Thursday, November 30, 2006

Making it happen at the state level

I haven’t surfed over to Nathan Newman’s site in awhile, but after reading a slew of anti-union comments at Wal-Mart Watch, I decided to check out one of my favorite pro-labor blogs. I’m glad that I did.

As regular readers probably have noticed, I’ve backed off writing (ranting) about national political issues, choosing to focus on more local, or grassroots causes of late. Probably part of this has to do with my new job, which has me focused on issues that are community-based and pertain to the geographic area that I’m involved in (a remarkably diverse five county region in Central/Western Maine). I also think that I’ve recognized the futility of one person trying to topple a system driven by corporate power.

One thing I’ve come to recognize over the past few months is that there are some very real opportunities to make substantive change at the local and at least in Maine, the state level. I don’t want to give anyone the false idea that state government functions efficiently, or that bureaucracy isn’t an issue—both are very real problems here in my home state and I’m sure, elsewhere. However, I’m impressed with the quality and commitment of so many local businesspeople, community leaders and others that I come into contact with regularly. Over the past four months, I’ve begun to believe that we the people do have the power to move Maine forward in a way that benefits everyone.

Back to Newman. He has a post about an organization called The Progressive States Network. Recognizing that conservatives have effectively run amok in many states, carrying forth their agenda in state legislatures across the country, this organization is building coalitions across the country, with a goal of taking back the power in key areas in each state.

With an agenda that is focused on increasing democracy, not limiting it, as conservatives want, growing local economies, building sustainability, bringing dignity and rewards back into the mix when it comes to work, as well as valuing families in a tangible way, not merely with lip service and campaign rhetoric, this organization is worth looking into further as a way to make some very proactive changes, state-by-state.

Newman’s site links to PSN’s legislative agenda for 2007. Here are the main areas of focus for this grassroots organization, as it seeks to build coalitions, one state at a time.

  • Wage Standards and Workplace Freedom— assuring that American workers receive a decent wage and the freedom of speech in the workplace to stand up for their own interests.
  • Balancing Work and Family- helping create a more family-friendly workplace and society through better family leave policies, sick days, support for child care, and access to contraception.
  • Health Care for All- extending health care coverage to all Americans, while helping cut costs for those currently receiving health coverage.
  • Smart Growth and Clean Jobs- promoting energy independence and job growth through new transit options, smart development to strengthen our communities, and new energy technologies.
  • Tax and Budget Reform- creating more equity and accountability in state tax systems, economic development subsidies and public contracts.
  • Clean and Fair Elections- reforming lobbying corruption, establishing public financing for elections, protecting voting rights, and election reforms like vote by mail to improve the voting process.

This is a great set of core items that people who care about people and place, like I do, can get behind and support—better yet, actually have a hand in moving this pro-people agenda forward.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cynics need not apply

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
--Bobby Kennedy, South Africa, 1966

When did Americans succumb to cynicism, nationally? We’ve been on a four decade slide down the slope of lowered aspirations and expectations from our leaders. I think part of this is directly connected to 1968, when in a span of just two months, a pair of dreamers and visionaries, one firmly grounded in the prophetic world of possibilities and the other, embedded in the political realm, were assassinated. While speculation and various theories abound concerning their tragic deaths, as a nation, the psychic scars still have not healed.

I was only six years old at the time, so all I have to work with are historical accounts, old newsreels and the voices of those who knew MLK and RFK. The sense of import that Bobby Kennedy’s assassination occupies in that arc of time since, was driven home to me last night, while watching the tail end of the PBS broadcast of American Experience, titled RFK. I only accidentally stumbled onto it because I was channel surfing during commercials, while watching the Green Bay vs. Seattle, Monday Night Football broadcast. I’m thankful I caught the last 30 minutes.

One of the things that I found striking while watching some of the archival footage, was the makeup of the crowds that Kennedy attracted, particularly during his ill-fated visit to Los Angeles, hours before he was shot. The frames, collected as Kennedy waved and motorcaded among throngs of supporters and others, in East Los Angeles, showed a diversity of Americans that is uncommon today in almost all of our public gatherings. African-Americans, Latinos and Orientals were all represented, as well as poor whites, lining the boulevard, hoping to touch Kennedy’s hand, or just catch a glimpse of this presidential hopeful, the one who had taken on their causes—racial and economic inequality, to name but two, as well as condemning the war in Southeast Asia.

What would a Kennedy presidency have meant for the U.S.? At this point, we can only speculate, as several men who knew Kennedy intimately, have done at the PBS/RFK site. Certainly, we would have been saved a Nixon presidency, the Watergate scandal that set the bar for all subsequent political shortcomings since and a reduction in American soldiers killed, or coming home maimed, physically and mentally. The doubters will always counter with more cynicism and maybe that’s better than asking the dreaded “what if?”

As I segue into middle age, the hopeful side of me wants to believe that someone might come along in my lifetime that could once more energize our country and fuel our dreams for the future with something other than numbness and escapism. Given our current sorry crop of political operatives, opportunists and outright ideological hacks that option seems unlikely in the near term. It’s quite possible that the idealism that lived during the sixties, was just as much a product of the times, as some window of opportunity or possibility—the “age of Aquarius,” or whatever label commentators, or worse, marketers choose to hang on the decade of the sixties.

So, how do we proceed? Do we just throw up our hands and succumb with the usual, “it doesn’t do any good, so why try” futility? I think the grassroots approach to activism, working on smaller projects is something we can all begin with. In fact, history tells us that most mass movements began small and local. For me, my focus is going to be on something like instant runoff voting, which I think is a vehicle which might allow third parties some traction and possibility, to offer an alternative to the basic one-party system we now must endure. Local politics and state-level initiatives are also good areas to help dispense with our despair.

On a personal note, I also think I’ll head out this weekend and see the Emilio Estevez cinematic treatment of Bobby Kennedy’s final day, purportedly using a series of vignettes, leading up to assassination, which robbed us of someone that history shows us that we were desperately in need of at the time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

That special time of the year

We’re in that time of the year where everything is measured by how many trips you make to the mall, or toy store. Americans, who at one time took pride in their ability as pioneers, craftsman and revolutionaries, have been reduced to meandering sheep, grazing at the local retail trough.

