Joe Biden: The Comeback Kid?

A few days ago, I was drawn into yet another Facebook political debate. I can’t help it. I’m a political junkie and off my meds.

The debate was about the 2020 presidential campaign, and I made the comment that I identify as a “right-leaning moderate”

Within a few seconds after writing that post, some guy (a “friend of a friend” ) attacked me and said I was not a moderate . . .blah, blah, blah.  . . .because I am not a big fan of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential bid.

At first I thought that I should just move on. I don’t know the guy and we had never met or interacted before. But I could not help myself. I decided to defend my position and my lack of enthusiasm for Joe Biden.

In summary, I posted that I was indeed a moderate Republican — to the left of people such as Sean Hannity, former Maine governor Paul LePage and President Trump (even though I did vote for Trump in 2016). Before my ardent friends on the left hyperventilate, I will not be supporting Trump’s re-election campaign.

I voted twice for George W. Bush. I also voted for the John McCain/Sarah Palin ticket in 2008. I  posted that I identify with other moderate Republicans such as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense (and former Maine Senator) William Cohen.

I voted for Barack Obama in 2012, yet I  still considered myself to be a so-called “moderate,” steering left of hyper conservatives such as Mitch  McConnell, Lindsay Graham and Rush Limbaugh, but  to the right of outspoken liberals, such as Rachel Maddow, Jimmy Kimmel and Chuck Schumer.

This year, I will hold my nose and cast my vote for Biden. But I am worried about his mental health and his ability to execute the duties of the president.

>>>>>>>

Jolting Joe has left and gone away

Joe Biden is all but assured to be the Democrats’ choice to prevent another four years of Donald Trump.

But is Biden really the best candidate for Democrats? After almost four years of the Trump Administration, the Democrats throw Biden into the ring to take down Trump? Really? That’s the best they got?

I have my own theory about why Biden came out on top: he is not an extremist. He is experienced and he is likable. But most of all, he is a moderate and may also be able to pull some fence-sitting, moderate Republicans like me: RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).

And here’s a conspiracy theory I have heard about:  The Democratic Party is banking on the probability that Biden (if elected) won’t be able to finish his first term; thus his vice presidential pick is critical — not to mention the need to fire up the Dems and increase voter turnout from younger voters who may otherwise stay at home on Election Day.

Several weeks ago there was an op-ed published in the Washington Post   that details several examples of behavior and missteps that lead to a troubling possibility: Biden may have some serious cognitive issues.

In fairness, the op-ed penned by Marc A. Thiessen also reminds us that President Reagan had his own cognitive issues.

Furthermore, Biden’s age could be another chink in his political armor. Thiessen points out the following:

“Joe Biden is 77, four years older than Reagan was during the 1984 campaign. If Biden is elected, he’ll be older on the day he takes office than Reagan was on the day he left office. So yes, his mental fitness is a legitimate issue.”

As I pointed out in my aforementioned Facebook post. I am a political junkie and a second-rate pundit with an internet connection and a keyboard.  But, over the course of my  professional roles (journalist, public policy and political consultant,) I know it is critically important to remember that voters are more likely drawn to voting FOR a candidate as opposed to voting AGAINST a candidate.

Then again, tapping Sarah Palin as a running mate didn’t accomplish much for John McCain. Why? Because voters were electrified by Barack Obama and his charisma. Obama could have picked Vito Corleone as his running mate and still would have won the race by a landslide.

In summary? Biden’s choice of a running mate is of paramount importance.

Joe Biden is no Barack Obama. He needs to widen his base, including young voters, progressives, the LGBTQ community and yes — even moderate Republicans like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic sheds light on media bias

As we continue coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for the media to take extra steps to ensure that their news stories are fact-based, without hype, without speculation and a minimum of bias.

Wait. Did I just say “a minimum of bias?”

Conservative news consumers on the right of America’s political spectrum often talk about bias, screeching that media outlets such as the New York Times and MSNBC television are in the pockets of left-wing billionaires and prominent Democrats.  President Trump gleefully eggs them on, attacking the ‘liberal’ media of delivering so-called “fake news.”

Meanwhile, those on the left side of the political spectrum dismiss news outlets such as FOX news and the Washington Times, saying those media outlets are dripping in conservative rhetoric.

Are the pundits right? Do “news” outlets practice media bias?

According to two veteran journalists, the answer is yes, with varying moderation.

Dennis Bailey, who now lives in Washington, DC, is a veteran journalist who spent several years as a reporter working for the Maine Times and Portland Press Herald. He readily acknowledges that his personal politics are more in line with Democrats.

“I’ve never been a believer in objective journalism,” Bailey said. “A good story is a good story but it does come with some bias.”

