Monday, December 21, 2009

Health Care Reform Fantods

Remember when Holden Caulfield got the fantods? Or did he accuse others of having them? Anyway, I'm pretty sure I had a case yesterday morning when Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake sent me an e-mail urging me to phone Congress asking that they scuttle the Senate Health Care bill.

I admire Jane Hamsher. Writer, film producer, breast cancer survivor and burr under the status quo's saddle, she has ridden health care hard. Her blog Firedoglake is reliably smart and irreverent and often hilarious. She makes me want to do her bidding. This morning I couldn't, ergo the fantods.

Thank heaven for Twitter. Within half an hour a handful more smart people posted charts and links that calmed the roiling sea in my head. One of the few Twitter friends I have whom I've met in real life, Bumblebums, called Hamsher "a gadfly" and reminded me that less shrill voices are out there.

Some of those include Jon Cohn, senior editor at the National Review, and Dan Roam of fame. May the gods and goddesses of political discourse bless Chris Bowers, too. His consistently thoughtful voice over at is like kryptonite to politically engendered anxiety.

All of these writers kept me from fretting. They made my work for SEIU and Change That Works seem right minded and good, not the naive waste of time my lesser angels had begun to hiss in my ear.

So, we traded health care reform for health insurance reform. So, it's only a modicum of reform. Click on Jon Cohn's piece and look carefully at his chart. He makes it clear that this reform is significantly better than the scalpel in the eye we have been experiencing for decades.

Update, 0940 23.Dec.09: Apparently other lefty liberals are feeling the same about Hamsher.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lousy, Lazy Journalism: Mine

In fact, what I'm about to commit here can hardly be called journalism at all. I cannot tell this story properly because I do not have the witness's permission to use his name and I have not taken the time to do the necessary investigative reporting to make the story interesting or informative. Nevertheless, the story wants telling. Maine's forests depend on it.

Here is what I know.

A lifelong Maine logger has become so dejected and demoralized by the recent degradation of woodcutting practices in the state that he is moving to upstate New York to work in a more sustainable industry. This logger, about 50, had been living north of Orono for nearly 30 years. I met him this fall, a few weeks after he had sold his home and just before he and his wife set out for New York.

This Grizzly Adams of a man loomed over us. Even Stan, who at six foot three inches is a bit of a loomer himself, had to lift his chin a hair to meet the man's gaze. The logger's long blond curls hung in tendrils past his clean plaid flannel shirt collars. He told us his story in poignant tones. Though he did not appear to be a man accustomed to sharing emotion with strangers, more than once his voice caught and his hands opened as if invoking cosmic help for the sad state of Maine's north woods.

He told us that even before the state's fiscal situation deteriorated to its current abyss, standards and practices in Maine's woods had begun to drift. He said a huge investment company called GMO had recently purchased land formerly owned by paper companies and that since that exchange logging in Maine had changed dramatically.

The logger spoke of GMO in almost mystical terms. He alluded to the company's size and power without really explaining what kind of company it was. Only when I got home to Google did I see that it is a multi-national investment firm with investment interests running the gamut from forestry to algorithmic trading. The head of acquisitions for the forestry division is Bob Saul.

"We never left land looking like they do now," said the logger, as he described the new wood harvesting order. "They're just chewing it up." He said no one is watching anymore. Or if there is supervision it is of the least ethical kind. "GMO has power over them somehow," he surmised.

The sorrow and anxiety in this hard working man's face was clear. The prospects of moving his household at a time when most men begin to plan their retirement showed.

If anyone knows anything about GMO or Bob Saul, I'd appreciate the help. Because of laziness, disorganization and general distraction, I've given up illuminating this story beyond a man's heartbreak at having to leave the sweet home in the woods he had made. The story, if there is any truth to this sweet man's tale, deserves much more attention.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Military Effectively Bans Abortion for Female Soldiers

Unable to get an abortion during a tour of duty in Iraq a soldier is left with no option but to do it herself—a humiliating but not uncommon story. Women in the military are forced to obtain a leave to get the care they need; but if they’re honest about why, they put their military career in jeopardy. If they’re not, they put their career in jeopardy.

One woman's response devastated her career. The article's by Kathryn Joyce, who exposed the power of the Christian Right's influence on families in "Quiverful: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement."

I found this story thanks to reporter @sarahposner.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Facebook Moves Beyond the Pale

The expression "beyond the pale" has to do with boundaries, as in out of bounds, off the reservation, beyond our control, over the edge, et al. One of the reasons Facebook seemed fun and interesting initially is that it had boundaries. Users could relatively easily control what they saw and what others saw of their cyber-lives.

In a recent move, the powers that be at FB have made two grave errors in judgment.
What it will mean remains to be seen, but the changes have to be viewed as wrong and wrong by anyone who values boundaries of any kind. (Yes, for to some of my friends this seems an odd stance for me to take. Let's just say Facebook raised my boundary consciousness.)

First, they have decided to index all content for search engines in order to drive page view traffic. All content they have access to, that is. And they are working hard to make sure that is a great deal of content.

Second, in a supposed move to make privacy better, default settings have been changed so that unless one is careful, everything in a profile, album, listing or page is available to everyone in the world.

This does not even take into account the recent third party astroturfing, where health insurers' trade groups offered gaming cash, for games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille, in exchange for a few clicks. These clicks eventually led to the gamers unwittingly lending their names to anti-health care reform letters. This is not a way to warm the cockles of my heart.

I am deleting my long inactive account tonight.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dana Perino is No Ainsley Hayes

In late November former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino made headlines with career moves, then a World's Worst Person nomination. First former Clinton administration PR guy Mark Penn hired her for his DC firm Burson-Marsteller where she joins the likes of Bush pal Karen Hughes and Clinton speechwriter Josh Gottheimer.

Within the week the Obama administration nominated Perino for the federal Broadcasting Board of Governors. According to the Hill the board:
...governs all government sponsored, non-military international broadcasting outlets, such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and Alhurra. The BBG is a nine member, bipartisan panel.

Next thing we know, Perino, as part of a regular gig on Fox News describes the recent Fort Hood nightmare as a domestic terrorist attack and appears to forget Sept. 11, 2001 when she claims there were no such attacks during President George W. Bush's watch. This goof garnered her a World's Worst Person award from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

Fresh off a wonderful West Wing jag with S, I cannot help but be struck by the stark difference between Perino and the fictional blonde Republican whom WW's President Bartlett hires as White House counsel because, as his Chief of Staff Leo McGarry says, "he likes smart people who disagree with him." Early in season two, Ainsley Hayes catches a vaguely smug smartypants Sam Seaborn flatfooted on a live television show and proceeds to demonstrate intelligence and charming nerdiness enough to fit in with the rest of the WW crew.

Here in real life, Dana Perino forgot who was president when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, so I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have known whether Gilbert and Sullivan's "He is an Englishman" was in Pinafore or Penzance. Both Hayes and Seaborn knew it was Pinafore.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Maine's Charter Schools

So, I'm on holiday in Florida, headed to the beach any minute, and my @AugustaInsider Twitter feed points out some editorials and recent columns about how our esteemed governor's refusal to allow charter schools in the state has kept us from receiving federal Race to the Top dollars and will keep other monies and advantages from Maine schools. This makes no sense to me, since we have the oldest charter schools in the country. We call them New England Academies.

When the legislaure began the charter school dust-up several months ago, I e-mailed some reporter friends and asked them to write a story and help me, and I'm sure other, to understand why Maine's handful of "private schools in the public interest" don't count as charter schools. Though I never saw a story, I figured there had to be an answer.

Now that I understand the consequences of the lack of charter school designation, I want that answer.

Seems to me that the "New England Academy" model represents precisely what charter schools are when they are run as they are supposed to be run. They typically have no unions and the best academic results in their areas. (Please note, these two facts are not necessarily consequent.)

