Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving; Now Get Back to Being Poor

They come in a line; we dish out the holiday meal. They are far away; we mail them nice care packages. They are alone; we warmly gather them together.

We are generous in our efforts to ensure the downtrodden have a happy holiday. Our senses of goodness and rightness prevail; our own bounty pricks our conscience and stirs our sentimentality. Thus we share.

However these acts are for today, the holiday. As sincere as we may be the core outcome is starkly direct, "Happy holiday today but tomorrow get back to being poor."

This is not a condemnation of our individual generosity. This is not meant to criticize the spiritual or ethical impulses that drive our holiday benevolence. It is to prompt asking the greater questions.

Why do we condone throughout the long year of many hundreds of days the exclusion of the gifts that we so willingly and with moral concern bestow on a single day? Why is our eradication of the most visible outward conditions of poverty by alleviating hunger, satisfying small needs and sharing joys, sharing warmth and fellowship, and the extension of care limited to a handful of hours?

We only give so much, individually.

Our cares are individual and expressed through our volunteer organizations in these holiday efforts. And these generous actions are inherently good. And these resource strapped organizations that express our individual benevolence toil throughout many of the other year’s days to address the needs of the poor are also good. But our greatest organization at our disposal, the organizing fabric of our society that is under our collective control, our political and economic system is not bent toward the eradication of poverty.

Eradicating poverty in this nation is not complicated but it is a real choice we make about how we command our national resources and wealth. We have chosen one path that is ineffectual at best or negligent at worse and now it remains to be seen if we will ever gather the courage to chose to control of our collective destiny so we can say, “Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, everyday.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Affirmation, Aspiration, Articulation, and Application

We lost. Yes, there are some bright spots and bright leaders saved or on the horizon. But we lost.

This sounds like a bitter reality pill that we are forced to swallow but silently not accepting it or seeking excuses for it will lead to continued rejection. Redefining this moment as an opportunity seems perhaps trite but this is a time for an opening to be seized to renew our Democratic Party in order to serve people with a vision for a prospective future that they will desire, support, and protect.

We need to adopt a plan to build an affirmation of aspiration with articulation yielding application.

We must not be tempted to merely position the party on whim or poll or to craftily market ourselves to the electorate, but rather to know ourselves so we can build trust with citizens and offer them effective solutions to real challenges, based on moral assurances that help all of us meet higher objectives. We need to search for what our vision is in governance both pragmatic and moral, agree on the broad brush stokes philosophically, and then employ effective constant communication to build alliances and especially obtain individual allegiances to not just win elections but mandates of ongoing actions.

Affirmation of our fundamental beliefs is vital to ensuring that we have identified the essential ingredients of both the moral positions and pragmatic governance principles we value. It is essential that our core values are an expression of our deepest vision and not a whimsical reaction to polls, politicians, or perceived popularity.

Aspiration is what we need to shape from our core beliefs. We can only say “no” today to Republican rule with authority if we reject taking over their tactics of obstruction and division.  It may have the potential to yield electoral success fleetingly but it is a cynical strategy that contributes nothing to the common good. We can do better; we will say “no” because we aspire to a finer alternative that we must define completely that we make accessible.

Articulation of our message is critical to connect to citizens and is of far greater vital consequence to earn their trust. We must not solely wallow in the mechanics of communications but pay large attention to the message. We have to express our aspirations as the best possible, well thought out, and pragmatic but visionary alternative vision of governance. We must express beliefs that can be believed in, not puffery performed for the present.

Application of our principles is our ultimate goal.  We must not seek mere reactive moments of affiliation with us in the voting booth but build a foundation to elect and reelect individuals that articulate solid common aspirational goals. We must seek voter affiliation for the long term to ultimately govern well with trust to achieve worthy objectives. We must invest the time and energy to earn it.

