Monday, October 30, 2006

St. Louis-City of Danger

The city of St. Louis, fresh on the heels of a World Series victory in baseball, apparently has a serious issue with violent crime, earning the dubious title, as America’s “most dangerous city,” as selected by Morgan Quitno Press, which publishes an annual report of America’s most dangerous, as well as, safest cities.

For me, an outsider, St. Louis would seem to be an idyllic city. Located on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, the place rhapsodized by the likes of Mark Twain and others and settled neatly in the center of America’s heartland, the city has been overrun by violent crime, recently. Since 2004, the violent crime rate has risen 20 percent.

While watching the Series with my son, Mark, who had passed through St. Louis over the summer on a nationwide hitchhiking odyssey, he mentioned that St. Louis was a “pit.” When queried, he just said the city was a “dump, with nothing going on.” Granted, his take is anecdotal, but the statistics from the report seem to bear out that there’s not much going on in St. Louis, but murder and mayhem. I never would have guessed it? The Midwest is in fact, where danger lies. Boston (31st) fared better, but New York (at 139) was a real surprise to me, a much safer place than say, Tampa, Florida (at 24).

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Nearing decision-making time

I’m not ready to endorse a candidate just yet. That is rare for me, as I tend not to be one of those damn “undecideds” that have so much attention foisted upon them each election cycle. This year’s gubernatorial race, up here in Maine, has been different, however. Unlike most years, when you have two sorry choices between twiddle dum and twiddle dee, the inclusion of two strong independent women candidates, very focused on the issues, has forced the two front runners to talk about issues, as difficult as that can be at times, particularly for consummate politicians.

Actually, I mean no offense to the colorful Phillip Morris NaPier, who speaks from the heart and has garnered some press with his insistence that his name be listed on the ballot as, “Phillip Morris Napier, Thu People’s Hero,” a case which was ultimately struck down by a federal judge. In reality, however, NaPier has no real chance at winning and most of his votes will be those that fall in the “none of the above” category.

I’ve been unenrolled as a voter, an independent, for two years now. The 2004 presidential election convinced me that no substantive chance can ever come from the two major parties. The only hope we have as a state and a nation, is to alter our current voting system in order to give third party candidates a real chance at victory. Instant runoff voting might be one way we could do that.

Maine has attempted to level the playing field with its Clean Election Act, as an attempt at removing the influence of money on our state races. While a step in the right direction, it has shown some serious flaws. Realistically, it was intended specifically to allow the two women, Independent Barbara Merrill and Green Party candidate, Pat LaMarche, a chance to compete with and legitimately contend for the Blaine House.

Merrill has gone as far as to write a book, following in the footsteps of Maine’s last successful Independent, Angus King. Merrill lays out in detail her positions on the issues that are germane to a state like Maine. Addressing not just the hot button issues that pertain to Portland, or Augusta, Merrill, who hails from Appleton and has represented a rural area of the state, understands the issues that the rural communities of the state face. Subsequently, her positions reflect that understanding.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a candidates breakfast, hosted by the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce, where I got to see the candidates up close and hear them speak to some of the issues. At that point, I was leaning towards Merrill as my candidate of choice, to occupy the Blaine House. Unfortunately, Merrill revealed a very “catty” public persona, going to great lengths to attempt to pin down and even embarrass some of the other candidates, particularly the incumbent, John Baldacci. Of the four candidates, Merrill comes across as the least likeable for me, on a personal level. Call it shallow if you want, but being able to exhibit some personal charm and humanness goes a long way towards building consensus, something Barbara should be aware of, considering her legislative experience.

The one candidate who surprised me, and in all honesty, I shouldn’t have been, is Pat LaMarche. No stranger to politics, having run for both governor and as the Vice President on the Green Party ticket during the 2004 presidential race, LaMarche is personable, well-versed on the issues and the most genuine of the four. A single mother, who raised two children, selling her house to put them through college, LaMarche, of the four, understands the economic realities of most Mainers on a very personal level. As a result, her ideas for economic development, taxes, education and health care reflect the thoughts of many who reside east and west of I-95, in our state.

Unfortunately for LaMarche, being elected governor is probably remote at best, if not impossible. The race has really been a two person affair, up until Chandler Woodcock’s tax problems. That even may have opened the door, just slightly for one of the two women candidates to sneak into the number two slot, which would be an accomplishment. It appears to me, handicapping the race, that Governor Baldacci, despite the many legitimate issues dogging his candidacy, will be reelected governor of the state of Maine.