Though I cannot find the reference in the Byzantine Department of Education website, I know that Maine law supports the private school systems that existed before the public system was instituted and allows them to maintain private boards, more autonomy in acceptance and expulsion policies, and administrative freedom unlike any public school in the country. Also, in towns without schools students may attend nearby schools, regardless of public, private or quasi-private status at the town's expense as long as the school is not religiously affiliated.

More on this later. If anyone has a clue before I get home to do more research, please help me out.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lincoln Academy Schedule Means Success

Block schedules blanketed the American high school landscape about 20 years ago. Practically overnight, classes went from 28-35 minutes to 60-80 minutes in duration. Teachers simultaneously rejoiced in the extra time to impart their wisdom and grieved the loss of the quick-hit, fly-by-seat-of-pants class, where a game of Grammar Jeopardy would kill three-quarters of the period.

Periods doubled in duration meant that most schools reduced the number of times students sat in a given class by about half, meeting every other day. Not Newcastle, Maine's Lincoln Academy. Instead of maintaining a student's "seat time" like most schools adopting block schedules, Lincoln's then principal Chris Frost decided to boost all students' time in front of their teachers. At LA, all but one period meets two days on, one day off. (A single period meets Monday through Thursday each week, with Friday's short period reserved for an all school meeting, during which students might hear an inspiring story, compete in trivia contests for local prizes, perform on the bagpipes or play a dodge ball final.)

At first, this two on, one off schedule mashed into a five-day week feels like teaching and learning in a washing machine. Throw in holidays, vacations and snow days and the schedule gets truly Byzantine. Proof that humans are remarkably adaptable, LA's students and teachers have marched through this semi-rhythmic routine in lockstep for better than 17 years, and for good reason. Students remember more and therefore learn more.

It looks like the key is the two days on. All memory studies say the secret to learning is review. Review after 10 minutes; review after 24 hours (possibly the most important one); review after a week, a month and six months. The other byproduct of the two days in a row is simple accumulation of time in a class. In most block schedule schools, students see a teacher two or three days out of five. At LA, students see their teachers three or four days out of five.

Yes, teachers work harder at LA. They have less time to prepare and more class time to prepare for. By rights they should be paid more, too, but I won't go down that road. The facts of the school's success can be seen in their SAT scores, Maine Educational Assessment scores, graduation rates and college acceptance rates as they outperform by a long shot other schools in the Midcoast. [Note: this is a rabbit hole website. If you're like me, you will now spend the next 90 minutes checking every area school for its performance. Locally, Knox County is a particularly sad story.]

Lincoln Academy's feeder schools are better than many others too. (I know, the rabbit hole, again.) Also, because of its superior drama and music programs, Lincoln Academy draws imaginative, motivated pupils. Lincoln, a "private school in the public interest" was formed in 1801 and was allowed to keep it semi-private status in the early 20th century when the public school system was created. Like a charter school, LA is not limited to a single district. Students from anywhere can attend. And they do.

Cross-posted at Maine in the Headlines and Dirigo Blue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not Remotely Petty

The Wall Street Journal asks this morning whether Tom Petty is a rock god or mere mortal. All I can say is, what a thoroughly rhetorical question John Jurgensen, then be grateful that Petty is getting play in an international newspaper.
[Update: 21.Nov.09--It does my heart good to open up my blog and see Tom Petty smiling out at me. Just sayin'.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Most Important Questions

Yet another Maine woman allegedly died at the hand of her husband this week. In Old Orchard Beach, according to MPBN, a man despondent over his crumbling marriage shot his wife, then himself.

Journalists' lack of understanding of battering and abuse is evident in the fact that in none of the three online news accounts of this all too common tragedy is the question, "Was the alleged murderer under a Protection From Abuse order?," answered. Come on reporters, do us a favor, ask the question. Call the sheriff's department.

It's like reporting on a nasty car accident and failing to ask whether victims were wearing seat belts. Not to say that PFAs are as useful as seat belts, in fact, it may be that they are totally useless. It would be helpful to know, however.

Domestic violence is pretty much the only way women end up murdered in this state. We don't have much stranger danger, almost no crack murders or gang violence. Nevertheless, the tools we use to keep women safe seem not to be working all that well.

Also, how about always including what number murder this is for domestic violence in the state?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Dark and Bright Morning

My long dormant yoga mat came in handy dark and early this morning on the frosty grass. No, I wasn't doing downward dog in the dark. Not that ambitious. The purple foam rectangle made a perfect Leonid meteor shower viewing station.

My penchant for wishing notwithstanding--I also like birthday candles, spilled salt, and fountains--I love meteor showers, and in a quest to inhabit my soul, as opposed to my tenacious head and body, abandoning flannel and down for quiet sparkling dark seemed the perfect way to start a day.

To lie in the still chill and contemplate the incomprehensible space and matter in all directions felt both expansive and grounding. As I live in a giant field on top of an esker, my horizon is big and I could almost feel the earth's crust under me bulging into the sky. An owl hooted in the in the same time signature as the meteors flying across the sky, keeping a sweet ostinato.

The struggle to keep my stubborn intellect out of my quest continues. At every turn I want to know more about physics, as if that would give me useful language, images, and, of course, control. Honestly, I'm so attached to being, or at least appearing, smart, it makes me stupid. Since I only know about physics what Omni Magazine taught me in the 1970s and 80s, plus a ton of reading on string theory and dimensions I did for a dance project in college, I'm pretty sure I have barely the vaguest notion of the science.

Regardless, I am grateful to have seen the meteors this morning as they left their trails across the sky. Twice I thought I could hear the hiss of their fiery demise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obama is a Civilian

Just saw the slide show (only eight pix) of the President's quick visit to Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base posted at TPM. As I paged through them I felt an unaccountable sense of relief as I watched the serious, dark-suited leader of our country. I couldn't quite decide where it came from until I remembered our last president's military base visits.

GWB's fake military jacket and Alfred E. Newman grin made me cringe for eight years of troop rallying. President Obama's dark suit conveys gravitas and respect. Finally.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Brave Veteran Friends

Wednesday I called Donielle Wilson, a former student who recently returned from her second tour in Iraq, and Rick Whelan, a long time friend and Viet Nam intelligence guy (sorry Rick, I'm sure you had a more apt title), to thank them for their service to the U.S. I got their voicemails and said something like, I was grateful for their courage and strength.

Though I've not heard from young Donielle, Rick called me back and said he and his wife Carole were away marching with Veterans For Peace in the Portland Veteran's Day Parade. Today, Carole sent me this great photo of Rick literally carrying the flag for peace, something he does every day of his life in a more metaphoric sense.

In her e-mail, Carole said the "peace message" got the strongest response that she remembered in the many years she and Rick have marched. Sounds like bittersweet news.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coffee, Tea or, Oh Nevermind

Another entry in the quick hit series that has become my norm lately.

It's not that I'm not writing. I am. Plenty. It's that nothing longer than a few sentences is for public consumption, either because I suck or circumstances suck or no one except me cares about the stupid navel-gazing topic of the day I've chosen to beat with a mallet 'til it's way past dead.

So, in the meantime, go visit the Oatmeal and learn 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee. Me? I'm back to tea, hoping for some serenity now, damnit.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is It Wrong ...

to eat homemade hollandaise sauce by the spoonful after the broccoli has been finished?

Would be glad to hear of your food sins as we wend our way toward the gorging, er, umm, holiday season.

Tell Women Something We Don't Know

This morning on NPR, former MPBN reporter Jennifer Ludden covered the bloody obvious--my favorite topic.

Women, since about the second I and much of the latter-day Baby Boom started working, continue to make 77 cents to men's dollar. The "news" is that women are much more likely to work jobs without attached health insurance, and that as husbands are laid off due to the Great Recession more and more families are left without health care.