Democrats form the party that looks forward; let’s move forward.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Life in the Circuses

I came to political consciousness under a tea party governorship. A shoot from the hip talker, tax axing - cut ‘n slash ‘guvmint’, state’s rights advocate, right wing constitutionalist misconstruing, shut the liberal whiners up, self-described successful businessman, welfare-baitin' chicken hawk, and legend in his own mind chief executive who ruled the state by anti-tax rhetoric and veto threats.

Paul LePage in 2014? Not quite; I’m speaking of LePage’s most likely and unknown to him role model, Meldrim Thomson, Jr., chief executive of next door New Hampshire from 1973 to 1979.

Mel Thomson won a three way race for Governor in 1972 with 41% of the vote after wresting the Republican nomination from a moderate sitting Governor, Walter Peterson. He defeated Democrat Roger Crowley who took 39% of the vote and a moderate independent, Malcolm McLane, who picked up 19% mostly to Crowley’s detriment. "Thanks to McLane, I'm governor," Mel told a reporter after the election. There's a similar line that could be uttered in 2014 if  people vote for an independent spoiler without prospects of victory in our upcoming election.

Like LePage, the new Governor did not waste anytime alienating the state legislature, paralyzing the governing process, and grounding the ship of state on the sand bars of senselessness. He acted as a bully and barred every sensible tax model the state needed. Conservatives today, especially in neighboring states, laud his legacy of no New Hampshire sales and income taxes. But of course these neighbors only see the walls; I got to live inside. Yes, we lived "free" and died "free" without sales or income taxes. But we paid enormous property taxes, fees galore, and lacked reasonable basic services. In fact, one plus of our move to Maine in the 1980’s was gaining access to public Kindergarten which we fought and fought for unsuccessfully in New Hampshire.

Mel could not idly abide the alienation and paralysis he created that exposed his inability to govern. So he made himself into the ringmaster in a circus of distractions. Like the tea party of today, Thomson said he was stuck in the current century but his philosophy was that of the 1700’s. And since he refused to govern with the legislature, he decided he would engage in antics, right wing symbols, and bully brutishness.

So our license plates got “Live Free or Die” stamped on them in lieu of “Scenic” by inmates at the state prison. Social issues got going. The previously abolished death penalty got signed back into law with Mel quipping that he felt like John Hancock when he affixed his signature, apparently equating signing the Declaration of Independence with execution by the state.

Our flags furiously went up and down for every conservative whim of Mel’s. We dropped the state building flags by executive order to half mast on Good Fridays, to protest the exclusion of Taiwanese athletes to the Olympics, to mourn the granting of amnesty by President Carter to those who objected to Vietnam and choose not to fight, the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty, recognition of mainland China, and so on. He banned the use of “Ms.” By state employees. He called a news conference to publicly purchase Gallo wine during a boycott of it called by the United Farm Workers. He constantly referred to the deceased Martin Luther King as a “commie” and attacked UN ambassador Andrew Young as a one world fanatic.

Mel played intimidation politics too. He searched the tax records and the files of the New England Organized Crime Intelligence System for information about his political opponents; the latter he said was to test the system’s security. He pulled up a Massachusetts driver with his state limo for giving him the finger. Mel urged Nantucket to succeed from the Bay State and join New Hampshire as well as fomenting a so called “Lobster War” with Maine. As a tough on crime guy, he blocked federal money for New Hampshire Legal Assistance; tough on crime apparently meaning tough on due process.

Unlike LePage thus far, Thomson even went on to prance on the international stage. He toured apartheid South Africa and praised its white leadership and described Soweto as “just wonderful” and lauded the country’s “free elections” despite being only available to whites.

Vetoes were common, including an early one that would have helped the state hospital regain accreditation. Those at the margins of society did not gain his sympathy. He often spoke ill of those that needed government assistance. This tendency toward divisiveness is a common trait we see bursting forth in Paul LePage's tenure as Governor.

Never serving in the military, he was a typical chicken hawk, belligerent in his attitude toward communist nations. He suggested that the NH National Guard be given tactical nuclear weapons. Clownishly dressed in fatigues he showed up at a massive protest of the Clamshell Alliance at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant and had 1,414 protesters arrested and incarcerated at great state expense. He even needlessly deployed the National Guard when Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman spoke at UNH.