I made a brief stop at the Maine Mall, yesterday—Best Buy specifically—to get an idea on what’s available for digital cameras. The digital camera I’ve been using for the past several years is bulky and limited in what I need it for and I’m thinking about an upgrade. I lasted about 15 minutes before the thump, thump of the music and the chattering shoppers near me, made me run screaming from the bowels of this mega-box.

Each and every year, the holidays get moved up—at one time, waiting until December, now, the advertisements arrive pre-Thanksgiving. Back in the day, when Christmas still had some religious connotation, the season took on an air of family, school pageants and carols playing on the AM radio. Now, we’ve placed Christmas in its politically-correct prison, making it part of the innocuous “holiday season,” but it’s become just an excuse for American consumers to stuff their mini-vans and SUV’s with worthless junk, much of it made in third world sweatshops, to fill some nook and cranny of their oversized and overpriced McMansions. Meanwhile, corporate bean counters salivate at the prospects of profits, built on the ballooning credit lines granted by credit card giants, who will just pass on higher interest rates at some post-holiday point. No one worries about paying the piper now, however. It's onward and upward, for a-shopping we must go!

Over the weekend, feature story after feature story was geared to people lining up for an early, post-Thankgiving opening at the nearby retail conglomerate. It’s as if our nation has become nothing more than a bunch of drooling zombies, exhibiting some strange Pavlovian response to an imaginary signal that’s triggered, making them want to stumble amongst soulless outlets, chain stores and big boxes, credit card and cell phone in hand.

As hard as I try each year, like a hopeless Charlie Brown, to get into the spirit of what I hold the holidays to be, in my own skewered version of the world, it becomes harder and harder to muster much enthusiasm for any of the trappings of what the next four weeks have become. I’m curious if I’m just getting crankier each year, or do others feel a sense of disconnection this year that they’ve never experienced before?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A bad day for turkeys

Most U.S. holidays leave me somewhat conflicted. Like much that gets passed off as acceptable by those in power, Thanksgiving is infused with myths and misinformation that are designed to keep us fat, happy and confused. Rather than delving into that well today, however, I've decided to offer my own alternative to the traditional and the trite. There are certainly aspects of the American turkey day that can benefit us all, like taking a moment, or two and reflecting on the things that we do have that we can be thankful for.

That two-headed hydra of Maine blogging, Jason Clark and Lance Dutson, have shifted their focus over at Maine Impact. Now that election season has come and gone, Jason and Lance will be offering podcasts with a slightly different focus. I'm not sure exactly where they will be going, but today's Maine Thanksgiving version is a nice place to start. I hope you'll make Maine Impact one of your regular stops while trolling for information, particularly pertaining to the good ole' state of Maine.

Jason contacted me and asked if I could put together a two minute spot on what Maine things I'm thankful for this year. I was honored by the invitation, so if you care to, you can head over to Maine Impact and hear three Mainuhs' share their own personal takes on Thanksgiving, with a uniquely Maine orientation; Representative Emily Ann Cane (D-Orono), from District 19, fellow blogger Michelle Souliere and of course, yours truly, are given an opportunity to share the things that we appreciate and are thankful for as it pertains to the Pine Tree State.

Here's wishing readers a festive day, in whatever form you choose to celebrate it. I'll be spending the day with family and friends, enjoying the culinary skills of my better half, while watching a bit of football and having some time to get out and take an unhurried stroll up and down the less busy thoroughfare that is Route 9, here in my hometown.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I miss my amp

I should have known better--when you have a vintage tube amp that is on the fritz, take it to real repair professionals, not some L/A wannabes. Well, actually that would be unfair. The store where I dropped my buzzing Fender off at have been in business in Lewiston for decades, it's just that they don't appear to have a clue when it comes to repairs.

I knew in my heart, I should have taken it to Buckdancer's Choice, in Portland, but I thought it would be a hassle going into Portland three weekends ago and the music store in Lewiston told me that their amp guy could get it done--they also warned me that he was backed up.

So here I am, three weeks later, jonesing to plug in my electric and growing sick of the laid back sounds of my trusty Yamaha acoustic. The only solace I'm feeling tonight is that I wacked my left thumb with a hammer, driving nails on Saturday and couldn't hold a guitar if I wanted to tonight, or for several nights for that matter. Why is it that every time I start to build up momentum with my guitar playing, something inevitably gets in the way? Just when I had started to learn a few songs and didn't have to plod my way through the changes, once more, the reality that I'm never going to taste musical fame and fortune gets shoved in my face (heck, just becoming proficient on the guitar would be fine at this point).

Well, it looks like I'll have to wait a bit longer to plug in and make some noise again--maybe my amp will be ready by the weekend?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

From Kittery, up the coast

[Holding the line against chain stores]

[Not a Maine-owned business in sight!]

[The Kittery Trading Post--outfitting yuppies for their next shopping adventure]

[York Harbor, exuding old money and its stately homes along the water's edge]

[Maybe pigs really do fly--if not, its one kick-ass brand of locally baked bread]

From Kittery, up the coast-

Crossing the Piscataqua River, from New Hampshire, back into Maine, I rarely leave the Maine Turnpike and travel coastal Route 1. Friday morning, on my way back from a Thursday night show in Cambridge, I decided to spend some time along this coastal roadway, which has a storied history, although it was painfully obvious to me that Maine’s southernmost section of this auto route has lost any sense of uniqueness.

I have a new book project in the works, which will once again be my own skewered take on Maine, as I see it. Planning to take the day off, Friday, I made the decision to catch the show and rather than head home, I got a room in Portsmouth and hoped to spend some time scouting York County for some ideas. Armed with a camera, I took some photos as I meandered north, on my way back home.

I won’t go into great detail here, but I wanted to catch a Texas-based band called Centro-matic, who were playing at the Middle East in Cambridge. I’ve blogged about it in considerable detail over at my own MySpace page. I created the page to capitalize on any networking that might come from another online venue. While skeptical at first about the phenomenon, I have come to embrace MySpace and found it to be an effective networking tool and even a bit addictive.

