Friday, February 29, 2008

Waiting for a little snow!

On Wednesday I asked, “Will new month bring an end to winter storms?” March begins at midnight tonight, and here I am patiently waiting for the month’s first storm. And a pip it just might be. The noon weather reports today indicated that our part of Maine could get from six to ten inches of snow and that snowfall will get deeper the further you go inland, up to a foot and a half way up north. There is a winter storm warning posted by the National Weather Service in effect with the storm to start in Southern Maine sometime around ten tonight. That warning will remain in effect in parts of Maine into Sunday afternoon.

It seems like we’ve had some sort of winter storm two or three times or more each week since the first of December. I probably don’t want to admit it, but I think I’ve reached a point where I’ve had enough. It wasn’t too long ago when I looked forward anxiously for some snow. Back in the 1940s and early 1950s a good snowstorm was a source of income for me. Several neighbors counted on my friends and me to shovel out their yards. I don’t remember that we had the power snow blowers back then. Perhaps some folk had crude ones. Most of my shoveling was done with a snow scoop. Oh those were fun times.

But that was then. I was a teenager. Today I’m no longer a teenager and have even reached an age when moving deep, wet snow is a threat to my heart. I really don’t have to do much lifting any more as I have a riding lawn tractor which I can convert to a snow blower in the winter. My driveway is more than 300 feet long and the parking area outside my house will easily handle 8, perhaps 10 cars. So I have a lot of black top to keep clear. A few years ago, my next door neighbor bought a plow truck to make some extra winter money. He parlayed that plowing over the years into a very successful home based business. And when the snow is especially deep, he makes a couple passes up my driveway to help me out. I like my neighbor. He takes care of this old man to help prevent another heart attack.

I’m not a skier or even an individual winter sports enthusiast, so all these storms are really beginning to make me irritable. This is not (yet) the snowiest winter our area has ever had. We’re a good 10 or 15 inches below the record snow fall. Tomorrow is Saturday so they won’t be affected by this storm, but I feel a little sorry for the young people who get school called off during some storms. I think these kids still look forward to a “free” day off, even though most know that after a certain number, a no school day has to be made up. I think it was only yesterday when I used to live by the weather forecasts myself.

I’m betting Maine businesses are loving this winter season. We’ve had a few recent winters when the sales of winter equipment and toys have been really bad. Without snow, people couldn’t snowmobile or ski or do other winters sports. Sales of snow blowers and the like were scarce. But we’ve had a lot of snow this year. I haven’t seen any reports for this year, but I’d guess ski areas are ecstatic and sales of the winter toys must be right up there, too.

I’m writing this during the early afternoon today. As I look out the window, it’s hard to believe we’re in for the kind of storm that is forecast. It’s a beautiful day in Southern Maine even though it’s rather cold. The sun is shining brightly, but way off in the distance the milky omen of what’s heading our way is becoming evident. The wait continues.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Gambling Proposal for Maine

If something is repeated often enough, then people frequently begin to believe that the “something” may be a good idea. After all, if it weren’t, why would it keep coming back? In this case, I’m talking about gambling. Once again Maine voters are going to be faced with a casino question during an election. One of the questions on our November 4th ballot will be asking us if we approve a casino in Oxford County. The question is a result of a citizen initiated petition drive which gathered more than the required 55-thousand signatures to force the referendum.

A few years ago, voters approved a Racino in Bangor and Scarborough, but at the same time the Scarborough Town voters rejected it. At the same time, the voters rejected a casino in Sanford. A couple years later, voters again rejected additional gambling, this time a new racino and the construction of a new harness race track in Washington County. There is a difference between a racino and a casino. The measure approved for Bangor and Scarborough was a proposal to allow harness racing tracks (in the two locations) to expand to include slot machines only. A casino allows the full range of gambling activities, including slots, card games, roulette wheels, and others.

The proposal for Oxford County is not yet a “done deal.” There are steps that have to be taken before it can become a reality, and there are a lot of indications it will be heavily opposed. What the Secretary of State today certified was the petition signatures. The measure now goes to the Legislature which could simply approve it or, more likely, send it out to the voters. The latter is what usually happens to citizen initiated referendums. If the voters do approve it, then it has to go through some hearings and votes in Oxford County.

There are some differences in this one and previous desires for gambling in Maine. The racino questions, for example, were restricted to slot machines connected to race tracks. We tend to slide over Bangor’s Racino and its connection to the Bangor race track. They aren’t connected. The new proposal for a full casino wants slot machines, table games, card games, and other gambling devices. But perhaps the biggest shocker is a provision that, if voters approve the referendum, would require, yes, require, the president of the casino in Oxford County to be a voting member of several state agencies that casino supporters say the proceeds will help.

Dennis Bailey, the spokesman for a non-profit organization “Casinos-No” pointed out in a press release today that nearly two dozen state programs would receive a share of the casino revenues for a wide variety of purposes – education, health care, energy and land conservation, etc. But the bill also requires that the president of the casino be appointed to each governing body or board that is a recipient of the casino revenues. That means, Bailey said, that at a minimum, the president of the Oxford County casino would be a voting member of the Finance Authority of Maine, the Land for Maine’s Future Board, the University of Maine Board of Trustees, the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees and the Oxford County Commissioners.

“He’s going to be a busy guy,” Bailey said of the casino official. “It’s bizarre. Do we really want the head of a casino making all kinds of decisions about higher education, land conservation and health care spending?”

A couple other provisions are also interesting. One would prohibit any further casinos in the state for 10 years effectively giving the Oxford County one a monopoly. It also would prohibit racinos from having table games. Another would lower the gambling age for the casino from 21 to 19 years of age.

This has the potential of being a rather interesting, and probably dirty, campaign to bring more gambling to Maine.

To see the Secretary of State’s statement, go here.
For more information from Casinos-No, CONTACT: Dennis Bailey, 207-347-6077


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Will new month bring an end to winter storms?

We had a winter storm in Maine last night. The weather forecast had called for just a wee bit of snow and a lot of rain along the coast south of Route One, but then lots of snow in increasing depths from the rain line to the Canadian Border. All indications were that today was going to be a real difficult day to travel. So yesterday the State Legislature called off all activity for today. I call that a sort of double edged sword. The Legislature didn’t bring more economic woe to the state’s citizens. I don’t have anything to write about. Then the storm pulled a weather trick and raced through the state at breakneck speed and was gone before dawn.

Today is the last Wednesday of February. The last day of every month is a fun day for me. There is a bunch of us retirees who all worked together at the same great place who meet once a month for a couple hours of good food and good conversation. Of course being retired, we don’t use a fancy restaurant. Our meal costs us under $8 each. We agreed Roger Clemens, the former Red Sox star pitcher, might be in just a little difficulty, not because he used steroids but because he lied to Congress. That’s a huge no-no. We talked about spring training games getting underway tomorrow. Two of our group work as ushers at Seadogs’ games, so naturally we talked about Portland’s Red Sox affiliate. And we talked about successes and failures in the high school tournaments that conclude this weekend. Naturally we shared enormous truths about the three members of our group who are living in Florida, two for the winter only.

It’s hard to believe that the baseball season is once again here. The basketball and hockey seasons are still in full swing, yet today we talked baseball. I don’t think anyone in the group is a pro basketball fan. Probably pro hockey would be more popular if our AHL team were affiliated with the Bruins rather than the Ducks. Minor league baseball’s Seadogs packs the fans in and I was told today by one of the ushers that those fans come from all over New England and Eastern Canada. It’s amazing how many people want to see the future Red Sox stars. The last couple of years have been particularly good for both Boston and the ‘Dogs. Several players have gone through Portland to Boston. And most of them have become stars on the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

Speaking of the Red Sox, today was the day they visited the White House in Washington, D.C. As the World Series Champions they were the guests of President George Bush.

That’s about it for today. We have tomorrow to finish any clearing out because our next weather event is forecast to come in Friday night into Saturday. Hey! Wait! We can’t have a storm Saturday; February will be over.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ONLY the government is responsible for spending woes!

I have discussed the Maine budget shortfall on several occasions. I used one on-line forum to give ideas on how the state can cut its budget to resolve the issue. Yesterday’s discussion explained that a new revenue forecast has doubled the amount of money this state is overspending or over budgeting. It was a posting today by the Editor of As Maine Goes that reminded me of something by Charley Reese taken from the Orlando Sentinel Star newspaper and sent to me via e-mail from a friend. It describes the current situation in Augusta to a T.