Mel’s damaging legacy lives on. All statewide politicians are forced to “take the pledge” against sales and income taxes. But you can load up on state sold liquor and pay a $2.00 toll for the privilege of traveling the 14 miles of I-95 in the state on your way to Boston. The Mel Thomson years did not give us a better life. We got his hollow promise of low taxes that were really only no state broad based taxes but regressive property taxes, in exchange for low living and low services. His son, Thom Thomson, is a big tea party organizer in New Hampshire today reminding all that his father’s motto of "Low taxes are the result of low spending".

Mel Thomson did not govern and neither has Paul LePage whose current catalog of head games, lies, and malarkey is well documented. Thomson paralyzed the state for three two-year terms and today LePage has held Maine back for four years. With each of these bad actors as Governor, we've gotten form not function; we've suffered symbols, and we have been denied substance. Let’s not deepen the damage already recorded in Maine by reelecting our Thompson-like, shoot from the hip talker, tax axing - cut ‘n slash ‘guvmint’, state’s rights advocate, right wing constitutionalist misconstruing, shut the liberal whiners up, self-described successful businessman, welfare baitin', chicken hawk, and legend in his own mind, Paul LePage.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bruce Poliquin, Claim Creator

One of Bruce Poliquin’s claims in his run for Congress as noted on his latest website incarnation is that he has 35 years of experience in the private sector creating jobs. Since the GOP and all voters like accountability and since Poliquin is a numbers guy, it seems appropriate for all of us to have his job creation claim out in the public sphere for a hard numbers honest review. The last thing Maine needs to send to Congress is a smoke and mirrors overrated, self-inflated accountant, without the proven track record that person claims. A look at Mr. Poliquin’s career should at least help expose the potential for job creation claims by him.

Right out of college in 1976 he joined Harris Trust and Savings Bank in Chicago, working in the employee benefits area. The banking job’s work in the employee benefits area sounds like one of technical paper pushing related to existing jobs and not one of bold vision and responsibility for staff expansion. Maybe he gave new employees their benefit package orientation thus touching the magic of job creation. Anyhow, Poliquin only stayed 2 years, which if one thinks about it, did sort of create one job for someone else when he jumped ship.

He showed up next at Evaluation Associates, Inc. in Westport, Connecticut for what appears to be 3 years in that pension fund consulting firm that basically peddled Wall Street advice. Poliquin’s only likely defensive response might be that he helped advise funds to place their pension money of people eventually leaving employment into robust job creation machines. That being so, he should be able to put a number to it unless it’s similar to his fellow Wall Streeter Mitt Romney’s record whom he endorsed in 2012. So perhaps Poliquin is using the good old Bain Capital unverified approach to job creation through cost (job) cutting for shareholder profits to be reinvested in further job creation through cost (job) cutting hedge and money funds. At any rate, none of this play money was his “job creation” investment to risk.

In 1981 he became a principal partner in the investment management firm Avatar Investors Associates Corporation in New York. This was where the big bucks were and likely where Poliquin solidified his arrival in the 1% and when he left the firm after 15 years it is claimed by him that it managed nearly $5 billion of pension, endowment, and foundation assets. There is a lack of online information about Avatar or the claim of $5 billion under management but it known that it was acquired by Overture Asset Managers in 2003 with $1.5 billion being managed by it. Again, the claim to Poliquin’s significant job creation results is likely to be very elusive at Avatar.

But he did make his nickel and came home in 1996 to play with his money or as he might tell it, invest in job creation for Maine. In his 2010 failed GOP gubernatorial nomination bid his offered biography included the statement “I have started, invested in, and managed a number of businesses that have provided hundreds of jobs for Maine workers” presumingly during his previous 14 years as a state resident. Pine Tree Watchdog a publication of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting questioned Poliquin’s claim at that time and reported:

“After initially agreeing to supply the Center with corroborating material, on a second call, a Poliquin staff member said the campaign would not respond to the Center’s questions, citing objections to its previous stories on the gubernatorial campaign.”