Bailey points to certain realities about how the news story is produced. “A reporter often decides what story to follow,” he said. “From there, an editor decides the placement of a story and the headline of that story. These are all subjective decisions.”

On the other side of the political aisle, John Day, who spent several decades as a reporter and then as an editor of the Bangor Daily News, agrees with Bailey about media bias.

“I’m a big fan of diversity,” Day said. “But I was always a contrarian. Fake news has always been around. If all news outlets reported every story the same way, then it would be nothing more than a giant circle jerk.”

Although they seem to disagree on just about everything, the two men agree that journalism has gone through some profound changes over the last 30 years, including the 24-hour news cycle and social media.

“People today have a much wider range of choices when it comes to the news,” Bailey said. “There is a notable absence of media literacy today. You can find anything you want to support your own views on the internet.”

Bailey and Day both point to the Watergate scandal and the role that the media played during that crisis. The Washington Post led the way on the story while the New York Times and other media outlets took a more measured approach.

“Walter Cronkite was the godfather of news,” Bailey said. “He was such a trusted guy. We don’t have that anymore.”

According to Day, more than 95 percent of news stories about President Trump are negative while stories about Maine Senator Angus King are nearly always positive. “Angus is not much more than a boot licker for Chuck Schumer,” he said.

The lines between news and opinion are becoming more and more blurred as cable news shows fill air time with pundits such as Rachel Maddow on the left and Sean Hannity on the right.

Today, too many people pick their news source to align with their personal viewpoint, according to both Bailey and Day.  “I have more respect for CNN than MSNBC,” Day said. “At least they try to be objective with guests such as Chris Christie.”

So long as media outlets chase ratings and circulation, their ability to maintain objectivity becomes more difficult.

We need to be increasingly vigilant about how we get and choose our news sources.

President Trump is not the first president to have a deep disdain for the White House press corps. More than 50 years ago, former president Richard Nixon lashed out at the media following his loss to Democrat Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election.

Appearing before more than 100 reporters, Nixon didn’t mince his words about his frustration with the media. “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference,” the candidate said.

More recently, an editorial published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2015, James Risen, then a reporter at The New York Times, called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

As Walter Cronkite consistently said at the end of each of his evening broadcasts: “And that’s the way it is.”

We miss you, Walter.

 

(Originally published in the Saco Bay News on May 2, 2020)

 

Climate Change: what your parents never told you

‘In the absence of science, religion flourishes . . .’

-Unknown

light light bulb bulb heat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of today’s most hotly debated public policy matters is the subject of Climate Change, formerly known as “global warming.”

Before I go any further with a blog post that will surely divide my followers and Facebook “friends,” let’s get right to the meat of the matter.

When former vice president Al Gore declared that “the planet has a fever,” he was right. Global Climate Change (GCC) simply cannot be denied.

I am not a scientist, geologist or meteorologist. I am just another pundit with yet another point of view.

But while my friends on the left are far more likely to celebrate my above statements about the reality of GCC, I have some serious misgivings about many of their proposals to “fix the problem.” Recently hundreds of high-school students skipped classes to rally against GCC.

They should have hit the books instead.

When debating GCC, we should be able to acknowledge some fundamental facts:

  • Planet Earth is approximately 4.543 billion years old;
  • The Ice Age began 2.4 million years ago, lasting until approximately 11,500 years ago;
  • Humans began roaming the planet approximately 200,000 years ago.

So what do these facts tell us?

Well, for starters, the earth’s climate has been changing for a long, long time and humans had little to no impact on the earth’s atmosphere until about 50 years ago.

But before we begin any conversation about GCC, we should check our emotions at the door. This is a complex issue, and rhetoric – from either deniers or fanatics – won’t do a damn thing except possibly increasing your blood pressure.

Climate Change Impacts: A brief history

If you want to talk about other impacts that affect GCC, let’s take a relatively short journey back in time.

According to an article by Karen Harpp, an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University, published in the Scientific American newsletter:

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin made what may have been the first connection between volcanoes and global climate while stationed in Paris as the first diplomatic representative of the United States of America. He observed that during the summer of 1783, the climate was abnormally cold, both in Europe and back in the U.S. The ground froze early, the first snow stayed on the ground without melting, the winter was more severe than usual, and there seemed to be “a constant fog over all Europe, and [a] great part of North America.”

What Franklin observed, Harpp writes was “indeed the result of volcanic activity.”

“Natural forces cause Earth’s temperature to fluctuate on long timescales due to slow changes in the planet’s orbit and tilt,” according to a Q & A published by Climate Communication, which is a non-profit science and outreach project. “Such forces were responsible for the ice ages. Other natural forces sometimes cause temperatures to change on short timescales.”