As of yesterday, I’m leaning strongly towards voting my conscience, rather than once again, throwing up my hands and voting for the lesser of two evils, as I often do. If I had to choose today, then Pat LaMarche would be my choice for governor. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d be too disappointed to wake up on November 8th, knowing we had both a woman and a third party candidate occupying our state’s highest seat.While Pat’s positions on the issues are very much in line with my values and with where I’d like to see our state go, it is Pat’s humanness that has ultimately won me over. I heard her speaking on John McDonald’s Saturday morning radio call-in show. On numerous occasions, McDonald gave her a clear opportunity to plunge the dagger into Woodcock’s candidacy, over his tax snafus. Time after time, LaMarche exhibited a diplomacy that is rare in politics today. Rather than skating around the issue because of political expediency, she refused to take the bait because she legitimately had empathy for Woodcock’s predicament, particularly for his family and how they must feel. While being a nice person doesn’t necessarily mean one will make a great leader, in LaMarche’s case, it dovetails nicely with this woman’s clear positions that have the interests of Mainers and not some party, or rich benefactors, at their core.

We still have over a week to go and something might come up to make me shift my orientation, but stopping short of an endorsement, Pat LaMarche is the only one of the four legitimate choices that I feel good voting for on a personal level.

FMI information about the upcoming elections, check out Maine Impact, a new twice weekly podcast hosted by Lance Dutson and Jason Clarke.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Are Maine's taxes too high--Chandler Woodcock thinks so

As they say, “all politics is local.” As such, our local politics just got a bit more interesting when it comes to our four-way gubernatorial race. Readers of this blog have some context of the nature of our race, at least in terms of the Republican candidate, the bow tied tax crusader, creationist and now we find out, tax dodger.

One of our three major local television stations (and yes, we do have flush toilets and even TV), the ABC affiliate, WMTW-TV Channel 8 reported on their 6 pm newscast that Woodcock has 10 liens placed on his Farmington home over the past nine years. Since 1997, through last year, 2005, Woodcock has experienced tax difficulties. In 2005, the Maine Revenue Service placed a lien on his home for unpaid income taxes from 2003. Additionally, Woodcock has also had difficulty paying his municipal sewer charges. A total of $2,686 was owed to the town of Farmington, with the largest outstanding bill being for $900 and the smallest for $49. Maybe that’s why Woodcock has been so adamant about cutting taxes? We all thought his was a philosophical argument—the typical supply-side conservative at work. Instead, maybe he figured that if he was elected governor, he could find a way out from under his tax difficulties?

Like all good Republicans, when caught with their hand in the scandal cookie jar, Woodcock’s campaign manager, Chris Jackson, trotted out the “timing question,” as in “the timing is more than ironic.”

Jackson claimed that this release of tax information on his candidate was likely a dirty trick by an opponent. Oh yeah! Well, try this on for size.

The story actually broke, not as a result of any investigative work being done by Maine’s crack reporters at one of our supposed award-winning dailies, but as a result of comments that were posted on the Kennebec Journal website. On both October 14th and 25th, readers posted specific information in the comments section about the liens on Woodcock’s home. The first one was posted in response to a letter to the editor in support of the folksy candidate for governor. Both included information about the liens and directed readers to the Franklin County Registry of Deeds website. This is public information and it shows how poorly most journalists (dare I call them that—maybe scribes might be a better term!) do their job. It would seem that public records in a public registry would be a good place to start in investigating a candidate’s background, particularly when running for governor of the state, at a crucial juncture in our state’s history.

Stoic, rather than jocular at this development, Woodcock had this to offer. “I take it for what it is,” in speaking with the Lewiston Sun Journal. “It’s politics. It’s not the politics that I like or practice, but its politics.”

The politics that Woodcock and his fellow conservatives practice is the kind that guts services at the beckon call of their rich benefactors, all in the name of lower taxes. His party and stripe also dictate morality via legislative fiat, maybe because they live so close to the reality of man’s inclination to do wrong.

The Woodcock revelation is just one more case of Republicans saying one thing and doing another, ala Mark Foley. Better yet, Maine's own history of anti-tax support has come from some fairly dubious corners. Does anyone remember convicted felon, Carol Palesky, and the last anti-tax referendum?

I’m sorry that Chandler Woodcock can’t pay his taxes. Maybe in his case, they are too high. However, many more of us who struggle to make a living in a state that needs a more creative solution than mere tax cuts, gallantly suck it up and send off our checks from our meager funds and are offended when others don’t particularly, someone running for governor.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Operating on several fronts

My life is a veritable whirlwind right now. Between work, my publishing venture and alot of last-minute fall type chores that need to be done to batten down the hatches for winter, something has got to go, at least for part of the week--unfortunately, its probably the blogging I do hear at Words Matter.

For those of you who follow my publishing endeavor, RiverVision Press, I have some new and interesting things in the works and I hope to post details soon at Write in Maine, where I focus on all things related to writing.

It's the start of the holiday book buying season, so small press publishers that hope to reap some sales from this busy time in the book industry, have to hustle.

I hope to have something more substantive posted here, later in the week.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Do (Maine) Republicans hate black people?

Chandler Woodcock seems like a nice guy. With his bowties and corn pone, “aw shucks” humor, he comes across as genuinely likeable—that is, until you look at where he stands on the issues.

