Al Diamon

Al Diamon

Vanishing Land

Nobody likes moderates, anymore.

 

Once upon a time, middle-of-the-roaders were considered thoughtful and measured in their actions. They weighed a proposal’s advantages and consequences and attempted to craft a course that produced as much as possible of the former and as little of the latter. They preferred pragmatism over ideology and were open to fresh perspectives even if they came from the opposition. They got things done, although not quite enough for those on one extreme, while just a little too much for those on the other.

 

Or to filter all that through the current political climate, they’re mushy opportunists, fearful of taking strong positions, more concerned with trying to satisfy everybody, while ending up satisfying nobody.

 

Yeah, they’re talking about Susan Collins.

 

Maine’s senior senator, a Republican and potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018, is taking heat from both the right and left. Earlier this month, Collins told the No Labels Problem Solvers Conference that the middle ground she occupies is “melting like late-winter snow in Maine.”

 

Curse you, climate change.

 

The GOP is furious with the senator for refusing to back Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy last year, for voting against a couple of his cabinet nominees and for supporting her party’s position less than any other Republican senator.

Which means she’s backed Trump’s agenda over 84 percent of the time, according to Nate Silver’s 538 blog. That’s more often than I agree with my wife. According to my wife.

 

As far as the GOP right wing is concerned, Collins is a RINO (Russian Infiltrator Negotiating for Obama).

 

Collins tried to accommodate the liberal group Mainers for Accountable Leadership by meeting with its members. The next day the same activists picketed her in Bangor for being inaccessible. Meanwhile, another leftist organization, Allied Progress, slammed her for not opposing more Trump nominees.

 

“Sen. Collins’s vague calls for an investigation into the Trump team’s ties to Russia aren’t enough,” said Karl Frisch, the group’s executive director, in a news release. “Mainers didn’t send Collins to Washington to be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump and the Russians. It’s time for her to take a stand where it counts.”

 

Otherwise, she’s a Politician United with Trump to Increase Nationalism. Also known as a PUTIN.

 

No matter how Collins votes on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, she’s going to end up smeared with one of those unpleasant acronyms – or, more likely, some even less polite description.

 

“The lack of civility is really disturbing,” she told the No Labels dweebs. But then she added this optimistic note: “I still believe that most Americans are in the middle.”

 

Don’t count on it. If they were, neither Democrat Chellie Pingree (1st District) nor Republican Bruce Poliquin (2nd District) would be representing Maine in Congress. And GOP Gov. Paul LePage would be spending his winters in Florida being mistaken for a land-based manatee. (Oops, there’s that lack-of-civility thing.)

 

The truth about Collins is she sometimes sticks to her principles (when she can), sometimes compromises (on those rare occasions when she can find somebody willing to do so) and occasionally folds (when that seems like the better part of valor). On March 5, the Maine Sunday Telegram did a decent survey of her voting record on controversial issues. The article shows a consistency in her voting patterns – mostly. It should be required reading for her critics on both ends of the spectrum.

 

Unfortunately, few of them will bother, and those that do will dismiss any facts that are in conflict with their skewed world views as the manipulations of the biased media.

 

For Collins, the altered political landscape is a major factor in deciding her political future. If she runs for governor next year, should she do so as a Republican, thereby subjecting herself to a bruising primary against as many as three hard-right opponents? Or does she opt for an independent candidacy, even if it means trying to stand out as a moderate in a general election field that could feature a half-dozen candidates? Or might she hunker down in Washington until her term is up in 2020, hoping the political atmosphere is less toxic by then?

 

If not, she could always pull an Olympia Snowe and retire.

 

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Lost In Translation

Here’s an official statement from Republican 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s spokesman, in response to a question from The Lewiston Sun Journal:

 

“The congressman understands that this topic raises passionate discussion on both sides of the issue. He agrees that all of us should extend compassion and support to every woman in need of care – and always offer help, never condemnation.”

 

No idea what Poliquin is talking about? Don’t worry, there’s more.

 

“For nearly 40 years, majorities in Democratic- and Republican-controlled congresses have agreed that federal tax dollars should not be used to fund elective abortions. As a Franco-American Catholic, the congressman agrees.”

 

That seems clear enough. Except the question wasn’t about funding abortions. It was about Poliquin’s vote for a bill that makes it tougher for individuals to buy or businesses to offer their employees insurance that covers abortions.