First, Editor Fish posted a memo from Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings to House Democrats. In the memo, Cummings blames just about everyone for the state’s current budget situation except the Democrats, the party that’s in power in Augusta and has been for about 30 years. To read the memo, visit AMG and Scroll down there a bit.

What Spkr. Cummings is apparently trying to do is help the Democrats defend themselves from what I would call some stupid spending and giving in to every special interest group that ever existed in Maine. Charley Reese would say that Spkr. Cummings was simply being a politician creating a massive mess and then passing the blame on to everyone else. Reese wrote in his article “THE 545 PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR AMERICA 'S WOES” about the Federal Government and how it has created problems facing the nation and has the power to change things around.

Although he specifically was discussing branches of the federal government, what he says is accurate for Maine government, too. Paraphrasing Reese, you and I have no control over what the limits of eligibility for welfare are. Those limits are set by the Legislature. You and I can’t change them. But the Legislature can. Bringing our welfare doles, the highest in the nation, to national averages would cut millions, yea, perhaps billions out of the state budget.

You and I have no control over the state budget. President Bush has no control over the Maine budget. Congress has no control over the Maine budget. Governor Baldacci proposes a budget and Spkr. Cummings and his legislative cohorts decide the spending limits. They alone are responsible for that budget and cannot pass that responsibility on to you and me.

You and I don’t create income. We don’t make stupid decisions to include $25 million dollars in revenue from claiming the money from unused gift cards issued to/by Mainers from around the country and got nothing in return. State government did. You and I can’t raise taxes to a level where many Mainers no longer can afford to buy things. Since the economy is down, there are fewer taxes coming in. I’d like to say you and I can’t spend money we don’t have, but I’ve heard that some of us do. But when we do, we have to pay for it by cutting someplace. The State can’t legally spend money it doesn’t have as our Constitution requires a balanced budget. When the state does spend more than it has, it, like we, must make cuts. The state, however, doesn’t like cutting and raises taxes and fees thus lowering its income.

So, I’d suggest to Spkr. Cummings that he and his fellow legislators stop the talk and walk the walk. The blame game isn’t going to solve Maine economic woes. If he were here, he’d probably ask me just what services I am willing to live without as another traditional trick of politicians is to try to try to deflect the problem to us. But we have no control over the changes. The Maine Legislature has that control. It created the situation. It must now correct it and start this state on the way back to the right track.

I will say raising taxes isn’t the answer. That would mean even less revenue for the state adding to the shortfall of revenue it now has, partially as a result of outlandish taxes. Ending Maine as the nanny state, creating a business friendly atmosphere, ending the prohibitive rules that cause tops in the nation medical costs, admitting failure and eliminating Dirigo, looking at successes elsewhere in other states (New Hampshire comes to mind) and bringing those successes here are among some of the items at which the state can look to find answers to our economic woes.

If our legislators really want to learn of ways to cut the budget and how Mainers really feel about the state’s spending, they should read the news articles on line. Nearly all, if not all, publications that post their articles allow comments at the end of their on-line stories, and those comments usually have many ways the state can save money.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Those energy saving lightbulbs

Here are a few bits and pieces of interest today.

>>>>>Maine’s income woes have grown. It had earlier been announced that the state would suffer a $95 million shortfall in the current two cycle budget. Today the governor announced that figure will be slightly more than $200 million. And there will be many who will predict it will grow even more before the cycle is finished. Significantly more. I believe some pretty darn poor and overly optimistic income shortcoming caused the lower than expected income. Some simple facts should have been considered more carefully before projecting the state’s income. We are the highest taxed state, tied with Oregon as the #1 welfare benefit state, have the highest insurance rates, and many other places where our government takes our money. We simply don’t have as much money to spend on goods which leads to sales taxes and this pays a goodly portion of state government. And then our forecasters did some really foolish predictions, estimating about $25-million in non-used gift card sales. The state had asked gift card vendors nationwide to send the unused money to Augusta. Don’t work too hard on this question: How much money did that really generate?

>>>>>The Legislature is working today on revising drivers’ license requirements. In Maine, as you know by now, anyone can get a driver’s license without having to prove residency in the state, or the United States for that matter. A couple of recent incidents have added a little urgency to the proposed changes. One incident happened when an illegal alien got a Maine license and used it to buy a gun. He used the gun to attempt to rob a bank. In fairness, I should point out that the man had been here legally but had allowed his visa to expire. The other incident was just last week when a man was arrested for transporting a car full of illegals to Maine to get licenses. He told authorities that everyone in his New Jersey community knew that Maine asked no questions about residency. However, transporting people to the state for such purposes could result in a five year prison term and a hefty monetary fine.

>>>>>Last year the Legislature passed a law requiring consolidation of school districts in an attempt to reduce the cost of education. Among many provisions of the law is a requirement that beginning this year, school districts must put their local budgets out to referendum, not the town meeting kind but rather the secret ballot type. That part of the law has gone over like the proverbial lead balloon. (In fact, much of the law has created considerable controversy.) Some districts are flatly ignoring the law at this time and others have put so much pressure on the legislature that there is an attempt to put off implementing that part of the consolidation law until next year. It will take an emergency measure to stop the law for this year, and there is some doubt there are enough votes for an emergency passage. But there may be another legislative trick waiting in the wings: normal passage of the delay, a quick adjournment so the mandatory wait time will pass, and an immediate recall into session by the governor. The Maine Legislature has the ability to take and to take away.

>>>>>Here’s a great one. The legislature is considering a bill to require all incandescent light bulbs in Maine to be replaced by fluorescent ones. It is a consideration happening in Washington, too. But what few people are mentioning is the hazard factor of the new bulbs. If one breaks, there are several steps that have to be taken to clean up the mercury that the new bulbs contain. And those steps vary depending on the type of surface the bulb lands on. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection even goes so far as to suggest that a person replacing a new bulb first lay a drop cloth to catch any debris if the bulb gets dropped. Among the procedures is to use some sort of collection device, such as a stiff paper, and gently brush the broken glass and mercury onto the paper, and then deposit the material in a glass container for disposal. I have also read that a sealable plastic bag be used. For full instructions on disposing a new fluorescent bulb, visit the Maine DEP web site at For your own safety and for the safety of children and pets, these new energy efficient bulbs must be disposed of properly. It might be a good idea to stock up on the old bulbs and avoid the new ones as long as possible.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Not much of a storm! At least here.

Another week is ending. If we had gotten the storm that was predicted, we would have spent most of today cleaning up. But it turned out to be another of the winter storms that our local weather folk didn’t quite hit on the nose. They came pretty close in some areas of Southern Maine, but my neighborhood only got maybe two or three inches of snow instead of the nearly six inches that had been predicted. I do understand that points south of us, Boston down the northeast coast, got hit very hard in the storm.

That meant the cleanup effort left for this morning was easy. A good thing about the snow was it was the light, fluffy type which makes for easy walkway/driveway clearing. I didn’t even get angry at my snow blower this morning and, with a little help from the sunshine, all my tarred areas are black.

A couple of dogs have been having a great romp around our yard. DGD and her sister have found the new snow and the 36 degree temperature to their liking. They come into the house periodically to make sure we’re all here. Each time their golden color is snow white. A little toweling and they’re ready for another romp.

You might be amazed at how much damage a rear-end collision can be done to a car. My daughter was stopped at a red light the other day when another car came around a curve and didn’t see the light. No one hurt. And the guy that hit her admitted to police she was stopped the light and he just wasn’t paying attention. I got to see the damage today when she brought her dog over to romp with ours. The rear bumper needs replacing along with the trunk lid. There’s damage to the side of the car and her light lenses are partially off the car. There more damage, but her repair shop estimate to get it fixed is in the $3000 range. She’s had the car for just one year.

There is one thing our local Time Warner Cable Company does right. Working with Maine Public Television which has the rights to televise the state’s high school basketball tournament, all the championship tourney games are being broadcast from all three tourney locations, Portland, Augusta, and Bangor, on two cable channels. The young athletes, both male and female, are certainly giving their fans a lot to cheer about. I must say that high school sports and the quality of the athletes have changed just a wee bit from when I was in high school back in the 1950s.


Friday, February 22, 2008

It's Maine in February. It's snowing.

The snows began today right on forecast schedule. It’s very light stuff, though, and so far hasn’t accumulated too much. But it is getting slippery on the roadways. I listen to a police monitor, a habit that goes back to the 1960’s when I began covering instant news for a Portland television station. It’s a habit I’ve never lost even though I haven’t done that work for nearly 25 years.

