Saturday, May 30, 2009

Where did May go?

It seems like it was just a few days ago that I was mentioning the last weekend in April. Already May has flown past and it ends this weekend. We got a little hope Friday that with the end of May also comes the end of several days of rainy weather. A shower or two, perhaps, may appear in various places around the state, but most of us will see some clearing.

Gator Trio plus two four-“pawers” will be playing the whole weekend solely by watching the skies. If they are promising, Gator Daughter and her pup will be at our house. Weather permitting, I suspect GD and Gator Wife will spend much time outdoors looking at the things that they’re growing.

Even Gator Golden is keeping an eye on the outside to see if that rain is here or not. She knows no rain means she gets a playmate.

I know that this is the season for mowing about three times every ten days. We last mowed last Monday so you can guess what the lawn looks like. It’s pretty much like lawns just about all over the region needing to be cut. Unfortunately, mine has to be rather dry if I want to bag the long clippings. My green and yellow machine has a long upward curved chute that tries to get the grass into the bags at the rear. If the grass is even just slightly damp, it never makes it.

All lawn mowers aren’t like this machine. My next door neighbor does contract yard work all summer and has a couple of those Walker lawn mowers. He doesn’t care what the dampness of the grass is. His lawns get mowed regularly, wet or not. Those machines suck it all up with ease, but they don’t have those upward curved chutes. Of course each of them cost about four times as much as my rider.

When I see him doing his own yard, I envy him both for the speed and ease of zero degree turning and vacuuming. Then I remember the price of that thing and keep on riding on my green and yellow machine.

All that leads into my mowing our yard this weekend. The grass is getting rather tall and ragged, but whether I venture out onto it depends entirely upon the weather and the wetness of the grass. Perhaps either Saturday or Sunday will allow it.

What we do know is if GD and her dog come over, the grill out on the deck will get some use. We’re not known on the Gator Homestead to go hungry.

There is one unhappy ending to this weekend. Gator Wife’s one week vacation from her part time job comes to an end. She’ll be heading out Monday morning to return to her three mornings of doing whatever she does there. I think she wanted to figure out this past week if she could be happy not working outside the home. She got a taste, but I haven’t figured out yet if it were enough.

I hope you’re enjoying your weekend and I’ll be back Monday morning with the tales of an Old Buck Gator and his family and friends.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Clear, steady TV picture? We'll see. Maybe!

We needed it, that rain. But now it has done its duty and should part. Selfishly, my body doesn’t like the weather anymore. I’m now in the mood to simply want some sun back. We’re told we might get some tomorrow along with the possible showers. That’s simply not good enough. I want the rain to go away. Wife Gator’s gardens are nice and satisfied with their long, too darn long, drink so there’s no reason for the rain to continue.

I’ve had some fun with my cable provider. I won’t mention the company’s name, but there is only one in the Greater Portland area. The signal coming into my house has been breaking up for the last several of weeks. A technician came last week to make it all better. It was the second time in the last few weeks one has come here. Naturally the rule that says broken things should work when a technician is around was completely honored.

Part of the reason was because the night before each visit I had rebooted the cable box during one of the breakups. I’ve been experiencing occasional problems ever since I switched to digital reception several months ago. Each time I called the cable company, the technician gave me the same instructions and talked me through rebooting the box.

It has always worked…for a few days. Rebooting the box isn’t rocket science so I just began performing the task without calling and did that for several weeks. A few weeks ago, however, it just got to me so I once again called the service line. After I explained the problem to the phone tech, he checked my account and saw that I had really called several times with the same problem. The company sent a couple of technicians to the house and some of the cable was replaced. That would fix it. It didn’t.

Last week I made another call and a different technician was sent. He came in a cable company truck. The two guys previously were in an unmarked truck with only the company name on a sticker on the side. The new guy explained they were contract people. He was a cable company person. Naturally the work when techie is around was followed; he fiddled around, took readings from several screens of technical stuff, changed a cable connection, and proclaimed it fixed. It wasn’t.