 

Let’s be more direct. The Bangor Daily News asked the congressman if he supported cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Poliquin issued this statement:

 

“As a single father who raised a son mostly as a single dad after I lost my wife, I know how critical it is for women to receive health care services, especially those mothers caring for children.”

 

How does his being a single dad have anything to do with women’s health care? The rest of his response is equally opaque:

 

“In Congress, I’ve voted to increase funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC’s) in Maine’s 2nd District, which provide women’s health services. Since Maine’s 2nd District does not have any Planned Parenthood locations, but is home to these FQHC’s, sending funds to these facilities increases access to women’s health care.”

 

Does this mean Poliquin opposes spending federal money on anything not located in his district? If so, that’s bad news for nuclear waste disposal, Flint, Michigan’s water supply and Trump’s Mexican border wall. A little clarification, please.

 

“I support our nation’s current laws that prohibit federal funds from being used for elective abortions. To better serve our district, I believe these dollars should go to fund those doctors and health care providers in our district who currently provide care at our FQHC’s.”

 

That almost sounds reasonable, except no federal money is spent on elective abortions. So Poliquin’s plan to divert those dollars to FQHCs won’t be happening. More meaningless blather.

 

Abortion isn’t the only issue on which Poliquin refuses to give coherent answers. He refused to comment on Trump’s immigration restrictions aimed at Muslim-majority countries. “The Congressman will not be voting on these executive orders,” his spokesman told The Portland Press Herald. (Oddly, this was just a few days after Poliquin called for the U.S. Senate to repeal its filibuster rule, another matter on which he won’t be voting, but somehow manages to have an opinion.)

 

When GOP Gov. Paul LePage called on Trump to undo the designation of a national monument east of Baxter State Park, Poliquin took no stand, even though the land is in his district. “My No. 1 priority in Congress is creating and protecting jobs in Maine,” he boldly announced in a written statement.

 

Poliquin didn’t even have the guts last year to endorse his party’s nominee for president, repeatedly refusing to answer questions about whether he supported Trump. “The Maine media is obsessed with the presidential race,” his campaign spokesman emailed reporters. “Congressman Bruce Poliquin is obsessed with curbing the opioid epidemic, creating jobs, growing the economy and fighting terrorism.”

 

Fortunately for those who prefer to know where their congress-manikins stand on important issues, a recent invention may help. It employs complex scientific stuff to uncover the true meaning behind politicians’ utterances. One merely feeds the original quote in one end – called “the mouth” – and the decoded version comes out the other end – called “definitely not the mouth.” Here’s the result:

 

Poliquin on abortion: “I don’t want to discuss this, because I want you to vote for me.”

 

Poliquin on defunding Planned Parenthood: “I’m taking a pass on this one, because I want you to vote for me.”

 

Poliquin on immigration restrictions: “Pretty please, just forget this and vote for me.”

 

Poliquin on the national monument: “Vote for me or I’ll cry.”

 

And Poliquin on Trump: “Vote for me because I’m a cute little guy.”

 

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With a conflicted heart

Ryan Tipping may be the most honest member of the Maine Legislature.

 

That’s not really a compliment.

 

The state law that governs legislative ethics can be roughly translated from the legalese thusly: Do whatever the hell you want. Just don’t get caught.

 

As ethics laws go, that’s pretty strict. In Illinois and Louisiana, lawmakers are required to commit criminal acts. And in our nation’s capital, the president is allowed to craft his foreign policy to produce maximum benefits for his business interests. Until he’s impeached.

 

But back to Tipping, a Democratic state representative from Orono, who took an outside job with an advocacy group pushing last November’s referendum slapping a 3-percent income-tax increase on rich people to pay for improved schools. Legally, Tipping did everything right. He got clearance from the state ethics commission. The money he earned was duly reported on campaign finance and financial disclosure forms. He apparently had no illicit contact with the Russian government.

 

So he’s clean, right?

 

Not exactly.

 

As the Maine Republican Party and GOP Gov. Paul LePage pointed out, Tipping is co-chairman of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, the very group that will have a major influence on whether the tax hike goes into effect as the voters intended, or is reduced or eliminated as LePage is demanding.

 

Technically, the chairmanship isn’t a conflict of interest because Tipping doesn’t benefit financially from the higher tax. But it certainly has the appearance of a conflict, because if he supports the increase, it’ll look as if he’s doing the bidding of his former employer. That could tarnish not only Tipping’s reputation but that of the entire Legislature. (It could, but it won’t because the Legislature’s reputation is already thickly coated in layers of decaying weasel entrails.)