  • Supports the teaching of creation, as science, in public schools
  • Opposes a woman’s right to an abortion
  • Is pro-TABOR, a pathetic “slash and burn” attempt at corralling taxes in Maine; the only thing TABOR will do is hurt those on the margins in Maine
  • Talks in vague terms about reforming state government, a government that he has been a key part of for the past six years, as a state senator
  • His program for job growth seems unsustainable, given his penchant to cut taxes across the board; how the hell can you fund R & D, when, under Woodcock’s tax policies, there won’t even be money to maintain our roads?

On top of all of his, Woodcock seems unable to structure his schedule (or maybe it’s muster the courage) to attend forums in front of people who may not share his views. The bow tied wonder’s latest dodge, involved a forum sponsored by Portland’s NAACP, at the Westbrook campus of the University of New England, on Thursday. Prior to that, he missed a forum sponsored by the Women's Policy Center (who probably wanted to speak to him about his views on abortion) and the Maine Education Association (who probably had a question or two for Chan).

While I admit that my title is a bit over the top, Republicans, from Woodcock, all the way up the Republican ladder, to the man at the top, GW Bush, have a disturbing track record at snubbing people of color. The previous Republican gubernatorial challenger, a man with more “urban” sensibility than the small town Woodcock, “handsome” Peter Cianchette, also apparently had scheduling issues when it came to speaking before the NAACP, back in 2002.

In a statement issued by Democratic Party chair, Ben Dudley, Woodcock’s apparent lack of leadership is questioned.

“Avoiding those with whom you disagree isn’t leadership. Leadership is about listening to all sides of an issue and working with all parties, even those you disagree, to achieve the common good.”

Despite spokesman Chris Jackson’s protestations and cries of “foul,” Woodcock has spent his entire campaign being vague and relying merely on the bowties and his corny humor to obscure his obvious lack of any real ideas on how to run the state of Maine. Whatever your inclinations are towards the other three candidates (I'm not counting Phillip NaPier, "The People's Hero" other than for comic relief), they are quite clear on the issues and their direction for Maine.

As they say, actions speak louder than words. Certainly, the impression that Woodcock left with one group is that he doesn't care about their issues.

Rachel Talbot Ross, the president of Portland's chapter of the NAACP had this to say about the snub.

"I think it's irresponsible of (Woodcock's) campaign to allow us to think that he doesn't care about the constituencies we represent."

Note to Woodcock:

While Maine is a fairly white state and Farmington is even whiter, snubbing Portland’s NAACP and its constituency isn’t a savvy political move. The fact that two Republican candidates in a row have skipped the NAACP’s forum, I think, speaks volumes about the party and is one indicator that Woodcock is just another right-wing Republican ruled by a narrow agenda. Add to this the fact that the agenda of many Republicans benefits only the wealthy, powerful and predominantly white male base that keeps propping up the party and you have a pretty good reason not to choose that direction for Maine, a direction that is by-and-large, ruled by ideological straitjacket.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Raising all boats

Rationally speaking, there is no way in hell anyone can be expected to make a living on $5.15 per hour. I struggle to get by on three times that amount, so I'm dumbstruck by the reluctance of many Republicans to raise the federal minimum wage. This amount has remained the same for nearly a decade, while costs like gas, groceries and housing have spiraled upward. While many on the right (and the left, for that matter) love to demonize the poor and welfare reform has been the mantra on the lips of both Democrats and Republicans, if you want people to work, pay them well and make it worth their efforts.

If someone were to work 52 weeks per year, at the current federal minimum wage, their annual income would be $10,712--this is $6,000 below the official poverty level for a family of three!! If work is redemptive, as many love to say; if it truly defines who we are, then for the love of Buddah, reflect that in what you pay people for their labor.

I'd like to think that Republican's reluctance to raise the minimum standard is rooted in some deeply held philosophical value, derived by some economic theory that I'm not privy to. However, at the risk of sounding mean-spirited, I just think they are a bunch of goddamned ogres, who care only for their rich benefactors. Just call me a partisan hack and tax and spend liberal!

My post was motivated by an article I read in Monday's Christian Science Monitor, a damn fine paper that still practices journalism, IMHO. Columnist, David R. Francis, wrote about a group called Let Justice Roll, a great name for any group oriented towards issues of social justice and economic equality.

The name is derived from the book of Amos, one of the prophetic books of the Old Testament (and a book that's sadly out of favor with most conservative Christians, at least those who fixate only on their select few passages), which reads, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream." (Amos 5:24) If I had to choose a book from the Bible that ought to be required reading for anyone calling themselves Christian, then Amos would be the one I'd assign.

Let Justice Roll is an alliance of 80 various organizations, some religious, others, like the AFL-CIO, are secular, but motivated by tenets of justice and equality.

Their "campaign coordinator," the Reverend Paul Sherry, is quoted in Francis' article. Sherry, speaking about the minimum wage had this to say.

"A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it."

That makes sense to me. Now if we could just help Republicans see that raising to $7.25, still too low in my opinion, since I support a universal living wage, is at least a step in the right direction.