The cognitive dissonance of our corporately controlled hillbilly culture begins to wear. Or maybe it's just frikking November.

What's Stopping Health Care Reform?

We're not stupid. We know the answer. A poll in American Politics Journal shows that we understand it's insurance and big medicine lobbyists, a.k.a. our campaign financing system.
When the heck are we going to do something about it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I'm taking a little rest from most things internettish. If you want me, catch me old school, e-mail or telephone. Stop in even. I'll be back before you've missed me. Promise.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yet Another Reason to Read Sunday's NYT

Though I fantasize about spending part of every Sunday reading the NYT and sometimes buy one, it was probably 1998 when I last actually did it.

Articles like this one about the Obamas' marriage by Jodi Kantor make me think about ways to put the Grey Lady back in my weekend. This piece reads a bit like an episode from "West Wing."

The opening 'graph:

Another Washington dusk, another motorcade, another intimate evening played out in public view. On Oct. 3, just a day after their failed Olympics bid in Copenhagen, Barack and Michelle Obama slipped into a Georgetown restaurant for one of their now-familiar date nights: this time, to toast their 17th wedding anniversary. As with their previous outings, even the dark photographs taken by passers-by and posted on the Web looked glamorous: the president tieless, in a suit; the first lady in a backless sheath.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Facebook Blues

Won't go into detail. Suffice to say I had a junior high-esque meltdown at the hands of a "friend's" unintentionally hurtful post and now can hardly bear to look at the pale Wedgwood blue blocks and lettering.

Coincidentally, this morning I was dismayed to learn from NPR that those stupid quizzes people send around are designed to strip information from your FB page. Mostly I ignored them and am generally not that squeamish about sharing information online. That said, I'm not a fan of the under-cover-of-quiz m.o. of the Facebook information gathering.

See ya Facebook. If it weren't for the pictures, I'd delete my account altogether in a minute. May yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Swine Flu Beats Vaccine to Maine, Schools Hold Fire

Whether Maine school employees are holding fire, in denial or simply coping as best they can has yet to be determined. In any case, today's news that swine flu numbers are increasing daily accompanied information that less than half the vaccine needed for high risk cases will arrive by early December.

According to the MPBN report, more vaccine will arrive in the first of the year, but the way I'm seeing kids suffering and staying home looks more like mid-winter and the virus is just now getting rolling. Despite my faith in influenza vaccines, I worry that depending on the vaccine alone may not be enough to protect our children. I hope state and federal health officials consider additional methods to mitigate the clearly wicked contagious virus.

It may be we in Maine should not complain. Southern states have been handling the epidemic for weeks with no hope of imminent vaccine.

[update: 16.October.09] Apparently the NYT figured it out too.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Super Local News--Practically Gossip

The Wiscasset Community Center, also to be known, for reasons too Byzantine to explore, as the Wiscasset Recreation Center, has a new website. What is particularly new and wonderful about the site is it appears to be accurate and up to date. Seems like a miracle.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Put Maine Ahead of the Insurance Lobby

In an ad crafted for the Health Care for America Now campaign, a woman asks Senator Snow to maintain her independence and put Maine ahead of the insurance lobby.

I am that woman. Here in Maine, commercials with me and my son Eli pepper the local news shows early in the morning and evening. In them I ask for health care reform that includes a public option, preventing insurance companies from rejecting people because of pre-existing conditions and ensuring health care for all. In the end I plaintively ask that Senator Snowe put Maine people ahead of the insurance lobby.

The experience of having this portion of my life plastered all over the local television channels has been odd. My high school students burst through the classroom door yelling, "I saw you on t.v. this morning Ms. Roberts." When I go to my favorite blogs for the latest on what Keith Olbermann recently called the "festival of blind racial rage dressed up as a health care debate," I see my not-so-smiling face dividing the comments from the posts. It has been no burden at all, even fun to be at a wedding last weekend and have someone whom I did not know ask me if I was, "...that woman on t.v."

Despite excellent overall health, my path to this 15 minutes of fame winds through 25 years of health care anxiety. In my mid-20s I contracted cervical cancer. One of the most treatable cancers, cervical cancers grow as a result of a wart or papilloma virus carried unwittingly by men. Today a vaccine protects women against four known cancer causing strains of virua. When NYC's Dr. Gaetano Bello (he also delivered Jon Stewart and his wife Tracy's children, but that is another story) removed a section of my cervix with a laser in 1987, he was one of a handful of doctors in the world treating cervical cancer as a systemic, sexually transmitted disease. He even treated my vector, the man who gave me the virus. Few American doctors do this even today.

Thanks to an inherently cooperative body and good care, I recovered completely in a few months. By this time I had left my job at British Airways in New York and moved home to Maine. Because the small town travel agent job I secured in Maine had no health insurance, I kept the Aetna policy from BA using COBRA. Even in 1988, before the triple digit increases in premiums, COBRA cost several hundred dollars a month. The only reason I could afford it was that my parents had split up and I lived in and maintained our mortgage-free family home. Little did I know I would later become the poster girl for health insurance insecurity.

At the time in Maine, my pre-existing condition only received coverage if no lapse in coverage ever occurred so I had to keep COBRA or find a job with coverage. (Reform since provides a 30-day window before pre-existing conditions can be precluded from coverage. Those health insurance companies are all heart.) Because I had a broad education and could write, Steve Heddericg, editor of the now defunct thrice-weekly Rockland Courier-Gazette, hired me as social editor, an entry-level job that eventually led to a reporter's position.

A few years later, after I had left the Courier thinking to marry and move to Virginia--a plan that fizzled in the implementation--first COBRA, then catastrophic high-deductible insurance, reared their expensive heads as I moved to high school English teaching. Since my degree was in Dance and Dance Education, I had to finish a few English certification classes while monitoring the study-hall at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, Maine. As I had hoped, this job led to a contracted position where I taught English and dance for 11 years.

For several of those years I helped negotiate the yearly contracts with our trustees, so I saw firsthand the changes in our health insurance. Back in the good ol' 90s, there were more than two health insurance companies in Maine, so policies only increased by 12 or 13 percent a year--while our non-union salaries rose in fractional increments or stagnated. Lately, with Anthem Blue-Cross Blue-Shield's de facto statewide monopoly, I shudder to think of premium increases.

Eventually, I left my spinster teacher life behind and married a lobsterman. With the benefit of hindsight I sometimes wonder whether my health insurance policy held as much interest for this hardworking fisherman with back problems as my long legs and big smile. Longish story short, we had a child and I took a leave from my job, curtailing our health insurance policy, so my husband had to come up with the $9,600 per year to cover us. I worked as his bookkeeper to keep his small business policy honest. We allowed financial pressure and other more fundamental issues, including my husband's violence, to irreparably erode our marriage. After a year or so, I went back to work part-time and started grad school and we began divorce proceedings.

Seemingly working from the textbook of horrible divorce behavior, my husband, without notifying me, called Anthem and canceled me, telling them I no longer worked for him. For 23 days, I had no health insurance. Only when his attorney, during a pre-trial hearing, insisted that my husband had kept my policy current, in a "methinks [he] doth protest too much," way, did I call Anthem to double-check and discover that I had less than a week to get coverage or lose my pre-existing condition coverage.

This was a wake up call. I was a healthy woman, but my fear of losing coverage for cancer is great. This week I learned that my brush with domestic violence is called a pre-existing condition in eight states and D.C.

The only argument against a truly functional public option is cost. Trouble is, the cost of not having one is already fracturing this country economically and morally and that cost is rising daily.

If you have not called Senator Snowe's office, please do. The number is 888-743-4401. Tell her to stand up to the insurance lobby and secure health care for all.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Most Public Contribution to the Health Care Debate

Yes, this country has to have health care for all. The public option is already a compromise. I have said this or similar things to everyone who can tolerate my blather for months, maybe years.