 

Tipping should have anticipated this controversy and avoided it by not taking the job, but he can be excused for believing it would all come to nothing. Legislators have a long history of behaving in seemingly sleazy ways while somehow not violating ethical standards. For example:

 

In 2013 and 2015, Time Warner Cable put on lavish two-day conferences for a select group of state House and Senate members at the ritzy Inn By The Sea in Cape Elizabeth. This purveyor of overpriced channel packages, sluggish internet speeds and frustrating service calls picked up the tab for attendees’ meals and rooms, but due to a glitch in the ethics rules, legislators didn’t have to disclose these “gifts.” To this day, we still don’t know who took advantage of Time Warner’s “hospitality.”

 

In 2014, Democratic state Rep. Stephen Stanley of Medway sponsored a bill to amend certain energy agreements because the owners of an East Millinocket paper mill said they needed that change to reopen the facility and rehire its 200 workers. One of those workers was Stanley. No conflict there, ruled the ethics commission.

 

For years, Stacey Fitts, a former Republican state representative from Pittsfield, advocated for bills favoring the wind-power industry, while employed by an engineering firm that did work for the wind-power industry. Asked by the Portland Press Herald about the appearance of conflict, Fitts dismissed it as “a perception [of a problem] that isn’t real.”

 

In 2009, Libby Mitchell, then the Democratic president of the state Senate, lobbied to remove bowling alleys from the list of businesses subject to an expanded sales tax. Her son was part owner of a Portland bowling alley, but she insisted that had nothing to do with her position.

 

Also in 2009, Ken Fletcher, then a GOP state representative from Winslow, accepted a loan towards a nonprofit group he headed from Preti-Flaherty, a law firm that regularly lobbied the committee on which he served. Move along, sheeple, nothing to see here.

 

In 2006, Tom Saviello of Wilton was an independent state representative and an employee of International Paper in Jay. Saviello, who’s now a GOP state senator, urged environmental regulators to revoke a violation notice against the mill, while also serving on the committee that oversaw those same regulators. No harm, said the ethics commission, no foul.

 

Actual legislative conflicts of interest are so rare they should be protected by the Endangered Species Act. Except there are people a lot less ethical than Ryan Tipping who plan to repeal that.

 

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Do nothing ‘till you hear from me

The Maine Legislature doesn’t like to be told what to do.

That’s because the Legislature would prefer not doing anything.

For a politician, doing stuff is risky. No matter how innocuous the action (a proclamation declaring National Don’t Do A Damn Thing Day), there are going to be people who won’t like it (probably the Alliance of Highly Motivated Doers). Once legislators are on record for or against, the folks annoyed with whatever they did are going to light up social media with nasty comments. Protesters will take to the streets. Prominent political figures will issue statements of condemnation.

You can understand why the Legislature might prefer to punt. (Although even that gutless step could bring down the wrath of the Anti-Punting League.)

Trouble is, nature abhors a vacuum. (It’s never been clear why nature singles out this particular household appliance for its disdain, although it may have something to do with lobbying by Citizens United In Opposition to Suction-Producing Devices.) Legislative reluctance to take a stand creates lots of vacuums. (Which may account for why so many voters believe the Legislature sucks.)

Increase the minimum wage? Your state senators and representatives meant to tinker with that, but you know how the hours slip by and suddenly it’s dinnertime.

Boost education funding? So complicated that it might take awhile. Like forever.

Draft a new energy policy? Jeez, you think that education thing is confusing. This is way worse.

Approve Medicaid expansion? Gosh, look what day it is. Time for adjournment.

In the absence of detectable legislative activity, special interests have stepped into the gap with sloppily worded petitions seeking to put ill-considered referendum questions on the ballot. While some critics of this process — notably Paul LePage, Maine’s Republican governor and mutant snapping turtle — have blamed this trend on liberals, the truth is conservatives have made use of the initiative process when circumstances suited them (eliminate the state income tax, repeal same-sex marriage). No part of the ideological spectrum is immune to the temptation to take their crusades directly to the voters.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. The drafters of our system of governance (known as representational indifference) wisely included the referendum mechanism in order to allow the people to take action when the Legislature found itself unable or — more likely — unwilling to do so.

But nothing stirs the sluggish blood of a hibernating elected official like the possibility they’re being rendered irrelevant. And thus the Legislature — bypassed in recent years on issues ranging from ranked-choice voting to marijuana legalization to casino gambling — is finally threatening to do something.