Hopefully, Senator Edward Kennedy's attachment to an appropriations bill, or other piece of legislation will fly this time. He's been trying in vain for the past couple of years to find the votes to make this work. I'm not holding my breath on this, as I don't see Republicans changing stripes any time soon.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Making the transition

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Part of it stems from my new job, which has me rethinking some of my comforting assumptions of the world, at least the world as I’ve seen it, through my narrow lenses. My new role is unique in a couple of ways. I work for a non-profit organization that works alongside the state system, but 50 percent of our board is comprised of members of the private sector. Additionally, I’m being asked to bring many of the skills and abilities that I’ve refined over the past four or five years, working at a very entrepreneurial level to a table that hasn’t traditionally embraced that world warmly. I thoroughly enjoy my new position, for both the challenges posed, as well as having the opportunity to have a small, but fulfilling role in helping some folks who are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It has also made me reconsider and reevaluate my current worldview.

It has been enlightening and also humbling, to see how others have reacted to my being hired. To some, I pose an obvious threat, since part of my tasks involve actually taking programs that have been primarily ignored by the business community and reworking them, or creating new products that actually meet some of the needs of the private sector. I also view our customers, many who have operated at the margins of our society, as people and not products, or widgets, to be counted. That isn’t always in line with the philosophy of some in state government, many who have been in their line of work for far too long.

I’ve always considered myself well-informed about my state, particularly issues, like TABOR and other initiatives that had the potential to dramatically alter the way government functioned. I’ll never forget the referendums regarding nuclear power in Maine that were as hotly debated and contested—probably more so—than the current issue of high taxes, which surround the TABOR debate.

I think my interest in all things Maine, particularly its people and politics, comes from growing up during a period of activist fervor, which saw the state’s first anti-nuclear initiative. The first failed attempt to get the people’s endorsement to close Maine Yankee, the state’s lone nuclear reactor, located in Wiscasset, occurred, in 1980, which was my senior year of high school. The debate leading up to the first of three referendums, raged for over the prior decade, however. It had a formative effect on my sense of how issues are framed and how initiatives that are rooted at the most basic levels of politics can germinate and grow in power and influence.

The drive to shut it down was spearheaded by the infamous Clamshell Alliance, the anti-nuclear equivalent to our current wave of anti-tax crusaders, which now are led by Mary Adams. Prior to Ms. Adams, however, the very same rabble was being led around by the nose by the very crazy Carol Palesky, a woman with a long rap sheet of accounting misappropriations and strange behavioral meltdowns. Just like the anti-nuclear furor that existed in Maine, leading to not one, or two, but three failed attempts at closing a nuclear plant that the majority of Maine’s citizens supported, the current pro-TABOR posse will continue their crusade until Maine’s social service infrastructure is gutted and rendered inoperative, by fiscal strangulation. But I digress.

While my perception is that I had a solid handle on many things happening in my beloved state of Maine, one thing I knew little or nothing about, was how poorly our state’s workforce is being prepared to compete in the 21st century economy. I bought, hook, line and sinker, the theory that the demise and eventual death of Maine’s traditional industries like farming, fishing and logging signaled an economic endgame for much of the Maine that existed beyond spotlight of Portland, or east or west of the interstate. Additionally, that globalization was responsible for the death of another source of living wages, our state’s manufacturing sector.

For nearly three months now, I’ve been given a crash course in the realities of the “flat world” that writers like Thomas Friedman have written about, albeit too simplistically. For some reason, I allowed some of my ideological blindness to close me off from at least considering some of the issues raised by Friedman and to some degree, his NY Times counterpart, David Brooks, concerning the realities of a 21st century global economy and how North America fits into that world. While there are certainly still areas where Friedman and I part ways (as I believe the global economic world he writes about is often viewed from a position of privilege), I’ve at least come to a place where I’m willing to concede points to a few of his ideas. In my opinion, as well as others, he doesn't go far enough, however, pretty much letting educators off the hook, when it comes to preparing our youth and getting them real skills for the world of work.

If I had my druthers, I’d still flip the economic switch from capitalism to a setting more egalitarian (dare I utter it—socialism!) system, but unfortunately, I don’t live in the utopian world of theory and dreams, at least a world where I could be benevolent dictator—actually, I’ve awakened from my dream and find myself in some dystopian parallel universe where some spoiled, boorish, frat boy, is one temper tantrum from starting World War III, but I refuse to go there (at least in this post).

An article in Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor is informative about where our educational establishment needs to shift its focus. While one can argue whether we need to begin pushing everyone into the trades (a position I’d never endorse), we also need to move away from our current orientation towards pushing every high school grad toward a seat-based, four year college program of study. For one thing, it’s too time intensive and for another, it has resulted in massive numbers of 20-somethings who require additional training to obtain the core "soft" skills needed in the 21st century world of work.

