus King’s statement on “clean elections” and to let his ideas guide us in electing our senators and representatives on Nov. 4. It is important to remember that Collins earlier in her career supported clean elections. Now she is following a different kind of drummer, a different kind of Republican Party.

On Nov. 4, we can also come out strongly in support of our clean elections system in Maine by signing the “Initiative to Strengthen the Maine Clean Election Act.” Go to www.mainecleanelections.org for information and to volunteer.

Carmen Lavertu

Thomaston

 

Ray Rice, the NFL and a defining moment in the fight against domestic violence

True defining moments are rare in any movement, cause or social issue. Sure, there are events and circumstances that serve to immortalize the theme one is promoting, but to call something a defining moment, it has to have a significant impact across the spectrum of interest and not just within … Read more →

Published Sept. 19, 2014, at 7:13 a.m.     |    

Ray Rice, the NFL and a defining moment in the fight against domestic violence

Published Sept. 19, 2014, at 7:13 a.m.
BDN Illustration by Eric Zelz

True defining moments are rare in any movement, cause or social issue. Sure, there are events and circumstances that serve to immortalize the theme one is promoting, but to call something a defining moment, it has to have a significant impact across the spectrum of interest and not just within the community devoted to that cause.

Civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights each have had their defining moments that can be articulated among not only those who are impacted by the movement but others outside that given community. I hope I am not premature, but I am feeling strongly that the movement against domestic violence might have had its defining moment on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014.

One way you can identify a true defining moment is when you can recite the date that something so radical occurred that the entire nation took notice. Each of the aforementioned movements can probably identify and recite the event that was so important it changed the course of history. For civil rights and LGBT rights, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 and the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 are such dates that are oft cited as defining moments.

What happened earlier this month on Sept. 8 that is so pivotal, you may ask?

You probably won’t remember the date in the future, but on that day, the entire nation took notice of the problem of domestic violence in our country. On Sept. 8, the most powerful and most popular professional sport stood tall, recognized the problem of domestic violence and took drastic action to deal with it.

Why is this so defining? For far too long, professional athletes as well as some college athletes, seemed invulnerable to the societal issues we all face. This is not to say they were immune — as many cases have shown they are no different from any of us when it comes to taking part or being caught up in such actions. It is just uncanny how athletes seem to lack accountability and avoid the usual punishments and sanctions most others suffer for the same conduct.

Some are saying the NFL was pressured and backed into a corner to take the action it did. Regardless of its motivation, the league’s actions shook the sports world like a tsunami with the attention of domestic violence going mainstream.

Many have said a subculture that exists in sports that places athletes beyond the reach of civilian authorities. There is no question certain sports teams have circled the wagons when one of their own has crossed the line or been accused of committing a crime. So, for the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL to take the action they did on Sept. 8 — respectively, cutting running back Ray Rice and indefinitely suspending him from play — was a defining moment. No longer will domestic violence be tolerated by this multibillion dollar organization. No longer will the actions of an abuser be covered and protected. No longer will high-profile athletes be held to a different standard.

This is a rare case in which a professional sport has helped to raise the profile of a social issue such as domestic violence to this level in the public arena. Even the former New England Patriot sitting in jail for murder, Aaron Hernandez, was just a blip to the nonsports citizen. The Rice episode, however, has drawn attention from all corners of society.

Domestic violence is everywhere, and maybe it took the firing of a professional football player to get the attention of those who normally don’t know or don’t care about such things. Now, at least, public attention is focused on domestic violence — largely thanks to the defining moment on Sept. 8.

I have long held that in my capacity as a domestic violence investigator, public attention and awareness about the cause are just as important as interviewing defendants and victims. For once, a high-profile case is doing part of the job for me.

I hope I am not being overly optimistic.

We have had some false starts in the past with significant events that have garnered considerable attention only to lose their momentum. I have stated in past interviews and OpEds that we are an event-driven society. Our attention is focused on the newspaper headlines of the day and the lead story on the evening news.

Domestic violence has held that crown in the past — unfortunately only after the latest gruesome homicide or the arrest of a pseudo-celebrity. As in most cases, domestic violence no longer held the spotlight after a few days, and it was replaced by war, disease or the economy. Until the next gruesome event, the cause is typically forgotten by the masses. The unaffected move on as if nothing happened.

Maybe we have crossed over that line this time. Maybe domestic violence will remain relevant, and it will no longer be regarded as that problem that only affects other people. Only time will tell.

Regardless, Sept. 8, 2014, was a pretty significant date for domestic violence. Yes, this incident will eventually be bumped from the headlines. If it is that defining moment for domestic violence, though, it won’t be bumped from your consciousness.

Steven Edmondson is the domestic violence investigator for the Sagadahoc County district attorney’s office in Bath.

 

Maine can’t afford to lose the bear referendum

Not surprisingly, the Humane Society of the United States, the most affluent animal-rights organization nationwide, is backing Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting’s second attempt to ban bear hunting with baits, hounds and traps, via referendum. The Portland-based coalition’s first attempt, also backed by the HSUS, was defeated by referendum in … Read more →

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 11:35 a.m.     |    

Maine can’t afford to lose the bear referendum

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 11:35 a.m.
Tom Hennessey

Not surprisingly, the Humane Society of the United States, the most affluent animal-rights organization nationwide, is backing Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting’s second attempt to ban bear hunting with baits, hounds and traps, via referendum. The Portland-based coalition’s first attempt, also backed by the HSUS, was defeated by referendum in 2004.

Though the HSUS admits to being opposed to hunting, its title is nonetheless deceiving. Reportedly, only 1 percent of the HSUS’s annual budget, estimated at $180 million, benefits local humane societies and animal shelters. However, since money talks, between now and Nov. 4 the HSUS’s affluence will speak persistently for passage of the bear referendum, Question 1 on the ballot.

Let’s consider, then, a few bear facts that speak convincingly against the referendum. First off, hunting bears with baits, hounds and traps is essential to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife achieving its publicly derived bear-population objective. The department’s studies show that annual kills of 3,000-4,000 bears are needed to stabilize the increasing population, currently estimated at more than 30,000 statewide. Nevertheless, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting contends that the bear population can be managed by stalking and still-hunting. Granted, bears are shot either way. But the fact of the matter is that stalking and still-hunting won’t produce enough kills to control the population — for two reasons: 1) The thickness of Maine’s woods restricts hunter visibility and silent movement, and 2) bears are extremely wary and elusive.

In response to questions about bears overpopulating if hunting with baits, hounds and traps is banned, proponents of the bear referendum assert that the animals will self-regulate. To clarify that, DIFW bear-project biologists explain that bears can self-regulate only when extreme overpopulation results in malnourishment, fewer cubs born and more dying from disease and starvation. That said, let’s leave it that no animal deserves to die such an agonizing death.

Predation: Considering that Mother Nature’s store is poorly stocked come springtime, bears emerging from dens prey voraciously on newly born fawns and moose calves. Understandably that’s unsettling to some people. But it’s also understandable that ravenous bears — sows with cubs — prefer fresh meat to moldy acorns. Therefore, if bear numbers were to increase out of hand, the number of fawns killed by bears would increase, which wouldn’t bode well for deer herds struggling to recover. That alone should be reason enough to leave the management of Maine’s bear population to the DIFW. Otherwise it will be lost to the misguided votes of people who, for the most part, know nothing about bears, bear hunting and bear management.

Furthermore, word from Galen Ruhlin of Gouldsboro is that bears destroyed 89 bee hives this year on blueberry barrens harvested by Cherryfield Foods Inc. of Cherryfield. Owing to Ruhlin’s 30 years of experience in hunting, trapping and handling bears, Cherryfield Foods hires him to trap and remove the bee-hive bandits. This spring, the company rented 55,000 hives to ensure pollination of the blueberry plants.

Comparatively, a loss of 89 hives doesn’t seem like much. But the cost of replacing them is substantial. Not to mention repairing savable hives. Using culvert traps, Ruhlin and his assistant, Melanie Hurd of Bucksport, removed 28 bears. The animals were sedated — at additional cost — tagged, transported and released at distances of 20-30 miles.

Suffice it to say that Maine’s important bear population requires professional management. Otherwise the animals will overpopulate, creating “nuisance bear” problems that threaten people as well as properties. For instance, when bear hunting was banned in New Jersey the subsequent increase in home invasions resulted in reinstatement of the bear-hunting season. However, because forewarned is forearmed, Mainers can guard against conflicts with bears by voting for facts (science) rather than fiction in the forthcoming bear referendum.

Allowing that the economic, recreational and societal benefits of bear hunting, as is, are immeasurable, Maine cannot afford to lose the bear referendum. To do so not only would encourage the continual erosion of the outdoor traditions, cultures and heritage symbolic of the state, it also would degrade and dishonor the DIFW’s extensive bear-management program — arguably the most respected nationwide. Think about it.

