Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hype? or Real?

Another month leaves us in its wake today as April has only a few hours left. There is one thing about April that we will long remember and will be mentioned many times in the future. Tuesday, the temperature crossed 90 degrees for the first time in recorded weather history.

Yesterday then came and we were brought back to reality. Sure. It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine and reasonably pleasant temperatures. A little wind kept it in the cool range, but it brought us back to the reality of April. Now we’re wondering way May will bring beginning tomorrow.

The senior fitness program at the PT center this morning treated me with great respect. I’m happy. I’ll be adding something next week, either weight, distance (stationary bike), or a new routine. This was a good day.

The swine flu has reached Maine. There have been at least three confirmed cases in two different sections of the state. Now called the H1N1 flu, I guess because the pork industry objected to the term swine flu, Maine is rushing into speed mode to fight it.

Gov. Baldacci has told us the state has ordered several thousand doses of a medicine to help fight the flu as it strikes. I think I heard the head of Maine’s Center for Disease Control, Dr. Dora Mills, has asked the Maine Legislature to fund the vaccine so the state doesn’t get caught up in the strings that federal money attaches. The figure I heard yesterday was in the $3-million dollar range.

The governor has signed an executive order declaring a civil emergency to give the state more control on reacting to outbreaks anywhere in the state. He has ordered two schools, a Kennebunk elementary school and an Arundel Day Care Center, to close because of suspected flu in a student in each school. He doesn’t want it to spread throughout the communities. So far no other schools have been closed, but the governor and the head of the Department of Education has urged faculty, parents, others to be on strict precautionary lookout for signs of the flu.

Among other recommendations the governor suggests parents keep children at home if they show any signs of illness. Teachers and other workers have been urged to stay home if they have signs of the flu.

The flu can be deadly. In fact, there have been some deaths linked to it worldwide, mostly in Mexico, but the last time I checked a Mexican boy had died in Texas. But don’t we go through flu epidemics on an annual basis? Seems to me every year we’re all urged to get a flu shot to prevent the flu.

Unfortunately, this year’s flu shot doesn’t appear to work on theH1N1 strain. Nevertheless, since the flu is an annual event which puts hundreds or thousands of people into the sick bed each year, and since it has claimed many lives over the years, I can’t help but wonder if for some reason we aren’t just getting a little too much hype over it this year. In each of the last ten years how many cases of flu have been reported in the U.S.? How many deaths? The latest listing at the CDC is about a hundred in 11 states of reported cases, and only that one death.

I can’t help but wonder if the timing of all this incredible precaution isn’t just more attempts to convince us that only the government can save us from just about everything that happens. I think it’s called dependency. Now I’m not claiming this as fact, you understand. I’m just wondering.

Meanwhile, in Maine, if you would like to learn more about the H1N1 flu, more popular known as the swine flu, you can check out the Maine Center of Disease Control or for national explanations and advice, the federal government’s Center for Disease Control.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It was a record setting day yesterday

It has never happened before in recorded weather history. The temperature in Portland rose to 92 degrees at 4:30 yesterday afternoon. It was the first time ever that a 90 degree reading was recorded in Portland before May first. Shortly after that 92 reading the temperature began to plunge as a cold front crossed the region.

This morning, we’re facing 45 degrees as I write this about 6:30 AM and those degrees aren’t expected to get out of the upper 50s or low 60s today.

My little weather station was pretty close to the official reading. It recorded a 93.6. I’m thinking I’m hoping this is not a hint of what’s to come this summer.

Senator Arlan Specter, R/D PA, is switching his party from Republican to Democrat. I’m not too sure it’s a surprise. He, like Maine’s two senators, has supported Democrat positions. The three of them were the only Republicans in either congressional chamber to support President Obama’s spending package. I think the Democrats are now within one vote of having a Republican proof Congress. If the first 100 days were expensive, wait until we see the next hundred.

Another national news story is worthy of comment, even though I’m just a little late on making it. I was hard to believe the colossal boo-boo of that photo shoot of one of the Air Force One planes flying around New York City accompanied by at least one jet fighter. It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the administration would think flying a huge jet liner at relatively low levels over a city that had undergone the Trade Center attacks just a few years ago was a good idea. Especially since it was just to take pictures.

I understand from various news stories I’ve read that local officials at just about all levels were told of the flight, but the people of New York were not. That little photo shoot, which cost the nation’s taxpayers more than $300-thousand in this continually failing economy, created much panic from people in the city who had visions of another 9/11.

The government has admitted it was a mistake and President Obama has called for a full investigation into the event. He says it won’t happen again. But it’s hard to imagine just how those New Yorkers felt when they looked up and saw a huge jet airliner being followed by an Air Force jet flying around the city at low levels.

That photo shoot just continues to create serious questions about the decision making ability of federal officials.

Like bumping along in the potholes on the state’s highways? I hope so. Like all government departments, the road fixing and construction departments are facing serious cuts in their budgets. Many projects will have to continue to be postponed, and filling those potholes will be among them.

We’ve been expecting it for weeks, now the word comes down from the state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee that the state’s revenue shortfall will be in the $570-million dollar range. More than a million of it comes in the current budget which ends in June and the rest is in the budget for the next biennium. Cuts will have to be made (see above paragraph, for example) and Governor Baldacci says he’ll present a revised budget to the Legislature by Friday.

There was a super good news story in this morning’s Press Herald about a retired Portland teacher. Portland High School teacher Dorothy Laroche, now in her 80s, attended a reception for a Portland High graduate who has become the city’s new Superintendent of Schools. It seems that Mrs. LaRoche was a key figure in getting James Morse to return to school after he had dropped out and encouraged him to continue his education.

Morse did go on and ultimately earned his doctorate in education. He will now become Portland’s superintendent this summer. A little notice the site puts on all its stories says I can’t use any of the story here, but it’s a very nice read and I hope you’ll read it yourself either in the Press Herald or on line.

And finally, this morning, it’s the last Wednesday of April. I’ll be enjoying my monthly lunch with a group of fellow retirees this noontime. It’s a monthly ritual we’ve been following now for more than a dozen years. We’re looking forward to a couple of our friends rejoining us next month when they return from Florida.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

High Speed Trains

Our record high temperature for today is 81 degrees. The forecast high is 86 and could hit 90. Not much more to say about that, except we’ll drop into low 40s tonight.

The lass my senior fitness group depends on was early today so we were able to beat the heat in the gym at the physical therapy center. Most of my routines went fairly or rather well, but a new one, sitting and standing without using my hands/arms, was very tiring today. But one of the therapists said he thought I was losing weight. That made my day.

One place where President Obama wants to spend money is the country’s railroad system. He would like high speed rail travel developed. It will be costly, and that is a good example of an understatement. Currently there’s only one close to high speed route and it runs between Boston and Washington. Called the Acela, it does reach the required 110 miles per hour speed in some places that qualifies it for the designation.

All but two of the proposed routes are in the east. Two, both out on the West Coast, are in the west. Unfortunately, none of the proposed route maps I’ve seen have connected the east and west coast.

I find myself in a predicament on this particular proposal. That part of me that hates government spending says this is just another government boondoggle. If there were a call for high speed rail travel, there are many companies that would have already constructed routes. Amtrak runs on squeaky wheels and is in no position to build such routes.

The other part of me, the part that likes to ride the rails, says, “Sign me up for tickets.” Of course by the time such routes could be in operation, I’ll be watching the speed across the country from above. Way above. There are some who would say that’s not true. Rather, they might say, I’ll be feeling the rumble of the wheels above me.

I’ve told you about Gator Wife’s and my trip to Alaska three years ago. Part of that trip was on Amtrak. Only two legs of the trip were unpleasant. We could have walked from Boston to Albany faster than that train made the trip. Hard to believe that we left Boston at 1 PM and arrived at the New York stop about 11 PM.

Another train had left New York City at the same time and we were to continue on to Chicago as one. When we arrived in Rensselaer (just outside Albany where the RR station is), the passengers on the NYC train were standing on the platform applauding and cheering our arrival.

We had last eaten at noon, but Amtrak had kept the kitchen open on our new train and we were fed. GW and I had first class tickets so the meal had been included along with a dinky little sleeping closet on the Lake Shore Limited. I don’t think either of us had anticipated rail travel to be quite like this. We weren’t looking forward to another three days of this and began to worry us that our arrival in Seattle might be too late for the ride to the cruise liner.

We also needed to be in Chicago for a 2 PM departure on the next day on the famous Empire Builder. We had a few hours to make up if that were to happen. We didn’t sleep too well in those very cramped quarters, GW in the upper bunk, me in the lower. But that train raced from Albany to Chicago. Since it was late at night, I guess the crew had confidence it could go a wee bit faster than usual. To use a colloquial expression, we “flew” from Albany to Chicago.

We arrived on the north side of the Chicago station at 1:50 and were transported to the south side on a golf cart. As we were settling into our cabin, the train began to move. It was scheduled to depart at 2, and at 2 we were moving. The trip to Seattle was far better than I had envisioned. Our quarters were roomy. We had beds, a couch (bed at night), a chair, our own private personal room, a shower, a sink and running water. At mealtime we went to the dining car where we were served scrumptious food.