Another call to the cable company earlier this week. Two technicians in different cable company trucks showed up yesterday. One was the same guy that had been here last week. But yesterday there was a difference. I hadn’t rebooted the box and could actually show him what was happening. “Ah. Now I understand,” he said. “I think there’s a real problem somewhere here.” Great observation. So the two of them with their meters and stuff traced the signal all the way from the pole connection into the junction box in the basement and then to the box itself.

I don’t know all the things they must have done along the way, but the reception cleared up as I was looking at it. After quite a while, they proclaimed it fixed. I must admit I’ve been able to watch the channels that were giving me problems. I was told I’d be getting a credit for my lost time on my next bill and they left.

Is the problem fixed this time? We’ll know within a couple of days. At least as of last night, everything was working properly.

As I inferred yesterday, I’m going to try to stay away from politics as much as I can, at least for a while. But the Maine Legislature, actually the Senate, did a good thing yesterday. It killed by a 33-2 vote a measure to allow non-citizens to vote in Maine. A Portland legislator had sponsored a bill that would have allowed immigrants, legal or not, the right to vote in Maine if local communities gave their okay. It was a lousy bill but the Senate made the right decision. Of course immigrants who have become citizens already have voting privileges.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Now it's all fixed; the State says so!

We need this rain. I’m not complaining. My yard has been bone dry and Wife Gator’s gardens, both flower and vegetable, really need the water. I do have some automatic watering thingies, but they simply don’t do as good a job as real rain. On the other hand, today was senior fitness day. Perhaps I am complaining about the rain just a little. Weather affects this illness ravaged body big time; but as much as I hurt, it is important that I fight my way through my routines. I did today.

As we had thought, the Maine Legislature has passed the new budget for the next biennium and Gov. Baldacci is expected to sign it into law today. I believe it is a terrible budget as it doesn’t address the problems our state faces in funding programs. It is only a temporary fix that has passed along the revenue deficit to communities and state workers.

I’ve discussed several times in the past what I feel are the major spending problems. They deal mostly with what I think are our outrageous welfare programs. I’m with the majority of people who live in this state that we must help people out of short term problems. Our system encourages people to make their careers out of doing nothing and collecting more in welfare benefits than most Mainers earn working 40 hours a week.

This new budget leaves that pretty much intact.

There are many other places where spending could be curtailed and we mentioned most of them in the past, too. The new budget does lower state spending for the next two years, but much of that lower spending results from passing along costs to communities. And much of the revenue shortfall that brought about the crisis is being covered by the onetime payment from federal government “stimulus” package.

I’ve read recently that revenue for April was also way down. That means the revenue shortfall is even deeper than the revenue estimating committee projected the first of this month. So now with just a month left in the current fiscal year, and part of the new budget was to provide funds previously known to be short, this year’s budget remains unbalanced. That would lead one to believe that since more from the passed budget needs to be spent now, the new one must also be unbalanced.

A balanced budget is one in which the state spends only that which it reasonably can expect to take in. It’s our state law. But who in Augusta really cares about that?

People who know a lot more than I about this stuff are already projecting revenue for at least the first part of the next fiscal year, which begins July First, will face another huge shortfall. If all of this stuff is true, Maine is a very long way from resolving its financial problems. Those problems will only grow unless the state bites that proverbial bullet and tackles the need to change its spending habits. That certainly won’t happen with our current bunch down in Augusta.

And the Republicans up there didn’t fight. They probably couldn’t have won, but they didn’t have to accept partial ownership, thus protecting the Democrats, by their support. I’m rapidly losing all respect for Maine Republicans.

Now the Legislature is getting ready to once again start discussing raising the gasoline tax 11 cents over the next four years. Can you imagine a worse time to force more taxes on Mainers than in this economy? Legislators say they need the money to fix the states roads and bridges. Perhaps it would help if they tell us how many roads and bridges and at what cost the past several transportation bond issues have repaired? The “stimulus” money supposedly to fix roads is going where? Was any of either fund simply slipped into the general fund for welfare/Medicaid programs?