It wants to change the referendum process to make it more difficult for voters to consider issues the Legislature refuses to deal with (an idea endorsed by the Union Of Elected Officials Concerned That Somebody Else May Dare To Do What We Don’t Dare To Do). And make no mistake, this is a bipartisan blunder.

“I think the process has gotten out of hand,” Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond told the Bangor Daily News. “I think something has to be done about it.”

“This process needs to be changed,” commented Garrett Mason, Senate GOP leader, to Maine Public. “It is interfering with our elected job as representatives of the people.”

Several bills have been introduced in an effort to stop mere voters from considering issues their wise leaders have determined would best be addressed by ignoring them. They include a number of barriers to collecting the required signatures to get a question on the ballot, currently 10 percent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election or just over 61,000 names of registered voters. These roadblocks include requiring at least some signatures from every state Senate district, requiring equal numbers of signers from each congressional district, outlawing initiatives that deal with hunting and fishing, and not allowing anyone whose name “sounds Muslim” to sign.

These are all stupid ideas (that last is not only stupid, but false), and legislators — if they were ever going to do anything — should reject them. Because there’s a simpler way to reduce the number of referendums:

The Legislature could do its job.

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Looking for the next bad thing

Rick Bennett isn’t going to be Maine’s next governor.

 

Too bad.

 

Bennett is probably what the state needs: a fiscal conservative with common sense and no pathological aversion to compromise. In other words, he’s 10 percent like current Gov. Paul LePage and 90 percent not.

 

One other difference: Bennett is pro-choice, LePage pro-life. With the U.S. Supreme Court likely to overturn or restrict Roe v. Wade, abortion is going to be a hot-button issue in the 2018 gubernatorial contest. In the Republican primary, where nearly all voters want it outlawed, there won’t be much tolerance for a candidate who believes otherwise.

 

That renders Bennett — an experienced and media-savvy politician, who retired last month as chairman of the Maine GOP, served as president of the state Senate and ran a credible campaign for Congress — unelectable.

 

Winning elections in this state used to be about attracting support from the center of the ideological spectrum, a now-mythical territory much like Shangri-La or an open table at Fore Street restaurant on a Saturday night. The new reality is everyone is polarized, fearful that giving any ground will allow fanatics (defined as anybody with different views) to rampage into power and trash every ideal you hold dear.

 

I can’t imagine how they developed such an outlandish phobia.

 

In any case, it spells curtains for Bennett and other moderates who dare enter the Republican scrum next year. No wonder GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is considering abandoning her party label and running for governor as an Independent.

 

This altered landscape also blocks the path of state Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta (pro-choice, anti-LePage) and former House minority leader Josh Tardy of Newport (shows flashes of rationality, works as a lobbyist), as well as nonstarters like Deril Stubenrod of Clinton (unknown, spells name funny).

 

That leaves the GOP with three choices: 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, health and human services commissioner Mary Mayhew and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, all of whom are unwaveringly conservative and utterly unacceptable to most voters in southern Maine.

 

On the Democratic side, it’s even more muddled. The merest hint of Clintonism is tantamount to treason. The minimum requirement is now a fiery socialist populism that’s distinguishable from Donald Trump’s approach only in that it costs more and annoys Mexico less.

 

Attorney General Janet Mills is the nominal frontrunner. Mills gets points with party stalwarts for standing up to LePage, but opposed legal pot and is suspected of harboring centrist sentiments. Like Bennett, Mills wouldn’t make a bad governor, but she’d make a bad primary candidate.

 

Adam Cote ran for the 1st District seat back in 2008. Since then, Cote may have done something to keep his name in the public consciousness, but it escaped my notice. A lawyer from Sanford, he used to be a middle-of-the-road Dem. If he still is, he’s out of touch with the times.

 

Adam Lee comes from a family with deep roots in Democratic politics. He’s all over the tube in commercials for his car dealerships. He has excellent hair. None of that matters to radical leftists.

 

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree might run if she can figure out a way to win even a handful of votes in northern Maine. Former House Speaker Mark Eves got his butt kicked repeatedly by LePage. As a political resume, that’s a little thin. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is pro-gun, which ain’t gonna play in the Dem primary. Former Senate minority leader Justin Alfond is liberal enough to win the nomination — and lose the general election by landslide numbers. Lucas St. Clair is politically savvy (he got his mom’s land next to Baxter State Park declared a national monument) and has financial backing (his mom is rich). But his mom is Roxanne Quimby, and nobody likes her.

 

Anybody else?