On the other side of the debate there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding human impact on GCC, especially so in the last 50 years. The human impact has, in fact, outpaced natural impacts.

So what do we do?

Industrialized nations (United States, Japan, China, Russia, Great Britain, India and France) have more responsibility because of their bigger global impact. The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed by all of these counties and many more nations that have a far lower impact or produce fewer greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.

And then there is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific consensus.

I don’t dispute the science that provides more than ample evidence of human impact on climate change, but I am an ardent opponent of so-called carbon taxes. Just a few days ago, the state of Maine rejected the notion of placing a dedicated tax on gasoline and home heating oil. Phew! We dodged another bullet.

So-called carbon taxes are the rallying cry of the activists, but those additional taxes would place a further burden on the citizens who can least afford it.

Maine Governor Janet Mills is pushing for a $50 million bonding package that would study the impact of rising sea levels on coastal Maine communities. “We’re all in this together,” she said.

Rather than creating yet more taxes, perhaps we should focus more attention on creating incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.

I have worked as a public relations consultant on several energy projects, including wind power and an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal in eastern Maine. I was always amazed when environmentalists opposed clean, renewable sources of energy, citing bird strikes and the need for flickering red lights atop wind turbines. I live in a community that once burned trash to generate electricity, but don’t get me started on that boondoggle.

We humans have a right to occupy this planet and we all share an inherent responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources. I recently took a quick gander around my house, comparing it to my parents’ home. When I was growing up there were no microwave ovens. We didn’t have a dishwasher, flat-screen televisions or computers.

I am not suggesting that we should get rid of these things, but maybe we could be more mindful about our energy consumption, and explore expanding clean energy sources such as hydro projects – and yes – nuclear power. (Last week, Forbes magazine published an article that examined the safety of nuclear power plants.)

In a March 11 Portland Press Herald editorial, the editorial board wrote that “the global climate fight will take many forms.”

I could not agree more.

Money for nothing

Ben Chin (Sun Journal Photo)
Ben Chin (Sun Journal Photo)

There were a few lessons to be learned this week for campaign operatives and political junkies in Maine.

1.) A financial war chest does not necessarily win an election;

2.) Voters in small communities become weary of aggressive campaigning that lasts for more than two or three months; and

3.) Negative campaign tactics still work, despite the fact that most people will say negative campaigning is a turn-off.

Lewiston’s mayoral race, in which Robert Macdonald won a third term, garnered national media attention. Tuesday’s run-off results were reported by media outlets across the country, including NBC News and the New York Times.

Although Ben Chin, a progressive Democrat, got the most votes during a five-way race for the mayor’s seat in the November 2015 election, a runoff election was required by the city’s charter because he did not capture at least 50 percent of the vote.

Democrats tend to favor run-off elections and/or a concept known as ranked choice voting, but Tuesday’s results bit them in the ass, when Republican Macdonald came out on top, 53-47 percent over Chin.

What would have otherwise been a small community election became amplified when the campaign took an ugly turn in October.

Several signs that featured a caricature of an Asian man were hung on buildings in Lewiston. Those signs contained a blatantly racist message: “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare,” according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Is cash really king?

Robert Macdonald (Portland Press Herald photo)
Robert Macdonald (Portland Press Herald photo)

Because of the national attention, Chin’s campaign was able to raise a whopping $87,800. Maine Democrats wanted to send a message and large amounts of money poured in from all over Maine and across the country. Chin, the political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, was able to turn on one of the state’s biggest political machines.

In total, Chin’s campaign raised roughly 15 times more than Macdonald’s campaign, which raised $5,800.

By contrast, in the city of Biddeford, a typical mayoral campaign raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. This year, however, Mayor Alan Casavant raised a paltry $1,270 and spent $818 of it to secure a third term. He got 2,494 votes at a cost of roughly 33 cents per vote.

Chin garnered 3,826 votes; spending nearly $23 per vote. Macdonald, on the other hand, garnered 4,398 votes; spending roughly $1.32 per vote.

Chin edged out second-place finisher Macdonald in November, but Macdonald won Tuesday’s runoff, despite being outspent roughly 15-1. Why?

Almost every one I speak to about this race has a different theory, but I think voters were turned off by an incredibly aggressive campaign that was raising so much cash from outside of the city.

It was a bit over the top.

Voter fatigue?

According to the city of Lewiston’s web site, 33.5 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in the November election. That number dropped slightly on Tuesday, when 32 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots during the runoff election.

By contrast, slightly more than 30 percent of voters in Biddeford cast ballots in that city’s 2015 mayoral election.