I’m sorry. All that isn’t important. The government says we need the money so we must need it. It wouldn’t lie to us, would it?

Oh, yes. The legislature will begin deciding on how much more we can pay, therefore how much it can send out for bonding. That spending just never seems to stop. I wish I had the capability of spending as much as I want by just telling my retirement fund to give me more money.

Enough! Enough, already! Neither Maine nor federal governments care about us; it’s all about getting re-elected. So I’m not going to mention this stuff again until I mention it again.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Possibly two return to monthly get-together

We can’t have those nice days forever. Today will prove that. The weather guy on Ch. 6 tells us that we’ll have an abundance of rain today. And that “iffy” weather will continue possibly into the weekend. The good part is we need the rain.

We have come to the Last Wednesday of the Month. This will be an especially good one when our little group of retirees meets for lunch today. We meet on the last Wednesday every month just for some good conversation, analyzing the sports world, and solving the world’s problems. Well, at least for some good conversation.

Then why is this day’s session so special? Easy. Two of our members go to Florida for part or most of the winter season. Both of these two snowbirds have now returned to Maine for the summer and both have indicated they will be at lunch today. Actually, there’s a third one that we haven’t seen now for a couple of years. He fell in love with the state and permanently moved there. When his family was living here, he did come back for one or two of our sessions, but his family no longer is here. Apparently, he no longer feels the need to return to Maine.

Most of us have now been meeting this day of the month for a dozen or more years. Sure, each of us has missed sessions here and there, mostly for vacations or an occasional illness. Two members work for the Sea Dogs and when they’re in town for a day game on the last Wednesday, they can’t come. One member is a Maine legislator so he misses the sessions when the Legislature is in session. I won’t go into his record there; suffice it to say we don’t always agree. But that’s O.K. We don’t let politics get in the way of many, many years of friendship.

Before this day is done, Maine may have a new budget for the next biennium. The House passed the budget last night with 31 representatives who call themselves Republican voting in favor. The Senate is expected to take up the measure today and we’ve heard most of the Republican leadership already endorsing it under the guise of “bi-partisanship.”

The budget is simply horrible and does nothing to solve the financial problems facing this state. All it does is get the need to make hard decisions off the legislators’ backs and onto the property tax payer. Mainers will see no tax relief from the budget.

There were, unfortunately, no substantive cuts in spending. Programs need to be cut or at least brought into line with national and federal averages. Our welfare state for just about anyone, native or alien, remains intact. One day Mainers are going to learn that all we’re doing by sending the same crowd back to Augusta each election only makes life for us more difficult.

We had hoped that the Republicans there would have upheld the Republican ideals of smaller government and lower taxes along with less spending. Their own self induced importance stands in their way.

I agree with Rep. Diane Russell, Dem of Portland when she called the budget “heartbreaking.” I find it heartbreaking because it doesn’t address the spending problem.

I had been feeling sorry for the state workers who are bearing a big brunt of the new budget. But then watching what looked like a hundred or more of them marching through the state house during mid morning make one wonder just how important all those jobs are. There are many, many non-state workers who can make that “woe is me” cry a lot more believable. The workers demonstrating today still have jobs, unlike the 8% or higher other Mainers who no longer have jobs.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Do we have enough money to last?

Tuesday has brings my usual trip to Senior Fitness. I mowed my lawn yesterday and for some reason it was a particularly bumpy ride. That caused my back to be very sore yesterday. Coupled with the incoming weather, that soreness continues today and I’m having a difficult time walking. I guess that just about says all there is to say about the fitness session. However, the important part of it is, I fought through the discomfort this morning and reluctantly completed my routine.

We haven’t seen an awful lot, Anything?, in the main stream media about this, but the weekend news on the internet began to develop an impending crisis in America. President Obama reportedly told C-SPAN interviewer Steve Scully that the United States was out of money.