When I met the organizers and activists who came to Maine to help us persuade our Senators of the wisdom of health care for all we started to work the phones, Interwebs, newspapers, parties and sidewalks. One day, Alex the poet, and SEIU organizer who runs a mean meeting, asked me if I would tell my tale of health care woe and intrigue on camera for his "bosses." Never a wallflower, I said, sure.

One evening a few weeks later the phone started to ring, Director Will Robinson called, Producer Edna Snowe-Jensen set up an interview and the next morning a gigantic truck full of film equipment was in my yard.

It turned out to be one of the hottest days of the summer. We had to close the house to keep the sound consistent. Despite the stifling humidity and heat, everyone was cheerful, encouraging and positive. Hardly anyone in the house had health insurance. Of the 11 people there that day, only the director, producer and I had decent coverage. Everyone else had out-of-reach deductibles or no insurance at all. If this ad works at all it is because everyone there was committed to the cause.

Remember, the public option IS the compromise. We cannot let hundreds of corporate lobbyists write health care legislation. Our lawmakers must do their jobs and represent our interests.

And the next person who complains to you about the cost of health care reform, ask him or her to outline the costs of doing nothing.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A New Version of the Matinicus Drama

Finally a reporter managed to get most of the story on recent Matinicus violence straight. The only thing missing is the manipulation of the supposed lobster territory birthright according to gender or just what the heck ever.
p.s. Thanks to Will Fraser of Wicked Good Films for the news story tip.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Secretary Sebelius Says Unequivocal Yes to Public Option

Though she said this at the Portland meeting, as opposed to the Bangor round table where I was a panel member, MPBN has the story. The elegant and articulate former Kansas governor shores up the public option in the first moments of the MPBN piece.

Here's more or less what I said to the Secretary and the 60 or so people gathered at Orono this afternoon:

Thank you Madame Secretary coming to Maine. Thanks to all the organizers who made this meeting possible. I am honored to have this opportunity.

First, I have to say that I am one of the lucky ones. I am healthy. I hope to be completing my sixth triathlon next Sunday morning. Two hundred or so of us lucky, healthy Mainers will swim a half-mile, cycle 26 miles and run 6.6 miles for the fun of doing it, because we can. Millions are not so lucky and way too many have lost, not only their health, but homes, businesses and ways of life because of our country's health care chaos--I cannot bring myself to call it a system.

I am lucky to have had in my mid-20s a type of cancer, cervical cancer, with a high cure rate, one of the highest. I am lucky to have lived nearly 25 years without a recurrence. Because I, like every cancer survivor, worry about recurrence, the fact that I could never, ever have a break in my health insurance coverage became an intrinsic part of my life. Access to health insurance determined what work I did, where I lived, my marriageability, and was put at risk by my divorce. Nevertheless, I am lucky to have had an education that, all told, enabled me to string together a life that included health insurance. As a teacher I know many are not so fortunate.

When I left British Airways, my job right out of college, and came home to Maine during my cancer mini-drama, I used COBRA. Even in the 1980s it cost thousands of dollars a year, but there was no way I could cancel it. I found work as a social editor, then reporter, for Rockland's newspaper and the jobs included insurance. Finally, I put my degree to work and taught English and dance for 12 years in a Lincoln County high school. I married, had a child in my 40s and left my teaching job, secure that my husband would support us. When I found I had no choice but to leave the marriage, my position as the single employee in my husband's lobstering venture evaporated.

Since 2003 I have patched coverage together through work and catastrophic policies with out-of-reach deductibles. It has not been pretty. More than once, by the time I got billed for a visit, test or procedure, the policy that originally was in force had been replaced by another. When I called the insurance companies, you would have though I had asked for ancient Sumerian tablets as I asked to reconstruct previous policies. Many times I have simply paid the bill rather than wrangle with the insurance companies or damage my credit rating further.

Now, because of the economy and my expensive teaching experience, I work as a long term substitute outside of contract for a school that has agreed
to pay my health insurance costs. I'm both lucky and grateful. Tens of thousands of others have not had my good fortune.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Bit o' Or Not

Can't resist posting this picture. Though you cannot tell, it was taken at the Windsor Fair this past Sunday.

How lucky am I to have a sweetheart who embodies cool, warmth and heat, all with a giant brain?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dear Senator Snowe:

Despite the fact that you represent the State of Maine, about a three-hundreth of the American population, your position on the Senate Finance Committee gives you one sixth of the power to make the U.S. a healthier country by holding fast to a public option in health care reform.

Arguably because you are a Republican, your vote on the Senate Finance Committee has even more clout. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat vying for most Blue Doggy Dem ever, and you could perhaps come to a conclusion that will make health care available to everyone.

You may be wondering why more Mainers and Americans are not banging on your doors about the public option. You may be wondering why small Maine papers are not editorializing in favor of the public option. You may be wondering why the loudest voices are the obstructionist shrieks of those who already have all the health care they need. Or perhaps you know what we all know.

Mainers and Americans are busy and confused. School is about to start and we need to get our kids sneakers and pencil boxes. The swine flu is a distant May memory and everyone's relatively healthy before the rush of vectors about to exchange zillions of viral RNA and DNA next week. Most wonder how to buy Christmas presents in this economy. For many health care has been a nagging worry for decades. The current drama is only a sideshow.

Our local sources of information are tasked with covering municipalities, crime and courts, not health insurance graft and greed. Because of this dearth of information, most of us are not conversant in health insurance shenanigans like the arbitrary formulary changes. That's when insurance companies decide they will no longer pay for particular prescriptions and ill people must change drugs or go without. Many have never heard of rescission, when the insurance companies simply drop customers because they have become too expensive to cover. Too few Americans are familiar with the facts surrounding other countries' methods of providing health care and of our true, less than stellar, status in the world's health care standards. Our infant mortality rate is worst than Cuba's.

The loudest obstructionist voices are those in fear. Some, like current Medicare recipients, are afraid they will lose care, some are afraid they will pay more taxes, and some are afraid, as the Bristol, Tenn. NPR interviewee said, of "minorities getting more benefits than they deserve." The unspoken racism implicit in many of the arguments against the public option must be addressed squarely, especially under the auspices of our first black president.

The most obstructionist sound, of course, is the unified chorus of insurance companies and drug manufacturers. The way we know that our inefficient, horribly broken and, for some, deadly system works for them is that they want no change at all. For them, increasing their bottom line this year trumps the health and lives of Mainers and other Americans. Even access to health insurance does not equate with health or even health care as an amazing article in the current Atlantic Monthly points out in painful detail.

For some, the debate itself has become obstructionist. When confronted with tea baggers bent on curtailing any education at town hall meetings or zealous health care advocates like myself running mini-seminars in the grocery store, at parties and in the local diner, too many people set their eyes toward the middle distance and sigh.

Senator Snowe, your independence is legendary. Please use it to find a way through this morass and ensure that no American's health is at risk because his or her family has inadequate access to care.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Bloggess Love

She just Twittered a link to this blog written by a couple octogenarian women called Margaret and Helen. Read it, love it.

Here's a little taste of their wisdom on the vast subject of Rush Limbaugh:

I am not giving Obama a free pass. I’m giving him a chance. He has four years to “make it or break it” as they say. And considering what George Bush did to it, breaking it is the least of our worries. Healthcare in the United State is broken. Our reputation around the globe is broken. The banks are broken. The tax system… the school systems… the environment - all broken. Someone needs to try and fix it. So why not Obama?

When George Bush was President I didn’t want him to fail. I wanted him to stop acting like an idiot. I wanted him to be honest and listen to the debate of the people. I didn’t expect him to act like a Democrat. I expected him to act like an American. And I expected him to at least try to keep his campaign promises. Instead what we got was a moron of a President who crawled up Dick Cheney’s ass and lived there for 8 years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Marshall on Healthcare Loopy Loopiness

Another quick hit here, since I'm working on some LTEs and an op-ed. In case you don't compulsively check TPM, here's a good look at the complete insanity that has overtaken the debate about health care.

