It’s a strange time for the newspaper industry — especially here in Maine, where we recently witnessed several seismic shifts in the media landscape.
Yesterday it was announced that Donald Sussman’s investor group will now own a 75 percent stake in the company that publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Waterville Morning Sentinel and the Maine Sunday Telegram.
That’s all fine and dandy, except for one small twist: Sussman’s wife just happens to be Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and she shows no sign of leaving Maine’s First Congressional District anytime in the near future.
Sure, Sussman says he has only the best of intentions, and adamantly vows that he will not interfere with the newspapers’ editorial process. Yeah, okay…whatever. For the record, I actually have a full-head of hair.
I was lucky to work for a family-owned group of weekly newspapers. David & Carolyn Flood gave me a very long leash, but I was never foolish enough to forget that I was on a leash. The Courier was not my paper.
There were many times when my editorials and opinion columns came nowhere close to matching the opinions of my employers, but they sighed…rolled their eyes…and kept giving me a paycheck. For better or worse, I was promoted three times during the seven years I worked for David and Carolyn.
But all good things come to an end, and it remains to be seen whether the Press Herald or smaller weekly papers such as the Courier will continue to survive in this brave new world of digital media.
Regardless of the financial implications of producing dead-tree news, the Press Herald and its sister publications have crossed a murky line, despite the financial necessity of the decision.
It’s a tough call. Do you fold, and allow a historical institution to become nothing more than a memory? Do you surrender and send hundreds of employees to the unemployment line?
Or do you hold your nose and make a deal with the devil?
I’m sure Donald Sussman is a nice enough guy. I’ve never met him. But regardless of his Boy Scout oath to be ethical, every story that involves his wife, her decisions or her detractors will now be tainted with lingering doubt.
In November 2010, the Portland Press Herald surprised many of its readers by endorsing Republican Dean Scontras over Pingree during her campaign for a second term. If that happened now, we would have to wonder whether such a stance was motivated by an editorial board trying to make a public statement about its objectivity.
Journalists bristle when discussing ethical standards, so I do not envy the dilemma now faced by the reporters and editors at Maine Today Media. No matter what lines they feed themselves before going to bed each night, each one of them also knows that they also are on a leash . . . a very tenuous leash.
But before you criticize reporters being on a leash, consider the plight earlier this month for the more than 50 employees at the Village Soup newspaper who were laid off when that group of weekly newspapers suddenly closed.
Being off the leash feels good, right up until you discover that you no longer have a bone to chew.
There was rampant speculation about last week’s freakish heat wave, an anomaly that shattered local meteorological records and sent scores of disappointed people to Old Orchard Beach in search of Pier Fries.
Some folks opined that increasing solar flares from the sun were to blame. Others said fiery rhetoric from presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was dramatically increasing gaseous emissions and further eroding our fragile ozone.
And, of course, global-warming alarmist were out in full force, smugly announcing that the much-anticipated end of the world is now in full swing.
But leave it to those crazy Brits to get to the meat of the story.
Apparently, the earth has a long track record of warming and then cooling. It’s a cycle that’s been going on for centuries, long before rednecks like me were driving F-150s to suburban shopping malls in pursuit of consumer electronics and plastic bags.
If you don’t believe me, check this story in London’s Daily Mail newspaper, which reported a new study that throws a monkey wrench into the global climate change debate.
According to the story, a team of scientists led by geochemist Zunli Lu from Syracuse University found that contrary to the ‘consensus’, the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ approximately 500 to 1,000 years ago wasn’t just confined to Europe — it extended to Antarctica.
Now there’s an inconvenient truth that ought to be as easy to understood as a trip to Peaks Island.
We had an Ice Age long before we had SUVs. Peaks and all the other islands in Casco Bay were created long ago when southerly flowing glaciers carved out the island masses.
Even in Greenville, Maine – arguably the state’s greenest community, there is evidence of historical global warming: it’s called Moosehead Lake.
We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of our natural resources; and none of this should justify industrial pollution or irresponsible human behavior.
It’s just that you should remember that there is an agenda to the global warming hysteria. It’s a belief that individuals should not get to choose how much energy they use. Other people want to tell you how you should heat your home, what kind of car you should drive and what type of lightbulbs you can use.
But don’t think that any of that is going to fundamentally change the planet’s natural evolution.
Earth’s climate has been changing since the beginning of time. To think that you can save the planet is the height of arrogance. The planet will change with or without you.
If you want credibility, then lead by example: ditch your car, buy a bicycle and get off Facebook….computers are made of petroleum-based products and they consume gobs of electricity.
If only the Neanderthals had Twitter, maybe they could have stopped those damned glaciers.
But then, where would I drive my boat?