 

Oh yeah, that guy who swore off running for governor, telling the Portland Press Herald he was “taking a vow of abstinence.” Someone should have told him condoms work better, because independent Eliot Cutler is again bloated with gubernatorial ambitions. Unfortunately, his moderate base no longer exists, so his third bid for the Blaine House looks like an abortion.


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Don’t know much about history

Welcome to History 101 at Trump University. I’m your professor, Gov. Paul LePage.

 

In this class, you’ll learn the true history of the United States, free of political correctness and so-called scientific facts. After completing this course, you’ll see the world in a new light. A white light.

 

Let’s start where our problems began — with the Big Bang. This was a socialist plot to redistribute all matter equally, a sort of cosmic Medicaid expansion. Under this Marxist scheme, galaxies populated by welfare-loafing aliens got as many molecules as those inhabited by hard-working Americans. This manipulation was solar-powered, a left-wing experiment in expensive alternative energy. And don’t get me started on dark matter. And black holes. We wouldn’t have drug problems if that stuff had been eliminated.

 

On the other hand, there were white dwarf stars. Sort of like Congressman Bruce Poliquin. Only brighter.

 

Eventually, the earth formed. Great heroes like Adam and Eve (see, I included a woman), King Arthur and Charlemagne conquered the dinosaurs and established human civilization. Next came the Roman Empire, which had excellent roads and jobs for everyone as gladiators or supporting actors in lion-related entertainments. Unfortunately, the Romans weren’t vigilant enough, which allowed dusky-hued barbarians with names like D-Goth and Smoothie the Hun to sack Rome and impregnate white girls.

 

Not all the important events were taking place in Europe. The Chinese invented chop suey and also a wall to keep out immigrants. The Arabs get credit for arithmetic and camels. And the Russians created roulette.

 

Meanwhile down in Africa, black people developed rap music and crack cocaine.

 

Our white ancestors were no slouches. In 1492, they sent Christopher Columbus to discover Caribbean vacation resorts.

 

The New World that Columbus found already had some people in it. But they were uncivilized, lacking such innovations as progressive rock, Wi-Fi, and venereal disease. For reasons I cannot understand, those savages have never thanked us for bestowing these gifts upon them.

 

Soon after, settlers from England arrived. Let me be clear: These people were not immigrants because they were white, they spoke English, and they weren’t Muslims. They established 13 colonies, such as Atlantic City and Miami Beach. Unfortunately back in Britain, the liberal elite decided to raise taxes to pay for health care for the shiftless. This burden forced the colonists, under the capable leadership of George Washington and Rutherford B. Hayes, to revolt. There were battles in Lexington, Concord and maybe Appomattox, after which the British surrendered and went off to torture people in South Africa and India.

 

The newly independent Americans, including Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant, then drafted a Constitution that said all white men were created equal, But not women (except for Eve). Blacks were three-fifths equal. Indians weren’t close to equal, but were promised Oklahoma, which hadn’t been discovered yet. Did the ungrateful wretches thank the white men? No, they didn’t.

 

Life in the fledgling United States wasn’t easy. The British attacked again in 1812, but were defeated by brilliant generals like Andrew Jackson and George Patton. The Louisiana Purchase turned out to be another public lands boondoggle (most of it wasn’t even in Louisiana), but luckily President Aaron Burr refused to release the bonds needed to pay for it, and the French sold it to Mexico instead. In the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln personally led the troops to victory at Gettysburg, thereafter making that his permanent address. This freed the slaves and began an era of racial harmony that was only disrupted by the recent arrivals of asylum seekers and other melanin-heavy agitators.

 

In World War I, the U.S. bailed out the Brits and the French, thanks to brilliant leadership from President Winston Churchill and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, who ended the conflict by nuking Japan, thereby halting the need to pay licensing fees to their creators. Or maybe that was World War II. No matter, because President Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War by defeating ISIS, which brings us to the present, where we face our greatest challenge:

 

In 2018, how am I going to run against both Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree at the same time?

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Smells like Bean spirit

I don’t like Linda Bean.

 

It’s not about politics. My negative attitude has nothing to do with Bean being fined for excessive donations to a political action committee she set up to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Compared to her previous sins, that’s nothing.

 

Nevertheless, there have been calls by liberal activists to boycott L.L. Bean, the Freeport retailer, because Bean is a part-owner and a member of its board. If I accepted the idea that backing Trump was sufficient grounds for public shunning, I’d have to stop doing business with my firewood supplier, who had signs for the Republican candidate prominently displayed in his front yard. I don’t want to inquire too closely about who my friends and neighbors supported, because a majority of voters in my rural corner of western Maine backed Trump in the November election. I might discover the guy who plows my driveway, the UPS driver or my favorite bartender cast ballots for The Donald. Boycotting them would render me snowbound, unable to receive packages and sober.