One thing I would like to know is why exactly are journalists so ill-equipped to report this nonsense? Aren't we charged with calling BS on BS?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Heads Up Open Left Fans

David Sirota is in the house. Well, he's in Maine, anyway. Keep your eyes peeled for smart writers.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sullivan Reader Sees Through the Glass Darkly

Daily Disher and Atlantic Editor Andrew Sullivan does not identify the observant, cogent and alarmingly correct reader who sets us all straight about why we should feel anything close to surprise that the health care debate--among other things--has taken the sickening swerve that it has lately.

This clear-eyed writer argues that Sullivan still sees the U.S. with immigrants' eyes, optimistic and grateful, and scolds him slightly for being subject to dismay as the populists turn out not to act for the people.

An excerpt:
I don't blame you. You came to America after the rise of Reagan. Most of your life in America, you have lived under different Republican presidents who placated these folks with platitudes and campaign rhetoric. The one period when the populist right didn't feel they had a fellow traveler in charge was when Bill Clinton was elected (thanks to the reactionaries splitting their votes). You remember, no doubt, the level of crazy Clinton had to defuse and dodge, and this was a man who had the advantage of being a Southern bubba who has dealt which such people all his life.

The whole thing is worth a read. In fact, despite the complaints of some of my more purist lefty friends, I nearly always find Sullivan's Atlantic work and his blog worth reading. I'm also grateful that this smart reader explains some of my own occasional, and up 'til now semi-mysterious, consternation with Sullivan.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Local Business Shows NFIB the Door

Today, while visiting Jane Hall, the Eyeglass Frame Fashionista of Damariscotta, I learned why we will never be able to afford health care for all in this country. A certain visitor to Jane's office told us in no uncertain terms that the rich have never and will never pay any taxes. Could that really be the difference? Could it be that the members of the Public Option contingent think Americans are law-abiding and will do their civic duty, while the No Health Care For Brown People crowd believe the rich are so powerful they are above the law?

Jane's a friend from when I lived in Tenants Harbor. Interrupting our catch-up chat, a representative of the NFIB arrived in her stacked heels, swishy petal skirt and big hair. She carried a clipboard and it was clear from the garish smile that she was selling something.

Jane, sharply observant as ever, said in her slightly gravely voice, "Aaaannnd, you are obviously on a mission." NFIB Woman sat herself down and said, "Yes, I'm on a mission to save this country from falling apart." She pulled out an application form and said she was from the NFIB, as soon as she got the letters out of her mouth, Jane leaned back and said, "No, thank-you."

At that, the NFIB lady leaned in. "Now would you mind telling me why?" Jane politely said she had been a member before and the membership did not offer what she expected. NFIB Woman persisted, explaining that her organization was dedicated to "making sure Americans have health care that we can all afford." She went on to say that proposals with "universal health care" would cost small businesses too much money. Jane shook her head and explained that she favored universal health care and that we had to have it regardless of the costs.

They volleyed back and forth a bit while I wondered why this gal had not left at the first sign of resistance. Clearly she was a rookie activist. Persuasion is possible only if there are openings. Jane left no room for doubt. This woman should have taken her minimal lumps and left. She didn't. She persisted. I stayed mum as long as I could, but when she started mouthing the FOX News line that runs, If they can't even run the Cash for Clunkers program, how can they run health care?, I had to say that I knew where that logic had originated and it was hardly logical.

Then came the middle bits, predictable and mundane, especially since the fearmongering perpetrated by the insurance industry has become all but rote. Things shifted when I asked NFIB Woman woman for actual information. Her claim was that we could not afford health care for all, but when I asked her whether she knew how the interstate highway system and the biggest school construction projects in this country's history were funded during the middle of the 20th century. She had no idea. Then, since I was not confident that she would know who was president in the 1950s, I asked her what the income tax rate for the richest Americans was under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. She said she did not know. When I told her 91 percent, she looked dismayed. Then I asked her what the highest rate was today. Unsurprisingly, she had no idea. When I told her 35 percent, I added that I paid at least 28 percent and I am an underemployed teacher.

She said she paid 30-something, and I asked her whether it was right that the uber-wealthy, I think I called them gazillionaires, paid four percent more than she did when they made thousands and thousands times more than she.

Then she took her most surprising stance. By this time she had stood up and tottered on her six-inch wooden heels. "Rich people won't pay their taxes," she said. "Pardon, me," I said. "The rich never pay their taxes," she reiterated. Stunned, I said, "Well, in that case we have a much bigger problem than health care."

Nine hours later, I still wonder if she understands the gravity of her claim. I reminded her that our ancestors had left 17th century England to escape the corruption and injustice of the aristocracy and asked if she was essentially saying that our situation is now the same. She looked blank and began to blather about how we should "respect each other's point of view." You know, the argument that there is no analysis or truth, just opinion.

Going over the top, I broke Godwins Law and brought up the Holocaust. I said, "Umm. The Holocaust was wrong. Some things are just wrong. Not obeying the law is wrong. [The gazillionaire scofflaws] would be in trouble." To my chagrin, she persisted with, "Rich people have never paid taxes and never will." I said, "Maybe as long as they and their corporations can get you to do their bidding." I told her the most honorable thing she could do with her time was stop shilling for the insurance companies.

By this point I had already recommended Thomas Franks', "What's the Matter with Kansas," to learn how members of the protected upper class get others to vote in opposition to their best interests. She looked at me as if I was recommending Kafka. It made me wonder if she had ever read a non-fiction book in her life.

I had already suggested that she got her talking points from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. She demurred saying, "No. I got [the Cash for Clunkers example] from the radio." Oy.

In her parting paragraph she again beseeched me to acknowledge her right to her opinion. As she backed toward the door, she said, "No matter what our opinions, we should respect each other's point of view."

Jane and I gave her crickets.

Grrr. Wonder what her salary is and whether she has health insurance.

Chekov on Doctors

The only difference between doctors and lawyers is that lawyers merely rob you, whereas doctors rob you and kill you, too.
(Anton Chekhov)

I don't mean you Drs. Webb and Love, of course. Your practice is unique and beautiful in its simplicity and personal nature. Can anyone tell I have to go to the doctor's today?

It's Your Health Care, Stupid

Much as I hate to address anyone as "Stupid," the uncivil disobedience at Congresspeople's town meetings grates me, especially since, as Josh Marshall points out, a plurality of those complaining are beneficiaries of--and mostly happy with--our country's single payer health care system, Medicare. Remember? The one the Republicans have sworn to dismantle.

A few weeks ago I was booed at a regional school budget meeting for pointing out that local property taxes in both real dollars and relative to property values have declined in my lifetime. This meeting took place the same day that activists and protesters gathered in Portland to make some noise for the Public Option--a guarantee that whatever health care solution our legislators craft health care will be available for all, regardless of ability to pay.

When I stood up to speak at the microphone that afternoon, I was all kinds of conflicted. As a reporter, one never, ever, ever insinuates oneself in the story. At this meeting I was liveblogging for this blog. Not strictly a reporter, I was attempting to capture it for others who did not attend. Somehow this gave me the proximity I needed to think it o.k. to stand and explain that those who were really interested in their wallets should be in Portland rallying for the Public Option as opposed to piling on with the sadly misguided Governor Baldacci in attempts to balance the state budget on school children's and teachers' backs.

At the time I only used my own experience of health insurance premiums rising in double-digit percentages all of my teaching career. Today a gracious commenter on TPMDC gave me the numbers I lacked that day.