The receiver is very active as several streets have become rather dangerous in the early stages of this storm. Several cars have slid off the roads and some streets have been closed. I haven’t yet heard of any injuries. Listening to happening events does give me a hint that I probably want to remain in the safety of my home during this storm.

My Golden Retriever is funny. She loves to go outside and romp in the snow. We keep a towel nearby so we can get most of the snow off her before she tracks it through the whole house. She knows the routine and when she comes in rather covered, she heads right for her towel and patiently waits to have the snow cleaned off.

Although she knows she is in total control of me, she’s still MGD’s dog and always goes to my wife whenever she needs something. For instance, she has a hard time keeping her ears clean and will ask MGD to clean them out. MGD will get down on the floor and the Golden will roll onto her back and put her head in position to get those ears wiped out. The pup is under a doctor’s care for her ears and each cleaning is accompanied by some gooey stuff that has been prescribed. Once the cleaning task is accomplished, the dog leads MGD to the treat bin as she expects a reward for being such a cooperative dog.

This is school vacation week in Maine. That part doesn’t affect me at all as every week is a vacation week in this household, except as I’ve mentioned several times, MGD works part-time three days a week. February school vacation week is also high school basketball tournament week. I love watching the kids play their games, as the innocence of these young men and women giving 100% effort and working truly as teams is just a pleasure to watch. The Maine Public Television stations have teamed with cable to provide nearly every game using two cable channels. All winter championships, including swimming, skiing, cheerleading, track, are also being held this week, but they aren’t televised so I don’t get to see them.

A local sad news note: Three of four members of a family were found dead following a fire in their home in Old Orchard Beach the other day. After a couple days of investigations, OOB police and the Maine State Police today arrested the fourth family member, the older son, and charged him with three counts of murder and one count of arson. Dead are the mother, father, and his brother. The family was very popular in OOB.

Now another weekend is upon us. It amazes me how 70 or more years ago, a week lasted forever. Now over 70, it seems like it was only an hour ago that we had our last weekend. This weekend could be in interesting one for me. As I mentioned, the snows have begun and forecasts indicate we could get five or six inches in our area. My neighbor who plows my long driveway for me is near the Canadian border right now working on a construction project. I guess that means this old boy is going to give his newly adjusted snow blower a real workout. I wonder if I will see my treasured black driveway tomorrow.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just catching up a little

Today I’m spending my 650 words just catching up on a few items that we’ve discussed here in the past weeks.

-----The state’s budget continues in the news today. The Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) told a couple legislative committees trying to find ways to fix the $200 million shortfall that her department is considering some more cuts. From what I can gather, those cuts are like earlier suggestions of cutting services to some of the people who need the services most. For example, says the new suggestions include cutting some funds in domestic violence programs, transportation for children in foster care, sexual assault victims and others. In other words, the proposals are more of the “hit the needy” type intending to incite feelings to get people to start screaming about helping the people who need help and eventually giving the legislature a reason to raise taxes. Most notably missing from the proposals were real cuts in, say, middle management bureaucracy where savings probably could be made without affecting a single needy person.

-----The Maine Turnpike Authority has narrowed its search down to four possible locations for a new toll plaza at the south end of the ‘Pike. The new plaza will include high speed access to the road for vehicles with EZ-Pass electronic payments. EZ-Pass (along with Fast Lane in Massachusetts) is used by toll roads and bridges throughout the Northeast and some other states. Some people living in Kennebunk have also demanded a second study within a year to see if Turnpike users are bypassing the York exit, where the toll is $1.75, to avoid that payment. A study a few months ago indicated that a very small number of people were doing that, but another study during the summer months will be made by the Turnpike Authority. I think one question that possibly should be considered is, “Considering the additional time for the trip on Route One and the cost of gas, just how much does one save by avoiding the York booth?”

-----The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously shot down a provision of a Maine law that its sponsors say was intended to keep tobacco products away from children. The law required package delivery companies to verify the ages of recipients of packages from know tobacco dealers. The delivery companies argued in court that the law put unreasonable additional costs on them and the court agreed. I heard a spokesman for the state, but don’t remember his name or position, this morning say the only purpose of the law was for the protection of the children. I suspect a second purpose was to force recipients to file Use Tax payments to replace lost revenue from extremely high tobacco taxes in Maine.

-----The national Presidential race is getting hotter. Now trailing Barack Obama in about all categories, convention delegates, the polls, money, Hillary Clinton has demanded to know just one accomplishment Obama has made. Gee, I’d like to know just one accomplishment any of the four remaining contenders have made. In fact, I’d like them all, Obama, Clinton, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, to start getting just a little more specific on what they think they can accomplish if elected President. I’ve a growing suspicion, along with a whole lot of you, that this is going to be one mighty dirty campaign before it’s over.

-----Back locally, when I listened to the weather forecast this morning on the morning television news, my little corner of the world was going to miss a big ocean storm. We might get an inch or less of snow, the weatherman said, but if the storm track was just a smidgeon further out to sea, we might not get anything. Then the noon news came on and the weatherman had changed his tune a little. Now extreme Southern Maine along the coast from about Portland to the New Hampshire border could get up to seven inches of snow. Whatever we get, it should start shortly after noon tomorrow and continue into Saturday. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what tomorrow will or won’t bring.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Budget reduction suggestions (From AMG)

Yesterday I discussed my feelings on the high cost of Maine’s government and its spending. Except to suggest that the citizens of this state must fight for a change in the people in elected positions, I did not offer any suggestions on how the spending could be curtailed. The main reason I didn’t offer places of cuts is that I have not read the budget document and honestly don’t have the answers. But for the last few days I’ve been reading a thread on a popular Maine political forum As Maine Goes ( and several posters have offered suggestions on how this state can save money. That thread is titled, ”And now, let's all play CUT THE BUDGET!” and can be found in the Public Square.

I promised the editor/owner of AMG that I would not reveal the names of the posters nor violate any ‘fair practice’ use of both the posts and source references made by the posters in return for being able to use some of the material. I will honor that commitment here, so I truly hope I don’t inadvertently reveal anything I should not. However, I believe many of the suggestions have great merit and, if the state would take them at face value, could go a long way into reducing the cost of government in Maine.

Although I said last night (see the post below) that probably the only way change can be made is through changes in elected legislators, the people elected must make some extremely difficult decisions on cutting the budget. But the current elected officials are faced with an immediate revenue shortfall which must require cuts right now. Some legislators would prefer to simply raise the money by increasing taxes and fees. Our citizens cannot undertake any more governmental picking of our pockets.

Predictably the governor’s first cut suggestions included the emotion wrenching cuts in some services, like some programs for senior citizens, some programs designed to help children, and others designed to draw the masses to Augusta to protest. One legislator said his proposals were like a school board proposing to cut sports, bands, advanced educational courses out of an education budget, all designed to get the people to fight any cuts.

What the governor’s proposals didn’t do was propose cutting what many feel is a bloated Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) budget. And that department took a particularly hard hit from the posters on AMG. Some told horror stories (and I haven’t substantiated any of them) of massive abuse in the welfare system, others said too many layers of bureaucracy were costing too much money, too many people were eligible by Maine rules for welfare benefits, including house, food, medical, heat, and many other, way past the 5-year requirements of the Federal Government.

Some people felt that getting Maine’s many, many sections to national averages instead of being #1 in the country could make up for the shortfall. Other forum participants offered suggestions for cuts in most of the other state departments. My best guestimate of what all the savings could be as offered on the forum would be double, perhaps triple, the necessary cuts to make up for this budget cycle’s shortfall. In any event, the suggestions could be a good starting point for total reform and tax relief for our citizens.

There are a few posters who have suggestions that didn’t offer any meaningful suggestions or ideas on resolving the problem, but they are to be expected, I guess.

As Maine Goes (AMG) is a free forum. It’ll take a couple of clicks to get there, but the thread I’ve mentioned can be found by clicking on “News on AMG’s Public Square.”


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Only change can bring us tax relief in Maine

Periodically over the past couple of months I’ve ranted about the spending by Maine Government. You’ve seen where I’ve pointed out that we are the second highest taxed state in America. You’ve seen where I’ve said I think spending is totally out of control in Maine (possibly the U.S. Government as well) as our Legislators simply have failed to prioritize needs and wishes. Instead, they seem to fund just about anything anyone wants.

To make the citizens feel they are really having a say in the state budget, legislators occasionally put huge projects out for a public vote on bonding them. Calling the bonds “investments” they convince Mainers to blindly go into the booth and approve millions of dollars in bonds. I can’t understand why Mainers are so gullible as to think those bonds are really tax increases as they have to be paid off with tax money.