 

But since I was already hating on Linda Bean long before this most recent controversy, I don’t feel at all hypocritical about continuing to do so.

 

Bean has been slithering around the state’s political scene for decades under various names, such as Linda Clark (first husband), Linda Bean-Jones (second husband), Linda Bean Folkers (third husband) and, in recent years, back to her birth name. She’s twice run unsuccessfully for Congress, failed miserably as a recruiter for GOP legislative candidates, and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative causes. She’s also started successful lobster wholesale and retail businesses.

 

Bean rarely agrees to interviews (she made an exception for Fox News during the Trump donation flap), because she has a tendency to say things she later regrets, often due to their not being true. In the current dimensional warp of “alternative facts,” that’s no longer considered a character flaw, but I’m old fashioned. I still get testy when political figures lie to me.

 

In 1986, the Christian Civic League of Maine got a referendum on the ballot to ban obscene materials, which the league defined as anything other than the Bible and the weather forecast. The campaign was underwritten by an anonymous donor, who many reporters suspected was Bean. So, I asked her. “No,” she said, “that wasn’t me.”

 

Except, as documents eventually showed, it was. She’d denied it because the referendum lost badly, and she didn’t want it dragging down her congressional ambitions.

 

During her 1992 bid for the 1st District seat, Bean told reporters she favored abolishing the minimum wage. When she got major backlash, she claimed she’d misunderstood the question and actually favored … uh … something, but she stopped giving interviews before she could be asked what. She bailed out of a scheduled live radio interview with me because she said I had hit one of her primary opponents with “biased questions.” When I asked her spokesman for an example, he told me she objected to being asked, “Do you think President Bush is doing a good job spurring the economy and creating jobs?”

 

When I published a column making fun of her evasions and misstatements, she wrote a letter to my editor calling me “an extremely troubled person in child mode.”

 

As usual, she was only half right.

 

It wasn’t as if Bean singled me out for criticism. After she lost the election, she said Ted O’Meara, then chairman of the GOP state committee, was “totally out of touch with reality.” She referred to another Republican official as “the unwitting salami in a right-wing political sandwich.” (I have no idea what that means, but I like it.) In 2012, she sent a letter to libertarian-leaning Republicans calling President Obama “HITLERIAN” and claiming “he is closing in VERY FAST to eliminate totally our liberty rights and heritage.”

 

In 1992, some left-wingers called for a boycott of L.L. Bean because of Linda’s opposition to abortion and gay rights. That move seemed wrong-headed then, and its current revival appears likewise. The correct approach is to treat Bean like any other obnoxious fringe-dweller:

Ignore her.

 

Except she’s way too tempting a target for me to follow my own advice.

 

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Do you trust the mainstream media?

Those alt-right weirdos say a lot of nasty stuff about the mainstream media.

They might have a point.

It’s not that I buy into the complaint that reporters and editors at daily newspapers and TV stations have a liberal bias. For the most part, that isn’t true. To have a bias, they’d have to know something about the subjects they’re reporting on. Often, that’s not the case.

What makes it easy to dismiss much of what’s published and broadcast in the Maine media is the daily deluge of cloudy thinking, sloppy editing and outright incompetence that’s become the new journalistic norm. Simply put, you can’t trust what you read and hear. Sort of like listening to a speech by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Only less racist.

Sometimes the inept attempts at conveying information can be humorous. On January 7, The Lewiston Sun Journal ran a front-page story on how businesses were coping with mandated increases in the minimum wage. It contained this gem: “[State economist Amanda] Rector sees three options: increase prices, trim employees’ hours, reduce employees or eliminate benefits.”

I’m pretty sure Rector can count better than that.

The January 10 edition of The Bangor Daily News published a column by Emmet Meara about problems with his bathroom drain. The headline: “I should have been a plumper.”

Anyone who knows Emmet is aware he’s fully qualified in that category. The word the copy editor couldn’t spell correctly was “plumber.”

Some mistakes, though, are seriously misleading. The January 16 Morning Sentinel contained this scoop: “Israel, Palestinians talk peace deal.” Unfortunately, The Associated Press story it topped carried the opposite message, with Israeli leadership rejecting the urgings of a French-sponsored conference for negotiations.