Poliquin was also the sole owner and financier of Dirigo Holdings which has been involved in two ventures. It aimed to develop a 69 unit condominium in Phippsburg known as Popham Woods Condominiums and also marketing membership the nearby Popham Beach Club. Both have been controversial both in town and involved concerns that he had potential conflicts of interest when he served in the Constitutional Office of State Treasurer which barred him from commercial activities. Phippsburg, just for reference, is in Maine’s First Congressional District. So getting to the bottom of his job creation claim of “hundreds of jobs for Maine workers” remains elusive. While construction certainly results in temporary jobs and does contribute to the economy, it would be a stretch connecting this type of development to a sustained hard number job growth outcome for the state of the type of image he would like to project.

While he was State Treasurer, Poliquin was definitely not in a job creation role. In fact, a number of statements that he made about doing more with less state employees probably indicate that whatever back of the envelope number he can scratch up for job creation in Maine was negated by the loss of state jobs under the first two years of the LePage administration which he cheered on and on. Likely Poliquin supporters will say this is comparing apples and oranges but when it comes to job creation or job reductions, it seems that Bruce Poliquin in either private or public roles has merely been a sideline incidental walk on actor and not a mean, lean, job creation machine.

Finally in his failed Senate nomination bid, he kept the idea of his being a “job creator” alive. We can expect that maybe a couple of cut and paste jobs from that attempt to his latest search for electoral relevance could happen as he tries again to recycle his 2010 and 2012 campaign trinkets and baubles. The only job to be created by him between his Senate attempt after getting booted as State Treasurer and his latest reincarnation as a candidate for the House of Representatives seems to be hiring Brent Littlefield to polish and revise his résumé.

So my premise is simple: Bruce Poliquin has not produced any sustained jobs that give him the magical “job creator” crown in his run in the Second District race for Congress. It is possible that a few fact checker jobs may need to be created to dive into his statement exaggerations similar to his claim to be a “job creator” He should be directly and consistently challenged to come up with real hard verifiable numbers whenever he makes this claim. Until he delivers some solid evidence using his famous accounting number skills, Maine voters should be wary that he is mostly investing heavily to create one single job in Congress…for Bruce Poliquin.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Miss Republicans

Aye, that may seem like an odd remark before I set off to the Maine Democratic State Convention as a delegate but a conversation yesterday set me yearning…yes, for Republicans. I’m not talking about the present tea-infused party built on rejection of ideas, consensus, science, and President Obama but an old party with grand ideals.

I grew up in a family of labor oriented Democrats and that no doubt formulated my ideas about fairness, convictions, and personal active participation in politics as a result. While we took philosophical exception with GOP ideals, we were never taught to despise Republicans. At that time, on the national level Democrats were a majority in Congress but in the politics of my state Republicans were on top, and the local city government seesawed back and forth. Yet ideological differences did not result in gridlock because the art and responsibility of governing was taken seriously. Things needed to get done. The majority got to set the direction and with a bit of cooperation and consensus, compromises containing concessions that neither undermined the majority’s bearing nor were completely void of some minority contributions became law.

Today attempting to replicate that governing situation anew operates under an illusion that it is centrist compromising which is missing in modern two party politics. However that is misleading when one considers that the center of our political historical thread moves slow and steady in pace with time. Progress in this country has generally always taken time and often far too much as in the cases of slavery or voting rights for women. In fact, we on what is often called the left currently are actually the center, especially when one discusses matters on an issue by issue basis with real discourse instead of the extremist positioning that quite frankly mostly originates on the new right.

Three quarters of a century of building a shared social contract in this country along with decades of step by step progress on worker rights, environmental protections, safety nets, and extending and protecting civil rights are utterly rejected today in a desire to push back all at once, on every front, this complete shared history of lawmaking by today’s right in obeisance by Republicans to the tea party, market manipulators, and social issue fundamentalists. When the center-liberal hand is extended across the aisle it most always finds empty air and the reverse when honestly examined is simply not the predominate case. Indeed, Democrats have often crafted legislation that contains great concessions as a good faith starting point much to the chagrin of many party loyalists but even those efforts are greeted by an impenetrable wall of rejection on the right.