The Empire Builder was never behind schedule and the ride from Chicago to Seattle was wonderful and restful. The scenery, especially through the Rockies, was fantastic. As quickly as that first train ruined our picture of train travel, the Empire Builder returned the wonderful adventure.

The trip back to Boston was identical in reverse. Another nightmare from Albany to Beantown.

For medical reasons I won’t go into here, I can no longer fly. I suspect there are many people like me that doctors have said flying is out and possibly some that simply don’t want to go up in a plane. A good rail service would be wonderful to have. High speed rail service just might get more people to travel by rail thus lowering the cost.

One of the proposed routes is that one between Boston and Albany. It’s too bad the plan doesn’t call for one all the way to the West Coast. That first trip GW and I took could have made us never to ride a train again. I would never hesitate as long as I didn’t have to go to Albany. I think if we could get high speed service through to the west, we’d be on it in a heartbeat.

Selfishly, very selfishly, I may consider the President’s proposal for high speed rail travel to be the only good spending plan on his ‘stimulus’ package.


Monday, April 27, 2009

A Great Weekend, Very Little Politics, Some Sports

After listening to the weather forecast all last week and then having it all fall apart in Friday’s forecast, I was beginning to wonder about the value of long, even the seven day type, range forecasts. We heard all week long that the weekend that ended yesterday was going to have temperatures at least well into the 70s and in some areas into the 80s.

Then the Friday forecast came out and the weekend changed. Saturday would be cloudy and the temperatures would only reach 65-68 here in the Greater Portland area with showers over night. Inland could touch 80. A cold front was expected to pass through the state on Sunday and we could kiss those nice, high temperatures ‘good-bye.’

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. Saturday was a beautiful day. Although it was much warmer inland, that temperature at least on my unofficial weather station got to 72 degrees. In fact, I think that was the official high in the area as wherever those official readings are taken was also 72. I think it’s the airport. We got a whole lot of outdoor work done around here, including the cutting down of some tough weeds in our yard compost area.

We successfully had our first cookout of the season.

We must have gotten some light showers overnight as yesterday morning Gator Golden came in from her morning tour of the yard with damp feet. My rain gauge, however, didn’t record anything. It was very cloudy and all the indications were that the weather forecast was correct. It wasn’t.

What it was was muggy. About mid-morning, the sun came out and the temperature on my device climbed and climbed. It had crossed into the 80s the last time I looked at it so I don’t know what the high was, except my “Highest” indicated 83. I didn’t see the weather on the TV last night, but I think I heard in another room being told Portland set a record for the date.

Veggie plots got tilled, flowers were planted, cars were washed, and dogs romped and played. It was another fantastic day.

So that long range forecast from early last week turned out to be correct, but the weather guys looking at their computer toys had apparently given up on it.

Mondays aren’t particularly great days to write about politics. The results of the economy continue to dominate discussions in both Augusta and Washington. Last Saturday in his weekly address, Governor Baldacci said the situation in Maine is troubling, but not yet dire. He said with some hard work and no tax increases the state can overcome the situation, but it will take time. He’s expected to reveal his new plan to meet a near 600-million-dollar revenue shortfall this week.

In Washington, even some Democrats are beginning to see the nation simply cannot continue to borrow itself out of debt.

The Maine Republican Party is going through a little controversy. One group thought the party’s treasurer should resign or be released. The Party insiders, however, successfully fought back the attempt. But there are many who think what they call the “good old boy” network is the reason the party hasn’t been in power for more than 35 years and change is needed.

Automobile manufacturers are still in the news. General Motors and Chrysler are both facing bankruptcy. Chrysler could be there this week. But, the company announced concessions by its union workers over the weekend which could lead the way to restructuring and keeping out of bankruptcy. GM has announced the closing of many plants, most of them temporarily, and the possible elimination of one car line, Pontiac, as it works to meet a government deadline to avoid bankruptcy.

It could be an exciting week on that front, too. One thing’s for sure, this is a time to buy a new car if you’re so inclined. Except that five years of ridiculous excise taxes has kept me from considering changing cars.

I was also listening to a news report over the weekend on home buying. Interest rates are low and incentives are high. One thing I’m not too sure many potential buyers are aware of is the tax incentive being offered by the federal government. It’s an $8,000 write off on taxes. But I’m not sure everyone understands that to qualify, you cannot have bought a house in the last three years and you cannot claim the tax write off until you’ve owned the new house for three year.

Sounds to me like it’s awful close to just encouraging the home buying of the last several years that was among the reasons we’re in this awful economy right now. Is there some déjà vous here?

And finally, two sports events cry for attention. Thanks to television, I saw both. First was that car crash at Talladega where Carl Edwards went airborne after a crash as he was heading for the finish line for a win. His car hit the fence barrier in front of the fans. He wasn’t injured, but reports are some fans were. What a sight seeing Edwards running to the finish line so he could say he personally finishes his races. There were several other crashes, some spectacular, as crashing is what Talladega is known for.

There’s just something exciting about stealing home. Jacoby Ellsbury provided that excitement in baseball yesterday when he slid across the plate on an Andy Pettite pitch. It has happened before but I’ve never seen it. The Sox swept the Yankees, a feat in itself noteworthy.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Last April 2009 Weekend Is Here

The weekend we’ve been waiting for is finally here. Oh, we have nothing special planned for this weekend, but the weather people tell us it’s going to be just about the best so far this year. Officially, the temperature in Portland yesterday was 68, but the thermometer on my unofficial weather station got to 72 before it began to fall in the afternoon sea breeze.

Those same sea breezes may keep the temperatures in our area in the 70s again Saturday even though a high of 68 is once again forecast, but we’re told that inland near 80 degree readings are possible. They’re just about guaranteed in New Hampshire. I wouldn’t give up on touching 80 here in coastal areas either.

Sunday is a puzzle. A cold front should be just about halfway through Maine during the day and that could keep the temperatures down just a bit. There is a possibility the colder weather won’t actually reach us until late and the temperatures could be in the 80s at the coast.

That’s Gator Golden draped across the legs of Gator Daughter last Monday. GG is rarely without a ball or other toy in her mouth when playing inside. You can see she has no fear of GD.

Gator Wife received some flower plants during the week and she and our daughter will take advantage of this beautiful weather to get them into the ground. Please don’t ask what kind of flowers. All I can tell you is they’re pretty ones. Now GW has told me specifically what they will plant; but when it comes to garden stuff, I only know plants, flowers, trees, bushes, and lawn.

You know, like, “We have some pretty flowers in the garden and some green bushes along the front.” Says it all as far as I’m concerned. Oh, yes, because they shed more acorns than President Obama’s budget sheds dollars, I have over the years learned the name Oak Tree. We have a couple on the edge of our driveway. But the oaks are a story for next fall.

GD will also fire up our DR (I have no clue what DR stands for; it’s a brand name.) tiller this weekend and give the vegetable plots a good tilling. I’d be somewhat surprised if vegetable seeds are planted this weekend, but the next nice weekend should see the beginnings of a midsummer fresh veggie feast.

GD’s poor Golden Retriever doesn’t get too much mention here as we’re just a little partial to ours. But I do tell you she comes about every weekend to play with her sister. So, here is Gator Daughter’s precious Golden.

We’re a little later than many people in our area, but another part of this great weekend will be the firing up of the bar-b-que grill for the first time this season. When our son lived in the area, he cooked outdoors on the grill year round, but we old folk don’t venture out in the winter. As I jot this down, I’m not sure if we’ll be grilling one or probably both weekend days.

So that’s the way life is here for this last weekend in April and the weather gods have blessed us with a great one. It’ll give me a chance to refresh my head and I’ll be back Monday morning.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Credit Cards

What a fantastic two or three days were in for! Today begins with the temperatures already in the 40s at my little corner of the world. We have wonderful, bright sunny, blue skies and the temperature could get into the 70s in some parts of Maine. A sea breeze along the coast will keep them down a little, but this will still be a great weather day.

The weekend is going to make this day seem cold. According to the weather forecast this morning, some parts of Maine, especially away from the coast, could reach 80. Naturally, along the coast, that sea breeze will probably prevent that from happening here where I live, but it will still be great. A cold front approaching from Canada is posing a question for Sunday and could keep that day just a little cooler.

Nevertheless, this Friday has the makings of being a really nice day.

I wonder how President Obama’s and Congress’s push to regulate credit card interest and fees will really affect credit. The President says that uncontrolled interest rate hikes are totally unfair and has told the credit card companies that they must reign in their practices. The card company executives counter that without the ability to charge high rates, they will have to issue fewer cards which could make credit more difficult.

I must say here that whatever happens won’t affect me. I haven’t paid any credit card interest for so many years that I’ve forgotten when the last time was. I’m not sure it dates back to the 1970s or early 1980s, but it could. Don’t get me wrong. We still use credit cards. All our gas, for example, gets charged and we always charge our vacations. A few purchases get put on the cards when we don’t have the cash readily available in the checking account.

Not one penny, however, is charged that can’t be repaid when the credit card statement comes in. Like we feel most people should, we plan for vacations and major purchases and don’t implement those plans until money is in the bank to cover them.