Apparently, reading copy before writing headlines is now optional.

Last September, The Maine Sunday Telegram ran an op-ed by somebody named Steve Bentley that claimed LePage was suffering from “deep-seated and unresolved psychological and emotional issues” caused by alcohol. Bentley based his assessment on public statements the governor had made, but not on any clinical examination.

The paper later deleted the column from its website and ran an editor’s note saying it “should not have been published.” But it never apologized to LePage. Or its readers.

Far more serious than any of the above missteps is a new policy at The Bangor Daily. Effective early this month, the paper decided it’s not going to report some stuff LePage says when it can’t verify its accuracy. According to a January 6 blog post by BDN State House reporter Christopher Cousins, “If we rush to simply throw a headline on something a politician says, without providing important context or asking them to provide substantiating information then we function as de facto propaganda machines.”

In this case, the paper didn’t report on LePage’s claim that two Maine companies (he later upped it to three) were about to shut down, eliminating 400 jobs. There’s good reason to be skeptical of this factoid, since the governor announced early last year that a southern Maine business was about to fold, costing the state 900 jobs (he later upped it to 1,500) — an event that, to date, hasn’t happened.

LePage has a long history of making false statements in radio appearances and speeches. His press office is notorious for not responding to questions. The news media would be justified in ignoring the ranting of an ignorant, racially offensive crank — if he wasn’t the governor.

But LePage is the governor. When he makes inaccurate claims, that’s as newsworthy as when he — occasionally — tells the truth. The Bangor paper’s argument that it can’t report on his fabrications without context and fact-checking is disingenuous. That context is readily available in the form of his many previous distortions of reality. And fact-checks are only a phone call or key click away.

Far more dangerous than the BDN’s fear that it will become “complicit in spreading inaccurate or incomplete information” are the consequences of not informing the public about what their governor is saying. Because word of LePage’s distorted pronouncements will spread by alternative means whether mainstream media facilitate it or not.

The newspaper’s misguided exercise in self-censorship is yet another example of why public trust in this institution continues to decline.

For instance, they just lost me.


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On the Governor's Proposed Budget

I like Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s new budget.

Really.

No, I haven’t lost my mind, although that remains a possible excuse for future columns. And my newfound respect for LePage’s fiscal prowess isn’t the result of bad drugs, because the doctor assured me any side effects wouldn’t alter my political philosophy.

I’m as clear-headed as I ever am this early in the morning (noon). I just like this budget.

Sure, it contains some items that could charitably be described as unworkable (a statewide teacher contact), ineffective (a $400 “property tax fairness credit” for low-income elderly people), nasty (outlawing General Assistance payments for asylum seekers) cruel (cutting off Medicaid for some parents making less than $10,000 a year) and nuts (a change in the school-funding formula that looks suspiciously like a cut in state aid to education).

Like every governor’s spending plan, the new budget isn’t perfect. But it does offer several sound proposals aimed at fixing longstanding problems with Maine’s financial situation. The fact that much of the best stuff stands no chance of passing the Legislature is no reason not to acknowledge that LePage has a clear vision of what’s wrong and what needs to be done to correct it.

Let’s start with the Rainy Day Fund. This is money that’s supposed to be available in emergencies, such as a recession. There’s currently about $123 million in there. If we experienced another severe downturn, that’s enough cash to last approximately 20 minutes. The governor wants to add $40 million, thereby giving us an additional cushion of 6 minutes and change. It’s not enough to correct the problem of insufficient savings, but it is a shift from the standard budget approach of “if we’ve got it, we’re spending it.”

Also, boosting reserves sits well with bond rating agencies, which means the state will pay lower interest on future borrowing.

Who could be against that?

1. Democrats, who want to use the money for new spending.

2. Republicans, who want to use the money for tax cuts.

Expect that $40-million figure to be significantly smaller in the final budget.

Next up: taxes. LePage wants to reduce the top income-tax rate from its current 7.15 percent (but set to increase this year to 10.15 percent) until everyone is paying a 5.75 percent flat tax by 2020. To make up for the lost revenue, the governor would expand (he uses the delightful euphemism “modernize”) the sales tax to cover ski tickets, golf fees, amusement parks, lawn mowing, tickets for movies and concerts, haircuts, house painting, snowplowing, dry cleaning and other services. Also, the tax on hotel rooms would jump from 9 to 10 percent.