Global warming has been good to me—even if only to give my furnace and my wallet a much-needed break during the final days of winter.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin
When we become adults we no longer need our parents to make critical decisions in our lives. We are free to fail, free to succeed, and yes…even free to be flat-out stupid.
Freedom, however, does not come without risks and costs, especially when it comes to our rights to wallow in pure stupidity.
But what line should our government draw between an individual’s desire to exercise his or her inalienable right to stupidity and the protection of other citizens from those stupid choices?
The Biddeford City Council is just half an inch away from enacting an ordinance that will prevent residents from using fireworks anywhere in the city.
The council’s decision follows on the heels of a recent reversal in state law that now allows the sale, use and distribution of fireworks. But the new state law also stipulates that individual communities may set their own standards regarding the use, sale and possession of fireworks.
By allowing individual communities to establish their own fireworks ordinances, a resident of Bangor could –theoretically — have more freedom than a resident of Biddeford.
Some animals, apparently, are more equal than other animals.
My wife, Laura, is a member of the city council’s Policy Committee. She and other members of the committee voted unanimously in favor of the city’s ban on the use of fireworks.
When asked why she voted in favor of the ban, Laura explained that the majority of residents who testified before her committee supported the ban. Furthermore, she said, the local ban was adamantly supported by both the city’s police chief and the fire chief.
It makes sense to me that government officials, such as the police and fire chief, would want to ensure public safety by having greater control over public activities. In a sense, this is the fundamental and appropriate role of government: to provide for the public’s general welfare.
For example, the city is not infringing upon its residents’ Second Amendment rights by enforcing a policy that limits the use of shotguns in certain parts of the city; nor is the city infringing upon its residents’ First Amendment rights by limiting public comments at city council meetings to five minutes.
Reasonable people can agree that individual rights have some limits. Your freedom of speech does not allow you to scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater.
But then again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and what do we do about all the stupid people and their stupid choices?
It is a slippery slope with grave consequences that should be weighed carefully.
On July 4 1978, I violated state law, local ordinances and the core elements of common sense by using a Roman Candle — a type of firework device that launches brilliant shots of exploding matter into a brilliant, although brief, display of color and sound.
I was 14 years old, and I nearly blew off my testicles by holding the tube improperly while sitting on the front stairs of my childhood home.
I lit the fuse and pointed the tube across the street, toward the parking lot of the Armory building on Franklin Street in Saco, then the home of 133rd Engineering Batallion.
Fortunately, there was an adult present who saw that the fuse was pointed toward my crotch.
“Hey, turn it around!” he screamed just before the tiny balls of fire began jettisoning toward my own tiny balls of fire.
Obviously, I survived the incident and learned a valuable lesson about protecting my genitals.
Under today’s standards, however, I would have been prosecuted by the Department of Homeland Security for firing upon a federal facility, and my parents would have been charged with child endangerment.
But it all turned out fine. For better or worse, my testicles remained in tact, and I went on to make many more stupid choices.
Imagine strolling on a North Carolina beach in the early 1900s and watching as two brothers played with a “flying machine.” How stupid! Those men think humans can fly like the birds!
Go back further in history. How much sense did it make for a bunch of disgruntled farmers to take on the world’s most powerful army in a rebellion against a mighty throne?
And what about the stupidity of Columbus, and his epic failure to find a new route to India?
Acts of stupidity and risky behavior provide us with tremendous value and opportunities. More importantly, our right to be stupid is inextricably linked to our pursuit of happiness.
Therefore we ought to be damned careful as we set out to create a utopian society. After all, Adolph Hitler was one of the world’s most outspoken critics of smoking.
In fact, Hitler went after the smokers long before he set his sights on private gun ownership and the Jews.
Thus, whenever government infringes on our God-given right to be as dumb as a door-knob, it ought to include much deliberation and considerable thought and debate about the unintended consequences of such legislative endeavors.
Defining stupidity is nearly impossible. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
Do you think the government should tell you what is okay to eat? Do you think the government should dictate who you can marry? Would you prefer that the government provides your health care, your housing and your food? Can you imagine the consequences?
How dependent are you prepared to be? How much of your liberty are you willing to sacrifice for your security?
Fireworks have become a symbol and trademark of our liberty. They define our brilliance, our diversity and our strength as a nation. They remind us of the explosions that had far greater consequences more than 200 years ago.
It would not be hard for the city to set some reasonable guidelines for the use of fireworks. We could establish acceptable hours of use. We could set policies that include where the use of fireworks is permissible, such as a required 20-foot setback from a neighbor’s property.
In America, you have the right to define the course of your life, and that means you have the right to be stupid.
If we don’t stand for stupidity, then what will we stand for?
The Biddeford City Council will hold a second reading on its proposed fireworks ordinance on Tuesday, April 3.