Most, if not all, and I can’t remember when one wasn’t, are passed easily by the voters of the state. And so our deficit along with our regular expenditures grows. The Legislature critters and governor look upon that acceptance as acceptance of all they do. They have no concept that the people of this state are really in fiscal difficulty and most, although they should know better, don’t really understand it is their taxes that have to pay off those bonds. Or perhaps they simply don’t care because a quarter of all Mainers are on some form of public welfare and, I’d guess, close to another quarter are on some form of public payroll.

I often lurk on a mostly political Maine forum called As Maine Goes ( and most of the posters there are Republicans. They too rail about the budget that Maine’s government spending passes virtually without protest. I find the sad part to be that the minority party (surprisingly in Maine is the Republican Party) offers almost no resistance to the expanding taxes and spending. There is a very small handful, note that “very,” of Republicans who vote against the expanding budget, but most of them have the incredibly wrong belief that they can compromise.

There is no compromise with Democrats. They will use the “bipartisan” word only as a small placation to the Republicans, but the word is simply a “feel good” word that accomplishes absolutely nothing.

There are many posters on As Maine Goes who feel that until the grassroots Republicans become truly involved, nothing will change. I agree. Even on that forum, there is no real ideal that Republicans can follow as they are constantly arguing among themselves. And therein probably lies the problem. Unless the minority party can come together to find a common, acceptable goal and then remain together to get out into their respective communities to fight for that goal, there will not be, there cannot be, any change.

Republicans must find election candidates that will fight for lower taxes and cuts in spending and then work extremely hard to support those candidates for the November elections. We can accomplish change only by changing the members of the governing bodies in Augusta. And it will take a lot of very hard work and honest commitment to achieve that reform. I’m not sure my party hasn’t become the party of complainers, however, with no willingness to fight for change.

Unfortunately, as several posters on the forum agree, Maine’s citizens just seem to love the spend habit of our Legislative critters. We in Maine seem to have adopted the attitude that the problem is with the other guys, as our neighbors and friends represent us very well. And we continue to send them to Augusta to rob us once again. Until this attitude changes, there can be no spending changes.

How about you, G.D., why don’t you put yourself forward? That’s a good and fair question. I’m not sure you’d accept the answer.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Sales Day, Whoops! Holiday

This third Monday of February has been called “Presidents’ Day” for a long time now, but it simply isn’t the same as the old Washington Birthday holiday. Once, you may recall, we had two pretty good holidays in February, Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s. And they were celebrated on the real birthdays, the 12th and 22nd. One good part of the day, however, it gives me another chance to take a trip down memory lane.

Washington’s Birthday was always the more important, at least as far as celebration was concerned. For one thing, the winter school vacation week occurred during the week in which the birthday came. Now, that vacation comes with President’s Day.

But the real fun of the week was the various sales that offered truly great bargains for shoppers. It was a great time to buy an automobile, jewelry, household goods, just about anything. And honest bargains, not just in name, were available. Auto dealers today still use the holiday to proclaim special prices, and many stores also offer what they call bargains, but neither situation approaches the prices of the goods that stores wanted to rid themselves of during the Washington Birthday Sale.

Most of the items that were on sale were outdated, been in storage for long periods of time, or stuff that simply wasn’t selling. But folk who knew what they wanted and what the costs of items were could buy very useful and good items, although possibly not the most chic. I remember one such item we bought during the sale. It was a style of slide projector that most people wouldn’t want. But it suited our needs perfectly and we bought it for about one half of what it has been listed for during the previous several months. We first looked at as a Christmas present. But no one had wanted it, so we got a real good deal. We still have that projector but it has been a long time since we looked at slides.

We bought a new car once during the Washington Birthday sale. Since it coincided with our first solo negotiations for a new car, and in fact was our first new car, I can’t swear we got a great deal. I think it was, though, as we paid far less than we had expected and far less than the advertised price. At the time we believed we had gotten away with something. Of course that was in 1963 and since then I think I’ve learned a little about buying cars. Aw, shucks! It was still a good deal.

As I think back through those years, we bought many furnishings, first for our apartment and then for our new home. We didn’t need the latest and greatest, couldn’t afford them, either, but we looked forward to the Washington’s Birthday Sales and saved many, many dollars over the years.

Today I see advertised “specials” touting the Presidents’ Day sales. But most of the items I see are advertised at the same basic prices they sell for throughout the year. As for automobiles sales, can you think of any week during the entire year that is not a sale period for automobiles?

In any event, today we celebrate the birthdays of our presidents, notably Lincoln and Washington but now expanded to include all. It just isn’t the same as “the good old days.” It’s probably better. I hope you had a successful spree.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

A lazy weekend

The weekend is well underway. We had a glorious, but cold start here in Maine. When I awoke, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, when my Golden woke me at 5 o’clock, the temperature at my home was 11 degrees, but the skies were clear. That in itself seems to be unusual this February.

Three days a week my wife rises early to prepare for her part-time job. Even though she’s retired like me, she wants the job because she has worked just about all her life and says she’d go “bonkers” if she didn’t work outside the home at least part-time. So she gets up early. That set the stage for our dog. She can’t tell time and I honestly have no idea how she does it, but that 3-year-old has learned when five o’clock comes. She also can’t tell the work days from home days so, every morning at five, we have to get up.

This is a great day to have a fire in the fireplace. The fire is also a way to help keep the cost of heat down. It keeps our living room nice and cozy and a couple of vents also help keep the kitchen warm, too. There is a down side, though, we don’t have a television in our living room. That means that we have to do funny things like have conversations, read, do puzzles, listen to music. They’re all good activities and have worked toward the longevity of our marriage. And since our two kids fled the nest a very long time ago, we can take advantage of the room to just share. Of course the dog is never more than a couple inches away from us.

I don’t do very much weekends. Of course I don’t do very much during the week either. After all, I’m retired. So’s MGD, but she can’t stop working. I do help her around the house by doing some household chores on those days she has chosen to work elsewhere. In the summertime I keep the lawn mowed, but that is the extent of my outdoor work. We have several small gardens, mostly flower but also a vegetable one, which I rarely venture into. My thumb is no where near the color green. MGD, on the other hand, spends virtually all day in her gardens.

In the winter, I look forward to snow so I can convert my lawn tractor into a riding snow blower. I lie. But I do like a black driveway and keep it as clear of snow and ice that I can.

We also like weekends because our daughter visits us. She has a dog, too; in fact, her dog is a sister to ours as they joined our families at the same time. One great pleasure is watching two Golden Retrievers romp and play outside. They get along beautifully and love being together. And that’s another place where both of them know the day of week. Ours begins looking for her sister every Saturday. The daughter says her dog sits by her back door patiently waiting to visit her sister. When the normal time comes, her dog starts quiet little noises to announce the time for departure has come.

So weekends are a fun time for all of us, and I’m glad they come every week.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Just a "funky" day!

This is a strange afternoon. I sat down to write today’s post and I can’t think of anything I need to say. That doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to write about, I just don’t want to work at this tonight. So, right now might be a good time to stop reading.

There are lots of topics roaming around in my head. I have one post almost written about the futility of Maine’s economic condition. There very simply is only one way to resolve being the highest tax state in the union, having the highest insurance premiums, having more of its population on welfare, an obscene cost of medical treatment, a state budget very much out of control, and a whole host of other ways this state is in financial difficulty. One solution is easy, elect new leaders in November. But we’ve been in this condition for years and we the people continue to send the same people back to Augusta.

That’s the heart of a post I’m preparing, but it probably won’t be until next week when you get to see the expanded version.

I think my funk may have to do with my taxes. I got my completed return back from my accountant today. It was not a pretty sight. I can’t believe how many taxes weren’t taken out of various sources last year. I’m retired so the main source of my income is my retirement income. I’m one of those people who planned my retirement future many years ago. At least the income part. What I failed to plan was how to get adequately have taxes withheld. I’m having a meeting with my accountant in the near future.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely don’t want to plan for a refund. All that is is an interest free loan to the governments. But I don’t want to ever again have to write a check like the one going out April 15th.