Despite many indicators that run red flags up most flagpoles of warning, the educational establishment and college presidents across our land, keep marketing the four-year degree as the answer to every dream of success and wealth attainment. The reality is that we have created a nation of young people, poorly educated, working in jobs that require little more than a high school diploma, saddled with thousands of dollars of debt. These supposed “leaders of tomorrow,” inculcated with self-esteem from “helicoptering” boomer parents, are experiencing severe “buyer’s remorse” as they recall the promises made by the snake oil peddlers—their parents, teachers, career counselors and marketing shills in the media—that sold them the utopian idea that their degree in liberal arts, or computer science, or even electrical engineering, would translate into a fat paycheck, four years later. While for some, the dream has become a reality, for many more, they are now tasting the bitter pill of lowered expectations and disappointment.

While many Mainers and Americans continue to prepare its future workers for a world that no longer exists, some in our own state, as well as other countries recognize that the flat, or global world of work, changes rapidly and is bringing some new ideas to bear, in an attempt to ensure that its future workers have the tools to compete in that world, even if it stands on its head the educational models it embraced just a few decades prior.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

God is apparently greener than some care to admit

Bill Moyers is one of a handful of old school journalists still practicing his craft. Better, he still has a mainstream forum where Americans who haven’t purchased the latest technological gadget, can still watch him do his thing.

I admit that I haven’t watched Mr. Moyers’ for awhile, but Moyers on America caught my eye, last night, as I grew bored with my choice of American League playoff contenders. I’m sorry, but Oakland/Detroit just doesn’t get it done for me in October.

I surfed on over and became interested in Moyers’ subject—the embrace by some fundamentalist Christians of environmental causes. As a former member of a fundamentalist sect, some 20 years ago, I’ve always followed the lengths to which supposed followers of Christ will go to contort themselves to justify their system of belief, particularly when it comes to choice of candidate or political party. The particular group I fell in with had strange ideas on men’s hair, women’s dress and even, racial equality. I’m not here to dwell on my own sordid religious history, however.

Even in my lapsed state, I occasionally spend time following the tenor of thought across the religious spectrum. I’ve grown weary of particular members of the holier-than-thou wing on the far right that houses the likes of Dobson, Falwell, Robertson and others. Like many issues that find them more likely to choose Bush (or Republicanism) over the Bible, the environmental debate is no different. While liberal Episcopalians, Quakers and others have traditionally exhibited concern for the creation (if you hold to that view) and made care of the earth part of their religious mission statements, fundamentalists, on the other hand, could be found side-by-side with those who deny the claims of most of the world’s scientific community, particularly when it comes to global warming.

According to Moyer’s program “Is God Green?” there is a growing rift within the Xian community calling itself evangelical. Actually, there is some historical precedent, for environmental concern on the part of the evangelical movement. Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, concern for the earth and its environmental degradation were debate topics within and without the church. In evangelical circles, theologians like Francis Schaeffer and medieval scholar, Lynn White, wrote books that essentially blamed organized religion for the world’s environmental ills. White in fact argued that medieval Christian attitudes in particular and the entire Judeo-Christian foundation in general, taught that disregard and even exploitation of the environment were ok.

Unfortunately, most American Christians got sidetracked by politics and their tilt rightward to worry much about the environment, over the past 25 years. In fact, Robertson, Falwell and others, carved up large portions of the countryside building educational edifices as monuments to their own narrow-minded, Republican views of God.

Moyers highlighted groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network, who published a statement declaring their commitment to caring for the creation. Others, however, going under the dubious name of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, published their odious Cornwall Declaration, which in essence, repudiated any responsibility that Christians have in caring for the earth. This group, primarily rooted in the Calvinistic, Dominionist school of theology that teaches that pollution is just another form of physical corruption brought on by sin--in essence, the earth if fucked, so don't worry one bit about the ramifications of your wasteful tendencies. Basically, the crafters of this declaration intone that “humanity alone is capable of developing resources and strategies that can “unlock the potential...for all the earth’s inhabitants,” and therefore embrace beneficial human management of the earth." By beneficial, I’m assuming that they mean our current, capitalist, consumer-driven model of stewardship.

The declaration goes on to state that “while “some environmental concerns are well founded and serious, others are without foundation or greatly exaggerated.” This is of particular concern in developing nations, where basic issues like inadequate sanitation, widespread use of primitive fuels like wood and dung, and primitive agricultural practices go largely unaddressed while more distant and theoretical issues receive the lion’s share of funding and attention.”

Moyers interviewed someone named Calvin Beisner, who apparently is an “authority” on global warming, or at least, the belief that the scientific community’s majority opinion of the danger it poses to life on earth, is exaggerated. Beisner did his best impression of someone with science on his side, refuting many of the claims that leading scientists have made concerning global climate change.

Contrasting Beisner’s hot air and bloviations, was Richard Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals, who passionately argued that biblically, Christians need to show care and concern for Mother Earth. Cizik’s position puts him in the crosshairs of many that lean rightward when it comes to politics and religion. Cizik made several points that were excellent, particularly about the need of members of the religious community to put aside politics and follow clear religious teaching on the environment.