We took a very expensive, month-long trip to Alaska three or four years ago, for example, but began planning for that trip several years earlier. When the time arrived, all the money we would need was safely tucked away in the bank. I remember breaking out my checkbook to pay the travel agent when we booked the trip. She suggested we put it on a credit card so we’d have just a little protection.

Changing our buying/credit card use began for us in the late ‘70s when the economy went south then like it is today. In the years since we were married until then, we took advantage of every darn one of those two or three offers a week for a new credit card. Then maxed them out. By the late ‘70’s, we were swimming in debt making only minimum payments, when we could make payments.

We established a plan to eliminate that debt, used some scissors on our many, many credit cards keeping only two or three, one or two of which we really didn’t need, and within a few years were out of debt. Except for buying a new home in the 1990’s, we have been debt free ever since. Sure, we have bought new cars since our change, but they were planned in advance and paid for. We did pay some interest on that new house, but only for four or five years.

So it can be done, even in these tough times. It just requires planning and setting priorities and then not spending outside those conditions. If you’re in deep debt, it also takes a lot of work. That, my friends, is why I consistently cry here for our local, state and federal governments to adopt planning and priorities when setting their budgets each year. I’m not just blowing smoke in the wind. I’ve been right where these government entities are themselves right now if only on a personal level. Spending and debt can be brought under control, but it takes sacrifice and dedication to do it. I wish our governments had that sacrifice and dedication.

The credit card companies say less credit will be available if the new controls are set. That might not be a bad thing. I do have some advantage over many others, however. When I get my weekly notices of “changes in your credit card agreement” that always include higher rates and fees, I just chuckle. I don’t pay them.

It also appears to me, since I don’t pay interest and yet still get my rates raised, there is no correlation between interest and the users. Someone in those corporate offices has just decided to get more money out of users and, I believe, just arbitrarily raise those rates without too much consideration to the ability to pay.

The card companies make their own case for control.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

More State Budget Woes

A rainy, humid night didn’t indicate too good a day for me at Senior Fitness this morning. But by the time I left home and arrived at the fitness place, the sun was shining and the skies were blue. The humidity had gone to its home. It was a beautiful beginning, and that’s the way it’s continuing to develop this morning. As a result, just as quickly as the weather cleared up, my bones dried out and I did all my exercises with ease. I was appropriately tired when they finished, but I felt great.

I wasn’t in Augusta yesterday for any of the discussions taking place. There were a couple of major ones, one of which was streamed so off and on I could grab a few minutes of testimony. That was the public hearing on a bill which would allow same sex marriage in Maine. The other discussion concerned the topic of yesterday’s posting, the Maine budget. I heard one TV station’s take on that discussion on the news last night.

Since my priority between the two is the budget, I’ll start with that one. If you want my discussion on the budget from yesterday, scroll down to the next post or click here. The comments here are from watching the WCSH-TV, Channel 6, presentation last night.

WCSH said legislative leaders and Governor Baldacci are expecting bad news next week when new revenue projections are released. The appropriations committee has been working on a budget for the next biennium as well as trying to resolve a shortfall in the current budget. They had expected a large decrease in revenue but learned yesterday that the amount could be much larger than expected.

State Senator Bill Diamond, Democrat from Windham, told WCSH, “I think it could be $350 million could be $400 million, it could be $500 million. More? More. Above and beyond. I think when the revenue projections come in we're going to have a real serious problem on our hands."

Governor Baldacci has said there can be no tax increases. That led Finance Commissioner Ryan Low to tell WCSH, "There are no easy choices out there. As we've said to this committee several times, if there were any easy choices we would have presented them back in January."

If no new taxes will be presented by the governor, then that would leave the legislature with some very difficult choices, including where to cut. It wasn’t included in the story the TV station had printed on its web site, but I believe I recall hearing that the two biggest sections of the budget, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, would be facing more serious cuts.

I think it was reporter Don Carrigan who pointed out that there haven’t been too many protesters on the budget so far, but many will be expected once the committee announces just where the cuts will be.

I certainly hope the legislature can look at the budget realistically and begin making the necessary steps necessary to bring the budget back in line with what Mainers can afford. A whole lot of pet programs will have to be examined.

I did not listen to the whole public hearing on mixed marriages. I thought what I did hear was extremely emotional lacking facts on one side and simply unemotional facts from the other. The news report I saw last night seemed to indicate that more than half of the estimated 3000 people there were in favor of the proposed law and they were all dressed in red.

As I said, I didn’t attend the hearing and only listened to snippets on the streaming testimony so I’ll refrain from commenting until I’ve had a chance to digest the various news reports on the hearing. It would seem to me from what little I did hear that the debate is far from over and we’ll be hearing a whole lot more in the weeks and months ahead.

My first reaction, however, is I would not like to see yet another institution go by the wayside. Marriage as we know it surely would if the law is passed. It’s about time we stood up and said we’ve had enough of the destruction of our way of life that has survived so many centuries.

How ‘bout them Bruins? I don’t think Montreal was ever really in the playoff series swept by Boston. Looking at the very long list of Canadiens who will be free agents at the end of the season could show one reason they were lifeless as a goodly portion of the team probably won’t be in Montreal next year. On the other hand, one might think they would have played their hearts out to make them wanted next year. Not to be. The fans booed them off the ice.

And we said after the last game of that Oakland series last week that perhaps the Red Sox had at last broken out of their funk. They have and have climbed from last place into a tie for second and headed upward following their sweep of the Orioles over the weekend and the Twins yesterday.

On the other hand, there are the Pirates and Sea Dogs.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

State budget discussions continue

We began this Wednesday in some very foggy weather. The forecast says the big rain we had yesterday is pulling away, but we remain in an unstable situation. We could see a little sun today once the fog dries off, but more rain is expected tonight. All should start to change tomorrow and this weekend is still expected to be “The Weekend” of the region so far this year.

The Maine Legislature’s Appropriations Committee resumes sessions today trying to close a projected revenue shortfall and make changes in the income tax rates and the number of items being taxed by the sales tax.

What the legislators call Tax Reform is really a way to get more money out of our pockets. They call it reform because if it should pass, and it probably will, it will lower the highest rate of income tax from 8.5% to 6.5%. Almost all Mainers who pay income taxes pay the highest rate as it goes into effect with incomes under $20 thousand. That will give taxpayers a little more money to spend. For a taxpayer with a taxable income of $30, 000, for example, it would mean about a $600 addition to spendable income.

On the other side of the coin, legislators want to increase the number of items that would be subject to sales tax. They range from recreation activities to repairs on homes and cars. Furthermore, they want to increase the sales tax on food sold in restaurants and lodgings. The legislators claim this would make the changes revenue neutral and would put more of the burden on visitors to the state thus saving money for Mainers.

The restaurant and lodging associations say the reasoning is specious. More Mainers eat in restaurants and stay in lodgings than visitors. Thus lawmakers are putting more in one pocket but taking right back out of the other. If, indeed, the “reform” were revenue neutral, then why make the change at all.

Since many of the poorer Mainers don’t pay income taxes but everyone must pay sales tax, this so-called reform can only hurt the most the least able to pay, the very base Democrats depend on for their power. It amazes me how our people continue to be hoodwinked by the party they look to for help. We’re told they’re making life better for everyone. They’ve been making this claim for 35 years and we still believe them.

At the same time the committee is trying to figure out how to find more money in the budget to fill a $350-million shortfall in the $6.1-billion budget submitted by Governor Baldacci for the next two years. That shortfall is expected to grow dramatically when the next revenue forecast is released the first of May. Do I see another tax reform coming? Like increased taxes and fees? I certainly do not see any reform in state spending.

That expected shortfall was unofficially raised to $500-million yesterday, but could be even higher when that revenue forecast is released, possibly next week.

The Appropriations Committee will be vying with other lawmakers in Augusta today for activity. A public hearing is being held at the Augusta Civic Center on bills which would make marriage between members of the same sex legal in Maine. Proponents say marriage would give more protections to the couples while opponents say it would destroy the concept of marriage as we know it.

Marriage as we know it is between one man and one woman capable of producing children.

The public hearing is expected to last all day but actual deliberations won’t begin until next week.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Gator and a couple of Dogs

My goodness it was raining when we arose this morning. Channel 6 weatherman Kevin says some parts of our state could get up to three inches. About two are expected in the Greater Portland area. It's windy, too. But, and read this: Kevin says we will flirt with 80 degree temperatures over the coming weekend, perhaps just a wee bit cooler along the coast.

You just read about the weather here this senior fitness morning. You've read many times how this weather affect this old body and it was no different today. I went and punished myself and did all my exercises, but I didn't enjoy them. And that's all I'm going to say about senior fitness on this Tuesday.

I’ve been a bad boy. My Fearless Friend and his wife had reminded me that I haven’t posted any pictures of Gator Golden in quite a while and thought it might be nice if I did. It was gently pointed out to me that both GG and her sister would be here for the weekend and it would be a great opportunity to get some pictures. I told him I would. I didn’t.

