The Coastal Packet

Friday, April 24

LePage wants to take candy from a baby. . . if it's poor enough

Laura Clawson, Daily Kos - Maine Gov. Paul LePage is the latest to push for harsher limits on what foods people can buy with food stamps. Because it's not enough that people have tiny food budgets and periodic humiliation in the grocery checkout line, we need laws that stigmatize people's eating habits, too.

"Multiple Red Bulls in one purchase, Rock Star energy drinks, 1-pound bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and 3 gallons of Hershey's Ice Cream in one purchase," Bethany Hamm, an official with the state Department of Health and Human Services, said during a hearing on Thursday, MPBN News reported.

"We have all seen these types of purchases occur -- and it's unacceptable," Hamm said.

... An obstacle to imposing SNAP dietary restrictions is that federal law doesn't give states the ability to change what food stamps can buy. That's why the Maine legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Roger Katz (R), would seek a waiver from federal rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP.

The USDA has turned down several such requests from other states in recent years, so what we're looking at in Maine is yet another attempt to trash poor people in the news for its own sake, not to make actual changes

Tuesday, April 21

Down East Notes

Maine's unemployment lowest in 7 years

Workng Waterfront - If asked to name the most ethnically diverse towns in Maine few people would list Milbridge, a community in Washington County where 6 percent of the population and 24 percent of the elementary school students are Hispanic or Latino... Milbridge, a small town of about 1,300 residents situated on the mouth of the Narraguagus River and famous for its blueberries... From 2000 to 2010 its population increased over 7 percent.

Bangor Daily News -  Food and Water Watch and Fryeburg resident Bruce Taylor have asked Maine’s top court to toss out state regulators’ approval of a controversial 25-year deal between Poland Spring owner Nestle Waters and local Fryeburg Water Co.The group has asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to consider specific parts of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s decision but also the unusual process by which the case was decided.

Gov. Paul LePage is promoting a bill to thwart municipal officials in two of Maine’s largest communities from raising the minimum wage for employers within their city limits. . .
LePage’s two-sentence, 40-word bill simply reads: “The State intends to occupy and preempt the entire field of legislation concerning the regulation of the minimum wage. Any existing or future order, ordinance, rule or regulation of any political subdivision of the state is void.”

Colin Woodard, Portland Press Herald - In a further escalation of tensions between the state of Maine and its four federally recognized Indian tribes, Gov. Paul LePage has revoked his own 2011 executive order aiming to promote cooperation between the parties. he move, announced to the tribes by email Saturday morning, came in the form of a fresh executive order in which the governor says efforts to improve relations with the tribes “have proved to be unproductive because the state of Maine’s interests have not been respected.” Tribal leaders said the practical effect of rescinding the order will be limited, as it had gone largely unimplemented, but that the symbolic significance is damaging and counterproductive, particularly at a time of rising tribal-state tensions over fisheries, domestic violence jurisdiction and child welfare.

Sunday, April 19

Maine small town politics

From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2003 - I was in Maine when the lead story on the Portland radio station reported that "John Cole crossed over last night at his Brunswick home." Mainers put their own cast on death. After my brother-in-law died, my sister was told without any disrespect by a friend, "I heard Chad won't be coming down to breakfast any more." And the morning our mother died at Maine Medical, the doctor gave us a full report and then added matter of factly, "Basically she's shuttin' down."

John Cole shut down and crossed over after an extraordinary life that included commercial fishing, serving as a tail-gunner in World War II, and, in 1968 (along with Peter Cox), starting the Maine Times, a paper not only an alternative to the conventional media but strikingly different from either the underground press at the time or later publications more interested in alternative advertising demographics than alternative news. Said Cole once, "We kind of wanted to raise hell and people's awareness about the fact that, in those days, Maine had no protection against being exploited." The Maine Times treated ideas and issues as news, most importantly introducing people to the numerous facts and problems involved in something most had pretty much taken for granted: the environment.

That Maine today stands as one of the more ecologically conscious portions of the country is due at least in part to the fact that Cole, the editor, and Cox, the publisher, made the environment into news. The Maine Times also inspired younger journalists, including your editor, to keep seeking non-conventional ways to tell the stories around us.

In later years John wrote a weekly column for the Falmouth Forecaster, a lively community paper in southern Maine. Recently John quoted from one of my articles and I felt like the teacher had pinned my paper on the board. His last column appeared the day he died. But it was his penultimate piece about a controversy in the town of Freeport that better gives the flavor of the man.

The town had been in an uproar following the surprise victory of several candidates for council highly critical of the way business was being done. I decided to pay a visit to the town council meeting to get a better feel of the characters and the controversies. I got there ten minutes late and found myself standing with others in the doorway - but the lobbying and discussions in the hall made it impossible to hear the meeting so I left to go watch it on TV. I was still engrossed as midnight approached, in part because among those speaking were residents who had become so incensed by what they saw on cable that they had gotten dressed and driven in the night winter cold just to have their views heard.