While I don’t hold the theological persuasions of men like Cizik, Moyer presented their thoughts and ideas, clearly and objectively. The fact that he gave a pompous windbag like Beisner, as much time as he did, is a credit to Moyers inclination towards objectivity. Better, it shows the hollowness of the claims by those on the right that members of the mainstream media have a "liberal bias."

Once again, a seasoned veteran of journalism, shows what the field used to be about—presenting issues, thoughtfully, well-documented and with enough material to actually promote some thought on a crucial issue.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Feigning objectivity

In my morning newspaper was an insert by a group that goes by the acronym, MERI, which stands for the Maine Economic Research Institute. This organization sends out their “Guide to Economic Performance,” which rates our state’s legislative body according MERI's own economic criteria.

For the unsuspecting, this supposed “benign” insert merely rates our representatives, so we can be better informed on how we should vote. With the average person utilizing their favorite excuse of being “too busy” to follow the issues, MERI would seem to be providing a helpful resource to the people of Maine.

In reality, MERI, like other similar partisan organizations, hides their agenda behind pseudo-science, in their case, economics. The bills that they use to assign ratings to the candidates are heavily weighted towards those deemed “business friendly," with 30 percent of the rankings coming directly from bills that have a business orientation. The next category is worker’s compensation/unemployment, which makes up 25 percent of their sample ranking. Taxation is next, at 11 percent.

Way down at the bottom are the environment, economic development and education (at a miniscule 1 percent). Apparently, the only things that matter to MERI, when it comes to governing our state, are making sure business has things their way. While there are certainly Maine businesses that care about their employees, education and the environment, unfortunately, many others are governed merely by self-interest and their own bottom lines. By weighting their rankings merely on what’s best for business, their report doesn’t accurately capture who are the best candidates for leading our state, only those who take positions that benefit the businesses of Maine, which usually are larger entitities, by the way, not the local small businesses that drive our economy.

Rather than relying on Augusta (or the crooks in Washington, for that matter), voters need to give more time to understanding the issues,than they do to their favorite reality TV program, or fantasy football league. Since our current form of government still allows citizen input, being informed and communicating our desires and wishes to our local elected officials is how our process should work, at least at the local and state level. If we cede our rights to others, we allow disingenuous groups like MERI and other partisan hacks more power than they deserve, allowing them to lead us all down the primrose path to perdition.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Why so gloomy, Mainuh?

The Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank, just released a report on Maine called, "Charting Maine's Future," which shows the state having significant economic potential. Despite the optimistic indicators, a pervading sense of pessimism fuels much of the political dialogue and much of our local talk radio.

For instance, If you listen to some in our state, like Ray Richardson, morning host of Fox 23/WLOB’s daily diatribe of “what’s wrong with Maine,” you’d think the only thing we need to do to solve all of Maine’s ills, is to take TABOR to our bosoms and embrace this “slash and burn” approach with the ardor reserved for a lost love, suddenly rediscovered.

However, a clearer understanding of the state’s issues, combined with enough economic theory to be dangerous, or at the very least, somewhat nuanced, will indicate that there are other variables involved.

The performance of our economic well-being is intricately connected to a combination of geography, workforce skills, technology development and the capabilities of local companies to raise and use capital resources, among other factors. Unlike Republican gubernatorial candidate, Chandler Woodcock’s suspiciously vague and negative view of Maine, simply pledging to lower taxes, create jobs and “solve the state’s economic woes,” moving our state forward is more about figuring out how to configure our priorities, amongst competing visions and political and bureaucratic fiefdoms. If we cut taxes, for instance, with TABOR’s slash and burn approach, it might actually aid business and assist with capital formation. However, if it comes at the expense of educating workers, it could mean a net loss for the economy, as many businesses are already contending with a serious shortage of talent in Maine.

The report is available online and is worth reading through.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Personal storytelling, songs and DIY

I hope my readers haven’t been put off by the recent case of Baumer navel-gazing. One of the complaints that some people have about blogging is its tendency towards overly personal and narcissistic excesses. That wasn’t my intention with The Baumer Family Writing Project (TBFWP). I thought Mark’s original idea worthwhile, very much in tune with tenets of DIY culture, which originated with the punk subculture of the late 1970s. If nothing else, it has created a bit of a “buzz” in our household, as meals have taken on a new importance, with less focus on the menu for the evening and instead, in anticipation of the entertainment for dessert.

While I remain forever a creature of politics and cultural criticism, there is only so much analysis and deconstruction that one person can take. For every poignant and cutting-edge piece of journalism that comes down the pike, there are hundreds of other attempts at commentary, analysis and political spin that are woeful at best and nauseating at their worst.