This current observation is not just a reactive countering rejection of historical conservatism. Many past conservatives were fundamentally different than today’s GOP absolutism practitioners. Principled conservatives stand for something and should be debated, included in decision making, and respected but the pretenders of today ought not to be assigned any undue gravitas when they erect their walls.

This supposed void in the center also leads to independent candidates claiming they will be center players, people wanting the two sides to come together in center compromise without any real parameters of definition, and news reporting of supposed centrist positions without acknowledging that present day Republicans see the center not as a compromise between two points based on today’s reality of decades of law building but an expectation of reversal of almost all the ground covered since the Roosevelt administration. Society is not well served when wishful centrists place themselves in an erroneous concept of center because their outlook is about tone not merit and who sacrifice history and direction to the desire for expediency above all.

I respect and miss the old fashioned, small town conservative, child of immigrants who made good, part owner of the local hardware store or local bread and butter lawyer, who did a civic turn or two with the downtown chamber, and was a local deacon who might take issue with higher taxes but did not begrudge all taxes all the time and who in turn strove to understand and respect the moral issues involved and would take part in the debate or public political service to work toward possible eventual consensus. Unfortunately, that conservative has been often replaced by a grandchild of immigrants who despises new immigrants, had local ownership whipped out by big box stores, gets civics from single issue radio ranters, uses religion to create division, argues against all taxes for any purpose (except cops, firemen and soldiers to protect his private property), rejects any moral argument over unflinching trust in the never erring market, and uses outright falsehoods to defeat issues at any cost and considers consensus as something for losers.

Yes, I miss competing in the political world of ideas with Republicans who valued participatory governing with respect for progress and people.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Charter School Pirates

Privateers, sometimes known as pirates, were officially sanctioned by governments, including the United States, in many past wars that allowed the harassment of enemies and legalized the seizure of enemy property. The authorization took the form of “Letters of Marque” that would contain language along the lines of the following:

By virtue of the Power & Authority given to me, I do hereby Authorize and Empower the said Private Captain with his said Ship & Crew to cruise against all our Enemies, and am fully authorized to assure him and all others involved in said private Ship of War, that we will consider him & them as fully Entitled to having a just claim to all vessels & property of every kind which he or they shall make prize of from all or any of our Enemies.                                                                                            Duly Signed & Sealed.

In Maine we seem to be issuing “Letters of Marque” to Charter Schools to seize community funds from our Republican administration’s enemy, public schools. As early as 2012 the Morning Sentinel reported on the economic damage being done in SAD 54:

Students attending the two nearby charter schools this fall will pull from $350,000 to $500,000 out of the School Administrative District 54 budget, according to Superintendent Brent Colbry.

Under the state’s charter school law, money for education from the state follows students from the district where they live to the charter school they attend.

This raid by Charters taking over four dozen students is resulting in the capture of a prize of hundreds of thousands of dollars. As the authorizing Republican administration perhaps intended, it will leave the “enemy” weakened and vulnerable to more privatizing of education as further noted in Mr. Colbry’s remarks in the Sentinel piece:

“We lose 45 kids spread out over eight grades, but nothing changes here — our costs stay exactly the same. This money has been committed to operating this district so now we have to give it to somebody else.”

“This came about after we passed the budget; the public had no opportunity to have any input about this and it’s going to have an impact of reducing services for kids. What this means for next year most likely is we’ll probably ask for a tax increase or a decrease in programs for the remaining kids.”

I am personally not opposed to private, magnet, or alternative schools. But pulling the funding rug from under the egalitarian access to education available to all citizens by siphoning off money to weaken the system that in the long run will still serve the vast majority of children is wrong. And in effect giving “Letters of Marque” to unelected school boards is an attack on local governance and local community control. It will lead to two classes of education, one private and subsidized by the state and one public and damagingly underfunded that is left to sink.