The Middle East, while purported to be a legendary rock club, doesn’t have anything on Chicky’s in Westbrook. I find it inevitable as I get older that going to shows where there is a high number of the 20-something college crowd takes away my enjoyment of the music. But, I don’t want to spend much time on that issue, as I’m going to provide some commentary and context for some of the photos.

Like other Maine communities such as Ellsworth and South Portland, which have given their towns over to the corporations and an outlet mentality, Kittery has little that I find redeeming, at least that part of Route 1, near the New Hampshire border, teeming with its multitude of discount outlets. Does anyone see the irony of calling one grouping of stores the Maine Outlet, but not one of the stores is based in Maine?

I always get a kick out of the Kittery Trading Post, a poor man’s L.L. Bean knockoff. Like Bean’s, the KTP was once exclusively for hunters and outdoors people, but is now more likely to be frequented by folks looking to outfit themselves for trips from that offer the rigors of leaving their climatically-controlled SUV and walking to their next consumer conquest down the road.

While Maine has an abundance of great locally-grown vegetables, Maine-made breads and other unique products, Kittery’s shopping experience offers shopping sustenance via the chain method of food prep.

Once drivers exit Kittery and head north, the outlets thin out and it is possible to get some flavor of local culture. While this area’s retail and service economy once was the domain of locals, over the past two decades, chains continue to creep northward, dotting the landscape with their ubiquitous branding that is devoid of uniqueness and local flavor.

If you’ve never had bread baked by When Pigs Fly, you haven’t had bread! This local bakery is still one of Maine’s better-kept secrets, although you can find a limited offering of breads at some of the Hannaford locations. The Kittery store, however, is where you can really get a sense of the variety and possibilities for bread making with an eye toward creativity. With over 25 varieties on display and beckoning me with their mouthwatering aromas, I was happy I stopped by, leaving with my own freshly baked loaves to take home and compliment my Friday night dinner.

Up the road, apiece, I met David, a local farmer whose farm stand and gardens bordering Route 1 serve as a buffer to out-of-state developers and other interlopers whose primary interest is to extract as much profit as they can from the real estate, with little regard for local culture or preserving the area’s heritage. Ironically, David is from “away,” a transplant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

York Harbor, with its abundance of 18th century architecture offers travelers a chance to step back, a sense of some of the old money the area is built upon, as well as beautiful views of Maine’s rocky coastline.

Traveling north into Ogunquit, visitors will find theater, antiques and numerous local eateries and locally-owned shops. While the main drag still has plenty of seasonal shops offering trinkets and other merchandise geared for the tourist crowd, this section of one of Maine’s renowned tourist areas is much more palatable than nearby Kittery.

Obviously, sprawl and the specter of the McMansion serves as a warning to many of us that Maine could easily lose its unique sense of place without some vision for our future. I saw more of these types of homes recently constructed, than I have in the past.

Wells Beach and Wells were where I ended my initial fact finding on Friday. Wells, like its neighbor to the north, Kennebunk, are solidly working class towns, where the locals depend upon tourism and walk a fine line between enjoying the fruits of tourism, but despising having their faces rubbed in the conspicuous consumption of the guests that fill their coffers and crowd their roadways every summer. Like Bar Harbor and other Maine towns that see their prosperity rise and fall due to the visits of interlopers from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and elsewhere, Wells is a prime example of what tourism produces—chintzy shops, bottle-necked local roads each summer and if the weather cooperates, enough money to make it through the winter to next year’s tourist season.

As a state, Maine has ridden the tourist rollercoaster for as long as I can remember and it will continue to do so, until our economy begins producing jobs and opportunities for the locals. Until then, we’ll continue to play reluctant hosts to the hordes of visitors who swarm into our state every summer.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I know that I'm about to commit the blogging equivalent of what Postman called the, "Now...this" seque. In fact, he spent an entire chapter talking about what he called, the "Now...this" worldview in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

You see, I want to blog about Meredith Viera, Katie's replacement on The Today Show and more precisely, Meredith Viera's blog.

While I was never much of a fan of Katie Couric, I used to find it amusing how so many men, particularly conservative men, could hurl so much vitriol and venom poor Katie's way. I guess when you host a show so amazingly popular and watched by millions, especially millions of women, apparently that's enough to get you hated by the knuckle-draggers of America.

When Katie made the switch over to her new position, as the CBS Nightly News anchor, my wife insisted that we watch her first night and subsequent nights afterwards, for at least a week. It was then that I actually felt somewhat bad for her; almost sympathetic, as she obviously was trying to hard to make it work.

Recently, I watched her do her nightly half hour and I think she's relaxed enough and almost looks comfortable. My wife thinks she made a mistake, however and I'm inclined to agree. I do respect her, however, for making an honest attempt to at changing her modus operandi later in her work career, something I can certainly identify with, on some basic level. But I'm not here to talk about Kaie. No, I'm here to talk about her successor, Meredith Viera.

Meredith Viera has a blog. While it would be natural to think that someone is probably "ghostwriting" Meredith's daily posts, according to something I heard somewhere (NPR?), she actually does her own writing and is enjoying doing the blog, after first thinking it would be just a bunch of "busywork."

While it would be easy to write off Viera, after her recent stint as moderator on "The View" and her current gig as host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," Viera actually has a career vitae that includes hard news and journalism, having worked on 60 Minutes, Turning Point and CBS News. You see, unlike the bimbos that Fox pays to read teleprompters, with their collagen enhanced lips and other accoutrements, Viera actually does have some credibility and talent for reporting. In fact, Viera created a bit of a fuss in some news circles, after having marched in an anti-war demonstration and then, talking about it on "The View," saying that the "war was built on lies."

Meredith's piece on getting to dance with the Radio City Rockettes was actually very personal and showed her human side, which should help her win the women over who will ultimately decide whether Viera can emerge from Katie's shadow and carve out her own unique niche as the new must-see maven of the morning.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A death goes unnoticed

I've always prided myself in finding new, under-reported and often, obscure material, via the web, but before that, it came from scouring the underground press, free papers and other cultural detritus.