Unknowncitizen tells his story:
My compulsory health insurance is funded through an employer contribution of SEVEN NINETY FIVE/hr, that's over $16K/year. Add medicare taxes, out of pocket medical costs and my family spends more than $20k. I get invoiced out at higher and higher rates because of the spiraling cost of health insurance (while my salary remains flat), all the while competing with and often losing work to companies who don't offer health insurance, but have a wide pool of desperate layed (sic) off workers to choose from.

We barely ever have a sniffle, yet are shaken down for almost $60 a day; more than food, more than housing, more than anything.

And these buffoons in the audience are yelling "what's wrong with profit?".

How do they get these stooges to repeat that crap? I along with a whole boatload of regular working stiffs are getting flat out scammed. There is simply no kinder description of it, it's thievery through deception, conspiracy and truth concealment. And my fellow Americans are sticking up for the health insurance profiteers.

Unknowncitizen's story is ubiquitous, yet at least he has health care. The real tragedy of course is that the continued success of this shakedown keeps the self-employed, underemployed and workers whose employers cannot afford to offer benefits out of the system entirely. Why should insurance companies change when they can get employers to hand over thousands of dollars a year covering essentially healthy families and, with further sleight of hand, get those who benefit from federal health care to go out and shill for them?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Promotablog: Science Thursday

My sweetie's best friend, besides me, is Hannah Holmes, a smart writer and researcher with a great blog. Though she and I have yet to meet, I already love her writing. The blog topics alone are enough to keep my science-groupie mind busy for eternity, and her writing is sharp, self-effacing and engaging.

[Update: 3.Aug.09 -- Funny, I forgot to say Holmes is really funny, too. And in the "only eleven people in the world" vein, turns out my dear friend Wendy Caton Reed, originally from Edgecomb, used to babysit for Hannah and her siblings.]

Have a look at Human. Nature.

TPM Reader Calls Out Beck

With the goofiness surrounding beer brands, picnic tables and the importance of the President, the Professor and the Policeman swigging a brew this evening, let us not ignore the irresponsible commentary Glenn Beck offered up on Fox News recently.

TalkingPointsMemo reader MA offers an excellent analysis including:
This is not Kanye West saying Bush doesn't care about white people, or Michael Moore saying something provocative while a guest on CNN (though I challenge anyone to find Moore saying anything this ugly on anyone's program). This is Rupert's prized employee appearing on his channel, and doing the equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded movie house. This is the sort of comment that I might expect to read about in some SPLC missive concerning neo-Nazi websites, or the like. But as uttered by the paid employee of Fox News, on one of the network's shows?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Click Here For Unmitigated Joy

My public radio friend Elena See put this clip up on her Facebook page. After a Saturday afternoon spent dancing--for the first time in an age--this video made me weep with joy. At about four minutes I checked to be sure it wasn't going to end right away and was relieved to see that there would be another minute. Hope you love it.

I do not know who Jill and Kevin are, but they put on a heck of a wedding.

UPDATE: 29.July--A New York Magazine analysis and appreciation of Jill, Kevin, their friends, and what may turn out to be the best musical theater most of us will see.

A Request for Facts

Swamphog, a commenter over at the BDN, writes this about the Matinicus situation:

Instead of coddling the islanders, tell them this, "1. Stop taking the law into your own hands by overt or underhanded means."

"2. If you cannot police yourselves tactfully and within the law, alternative measures will be taken."

Alternative measures? Turn all waters surrounding Matinicus into a marine sanctuary with zero fishing.

Though I agree with this writer's assessments, commenters tend to hang behind the cloak of anonymity, making writing a news story or even a reliable blog post pretty tough. Anyone with actual facts about the latest mini-drama from Matinicus want to step up and talk with this reporter/blogger?

BTW, I am an experienced reporter and editor, have been blogging for five years and am a huge believer in crowdsourcing for research and fact-finding. If anonymity is an issue, only your initials need appear in the blog as long as I know how to reach you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

One Man's View of Matinicus

Just tried to call the only photographer type named Kevin Bennett I could find in Maine. He works at the BDN. I'd hoped to confirm that he is the videographer. I found the clip on a blog called Lobsters on the Fly, run by Debby, an Orrs Island lobsterman's wife.

UPDATE: 28.JULY.09--Mr. Bennett called me back. He did indeed make the video and yes, he is a photographer at the BDN. Yay.

video platform
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I believe this lobsterman's incredulity at the likelihood of things getting out of hand, but not the claim that things had been going smoothly lately.

Mass. Media Distributor Eschews Uncle Henry's

Thanks to early-adopter internetty journalist Jill Lang, I see that because of the Maine swap catalogue's inclusion of private gun sales, the Boston Herald distributors have taken Uncle Henry's off the shelves in stores the Herald serves.

According to the article, guns bought through Uncle Henry's have turned up in Boston area crimes.

Is anyone surprised?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Matinicus Fishermen Get Their Way [Again]

A judge, trying to protect the lobstermen from themselves after a recent shooting, ordered a two-week holiday from lobstering in the waters off Matinicus.

Matinicus lobsterman Joe Bray, who was thick in the last shooting incident a couple years ago--at least that anyone knows about--went to court today and got the two week holiday reduced to a weekend.

The link that shows Bray's involvement in the last drama is to a blog with clips from a Christian Science Monitor article.

The piece of information, or missed information really, I particularly enjoyed reading was Tad (Ira) Miller's concern about Victor Ames (the 2006 shooter) coming close to Miller's boat Mallory Sky. What the CSM reporter failed to mention--probably because no one else did--is that Victor Ames is Miller's father-in-law and the only reason Tad is free to, more years than not, make the most money of any lobstermen in Maine (and therefore the world) is that he married Victor Ames daughter Julie and lives, during the summer and fall, in a Matinicus island house Victor Ames built.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Matinicus Lobstermen Go Postal [Again]

If you have ever imagined you should live on a Maine island for some peace and serenity, think again. At least pick one where the ferry runs more than once a month.

On Matinicus it seems many of your potential neighbors have limited coping skills and worse self-control. They shoot each other over lobsters. Lobsters. Like sneakers and sunglasses only in more picturesque venues.

A perpetual feud over who is allowed to mine the mother lode lobster grounds around Matincus Island boiled over again yesterday when 68 year-old (not 77, BDN) Vance Bunker shot Chris Young in the neck.

Read the comments for a taste of the bitterness and anger.

A Marine Patrol Officer who went out after the fact chalks it up to signs of the times. Money is tight everywhere and these fishermen are facing a winter of living on something less than their usual half-million dollars. Waaaah.

Update, 21.July.09.2106: According to a pretty comprehensive AP article, there will be no lobster fishing for two weeks in Matinicus waters. Hard to tell whether this is good news or bad. Especially since lobstermen have been threatening to "tie up" for weeks now anyway because they say the prices are too low. Maybe there'll be a statewide sympathy "tie up" for those wild Matinicus renegades.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

RSU 12, Sheepscot Valley Budget Adoption Meeting Liveblog

RSU 12 budget meeting started @ 10 a.m. I arrived late, just as the first article, Regular Instruction, comes up for approval. Article One asks residents to approve $12,889,329. The combined school total for 08-09 is $12,549,249.

A Wiscasset resident wants to know why the k-2 line item is rising $249,721. Greg Potter allowed that the difference is due to the need for estimate combinations of schools. Whitefield rep says the difference comes at least in part from a half-time ed tech in the Wiscasset elementary position.

Still on article one Contingency fund is being questioned by a Windsor resident. At least part of it will go to Alternative Education and make up for the fact that Jefferson will not be part of the RSU and its contribution to an Alt. Ed. program will not be available.