Or my funk could be the result of two failed shopping adventures today. I went to a nearby home improvement center for two very simple items. One was a cleaner to get the soot and grime off the glass doors in my fireplace. For those of you who don’t have glass fireplace doors, normal cleaners simply don’t work. But at a now defunct Home Quarters several years ago I got some great stuff. A couple of squirts and a quick wipe resulted in sparkling clean doors. But the two home centers now in my area tell me that, yes, they have cleaner for about a month at the beginning of the season every year. But because it’s a seasonal item, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Both suggest I shop early next season. Meanwhile, you can’t see through my doors. (I’ve also tried local hardware stores, but what I found was inadequate. I will give the Lowe’s store manager, at least that’s what Dave’s badge said, some credit. He suggested I try a woodstove store.

My wife works at her part-time job in Fridays, so while at the home improvement centers I decided to do her a favor and get curtains and a shade. She wanted insulated ones which weren’t readily available. At one of the stores, I think I outnumbered the “associates” as I couldn’t find one to help me, so I left. I don’t know if Dave was considered to be an associate or not. I know I was the most customers in the store. That’s a project that’ll now wait until she wants to go again.

My other failure was finding a Bluetooth capable mouse. I know they exist, but not today at a big office supply store nor at an even bigger electronics store.

In all fairness I was returning home from picking up my tax forms and I suppose I just wasn’t in a shopping mood.

So you see, I’m just sitting here and I can’t think of a thing to write about.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentines, snow blowers, and stuff

Happy Valentine’s Day to lovers everywhere. My Valentine and I decided a while back that we’d not exchange presents or cards this year, and we both lived up to that decision. We’ve been married for a very long time and I guess the feeling this year was simple: We’ve done that, we’ve bought that, we’ve been there. That doesn’t in any way detract from the love I have for that wonderful woman. She’s a rock, and if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today.

I won’t bore you with the morbid details, but because she remained calm and did all the right things, she was able to get the rescue to our home and the members of that unit got me into the hospital while all the time my body was draining itself of blood. For you who have a little knowledge of the body, I had suffered what is commonly called a Triple-A. But my wife never lost her composure as I lay in a heap on the floor. While waiting patiently for the rescue team, she called our daughter who met us at the hospital.

I’m writing this so you know how it all turned out. And through the whole 40 days of hospitalization, she was there. Sometimes only in spirit, but she never left me. And she still takes care of this old man and makes sure I’m doing what I need to do to wake up tomorrow morning. She remains a rock and strongly by my side supporting me. No man could ask for more. I only hope I do enough little things that let her know how I feel. And Oh Yes, I tell her often.

So on this special day of love, her presence is all I need to make it a great day.


A quickie update on my snowblower: I’ve had a few very unkind words and thoughts about what I’ve been calling the “world’s worst snowblower.” I mentioned a few days ago that I have a friend wintering in Florida and long distance he diagnosed what he thought could be the problem. I followed his suggestions and yesterday morning, with snow piled up around here, I tried out the machine. Holy Smokes! One pass and wherever I blew snow, I had a black driveway. I couldn’t believe it, but my friend’s suggestions apparently worked. We’ll know for sure if we get any more snow this winter. So, Thank you, Richard. I’m glad to have your as a friend.


I don’t know how it turned out yet, but a Legislative committee held hearings today on Maine’s drivers’ licenses. Anyone from anywhere can get a license in Maine. And, as you know, a license is used for identification. Maine doesn’t even require legal residency in the state or the nation to get a license. No Social Security number? No problem. 999-99-9999 works in Maine. Ask any of the five thousand license holders who have that number. Today’s hearing was designed to discuss Maine residency requirements, i.e., a requirement that an applicant must show proof of Maine residency. Proof of being a legal resident of the United States wasn’t included. But, as I said, I haven’t seen any reports yet of what was discussed at the hearing. Holding one, though, I guess is a start.


Finally, a report out of Augusta today says 89 of Maine’s school districts spent too much money on education. When the state agreed, as a result of a citizens’ initiative, to fund 55% of education costs, school districts were required to use savings from their own expenditures resulting from increased state payments into property tax relief. For the most part, that didn’t happen and today’s report says that many districts exceeded state expectations on educational costs. This report should be good for a few days of interesting discussions in various on-line forums.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tax rebates and a southern border

I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard about the tax rebates the federal government is planning on giving some Americans. And some non-Americans. And some non-taxpayers. And how about 1.4 Billion dollars President Bush is proposing to give Mexico? Now that’s an economic stimulator if I ever read of one.

Let’s start with the tax rebates. The Feds are getting ready to send out checks anywhere from $300 to $1200 with the anticipation they will stimulate the economy. But not everyone will get a rebate. And some who haven’t even paid any taxes will. I guess we’re redefining “rebate.” Those rebates, according to most reports I’ve read, will be based on your individual income tax filing and the taxes you’ve paid. Here’s the rub: many poor in our society not only don’t pay any taxes, they don’t even have to file a return.

I always thought a rebate was a return of a portion of a payment for something. I’ve sent in rebate forms for many items such as computer software from a local office supply store. After waiting patiently until in many cases I’ve forgotten I requested a rebate, a check for a few dollars or less arrives in the mail. That’s a rebate. Now I have paid my taxes and when that check arrives, if I’m one of the lucky ones, it will be a rebate.

There’s no guarantee I’ll be one of the lucky ones. Sure, I did pay my taxes, but I’m not sure where the “cut off” bracket is. You see, as much as this is a rebate, it’s a feds’ way of taking from one segment of society and redistributing it to another. Among those who will receive the money are many people who didn’t even pay taxes in the first place. That’s sort of like my watching for a $1500 rebate on a car purchase and going to a dealership and demanding my rebate. I’m not going to buy the car, you understand; I just want the rebate.

You know who else will get rebates? I read that illegal aliens will also be eligible for the cash. That one makes even less sense to me than giving money to citizens, at least, who didn’t pay taxes.

The rich, who pay some 75% of all collected taxes, probably won’t get any of their money back. They are providing Robin with his money to give to the poor. I’m not rich, in fact I’m very far from it, but I paid taxes so I’m not sure if I’m eligible for a rebate or not.

As for stimulating the economy, the money will probably be used by many just to pay off some debt, buy some much needed heating oil, food for the family, maybe even a mortgage payment. I have little hope that people will spend the money on new goods which is the only way the economy can be improved.

This is an election year and this rebate program is only to help politicians get re-elected next November. It is a Washington gimmick. If the government truly wants to stimulate the economy, it should review the way John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan ran their presidencies. Tax cuts, putting more money into Americans’ pockets, giving them the ability to buy more goods when they are needed or just on a whim is a true program to stimulate the economy.

Then there’s another President Bush proposal that has gotten under my skin just a little bit. He is asking Congress for a 1.4 billion dollar program to aid Mexico shore up its southern border to keep illegal aliens from entering Mexico. Why doesn’t the President use that money to shore up our southern border to keep the illegals from Mexico from getting into the United States?


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


We’ve been told by those who spend their time looking at the weather that we’re in for yet another storm. It should begin late this evening, snow through the night accumulating to 4 to 7 inches, and then change to sleet and freezing rain tomorrow morning followed by rain, heavy at times tomorrow afternoon. The winter storm warning will remain until tomorrow night.

The conditions expected in this storm are the worse kind we get. The 4 – 7 inches of snow isn’t bad. That can be easily cleaned up, even with my terrible snow blower. More on that in a moment. But the sleet and freezing rain will form a very heavy crust on top of the snow and ice on trees, poles, wires, and other things outside. The heavy rain will weigh all that down even more causing many power outages and much damage. A few years ago our state suffered through a massive ice storm which literally crippled us for days. That is not expected to be repeated tomorrow, but the heavy snow and ice will probably cause trees to break or be uprooted, wires to be ripped from buildings, and poles to fall.

About my snowblower: I’ve been saying that I have the world’s worse unit and described why I feel that way. I have a friend in Florida. He’s pretty darned knowledgeable in things mechanical. He wrote me that he couldn’t accept all my criticism until some examination could be made. Now he couldn’t do that from 15-hundred miles away, but he did make some suggestions of things I could check on the unit. He gave me directions of what to look for in language this absolutely-non-mechanic could follow. Son of a gun, I found all the items he had suggested and, while looking them over, found something else. It was a tension adjuster. So I’ve adjusted the tension. I had hoped last storm to be able to check to see if my machine now worked as I expected. But the snow quickly became rain and even though we had 2 inches of slush on the driveway, it was so wet I could see the black tar through it. I didn’t even attempt to do anything with my blower. That might change in the morning. If I can get to the snow before the rains come, I’ll be able to test out my friend Richard’s theories. If it doesn’t work, I know he’ll have other ideas for me. It’s great to have a friend, isn’t it?