Of late, my time has been much tighter than it has been in some months, so having the luxury and even allowing myself some extra time to dig deeper has been lacking. Today, despite spending several hours getting done some essential work for a new RiverVision release that is slated for the spring, I had some time to peruse other small press operations, such as Akashic Books, a unique literary arts organization in Berkeley, California, Small Press Distribution, among others and finally to the site.

It was there that I encountered the following item that's been virtually buried, receiving little or no national dispersion from a media that seems to fixate on the trivial, mundane, or the painfully obvious.

Malachi Ritscher R.I.P.
by anne elizabeth moore 11/09/2006 in obituaries

On Friday morning, Nov. 3rd, During rush hour in Chicago, local activist and sound engineer Malachi Ritscher doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire, by the millennium flame near the Ohio St. exit off the Kennedy expressway. He set up a sign that read: "thou shalt not kill" and also set up a video camera on a tripod and recorded the whole thing. (The videotape is with the police).

Longtime supporter and participant of the Chicago experimental music scene for many years, Malachi Ritscher was behind many live recordings for musicians in town and throughout the world. He kept up his page, a useful and comprehensive list of creative music events in Chicago. Perhaps more importantly, Malachi was an activist and vocal protester of political and social ills that stem from, but are not limited to, the Bush administration.

Readers were directed to several other links pertaining to Ritscher's music, politics and life, including this one, which takes readers to the site of the alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader, which has a brief article, followed by a number of comments from people who knew Ritscher and were touched in some way by his life.

Lending credit, where credit is due, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Richard Roeper, had a pertinent piece about suicide, mentioning Ritscher's final act, which included the following:

"It makes no sense to pretend suicide is a rare and scandalous thing. The sad truth is that every 18 minutes in this country, somebody makes the unfathomable (to the rest of us) decision to leave this life forever. "

Here is Ritscher's self-penned obituary.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Will the women get it done in DC?

As the results surged in Tuesday night, a Democratic wave washed over both the House and the Senate, changing the composition of both legislative chambers. While that tidal shift, resulting in the Democrats handily gaining control of the House and narrowly claiming the Senate, by a whisker, it also brought about a historic event, one that bodes well for the women of America.

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be the first ever woman speaker of the House. Not since 1992’s “the year of the woman,” which saw the election of a class of woman Senators who would become influential leaders in the Senate, has the election of a female been accompanied by such a bevy of media attention.

Women in politics are no longer an anomaly. With Pelosi’s ascension to speaker, they’re now edging closer to that ultimate goal—seeing a woman in the White House. Seeing that it is the year, 2006, the question becomes, “Why the hell not?”

With the votes all counted and the campaign signs being picked up and stored away, women now hold historically high numbers in the Congress—16 Senate seats, as well as 70 seats in the House. Yet, despite gains made by women, those numbers still only represent 16 percent of the total number of possible seats available in both chambers.

So, is 2006 the new year of the woman? Not according to Vivian Eveloff, director of the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri.

“Oh, I so don’t like that expression," Eveloff says. "I think every year ought to be the year of the woman until we get a Congress, and we get legislators, and we get statehouses that reflect the diversity of this country. We’ve made a little progress this year. But we certainly have a long way to go.”

Therein lies the crux of the problem. While women continue to make their way up the political ladder, there remains work to be done. Obviously, Pelosi’s role is an important one in many ways. For both her party, as well as her gender, how she performs will resonate and could play a pivotal role in just two years, when we elect a successor to George W. Bush. If Pelosi can bridge the partisan divide and put a face of honesty, competence and accomplishment on her speakership, then it could be very interesting for Democrats in choosing their candidate to lead the party in their quest to retake the Oval Office.

The Democratic Party has a real opportunity to lead a nation that is divided by partisan politics, a war that has become an economic albatross and is stealing vitality and services from our own, and a perception that politics and politicians are incapable of getting the job done. Can Pelosi reinvigorate her party, as well as gain the support of most Americans? It won’t be easy. One place where the carping had already begun, before the election, was right-wing talk radio. I guess it's to be expected, but good lord, even a member of the "sisterhood," Laura Ingraham, (who along with Ann Coulter, are two of the meanest, nasty females I’ve ever encountered) was bashing Pelosi’s pending position, before she even had a chance to oversea any legislation or perform her first official task. I can only imagine how vitriolic it will become if Hilary is the Democratic nominee.

So, why do will still see women under-represented in our politics and why are we still so squeamish about the thought of a woman president? In other areas of the world, women have reached the pinnacle of power—think Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and recently, Angela Merkel, elected German Chancellor, in 2005 and VerĂ³nica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, elected president of Chil, in March, 2006, when she beat out billionaire businessman, Sebastian Pinera, in runoff election. Even better, in my opinion, Bachelet is a socialist, who campaigned on a platform of continuing Chile's free market policies, while increasing social benefits to help reduce the country's gap between rich and poor, one of the largest in the world. Now there’s a strategy in the making for Democrats—instead of always running towards the center, try mixing in a few actual liberal, or progressive ideas and really live up to the label of “liberal” tossed their way, spit out and even “hissed” by so many conservatives.

The next two years will be pivotal. While I’m no fan of the Democrats, at least in their current DLC modus operandi and I’ve had my issues with Pelosi, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Her performance could have a lot to say about whether Republicans ultimately lose the White House in 2008 and continue their freefall.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The will of the people (who vote)

The mid-term elections are over. After months of campaigning and disruption of their lives, candidates can go back to the normalcy of their everyday routines. With voter turnout approaching 60 percent in Maine, our state once more showed our greater engagement in all things political.

Contributing to the higher than normal turnout for a non-presidential election was the TABOR initiative, Maine's "slash and burn" attempt at tax relief, which went down to defeat, 54 to 46 percent. This is the second sound defeat of a taxpayer "rights" referendum by Mainers, but knowing some of the ideologically-driven leaders of the pro-TABOR side, I wouldn't be surprised to see something similar in two years, when we vote again.

