Politics & Other Mistakes: Too scared to criticize

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My plan this week was to write a scathing column about the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s boneheaded decision allowing Central Maine Power to run its energy corridor to Massachusetts across public lands without approval from the Legislature. My goal was to excoriate those black-robed purveyors of twisted logic and antidemocratic advocacy to such an extent the learned justices would need fresh underwear.

That was before I learned that taking a bold stand against CMP’s project could attract the attention of the Maine State Police. The cops at the Maine Information and Analysis Center (MIAC) seem to have the unpleasant habit of collecting data on law-abiding citizens who’ve committed no other offense than opposing the replacement of forests with a power line from Canada.

Al DiamonAfter a recent federal trial, a jury awarded a former State Police detective $300,000 in compensation for the retaliation he suffered after complaining about illegal activities at MIAC, a mysterious “fusion center” originally set up to detect terrorists. When the center couldn’t find any, it switched its focus to Black Lives Matter protesters and the nearly 60 percent of Maine voters who opposed the New England Clean Energy Connect boondoggle.

The governor, the state’s largest electric utility and the aforementioned justices all disagreed with the electorate, which seems to be sufficient reason for the cops to start compiling dossiers on potential bomb-throwers.

During testimony on Nov. 27, a former lawyer for the center admitted that an anti-corridor activist at a 2018 hearing had been targeted for investigation. After that person filed a freedom of information request, MIAC coughed up a file with his photograph, social media pages and other personal information. When the lawyer was asked if this was the only case of this sort, he mumbled, “I want to be able to say with certainty [it is], but I can’t.”

The cops tried to excuse this probing into the private life of a non-criminal by claiming they had evidence of “potentially threatening” activities aimed at stopping construction of the corridor. No reports of such activities have surfaced — unless they count petition drives, referendums, lawsuits and columns like the one I was about to write.

Clearly, the state was harboring a sleeper cell of insurrectionists intent on overturning our corporate-controlled democracy — by employing the legal tools allowed by that very democracy.

Before they got laughed out of the courtroom on that count, the lawyers for the cops tried to dredge up an even more ridiculous excuse. They claimed intruding on people’s privacy — something MIAC’s rules forbid — was legal.

“If the MIAC was in violation of its privacy policy, it does not mean it’s in violation of a federal law?” the assistant attorney general defending the cops asked.

Not surprisingly, considering the leading nature of that (sorta) question, the former lawyer for the center agreed.

The assistant attorney general followed up: “It’s not violating any state rule?”

“Correct,” replied the cops’ mouthpiece.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

To be clear, the state’s position seems to be that regardless of any of the basic tenets of non-authoritarian governance, MIAC is at liberty (I know, ironic word choice) to behave as if it were an instrument of the People’s Republic of China. It’s reassuring to know that in the unlikely event the fusion center encounters any actual terrorists, it’ll be unconstrained by constitutional considerations in spying on them.

Of course, this case didn’t have any direct impact on the legal questions still surrounding the power corridor, other than reminding the project’s critics, like me, that our continued opposition could result in state cops scouring social media for our ill-considered sex videos.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court can rest easy knowing their pro-corridor disregard for both the democratic process and common sense is unlikely to subject them to even the mildest retribution, since we potential agitators are too timid to risk attracting the attention of our unregulated police overlords.

Correction: Last week, I wrote that the Maine Wire obtained a letter from the Maine Press Association to Gov. Janet Mills’ communications director through a Freedom of Information Act request. In fact, the letter was supplied by an MPA member. Inexplicably, the year-old FOIA request is still pending.

Noncontroversial subjects for future columns can be emailed to [email protected].

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