I finally surrendered to Morpheus only to learn the next morning from a school board member that, after losing a key vote in their drive to fire the town manager, three of the newly elected councilors had resigned, literally leaving Freeport with no one in charge.

Later that day, I paid a visit to Richard DeGrandpre of R & D Automotive, a former member of the "government in exile" that used to meet at a restaurant for breakfast until it suddenly found itself in power. Rich was the one member of the coup who hadn't quit. He assured me that DVDs of the town meeting would soon be available. I offered him the advice of LBJ: "Just hunker down like a jack rabbit in a dust storm."

Then he gave me a copy of John Cole's next-to-last column, written before the town council disintegrated. It read in part: “Relax folks. In all my forty-something years of being paid to observe and report on municipal government in more than a dozen Maine communities, I have never seen a permanent damage done by the charging bulls in the china shops of their own home towns. But they sure are fun to watch.
“And you folks in Freeport ain't seen nuthin' yet. In an odd paradox, it's Maine's long, cold, dark winters that fuel the fires of municipal rampage. As January closes in and February breaks our hearts, our malice turns inward, conspiracy looms in every dark corner and by town meeting time the hearts of otherwise tepid citizens pulse with winter's accumulated venom. Oh the tumults I have witnessed in the lengthening days of March in Maine.

“And then it all dribbles away. By June, all is forgotten and mostly forgiven as late sunsets tell every merchant, school child, every harassed mother that the wonders of summer are upon us. Light spills its bright wine into every evening, harbors throb with the sound of marine engines and all of us are much too busy to worry about where our town manager sits.”
It's just too bad John never covered Congress or the White House.

Saturday, April 18

Down East Notes

Portland's police chief nominated to be acting city manager

Republican state senator is withdrawing his so-called religious freedom bill

Portland council committee endorses citywide minimum wage

Communities taking back privatized water

Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams - In communities across the world, people are taking back their water. Cases of remunicipalization—getting what were privatized water and sanitation services back under public control—is the focus of a new book by the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute), and offers welcome respite from tales of the ever-encroaching reach of corporate power.

The trend of remunicipalization is accelerating, the new research says, and it's "a story crying to be told."..

In the last fifteen years, the researchers note there have been 235 cases of such public take-back spanning 37 countries. A recent notable example happened just last month in Jakarta, Indonesia, where, the researchers write, a citizen lawsuit brought the privatization of the city's water systems to a end, as the private control "was deemed negligent in fulfilling the human right to water for Jakarta’s residents."

But many of the success stories are closer to home; fifty-eight of the public reclamations since 2000 have taken place in the United States. Food & Water Watch's Mary Grant outlines some of them for the report, writing:
Since 2000, major water companies have lost 169 contractions to remunicipalization. That's a large number compared to existing private water management contracts, considering that four of the largest companies, representing an estimated 70 percent of the US water outsourcing market, had a total of just 760 government clients in 2013.

Thursday, April 16

Stories we never thought we'd see

Christopher Muther, Boston Globe -   “I think of it as Little Portland,” said Timothy Goad, owner of River Bottom Video. Yes, Bath has an independent video store and, contrary to what you’re thinking, it’s super hip and very popular.

When the computer system of Goad’s video store crashed last December, the town rallied to help save the little business by raising money for a new system. Goad said he felt like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

Goad’s Portland comparison may be a bit premature. Portland, which is a 30-minute drive from Bath, has a population of more than 66,000, about eight times Bath’s. But there are people in their 20s and 30s moving to Bath for the inexpensive real estate and beautiful beaches. There are some architectural and historical similarities between the cities, but Bath feels like an escape from the buzzy scene of Portland...

My own impression of Bath was that it’s a place I’d like to visit again, albeit when the weather is less formidable. I was worried that Bath would be trying too hard to be cool, like when your mom starts singing “Uptown Funk!” but scrambles the lyrics. Bath is a small city with a bit of smart cosmopolitan flair. It could stand a bit more polishing — but not too much, please.

Fine, I’ll just say it. Bath is on the verge of becoming Maine’s cool little city.

5 reasons Marge Kilkelly knows she's home

 Marge Kilkelly, Dragonfly Cove Farm, Maine

1. I can park my truck in a store parking lot- beside other trucks.

2. Something as simple as going to the recycle station can make me smile, because folks say hi, and help unload just because they want to and it gives us a chance to chat.

3. I can drive to a small business and see the large box of goods I need to pick up on the porch – with an envelope on the top that just says “Marge” and holds the bill.

4. I drive down a back country road at sunset, stop to take a picture and a smiling young man driving another pickup truck, stops beside me and asks if I need help.

5. When I drive, my arm hurts ....from waving to all the folks I know.

Wednesday, April 15

Down East Notes


Mario Moretto, Bangor Daily News -  A draft of a Maine senator’s “religious freedom” bill shows the plan is nearly identical to the Indiana law that has sparked national controversy in recent weeks from those who say it has legalized discrimination based on sexual orientation. The draft of the bill by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, was obtained by the Bangor Daily News ... Supporters say the bill would affirm the state’s commitment to the First Amendment by setting a better standard for government intrusions on religious exercise.