As reported on the Drudge Report, the President said, “Well, we are out of money now. We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we've made on health care so far. This is a consequence of the crisis that we've seen and in fact our failure to make some good decisions on health care over the last several decades.”

It’s those “good decisions on health care” that worry me. The President wants to nationalize all health care similar to other countries, which have found it to be terribly expensive and inefficient. We hear regularly about the wait in Canada, for example, for people to get to see doctors, hospitals, or have surgeries. It has gotten so bad in Canada, the Canadians are now allowed to purchase their own medical insurance plans. A friend of mine tells me one can’t imagine how much taxes are paid just for the “free” services.

Did you read recently that an appeals judge, if Florida I think, has ruled that the state and not the doctor has the final say in your procedures? The ruling, which will in all probability be appealed to an even higher court, would give the government the final say in who gets treatment and who does not. Pity our senior citizens. Holy smokes! I’m one of those.

The brief said that doctors shouldn’t have final say as they would advocate for their patients. No, it should be the government which will advocate for what? Not spending money?

National health care will add even more trillions of dollars to our already national debt of more than 11-trillion dollars. The country has spent more money since Jan. 20th than what was budgeted by every other American president, including Presidents Bush, since the beginning of this nation.

Another report I read over the weekend said that the United States is on the verge on losing its highest credit rating because of our debt and spending. If it does, we will be even further in trouble paying it all back because of the higher interest rates.

Of course since it runs the printing presses, the government isn’t out of money yet. The problem is that as more and more is simply printed without being secured, the lower and lower the value of the dollar falls. We’ll soon be seeing higher and higher prices to make up for the losses.

My guess is most of this won’t terribly affect those of us in my generation or even older as we’ll probably be gone before the full impact hits. But I really worry about my children and grandchildren and those of others. They understand not what’s in store for them.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Enjoy your Memorial Day

This is the third day of our three-day holiday weekend and it’s important in several ways.

First and foremost, Memorial Day is the day we decorate the resting places of all our deceased war veterans. Second, it is the unofficial beginning of Maine’s tourist season. And third, it is the birthday of my late grandmother, may she continue to rest in peace.

Originally Memorial Day was called Decoration Day and was established way back in 1868 to decorate the graves in Arlington Cemetery of soldiers from both the North and the South who died fighting the Civil War. An Army general proclaimed May 30th as the day to decorate all the gravesites.

The South refused to recognize the day and most Southern communities chose their own dates for the honor. In the 1870s New York State proclaimed May 30th as a state holiday and it wasn’t long before many other Northern states joined. It wasn’t until after World War I when the Congress officially declared the day Memorial Day to memorialize veteran’s of all American wars that Southern States accepted the day.

I heard on the WCSH-TV morning trivia question last week that Waterloo, NY, was officially proclaimed the first to celebrate, but the fact is that many places had been celebrating what we now call Memorial Day ever since the end of the Civil War. Memorial Day became the last Monday of the Month in 1971 when Congress change most holidays to give people the long weekend.

For about as long as I can remember, and probably a lot longer, Mainers not only celebrate the sacrifices made by our warriors but also began welcoming visitors to the state for the summer vacation season. We also used this time to open summer camps and make other preparations for what used to be the best time of the year in Maine. Even the fun at Old Orchard Beach opened full time on Memorial Day.

That season traditionally ended on Labor Day as camps were closed, OOB shutdown except for weekends for a little longer, and the visitors headed home. In recent years, of course, Maine has become a year-round destination as activities for the whole year became prevalent.

My grandmother was born in the 1870s on May 30th. We jokingly began to tell people she was born on the last Monday in May after the change 1971. It was an easy way to remember her birthday and give us a time to reflect of our lives with her. Naturally, her grave was included after she passed when we went to the cemetery for our decorations. I’ll bet all of us can still remember the many lessons in real life we learned and how to cope with those little setbacks from our grandparents. Today, even though it’s not officially her birthday, I officially honor the memory of this important person in my life.

Gator Wife and I will need to visit two cemeteries to honor our families. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to visit the graves of my parents who are buried in Florida.