Tom Hennessey of Hampden is a sportsman, writer and artist. He retired as the BDN’s outdoors writer in 1999 and contributed regular columns to the BDN until 2013.

 

Goldilocks, three bears and a voter’s dilemma this election season

A spokeswoman for Eliot Cutler recently compared Maine’s gubernatorial race this fall to Goldilocks and the Three Bears in a Portland Press Herald column. With all the slapstick behavior going on with outside money and special interest groups, it’s more like “The Three Stooges” at the moment, but let’s go … Read more →

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 11:15 a.m.     |    

Goldilocks, three bears and a voter’s dilemma this election season

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 11:15 a.m.

A spokeswoman for Eliot Cutler recently compared Maine’s gubernatorial race this fall to Goldilocks and the Three Bears in a Portland Press Herald column.

With all the slapstick behavior going on with outside money and special interest groups, it’s more like “The Three Stooges” at the moment, but let’s go with the Goldilocks thing.

The setting: a forest of some pretty depressing social and financial indicators. The lost: individuals and families, buckling under the weight of supporting each other as the economy continues to fail.

Before I even get to the polling station in the clearing I know I’ll find Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s chair way too hard and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s chair a bit soft. The problem is, as an independent, I’m not at all sure that Cutler’s chair is just right. Fairy tale Goldilocks finds respite in temporary shelter, sustenance and a place to rest. This Maine voter will find respite in leadership that can articulate hope and a clear vision of the path out of the gloomy forest.

Finding that path and leading Mainers down it will require a nuanced understanding of the circumstances currently challenging our state, as well as our potential to persevere, to thrive. I just can’t associate words like “hope,” “clear vision” and “nuance” with LePage. He prefers negative communication and divisive tactics that reflect little faith in anyone.

Examples of his lack of nuanced understanding abound and, sometimes, even amuse. Of course, it would all be a lot funnier if he were the governor of some other state, but he’s Maine’s chief executive. Perceptions of our leadership are part of attracting businesses to this state.

Yet, the issues LePage raises resonate with significant portions of Maine voters. Take his latest initiative to drug-test recipients of TANF benefits who have drug-related felony convictions, for instance. You would have to be living under a rock not to be concerned about addiction in Maine or the state of our state budget. You might want to find a rock to live under when you realize this initiative doesn’t do much for either concern.

The TANF program is less than 1 percent of the state’s general fund appropriations — a budgetary you-know-what-hole in the snow. The best way to lower the cost of TANF is to attract and generate jobs that pay enough to cover the costs of transportation and child care. A good way to increase the cost of TANF is to use staff and resources to defend and administer this misguided initiative.

Maine’s addiction problem is far greater than just the few hundred drug felons in the TANF program. Treatment programs need funds to increase access points and promote recovery. Child protective services could use funds to develop specialized programs for families with active addicts. Schools could use funds to support their children.

The process of elimination leaves “a bit soft” vs. “maybe not just quite right,” and it’s kind of too bad they couldn’t join up and co-govern.

Michaud’s “Maine Made” and Cutler’s “Branding Maine” initiatives are hopeful, reflecting faith in Mainers and our resources. These and other initiatives, available on the candidates’ websites, also suggest a nuanced approach to problem-solving.

Michaud brings a wealth of experiential knowledge that could serve him well as governor: the relationships between levels and branches of government, how legislation plays out, when it’s time to change your mind. Cutler’s experiential knowledge is more on a national and global scale and is business-based, which could be helpful in leading a state so desperate for jobs.

When it comes to Governor Too Hard’s signature issue, welfare reform, signs of hope, vision and nuance dissipate. Cutler’s plan, at least the part that would compel some former recipients to repay some of their benefits, is laugh-out-loud funny. Until he offers projected figures to the contrary, I’ll keep laughing because I’m guessing not many recipients leave welfare programs to earn 300 percent of the poverty level shortly thereafter.

On the other hand, Cutler’s idea for a tiered reduction in services is as obvious as Michaud’s identifying the need for better management at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Neither talks about higher-paying jobs as welfare reform. Or about welfare misused as a subsidy for profitable corporations who underpay employees. Or about provider accountability or the gap between what services can be billed for and what services clients actually need. Or about a real path out of the DHHS part of this gloomy forest.

Patricia Callahan of Augusta works as a consultant for local nonprofit organizations.

 

Friday, Sept. 19: Election, climate change, elephant misinformation, bear baiting

Stehle best qualified I am an independent candidate for Penobscot County Sheriff and I am responding to Glenn Ross’s letter (Sept. 13-14) and his comment that the job of sheriff is “not a job one learns from a textbook.” Ross’ insinuation that I lack the law enforcement experience for the … Read more →

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 10:25 a.m.     |    

Friday, Sept. 19: Election, climate change, elephant misinformation, bear baiting

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 10:25 a.m.

Stehle best qualified

I am an independent candidate for Penobscot County Sheriff and I am responding to Glenn Ross’s letter (Sept. 13-14) and his comment that the job of sheriff is “not a job one learns from a textbook.” Ross’ insinuation that I lack the law enforcement experience for the job of sheriff is misleading.

My experience and unique set of skills were the reasons Sheriff Ross pursued me and hired me to be his chief deputy. My skills in law enforcement and as a chief executive officer, law-enforcement trainer, accountant and organizational manager were pressed into service to take control of the organization and put it back on a path to excellence, and I did. My personal mission as chief deputy was to restore trust in the organization, and I did.

I started the Special Response Team and, working with Community Health and Counseling professionals, brought Crisis Intervention Training to the sheriff’s office. With my experience in law enforcement, I was selected to serve as a contract employee with the FBI, dealing with anti-terrorism activities.

As an international Certified Fraud Examiner, I have investigated complex fraud and money-laundering cases, and I serve as a consultant for other law-enforcement agencies.

In response to Ross’ statement of learning from a textbook, I do agree that I am a lifetime learner and textbooks play a role.

In addition to reading textbooks, I also have written one. I am writing another book on law-enforcement ethics and how to maintain integrity over a law-enforcement career.

A lifetime of experience builds skill sets that can be appropriate to different jobs. My experience, skills and integrity make me the clear choice to become the next sheriff of Penobscot County.

Allen T. Stehle

Corinth

Stop digging

The brief history of humanity’s skyrocketing demands for nonrenewable energy reads like a horror story. For generations, suffering people will accuse us of the most heartless — and brainless — selfishness. Tragically, they’ll be right.

Is there a fisherman, farmer or forest worker in Maine who can’t tell you how much their environment has degraded in one generation, or how unreliable weather patterns have become and how this threatens their ways of life?

Jim Hightower says, “If you find yourself in a hole and want to get out, the first thing to do is to stop digging!” We are digging early and awful graves for our grandchildren; neither ignorance nor inaction are acceptable responses.

This weekend, a busload of University of Maine students heads to Manhattan to voice their concerns about climate change and to call for action. They know the answers lie in each of us taking personal responsibility to learn and to do whatever we can. They and other climate change activists can show us the way out of the hole. Let’s start climbing.

Jane Livingston

Veazie

Yes on 1

I’ve never seen myself as a political person. When I heard that our state is the very last one to still allow bear trapping, hounding and baiting, I felt a lot of embarrassment — this is not “the way life should be.” These practices are truly unnecessary and cruel. I’m speaking up to support a Yes vote on Question 1 and to tell my fellow Mainers how much I want to see cruelty banned and fair chase restored.

Last year, my friends and I began volunteering for this cause, gathering signatures for the ballot. It was a really energizing and rewarding experience! Now that Question 1 is on the ballot, there’s even more to do to get ready for Election Day. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit www.YesOnQuestion1.com/Volunteer and sign up to volunteer today.

And please vote Yes on Question 1.

Susan Baker-Kaplan

Cumberland

 

Elephant misinformation

We are grieved to hear of Dr. Jim Laurita’s death at his beloved sanctuary in Hope. We are responding to the negative conclusions drawn about his mission and passion for these two ladies, Rosie and Opal. Our family has visited the facility three times in the past two years, privileged to have our grandchildren see and hear about the world of the Asian elephants. We applauded their mission and broadcasted to all the need to visit this amazing facility.

This program was not a dog-and-pony show to exploit these pachyderms as some have stated. Those making such ludicrous statements have probably never visited the sanctuary or observed the mutual love between Dr. Laurita and the elephants. There had been a list of elephants waiting for this necessary rehabilitating program.

The media stated that all wild creatures need to have a protective barrier between them and man. How ridiculous. Animals that perform have had trainers and performers alike in physical contact. If that was not safe then, performances would have been outlawed many years ago for these animals. At the sanctuary they provide barriers protecting the elephants and humans.