Saturday was a lousy weather day. It didn’t rain, but we had clouds about all day long. Gator Daughter didn’t spend a lot of time here and the dogs spent very little time outside. I spent none. Sunday was a beautiful day. My weather station told us the temperature hit the 60 degree mark and we had only a light breeze. Both dogs spent a lot of time outside. So did the three of us, but I was wrapped up in some chores, like changing oil in our outdoor working machines.

GD and I made a trip to the local Ace Hardware Store for some fertilizer and that got spread after the tractor had been returned to its roots as a lawn mower. It had spent the winter as a snow blower. Our daughter took Gator Golden home with her so the lawn would have 24 hours for the fertilizer to set in. The pup was returned late yesterday. Naturally, we had to provide an evening meal for GD.

But, I did get two pictures this weekend. FF discovered this little surprise across the street from his Florida home. With his permission, I’ve adopted the picture. There’s a little version of it in the upper right corner here, and below is a larger one you can easily see:

It won’t be long before FF and Mrs. FF are heading back to their home here in Maine. I hope he sees “Albert” again before he leaves Florida and gets a shot from the front. I simply have to point out this one isn’t the real “Albert.” Albert is the mascot of the University of Florida Gators.

Yesterday was a holiday, Patriots’ Day, in Maine. Massachusetts is the only other state to celebrate the beginning of the fighting in the American Revolution. State offices, schools, and some public service businesses were closed. Many stores were not. Also federal offices were open.

Because the state offices were closed, not much happened that would prompt any comment or criticism from me. Congress just returned to session so I don’t have anything to say on its mischief. The picture I got from FF Sunday was a good thing for more than just giving me at long last a gator picture for the blog; it also gave me something to have a Tuesday session here.
He also gave me another one so I’d have a choice:

A good guy, that FF.

Shortly before suppertime last night, Gator Daughter brought our Golden home. Her Golden came along for the ride. They greeted us at the front door.

That’s Gator Golden on the left and her sister beside her asking to come into the house to greet their people waiting inside.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Patriots' Day, 2009

Patriots’ Day. It’s a holiday only we in Maine and Massachusetts celebrate. Maine joins Massachusetts for this celebration because the two states were one colony at the time. Patriots’ Day wasn’t always on April 20th. The actual “shot heard around the world” was fired early on April 19th in Lexington, MA. It was the beginning of the Revolutionary War against the rule of England. The Battle at Lexington has been long held as the opening salvo of that war.

About three hours after Lexington, the battle was engaged in Concord and there was no turning back. That war ultimately resulted in this great country we call The United States of America. Since 1969 when Congress attempted to get nearly all American holidays to be celebrated on a Monday of a month, Patriots’ Day has been celebrated on the third Monday of April.

The Revolution began the day following that Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, immortalized by Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, when he told the patriots that the British army was landing to put down the uprising that little tea party in Boston had caused. The Englishmen were not prepared for the untraditional war hit and run tactics of the patriots.

In Maine, that holiday usually also begins the April Vacation Week, sometimes called Spring Vacation Week, of public schools. Most school vacation weeks contain a holiday so only four days of potential productivity is lost.

In many Massachusetts cities and towns, the celebration is a weekend long event. Celebrations and parades and other events, such as re-enactments of that beginning, are held, especially when the real anniversary day falls near that third Monday, as it did yesterday.

On this Patriots’ Day, like others in the past, The Boston Red Sox baseball team will play a game in Fenway Park. They have celebrated this event with the game every single year since 1959, except when postponed by rain. Today’s game is scheduled for 11:05 against Baltimore.

The very world famous Boston Marathon will also be run today. It draws world class athletes from all around the world and also very good athletes from around New England and the U.S. It is another Patriots’ Day tradition, one that causes many Bostonians to call this day Marathon Monday, rather than Patriots’ Day.

Road races are held in many other cities and towns throughout New England to celebrate the day. Portland, however, had its five-miler from the Boys’ Club yesterday.

Many other celebration events also take place as we reflect on the beginnings of the United States of America.

Now many of the spirits, reasons, and ideals that made that greatness may be changing. Perhaps we all should take just a few minutes today to look at our Constitution and see the sacrifices that were made by great Patriots throughout the land to create this great nation. It might be time to think about returning to our roots.

Happy Patriots’ Day, everyone.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

April Weekend the Third

The weather is somewhat cloudy as this weekend gets underway. We’re told we can expect some shower activity in our area Saturday but Sunday will be rather nice. The Ch. 6 weather lady seemed to indicate the temperatures won’t be too bad this coming week, but it will Friday before we can get back into the 60s.

Speaking of the 60s, wasn’t Friday just a wonderful day? My unofficial thermometer said it reached 69 degrees while the TV said the high in Portland was 68. Close enough. In any case it sure was one mighty nice day.

Gator Wife spent the afternoon Friday with our daughter returning favors we get every weekend from her helping out around here. They got the sticks and winter kill off to Portland’s dumping area and when they were finished, Gator Daughter’s yard was clean and waiting for the grass to grow.

Our yard has already been de-sticked and cleared of the winter and ice debris. The town we live in is having roadside pickup beginning the 27th of the month. All we residents need to do is get the debris to the curb. It’s a one shot deal. Once the town truck picks up a street, it will not return so we’re seeing the winter/ice kill beginning to pile up now. It is a good service.

Gator Golden, of course, uses the yard for her needs all winter long. GW has made two or three trips through the yard and evidence of a dog has been eliminated. Now with summer here, she’ll make that yard trip several days each week.

So our yard is ready for spring/summer as well. I understand some of the town’s residents away from the coast have already made mower runs in their yards. My lawn is a very long way from needing mowing. But a couple of warm days and showery nights could change that situation virtually overnight. Of course I’ve got to change my tractor over from snow blower to lawn mower before I can mow. That could take place this weekend, depending on various people’s moods.

My neighbor Ed can do it in about 20 minutes whereas it would take Gator Daughter and me probably 90 or more.

GD and I do have some tasks to do. She’ll give me a hand in giving my three outdoor machines a fresh supply of juice. We had planned to do it last weekend, but it was simply too windy, thus cold, for my chemically blood thinned body. It was postponed to this weekend and it looks like Sunday will be the day.

Most of you who have power equipment know it’s not the most difficult task people undertake, but it has the potential of being a wee bit messy if we don’t get the oil catcher in the right place under the tube. We will change spark plugs and filters as well, so it can be just a little bit time consuming. The machines will reward us later on when they’re put into service.

This weekend in April will be an easy one for the Gator Clan. A nice rotisserie chicken is on the menu Saturday and some good, homemade sandwiches will be here Sunday. GD will be well-fed for her efforts. And, of course, there are a couple of wonderful Golden Retrievers which will take great advantage of being outdoors and romping and playing.

Me? I’ll be spending some time as I usually do on weekends thinking about some topics for the coming week. You can find out what those thoughts were when we return Monday morning.


Friday, April 17, 2009

A Restless Night

I certainly hope you folks slept a whole lot better than I did last night. Gator Golden was as restless as she’s ever been. A couple of wanders around the house by Gator Wife and me and looking out windows on all sides seeking a source for the restlessness resulted in nothing. Yet GG was up and down all night, wandering throughout the house.

She apparently climbed into GW’s chair sometime to look out the den window. Somehow she knocked the phone off the table. GW found it upside down with the receiver off the hook when she finally gave up the ghost and got up. I was the last one out of the room last night and that phone was in its proper place.

The dog jumped up on the bed a couple of time and literally threw herself against us. Again, looking around found no reason she should be so concerned. As a result, though, it was a very rough night in the Gator household. Both GW and I gave up trying to get any more rest earlier than usual this morning. As I jot this down, she’s napping in her chair, but she has to get ready to go to her part time job pretty soon.

I have an early morning doctor’s appointment, but that didn’t cause any nervousness to prevent my sleeping last night. This is the final of the annual doctor’s visits I’ve had ever since my double event back in 2001. This one is with the vascular surgeon who was arriving at the hospital the same time as I when my abdominal artery burst.

As a result of his operations, he found several aneurysms that needed correcting so they, too, wouldn’t burst. That’s the reason for my annual CT scan to make sure the stents (bypasses) are all working OK and not leaking. It also gives him a chance to see if I’ve developed any more of the little bubbles.

I’m not at all worried about this visit. I’ve felt nothing inside to indicate a problem and I’m sure if that scan had indicated any, the doctor would have called me in earlier. As I said, I’m reasonably sure that today’s visit had nothing to do with the overnight restlessness in our household.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “The old goat didn’t have anything to write about this morning.” You’d be right. There are continuing stories that intrigue me, but I’ve touched upon most of them over the past few weeks. The Maine Legislature is in deliberative and hearing mode right now listening to all the reasons why and why not various legislative pieces should be passed.

Residents of the state have tried two or three times in recent years to get some form of a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed. A citizen initiated referendum a couple of years ago failed, primarily because opponents were able to convince voters of all the doom and gloom that would result. But another petition drive has once again sent a proposal to the Legislature and the taxation committee held a public hearing on it yesterday. I’d be surprised if it didn’t also go to the voters.

One of the leading proponents of TABOR last time around spoke yesterday. Mary Adams wasn’t involved in the current attempt, but her passion to reform spending in Maine hasn’t changed. She spoke at the hearing yesterday and urged lawmakers to pass the current bill themselves and not send it out to voters. She pointed out how the failed promises of the opponents last time around have not help Mainers at all in getting any tax relief.