Mayoral campaigns in cities like Biddeford or Lewiston usually have a shelf-life of between two or three months. Tuesday’s run-off election added another month to the process. I heard stories of voters being weary of door-knocking and incessant telephone calls.

Sometimes, too much of a good thing (grassroots campaigning and cash) can be a bad thing.

One friend of mine recently speculated that Lewiston’s voters are conservative (and perhaps just a tad racist). He failed to explain how Chin, a progressive Democrat, came out on top in November if a majority of Lewiston’s voters are bigoted or conservative.

In fact, Lewiston, which is a lot like Biddeford, has historically been a bastion for conservative, traditional Democrats (mill workers and Franco-Americans).

Macdonald, a former police detective and Vietnam War veteran, is  a blunt speaker and has a propensity for being “politically incorrect.”

When you consider all these factors, it’s no wonder that a small Maine city’s mayoral race attracted national attention.

It was a campaign that defied conventional wisdom, and it offered some lessons for all of us.

 

 

Send in the clowns

donald-trumpSome 48 hours before Donald Trump “officially” announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday, I posted a quip on Facebook that I would be seeking the mayor’s seat in Biddeford.

The idea was jokingly bantered about while Mayor Alan Casavant was attending a party at my home. (Full disclosure: Casavant is serious about seeking a third term, and I support him.)

But my announcement was never intended to be serious.

For starters, I have absolutely no business running for any elected office. I can barely manage my own life, as detailed here.

While my Facebook quip generated some buzz, lots of positive comments and even comments from people willing to help my “campaign,” it was, again, a sarcastic joke.

Now that I think about it, my announcement was actually much less a joke than Trump’s escalator event on Tuesday; and many of us are left to wonder if he is truly serious or just seeking some more attention to further inflate his own ego.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/randy.seaver.3/posts/10204495391008046

Consider for a moment what Trump laid out as his agenda before a group of New York City tourists, some mentally deranged followers and a gaggle of reporters.

He hit all the hot-button topics: immigration, saying we will be build a massive wall between the United States and Mexico. How will we pay for it? Trump said he wold force Mexico to foot the tab through higher tariffs on their imports.

Umm, this is a direct violation of the North American Free Trade Act.

Trumped bragged about his wealth, pointing to what he estimates at a net worth of nearly $9 billion.

He pontificated about his fantastic business career. But riddle me this, how does a man who has filed four bankruptcies amass a fortune of $9 billion, much less describe himself as a savvy businessman? Has he directed any of his fortune to settling old debts with his creditors?

Trump says he will make America strong again, a nice talking point, but one best left for dictators.

For my friends on the right who criticize President Obama for a slew of Executive Actions; the Donald listed out more than a dozen executive actions he would take if elected.

Perhaps he’s been in his mahogany-paneled boardroom so long that he has forgotten the president must work with 535 pesky members of Congress.

Congress controls the purse strings, not The Donald.

More importantly, can Trump’s ego handle the bruising? How will he react when he comes in second, third or tenth in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary?

Sure, Donald has a certain appeal, and he’s good at tapping into America’s growing resentment against the rest of the world. He excels at fear mongering, but he is anything but a serious presidential candidate.

And who do we blame for this phenomena? This perverse distraction?

Look in the mirror. The vast and overwhelming majority of registered voters don’t cast ballots; we leave that to the partisan fringes, where emotion so often “trumps” logic.

We are a nation more concerned about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner; television shows like Honey Boo-Boo, the tribulations of the Duggar family, American Idol and Big Brother.

We are a nation addicted to bread and circuses. Is it any wonder that we have sent in the clowns to run the country?

Donald Trump has no business running for president. I have no business running for mayor of Biddeford. The difference between us is that one of us knows a joke when we see it.

We’re the kids in America

WARNING: If you are a partisan Democrat or Republican, you may not want to continue reading because this post will surely piss you off.

Me and Governor LePage
Me and Governor LePage in 2013.

Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, there is still a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on here in Maine, where Republicans had much to celebrate last night.

All the pundits, professional and otherwise, have bellied up to the bar to offer their “expert” opinions and analysis about what happened last night, so please forgive me for piling on to the fray of analysis and speculation.

Throughout the day, on social media and around the water cooler, I have heard a wide range of opinions about why Democrat Mike Michaud lost his bid to oust Republican Paul LePage.

Many people blame Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. I disagree, I think Cutler was a factor but not that significant, let’s say 5%

Other people said the controversial “bear-baiting” referendum brought out “conservative/sportsmen” voters who would have otherwise stayed at home during a midterm. Wrong again, in my opinion. But let’s give this “factor” another 5%

Others have said that Gov. LePage was able to latch on to the Ebola hysteria that dominated the final days of the campaign cycle. This one I find laughable, but let’s give it 2 percent, anyway.