Please, someone step forward on behalf of this amazing and educational resting place for elephants. Those in the media, government, law enforcement, friends, neighbors, someone, anyone, defend this sanctuary and its mission. To the family, we say we are so sorry for your loss and you remain in our prayers as you grieve for this man and all the changes invading your privacy.

Cheryl Whitten

Standish

Support Cain

Maine deserves a leader in Washington who represents their values and understands their concerns. Here in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, we have the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers among all New England districts. We need a representative who will stand up for Maine families and businesses, someone who believes that full-time employees and their families should not suffer the indignity of living in poverty.

Emily Cain is running for Congress this November, and she has my vote. In Congress, Emily will work to raise the minimum wage to help working Mainers and their families. The minimum wage, both nationally and in Maine, has not been increased since 2009. Adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is nearly one-third lower than it was in 1968. In an economy that’s more than doubled in size on a per-capita basis, surely we can do better.

As a professor at the University of Maine, I see how my students struggle to get by, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Opponents of a higher minimum wage fear that it will hurt business, but growing evidence suggests that a higher wage reduces employee turnover, which in turn reduces employment and training costs. A higher minimum wage also empowers workers, fostering self-sufficiency and reducing the need for public assistance.

Emily Cain is the only candidate in her race that supports a higher minimum wage. We deserve a representative who understands what’s at stake for hard-working families. I’m voting for Emily. I hope you will too.

Rob Lilieholm

Hampden

 

Construction crews work on sidewalks in West Market Square in downtown Bangor on Wednesday, Sept. 10.

Coupons to car washes: How Bangor can ease businesses’ construction-induced pain

Construction in the heart of downtown Bangor has meant dusty environs, torn-up sidewalks, diverted traffic and the appearance of an imposing construction scene for much of the spring and summer. The result for a number of businesses in the affected area has been a dropoff in customer traffic. There’s little … Read more →

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 9:11 a.m.     |    

Coupons to car washes: How Bangor can ease businesses’ construction-induced pain

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 9:11 a.m.     |      Modified Sept. 18, 2014, at 9:27 a.m.
Construction crews work on sidewalks in West Market Square in downtown Bangor on Wednesday, Sept. 10.
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Construction crews work on sidewalks in West Market Square in downtown Bangor on Wednesday, Sept. 10. Buy Photo

Construction in the heart of downtown Bangor has meant dusty environs, torn-up sidewalks, diverted traffic and the appearance of an imposing construction scene for much of the spring and summer. The result for a number of businesses in the affected area has been a dropoff in customer traffic.

There’s little question that West Market Square in Bangor’s downtown needed the $1.3 million structural and cosmetic overhaul that’s wrapping up as the fall begins. First, the city needed to replace aging sewer and water infrastructure — some of which dated back to before the Civil War — with reliable pipes laid down in a deliberate fashion.

Second, with the area already torn up, it made sense for the city to take advantage of the opportunity to give West Market Square a makeover with widened sidewalks, improved lighting, trees and new brickwork.

The renewed West Market Square could prove a draw to downtown that props up businesses in the square and delivers a substantial return on investment. But it doesn’t change the fact that, in 2014, those same businesses have taken a hit because of the construction.

As construction progressed, the city took a number of steps to try to mitigate the impact on the affected businesses that it should build upon in the future. A key part of the strategy was communicating with those affected business owners so they were aware of construction plans, including the timing for each portion of work on West Market Square.

The Downtown Bangor Partnership and the city also hosted a series of “ Hard Hat Happy Hours” at bars in the construction zone in an effort to drive traffic to those affected businesses. The happy hour took place at a different bar each week over the course of four weeks in August and early September. The Downtown Bangor Partnership raffled off gift certificates to businesses within the construction zone and parking passes for the downtown Bangor parking garage.

As the city looks ahead in the coming years to other infrastructure improvements, such as work on the commercial section of Broadway, it could focus more on creative strategies to drive customers to affected businesses during — and after — periods of construction.

When Salt Lake City, Utah, extended light rail train service about a decade ago, it set aside funds to help market affected businesses during construction. Those promotions included coupons and advertising for special promotions at affected businesses. The businesses gave out car wash coupons to customers who parked their cars in areas dirtied by construction dust.

In Portland, Oregon, the transit agency carrying out the light rail development had a marketing campaign to publicize the fact that shops, restaurants and other establishments were open during construction. The marketing campaign included prominent “open for business” signs and banners in the area and promotional materials sent to 16,000 homes.

Both of those larger cities also had the resources to issue low-interest loans to affected businesses to help them balance their books during construction. As a policy, Salt Lake City now sets aside 1 percent of project funds for a revolving loan fund designed to help businesses stay afloat during construction.

The West Market Square overhaul and upcoming investments in Bangor are on a significantly smaller scale than the installation of light rail in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Portland, Oregon. But Bangor could consider more aggressive promotional campaigns to try to drive traffic to affected businesses during future construction.

In West Market Square, the city says it’s at work planning some efforts to drive customer traffic to construction-affected businesses now that work is wrapping up. Bangor-area residents, meanwhile, can also make it a point to patronize those same enterprises.

With aging infrastructure, there are similar construction projects in Bangor’s future, which is all the more reason to get it right when helping businesses weather the disruptive and dirty work.

 

President Barack Obama participates in a briefing from top military leaders while visiting U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, September 17, 2014. From L-R are: United States Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Obama, Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III and U.S. Special Operations Commander Joseph Votel.

Republicans saddle their warhorses

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was testifying Tuesday about the need for military action in Syria and Iraq when Ann Wright, an anti-war demonstrator in the audience, rose and began shouting: “No more war! No more war!” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, hammered the gavel. “You’re … Read more →

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 8:21 a.m.     |    

Republicans saddle their warhorses

Published Sept. 18, 2014, at 8:21 a.m.
President Barack Obama participates in a briefing from top military leaders while visiting U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, September 17, 2014. From L-R are: United States Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Obama, Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III and U.S. Special Operations Commander Joseph Votel.
LARRY DOWNING | Reuters
President Barack Obama participates in a briefing from top military leaders while visiting U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, September 17, 2014. From L-R are: United States Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Obama, Commander of Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin III and U.S. Special Operations Commander Joseph Votel.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was testifying Tuesday about the need for military action in Syria and Iraq when Ann Wright, an anti-war demonstrator in the audience, rose and began shouting: “No more war! No more war!”

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, hammered the gavel. “You’re acting very war-like yourself,” he told Wright.

Must be going around.

With extraordinary speed, the nation and its leaders have rallied behind war to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group. President Barack Obama still holds to a “no boots on the ground” pledge, but to listen to recent pronouncements in the House and Senate, it would appear that many Republicans are clamoring for a new ground war in the Middle East — a position even hawks hesitated to take a few weeks ago.

Consider one Republican member of the Senate panel, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who three months ago said: “I don’t think we need boots on the ground. I don’t think that is an option worth consideration.” After Obama announced a no-boots-on-the-ground plan last week that sounded much like what Graham was asking for, Graham revised his view. “This idea we’ll never have any boots on the ground to defeat them in Syria is fantasy,” he said Sunday on TV.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Graham practically pleaded with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to endorse the use of U.S. ground troops against the Islamic State. “Do you agree that somebody’s got to go in on the ground?” he asked. “Can you envision a coalition of Arab states that have the capabilities … without substantial U.S. military support?” Finally, the senator challenged the general: “If you think they can do it without us being on the ground, just say yes.”

“Yes,” said Dempsey.

This was evidently not the answer sought by Graham, who then asked if Dempsey would recommend U.S. ground troops in Syria “if nobody else will help us.” Dempsey, not quite as categorical as Obama, pledged that if circumstances change to merit U.S. ground forces, he’ll recommend that.

The sudden desire for a ground war is a bit suspect, both because many Republicans adopted this view only after Obama came around to their previous view and because many Republicans oppose even the modest funding Obama has requested to train Syrian fighters.

It may be that Republicans embraced the boots-on-the-ground position because Obama rejected it. Whatever the cause, the militancy is spreading — even though polls indicate that while Americans favor military action against the Islamic State, they aren’t keen on ground troops.

House Speaker John Boehner, asked about Obama’s no-boots vow, replied: “I would never tell the enemy what I was willing to do, or unwilling to do.”

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., was more blunt. He told The Associated Press that, rather than depending on “undependable” foreigners, he favors “all-out-war” waged by American forces.

As the House kicked off its debate Tuesday on training Syrian rebels, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., declared that Obama “was far too quick to rule out options and tools that he in fact may need later.”

Said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.: “We have made this decision not to have ground troops. We do not need another half-pregnant war in the Middle East. If it’s important enough to fight, it’s important enough to win.”