Whatever your plans are for this holiday, whether they be opening your summer camp or just hanging out in the back yard with family and friends for a cookout, I hope you take just a moment to remember all the great Americans who made the supreme sacrifice to make this day possible for you.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

A celebration weekend

Memorial Day Weekend. This is the weekend we visit the gravesites of our fallen heroes and decorate their final resting places honoring their services to our country. We also visit the gravesites of our family members and make sure they’re cleaned up and spruced up following a long, winter’s quiet there. And many communities even go further with parades and other festivities to be sure we remember those who sacrificed so we can have your great country.

The Gator Trio and two dogs will also spend a lot of time together this long weekend. All three days will be dedicated to getting the final yard chores done, and it looks like we’ll have the great weather to do it. Saturday will be rather light with mostly Gator Wife finishing up her weeding activity. Gator Daughter will spend a lot of her time giving our Goldens a good romp. Naturally, a meal, probably a sandwich type, will be included.

Sunday will be a full work day for both GW and GD. They’re planning the final push to get all the planting areas mulched and ready for enjoying the beauty of spring, summer, and fall. They have planted the vegetable gardens, but you know simply planting does not even come close to all the work that has to be done through the entire growing season.

We are planning our holiday barbecue for Sunday evening’s meal. GD will do the cookout grilling duties with some steaks. I’ll be making my World Famous, at least in the little corner of the world we call the Gator homestead, onion rings. GW will take care of the other things, like the salad, we normally have with our steak dinners.

And Sunday will be our visiting day. The gals will spend the remainder of the day finishing up the outside. What about the Old Gator Dude? Well, traditional little chuckle here, unless the lawn screams at me for some attention, I’ve got outdoor work pretty well figured out. ‘Nuff said.

Since this is a holiday, happy time weekend, I’m going to keep this edition of GiM just a little shorter than usual. Also, I might mention that Gator Wife has begun a week’s vacation from her part time job and will be home all week, so I’m not sure just what we’ll be doing for the week. So, if I should miss a post, worry not, we may bite that economic bullet and just take off for parts unknown.

I hope you have a happy Holiday weekend and we’ll be back next Tuesday. Maybe.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Are "equal rights" always good?

Yesterday was hot. Record hot, but by staying in the house, it wasn’t too bad. We didn’t have anything planned except to keep cool. I did have an early morning Senior Fitness session and Gator Wife had planned to visit one of her long time friends for the last time.

She got a call early that the visit was no longer necessary.

The Ch. 6 weather gal tells us today is going to be another rather nice day with temps probably in the 80s. Although just a little cooler, this holiday weekend should be nice, too, with the only precipitation being a little rain after dark tomorrow night.

I haven’t read or heard about anything that interests me out of Augusta or Washington. Perhaps our state and federal lawmakers are taking it easy heading into the holiday weekend or perhaps it’s a time for discussing upcoming proposals.

The state did get a new biennium budget earlier this week. I think it’s going to cost us a whole lot more than was cut. You can read about how I feel about the budget in Wednesday’s post.

The whole legislature gets that budget for consideration early next week. From what I’ve read, there are some lawmakers who see problems with it. I doubt, however, there are sufficient numbers to hold it up.

There was one non-legislative ruling that needs a mention. The Human Rights Commission ruled this week that a man claiming to be undergoing transgender procedures may use ladies rooms in restaurants. The man apparently continues to have his male features as that part of the procedure hasn’t yet been concluded.

I heard a local radio talk show host yesterday while I was driving to Senior Fitness discussing his feeling about the ruling. Ray Richardson of WLOB Ted and Ray Morning Show (95.5 FM, 6-9 in the morning) was opposed to the ruling and I think I agree with his reasoning. He said the two rooms in most public places, like restaurants where this particular ruling was aimed, are clearly labeled “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” or appropriate synonyms.