11:58--Resident of ??? wonders why the teachers are getting a "premium plan" for teachers when "people in this room don't have any insurance at all." She's a middle aged woman who looks seriously aggrieved. She's complaining about the hypothetical situation of a 20-student second grade that might be split into two ten-student classes. She asks how many teachers in the whole system? 127. How many ed techs? Need to look it up. Why don't we have a line item? She wants to know how much each teacher gets paid. "You have it," she says.

12:03--Westport Island resident wonders about how the fiscal year will adjust to fit the new contractual year.

12:09--Attempt to finish debate. Fails.

12:09--Steve Smith, Whitefield, asks about teacher salaries. How will negotiations take place? Are there plans to equalize or raise to highest plane? Potter says, "It will be process."

12:11--Looking for some controls, "consensus of the group" to limit questions to three with a maximum of three minutes. Overwhelmingly and loudly approved.

12:14--Donald Barrett from Palermo, speaks briefly against limiting debate. Wants us to vote the whole thing down. "We should be voting zero for this whole thing...we won't have things crammed down our throat." He says as a Palermo school board member he was "coerced" into voting for consolidation. "We don't have to do this."

12:17--Barrett still talking. "Is there any indication that the quality of education will improve is we spend more money?"

12:17--Andrea Lani speaks regarding class size. "To quibble over class size is a waste of time." Lani describes the previous grumpy woman's complaint about approving health insurance as "cruel," adding that the teachers are "heroes...and members of our community." Big hand for Andrea.

12:21--Grumpy woman, Ms. Larrabee, "We're not downing the's not personal against the teachers or the kids." She gets a smattering of applause.

12:22--Using the yellow card method--Article 1 passes.

12:25--Article 2, Special Education. Ms. Larrabee asks about what Gifted and Talented is.

12:27--Wiscasset residence, questions new director of Special Services and increase in secretary's salary.

12:31--Numbers, 2100 students; 300 special services; 84 gifted and talented.

12:32--Donald Barrett, Palermo. Farmer who asked voters to reject the whole plan, asks what the increase will be in the next two years. Potter: the projection has not been completed yet. Barret: "If I was running a business that would be poor planning." Ugh! What a pill. Time! Vote zero is his only message.

12:36--Windsor resident with an autistic son, speaks in passionate favor of his child's teachers. "It's not just a job to them."

12:27--Question moved.

12:28--Article 2 passed.

12:39--Article 3 $191,025 Career and Technical Education passes with only the smattering of naysayers, zero-funders. No discussion.

12:40--Article 4 $370,111 Other Instruction, including co-curricular stipends, drama, math team and teacher leader etc.

12:41--Student and Staff Support $1,523,866 Guidance, health, instructional tech, improvement of instruction.

12:48--Amendment to excise $52,028 from item, taking it back to simple total of school system past expenditure.

12:58--Amendment to excise $23,866 from the item. Vote unclear, needs counting. Three board members want it reduced. Second motion to reduce fails.

1:05--System Administration $845,740. K(C)urt Downer of Westport proposes $150,000 for a consultant who can make sense of the consolidation.

1:11--Reasonable man says it's not a bad idea, even suggested looking at other states who have been through similar straits.

1:13--Downer defends his idea. Seems like one that should have been decided, oh, say, a year ago. Amendment fails miserably.

1:15--Pleasant, reasonable woman asks how many administrators were in the systems before consolidation; what building and maintenance costs have been reduced by closing. One building been closed, sold. Wiscasset superintendent building is closed; it is now owned by the Town of Wiscasset.

1:18--School Administration $1,282,988; small increase in benefits equals including families in health insurance in the Wiscasset schools.

1:21--Betty Larrabee again. "How can you negotiate contracts when you don't know how much money you will have?"

1:29--Teachers Karen McCormick of Whitefield and Deb Pooler of Wiscasset question the volunteer coordinator's salary of $9,000. Pooler wants to know about the ed tech numbers, and suggests using the staff that's in place.

1:33--Amendment made to reduce article by $25,000. Amendment fails.

1:35--A Wiscasset school nurse asks whether the $9,000 will be one or two positions. No one on the board seems to know.

[Getting hungry. I'm also irritated at the property tax-centric nutjobs.]

1:39--Article 8 Transportation and Buses $1,464,451
Rep. Lisa Miller of Somerville says she is a legislator and voted for this in part because of transportation savings. She wants to know what savings could be found. Board member says the State will be providing software to simplify the Byzantine bus schedules.

1:44--Windsor resident wants to know how many buses? Over 50 is the answer. He suggests using "magnetic signs" rather than paint since "this going to be voted down in November."

1:46--Art. 8 passed.

1:47--Article 9 Facilities and Maintenance $2,68,628 passed.

1:48--Article 10 Debt Service and other Commitments $743,756 passed.

1:49--Article 11 All Other Expenditures Inc. Lunch (Ick) $223,489 passed.

1:52--Article 12 To see what funds towns will have to raise $8,369,603.05 passed.

1:53--Article 13 Debt Service for non-state-funded portions of school construction projects and minor capital projects. Board recommends $76,715. Passed.

1:56--Article 14 Direct motion to change suggested amount from $4,846,581.55.

1:59--I said it's not about taxes. Got hissed and booed.

2:07--Good ol' boy just reminded us of the cost of prison.

2:08--Kristin (missed her last name) has a lien on her house and is a school employee, her lien is due to the economy. "This is how it is everywhere, cutting the knees off the education" is not going to help.

2:10--Blather about the mechanics of "carry over."

2:15--Woman says, "It's real easy to cut the kids," and not so easy to cut town services.

2:21--Motion to increase to amount given is approved. Voting by secret ballot on original motion.

2:31--Article 14 passed by secret ballot.

2:34--Articles 15/16, housekeeping articles, pass without discussion.

2:35--Article 17 passes.

Adjourned at 2:35.

Alna Voters Pick Peace Over Informed Consent

Like a family fatigued by anger, distrust and blame, some 100 of Alna's 600 or so citizens voted Wednesday night to give a piece of town-owned property to the not-for-profit fire department.

Weeks of accusation and finger pointing followed decades of occasional eruptions of rancor between fire fighters and the town's representatives. Stretching back to the 1970s, Alna townspeople and rescue volunteers have struggled with consensus.

The presumed villain in this latest mini-drama chapter, an epic production devoted to the internecine struggles familiar to any student of small town dynamics, was played by the newest selectman, Tom Smith. Smith is a politically conservative computer expert originally from Boothbay. The new selectman came upon a document--the backstory on his discovery could prove interesting, or not--that showed a March town meeting warrant to be in error.

After years of wrangling over how much the town would put up for a new fire station, this past March voters approved almost unanimously an article to provide the funds for a scaled down version of the station and allow the use of an anonymous donor's funds. This article also said that the fire department would "maintain ownership" of the property.

Herein lay the problem, since the document Smith turned up, the most recent deed describing the fire station property, clearly showed that the town, not the fire department, owned the property.

Now in a world with no hurt feelings, no pettiness and no passive aggression, representatives of the fire department and the town might have met to sort out the paperwork. Smith's contention that the town might be better off keeping the property, though ostensibly moot since the town had acceded to the fire department's wishes early in the year, might have gotten a fair hearing. Documents supporting the fire department's desire to own the property--as opposed to the emotional and fiscally inconsequential reasons given at Wednesday's meeting--might have received a fair review by citizens, attorneys and officials alike.

Frankly, it is the dearth of documents that ought to irk citizens in this chapter of As Alna Turns. The voters deserve to see whether or not either party's claims about insurance expense have any paper trail at all.

Voters also need to parse the origin of both parties' information. Knowing whether legal information comes from a trial lawyer, the Maine Municipal Association or a more neutral and perhaps experienced party makes a difference.

This story is far from over. The simmering mistrust was palpable even at the Alna Store Thursday morning. Owners Mike and Amy Preston said there were neighbors who failed to even acknowledge each other while they nursed their coffee and eggs.