The day after an election can be a bit of letdown, particularly when your candidate finishes a distant fourth. Pat LaMarche ran a grassroots, issue-oriented campaign, championing healthcare for all Mainers, an emphasis on a living wage for all workers, a commitment to renewable energy and some positive proposals for getting a handle on escalating property taxes.

As a Green Independent, LaMarche offered a clear, third party alternative to the traditional choice between elephant and donkey. LaMarche's female counterpart, the perpetually "catty" Barbara Merrill made a strong showing, gathering 20 plus percent of the total vote. As she conceded, however, she managed to show her less than gracious side, once more, which is what ultimately led to me go over to the LaMarche camp, late in the race. It is my sincere hope that Pat, gracious and genuine to the very end, will remain engaged in the political process. We need her ideas, energy and passion for all the people of Maine, not just the ones who drive luxury sedans and SUV's.

Maine faces a multitude of challenges. Governor Baldacci cannot allow his final four years to be business as usual. The Brookings Institute report has given anyone in a leadership position, a clear blueprint for taking our state forward, into the 21st century. Partisan posturing and political cronyism won't get the job done for the people of Maine.

Nationally, it appears that Democrats have been given a clear message from the voters--they are fed up with perpetual war, fear mongering, political scandal and ideological divisiveness. Regaining control of the House for the first time since 1994, Democrats must step up to the plate and lead.

As votes were counted last night, it became clear that Republicans had lost their hold on power across the country. In distrcts of all stripes--conservative, liberal and moderate — as well as in urban, rural and suburban areas, exit polls revealed that many middle class voters who fled to the GOP a dozen years ago appeared to return to the Democrats.

With this so-called mandate, the Democrats, or "the gang that couldn't shoot straight," now have a responsibility to address some of the most serious issues in our nation, including finding a way to unite a divided populace. For me, I saw several races, won by conservative Democrats, as offering very little substantive difference between them and the GOP incumbent. Joe Lieberman, who lost the primary to anti-war candidate, Ned Lamont, won as an Independent.

Will we see a troop pullout from Iraq, a push for universal healthcare, a closing of the income gap and a push to develop alternative energy sources? The pessimist in me says Democratic control of the House and even the Senate, won't alter business as usual.

As I've been preaching regularly here, during the latter days of the campaigning, our electoral process needs an overhaul. Until third party candidates, fueled by ideas rather than ideology can get into the game in a meaningful way, little if nothing will change for the working class people of our land. Obscene amounts of money, sent down from the corporate suites have poisoned our political well. Until we find the will to tap into the well of populist reform, I don't harbor any real hope that anything meaningful will result from all the hoopla surrounding last night's election returns.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Let the women lead

While politics as usual most often means white males mouthing the same old rhetoric, Maine’s gubernatorial race has been energized by two dynamic women, as candidates. Both Pat LaMarche and Barbara Merrill have given incumbent John Baldacci and Republican challenger, Chandler Woodcock, much more than I’m sure they bargained for.

Both LaMarche and Merrill have run issue-oriented campaigns that have given Mainers an opportunity, if they so choose, to vote against the tired and trite and choose a direction for the state that is actually grounded in issues that matter. With LaMarche’s focus on healthcare, the environment, job creation and a way to realistically address tax issues, she offers a clear choice for anyone who cares to go beyond the sound bite campaigns offered by her male counterparts.

Merrill literally has written the book on how she would govern Maine. Like Maine’s last Independent for governor, Angus King, Merrill put pen to paper and wrote, Setting the Maine Course, which is also available on her website.

Merrill’s strong commitment to the rural values of Maine, should resound solidly with much of Maine, although I’m concerned that too many of them will take the easy road and cast their vote for Chandler Woodcock, making the false assumption that a Republican cares about the working class citizens of rural Maine. His support for TABOR should be a clear indication that he doesn’t, as this “slash and burn” attack on the rural communities of Maine will devastate services to the people who need them most.

While I wrote an earlier post about leaning LaMarche’s way, I’ve now made my choice to vote for Pat. Having said that, I respect Merrill and would be comfortable with her as governor, if LaMarche doesn’t come out victorious after the votes are counted Tuesday night.

For those who are still wavering, I’d encourage you to visit Jason Clarke and Lance Dutson’s excellent podcast site, Maine Impact, where you can listen to interviews with both of these talented and intelligent women, who would both make great choices to lead the state of Maine.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Democracy's death rattle

We are in another election period. Three days from now, some of us will march to the polls and cast our votes, hopeful that they’ll even be counted correctly. That, in itself, is problematic. In my own state of Maine, the secretary of state is predicting a voter turnout of somewhere in the range of 45 to 55 percent—this during a crucial midterm election at the national level, with Maine choosing a governor, local representatives to Augusta and determining whether or not we care to gut our public services by passing TABOR, the “slash and burn” attempt at controlling taxes, given to us courtesy of our friends on the right-wing fringe.

Our current president, a man who won two elections under dubious voting circumstances, fraught with polling irregularities, spends a lot of time talking about democracy, his focus often on other parts of the world to the exclusion of his own banana republic. In a country that some would hold up as the shining “city on a hill” when it comes to how representative government should work, half of us don’t vote, with a good portion of the other 50 percent not sure that Tuesday’s process will be legitimate. As Jeffrey Kopstein and Mark Lipback write, in their book, Comparative Politics: Interests, Identities and Institutions in a Changing Global Order,

“Democracies sometimes violate their own laws or conduct elections that are not perfectly free and fair. Beyond a certain point, however, it makes little sense to categorize a country as democratic if it prohibits free speech or falsifies election

Back in 2004, those who did vote (or could vote), regardless of the candidate you voted for (or thought you voted for), the election didn’t seem right. After four years of fractious rankling and with an unpopular war raging in Iraq, Americans went to the polls, with pundits insisting that voters were determined to express their dissatisfaction with Bush and the Republicans. Strangely, the usually discombobulated Democrats, the “gang who couldn’t shoot straight,” as I like to call them, were strangely unified. They’d united around the “electable” candidate, the former Vietnam veteran and longtime Senator, John Kerry, and urged everyone within earshot that we should vote for “anybody but Bush.” Even the perennial third party rabble-rouser, Ralph Nader, garnered almost no support (0.38 percent of the national vote), yet, when the smoke settled and the votes were counted (or not counted), George W. Bush was standing tall, reelected as our 43rd president. In fact, unlike the chad-shrouded election of 2000, this one wasn’t even close, with GWB winning with a 3 million vote cushion.