The little bit of war-weariness that was voiced on the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday came from Democrats, particularly Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The Republicans were almost unanimous in wanting a broader war than Obama outlined. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma called it “foolhardy” for Obama to rule out ground troops. “There was a collective sigh of relief at ISIS [Islamic State] headquarters in Syria when they heard him say that,” Inhofe alleged.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said she didn’t see how the air strikes could work “without the assistance of our trained special operators on the ground.”

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said he didn’t think “five thousand trained in a year” would be sufficient. “I want us to win.”

And Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama offered his opinion that Iraqi troops would be “more emboldened and encouraged” if they had U.S. troops embedded with them.

Dempsey suggested that Jordanian or Emirati forces might do that job.

“Well, if we all had horses, we’d take a ride,” snapped Sessions. “We don’t have that.”

Ah, but we do. The Republican Party has quickly assembled a veritable cavalry brigade of warhorses.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.

 

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a body-mounted camera during a news conference in New York in this August 2014 file photo.

NYPD wants better police with tweets

In the tiny town of Jun, Spain, (population of 3,000) meeting rooms in City Hall have Twitter accounts. When residents want to reserve them, they send a direct message via Twitter; when it’s time, and the door to the room unlocks automatically in response to a tweet. Jun’s mayor, Jose … Read more →

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 4:02 p.m.     |    

NYPD wants better police with tweets

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 4:02 p.m.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a body-mounted camera during a news conference in New York in this August 2014 file photo.
BRENDAN MCDERMID | REUTERS
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a body-mounted camera during a news conference in New York in this August 2014 file photo.

In the tiny town of Jun, Spain, (population of 3,000) meeting rooms in City Hall have Twitter accounts. When residents want to reserve them, they send a direct message via Twitter; when it’s time, and the door to the room unlocks automatically in response to a tweet. Jun’s mayor, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, says he coordinates with other public servants via Twitter. Residents routinely tweet about public services, and City Hall answers. Every police officer in Jun has a Twitter handle displayed on his uniform.

The New York Police Department, the largest in the United States, is starting a broad social media initiative to get every precinct talking and listening online via Twitter, to both serve citizens and manage police personnel. The question is whether the kind of positive, highly local responsiveness the residents of Jun expect is possible across all parts of local government — not just from the police — in a big city. If it works, the benefits to the public from this kind of engagement could be enormous.

In the age of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner’s in New York, when police abuses can be easily documented by citizens wielding smartphones, relationships between police departments and the communities they serve can quickly become strained. And social media use by the police runs the risk of being initially dismissed as a publicity stunt. But after decades of losing the trust of important New York City communities, this step may help the department gain civic support.

There will be bumps along the way. Last spring, the NYPD kicked off a social media campaign, asking people to share photos accompanied by the Twitter hashtag #myNYPD. Within 24 hours the hashtag was famous worldwide, as activists posted pictures of clashes between residents and the police. But Commissioner Bill Bratton brushed off the criticism, calling the pictures old news and saying the media event was not going to cause the NYPD to change its plans to be active on social media.

“I welcome the attention,” he said.

Bratton will roll out a long list of social media efforts in the coming months. The NYPD is training its dozens of commanding officers to understand and use Twitter on their own, both to ask questions and to respond timely to comments and concerns. For example, police in New York City spend a lot of time looking for missing people; now they will be able to get assistance from eyes on the street.

As Boston’s experience with the marathon bombing showed, Twitter can be extraordinarily useful in getting the word out about public safety dangers. And businesses already know that a customer service function using Twitter can increase the likelihood that problems will be identified early before they fester; block-by-block engagement by police online can help communities operate on a playing field that will be more level than before.

There are several layers of trust wrapped up in this approach. For starters, the NYPD is trusting its officers to speak independently, beginning by providing training about what Twitter does and how its natives act. The people of the city will need to trust that these voices are authentic and that someone is paying attention to concerns they tweet back.

The risks are real: If the police fail to focus on the customer service side of their Twitter engagement, they will be worse off than if they had never chosen to use Twitter in the first place. By opening dozens of local public Twitter channels run personally by precinct commanders, the NYPD can expect a deluge of interaction that the police will need to respond to in order to have this effort not backfire.

The big idea here goes far beyond broadcasting tweets about bike safety campaigns, as the NYPD seems to understand. The goal is to thicken the web of democracy by using the electronic layer of life to enable genuine responsiveness. That is where civic trust will come from.

When the only visible interaction between local government and citizen comes at the moment of conflict (or the moment of paying taxes), an opportunity for understanding and connection has been lost. The relationship is thin, tenuous, and subject to dramatic misunderstanding and lack of trust.

To build the citizen support that they need — and to get the information they need to be effective — local governments will have to give their employees the discretion to question and to respond with their own voices online. The hamlet of Jun has managed it; the NYPD is taking its first tentative steps down this path. We need to see far more engagement from all areas of local government.

Susan Crawford, the John A. Reilly visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School, is the author of “Captive Audience.”

 

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko inspects the honor guard during a welcoming ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 17, 2014.

Ukraine’s uneasy compromise pleases no one

The compromises Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has made to end the fighting in his country have taken shape, and they are dangerous to his political future. His increasingly nationalist electorate considers them little short of treachery. The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday passed Poroshenko’s bill on the special status of eastern … Read more →

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 4 p.m.     |    

Ukraine’s uneasy compromise pleases no one

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 4 p.m.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko inspects the honor guard during a welcoming ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 17, 2014.
CHRIS WATTIE | REUTERS
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko inspects the honor guard during a welcoming ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 17, 2014.

The compromises Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has made to end the fighting in his country have taken shape, and they are dangerous to his political future. His increasingly nationalist electorate considers them little short of treachery.

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday passed Poroshenko’s bill on the special status of eastern areas held by pro-Russian rebels. It also ratified Ukraine’s association and free trade agreement with the European Union, although Ukraine now only intends to abolish customs duties on EU goods at the end of 2015. These concessions are less in some areas and more in others than Russian President Vladimir Putin squeezed from Poroshenko’s ill-fated predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, and they come at an enormous cost in human lives, lost trust and broken relationships between the two nations.

The special status law breaks with the Ukrainian government’s practice of calling the rebels “terrorists”. It describes them as “participants in the events in the territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.” They are granted a broad amnesty, and Ukrainian organizations are banned from discriminating against them on the basis of their participation in the fighting.

The rebel-held areas are given full power to govern themselves for the three years that follow local elections scheduled for Nov. 9. That includes appointing their own police forces, prosecutors and judges. The local self-government will be allowed to cooperate with Russian authorities across the border “to deepen good neighborly relations,” and the law allows the region to conduct its business in Russian, while the rest of the country uses Ukrainian. The ministries in Kiev will only be able to participate in running the eastern areas if the local bodies deign to sign special agreements with them, yet the law promises Ukrainian budgetary funding to patch up the ravages of war and develop the semi-independent regions.

That, in effect, is Ukraine’s signature under the creation of a frozen conflict area. For Russia, that kind of buffer is the best: It’s not an unrecognized state with a murky status, but an officially recognized enclave within Ukraine. Kiev takes responsibility for it, but has little or no influence on what happens there. The law will probably stand for now, as long as Poroshenko and Putin manage to make the shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine stick.

This is a bitter pill for Ukrainians to swallow. “I wouldn’t have voted for this bill if I had been a legislator,” journalist Mustafa Nayyem, who is running for a parliament seat as part of Poroshenko’s electoral bloc, wrote on Facebook. “I see no value in compromises that can lead to another political split in Kiev, mutual accusations of treachery and a show-off patriotism contest.”

That’s a mild reaction by Kiev standards: “Poroshenko is giving up to Putin just enough Ukrainian interests to avoid getting beaten up by his own citizens,” Dmytro Gnap, another journalist, wrote on Facebook. Gnap, who was a prominent investigator of corruption under the Yanukovych regime, accuses Poroshenko of trying to shore up his personal power at any cost so he can run the country with the same corrupt officials who enriched themselves under the previous presidency.

Poroshenko’s bloc does indeed include odious figures implicated in the corruption of the old regime and, in a blatantly Yanukovych-style twist, Poroshenko’s son Aleksiy is running for a parliament seat with his father’s party. “The summit of nepotism,” Gnap fumed.

As for the idealists who joined the government after Yanukovych’s ouster, they have been losing faith and dropping out. Last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky resigned after he learned that Kiev had decided to put off implementing part of the EU trade agreement. He wrote that the delay sends “the wrong signal to everyone: the aggressor, allies, and, most importantly, Ukrainian citizens.”

The trade deal, which Yanukovych declined to sign last year and thus triggered the protests that ended his presidency, will for now operate as a set of unilateral EU concessions to prop up the Ukrainian economy. Ukrainian companies will be able to export duty-free to the EU within certain quotas, but EU goods will still be subject to duties as before. This is to please Russia, which claims it would lose about $3 billion a year in economic damage from transit imports.