Back to DIY culture and TBFWP. With Mark and Mary stepping up and sharing their writing, it was now my own turn to put up, or shut up. While the past three years of freelancing has forced me up against the wall on numerous occasions, to meet an editor’s deadlines, the demands of our family-focused writing group caused me no small measure of anxiety. With Mark wanting regular contributions, every third night, I knew that work, responsibilities and life would make this unrealistic. My new job and recent reintroduction to my guitars found me without a piece of writing to share, as I started my day. Unlike previous gigs I’ve had connected with collecting a paycheck, my current gig requires eight hours of concentration and creativity. In addition, a late afternoon appointment in Augusta made throwing together a writing sample before dinner unlikely, if not impossible. Not to worry. Last night’s 90 minute guitar exercise gave me 20 minutes of lo-fi cassette chord changes and song structures to listen to in my car. One of these was actually quite good. A simple G, D, A chord pattern, capoed at the second fret, was the foundation for lyrics I scribbled on a notepad during my 45 minute trip home from our state capital.

I walked into the house, greeted by the welcoming smells of grilled pork chops, courtesy of Dave Gutter’s, in North Windham and some tender potatoes cooked in tinfoil on the grill.

When asked if I had something I’d written, I feigned busyness as an excuse, not sure if I could pull off my recent attempt at songwriting. After clearing the table, it was off to the basement, where I was greeted by my Fender tube amp apparently sporting a fried speaker at worst, or at least a loose connection, causing any electric axe work to be rendered fuzzed out and incoherent. Fortunately for me, I still have my trusty Yamaha, so I worked my way through the chords, while fitting my lyrics to the syncopation of my strumming.

“Crooked World,” written on my way home, is one of the better songs I’ve ever writte (not that my writing credits would ever rival Lennon/McCartney). Capturing some of the feelings I’ve been having about the world I live in, with a final verse placing the solution to the world’s problems squarely on the shoulders of individuals, not government, charismatic leaders or members of the entertainment industry, this four minute ditty has some possibilities, maybe even showing up at an open mic night some snowy night in November or December.

I’m sheepish to admit that I know so very little about podcasting. I’d be more than happy to put my lo-fi attempt at songsmithing up for others to listen to, but I know nothing about how to do it. I’d be very pleased if someone could send me a helpful link that gives me the basics of posting music files on the internet—a veritable podcasting 101.

I’m entertaining migrating our continuing attempts at being a DIY family to Write in Maine, as we continue the TBFWP into the near future. Since that site is more centered on writing and the craft of writing, that would probably be a good place for it.

As I end, my thoughts wander to an old article I wrote back in the good ole’ days of “direct action journalism” and The Portland Pigeon. Back in those days, long before I ever thought about a book, or starting a publishing company, it was just our little writing collective and the local stories we cared about, creating a simple 8 page free paper that mattered for this short, but formative period of time. My first contribution was "Democracy is Us," which even though it was written almost three years ago, still makes me feel good about the sentiments I attempted to get across.

While I’m not disavowing partaking of popular culture and books, music and movies produced for the masses, there is something special about writing one’s own story, article, or song and sharing it with others. The politics and cultural ruminations are certain to reappear, but writing personal stuff is where it all started, so it feels good to return to my roots.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Done with the Dew

Last week, Mark came downstairs, with a big, shit-eating grin on his face. When Mary asked him what's up, he said he had "an announcement." I thought, "good lord," not another hitchhiking adventure, to who knows where, or possibly, he might be off to join a monastary. Not to worry--he was only suggesting that we regularly turn our evening meal into a writer's group, better known as, "The Baumer Family Writing Project," or forever to be known as, TBFWP.

Last Thursday's post, "Ice Cream Truck Days, No More!" was TBFWP installment #1. Next up, Mary Baumer, with her first contribution, about the evils of corporate carbonated beverages, or how Mountain Dew didn't kill me, it only made me stronger.

So Long Diet Mountain Dew
by, Mary Baumer

I remember when I was maybe 9 years old and my oldest sister, Sue, who was 18 at the time, used to drink Tab. I couldn’t believe she could drink that stuff. It was horrible. When I was growing up the Tarazewich drink of choice would usually be Ginger Ale. We didn’t get it often but when we did it was a treat. The Ginger Ale would be kept in our spare refrigerator alongside of Dad’s Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Growing up we usually would have Kool-Aid and Zarex--I preferred Kool-Aid. We often made freeze it pops out of Kool-Aid. My favorite was lemonade/Kool-Aid freeze pops. You could suck out the juice and be left with unflavored half frozen ice pops.

Since I was the last child at home I got more privilege than my 3 siblings. I got soda right through high school. Ginger Ale was still there along side of Diet Pepsi and Tab. I was pretty skinny growing up so I didn’t worry about calories. I didn’t need to drink the diet soda for the noncalories or the caffeine.

I really don’t think I started drinking diet soda on a regular basis until maybe 15 years ago. I would buy Diet Pepsi in the 48 pack. It would last a month with my husband and I drinking it.