Strangely, despite voters being forced to stand in line for hours in Ohio, polls closing before voters got to vote, exit polls favoring Kerry (in Ohio) turned on their heads, there was very little national attention focused on the specter that the 2004 election, like the 2000 election, was stolen. Other than a few lone voices like Mark Crispin Miller, Keith Olbermann and even Randi Rhodes, of Air America, most of the media moved on, ready to talk about Republican mandates and Mr. Bush’s conservative capital to spend. In fact, Mr. Bush, one of the more intellectually challenged presidents to ever hold office, began running about the country, as well as at the mouth, insisting that the voters had given him a clear message that his disastrous “war on terrah,” civil liberty infringements and wealth transfer programs were wildly popular.

So, what’s the answer? To be quite honest, I don’t really have one. As person who no longer has faith in the tired ideal of, “one person, one vote,” I’ll go to the polls, more out of conditioning than any great optimism. I’ll cast my vote and then, I’ll come home and watch the returns stream in. I’ll tolerate the prattle from tired commentators, rattling off results from states like Oregon, Montana and Utah. They’ll gush about certain “stars” of the political pantheon and devote some coverage to key races, but absent from any of their corporately-controlled patter, will be a mention that the whole goddamn system is fucked beyond our control!

Just this past week, John Kerry, the man I voted for in 2004, made a comment about Iraq that put him in a world of hurt, or as Bobby Boucher (from The Waterboy) would say, he opened up “a can of whupass.” I don't dislike John Kerry. Oh, at times, he pisses me off, with his air of nobility and, like Al Gore, his penchant for letting political handlers so obscure the real candidate that both of these decent men, come off as totally inept and ultimately, ineffective.

Kerry dared to make a statement before college students in Southern California that got characterized later, as a bad joke. What got missed by everyone, except good ole’ Keith Olbermann, a former sportscaster from ESPN, was that Kerry, in essence, was calling the president, stupid (Christ, there's a new revelation). Instead, the Bush sycophants and members of the press (are those two one and the same?), turned Kerry’s statement into a case of insult against our good boys in Iraq. Before all was said and done, Kerry, regardless of how you feel about him as presidential material, a man of honor and integrity, ended up having to “fall on his sword” at the insistence of the spineless Democrats in control, virtually extinguishing any hopes of a presidential run for himself, in 2008. Kerry, who guided men through battle and then had the integrity to come home and take a stand for veterans, which, as a child of privilege, would have been easy to have shirked, ends up looking like the lesser of a person in another head-to-head with George W. Bush.

I cannot explain how a man, with obvious pathological predispositions towards dishonesty, who never served a day in combat, in fact, criminally left his responsibilities to occupy a politically-arranged substitute for real service, continues to be given a free pass? Either the American people are too stupid, too callow, or they don’t have what it takes to live in a country that was intended to be a democracy.

While conservatives love to quibble over definitions, insisting our nation is actually a "constitutional republic," we are in fact, a democracy, a representative one, evident in each one of our various branches. Maybe that aversion to the term among conservatives is somewhat instructive? By denying the term, but even more important, by denying the mechanisms, the current conservative clusterfuck is doing all in its power to deny the very foundations and underpinnings that date back over 200 years.

Unlike many progressives and left-leaning hipsters, I don’t entertain any illusions that a Democratic majority in the House, or Senate, or both, is going to change the collision course that America is on. The Democrats aren’t going to overhaul the tax code, or suddenly defund the military, or enact anything close to the radical changes (universal healthcare) that would make me happy. However, just a slight swerve back to the center would be a cool drop of water for even a cynical left-leaning libertarian, like me. It would halt this continual rightward, theocratic stumble towards fascism that we are on and if nothing else, gives me some slight glimmer of hope that we might rid ourselves, eventually, of some of the loathsome bottom-feeders that we are currently saddled with in Washington.

Driving home last night, I was listening to NPR and heard a story about the D-word subject that I’ve gone on about much longer than I intended. The theme of the piece was the U.S. policy of promoting democracy around the world, particularly in Arab countries and whether or not these countries are well-served with democratic forms of government. In fact, it was quite interesting when they talked about Hamas, recently brought to power in Palestine, in a democratically-held election. The reporter made the point that while we want democracy in other parts of the world, we are disappointed when a leader, or in the case of Hamas, a party is a elected that we don’t want—the wrong candidate, so to speak. Ironically, one of the so-called “experts” that they talked to was none other than Newt Gingrich, which ultimately led me to ranting like a crazy man at my radio and ultimately, shoving in my mix tape of Centro-matic to prevent my head from exploding.

Come Tuesday, I’ll drag myself to my Durham polling station. I’ll vote for governor, against TABOR, choose my local representatives, as well as senator and representative to Washington. We actually still have paper ballots that you feed into a machine on your way out, which will be counted by one of my fellow townspeople. My wife, Mary, has counted on election night before. If nothing else, I can at least be assured that my vote is counted, which won’t be the case in many other parts of the country. You see, if you are voting on a Diebold machine, or one of the four machines owned by rabid, right-wing Republicans, which leave no paper trail, then you can’t be sure that the vote you cast is actually counted for the candidate you chose.

Since those who count the votes, ultimately are the ones who win, then Republicans have a real advantage, at the present time. If Democrats can do nothing more than regain control of the House and Senate, they’ll be able to feel good on Tuesday night. Simply being able to fix the broken system of elections that exist right here in our own country will be one huge step back towards legitimacy. Then, I can start wishing again, for something miraculous, like instant runoff voting, or god forbid, a viable movement to elect a third party candidate that represented the needs of all Americans, not just the wealthy. Hey, a man can dream, can’t he?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The future is suddenly a bit brighter

Political season makes me kinda’ crazy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy debating the issues and that I don’t understand some of the political machinations. More and more, it’s just the lack of rationale discussion and clear-headed give and take that brings me down.