More than 3,000 people lie dead; Russia is in deepening international isolation; Ukraine faces a 10 percent drop in economic output this year; and Poroshenko’s concessions will take a further toll on the impoverished nation. It is a Pyrrhic victory for Putin and makes no one happy: not even the Russian leader can be sure Ukraine will follow through on the compromises it has offered. That depends on the Oct. 26 parliamentary elections, from which Poroshenko may not emerge with a comfortable majority, as voters back populists and military commanders from the eastern war.

If Ukraine then returns to the political in-fighting and non-transparent dealings of the past, it will have a hard time persuading even its friends, the U.S. and the EU, to support it.

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View contributor. He is a Berlin-based writer, author of three novels and two nonfiction books.

 

‘BPA-free’ isn’t enough: We need a new way to bring chemicals to market

Not long ago, environmental and health advocates pushed for the removal of a ubiquitous plasticizer, bisphenol-A, or BPA, from consumer products amid concerns about adverse health effects. Many in industry scrambled for a replacement and turned to bisphenol-S, or BPS, which quietly began to fill in for BPA. Others not … Read more →

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 12:37 p.m.     |    

‘BPA-free’ isn’t enough: We need a new way to bring chemicals to market

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 12:37 p.m.

Not long ago, environmental and health advocates pushed for the removal of a ubiquitous plasticizer, bisphenol-A, or BPA, from consumer products amid concerns about adverse health effects. Many in industry scrambled for a replacement and turned to bisphenol-S, or BPS, which quietly began to fill in for BPA. Others not so quietly dug in their heels, downplaying the concerns.

We all remember Gov. Paul LePage’s 2011 quip about some women growing “little beards” as the worst case scenario from exposure to BPA. Years later, with more evidence in hand regarding the adverse health effects of BPA, and with many in industry already bowing to the concerns of consumers, regulators began to institute compulsory bans on BPA from certain consumer products.

With fears that the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 left important gaps, the Maine state Legislature enacted the Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products law (often referred to as the Maine Green Chemistry law) to require specific labeling on children’s products that contained “chemicals of high concern.”

While these measures are important to limit exposure to BPA and other “chemicals of high concern,” this is not the most effective way to tackle issues of exposure to toxic chemicals. Rather than leaving issues of toxicity to regulators alone, molecular designers should consider a reduction in toxicity as one of their primary design criteria, rather than a distant afterthought behind cost and function. Toxicity as an afterthought is no fault of the designers themselves, but rather a flaw in our training system. We chemists and chemical engineers rarely receive any formal training in toxicology; it is often not required even to receive an advanced degree.

Now that concerns over BPA have been largely accepted, and with new concerns mounting about BPS, we should have learned to worry less about how we remove individual chemicals from shelves and focus more on changing the way that all chemicals make it to the shelf in the first place. We charge regulatory agencies with the near-impossible task of determining health risks of the 500-1,000 new chemicals that hit the market every year, not to mention, cataloging and updating information for the more than 80,000 chemicals already under manufacture.

We use these new chemicals to make advanced materials to keep up with our ever-evolving needs. These needs include waterproof materials for raincoats, solar panel components, computer parts and plasticizers (like BPA and BPS) for reducing the brittleness of water bottles. The story of plasticizers in water bottles, can linings and receipt paper should teach us the problems of bringing new materials to market in a system where industry considers function and cost, but where the onus of considering toxicity is left to regulators.

Instead, we should encourage a system in which chemists receive training in toxicology and incorporate a reduction in toxicity as part of their design criteria, rather than passing the task on to regulators. Until such a system is in place, similar scenarios like the BPA/BPS saga will continue to play out.

If our priorities and considerations lay first with the development of inherently safer chemicals, then with function and cost, fewer toxic chemicals will make it to the market in the first place.

Seth Butler is a junior at Colby College in Waterville pursuing majors in biology-neuroscience and psychology with a minor in chemistry.Reuben Hudson is a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry at Colby College.

 

Gov. Paul LePage addresses concerned older Maine residents at Ellen Leach Home on Sept. 3 in Brewer.

Rewards at the top, cuts at the bottom: The Marie Antoinette approach to governing

It is no secret that top government jobs pay less than comparable ones in the private sector and that this sometimes makes it hard to recruit top-notch people to fill high-level government jobs. But giving one group of political appointees, some of whom have already worked in state government for … Read more →

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 12:27 p.m.     |    

Rewards at the top, cuts at the bottom: The Marie Antoinette approach to governing

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 12:27 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage addresses concerned older Maine residents at Ellen Leach Home on Sept. 3 in Brewer.
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage addresses concerned older Maine residents at Ellen Leach Home on Sept. 3 in Brewer. Buy Photo

It is no secret that top government jobs pay less than comparable ones in the private sector and that this sometimes makes it hard to recruit top-notch people to fill high-level government jobs. But giving one group of political appointees, some of whom have already worked in state government for years, big boosts in vacation time is a potentially costly solution in search of a problem.

Worse, this rewards top-level appointees while the governor has called lower-ranking state employees “corrupt” and has repeatedly attempted to cut their benefits. This gives the impression of rewarding cronies while punishing underlings.

In February, the state’s human resources office sent an email to appointed employees in the executive branch and staff in the governor’s office asking for information about their work experience before joining state government. This information was to help determine if they should get more vacation time. Fifty-four of the 155 employees who were sent the email got boosts in vacation time, some of them hefty increases.

The timing of this effort is odd. Many of these people have been on the job for years; the LePage administration isn’t trying to woo them. Typically, salary and vacation are agreed upon when someone is hired. The state does not have as much leeway in these negotiations as private businesses. Salaries for state commissioners are capped by law, and vacation time accrual follows a pre-set schedule. But all of this has long been known by the people filling these positions, some of whom were appointed by previous governors.

Many of these same employees were given raises by LePage earlier this year. The governor signed financial orders in late June that gave raises to more than 50 members of his executive staff, including members of the Cabinet. These salary increases were approved by the Legislature. The idea to increase vacation time was not brought up for legislative approval. LePage said the vacation time increases were needed so he could hire “good people, not political hacks.” He said this was difficult because the Legislature paid higher wages and offers more generous benefits.

Most commissioners can earn up to $103,000 per year, and the median pay for deputy commissioners is $88,000. The average head of a bureau earns $77,500. The executive director of the Legislature earns $128,000 a year, according to documents from the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

In 2012, the national average vacation time for American workers in private industry was 14 days after five years of service and 19 days after 20 years of service, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Professional workers get slightly more vacation time than blue-collar and service-sector workers.

Before LePage’s change, executive branch employees who had worked for the state for less than five years, accrued 96 hours — or 12 days — of vacation. Those who work for the state for more than 20 years accrue 192 hours — or 24 days — of vacation.

While LePage has been generous with top-level staff, he’s repeatedly tried to take benefits from and denigrated lower-level state employees.

He sought to freeze merit and longevity pay increases for state employees to balance the current budget. The increases were restored by lawmakers in the budget that ultimately passed over LePage’s veto.

Shortly after taking office in 2011, the governor proposed that state employees contribute an additional 2 percent of their income to the state pension system. This was rejected by lawmakers, but the budget passed that year froze the cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees and then capped future increases at 3 percent.

At a forum at Nokomis High School in Newport in April 2012, LePage called the state’s middle managers “corrupt.” “Believe me, there is a lot of good and hardworking people that work for the state. They are not the problem,” he said, according to press accounts of the event. “The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be. Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.”

The state needs “good people” throughout its workforce. Demonizing one group of state employees while rewarding another is not the way to achieve this.

 

Credit gets you a flat-panel TV, not economic growth

It’s pretty obvious how credit drives my personal household consumption. If I borrow, I can get a nice big TV and a new car, but eventually I’ll have to skimp to pay it back. In a way, the consumption-fueled borrowing binge is an illusion of wealth — after all, borrowing … Read more →

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 11:38 a.m.     |    

Credit gets you a flat-panel TV, not economic growth

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 11:38 a.m.

It’s pretty obvious how credit drives my personal household consumption. If I borrow, I can get a nice big TV and a new car, but eventually I’ll have to skimp to pay it back. In a way, the consumption-fueled borrowing binge is an illusion of wealth — after all, borrowing doesn’t increase my salary. Pleasure today means pain tomorrow.

Lots of people seem to think that national economies work something like this. Credit, we are told in article after news article, “fuels” or “drives” growth. Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, possibly the most successful macro investor in human history, makes this claim in his famous video, “How the Economic Machine Works.” The post-Keynesian economists, a heterodox school of thought exiled to the academic wilderness, have a perspective similar to Dalio’s. On the other side of the political spectrum, the Austrians — another exiled heterodox bunch — believe something similar. Google “credit fueled economic boom” and Austrian Business Cycle Theory is one of the first results.