Still others have said it was because Michaud was an openly gay candidate. I have a fair amount of Republican friends, and I never heard this issue raised in conversation. But I am also a realist, and I know that awful bigotry does lurk everywhere, so let’s give that factor another 5%.

So far, if you add all these factors together, you only have 17 percent of the puzzle.

So, what really happened last night?

In my opinion, it was two things that really mattered.

For almost four years Democrats have howled and railed about how awful governor Paul Lepage is. In this campaign cycle, they spent boatloads of cash driving home that message. He is a bully. He is an embarrassment. He likes to kill puppies. He spews dioxins.

Let’s, for a moment, assume the Democrats were right that Paul LePage is the worst governor to ever occupy the Blaine House. Let’s assume he is the great Satan.

Well, if that’s the case, how do you lose against such a God-awful candidate? You nominate a weak candidate to take him on.

Everywhere I go, I hear people tell me that Mike Michaud is a “nice guy.” And that is the truth. I have met Mr. Michaud. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a nicer guy.

But you need more than being a nice guy.

Maine’s Democratic Party cleared the primary decks and anointed Michaud as heir apparent with no contest. On paper, it made a certain amount of sense. Michaud was from northern Maine, and he could probably carry southern Maine. He is a respected legislator and held his Second District Congressional seat for several terms. He is likable. A working-class guy just like you.

But Michaud’s campaign focused primarily on being “not Paul LePage.” Voters turn out to be for a candidate, not against a candidate.

LePage had the advantage of being an incumbent and trumpeted his accomplishments. No matter how you feel about the guy, he has a loyal fan base and they rallied like there was no tomorrow.

But all that only counts for 40 percent of why Michaud lost and LePage won last night.

What’s the missing piece of the puzzle?

History and voting trends.

Make no mistake, the President played a factor in this race and several others. Historically, the second-term mid terms are a major disappointment for the person sitting in the Oval Office.

The nation is weary and wants a new direction, away from the party that controls the White House.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to 2006. George W. Bush was halfway through his second term in office. He lost Congress in 2006. But what was happening in Maine?

Gov. John Baldacci was seeking re-election. The Republicans nominated conservative Chandler Woodcock to take him on. But the Dems had other problems. Barbara Merrill, a former Democrat lawmaker from Appleton, filed papers as an independent. Pat Lamarche, the driving force behind Maine’s Green Party was also a candidate and threatened to peel progressive votes from Baldacci. Between them, LaMarche and Merrill got roughly 20 percent of the vote.

Baldacci still won because a.) he was a stronger candidate than Woodcock; and b.) because Republicans nationally and at home were useless during the waning days of the Bush Administration.

By contrast, Cutler only got eight percent of the vote, but it would be a major leap of speculation to assume that every one of those votes would have gone to Michaud.

In the end, Michaud was a mediocre candidate who ran an uninspiring campaign while his political party was suffering all over the country.

That’s what happened in Maine last night.

 

 

Smoke on the water

Pot%20leaf_40Attitudes regarding marijuana have dramatically changed during the past two decades.

Those in favor of legalizing the drug are finding increasing support from an expanding constituency, including millenials who can now vote and health care providers who say the drug can benefit their patients.

Even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — not a likely Cheech & Chong fan — says it is time for marijuana to be legalized.

In an interview with Scott Simon on National Public Radio, the former justice said: “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that’s] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction.”

Talk about a dramatic shift. In 1987,  after admitting that he once used marijuana, Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg was forced to back away from the nomination process.

And last year, voters in both Colorado and Washington defied federal law and legalized the use of marijuana as a controlled substance.

But the quest to legalize marijuana in all 50 states face an uphill battle, best evidenced by what has happened in the Maine Legislature.

In November The Legislative Council, a 10-member group of legislative leaders,  split on a proposal that would have sent a statewide referendum question to voters. Because the vote was tied, it failed and cannot be considered again until the next Legislature convenes in 2015.

It was the third time the Legislature has rejected proposals by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) to legalize marijuana. Russell could not be reached for comment.

But State Rep. Alan Casavant (D-Biddeford) said he is glad the proposal failed.

“I voted against it every time,” Casavant said.

Casavant, who spent more than 35 years teaching high school, said he experienced first hand the impact of marijuana on his students.

“Legalizing it would be nothing more than a continued erosion of our culture,” he said. “I have heard all the arguments for and against, and I can’t support it.”