Back to today. We didn’t go to the supermarket today as we have all we need to survive for a few days if necessary. But my wife who works part-time in a supermarket tells me that days like this one bring out the hordes preparing for a storm. She gets fascinated watching people buy frozen foods, meats and vegetables that need to be cooked, and all kinds of other stuff that require electricity to prepare. From what she observes, not many even consider how they’re going to cook if the electricity is out.

But we did go shopping. We spent about 3 and a half hours looking for curtains. Actually one or two curtains, not a whole houseful. She wanted a new one for her bathroom and in the many years we’ve lived in this house, we’ve never had one for the kitchen window. If I could be cute with words, I describe the whole trip. But I can’t do it justice, so I’ll just say I did what every man wants to do, go shopping with his wife, for curtains. We visited curtain shops. We visited curtain departments in many stores. We visited home improvement stores. We bought no curtains. What a blast this day was!

And now, as the clouds are rolling in and the storm is on the horizon, I’m sitting here thinking about what a very lucky guy I am. We’ve been married for almost a half century, and I’m still amazed at how much pleasure I have just going shopping with her as she puts up with my foolishness over trying to find new curtains.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Legislature must develop courage

It’s been said many times here that Maine is facing a financial woe. So far, the budget shortfall is approaching two million dollars, and many expect it go even higher. The Maine Legislature and the state’s governor are locked in debate on just how to find that money.

Yesterday’s Maine Sunday Telegram on its editorial pages suggested that a Blue Ribbon Commission be appointed to study the budget closely and make recommendations on cutting it. I totally disagree with the formation of such a committee. It makes no sense to me to form a very expensive commission with huge expenses to cut even further into our deepening financial problems.

I believe that the Legislators and governor, who joined together to create the problem, should now be charged with correcting it. Deep cuts on many budgets must be made and if these elected folks can’t grow the ‘fortitude’ to do it, they should resign and let us elect people who will. Seems to me there may be a more familiar or popular expression to describe the growing.

Have you ever noticed when a government entity at just about every level sets out to cut they always pick programs which bring about emotional responses from the people? School committees, for example, when faced with budget cuts, eliminate many items that directly affect the kids. Bands, sports, popular educational program, and many other kid-centered activities are on the chopping block. Parents come out in droves to protest the folly of such cuts. After all, they say, it will affect the education of the children and it is that education why schools exist. Because the tax payers want to continue the programs and they are often reinstated, the budget gets approved because “it’s what the people want.”

In many school districts administrative services have increased while school population has decreased but we rarely see any cuts in administration costs. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Gov. Baldacci is attempting to have school districts consolidate administrative costs. I suspect most people reading this can think of many places in school budgets that could be cut without hurting the children. But school budgets aren’t the focus here; it is the state budget.

I used the school situation because it is typical of all government entities. The governor’s proposed cuts cut services of the elderly, the poor, the ill, and yes, children’s services. It accomplished the expected results; people affected and their care providers marched on the State House and demanded the services be left alone, just like parents marching to demand bands and athletics be kept.

Where in the cut proposals was the elimination of layers of bureaucracy and duplication of services in any department? I can’t cite specific figures, but a reasonable guess that easily this year’s 95 million dollar (the rest is in the second year of the budget) could be cut with simple elimination of many duplicative services and what many taxpayers perceive as bloat in the number of employees. I would hate to see anyone lose a job, but many of the jobs should never have been created in the first place.

I wonder how much money could be saved with just the elimination of the failed state attempt at universal health, the Dirigo insurance plan. Amend recent laws that have put so many restrictions on private insurance that all but a small handful of private health insurers have left the state. Did you know, for just one example, that a 50-year-old male must carry pregnancy insurance on himself?

The answer for many of our state political leaders is simple: higher and more taxes and fees. My answer is cut, cut, cut. The leaders always try to put the onus of what they should do on you: “Just where should we cut? What services can you do without?” I didn’t create the problem, they did. It is their job to get us out of it. If they can’t, then they should just get out.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

No More Taxes, Fees, Please!

A few days ago I mentioned that our governor, John Baldacci, had publicly pledged that this state would not raise taxes or fees to fix a projected $95 million shortfall. There were many observers who said at the time that $95 million was conservative. This past week it was announced the shortfall would be closer to $200 million and many of those astute observers are saying it’ll probably go a lot higher before it’s over.

Not surprising, tax and fee increases are back on the table. And, because the state can’t admit is has screwed up, the governor is blaming the federal government, specifically President Bush, for the problem. You see, the feds have changed the formula for how it will repay the state for welfare and Medicaid (called MaineCare in Maine) funds. Naturally the proposed cuts were in programs designed to help seniors, foster children, and other such measures. The proposal succeeded in getting dozens of people to Augusta to protest the cuts.

I’ve read somewhere that Maine is one of just two states that do not adhere to a federal welfare rule limiting assistance to 5 years. During that 5 year period, recipients are expected to be training to find a job and actually finding one. The federal government pays a majority portion of the cost of recipients, for up to those five years. In Maine, the assistance doesn’t stop but the state’s taxpayers must pick up the full cost. As one example, I’ve read that a single mother with two children in Maine receives the equivalent of nearly $60 thousand dollars in assistance, including housing assistance, food stamps, medical among the programs. That’s some incentive to get off welfare. And a great incentive for folks in other states to move to Maine after their five years is up.

As the Legislature begins looking for tax increases or even new taxes and fee increases or new fees, it should be considering ways to actually cut expenditures. Governmental fees, incidentally in my humble opinion, are simply taxes with a different name. The state’s own house needs to be put into order before it levies or even considers levying more taking from its citizens.

One simple example of disorder includes finding the several millions of dollars “lost” by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) last year. The 50-million dollar boondoggle of computer reform is another. Discovering why Maine’s hospitals and medical providers haven’t been paid millions of dollars is another problem. The spending of 20 million dollars on a very risky investment, which collapsed, is another. The governor and a task force recommended that Maine reduce its spending to bring it in line with national averages rather than being at the top in almost every category could save double the budget shortfall. But Maine likes being the second, and when all this is done, the highest taxed state in the nation. It likes being #1 in welfare benefit payments, #1 in MaineCare payments, #1 in just about every category that involves money.

I would like to see Mainers finally tell their legislators that enough is enough. Cut the damned spending and lower the tax rates. I’m very sorry for the “dozens” of people who protested the cuts, but I think it’s time for this state to start thinking of the million of us who foot the bill for the legislators’ foolishness.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Democrats Caucus This Weekend

This weekend Maine’s Democrats will hold their caucus to elect delegates to their national convention. Last weekend the Republicans had their turn.

The Democrats took a calculated risk that by holding their caucus after Super Tuesday they would gain some national attention. It was a chance that has paid off big time for the Party. Their list of potential presidential candidates has been narrowed to just two: Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. The race between the two is so tight that both are putting great effort into getting Maine’s 34 delegates into their respective camps. It is engaging the state’s Democrats possibly even better than the Party had hoped.

It began last night in Portland when former President Bill Clinton came to town to campaign for his wife Hillary. It was a gentler Bill Clinton than had campaigned is some Southern states before Super Tuesday. There were reports then than his wife even told him to calm the rhetoric down as he played the attacker part. Shortly after his trip through the South, my friend who is spending part of the winter in Florida wrote telling me his wife was asking if the former President were deliberately trying to unravel his wife’s bid. She opined that Bill sounded like he wanted his wife to do some wifely duties at home, like cook, etc.

But that wasn’t the way he was in Portland. Portland TV Station WCSH-TV reports on its newscasts that “Unlike earlier campaign stops where the president has been Sen. Clinton’s attack dog, the president stayed positive in Maine.” The station went on to say that he spent his time proclaiming the reasons that his wife should be president, not why her opponent should not.

Today, Sen. Obama has sent his own big wheel to the state. Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy was in Portland this morning and in Lewiston this afternoon. I’m not sure how much his presence will help Obama, though, as Clinton beat Obama in Kennedy’s home state.

The big day for the Democrats will take place in caucuses Sunday, and both candidates will be in the state. Sen. Clinton’s appearance will be tomorrow morning in Orono while Sen. Obama will greet the Dems in Bangor in the afternoon.

The Portland Press Herald on its web site,, reported this morning that Sen. Clinton challenged Sen. Obama to a debate, or at the very least a Town Meeting type session, while they both were here. Obama turned the suggestion down, but they will debate in Texas and Ohio before those states March 4 primaries.