It isn’t just investors and heterodox economists who believe that credit is the fuel that powers the business cycle — almost every pundit and news outlet seems to believe something similar. In 2009, The Wall Street Journal said that China’s growth was being fueled by cheap debt. In 2013, the Financial Times declared that credit was the only thing allowing China’s economy to tread water. And just recently, Quartz claimed that China’s unwillingness to allow more lending in the face of a slowdown is actually a good thing, since it chooses pain now over greater pain later. The language of the credit-drives-growth theory is everywhere. It is pervasive.

It seems like the only people who don’t instinctively believe in credit-fueled growth are academic economists.

The academics have good reason for being skeptical. After all, production isn’t the same as consumption. In the example of me borrowing to buy a TV and car, my debt binge doesn’t make my salary — my production — go up at all. But in an economic boom, a country’s total production really does rise — that’s what fast growth means. In other words, if credit fuels economic booms, then it must do it in a fundamentally different way than the way it fuels a personal consumption binge.

Another reason academics are suspicious of the theory of credit-fueled growth is that when we talk about “credit” at the national level, we mean gross, not net. Most of the money that gets borrowed during a boom is borrowed from people in the same country (at least in a big economy such as the U.S. or China). In fact, during its so-called credit-fueled growth binge, China was actually a net capital exporter, meaning Chinese people were saving more than the entire Chinese economy was borrowing. If taking on debt lets a borrower increase his consumption, why doesn’t making that loan force the lender to decrease his consumption? In other words, if credit is just one American lending to another, or one Chinese person lending to another, why does it boost growth?

Here’s an alternative idea: Maybe credit is a follower, not a driver, of the boom-bust cycle. Maybe credit grows when the economy is growing, because of the need to finance investment, and shrinks when the economy is shrinking, because of the lack of investment. In retrospect, looking at a chart of credit growth vs. GDP growth, it might look like credit caused the cycle, but in fact it was just a passive tag-along. Maybe the cycle was caused by something else — productivity changes, or changes in monetary policy, or changes in people’s sentiment and animal spirits.

I’m not saying I think that’s right. Maybe credit really does drive growth. Maybe excess credit really does force a boom to turn into a bust. But no one has yet come up with a really compelling, testable explanation for how that happens. And no one — except maybe Dalio — has managed to use credit levels, credit-growth levels, acceleration of the ratio of credit-to-gross domestic product, or any such measure to predict when booms and busts will happen.

So this thing that almost everyone believes about the economy is really just a conjecture. Our faith in it is probably based in part on shaky analogies and bad intuition. It might be true, but we shouldn’t regard it as obvious.

Noah Smith is an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University and a freelance writer for a number of finance and business publications.

 

Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014: Election endorsements, bear baiting, Orono student housing, unpaid taxes

Vote Weston As a retired law enforcement officer, taxpayer and former resident of Bangor, I would like to endorse Cary Weston for state Senate. Weston has shown exemplary service to the city of Bangor. He has proven to be a good leader who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions and … Read more →

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 10:50 a.m.     |    

Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014: Election endorsements, bear baiting, Orono student housing, unpaid taxes

Published Sept. 17, 2014, at 10:50 a.m.

Vote Weston

As a retired law enforcement officer, taxpayer and former resident of Bangor, I would like to endorse Cary Weston for state Senate. Weston has shown exemplary service to the city of Bangor. He has proven to be a good leader who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions and is concerned with the safety of the community and for the future for all the citizens of Hermon and Bangor.

He is a good family man who knows the needs of families, as he is raising three great kids. If you live in Hermon or Bangor, please consider voting for Weston as your next state senator.

David Melochick

Hampden

Vote Poliquin

I don’t live in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, but I wish I could vote there. Because voters there can send someone to the U.S. House of Representatives in November who may be the best first-time congressional candidate in the entire country. I’m talking about Bruce Poliquin.

Over the past five years, we’ve all learned that when government gets too big, it becomes oppressive and costly. Overgrown government serves itself, instead of serving us citizens. Let’s reverse this nonsense in Washington. We can force the federal government to return to serving its citizens’ needs, by downsizing it. Intentional shrinkage of the federal government’s activities would be an excellent way to correct its sloppiness and selfishness.

That downsizing will require patience, perseverance, intelligent work and compassionate support for the needs of our fellow Americans who are truly unable to fend for themselves. These qualities are Bruce Poliquin’s proven strengths. We saw that in his service as Maine’s state treasurer, from his determination to improve the efficiency of the Maine State Housing Authority to his expert guidance in strengthening the credit ratings of Maine bonds, which helped to reduce our long-term borrowing costs.

I hope the voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District decide to send a compassionate, hard-working and highly skilled professional to Washington, to tackle the job of returning the work of Congress to the service of your best interests. Vote for Poliquin in November.

James Clingensmith

Saco

Read Tipping’s book

Every voter in Maine should read Mike Tipping’s “As Maine Went: Governor Paul LePage and the Tea Party Takeover of Maine.” Every chapter is a damning critique of everything LePage has done during the four years he has been running this state. From the environment and education and health care, to taxes and budgets and public assistance and labor — everything has been made worse by our governor.

Jane Sanford

Belfast

Vote Yes on 1

At the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, we support the Yes on 1 campaign to prohibit bear baiting, hounding and trapping because we care deeply about the welfare of all animals. Our founder, Gov. Percival Baxter, believed Maine’s wildlife shouldn’t be wantonly destroyed for recreation or entertainment.

This initiative provides overdue protections for bears and addresses significant concerns for dogs used in hounding.

The league has seen its fair share of “stray” and “owner surrendered” dogs during and after hounding season. In our experience, hounding dogs are often treated more as tools or hunting equipment than family companions, resulting in behavioral problems making them more difficult to place than other dogs. Treating these dogs as disposable strains shelters.

Hounding is unsporting and cruel for bears and hounds. Having packs of dogs chase down bears creates welfare issues for both species. After hours of chase, the bear takes refuge in a tree until the houndsmen arrive to shoot at close range. If the bear can’t make it up a tree, the bear may confront the dogs, resulting in serious injuries or death. Non-target animals can get caught up in the chase and mother bears may be separated from dependent cubs.

In Maine, we don’t bait moose or deer — that’s not fair chase. Hunting bears should be as challenging as hunting any other wild animal.

Patsy Murphy

Animal Welfare League of Greater Portland

Portland

 

Orono problems

I feel some people in Orono are scapegoating college students. The decline in families living in Orono is not the result of students renting housing. It’s the result of a poor economy that leads families to go elsewhere.

What is there to bring families to Orono? The answer is not much. Apart from the university, there is little here. The town’s inability to improve the economy should not be blamed on students renting.

If the town forbids, by ordinance, student rentals, what will likely happen as a result of this lost income for property owners is a spike in foreclosures, tax sales and abandonment of real estate. These homes will not magically be occupied by families if they can’t be rented out.

If some in the town do not want to see inebriated people walking the streets near bars, the town should not have allowed so many bars to be opened in the first place. The local leaders have themselves to blame for the town’s problems.

Casey Jennings

Orono

Unpaid taxes not news

Why all the sudden interest by the BDN in delinquent taxes owed to communities in our area?

Harris Golf on Wednesday, Old Town Fuel and Fiber Thursday. Is the BDN hurting for news and needs to fill space with more gloom and doom stories similar to the Great Northern Paper Co. debt to East Millinocket?

Pick up any town report and look at the taxes owed our communities by companies and residents, if it’s shock appeal you’re looking for. Is that what we have to look forward to next?

Focus on some positive newsworthy items.

Gilbert Coffin

Bangor

Re-elect Gratwick

As a small business owner who appreciates a clean and healthy environment, I have been impressed with Sen. Geoff Gratwick’s work on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, as he balances the impact of economic development against the need to protect Maine’s clean air and water. He not only listens carefully to all sides but takes the time to ask questions about technical details and the possible environmental and economic consequences of proposed legislation.

As a citizen concerned about our future on this planet, I appreciate having an experienced physician, trained in matters such as organic chemistry and toxicity, working on the laws my state enacts. Because it is important to keep experienced, knowledgeable people in our state government, let’s all vote to re-elect Gatwick.

Bob Kelly

Bangor

 

Joe Feinglass is a Research Professor of Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.

A long-term payoff for a Medicaid expansion in Maine: Significantly better health

Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes of the Affordable Care Act’s federal subsidies for Medicaid expansion have already cost Maine thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet partisan critics of Obamacare continue to argue that expanded Medicaid coverage will have no effect on health and may actually harm the … Read more →

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 1:26 p.m.     |    

A long-term payoff for a Medicaid expansion in Maine: Significantly better health

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 1:26 p.m.     |      Modified Sept. 16, 2014, at 6:27 p.m.
Joe Feinglass is a Research Professor of Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.
Contributed photo
Joe Feinglass is a Research Professor of Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.

Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes of the Affordable Care Act’s federal subsidies for Medicaid expansion have already cost Maine thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet partisan critics of Obamacare continue to argue that expanded Medicaid coverage will have no effect on health and may actually harm the poor.

Over 40 years of research has documented that the uninsured have fewer doctor visits and fail to receive basic preventive services like blood pressure screening, pap tests, cholesterol testing and influenza vaccinations. As a result, the uninsured are diagnosed at more advanced stages of cancer, especially for cancers detectable by screening. The uninsured are much more likely to have undiagnosed high blood pressure and high cholesterol, more severe strokes and poorer control of diabetes.

A recent study of preventable leg amputations describes an uninsured 53-year-old woman with undiagnosed diabetes who was regularly drinking six-packs of ginger ale. She reported that she “felt like a junkie just looking for something just to quench my thirst.” She suffered a diabetic coma, woke up in the hospital with infected toes and required a leg amputation. Another study of unconscious patients hospitalized after severe motor vehicle crashes found that the uninsured received less care and had a 40 percent higher mortality rate than insured patients, even after controlling for type of vehicle, injury, auto insurance, income, neighborhood and hospital characteristics.

So do Obamacare critics deny the value of Medicaid coverage? Most of the uninsured are young and healthy, they might argue. They cycle in and out of employer-based insurance, and when major health declines do occur, previously uninsured individuals then qualify for disability and Medicaid.

But a study of expanding Medicaid for the uninsured in Oregon shows clearly that gaining insurance had a significant positive effect on the health of the newly insured — and that those newly covered had gone a long time without care they needed.

In 2008, Oregon conducted a lottery to fill 10,000 additional Medicaid slots for low-income, uninsured residents. Researchers compared health and financial outcomes of Medicaid lottery winners with lottery losers over the next two years. Individuals who won the lottery had a greater chance of having a physician visit, getting blood cholesterol or blood sugar tests, receiving a diagnosis of diabetes and, thus, obtaining diabetes medications. There was a 30 percent reduction in depression among insurance lottery winners, a 25 percent lower rate of unpaid bills sent to collection agencies, and catastrophic medical expenditures were reduced by more than 80 percent.

Critics of Obamacare focused on the Oregon results showing that, two years after receiving coverage, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes were not significantly different among those who won the Medicaid lottery. They dismissed as “perceptions” the fact that many more of the lottery winners reported their health as the same or better than the previous year, despite the fact that such questions are highly predictive of future health. Critics also decried the increase in emergency room visits for lottery winners.

Yet increased use of health care is typical of the initial transition to insured care. Older uninsured patients who transition to Medicare at age 65 receive an expensive “backlog” of tests and treatments but also experience disproportionately greater gains in health than their continuously insured peers, while their use of health care ultimately stabilizes.

So what is the best evidence of the value of health insurance and, by extension, expanding Medicaid coverage? Studies following older middle-age adults into old age demonstrate that individuals who were uninsured died at younger ages when compared with those of the same age and original health status who were privately insured. The one-third greater mortality of older adults who lacked health insurance was roughly equivalent to the risk of smoking. The lack of health insurance in older middle age would rank as the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012 compared states providing expanded Medicaid coverage to low-income childless adults with neighboring states that did not expand Medicaid. The study found that states that expanded Medicaid coverage decreased uninsurance by 15 percent and had a 6 percent greater decline in deaths of adults aged 20-64 over the next five years. The study concluded that only 176 additional adults would have to be covered by Medicaid to prevent one death per year.

An evaluation of the 2006 insurance expansion in Massachusetts under then-Gov. Mitt Romney found that residents ages 20-64 had a 3 percent lower death rate than similar counties around the country that hadn’t expanded coverage. The greatest dents were made in helping low-income residents and preventing causes of death that were most amenable to medical treatment.

Expanding Medicaid in Maine is not just about economics. It’s about preventing death and suffering for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Joe Feinglass is a research professor of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. He is a member of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.

 

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014: News, war, TV signals, fire ants

Headline news Some days one feels especially lucky to be living in Maine. Especially with these two headlines from the Sept. 9 BDN: 1) ”Inspector: Clogged drains spurred Lincoln office mold”. (Thank heavens the culprit was found) and 20 “Man accused of stealing Dunkin Donuts sign”. (I suppose you’d think … Read more →

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 12:54 p.m.     |    

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014: News, war, TV signals, fire ants

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 12:54 p.m.

Headline news

Some days one feels especially lucky to be living in Maine. Especially with these two headlines from the Sept. 9 BDN: 1) ”Inspector: Clogged drains spurred Lincoln office mold”. (Thank heavens the culprit was found) and 20 “Man accused of stealing Dunkin Donuts sign”. (I suppose you’d think it more serious if it was your sign).

Ron Shelden

Bass Harbor

Tabloid journalism

Generally speaking, if a journalist has nothing substantial to add to the public’s knowledge of a situation, it would better to say nothing. Bill Trotter’s blog post “‘Buddha’ Busted: The downfall of a Maine seafood dealer,” is a shining example of something that has no business being published. After admitting that he has little knowledge of Chris Byers personally, he offers what precious little he does know. And what he does know is essentially what the rest of us already know by now. To wit, that in 2007, Byers illegally harvested scallops and as a result, is now heading to prison. Rather old news wouldn’t you say?

This is a non-story which adds nothing to the sum of public knowledge about Byers personally or his legal situation. It hints at the complexity of Byers life but only to ask, as if gossiping at a bingo table, “Who woulda thunk? That a successful, self-made guy would be capable of something like that?”

But the deed has long ago been done and Byers is now headed to prison. Such reporting can scarcely count as anything but tabloid journalism.

Durin Chappe

Sullivan

Corporate warfare

President Barack Obama is the fourth consecutive president to bomb Iraq. As he made clear by beginning airstrikes on Syria during the August recess of Congress, and again in his speech on Sept. 10, the executive branch of government now wages war without the consent of the governed or their representatives.

Those who think there is any significant difference between the Democrat and Republican parties are fooling themselves. Ask the children being killed by bombs dropped to fight ISIS — a force the U.S. has been equipping and training for the last several years — if they see any difference.

The people don’t want another war in Iraq or Syria, but the corporations do. It is quite clear which group the federal government now represents.

Lisa Savage

Solon

Collins best choice

The first leg of Sen. Susan Collins’ recent bus tour gave proof to what opinion polls have been telling us: that Mainers in overwhelming numbers appreciate their senior senator, her values, her integrity and her dedication to her job representing their interests in the U.S.Senate. I was fortunate enough to join her at a bus stop and was amazed at the horn honking and in-person enthusiasm demonstrated – even in those busy last days of August – by local residents as they drove by and stopped to chat. Their endorsements were clear: Collins is a person they trust to stand up for Maine and the USA.

For my vote, Collins is the highest and best choice to return to the Senate from the state of Maine in November.

Leslie Anderson

Saco

Flip flop Michaud

Will the real Mike Michaud please stand up. First, he was pro-life. Now he’s pro-choice. First, he voted against the homosexual agenda. Now, he supports that agenda. He was a protégé and roommate of former Maine House Speaker John Martin, who was very involved in creating a corrupt culture in Augusta. That’s the very culture that Gov.Paul LePage is trying to reform. Now Mike wants to be governor presumably so he can clean up the mess he helped to create.

First, he was a proponent of “fair trade.” Now, he’s a protectionist. He was a conservative “blue dog” Democrat. Now, he’s a reliable rubber stamp vote for the Obama agenda. Remember Obamacare? Michaud voted for and continues to support it.

First, he was opposed to Roxanne Quimby’s plan to make northern Maine into a national park. Now, there’s a TV commercial running extolling Michaud’s virtues featuring a spokesperson none other than Yemaya St.Clair, the daughter-in-law of Quimby.

I guess the most charitable thing that can be said about Michaud is that he must feel strongly supportive on both sides of every issue.

Porter D. Leighton

Falmouth

No outrage in Houlton

I write to clarify a Sept. 10 BDN headline “Outrage expressed over proposed fee increase for digging graves for cremated remains in Houlton,” that speaks of my temperament. I was not outraged when I addressed the Houlton Town Council. I am disappointed that I was perceived as such by the reporter. I firmly believe my conduct was not one of an “extremely strong reaction of anger, shock or indignation,” as outrage is defined.

While my wife and I did lose a son last September, we are at peace and would never allow feelings of outrage to cloud our memories. The reference to Daniel was but anecdotal.

Missed in the reported article was our desire to make four grave sites in our family plot available to poor and destitute Maine Freemasons who wished to be cremated. These plots will go unused as the remaining Rhodas wish to be cremated. We believe that such would be Daniel’s wish rather than have them go unused when 25 to 35 people can be provided a final resting place among their own.