Want to make a 16-year-old boy smile? Hand him a chainsaw.
Things did not go exactly as planned.
But that’s the beauty of stupidity, the opportunity to figure things out; the foundation of failure that often leads to success…or at least the cleansing of the gene pool.
Note: We did not intend for the tree to fall into the pond, nor did we intend for my father-in law to be rolling around in the back yard.
Yup, stupid can be defined as climbing up a 24-foot ladder, wearing shorts and slippers with a cigarette dangling out of your mouth and a chainsaw in your hand.
I have health insurance. It was my risk, but are you okay with it being your risk?
The so-called “right to affordable health care” has become the mantra and favorite talking point for those who say health care in the United States ought to look a lot more like it does in other countries, including Canada, Norway, Sweden or Denmark.
These folks generally support a single-payer system of health care, which resembles the current Medicaid program and effectively eliminates the need for private insurance.
But is health care — or even access to health care — a right?
In our first installment (Money for Nothing), we followed up on questions posed by Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant on his Facebook page:
“So the moral question is: What should a society do in such situations? What should government do? Do we act, or do we allow the laws of Darwin to supersede our compassion, integrity and our humanity? The system is broken. . .”
Although we previously discussed the difference between health “insurance” and health “care,” Casavant’s questions also beg a discussion about where morality and government should — or should not — intersect.
Casavant’s questions also prompt a more focused pondering of how our nation defines “rights.”
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence is probably a good place to start when examining the concept, definition and limitations of ”rights” held by the American people:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Reading that sentence it becomes crystal clear our nation’s Founders understood basic rights come from a higher power than government. And this is a fundamental point.
Government cannot bestow rights; otherwise government can take away rights.
Your rights are yours, with or without a government.
The government’s limited role, as defined by both the Declaration and the ensuing Constitution, is to secure and defend your individual rights as part of a much larger group.
But the Declaration of Independence also opens the door for a legitimate discussion and debate about other “rights” beyond Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, which are described as being “among” other, non-specified rights.
The argument for health care as a right gained further legitimacy when our Founders drafted the Constitution. It is within this document that our Founders more fully explored the concept of government’s appropriate role in promoting the “general welfare.”
Although the subject of health care is not discussed in either the Declaration or the Constitution, it could be reasonably construed as much of a “right” as public education — another topic not specifically discussed in those documents.
During our nation’s formative years, there was no such thing as public education. Education was reserved for the privileged few who could afford it.
Today, however, most people generally agree that our nation is better off when our citizens have – at minimum — a certain level of education.
Although our nation continues to grapple and debate public education funding, those costs and the ensuing delivery system is much easier to control than the cost and delivery of health care.
And here’s where it gets really tricky.
If the government provides your healthcare from cradle to grave, then does it not follow that the government can dictate your health choices and even many of your lifestyle choices?
If we allow government to take care of us, are we not abdicating our individual pursuit of happiness?
I moved out of my parents’ home because I was ready to enjoy my adult freedoms. I wanted to come and go as I pleased. I wanted to make my own choices about what I eat, when and where I sleep and all the other benefits of freedom.
If my pursuit of happiness includes a poor diet that includes a daily regimen of Big Macs and French Fries, are you responsible to help pay the cost of my inevitable need for a heart transplant?
We have established standards and limitations for public education.
We accept the fact that not every child will be able to attend Harvard or Yale. Of course, you have the “right” to apply, but those universities also have the right to reject your application.
If you want to make the moral case for public health care, what happens when your health care contradicts your neighbors rights to his/her religious beliefs?
During the Vietnam war, even our military made accommodations for drafted citizens to be conscientious objectors. If you are Catholic, should you be required to help pay for abortions and contraceptives?
Where do your rights as an individual end — or start — in a society that provides you with health care?
How much of your liberty are you willing to sacrifice for your safety?
One of the most ardent opponents of smoking was Adolph Hitler, a man who envisioned a nation of supreme and physically fit citizens. Mentioning Hitler in this debate is intended to be inflammatory, only if to give us pause.
If you have the right to health care, does that mean that other people should financially support that right? If so, are there any limitations to how much health care any one individual wants or needs?
These are legitimate questions and not very convenient for either side of the debate.
If we propose that health care is a right, then we will need to completely reconstruct our health care system. We would have public doctors and nurses, whose employment contracts and salaries are negotiated by the government — just like teachers.
We would also have public health care clinics that are less desirable than their private counterparts.
In the end, those with money would have better access to service than those without money.
The hypocrisy found in these arguments is overwhelming.
We want our choices. We want our freedom, but we would prefer that the consequences of our individual choices are funded — at least in part — by other people.
Maybe it’s just time to move back in with mom and dad.
If you would like to further explore the arguments for and against the concept of health care as a right, you may want to visit this website.