Occasionally, wading through the forest and swamps of talk radio and right-leaning electioneers, a ray of light manages to peak through the fog of fear and ideology. When that glimmer of hope emanates from someone still finding their way in life, setting down their own roots and values, makes it even sweeter.

Back in 2000, two skinny 16-year olds were the final cuts from that spring’s Greely varsity baseball squad. One of them was my son Mark and the other one, Brent Lemieux, became fast friends. I had the privilege of watching their baseball developments, from JV stalwarts, to varsity co-captains their senior year, with both exhibiting traits that would later serve them well in their college baseball careers.

After being teammates for four years at Greely, they went their separate ways during college; Mark at Wheaton and Brent roaming the outfield for USM’s Huskies. Some of my fondest memories were seeing them reunited for three summers, when I coached them in Portland’s Twilight League.

On Wednesday morning, I opened Portland’s Press Herald, Maine’s largest daily newspaper and lo and behold, Brent’s op ed jumped out at me. I shouted out to my wife, “Brent’s op ed is in the newspaper.” Best of all, it addressed articulately, TABOR, the right-wing “slash and burn” attempt to gut social and community services in our state, all in the name of further tax relief for Maine’s wealthy.

As I read the op ed, I was impressed with Brent’s clear and concise approach at presenting his take on TABOR, exhibiting the critical thinking skills that seem to be lacking in so many of my fellow citizens.

Of course, the comments that accompanied it were primarily from right-wing trolls who somehow think that all societal ills will magically disappear if we just eliminate evil government and slash everyone's taxes.

One comment summed up my thoughts, as I angrily scanned some of the vitriol aimed at a fine 22-year-old young man who hasn’t had his own well poisoned by cynicism and political n’er-do-wells.

A commenter named Howard had this to say to much of the drivel that one could politely deem comments.

“After reading comments in these columns for some time I've come to a few conclusions. A great many conservatives memorize two or three pet phrases and use them continuosly in defending their point of view. Usually these are from the Heritage Center handouts or from some television ad. Certainly they don't look into an issue in depth.

Some of the TABOR supporters who can debate the merits of the issue at least have my respect for speaking intelligently.

Some of these other "Adults" merely resort to name calling when they can't win any other way. Did you people have parents? Or were they too busy making money to teach you common sense and values?

You folks are really the right wing equivelant of our now infamous Halloween protestor. Maybe you slept through school but you need to know that name calling proves nothing. The young man who wrote this article made several good points. Don't condemn him because you folks don't have the ability to respond intelligently. I can assure you that I pay my share of taxes to, which isn't easy these days, and I agree with him on some points.

TABOR is not an answer to our problems. The answer in a nutshell is learning to run our governments more efficiently and use good business practices at all levels. TABOR won't do that at all. "

I’m proud of this young man and count myself privileged to have had an opportunity to witness his intellectual growth and maturity, as well as enjoying watching him on the baseball field.

I’m printing his op ed in its entirety, because it is one of best and most well-reasoned pieces I’ve read on TABOR.

I realize that the future of our state and our country is in the hands of these young men and women and maybe we’d do well to step aside and let them lead us, instead of continuously putting our hopes in the bunch of dried up, bitter and twisted old men we’ve hitched our wagons to up until now.

Portland Press Herald, Nov. 1, 2006

TABOR no answer to Maine's problems
by, Brent Lemieux

The Press Herald's recent support for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has me concerned that your editorial recommendation for its passage will affect the outcome of the vote on Election Day.

The paper claimed TABOR is the best next step in the right direction, but it feels more like a blind step in a direction that has yet to be determined.

I have to agree that the timing of the respectable lobbyists of the Maine Educational Association, the Maine Municipal Association and the state Chamber of Commerce in putting forth their alternative proposal is suspect. But I disagree with this sense of urgency that your paper and other supporters of TABOR are pushing to pressure voters to pass it.

TABOR is not the solution, and it's not Maine's best bet, no matter how impatient we become.

All the talk lately has been about Maine's tax burden. There has been relentless rhetoric on the topic of how Maine is the heaviest-taxed state in the country.

Where do these claims come from? Yes, taxes are high in Maine, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau we are the 19th-highest-taxed state in the nation, which is far from the first.

If you have been following TABOR at all, you have also heard about LD 1 and all its poor reviews. But, what we need to keep in mind is that LD 1 is young, being that it was only instituted in January 2005, and that it's going to take time to see significant results.

For those who are impatient, I'll mention that since LD 1, the state's annual growth rate of the local property tax has slowed to 1.6 percent, a far cry from the average annual increase over the past 20 years of 6.6 percent.

The main argument behind TABOR is that it will put more control into the hands of the people. But at what cost, and just how much is "more"?

According to TABOR, Maine citizens will vote on almost all financial issues concerning any level of government that exceed the law's spending cap, but only if the budget that does so is approved by a two-thirds majority from the governing body.

If only a third disagree, then the vote will never see the light of day. TABOR wouldn't be giving power into the hands of the public, it would be doing just the opposite, consolidating the power into a select few.

If TABOR did go into action and we did get to vote on every cap-exceeding financial issue, it would come at a cost. Our election officials estimate that an average voting session would cost a minimum of $25,000. We now have to forfeit 25 grand before anything actually gets done beyond the minimum. That just seems backwards to me.

It would be difficult to cut budgets in our cities and towns without neglecting the people. A decrease in spending for our towns would naturally lead to a decrease in town employment and lower levels of basic maintenance care.

Towns would have trouble scrounging up the money to repair cracked roads and sidewalks, old buildings including our schools and libraries, even community landfills that need maintenance care for sanitary reasons.

Just think, every time our town needed more money than the cap permitted to fund such public services that we now take for granted, it would need to hold a costly vote, forfeiting more time and money.