My sole reason for speaking up about the cost of an opening for a cremation urn was to help those who are to come with financial need. If my remarks did not come with the civility I intended, I apologize. There was no outrage intended towards the town of Houlton and its cemetery department.

Richard Rhoda

Houlton

Missing TV Down East

Why are NBC, CBS, and PBS not required to supply sufficient TV transmission power to reach those of us in Washington County who use antennas? We did what we were told to do. We bought and installed converter boxes. What a joke. I have not seen an NBC show in years. I sometimes am able to receive CBS and PBS, but they are getting to be more and more remote. Some investigative reporting would be helpful.

Ann Ivins

Milbridge

Fire ants vs. ISIS

I have determined the best and probably least expensive method to permanently destroy the members of ISIS would be to fill large military aircraft with the fire ants that are found in Eastport and I am sure other “lucky” communities and drop them from a close distance all over the terrorists. If they were not dead, they would at least be very miserable. We would need to make sure that antibiotic/anti-itch creams are not available.

Military personnel: Are you listening?

Harriett Real

Eastport

 

 

Gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud unveiled a 10-point healthcare plan in Portland on Monday which includes lowering costs by expanding Medicaid.

Building a healthy Maine: Michaud plan calls for comprehensive approach

A 10-point health care plan unveiled this week by Rep. Mike Michaud sets the right priorities by taking a holistic view of health and medical care. It aims to integrate health and wellness with education, workforce development, law enforcement and other areas of government. On a more tangible level, it … Read more →

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 11:44 a.m.     |    

Building a healthy Maine: Michaud plan calls for comprehensive approach

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 11:44 a.m.
Gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud unveiled a 10-point healthcare plan in Portland on Monday which includes lowering costs by expanding Medicaid.
Gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud unveiled a 10-point healthcare plan in Portland on Monday which includes lowering costs by expanding Medicaid.

A 10-point health care plan unveiled this week by Rep. Mike Michaud sets the right priorities by taking a holistic view of health and medical care. It aims to integrate health and wellness with education, workforce development, law enforcement and other areas of government.

On a more tangible level, it encourages the treatment of mental health, substance abuse and dental disease as part of physical health care, not as a separate type of care. This is overdue.

Not surprisingly, the first item in the Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s plan is to expand Medicaid under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Independent Eliot Cutler also supports Medicaid expansion. Gov. Paul LePage is in stark opposition and has five times vetoed bills passed by the Legislature to expand Medicaid by using mainly federal dollars to extend the coverage to more low-income Mainers. LePage considers Medicaid welfare, and his administration has worked hard to pare back welfare benefits and has demonized those who receive government assistance.

Michaud would expand Medicaid coverage to 70,000 Maine residents who are uninsured and living in and near poverty. Currently, when these people visit a doctor or emergency room, the cost of their care is shifted to those with insurance.

Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have opted to expand their Medicaid coverage and four are in the process of doing so or strongly considering it.

What is unusual in Michaud’s plan is the strong focus on preventive care and and the comprehensive view of what that includes. The centrality of health care is highlighted in the first sentence of the plan: “Poor health makes it harder for children to learn and develop and for adults to work and be fully engaged in their families and communities.

“But health care reform isn’t enough,” it continues. “We need comprehensive policies to address poverty, food, the environment, housing, education and a job — things that matter as much to good health as medical care.”

This recognition that health care, education, poverty, substance abuse, unemployment and underemployment are all interconnected is not new, but addressing these problems in such a comprehensive way at the state level would be.

The plan, as expected from a Democrat, relies heavily on government agencies to coordinate and carry out much of the work detailed in the plan, although it also builds on partnerships with private entities. It also calls for an audit, but not restructuring, of the unwieldy Department of Health and Human Services. The call for a public workplan with specific goals makes sense, especially given the ongoing chaos within the department now, but it’s unclear how shortcomings would be addressed.

While it is possible to do much of the work envisioned in the plan, especially the coordination among agencies, without spending more money, many tasks will require additional spending. Michaud did not say where such funds would come from.

The broad nature of the plan makes it attractive but also difficult to implement when lawmakers and voters tend to focus on short-term, modest changes. This is also true of encouraging fellow lawmakers to commit to spending and policies that won’t pay dividends for years to come.

For example, expanding access to comprehensive dental care — which Maine’s Medicaid program does not cover for adults — is critical. Dental problems are the primary reason for hospital emergency room visits in Maine among those with Medicaid and the uninsured. But ER doctors often cannot resolve patients’ underlying dental problems; nationwide, according to the American Dental Association, 39 percent of these patients return to the ER for expensive, repeat visits. Oral health and physical health are one and the same, so it makes no sense for dental insurance to be separate from medical insurance.

Wellness is also crucial to economic growth. In the workplace, helping employees deal with substance abuse and physical or mental health illness can increase productivity and reduce absenteeism — an advantage for employees and businesses.

Michaud’s plan is far from perfect, but it outlines a comprehensive framework for rethinking health care that the state has long needed.

 

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice celebrates his touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland in this December 9, 2012 file photo.

Football has proven its moral vacancy. It’s time for fans to start quitting

After decades of soaring popularity and profits, professional football is at a moral crossroads. For decades, the NFL’s entire business model has been predicated on presenting an athletic spectacle so thrilling that fans were willing to ignore the dark side of the game — its extreme and inherent violence, its … Read more →

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 11:17 a.m.     |    

Football has proven its moral vacancy. It’s time for fans to start quitting

Published Sept. 16, 2014, at 11:17 a.m.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice celebrates his touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland in this December 9, 2012 file photo.
GARY CAMERON | REUTERS
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice celebrates his touchdown against the Washington Redskins in the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland in this December 9, 2012 file photo.

After decades of soaring popularity and profits, professional football is at a moral crossroads. For decades, the NFL’s entire business model has been predicated on presenting an athletic spectacle so thrilling that fans were willing to ignore the dark side of the game — its extreme and inherent violence, its antiquated gender roles and its nihilistic greed, which places profits above all else, even the health of its players.

But the past few days have provided more evidence of football’s heinous underbelly than fans can ignore.

With the NFL already reeling from the Ray Rice scandal, news spread Friday that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had been indicted on a charge of felony child abuse for allegedly beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. A few hours later, an even bigger bombshell: The NFL admitted in federal court documents that nearly one-third of retired players will develop long-term cognitive problems and at “notably younger ages” than the rest of the population.

A day that began with media wags asking whether Commissioner Roger Goodell would survive his mishandling of the Rice imbroglio ended with stark questions about how the league itself would survive.

At this point in any other season, our focus would be on the games. Instead, media members and fans are discussing football not as a form of escapist entertainment but as a troubled moral undertaking. Major cracks are starting to form in the foundation of the NFL empire. We are witnessing a long-overdue reckoning.

Various corruptions of the NFL forced me to turn off the games forever, after 40 years as a devoted fan, and compelled me to write a book about my change of heart, “Against Football.” Now I am hearing from fans every day who are questioning their loyalty to the game, or who have abandoned it altogether. Even a few sports reporters and columnists are following suit. We’re witnessing a cultural sea change.

Hard-core fans will surely cry foul. The conventional wisdom is that football is too big to fail, too deeply entrenched in our national culture. There’s truth to that — the league’s revenue approached $10 billion last year, and sponsors have been sitting tight. But, ultimately, the flow of that revenue depends on fan loyalty.

Just as worrying is the fact that major sponsors such as Marriott and FedEx have felt impelled to announce that they are monitoring the league’s conduct in the Rice matter. The disturbing details emerging about Peterson’s savage punishment of his son will no doubt induce further jitters in corporate boardrooms across the country. Having your brand associated with alleged wife and child beaters isn’t good business. And the prevalence of cognitive damage to former players is potentially a much more damaging story. In what other workplace would it be acceptable for 30 percent (or even 10 percent) of all employees to suffer permanent brain damage?

It’s worth bearing in mind a little history here. More than a century ago, boxing was among the nation’s most popular sports. Eventually, the masses rejected its overt savagery.

Given the NFL’s own admission of the horrifying health risks posed to its players, the time has come for President Barack Obama to stop serving as the nation’s fan-in-chief and to initiate a discussion about how to reduce the game’s violence, as well as its perverse and outsize role in our educational system. It’s time for fans to take a stand, too. Given the vast reach and resources of the NFL, and the slavish loyalty of its media enablers, fans tend to forget that they hold the power in this equation. The future of football will be determined not by a mass boycott or a government crackdown but by individual fans who confront the brutal realities of their favorite sport and act as their own consciences recommend.

Steve Almond is an author and journalist who writes regularly for The New York Times Magazine and The Boston Globe. Formerly a sports reporter and football fan, Almond’s most recent book is “Against Football.”