Her full statement can be read in various places. I found the one I read on a popular Maine forum As Maine Goes. It’s a good read.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Little Tea; A Little Wake

Senior Fitness has gotten me worked up this morning. It went well. I not only used the stationary bike for 20 minutes this morning, I increased its intensity level by two numbers, but I have no idea what those numbers represent. The rest of my program also went well. Not much to say about the weather. We’re in a relatively nice stretch right now with decent temperatures and lots of sunshine. Next storm isn’t forecast until next week.

Tax day has come and gone. There was some coverage of it, but the President did his best to upstage the protests by tea party goers. Locally, I caught the coverage of all three stations at different times and, to my surprise, I would rate the best coverage as that on WGME, Channel 13. You’ve read me enough to know Channel 13 isn’t my favorite station, but yesterday it did the best job in my humble opinion.

WCSH, Channel 6, had a mild report of the protest in Augusta, but the host announcer apparently didn’t know there were two events in Portland. WMTW, Channel 8, also had a somewhat mild report quoting basically the same people as WCSH with just about the same quotes. The stations were at the same events so I’m not suggesting any plagiarism here.

WGME did a ‘live’ report from the Maine State Pier in Portland and included events in other cities in its discussion. So, my nomination for the best would be Channel 13 for the local tea tax coverage.

I didn’t see the coverage this morning except for the pitiful stuff offered by Channel Six. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Mainers were out yesterday to express their feelings. WCSH this morning found the cuts in volleyball and men’s soccer at the University of Maine to be much more important. If fact the tea party story was fourth or fifth among its “top” stories.

The Democrats tried to pooh-pooh the events saying their only purpose was a Republican effort to encourage the same “failed” policies of the past eight years. President Obama tried to overshadow the events by telling us he would get the tax code changed to make filing easier. He also said his tax breaks would benefit all Americans.

Across the country hundreds of thousands of protesters at least got the attention of governments and their taxing policies, as well as the so-called recovery spending plan approved by Congress. There’ll be some talk about it for a few days, then it’s “return to same old same old” time.

The protesters were expressing their feelings about the bailout of large corporations and the spending plan and amount. There were too many people complaining not to be noticed and heard. Will anything change? Probably not.

A state Democrat leader said that such protests will do more harm than good. He said everyone should get behind the Democrats to help improve the conditions of our citizens. I would say they’ve been making those improvements since the 1930s and the biggest accomplishment is to draw more people into welfare. One would think that after all these years, they’d begin to learn how to do it, wouldn’t one?

The President’s tax breaks were also being touted. I must admit that my last income check was a little larger with less federal tax withheld. But the spending over the last three months has been in the trillions of dollars. Unborn generations will be saddled with paying it back. I suspect those current tax breaks are leading only to major tax increases just down the road.

There is, of course, only one way to stop the out-of-control spending in both the state and nation. Stop repeatedly electing the congressmen and legislators who continually vote for the spending. We’ve learned nothing in the last 35 years and just keep sending them back. Until we get new people in power, preciously little will change, except for the spending/taxing growth.

I watched the Red Sox on television yesterday afternoon. They won a game, 8 to 2 over Oakland. It was the performance of Tim Wakefield that kept me glued to the tube. For eight and a third innings he held Oakland hitless. Only two Athletics had reached first base, one on a rare error by Mike Lowell and a walk in the eighth.

Fielding gems, two each by Jacoby Ellsbury and Nick Green, highlighted fielding behind Wakefield. A report on ESPN from an AP report last night said that Wakefield had told manager Terry Francona to leave him in no matter what to give a tired bullpen some rest. It was a decision Francona didn’t have to make.

I think a long, 25 minute wait while the Sox scored six of their eight runs in the top of the eighth possibly allowed Wakefield to cool off too much to make it all the way with his no hitter. Those six runs, however, may have awakened the bats and offense the Sox needed to now continue on the winning ways.

In any event, the performance was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. And Wakefield’s knuckle ball was as devastating as I’ve ever seen.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's Tax Day

Wednesday, April 15th. Tax Day has arrived in our nation. This is the day by which all income tax forms, both state and federal, must be at least in the mail. Just about everyone I know that is expecting a refund sent their forms in, either via mail or electronic filing, weeks or months ago. Those of us who must include a payment often wait until today to send those forms.

I was one and one this year. My federal tax would give me a refund, albeit a very small refund; but I had to pay a little money to Maine. I sent it in yesterday to beat today’s rush at the post office. I efiled my federal tax and had that money back within a week. I “snail mailed” my state form even though the state does accept electronic filing.

My accountant has told me a couple of years ago that just about everyone will be expected to file electronically within a very few years, but the push has been on for a few years now for such filing. The feds have made it more enticing my allowing free e-filing whereas it used to cost around $20. I think it still does for the state tax. That charge is a good incentive for using the postal service.

In the past Post Offices have remained open until midnight on filing day but that has changed this year, at least in Maine. Most will close at their normal time tonight.

Coincidentally, well, maybe it’s not such a coincidence, there are many groups around the country holding “tea parties” today to protest high taxes in both states and the nation. I told you about the parties last Friday; and if you missed it, you can read about it here.

The tea party idea began out of a citizen protest over the massive government bailout and so-called “recovery” spending plans. According to a report I heard yesterday there are more than two thousand such parties planned around the country. Several are right here in Maine, including two in Portland, I think two in Augusta, at least one in Bangor, and several in Aroostook County.

You can find the times and locations of most, at least, if not all the Maine tea parties listed in a Maine Tea Party blog on Blogger. You can also do a Google search on “tea parties.”

There is no party affiliations connected to the tax protest rallies, but generally they are attributed to Republican organizations.

All the tea party organizers are asking rally participants to remain non-confrontational as they want the day to be peaceful. There are reports of anti-tea party demonstrations being formed by a Democrat group funded, incidentally, by Democrat “stimulus” money. It is possible that not all parties will be peaceful, but I hope the ones here in Maine remain as planned.

Some of the parties will have symbolic tea, mostly in the form of tea bags, tossed into various waters which is why most are being held near water ways. In Portland, for example, one rally will be held on the beach off Munjoy Hill this afternoon and the other off the Maine State Pier this evening.

Nationally, the parties have already begun or will begin in earnest shortly after 8 AM. Maine’s will be held later today.

It will be interesting to see just how the mainstream press handles the protests. At least it was mentioned this morning on WCSH-TV and there is an editorial in the morning Press Herald about them.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A forced Tuesday

Strange weather around here. It was supposed to be a very nice day. We will have sunshine, but the temperatures are not going to be in that above normal range we had hoped for. In fact, it’s going to be a little chilly along the coast. The weather didn’t stop me this morning, though. I went through all my routines at senior fitness and am even a little bit sore, the good kind that says, “You did it, boy!” And that’s good.

A fair warning: This is another of those days when nothing has come to mind that I would find interesting to write about. I spent quite a little time yesterday and more time last night thinking about it. “It” turned out to be nothing. I was impressed with a couple of the news articles I read yesterday from various news sites on line.

For example, three brave Navy Seals completed what really was a daring rescue at sea. As everyone knows, the captain of an American merchant ship was captured by Somali pirates. The news articles indicated he actually gave himself to the pirates to save the lives of his crew. That in itself is heroic.

The news reports were a little hazy about how the rescue happened. The earlier report I read said the Seals, along with their raft, parachuted into the water near the pirates and when the opportunity arose, from their bobbing raft shot three of the pirates and took the fourth into custody.

Later reports indicated that the Seals were actually on the back of a cutter towing the pirate’s gasless craft to better water. One of the pirates had given himself up to get medical attention. When the Seals got a clear shot at the three remaining captors, they fired. The captain was rescued.

Later yesterday, Defense Secretary Gates said that the three dead Somalis were untrained teenagers. My gut reaction to that is they were trained well enough to capture a merchant ship. I guess they weren’t trained well enough to keep it as the crew took it back.

One reason this story fascinated me is that my super neighbor’s son is a Navy Seal. He wasn’t involved in this venture, however.

There was another story of heroism in yesterday’s news. There was a dramatic rescue of a family in a twin-engine aircraft flying a family home to Florida where the family had just attended, ironically, the funeral of the father’s brother. The brother had died of a heart attack. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot’s head dropped down and he died…of a heart attack.

Fate was in charge here as the father in the family had flown single engine planes and took over the unfamiliar controls of the twin engine plane. He radioed for help and got all he needed. He landed the plane in Florida and save the lives of all his family.

The full story was in yesterday’s USA Today.

Finally, since we’re going nowhere this morning, a piece of less than good observation. The Red Sox didn’t spend a lot of money over the winter months to get any help in their quest for division title and possibly a trip to the World Series. Maybe they should have. It’s really too early to start disbelieving in them for this year, but I’m not sure their start is drawing out much hope.

On the other hand, the Yankees did spend a lot and they’re only a game better with three wins so far. Hmmm. Look at who’s ahead of them who didn’t spend much at all.