But critics, including lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said religious rights in the state are already protected by the First Amendment, the Maine Human Rights Act and the Maine Constitution.

Tuesday, April 14

Down East Notes

Manie Public Broadcasting -  Maine Gov. Paul LePage has submitted legislation that would make it easier to site a small nuclear plant in Maine. The proposal is drawing sharp opposition from environmentalists and other nuclear opponents.

GOP Congressman Bruce Poliqin is off to a good start in buying himself a second term in Congress. The $700,000 in dirty election money he has already raised sets a new record for freshman members of Congress. His opponent, Emily Cain, has only raised $135,000.

Main ranks second in nation for local food

Monday, April 13

Nestles' license to pump water from national forest expired 25 years ago

Daily Koz - An investigation by the Desert Sun found that Nestle Waters North America's permit to transport water across the San Bernardino National Forest expired in 1988. The water is piped across the national forest and loaded on trucks to a plant where it is bottled as Arrowhead 100 percent Mountain Spring Water.

Nestlé is the #1 bottle water producer in the country and own the brands Arrowhead and Pure Life. The company's response? Don't worry, folks. Nestlé "monitors its water use and the environment around the springs where water is drawn."

The California drought has gotten so bad we've been warned there is only a one-year supply left in the reservoirs. In Sacramento, Nestlé has recently been under fire from environmental activists, calling the company's unregulated tapping of California aquifers a "corporate giveaway":

“The coalition is protesting Nestlé’s virtually unlimited use of water – up to 80 million gallons a year drawn from local aquifers – while Sacramentans (like other Californians) who use a mere 7 to 10 percent of total water used in the State of California, have had severe restrictions and limitations forced upon them,” according to the coalition.

“Nestlé pays only 65 cents for each 470 gallons it pumps out of the ground – the same rate as an average residential water user. But the company can turn the area’s water around, and sell it back to Sacramento at mammoth profits,” the coalition said.

Down East Notes

Portland imposes nickel fee on shopping bags this week

 Tall ships festival sails into Portland in July

Sunday, April 12

Maine's clean election drive gets national attention

Ben Cohen, The Hill - The majority of Maine, 86 percent, agrees that big money in politics has overwhelmed elections and drowned out ordinary citizens. And, Maine people have done more than almost anyone else to combat the problem. Passage of the citizen-initiated Clean Election Act in 1996 ushered in an era of publicly funded elections that earned the support of candidates and voters alike by giving qualified candidates a way to run viable campaigns without relying on large campaign contributions.

Mainers also support transparency and accountability in election laws. But with recent Supreme Court decisions rolling back campaign finance reforms nation-wide, more outside spending with less disclosure than ever before has flooded all political campaigns, and the Clean Elections system is less viable. After years of high participation in Clean Elections, candidates today find that they are less able to compete with well-funded opposition.

That means that as elections get pricier more of our politicians have to forego public funding, and paw at the door of millionaires to raise campaign cash. The voters who fuel Clean Elections campaigns with $5 contributions are no longer at the center of elections. But the people of the Pine Tree State are fighting back.

In the past few months, Republicans, Democrats, independents and Greens all came together to get an initiative on the ballot. If successful, this measure will increase transparency and raise penalties for candidates who break Maine’s campaign finance laws. And, it will restore Clean Elections.

More than 85,000 signatures were collected for the initiative to get on the ballot, and the Secretary of State announced this month that the initiative would go forward this year.  This is a big accomplishment for the grassroots effort that organized the initiative.

“So much about politics is about divisions, but in this Clean Election endeavor, we are Mainers first,” said Republican State Senator Ed Youngblood, who worked with the nonpartisan Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and nearly 1,000 volunteers to achieve this remarkable feat.

The initiative is the first step in restoring the weakened Clean Election Act, and the role of everyday voters within it. Ordinary Mainers willing to give $5 to candidates they support will once again be the most important donors in Maine.

Cohen is co-founder of Ben & Jerry‘s Ice Cream.

Down East Notes

WCSH A Portland city councilor is calling for changing the role of the mayor for the second time in five years. In 2001, voters approved a change to the city charter which allowed voters to elect its first mayor since the 1920's. Previously city councilors chose one of their own to serve as mayor. City councilor Ed Suslovic said having a mayor with no executive authority has been confusing and frustrating for staff. He claims nothing has been gained from having an popularly elected mayor. Suslovic was a big supporter of amending the city charter in 2010, but now he has buyer's remorse.'We have the mayor elected, we created all these expectation that the mayor would do this, set an agenda, have a vision, but we didn't give him more authority than the previous mayor did under the old system," said Suslovic.

Augusta's veterans' hospital doing better than national average in wait time