Casavant also said the issue should not be debated on a state-by state basis. “For it to happen, we really need some guidance from the federal government. It’s a very complicated issue. Where do you draw the line on intoxication, for example?”

Casavant says he is sympathetic to those who need marijuana for medicinal reasons, but says the risks still outweigh the benefits, even when considering that marijuana could provide a bumper crop of new tax revenue.

“As the mayor of a city, as a legislator, I am very aware of how we need new sources of revenue that will not impact people who are already struggling to keep up, but despite those realities, I can’t support this. Not now.”

State Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) said he is “evolving on the issue.” Chenette said he had initial apprehension about the issue when first approached for his support by Russell.

“Being a college student so recently, I have witnessed the rampant use of marijuana on campus,” Chenette said. “I am concerned about how young people will use it, but I also see the other side. I would be in favor of sending the question to referendum, but I have yet to formulate a strong opinion one way or the other. It’s something that warrants more study.”

Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford is hoping to be a member of the next legislature.

Fecteau, 21, says he generally supports the legalization of marijuana but does not want to see it included in the Maine Democratic Party’s platform because it could be wedge issue in a year when Maine Democrats need to be focused on bigger fish, including capturing the Blaine House.

“I think it should be treated the same as alcohol,” Fecteau said, adding that additional revenue from the state sale of marijuana could provide much-needed tax relief for seniors and revenue that could help fund critical programs.

With a little help from my friends

A few days ago, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page about the legalization of marijuana.

That informal survey drew more than 100 responses in 24 hours.

I was surprised by some of the responses. I was also fascinated to see that an almost even split of Republicans and Democrats were on each side of the issue.

Moreover, both men and women overwhelmingly support legalization (male approval led female approval by only a slight margin).

Women with children were equally split. Among male opponents, more than 75 percent are politically conservative, yet nearly 40 percent of male supporters are conservatives.

Here are a few charts to break it down for you:

weed2

 

women

 

men

 

Middle of the road

middle_class
The beginning of the end? Is the middle-class evaporating or did it ever exist?

I remember when we got our first color television. It was 1973.  My parents purchased the house two years prior, and that television was a refurbished Zenith console model.

I was the remote control.

From his favorite chair, my father would bark at me: “Turn to Channel 13! I want to see Walter Cronkite.”

Growing up in that house of Franklin Street in Saco with my sister and our dog, Kelly, I was positive we were a middle class family.

My father was a teacher. My mom worked part-time at Canal Bank. I was a Cub Scout and took clarinet lessons. My sister took ballet and tap lessons. We ate dinner at the table, and put on our good clothes for church on Sunday.

Shit, I was an altar boy. Life was good. Right?

Maybe, but it was certainly more a perception of reality than a hard fact.

What is the middle class? Who can define it? Is it disappearing or was it always a myth?

Defenders of the Myth

suburban-familyPoliticians, pundits and just about everyone else loves to “stand up” for the middle class, but what are they defending?

Few politicians dare define the middle class because they fear what will happen if the economy tanks, and more people feel left out of the so-called American Dream.

Just look at Mitt Romney’s blunder when he attempted to define the middle class (“Those earning $200,000 to $250,000 and less’)

According to an April 14 story in USA Today“President Obama mentioned the middle class a half-dozen times in his State of the Union address this year, and House Speaker John Boehner told Obama to “stand up for middle-class jobs.”

Google says [the middle class] has been called the “backbone of the country” at least 2.3 million times.

From gridlocked Washington to cities and town everywhere, the middle class is far and away America’s favorite socioeconomic group.

Yet no one can agree on what, exactly, the middle class is.

Economists and sociologists say that’s a big deal. Decisions are made, laws are written and elections are won or lost based on people’s beliefs about the middle class and what it means to the country. A nation that so values the middle class, they say, really should be better at defining it.”

Perception or reality?

middle_classAccording to numerous polls, most Americans define themselves as “middle-class,” despite ample statistical evidence to the contrary. It would appear that we prefer the middle. A short drive on the Maine Turnpike will back-up my anecdotal observation, watching drivers hug the center lane.

By definition, the “middle” is wedged halfway between lower and upper, between large and small, equidistant between left and right.

Go to the grocery store and try to buy “small” eggs. You can’t. The smallest eggs you can buy are “medium-sized” Try to buy a small soft drink at McDonald’s. You can’t. The cashier will offer you a medium. It’s ridiculous how we play these games of perception that have no basis in logic.

We don’t like to talk about the lower-class, the lower rungs of our socio-economic ladder. Nor are most people comfortable contemplating the rungs above.

Politically, we tend to generalize and demonize both the lower and upper class. Poor people have made bad choices and are inherently lazy. Rich people are greedy bastards who only care about themselves.