As a Sox fan would already know, they lost again last night, this time to lowly Oakland. “Lowly?” They have a better record than Boston. After eight games, Boston has posted only two wins. Only Cleveland in the American League has a worse record with one win. Over in the National League Washington remains the only winless team in the Majors.

I guess there’s one good thing. We have something to look forward to: A Comeback! Go Sox.

About all I can really way about today is that I at least surpassed my normal goal of at least 500 words a day.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Wind takes its toll on Gator Family Weekend

‘Twas Robbie Burns back in the late 1700s that wrote, “The best-laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft agley” in his political statement poem Ode to a Mouse. It is usually translated to “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” He was comparing the plight of a field mouse which had carefully crafted a nice home for his family near a farmer’s house and a farmer who had been planning a way to save his own family from the tyranny and taxes of the Scottish government. Or perhaps it was the English government ruling Scotland. It's been a while since I studied that stuff; I just remember the quote.

Now this is a very loose representation of the poem where the winter winds and cold had laid the land bare making room for the mouse to prepare a home for his family. When spring came, the farmer needed to prepare it for his planting so his own family could survive. He didn’t see the mouse’s home.

When he saw the remnants of the mouse house (actually a hole in the ground) he lamented what he had done and compared what both mice and men do to prepare for their futures. And often, he says, those plans don’t get fulfilled due to actions of others.

Thus the best laid plans of the Gator family went awry this weekend; it was not the government in our situation but rather it was nature. We had planned to take advantage of the warming weather for a variety of needed outside activities. Gator Wife had hoped to get some help from our daughter to loosen the soil and at least begin preparing the gardens for the season. I had hoped to get the oil changed, along with the minor tune-up I know how to perform, on our outside power equipment.

We have the lawn tractor which gets year ‘round use. It’s a snow blower in the winter. We also have a DR trimmer/mower/tiller which gets considerable use in the summer time. It also can serve as an edger and aerator although we only use the three main functions. GW has a walk behind, self-propelled lawn mower which she uses to mow some hilly sections on the property where we hesitate to attempt to drive the tractor.

The DR is used to trim back overgrowth on the property, especially in our brush compost area, and to till the soil for some gardens, especially all the vegetable areas.

The tractor, of course, also has to have the blower attachment removed and the mow deck put on. My great neighbor Ed helps us out with that chore, but he’s away this weekend. He’s been doing the task for years on both his and his father’s machine and ours, as well, so he can do in about 20 minutes what it would take me a couple hours of doing while reading instruction booklets.

Since the women of our family attended the Stars on Ice Show Saturday, the working part of the weekend was slated for Sunday afternoon. But “our best laid plans” went awry. All that nice warm weather we’ve been experiencing decided to take a break. On Sunday.

Oh, the sun was shining brightly and it was generally a very nice day. But it was very windy and cold. For example, when we made the decision to postpone our plans, the sun was blazing, the skies were reasonably clear, and the temperature was 36.4 degrees and climbing with a wind chill of 18 degrees.

I use blood thinners and so my old body doesn’t like cold very well. If I had attempted to do the work yesterday, I’d have been as useful as those unique things on a cow would be on a bull. So the work was postponed until next weekend when the weather is supposed to be good again.

All wasn’t lost, though. Gator Daughter and her dog did come over for a very nice, late Easter afternoon dinner. And both she and GW told me the ice show Saturday was, although far from sold out, superb.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

It's a very good weekend again!

Happy Easter Weekend to all of you who celebrate this Sunday. At least part of it is going to be a working weekend in the Gator land. The girls, at least the two-legged ones, have plans for Saturday in which I chose not to participate. Sunday will be a working day for all of us. In spite of the early showers Saturday morning, it looks like the weather might cooperate with us on our weekend activities.

Gator Wife and our daughter will be attending the Stars of Ice Show Saturday afternoon. Gator Daughter hasn’t missed one of the presentations since skating star Scott Hamilton began the show several years ago. At the time he also starred in it. He no longer skates and I’m not really sure if he’s still connected with the show. He may be the producer.

GD buys the tickets every year but we give her the money as a birthday present three or four months after they arrive. When she orders the tickets, usually the following year’s show the week after the current one, she always gives me the option of joining them and most years I politely decline. GW has missed the show only once when we miscalculated one of our trips.

The Gator Dude had already purchased theater tickets in Pennsylvania believing the ice show was on a much earlier date than it was that year. It didn’t stop GD from goingto the ice show. She took a friend with her.

I will drive them to the Civic Center so they won’t have to find a parking place in a crowded downtown Portland. For you who aren’t familiar with our area, the Cumberland County Civic Center is right in the heart of the city where parking is rather limited and hard to find. They’ll give me a call when the show ends and I’ll pick them back up.

We’ll stop by GD’s house to pick up her pup and come back home for supper. That’ll give the dogs a chance to do their Saturday romping.

Sunday will be a working day. Poor Gator Daughter will be working the hardest, I think, as she’ll be splitting her time between her mom and dad. GW is planning to get a start on her gardens, like loosening the earth and cleaning out any debris and weeds that were missed last fall. I’m going to change the oil in our three “outside” machines…the tractor, GW’s walk behind mower, and our multipurpose DR trimmer/mower/tiller.

One of the gardens has gotten a start by itself and already is showing some nice color. Actually, from a little distance it’s much prettier than the picture below indicates. In just a few short weeks it will be fully bloomed with a variety of flowers and color.
Obviously, the tiller machine won’t be used in this plot so it’ll take a lot of work with the hoe and rake to loosen up the soil just a bit. The majority of flowers in this garden grow from bulbs and they will literally replace the early flowers GW plants just to get the color started. These are perennials so they aren’t planted each year and come up on their own.

This garden, like all of GW’s gardens, both flower and vegetable, are protected from the dogs by an underground electric fence. Gator Golden would probably like to romp through them, but she can’t get any closer than this:
Unfortunately, the fence only keeps out the two Goldens. Just about any other animal, when GG isn’t around, can come and go as it pleases and some do. That isn’t too much of a problem in the flower gardens, but it can raise havoc on the veggies’ ones.

So, spring has put all the Gator family to work this weekend, and even for the Old Dude, it’ll be mostly an outside activity. While we’re doing all this work, I’ll be giving some thought to the coming week and will return here Monday.


Friday, April 10, 2009

A National Tea Party

Already this morning the sun is blazing in a mostly blue sky and the temperature at my little abode is already above the freezing range. The weather gal on Channel Six indicates, however, some clouds will begin to move in and we could see some overnight precipitation in some form. Nice weather will return tomorrow and again, there are no major storms in sight. This will be another good day heading into the holiday weekend.

It’ll be fascinating to see next Wednesday just how successful the Tea Parties taking place all across the country will be. Several groups, primarily Republican dominated, have called for Americans to attend a Tea Party near them. These parties are symbolic pleas by ordinary Americans to governments at all levels to take some pity on them and end the ever increasing taxation. Included in the protest is an attempt to tell Congress and President Obama the trillion dollar spending package is too large.

The name, of course, comes from the Boston Tea Party back in 1773 when Bostonians disguised themselves as Indians and marched on the waterfront. There they boarded the English ships and dumped tea into Boston Harbor protesting a new tax being imposed by England. Many people consider the Boston Tea Party to be the beginning of the American Revolution.

I’m not sure that this year’s edition of the party is designed to begin a revolution, but they certainly will put out a message that we cannot stand for much more of our money being taken by the government. People in Maine are among the highest taxed people in America. I’d be surprised if some of the speakers didn’t mention our taxes in speeches at the various parties.

There are several scheduled in Maine and two of them will be in Portland. One will be on Munjoy Hill Wednesday afternoon and the other, sponsored primarily by the Republican Project, will be held Wednesday night on the Maine State Pier. Other than a possible tea bag or two being tossed into Casco Bay, I doubt much tea will actually be dumped.

The organizers of all the parties are calling for peaceful protests. They know that violence will only take away any effect the parties may have. There are some parties in the country that are even asking attendees not to bring signs. The goal of organizers, as I see it, is to bring attention to the plight of Mainers and other Americans throughout the nation to the increasing government spending and the growing amount of taxes needed to fund that spending to lawmakers at all levels of government.

I think it will take a huge number of people to send any message to government. A small turnout will only give the critters of government at all levels the excuse to say the protest was a failure and so the people really want more taxation so that more of the problems they are facing can be solved.

Many of the social programs which government fund began way back in the 1930s and 1940s. Several have been added under the leaderships of many presidents between then and now. These social programs were designed to end poverty, guarantee jobs, and ensure that every American could live the “American Dream.”

In the three-quarters of a century since they began, has poverty been eliminated no matter how many dollars we pour into programs? Are jobs guaranteed? Are all Americans living that dream? Of course the examples here are only three of many programs designed to make things better? Just how have they succeeded?

I certainly hope these tea party efforts do succeed. Somehow the ordinary citizen must convey to the governments that enough is enough. The do-all, be-all governments cannot continue. It won’t be long before there’s no one left to fund them. We need to return America to the America that is designed to be controlled by the Constitution and not by the socialist tendencies that is turning us into a very common nation.