A spending cap would be more efficient if it was community-based and operated on a town-by-town level. This way each town could determine its own future and choose which projects were worth investing in and which were not.

Colorado, our nation's guinea pig in the TABOR experiment, has put a temporary ban on the bill because it isn't working. It's damaged their school systems and their infrastructure. They realize that adjustments needed to be made in order for it to work more efficiently.

The Press Herald appears to recognize this as well, claiming its flaws are fixable and urging us to support it.

So, are we supposed to vote for TABOR then identify its flaws and then fix them? Or, would a better path be to fix its flaws before putting it into effect?
- Special to the Press Herald
[Brent Lemieux (e-mail: of Portland is a USM media studies student and freelance writer. ]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tom Connolly-Performance Artist

If you live in Maine, you've heard of Tom Connolly. Connolly, a prominent Democrat, defense lawyer, former gubernatorial candidate and the one who alerted local media to George W. Bush's 1976 drunk-driving conviction prior to the 2000 election, is no stranger to the spotlight. On Tuesday morning, he took it to a new level, engaging in guerilla theater, by donning an Osama Bin Laden costume, complete with assault rifle, while waving an anti-TABOR sign, during morning rush hour. You can imagine what happened--a motorist alerted the authorities and Connolly was arrested at gunpoint.

While I'll have more to add to this story, later this evening, here is a link to the video up at our local NBC affiliate, WCSH-6. (Click on the video link-you'll have to endure a short commercial, but be patient)

The simplistic reaction to the entire affair is the usual knee-jerk, which says Connolly was "stupid" for pulling this prank--in fact, that was exactly the word uttered by South Portland Police Chief, Ed Googins. However, there is more to this story that I hope to comment on later, when I'm not rushing out the door, in pursuit of mammon, or as the Marxists say, selling my labor.

*[Addendum added to above, at 7:15 pm]
I have no doubt that law and order types to a person will diverge with me on this. Their typical response would be that Connolly is “lucky he wasn’t shot,” which is implied in quotes from the South Portland police chief. Yet, does one automatically run the risk of mortal injury any time they venture out of the house with a toy gun? Has the societal shift over the past five years become so oriented towards force and firepower that police, when faced with a potentially volatile situation, always resort to deadly force? It was instructive to see the video clip, witnessing the officer, gun drawn, proceeding towards Connolly. Would a bullhorn, from a greater distance, ordering him to put down his toy, not been a better choice? Obviously, the noise from nearby I-295 was loud enough that Connolly did not hear the commands of the officer, which would account for the delay in actually laying the toy and his other props, aside.

Let me say, so my point is not misconstrued, that the officer in the video did exercise restraint. Obviously, we could be looking at an entirely different scenario if this public servant, who I'm assuming was someone with some law enforcement experience (not some "wet behind the ears" young buck just out of the criminal justice academy), had gone "Rambo" on Connolly. Can you imagine the reaction and subsequent condemnation that would have been showered on the police officer, if Connolly had been shot, or worse?

Was it obvious that Connolly was in fact dressed as Osama Bin Laden and was holding a gun, dynamite and grenades, or were the imaginations of drivers, police and others, over stimulated from a cultural reference point impregnated with 24/7 news coverage of the “war on terrah”? In fact, while Connolly was holding a sign that said, “I love TABOR,” a passing motorist thought the sign read, “I love the Taliban.” While recent reports clearly indicate some serious educational concerns around performance and perhaps the motorist couldn't read, but maybe, they misread “TABOR,” as “Taliban” due to media conditioning? I wonder how long Connolly would have been aloud to carry on if he was dressed as George Bush, holding a sign that read, "support our troops"?

I'm writing this purposefully ignorant of any local media attention this has received throughout the day. One of the things I'm attempting to do more of is formulate my thoughts and opinions, irrespective of "reaction" journalism. Even as I type, it's hard for me not to flick on the television and catch my local affiliate(s) reporting. In a state like Maine, believe me, this is a major news story.

Unlike many of my fellow U.S. citizens, I don't think the solution to crime is putting more police on the streets. Personally, as someone who has participated in several public demonstrations, involving political themes, more times than not, I've felt less safe in the presence of a law enforcement. Just recently, it was the law enforcement community, in fact, that had an integral role in the censorship of a university art display, by someone who identified themselves as a political prisoner. (In order to be "fair and balanced," here is the mainstream account--notice the headline?)

Our local communities would be better off if first, we identified the root causes of acts of criminal intent, if in fact we could all reach a consensus on what constitutes a crime. Secondly, we then would have to accept the responsibility that comes with that identification and find ways to engage all our fellow citizens in helping to make our communities places where uniformed officers, lethal force and protection of private property wasn't necessary. But of course that would be way too "utopian" for the average American to wrap their little law and order brains around. So instead, we assign the power of life and death to some of our flawed fellow citizens and wonder why 465 page reports detailing human rights violations are part of our reality (a reality that many would deny). As Chomsky has written, the "rabble must be instructed in the values of subordination and a narrow quest for personal gain within the parameters set by the institutions of the masters; meaningful democracy, with popular association and action, is a threat to be overcome." Let me go just a little further with my "egghead" reasoning and quote a little Murray Bookchin, and you tell me if those commuters passing Connolly on I-295, aren't apparent in the following quote:

"...the modern city is a virtual appendage of the capitalist workplace, being an outgrowth and essential counterpart of the factory (where "factory" means any enterprise in which surplus value is extracted from employees.) As such, cities are structured and administered primarily to serve the needs of the capitalist elite -- employers -- rather than the needs of the many -- their employees. From this standpoint, the city must be seen as (1) a transportation hub for importing raw materials and exporting finished products; and (2) a huge dormitory for wage slaves, conveniently locating them near the enterprises where their labor is to exploited, providing them with entertainment, clothing, medical facilities, etc. as well as coercive mechanisms for controlling their behavior. "
[The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship]

Connolly will be interviewed tomorrow morning on WGAN, AM-560, during their morning show. For those of us in its signal area, it should be worth tuning in to.