We puff ourselves full of self-righteous indignation, armed with little more than anecdotal evidence.

What is middle class? Are you middle class?

It appears that few things are more subjective than determining where you fit on America’s socio-economic scale. But let’s look at some data.

Using 2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s easy to see that median annual household income in the United States is $51,371. The median is halfway between the top figure and the bottom figure (not an average). This means that half of all households in the U.S. earn less than $51, 371 per year; and that half of all households earn more than $51, 371.

Now let’s look at the state of Maine, where the median household income is lower, estimated at $46,709 per year. Remember, this includes all income from everyone in your household, regardless of whether they are related to you.

So what should be the margin for determining middle income in Maine? For argument’s sake, let’s say +/- 10 points, so now we have determined the middle household income range based on data ($42,000 -$51,380).

Are you still in the middle class?

In fairness, middle class is more than just income. There are numerous other factors: home ownership, profession, level of education, marital status, etc.

But what about debt load? Even with a good income, those with high debt loads may be struggling and not feeling like the middle class.

Feelings are not facts

How we feel about our situation makes up a large part of our subjective analysis regarding whether we are middle class or not middle class.

A friend of mine recently stated that the middle class is evaporating. He bemoaned the good ol’ days of his youth and the opportunities his father had in the booming years following World War II.

Let’s think about that for a minute. In fact, I challenge you to get up from your computer and take a quick walk around your home. Is your standard of living higher now than when you grew up?

I’ll share my own observations.

I started by stepping outside for a cigarette break. I have a snowblower. My parents had shovels. I have a boat, a camper. Not my parents. My truck was purchased brand-new; my wife’s car is fully loaded with tinted windows and a retractable moon-roof. My parents bought used cars.

Our houses are somewhat similar except my parents’ home had one bath. Mine? Two bathrooms and enough space for a home office. My parents didn’t have a cell-phone bill. They did not pay for internet. If you had blue-tooth, you needed to see the dentist. There were no home theater systems, no stainless-steel appliances and no one could imagine having a “personal” computer.

My father was able to finish college not thanks to a federal student loan but because my mother worked third-shift, painting little lines on resistors and capacitors at Components. We washed dishes by hand. We never needed a new printer. We had three television channels. No one in  my neighborhood had granite countertops. No one had a Jacuzzi in their bathroom. We didn’t have microwaves.

The more I think about it, the more it feels like I am George Jetson, son of Fred Flintstone.

We have moved the bar on “living comfortably.” We have raised the standard of living to keep up with the Joneses.

Dead letter office

Source: City Clerk's office; 2004 data not available
Source: City Clerk’s office; 2004 data not available

I was speaking with a friend yesterday  about the recent municipal elections in Biddeford.

“I bet you’re glad it’s over,” he said.

“Over?” I responded. “It’s hardly over. Already candidates are lining up for local legislative races that will be decided next November. There’s always another election around the corner.”

He shook his head and smiled. “Who cares about who we send to Augusta,” he said. “It’s not like it matters.”

It’s understandable that most people feel a bit burned out by the political process.

Only a few weeks after arguing and ranting about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, political junkies turned their attention to controversial referendum questions pending in South Portland and Portland. While local candidates were seeking city council and mayoral seats, Congressman Mike Michaud, the likely Democratic nominee for the Blaine House, announced that he was gay and thus strategically overshadowed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement about his own official re-election campaign this week.

I almost expected Independent Eliot Cutler to announce that he was bi-sexual, pledging allegiance to neither heterosexual nor homosexual preferences; a true Independent — just like Maine —  in a desperate attempt for some much needed press during a tough news cycle.

It’s no wonder that voters have become a bit apathetic and cynical about politics.

For the record, I could not care less about a candidate’s sexual orientation. I also don’t care about their favorite color or whether they like their chicken original or extra crispy. I want the candidates and the media to focus on the issues that are affecting every day people who are struggling under the weight of a difficult economy. I want to hear new ideas. I want to hear each candidate describe their vision.

Although I am pleased that an overwhelming majority of voters in my hometown chose vision over fear, positive over negative; I also expect those who won their seats to get real busy, real quick and to focus with laser-precision on economic development, creating streamlined efficiencies and encouraging private investment.

Voter turnout in Biddeford this year hit a 10-year low. Fewer than one-third of the city’s voters bothered to cast a ballot. Sure, there were no sexy referendum issues like a casino or marriage equality driving people to the polls; but the decisions we made yesterday impact every part of our lives: our roads, our schools, public safety, our sewers and yes . . . our tax bills. The people chosen on Tuesday will be responsible for making decisions that could have long-lasting impacts.