The state’s Republicans thought their caucuses last weekend brought far more enthusiasm and participation than they had anticipated. Now they’re regrouping because the clear winner and favorite in Maine, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, has now suspended his campaign. But that enthusiasm and participation won’t match Sunday’s event as the charged up Democrats make their choices. By holding off until after Super Tuesday, Maine’s Democrats were able to bring in the Big Guns and a great payoff for a risk well taken.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

At least it wasn't a tornado!

February is considered by most Mainers as Snow Month. And this week isn’t letting us down. We’re getting our share as we awoke this morning to the second storm this week. And the week isn’t over yet.

Neither of the storms we’ve had was unexpected. The weather forecasters had predicted both, although I don’t think either one was quite as strong as they had thought. The one we had earlier this week was extremely heavy stuff as the day warmed up changing the storm to rain, as forecast. That made lifting it very difficult and we old folk had to watch what we were doing carefully.

Today’s storm isn’t quite so bad and my snow machine handled it with some ease. My wife has cleared the front and back porches and is working on the deck. She has an electric snow thrower to help her. Guided expertly by her, the machine does a very good job on the deck.

I use a tractor with just about the worst snow blower ever invented. I think I mentioned a few days ago how much I wish I had my old machine with a single stage snow thrower. It cleared anything and everything, including puddles, in its way. This two stage blower loves light, fluffy snow, but put any dampness into it and it’s back to shovels.

Fortunately for me, most of this storm was light, fluffy stuff and so that machine reluctantly blew most of it away. It still doesn’t scrape the driveway very well, though, and chunks of wet, frozen snow/ice remains. It would take some sunshine to melt it for me to reclaim my black driveway. That isn’t going to happen today.

Fortunately for me, my next door neighbor has a truck with a plow. He came through early this morning and cleared out the overnight stuff. Great guy, that neighbor. If I had to clear the deeper, heavier overnight stuff with my machine, I’d probably still be out there from this morning.

Now we’ll patiently wait for the next storm to come in this weekend. The forecasters say it has the potential of being a Nor’easter. I guess we should be grateful, though, a few inches of snow is much easier to handle than those tornadoes that ravaged the South yesterday.

Hmmm. All of sudden my lack of a black driveway has become inconsequential.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reminiscing while setting up new computer

My new computer arrived yesterday afternoon, so I spent much of today making it like I want. I was a little surprised that it got here yesterday as Dell told me it would probably ship on Feb. 8th and arrive here 5 to 8 days later. It shipped last Friday and arrived well ahead of schedule. Dell is known for that, though, so I had sort of expected it yesterday. But when I checked the tracking and saw that early yesterday morning it was just leaving Covington, Rhode Island, I moved my expectation to today.

This new computer is my first experience with Vista. New computer operating systems don’t generally scare me, though. I started using computers before Mr. Gates released his first DOS. It’s been about 30 years since I bought my first computer and I don’t really remember the letters associated with its OS. Seems to me it was something like CP-M. I can’t recall all the exciting things it had, like the amount of memory. It had two floppy drives for disks that really flopped, but hard drives hadn’t yet been used. One floppy was for program and the other for file storage.

Shortly after I got it, Bill Gates began his rise to fame and fortune and my computer became obsolete within months after I bought it. You see, nothing has changed about the speed of technology change. It was during this same period that I was introduced at work to an Apple computer, also with the dual floppies. There were others but I didn’t get to work with them. One I did get to use frequently was a Radio Shack TRS-80, affectionately called the Trash-80. Enough said about that one, but it did run on either IBM DOS or MS-DOS, both Bill Gates offerings to the world.

I remember I was in 7th heaven when I bought my first DOS machine. That devil had a real honest to goodness hard drive for storage. 10 megabytes, if my memory is correct. WOW! My word processing program fit and was at easy access. Wordstar was possibly the finest word processing program ever created. Unfortunately, it couldn’t or wouldn’t, at least didn’t, keep up with Microsoft’s Word or even WordPerfect and eventually fell by the wayside. I have a friend who, I think, probably still has his Wordstar program, and agrees with me it was the best, although he no longer has anything on which to run it.

Remember Lotus 1-2-3? It may still be around, although I gravitated to Excel many, many moons ago. I also had a Quicken-type personal accounting, check-writing program that in its day was better than Quicken. But it was another one of those great old-time programs that simply didn’t keep up.

I wrote my first spreadsheet program using GW Basic long before Windows came out. I was too cheap to buy Lotus. I ran my computer from menus I wrote to suit my needs. When I got my first website, I wrote that using HTML as again, I was too cheap to buy a web building program.

I’ve updated to every version of Windows since the GUI was first introduced. Some versions were fairly good, others, well, some didn’t quite do so well. Jumping ahead, I grew to like Windows XP as I found it quite stable. I’ve read that others didn’t share my feelings, though. That friend I mentioned a while back thought Windows 2000 may have been the best.

The time came a few weeks ago to replace my XP based laptop. I really don’t think the little guy was hurting because of XP as I have three other computers running XP and they haven’t had the constant crashing problems. They are very old, for computers, though, and the lack of memory and processor speed has put them on the back burner. My old desktop works, sort of, and the old laptop takes about 4 minutes to boot. But I have a great XP desktop that rarely even burps. All remain accessible and are on my home network. That’s a story for another time.

So my latest and greatest arrived yesterday. My friend wrote to me today and said folks he knows who’ve switched to Vista really hate it for the first month or so, and then find it to be pretty darn good. I guess I’m looking forward to that feeling. I think the hardest part is adjusting to the layers. And there are some familiar things I haven’t found yet, like Windows Explorer. (Edited to add: I found Explorer. It never moved.) I’ll get there and getting the thing to work the way I want it to, not the way Mr. Gates thinks I want it to, will get easier as I learn the little idiosyncrasies of Vista.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What's "Super" about it?

Today, for anyone who hasn’t followed this election 3 year process, is Super Tuesday. On this day 15 states are holding primary elections and another 10 are holding caucuses either for both parties or at least one. As I write this, the results aren’t yet known so if you’re looking for results, you won’t find the here.

As we move through this very active period where the political parties are fooling people into thinking they have a real say in who our next President will be, I’m reflecting on just how little we people really do choose the President. Several candidates for the nominations in each party have already fled the scene. Some might argue they never had a chance anyway, but we’ll really never know, will we?

The news media, first of all, has a huge part in choosing the Presidents. They pick and choose which people they’ll write favorable material about and which they’ll focus on the negative. You doubt that? Just one area will give you something to ponder. Religion. We’ve read thousands of words about the religion of two candidates, Mitt Romney, a member of the LDS, and Mike Huckabee, a Christian conservative minister. How many words have we seen about the religion of Hillary Clinton? Of John McCain? Of Barack Obama? Of Ron Paul? Or of any of the other candidates already vanished from the race? I missed a couple, didn’t I? Sorry, Alan Keyes and John Cox. (I hate to admit I have absolutely no idea who John Cox is.)

It might be interesting to see how many words have been printed about each candidate or how many minutes have been shown on TV. Perhaps the better reflection is how many negative and positive words/pictures have appeared. I was taught that the news should present only facts, both sides, and then let the reader/viewer reach a conclusion. Most of today’s reporters are under the delusion they have to reach the conclusion for you.

I could go on, I think, for pages on the news media and politics. But I won’t. Instead, I have some thoughts on the process which is designed to make us believe we have choices.

In some states, caucus and primaries decided how that state’s convention delegates must vote, at least through the first round. In Maine, the caucuses mean very little except it gives the world how the majority of Mainers feel about those candidates that have gotten this far. As far as the state convention is concerned, the locally elected delegates only vote for the allotted number of delegates to the national convention. And, even though there will be an attempt to convince everyone there this system works, once the delegates are elected, they can go to the national conventions and vote as they please right from the beginning. The Democrat system varies slightly in that some must support the state winner through one round.

And then the national delegates determine who will be the Presidential candidates, and that vote ultimately reflects the feelings of the delegates. So next November we’ll have on the ballot two persons that we think we had a hand in nominating.

But it doesn’t stop there. It is not the popular vote that determines the President but rather a convention called the Electoral College consisting of representatives of the number of congress people and they, the Electoral College, will determine the next President of the United States.

In this day and age of modern, fast communications, I can’t help but wonder why all this is necessary. Maybe, just maybe, national primaries could be held to determine who will represent the parties on the November Ballot. If no one got a majority, a runoff between the first two or three could be held. If another runoff is needed, so be it; but the party winners would appear on the November ballot with a popular vote winner-take-all.

But, you ask, what about Independent or other party (like Green or Constitution) candidates could be on the ballot via the same process.