This makes sense, since a large portion of the new taxes would be collected from tourists and rich people with second homes. In addition, it would help broaden the sales tax base, which is overly reliant on vehicle purchases (expected to fall sharply this year) and materials for home construction and improvements (the first spending that gets cut in a recession).

Who could be against that?

1. Republicans, who – with the exception of LePage – have been united in opposing anything that resembles a tax hike, even if the overall package is revenue neutral. The GOP succeeded in stripping a more ambitious tax shift from the governor’s budget two years ago and has displayed little enthusiasm for the revamped version.

2. Democrats, who forced through a similar tax-reform plan in 2010, only to see Republicans overturn it with a People’s Veto campaign, after which the GOP used the issue to clobber the Dems in legislative elections.

Finally, LePage wants to give cities and towns a tool to reduce property taxes by allowing them to charge nonprofit organizations service fees to cover the costs of police, fire and public works. It would end the free ride enjoyed by hospitals, religious institutions and charitable outfits by requiring them to reimburse municipalities for the benefits they enjoy at other taxpayers’ expense.

Who could be against that?

1. Democrats, who fear the fees will reduce money for those in need.

2. Republicans, who fear the wrath of rich campaign donors who sit on hospital boards.

But who needs those self-serving creeps, guv. You’ve still got me.

 

I’ve budgeted some time to read emails sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The pleasure and the greed

I’ve got this great idea for a new law. It would be titled “An Act To Give Free Beer To Al Diamon For The Rest Of His Life.” If this bill got approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, I could walk into any bar in the state and drink as many brewskis as I want on the taxpayers’ tab. Also, the public would be leaving a nice tip, because no matter what the minimum wage is, I still believe in treating bartenders in a manner that ensures my glass never sits empty for longer than it took leading Democrats to condemn Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s new budget — a period of time measured in nanoseconds.

Realistically, my bill and LePage’s budget stand about the same chance of passing unscathed. But while legislators will be taking the governor’s spending plan seriously enough to amend it beyond all recognition, they’re more likely to reject my measure without so much as a toast in my honor. Something about the unfairness of passing legislation that only benefits one person.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative method for achieving my selfish goal:

Referendum.

To do that, I’ll have to gather the signatures of just over 61,000 registered voters, many of whom will probably be drunks I find in bars. Then, I need to draft a suitably deceptive question (“Do you favor providing cost-free refreshment to a qualified individual of exceptional merit?”) to appear on the ballot.

Next, I’ll form a political action committee designed to obscure my intentions (The Campaign To Free Up More Of Al’s Money For Charitable Endeavors — Maybe). After a vigorous campaign funded by the alcohol industry (keep in mind that if I’m not paying, I’ll be drinking a lot more) and donors I’ll promise to buy a couple rounds (with what will actually be their money), I’ll celebrate victory by raising a tankard of the most expensive ale on tap.

Before you dismiss this scenario as the absurd musings of a besotted brain, consider a real referendum question that may well end up on this November’s ballot. It would allow a casino to be built in York County, but due to language buried in the plan’s bowels, only one person in all the world would qualify to own that facility.

No, not me.

The proprietor of this money machine must be “from an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County.”

That limits the casino’s ownership to Shawn Scott, a Las Vegas developer who started what’s now the Hollywood Casino in Bangor. Scott spent about $2.7 million to buy a majority share of a then-decrepit racetrack and finance the referendum that allowed it to add slots and later table games. Two months after winning final approval, Scott sold out to a big gambling operation for a reported $51 million.

Obviously, Scott knows how to turn a profit on a scale that negates the need for anyone else to buy his beers. But sometimes, he can be a little too slick. His various enterprises have been linked to dozens of lawsuits in several states. A 2003 report from Maine’s horse-racing regulators found his companies engaged in “sloppy, if not irresponsible financial management.” He’s been accused of using deceptive practices to kill plans for a casino at Scarborough Downs. And his efforts to collect signatures for this referendum were thrown into disarray last year when more than half the names on his petitions proved invalid.

I won’t even bother to mention allegations that Scott’s minions convinced people to sign by lying about the referendum’s intent, because I might use that tactic myself.

To date, Scott has spent more than $4 million on this scheme, most of it bankrolled by his sister in Florida. It’ll likely cost twice that to run a campaign capable of overcoming fierce opposition from the state’s existing casinos. Which means he’s expecting an even bigger return on his investment than he received from that Bangor deal.

My referendum is nowhere near that greedy. Even counting all those beers I’ll owe supporters, there’s no way I can drink up more than a million bucks a year.


Set ‘em up, bartender, for me and everybody who emails This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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