So why was voter turnout so pathetic? The weather was beautiful. There were no long lines at the polling places. What gives?

It’s always difficult to gauge voter sentiment, but there are a few likely reasons:

a.) Voters are content with the way Biddeford is being managed. They sensed Alan Casavant had a commanding lead and, therefore, their vote was unnecessary;

b.) Voters are upset with the way Biddeford is being managed and feel disenfranchised. You can’t fight City Hall;

Or c.) the most likely reason: voters just didn’t care. Period.

If you belong to any of the above three groups, you are an idiot.

Members of Group A risked a potential loss and a step backward for the city. Members of Group B missed a real opportunity to send a powerful message about their discontent; and members of Group C ought to be required to take a remedial civics lesson.

Voting is important. You are an equal shareholder in this community. Your voice matters. Imagine how different the election would have been if only 20 percent more of the city’s register voters had bothered to participate?

Of course, it’s too late to speculate. And those who did vote sent a pretty clear message. They want a fiscally responsible council. They want a positive and professional mayor leading the city. They are not afraid of making long-term investments in their community (all five state bond questions passed easily).

Sure, it’s more fun to get wound up about a particular, controversial issue, but if you can’t be bothered to exercise your civic duty, then be prepared to accept whatever comes down your path.

Voters tend to turn out for things they want; things they support.

Throughout this last election cycle, many of Casavant’s loudest critics failed to articulate who they supported. They were against someone, but for no one. A sure-fire prescription for voter apathy and a stunning loss at the polls.

Sure, Casavant’s opponents split their opposition, but looking at the results tells an even stronger story. Even if you add the total votes of each opponent, Casavant’s numbers were still higher. Fifty-seven percent is a clear victory. Winning each of the city’s seven wards reaffirms the voters’ decision.

If the opponents are struggling to accept the results, maybe they ought to spend a little less time bitching and a bit more time convincing their friends and neighbors to get to the polls two years from now.

I said it before, and I will say it again: Campaign signs do NOT win elections; Facebook or other social media tools do NOT win elections; debates or endorsements do NOT win elections. What wins elections? It’s about how many people you get to the polls. Game over.

Constant Craving

20130715_055332Much has been said about Maine’s quality of place, a subject that hit me like a brick this weekend as I once again travel the roads of rural Maine.

But what is the value of a quality place without a quality life?

GrowSmart Maine describes quality of place as:

“. . . our majestic mountains, unbroken forests, open fields, wild rivers, pristine lakes, widely-celebrated coast, picturesque downtowns, lively arts and culture, authentic historic buildings, and exceptional recreational opportunities. It is our principal advantage in today’s global economic competition. Quality of place will help us keep and attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs to fill Maine’s declining workforce population.”

Sounds good, right?

Sure, right up until you drive along Rte. 4 past Livermore Falls and into the town of Jay on your way to someplace pretty.

The policy wonks, pundits and environmental do-gooders slap themselves on the back with self-congratulation over drinks at the Senator Inn in Augusta after passing some piece of legislation designed to protect Maine’s “quality of place,” but I wonder if they have ever strolled along Water Street, less than a mile away or driven past the dilapidated tenement triple-deckers that line Rte. 8 on the way toward the Civic Center.

Try telling someone in that neighborhood about quality of place.

Better yet, visit the Wal-Mart in Calais, Skowhegan, Newport or Sanford. Tell the single-mom buying generic-labeled cereal about “quality of place.”

Drive past the gutted factories and the ghost towns that were once homes to thriving industries like shoe shops, paper mills and textile manufacturing. Pull over and tell the people who are barely living there about quality of place.

Drive north, east or west from Portland. Get off the main roads and count the number of blue tarps that serve as substitute roofs on ramshackle homes. Pause and tell those people about “quality of place.”

There are no easy answers, but I never see the pundits or the lobbyists shopping for pre-paid cell phones, making an installment payment at Rent-A-Center or drying their clothes at the Laund-O-Matic on a sweltering July afternoon.

These people —the not-so-pretty and the not-so-fortunate ones —- are largely forgotten, discounted and mostly ignored. They routinely buy lottery tickets. Many of them smoke, and they keep their heads above the surface like prison inmates. One fucking day at a time.

It’s easy to judge them. To think we know better about how they should live or how Maine should be managed, but few of us know — really know— that if this is quality of place . . . That if this is as good as it gets…..

What is the value of having an abundance of natural resources if you cannot feed your children? What is the value of open space if you don’t have a car to get there?

How do we achieve the balance between protecting the things we cherish in our backyard without forgetting or discounting the people who live there?

I do not know the answers. Do you?