Like a sulky family after a big blowout, townspeople will probably pout for a bit. Even while the peacemakers hold sway, though, the tension will build until another catalyst causes us to revisit the matter of how to govern ourselves in a small town. Let us hope that next time we patiently wait for the real problem to emerge, gaze squarely at the elephant in the room and address its grey, wrinkled skin, zooey smell, reluctance to move and potential to really wreck the place, before we turn away and agree that the curtains could use updating.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Could the Public Option Help Keep Us From Eating to Extinction?

According to this Salon article, it may easily be that last night's tuna steak dinner and the haddock in recent weeks consisted of commercially extinct fish. Damnation.

In an articulate comment to the article, the writer says that half the fresh water in the world goes to quenching the thirst of livestock.

Like Laura Rogers at HuffPo, I noticed the ads in the Washington Metro reminding us that 70 percent of our antibiotics are used on livestock that is not sick. Ick.

These are but a few public policy issues that might have more weight in the public discourse if their implementation mattered in a tangible way. Making the "Public Option" available in pending health care reform could close the loop of the federal government's responsibility, so that what producers and harvesters do to our food might show up in our collective health care system as opposed to the disparate private insurance companies' responsibility.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

America Can't Wait For Health Care: Day One

USAIR flew about 25 Maine delegates, plus some regular passengers, to D.C. in fine style, on time, early even.

Upon landing we trooped through the beautiful Metro system to the Fairfax Embassy Row, where SEIU has billeted us. We appear to be a group various in age, from upper 60s to barely 20. After a month in Maine's June gloom, all of us fairly drank in the abundant sunshine and warmth pouring down on our heads. I realized I not only left my sunglasses in my car, I had forgotten about the existence of sunglasses.

Elaine from Scarborough, Shawna from I don't-know-where, and I are about to head out for a bite, then to the organizing meeting at the Omni.

I've already seen someone carrying a red Employee Free Choice Sign in the Metro.

Riding the subway today, I wondered whether Washington, D.C., with Obama in the White House, might, rather than the shady, wheeler-dealer, corruption capital, soon morph into the most exciting city in the world. Please forgive the gushing. It could that I am reeling from the sudden sunshine. Or maybe I'm still heartened from the West Wing episodes Stan and I watched last night.

Update, 9:50 p.m. -- Turns out Maine People's Alliance and the Small Business Coalition have also sent contingents, making a total from Maine of around 50, including organizers.

We're just back from the agenda setting lobbyist meetings at the Omni and a moderate rally at Freedom Square, right across from the National Theater, with a stunning view of the Capitol Building.

What I learned at the lobby meetings is that I am a crank. Sure I have a tale of woe and intrigue and I want easily available health care for all, but also I want some explanation why we, as constituents who have interrupted our lives to come to Washington and beg for our Senators' help, fail to get the same attention as the insurance companies.

A tall attractive young mother from Brunswick named Tamsin talked me down by reminding me that Snowe is the only Republican--let me repeat that, the only Republican--who did not sign the pact to uniformly reject the Public Option. (In case the whole Public Option thing is a mystery, here's a great diary on 'kos about it.)

Tomorrow, another rally then lobbying meetings with Snowe's and Collins' people, maybe a couple hours for some sightseeing--lugging frakking luggage may be a problem--then home to Maine on a 9 p.m.-ish flight. More later.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Obama Cracks Wise; John Hodgman Outlines America's Culture War

Ah, the literacy and humor of our President makes me proud.

In the keynote speech at last night's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner last night, the famously understated and nerdy John Hodgman described the rift in our country as one between the Geeks and the Jocks. He calls on President Obama to bridge the gap.

God, I love C-SPAN. Does that make me a geek or a nerd?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Trekking in the Rain

My intrepid sister, friends and hundreds like them set out this morning on their bicycles from Bethel, Maine. They will take three days to ride to Belfast to raise money for the American Lung Association. It's pouring and looks to keep it up all day.

The crush of the last day of school keeps me from singing my little sister's praises properly. Suffice to say she's a hero of mine. She has raised the right money and ridden this trip for at least half of the Trek's 25 years. Me? Twice.

Anyway, Team DeLorme has posted a widget to follow the trip with slides and maps, so I'm putting it up here:

Trek Across Maine 2009

Widget powered by Spot Adventures: GPS Geotagging

Who are you following?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Yet Another Reason to Stay Up Past My Bedtime: Fail Blog

fail owned pwned pictures
see more Fail Blog

Commercial Fishing Documentary/Jeremiad Opens to Mark World Oceans Day, June 8

From the Guardian, we learn that the documentary film "End of the Line", a film designed to explain the prediction that commercial fishing will end by 2048, has opened around the world to mark World Oceans Day, tomorrow. I wish the film could premiere in Gloucester, Rockland, or Port Clyde for that matter.

Here in Maine, unfortunately, we have no easy access outside a trip to Massachusetts. Those of you scattered around the country will have better luck.

Hope you didn't pack tuna for your lunch this morning.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some Cold Hard Sad Truth

Just in case you might be feeling some irrational exuberance, here's a Nick Turse article to help you feel the earth's core pulling at us. His waltz through America's current despondence may keep any warm fuzzies at bay for a while.

Read this if you think our country's problems are temporary and can be solved. If they seem interminable and beyond our ken, keep moving, nothing to see here.

My real reason for posting Turse's work is that I want our local papers to do a better job at telling the truth. I expect them to risk controversy and write frankly about our local economy and our neighbors' response to these troubled times.

Writing about the decimated school budgets is one thing; writing about the effects of a nosediving economy on children in marginal schools is another; and telling the real story about what we spend on health care as compared with the dreaded education-tied property tax, a tax that has dropped an average of 22 percent in Maine since 1991, is yet another.

Property taxes are not the issue, folks. I am talking to you Sherwood.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canadian Reactor's Shutdown Radiates to Maine and the World

In a potentially tragic manifestation of the old saw, "the thigh bone's connected to the hipbone; the hipbone's connected to the backbone," a local power outage shut down the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada; the shut down led to a heavy water leak at the world's oldest nuclear research reactor; the leak caused officials to close the plant indefinitely; the closing has obliterated the availability of certain nuclear isotopes used in both diagnosis and cancer treatment throughout the world, even at Damariscotta's Miles Hospital.

Lana Brandt of Boothbay Harbor, who manages the diagnostic radiology department at Miles, described the lack of isotope availability as serious and global for both patients and doctors. She said the 52 year-old Chalk River reactor's shutdown "brings the world to a standstill." She said the plant supplies more than 50 percent of the world's nuclear diagnostic material.

Though cardiac scans can be done with an alternative isotope, anyone who needs a bone scan is simply out of luck, she said, until either Chalk River goes back online or a new source is found. Patients and doctors wanting to check on spreading bone cancer or see other fine details in bones will probably find the wait, "very worrying," said Brandt.

The aged nuclear plant also closed in late 2007 for several weeks and Canadians have scrapped plans to replace it. Brandt said that before the 2007 closing, she had never seen anything like the sudden lack of availability of the atomic tools of her trade in her 30 years in the field.

Locals used to our small regional hospitals not having every single technology often head to larger hospitals in New England for specialized care. In this case, no one can help, said Brandt. "You can't just go down to Maine Med," she said. "We're all in the same boat."

Canadians have been fighting over this plant's safety for years and it continues to inflame. Political intrigue has plagued regulators and politicians since the head of Canadian Nuclear Safety Linda Keen was fired for refusing to sign off on Chalk Rivers' re-opening in 2007. Parliament opened it over regulator's objections citing the world's need for the isotopes.

The current Canadian closing creates particular concern because of the four plants supplying medical isotopes two others closed recently for maintenance. Netherland's HFR reactor, the single remaining open plant supplying about 30 percent of the world's medical isotopes, primarily contracts with countries outside of North America.