You can find where a Tea Party will be held near you by Googling “tea party.” You can also get all the information you want using the same search.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Voters may get their voices heard on at least one citizen petition

The sun is shining brightly. The humidity is low. The skies are clear. Know what all that means? The Gator Dude’s (FF coined that term and I love it!) body isn’t ravaged by the weather. That means it feels good, so unlike last Tuesday, this was a good day at my senior fitness session. The legs wanted to pump, the arms wanted to lift, and the balance ball wanted me to stand. Today will be good for all my activities.

At least one of the citizen initiated referendum questions now appears to be headed to a certain vote in November. The legislative committee holding a public hearing on a proposal to cut the excise tax on cars unanimously reported out an ought-not-pass recommendation.

Last year a citizens’ petition of more than the required 55-thousand signatures was certified by the state’s Secretary of State. Basically, the petition, if successfully approved by the voters, would cut the excise tax people pay on new cars and trucks by about half for the first five years. Furthermore, it calls for tax credits or no excise tax on some new cars which meet certain emission requirement.

Officials in towns and cities oppose the tax because it would be a loss of a revenue stream. You might have been led to believe that the excise tax, because it’s on motor vehicles, was used to maintain roads in the cities and towns. That is simply not true, although the Maine Municipal Association seems to tell us each time this comes up that it is used on roads.

The truth is the tax simply goes into municipality’s general fund and is included in spending anywhere in the budget. Since the upkeep of the roadways is one of the items the general fund pays for, at least a portion of the excise tax goes there. But it is only a portion. I have read in some reports, however, that in some municipalities the excise tax revenue, if it were dedicated, does cover all or nearly all of the road costs.

The key is that it doesn’t have to fund the roads. The money can be used anyway the municipality officers wish. Roads can be let go if they wish to use the money for a pet project. Like a municipal pier or a park not too many people want.

Excise tax revenue is sharply down because of the economy. People simply aren’t buying new cars. After five years, the excise tax is stable and more and more Mainers are driving cars older than five years.

One argument against changing the excise tax law is that the lost revenue will have to be gained by taxation elsewhere, primarily by the property tax. No one, of course, is looking for places where a budget could be scaled back. Again, town/city officials don’t want to prioritize and make decisions; they’d rather the taxpayers do it.

The legislature still have more citizen initiated referendum questions to consider, but I’d bet they’ll all go the same way as the excise tax proposal. In these particular situations, I’m not sure I can fault the legislature for sending the measures out to the voters. It was good number of the voters who started the petitions by signing them; all the voters should have the opportunity to agree or disagree.

The legislature will establish exactly when the voting will take place. Most people believe it should be during the next general election in November when the most voters go to the polls. But such petitions have resulted in voting during the primary elections in June and in some cases, special election dates have been set.

The doom and gloom rhetoric will begin shortly and again, for the umpteenth years in a row we’ll hear of deaths, no fire or police protection, people going hungry, people losing their homes, and the whole gamut of outrageous stories. None of that will take place, of course; all local governments need to do is gain some courage and face the economy as it is.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Day! Sox Season is underway!

Happy Hump Day! It’s a Wednesday and a very nice day it is. The sun is blazing in almost clear, blue skies. The temperature is passing 32 at this early morning hour, and the weather forecast indicates we’re no longer in that daily unstable weather mold. In fact, the Channel Six guy Kevin Mannix says, except for a possible weather event Friday night into Saturday morning, there are no real storms on the charts for us in Southern Maine.

Another reason for this being a happy day is the Red Sox began their trip through the Major League Baseball season yesterday. Josh Beckett is on the comeback trail after a season of injuries and he started off demonstrating he is definitely coming back. The Sox whipped the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday at Fenway Park. The Rays were the team that eliminated Boston from the post season play last year.

The Portland Sea Dogs begin their season tomorrow. The Sea Dogs are, of course, a minor league team of the Red Sox. Many former Dogs are now in the majors, including the heart of the Red Sox. I think it’s about six former Dogs now on the Sox roster. They include Dustin Pedroia who began this year right where he left off last year, and John Lester who will start today’s game against the Rays.

In another sport, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team completed an undefeated season with the NCAA national championship last night. The Lady Huskies are one mighty powerful team. They went 39-0 this season and it is the third time they’ve gone undefeated. No other team has matched that record.

I watched part of the game last night as I don’t stay up to watch sports events unless the Gators are involved. I would stay up for a World Series game if the Red Sox were in it. The game started looking like Louisville had a chance to at least stay in the game. And they did for 12 or 15 minutes. I think one of the prettiest drives for a layup I’ve seen turned the game around. Huskie Maya Moore took a pass off a steal by Renee Montgomery. One dribble, put the ball in one hand, and flew about two feet off the floor for six feet or so and laid it in.

One could almost see the Louisville girls just let down. In those final minutes of the first half, UConn built a lead to almost 20 points and never looked back. With the game well in hand and with the Championship all but already decided, I headed to bed.

I had been in the same position the night before when the University of North Carolina punished Michigan State University for the men’s NCAA basketball title. The biggest difference in the two wins was the way they happened. The women’s game was close for a few minutes. UNC totally dominated from the opening tap.

Basketball is now behind us for the year. Well, except for the NBA and NHL. Even though the Celtics have already made it into the playoffs, I won’t see many of those games. Shucks, I won’t see any of them. I find professional basketball to be just plain boring. I’m not happy with myself for taking a happy post down to a negative one, so I’ll wish the Celtics the best in their coming championship series.

I do like hockey, except on TV. The television broadcasts of hockey are just plain awful, and I think the ratings prove me correct on this one. Hockey at the arena is super. Television doesn’t do it justice. Nevertheless, I hope the Bruins also win their upcoming championship series.

As I said, it’s a Wednesday and a great one for baseball fans. And college football is only five months away.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What a storm!

I almost didn’t go to my senior fitness session this morning. My whole body was sore from all the wetness that seems to have gotten inside. I have this belief that if one doesn’t go when he could, that second cancellation gets easier and the third and fourth and so on are become normal. So I battled through the pain and went. I must admit I didn’t do as well as I usually do, and had to eliminate one part of the plan. If I had gotten on that very low rowing machine, I’d be there for the rest of my life.

It is amazing, though, how much better one can feel by conquering that which he wishes not to do.

Now that was a storm! I hate it when storms with winds that powerful and rains that heavy come at night. All I can do is listen. The one that went through our region last night was one of those storms. Sure, it began in the late afternoon; actually we first saw some wetness around noontime, but I’m not sure I’d call it rain until the PM was well underway.

To make matters worse for me, Gator Wife and I were sitting in our den where the TV is, which is on the northeast end of our home. It was against the outside wall just outside the den where the wind and rain were hitting the house the hardest.

As dusk was turning to darkness, I was able to see the little creek we have separating our home and our neighbor’s house. The water was well over its banks and rushing by. The little bridge we have to make easy access to each other’s property was under water. That little creek is from two and a half to three feet deep, and perhaps even deeper in places.

At the far end it joins a huge drainage pipe that takes the water toward the ocean past a condominium development nearby. We had a veritable lake there. The only good thing about flooding on my property is that within moments of the end of a storm, the waterways are back to relative normal. Water is flowing most of the spring and summer, but it’s usually no more than a couple inches deep.

“Where are the pictures?” you might wonder. I was tempted to go outside and take some, but it was raining so hard that both my camera and I would have gotten totally soaked. I’m not that dedicated. Also, I do have some mobility problems and the very sloped land was extremely wet and I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I don’t have any pictures this morning.

The yard is so near normal already that heading outside this morning for pictures would show nothing of all the action last night.

I would put this storm into a category I call “Florida Storms.” I recall when I lived in the Sunshine State the spring/summer storms we had. It would rain so hard that we could hardly see across the street. Unlike the storm that came through here last night, those storms usually ended with five or ten minutes of beginning.

When GW and I were first married, we drove to Florida to meet my parents. It was our first summer after a November wedding. Actually they had met but briefly at the wedding and this trip gave them a chance to get to know each other. We had chosen to drive as it was also what we would call our real honeymoon so we could see at least part of the country.

When the time came to drive home, we headed south out of St. Petersburg to take the Tamiami Trail, route 41 I think, to Miami, then up the Florida east coast toward Maine. It was before Interstate Highways were prevalent. It wasn’t long after we said goodbye to my parents that we ran into one of those storms. GW had never seen rain that heavy before. I simply pulled off the road and told her to wait just a minute and we’d be on our way.

Sure enough, in less than five minutes we were back driving in bright sunshine. She never forgot that storm and last night’s pounding on the side of our house brought back some memories. The difference was the Florida storm was only for five minutes or so; last night we went to bed in the pounding. And I hate being in bed with a storm like that outside.

We learned this morning that the mid-coast of Maine received more than three inches of rain and much of the rest of the state got an inch or more. My very unofficial rain gauge showed we receive 1.75 inches out on deck. The ground is wet, but our tarred areas are already showing some clearing. That might not last, however, as the forecast suggests we could be getting showers through much of the rest of the week.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Local budgets being set

One thing about April most of the time is its consistency. Its consistency of rain, that is. April is in its sixth day and its greatest asset so far has been the rain, showers, and fog it has brought our way. I probably should give it some credit of ridding my yard of snow, too. So far, it has demonstrated why that old saying was coined: April showers bring May flowers. At the rate we’re going, May is going to see wonderful bloom.