Beware! Pirates ahoy, starboard!

Friday, April 4, 2014

True Revolution

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
The preceding quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. is one we ought to bear in mind in our efforts to define how society needs to deploy the social tool of government. It calls us to question our ultimate vision for how our communities, states or provinces, nations, and world are constructed in our dreams.

The incremental steps now underway in our own legislature and the disturbing realities of a paralyzed national political stalemate can only be finally accelerated in the former case or in the latter broken by an active and powerful majority addressing the future. Any examination of the “edifice” we presently endure, especially in the politically structured economic sense, comes up far short of any desirable dream precisely because it produces poverty either willfully via income gap widening or as just the acceptable collateral damage of market forces.

A true revolution of values, inferable in the quote examined, is what Dr. King called for in a fiery anti-war speech delivered on the anniversary of this day in 1967 one full year before his assassination also on this day in 1968. (One must regretfully digress in thought to wish that year had somehow stretched to decades so the dream of the future could have be continually placed before us, agitated for as necessary, and ultimately realized or on the pathway to realization.)

The quote in wider context still resonates today:
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”
Pausing for self-examination as individuals and parties to ensure we know what edifices to tear down and to build up for the long term is a task we need to remind ourselves to undertake periodically. Doing so keeps true values in the forefront as we strive to build the future.

We on the left truly need to illustrate our ultimate vision to expand our reach. On an issue by issue basis much of this country is already with us but binding many more to us with an overarching dream is what will create an active and powerful majority to yield substantive and transformative results.

In a macro sense it can be argued that the right has placed before this country a more cohesive dream of individually driven bootstrap independence and unfettered market glory to yield life’s satisfaction with winners and losers merely being the neutral output of the economy. Yet when distilled it fails on an issue by issue basis exposing its core philosophy as corrosive. Its overall approach is well entrenched and tried in our history and it has been and is an absolute failure.

Dr. King’s wisdom still urges us to strive beyond ‘tossing coins at beggars’ and remains a powerful argument that we must employ our collective values through our self-governance to restructure our society for achieving economic justice and equality today. We need to place a vision before our sisters and brothers that moves beyond transitory position marketing and into the realm of aspirations shaped by commonly held value beliefs.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Clean Elections - Essential Service

As we move toward the 2014 Maine legislative contests, many individuals who desire to serve our state on both sides of the aisle will decide to run as clean elections candidates. Maine’s public funding of elections aims at leveling the playing field against special interests in state House and Senate elections, allowing genuine grassroots candidates to come forward, letting aspirants for office talk issues not cash collections, and increasing citizen confidence that their concerns are being truly openly addressed in campaigns.

It is also the season when some beholden to outside cash collecting attack clean elections funding by calling it “welfare for politicians” while bankrolling their own campaigns with private funds that despite any disclaimer carry quid pro quo implications. Make no mistake, politicians that resort to such slurs will move to gut or kill clean election funding if elected when the first opportunity arises.

Public financing of elections needs to take place in times when the state is flush with funds and also in lean years to meet the goals of clean elections. Reducing moneyed interests or privately funded campaign machine advantages to give wider opportunity for non-wealthy voices and non-financially connected office seekers to address the issues that affect our lives is not a luxury. Clean election funding is about protecting our democracy from unspoken quid pro quo expectations and providing equal access to the electoral processes. It is about leveling the playing field for all candidates of all parties and ensuring we have everyday citizens’ voices in our citizen legislature.

 Maine has built a clean election model to be proud of with extremely broad popular support and it is an essential service to Maine’s citizens that deserves to be protected in concert with many other essential services. We should be proud that we have had a large number of clean election candidates committing themselves to the reduction of money interests in our state’s history during this law. However, we acutely and especially need public financing in lean times to protect our elections from being bought during moments of economic weakness. Lean times are prime times for threats to democracy.