Unfortunately, such a system takes away the “good old boy (now person)” network and the reward for loyalists and the Big Party National Convention would be in great jeopardy. But, at least I’d, and you’d, have a real say in who our President is.


Monday, February 4, 2008

High Speed Toll Plazas

There was an interesting feature puff piece in the Maine Sunday Telegram yesterday about the Maine Turnpike. The Turnpike wants to build a new high speed toll plaza somewhere between York and Wells for about $35 million. The new plaza would allow vehicles with EZ-Pass to go through the toll booths at highway speed without slowing down. The MTA says it will help alleviate the long lanes, especially in the summer months and during holiday periods as cars and trucks queue up to pay the tolls. Yes, there are EZ-Pass lanes, but vehicles must slow down to 10 miles an hour.

I must say that 35 million dollars for toll booths seems like a lot of money. But this plaza will be different in that vehicles with EZ-Pass (or Fast Lane, or possibly other electronic toll collection systems) will be able to zoom right through while remaining on the highway whereas folks still paying with cash will have to move to the right for a special area to collect the fees. The design will give both payers and Passers much more safety by keeping then generally away from each other. The design will also give more protection to the men and women in booths who collect the money.

Of course the electronics will have to be upgraded for high speed collection.

All Turnpike construction is paid for by user tolls. The tolls have been raised in recent years to raise money for widening the road and new rest area plazas. I don’t know if this newly proposed construction was included or not, but I hope so. There is a study group in progress right now examining the tolls on the ‘Pike. They really are, in my humble opinion, very unfair and need some adjustments, if only to equalize the fares along the way.

One of the biggest mysteries to me is why it costs me less to come into Maine than to leave it. If I enter the ‘Pike by any of the onramps I regularly use, I pay sixty cents. Because I am an EZ-Pass user, I can get a slight discount if I get off at local exits. But if I head South to go to New Hampshire or beyond, I must pay that $.60 to get onto the ‘Pike and then another $1.75 to get off in York. But, coming the other way, I’m charged the $1.75 to get on and can leave without further payment. There also are discrepancies among fees. For example, users around the Lewiston-Auburn area can enter and leave the road free within their areas.

A couple of interesting plot twists, which many visitors from other states don’t realize, is leaving the ‘Pike in Scarborough onto I-295 and Falmouth onto the connector to Route One and I-295 will cost the user an additional fee even though I-295 isn’t part of the Turnpike. If users coming north and want to get onto I-295 in Scarborough, the user can save that extra fee by doing another couple hundred yards to the South Portland exit, take that connector a mile or less to its I-295 onramp. It adds only a minute or two to the trip.

I think there should be a set distance fee and it be charged equally at each exit.

Back to the highway speed plaza proposed for both ends of toll portion of the ‘Pike: My wife and I have used some of these plazas on various road trips. They make using the toll roads in states which have installed them extremely easy. One just zips right through with no slowing down and continues on the way. I can see where the lack of long lines, truck engine-breaking, idling, etc., can benefit both the environment and the sanity of people living nearby. Most toll roads and bridges in the East accept EZ-Pass.


Here’s a comment with nothing to do with the Turnpike. The New England Patriots had a great season which will be remembered for a long time. It ended, unfortunately for Pats fans, with a loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. The Pats were simply outplayed. I think they never regained their commitment to task after a break following their AFC championship game. To give credits to the Giants, they learned in the last game of the year which they lost to the Patriots that New England’s deep defensive secondary was suspect. They also learned that harassing the NE quarterback would change the tempo of the game. As I said in an earlier post here I grew up as a Giants’ fan when they were the only game in town. But I would have liked to see a New England undefeated season. Congratulations to the New York Giants.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Caucus

The storm I mentioned yesterday moved out of our end of the state overnight. We awoke to temperatures already out of the freezing. By 8 this morning, what remaining snow/sleet/ice groundcover was melting quickly? So I decided I would attend our town’s Republican caucus. It was an interesting 90 minutes or so.

Senator Collins was there representing herself. She spoke passionately to us on why she should be returned to the Senate and compared her basic record with that of her opponent. She was upbeat and positive. Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee had representatives there who were equally as passionate about their candidates. The final activity of the caucus was a straw vote for who we would like elected.

Most of the caucus was a business meeting which first elected the folks were going to run the event. I got the distinct impression that the leaders had been predetermined and our task was to formalize the choices. The main, possibly the only real reason for the caucus, was to elect town delegates to the state convention in May. As we entered the room, we were given a form to complete and on the form were choices to attend the state convention and to serve on the town committee. Fewer than the allowed delegates indicated a desire to go to the convention so a simple motion to elect all that volunteered passed. The names were not read.

Elections to the town committee were handled the same way. Everyone who indicated a willingness to serve on the registration form was elected.

As the straw voting began for the presidential choice, several folk wanted to know how the choice would be linked to the convention delegates. The simple answer: it won’t. In fact, the straw voting in Maine really accomplishes nothing tangible other than letting the delegates know who was preferred, but there’s nothing binding. Furthermore, in Maine the state convention delegates elect the delegates to the national convention, and they, too, are not bound in any way to vote for a particular candidate.

The caucus leaders tried very hard to convince us that this system works and that the state delegates will listen to the desires of the party members and vote accordingly for delegates that do not have to vote in the national convention in any way other than their own choices. I’m not sure very many people bought the argument. There were many grumblings during the session today and on the way out the door after adjournment to return to the primary system for the next election.

The results of that now-we-know-not-too-official straw vote showed Mitt Romney gained 60 votes and John McCain had 35 as the top two vote getters. I don’t recall the numbers of the other two real contenders, but I think Mike Huckabee has a few more than Ron Paul. John (I think it was John) Cox didn’t get a vote. When Cox’s name was given as one of the candidates, I think just about everyone in the room asked, “Who?”

So the caucus ended. It was a good experience for me as I found I enjoyed the event even more than I thought I would. But, for anyone wondering, I did not check off attending the state convention nor did I check off being on the town committee.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Feb. 1 Storm

We’re getting some precipitation right now. I’m not sure what it is but it’s either sleet or freezing rain. Is there a difference? Today’s storm was forecast to begin as snow around one o’clock this afternoon. It was just a little late beginning in my neighborhood just a couple miles from the coast around two. When my wife got home about 2:45, she said it was sleeting then and the roads were beginning to set up.

Shortly after she got here, medium size heavy wet snow flakes were covering the ground and making it white. The driveway and walkway are now white, but the snow has changed back. The weather bureau tells us that it all should turn to rain on the south side of Route one and then slowly the rain will take over on the north side. We live on the south side of Route One.

I dislike this kind of weather immensely. Several inches of fluffy white snow sure does beat rain, freezing rain, and ice. Did I mention the forecast says we’ll get from a tenth to a quarter inch of ice? I think I saw some ice beginning to cover the trees outside my house. My daughter, who lives in Portland, called when she got home from work a little while ago and said the roads there hadn’t been treated and she thought they were a little slippery.

We have a police scanner in our house and local police have been responding to accidents quite frequently for the past hour. An ambulance was dispatched to at least one of them. We get a lot of scanner traffic when it storms and it is one way we can follow the storm’s intensity. It also helps me decide whether I’m staying in the safety of my home or venturing out. I normally stay home.

Tomorrow we’re faced with cleaning up. I’m sure the storm won’t leave enough behind for my neighbor to get out his plow. If the forecast is correct and the temperatures rise above freezing, but they’re falling right now, perhaps there won’t be much to clean up tomorrow as the rain will wash most of it away. I guess that’s the storm result I’m hoping for.

I am hoping to attend our town’s caucus tomorrow morning. I’ll be watching the weather closely this evening and early tomorrow morning. If it’s at all slippery, I’ll be staying home, primarily because of a medical condition. If I fall, I’ll break something so I don’t want to create an unnecessary trip. But it would be fun and loyal to participate in some small way. I’ll have to make that decision tomorrow morning.

Maine has a new law and for the first time, 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before November’s elections can participate in caucuses. It will be interesting to see how many will be there.

And another new law not connected with the election process has also gone into effect. Maine students who attend college or university in Maine and stay in Maine to work can get a $5 thousand credit on their income taxes for up to 10 years to help pay student loans. Of course, they have to stay and work here after their education.

Back to topic. As I said earlier, I’d rather have several inches of snow than even a tenth of an inch of ice. For once during the winter months, this time I’m hoping for that warm weather and rain to let me have my day out tomorrow.


Edited: The temperature is now rising slowly and I believe it's all rain here on the south side of Route One.