I don’t know when I started drinking Mountain Dew. I do remember driving from Maine to Virgina with my sister, Dianne, and her daughter, Aja. We had to take Aja to her college orientation at Lynchburg College. I remember bringing my stash of regular Mountain Dew, not diet with me. It was a long trip drinking my sister’s 1989 Ford Tiempo. It was a basic car without cruise control. I got my sister hooked on Mountain Dew. It gave her the energy boost she needed to get through the trip. The problem was YOU NEEDED A DEW to have the ENERGY to stay AWAKE but then you had the problem of needing to find a bathroom to relieve yourself. That began our quest to rank the bathrooms we visited. One of our first bathrooms somewhere in MA was one of the filthiest on our trip. We had a major dilemna on our way home from VA--that of having drunk a 28 oz bottle of Dew and being stuck in a traffic jam. It was July 4th weekend so the traffic was barely moving. We were inching along near some woods. Dianne was ready to jump from behind the wheel and into the woods to relieve herself. Instead, she suffered through her pain.

After that I went to Diet Mountain Dew. I even got my mother drinking it. She would buy the 2 liter bottles for when company would come. The problem with my mother is someone might have opened the bottle a week ago so the Dew would be flat. My mother is also known for her lovely freezer burn desserts.

Up to this point I never drank coffee. Around the time of 2001 I started working as a sales executive and became a coffee drinker. My favorite coffee was and still is today, hazelnut with Half and Half. None of that crappy Cremora. I soon didn’t even need sugar in my coffee. I only can drink coffee until about 10am in the morning then I would change to my drink of choice Diet Mountain Dew for the afternoon. I would maybe drink one in the afternoon. I’m not sure when I started not drinking any water during the day and everytime I would be thirsty, I'd just crack open a can of Diet Mountain Dew. I couldn’t wait to take that first gulp. It was like heaven, tasting that lukewarm (piss?-editor's addition) Diet Mountain Dew. I have grown not to really care for cold Mountain Dew. It has a different taste. I even like flat Mountain Dew. It’s nice to get in the car in the morning and finish a few swigs of yesterday’s mountain dew.

I started stopping at the super market and buying a 2-24 packs of Diet Mountain Dew. I would buy a 48 pack but they don’t come in 48 packs. So I would buy one pack for my car and one for home. I couldn’t keep a pack in my car overnight during the winter pack or you run into a problem of frozen protruding diet mountain cans. I did have a few can explode on me at times. The lone can that was forgotten in my car trunk that looked like it was struck by nuclear cold weather.

In the last 6 months, my car supply of Mountain Dew would not last me the week. I would usually have to stock up during the week. If you got in my car, you could always hear the clanking of the emptys hitting each other. When I would finish a dew in who be thrown into the back side floor to kept the other empties company.

When one day, I went home early from work and watched Oprah. That is the day my life changed! Oprah had this stay-at-home Mom who drank massive amounts of Diet Pepsi, didn’t eat right or exercise. Then with Oprah’s help, she changed her life. She started drinking water in place of the diet soda, as well as eating healthy and exercising. Watching the show I realized I needed help! I felt horrible--tired all the time. So because I was tired, I drank Diet Mountain Dew to give me the energy boost. But it just didn’t make me feel so good. I decided to drink water in place of the Mountain Dew. Now I carry a cooler in my car filled with water. I drink massive amounts of water. I have been flushing out of my system all the bad stuff. Now my problem is finding a bathroom. But I feel a hell of a lot better. The other day I did backslide and drink one Diet Mountain Dew as I felt I needed the caffiene. I bought 2-24 Diet Mountain Dew packs about 3 weeks ago and they are still are waiting to be drunk.

So………… long Diet Mountain Dew it’s been a great trip but I need to move on without you! I will miss you especially on those 90 degree days when I would crack open a can and heated Mountain Dew would go sliding down my throat.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Right-wing people are better than left-wing people...

The other morning, while driving down to the Get and Go, Durham's one and only store where you can buy gas for your mower, I happened to hear a caller on a Saturday morning talk show, bloviating about our war criminal president.

“George Bush is a man of integrity. He’s restored dignity to the office of president. Unlike Clinton, he’s a leader and follows his convictions, like staying the course in Iraq.”

As I drove back home, for my three hour weekly aerobic workout, called mowing my lawn, I contemplated the level of delusion that is required for people like this caller, to keep all their ideological balls in the air. This phenomenon isn’t unique to one end of the political spectrum, either.

While it’s easy for me and many others, who have a visceral dislike and even hatred for George Bush, having his presidency foisted upon us for the past eight years, particularly galling in that a clear case could be made that he wasn’t legitimately elected, there are many folks who support Democrats unconditionally, willing to overlook clear violations of their party’s “code of honor.”

Having said that, to listen to many on the right, twist themselves with pretzel logic, to support their flag-waving, “I’m more patriotic than you, you fucking liberal commie, ‘cause I’m a Republican and you support terrorists” way of parsing politics does grow a tad weary, at times.

Maybe I just don’t want to support the “wah on terrah,” torture, a $30 billion boondoggle, called the reconstruction of Iraq, or even, right-wing cover-ups of on of their perverts by the “party of values.”

That doesn’t make me a bad person and it sure as hell doesn’t make me any less an American, just because I’ve never plastered a yellow ribbon (s), or a useless “support our troops” bumper sticker on my SUV (actually, I own an eight-year-old Taurus)!