Cities and towns throughout Maine are now letting their budgets be known for the coming year. Once they get passed, we’ll know what our property tax rates will be. Most have indicated that want to hold spending down so they won’t have to pass a tax increase along to homeowners. Many haven’t succeeded, at least before city/town councils or town meetings get to act on a budget. My town, for example, has told us its leadership has tried, but some of the development hasn’t taken place and so we are facing a “small” increase.

I’m really not surprised that the development isn’t doing what we were told it would do. It seems every time there’s a major development, we’re told how it will help property taxes. Then we’re told of all the infrastructural work that has to be done, like roads, gas/electric lines, sewers, etc., which means we will need to spend more. So much for the help on taxes. I know there are many people who would argue that the development has succeeded because increases could have been more. I wonder if they would be the same or lower without that wonderful development with all we have to spend to prepare for it.

My town is experiencing a great growth. You should see all the empty store fronts, many in newly constructed shopping regions, we have. “Once the economy turns around, you’ll see those shops filling up,” we’re told. In my more than 70 years, I’ve never noticed a lower property tax because of such development. I have heard many specious arguments that have told me how taxes have been kept down.

I just wish town, city, state, and national governments would have to look at spending the way we taxpayers have to look at it. If we can’t afford something, many of us go without. And during these economic crises we’re all facing, the vast majority of us have no way to increase our income, so we sometimes have to make sacrifices.

I don’t understand why governments can’t prioritize and eliminate some of its spending, too. Those responsible for governments’ revenue get a double whammy in this economy. We have to spend less on ourselves because we have less and we have to pay more taxes because the governments spend more.

When people make these kinds of statements, we’re often asked just where we would cut. As I always say, it’s up to the people setting budgets to make that determination. When we do come up with places, we’re told our suggestions are just a pittance and would make much difference. Just possibly all those “pittances” added together would make a huge difference.

As I say, it’s budget time of year again and again most of us will be paying higher taxes on less income.

The real happy good news for today: The Major League Baseball season began last night. The Red Sox, weather permitting of course, begins its run to the World Series today. (That’s not a prediction, FF, just an opening day comment.)


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Another damp weekend; it is April, you know.

This weekend will develop as it goes along. Whatever the weather will be will determine the Gator family activities. Possible showers are forecast for Saturday, but Sunday is expected to be fairly nice. Gator Daughter normally comes over on weekends so her Golden Retriever and ours can spend some time together. It’s a fun time for both.

As I’ve said before, somehow the dogs know it’s a weekend and that they visit. Gator Golden will start searching out the window for the arrival of her sister right around 11 in the morning. GD tells us her pup begins her routine at about the same time, but the daughter’s dog knows she riding over here and gives very low “woofs” to let GD know the time has come.

The weather affects the humans involved, but somehow I get the impression the dogs could care less about the weather. All they’re interested in is the chasing each other around the yard. Of course if either of the ladies is outside, that’s all the better and the dogs play and run harder when they can keep their “mommies” in sight.

The possible showers on Saturday could keep GD home. Actually, the heavy rain on Friday, more than a half inch overnight on my meter, could also influence her decision. Between the two, I’d bet she stays home. She doesn’t like to have the dogs get soaking wet and then come inside to drip and she doesn’t like them pushing each other in mud. The cold in the winter is also a variable that guides her decision, but winter’s cold is no longer an issue. We won’t know what the decision will be until sometime mid-Saturday-morning.

Showers aren’t in the forecast for Sunday, so it’ll be the ground condition that will influence GD’s decision. You’d probably be surprised to know that she’s welcome in our house no matter what the weather is. And we’ve mentioned on several occasions that the Momma Gator will have food for our daughter to take home.

The do nothing weekends will probably come to a screeching halt after this one. Gator Wife has read that we don’t have to wait until that last frost in May to begin her planting. She only needs to have the ground more or less frost free. GW is lucky her daughter is willing to give so much time to help her with the gardens. So my guess is they will get out our tilling machine as early as next weekend to begin testing the ground for preparation.

If we are able to plant some vegetables a little earlier than we have in the past, it will mean we’ll be enjoying the results earlier than we have. GW has two separate vegetable gardens where she plants most of our summer veggies, except corn. We still rely on a farmer’s market for that one.

When we were first married, her family, which had several acres of vegetable garden behind their home, gave GW and me six 40-foot long rows to plant the food for ourselves on the condition we did all the work. We had all the fresh vegetables we could eat all summer, but I was also introduced to the art of canning and freezing for the ability to enjoy home grown vegetable year round. I was just a wee bit younger then and did enjoy helping in the outdoors.

Her father left us back in the 1970s and we didn’t return to vegetable gardening again until we moved to our present home about 15 years ago.

All vegetables are best when eaten fresh, but it wasn’t until I met GW that I learned just how much better those grown at home and eaten fresh were. Corn was the biggest surprise to me. Her dad had several rows of corn. I learned very early on that nothing can beat an ear of corn eaten with an hour of picking. That doesn’t happen with supermarket corn and even most farmers’ markets aren’t as fresh. We simply don’t have room for corn here.

Here’s a brief postscript to Friday’s discussion of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. GW mentioned to her co-worker the show about it was on TV the previous night. The co-worker said, as we told you Friday, the lines were long and her time was short so they didn’t take the walk. She added Friday that another consideration was $75/per person and she has a family of five. That stopped her, too. I also know that GW and I wouldn’t put out $150 for the walk.

So, another weekend is underway. Also underway is my thinking about the week ahead. We’ll be back Monday morning.


Friday, April 3, 2009


Heavy fog is enveloping our region this morning and we’re expecting some shower activity leading to some heavy downpours by this afternoon. Shower activity will continue throughout tomorrow and Sunday will be the better weekend day.

I decided to end this busy week with a light topic today. There will be no rants or raves or challenging questions. I just thought I’d tell you that right up front so you won’t be looking for something that simply won’t be there.

Gator Wife and I found ourselves watching a National Geographic presentation on the building of the Skywalk over the Grand Canyon.

We’ve been to the Grand Canyon but it was before the Skywalk was constructed on nearby Indian Nation land. Shortly after I retired, GW and I decided it was time to do some sightseeing around this great land of ours. We’ve made several trips since and always include at least one National Park on the itinerary. That first trip, however, was devoted to National Parks in the Western United States.

It was a driving trip all the way and we created the route we would follow with the help of a super travel person, now retired, at AAA. Because of demands in the parks, the only way to get lodging in them was by advanced reservation. In some instances, it required very advanced reservations, and Lynne took care of them. The hardest part of such reservations, however, is that some arrival and departure dates were rigid.

We drove to South Dakota where the Parks Tour would begin in the Badlands. The Black Hills (not a National Park) was next, followed by Yellowstone, and then many parks through Utah and Colorado down to the Grand Canyon. We had four days in Yellowstone, which was not enough. Heading south we did stay at Bryce Canyon NP, Zion NP and visited others. After a couple of nights at Grand Canyon, we headed east and visited several other parks on our way home.

I could go into detail of our parks’ visits, but that’s not what today is about. It is about a new tourist marvel. The actual location of the Skywalk is well west of the park’s village and is rather remote. When we were there, I’m not even sure the area was part of the tourism route.

Last night we watched the creation of the Skywalk from its birth as an idea in the 1990s through the design, engineering, and construction. The Walk itself was opened to the public in 2005 and construction on a tourist center continues. The Skywalk is a horseshoe shaped walkway that extends out 70 feet over the Grand Canyon giving visitors a spectacular view. The walkway is glass and steel, along with protective glass side walls which gives people on it a nearly unbelievable sight of the canyon 4000 feet below and the walls of the canyon.

It is owned and run by Native Americans, the Hualapai Nation. The Skywalk is truly an engineering marvel. We’ll never see this marvel in person as we’ll probably never again head for the Grand Canyon area. On the other hand, if we should get there, I can guarantee neither GW nor I would venture out on a walk 70 feet from land over the canyon on a circular platform made of glass which has no supports between its outer edge and the wall of the canyon. It will, however, rank right up there with the greatest engineering feats of our time.

A lady who works with GW at her part time job has been there. But she and her family also didn’t go out as the lines were too long and her time was too short. But her description when she came back to Maine whetted our appetite to learn about it and last night we had that chance.

On a sports note, Penn State University’s men’s basketball team won the NIT last night with a 69 to 63 win over Baylor. I didn’t see the game and the only reason I mention it is because had I been watching it, I would have been cheering for PSU. That’s the team that ousted the Gators from the tourney.

And how about the Maine Red Claws? That’s the newest pro team coming to Portland. This D-League (developmental league) of the National Basketball Association will begin its season at the Expo beginning next fall. It has high hopes of being affiliated with the Boston Celtics.

The Portland Sea Dogs baseball team has been a tremendous hit in Southern Maine and it has a cute name. It’ll be interesting to see how well Red Claws goes over. It doesn’t really matter to me as I’ll never see one of their games. The NBA has the most self-centered players of any sport and I don’t even watch the Celtics. I have seen many games by our variously named hockey affiliates and the Sea Dogs.