Richardson pointed out that modesty is still a virtue we should be teaching and practicing. He said that when women enter a “ladies’” room or men enter a “men’s” room, neither expects to see people of the other sex there. To his credit, he had no objections to rooms marked “unisex” as anyone going in knows anyone could be there.

Richardson didn’t buy an argument that only stalls are used in ladies’ rooms for those private moments. He said those stalls in no way trump the expectation. Men’s facilities contain public urinals and even men sometimes are embarrassed using them. A woman walking into the room would only exacerbate the situation.

Someone pointed out, and I don’t remember if it was the host or a caller, who opined that now any man could walk into ladies’ rooms and, if questioned, simply claim he was about to become transgendered and get off with a free pass.

There are times, says the Gator dude, when equal rights rulings simply go too far. This is one of them. We still don’t know what the next common sense division of the sexes will be put asunder.

There was one item out of Augusta yesterday that raises the old eyebrow. The Transportation Committee of the Legislature is considering raising gas taxes in Maine. The current discussion concerns a potential eleven cents increase over the next four years. It would replace the state’s automatic annual increase. The State is running out of funds to fix the state’s roadways and looks at the gas tax as a way to fix them. I always wonder what happened to the millions of dollars all those bond issues raised over the years and all that money the Feds are providing as part of President Obama’s spending plan.

Gator Wife and I had just begun talking about taking at least day trips this summer and perhaps even a vacation to our favorite spot in Pennsylvania. Those discussions have sort of slowed down almost as fast as they began with the price of gas once again rising at incredible rates. It’s now generally over $2.40 per gallon. An eleven cent increase, even only 3.5 cents in the first year, would probably keep us home once again.

Just as we saw some light, the dimming begins again. Raising taxes, any taxes, is absolutely no way to get us out of this recession.

If you don’t get a chance to visit us this Memorial Day Weekend, I hope you and your family have a great time. The weather appears to be cooperating with your plans.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

It might be a hot day!

This day has the potential of being less than nice. I’ve been around enough years so that I have the right to not only complain about the cold, which I do all winter and early spring. Therefore, I have that same right to complain about the heat. If this day is anything at all like the weather gal on Channel Six says it’s going to be, I could be complaining a lot today.

From the temperature change from when I went to my Senior Fitness session this morning just until I left there an hour later, I think I’m very glad I have early sessions. The temperature climbed more than ten degrees between leaving home and arriving back. The session itself went very well and I did accomplish all the routines I set out to accomplish, but I might not be happy with the rest of the day.

There’s just something plain unfair about a week that goes from frost warnings on Monday to temperatures possibly hitting the 90s on Thursday. Now we who live near the coast probably won’t get quite that high, but you who live a little inland where the frost actually hit could. But even the 80s, especially the high 80s, could make this day uncomfortable. We have an excellent chance of hitting a record high today. The current record in 87 set in 1992.

I’m among the first to say, quite frequently actually, that those fancy computers that today’s weather folk use aren’t always too accurate. This week, however, they’ve been rather consistent in telling us that all that heat being generated in the Midwest will arrive here today. The good part of that for me is that I’m retired and can stay home, now that I’m back from my senior fitness session, for the remainder of the day.

Wife Gator says we don’t have any pressing work situations, either, so once she gets home from one of those trips no one likes to make, we’ll just spend the day taking it easy. The air conditioner is also ready to be put into service if the weather calls for it today. We didn’t need it the last time the temperature crossed into the 90s back in April.

My Fearless Friend arrived home from Florida last night. I don’t think there’s been a day go by in the last few weeks where I didn’t get an email from him complaining not only about the heat in Central Florida but also the air quality. Both he and Mrs. FF were suffering big time. So they get back to Maine and today’s possible 90 degree temperatures greet them. I don’t think they’ll find the air quality as bad as that in Florida, but they’ll certainly be reminded of what they left. Welcome home, Mr. and Mrs. FF.

Speaking of Florida weather, I doubt I’ll ever forget it. When I was pretending to be a student at the university, I worked summers for a building supply company. The company not only sold construction stuff, it also provided installation. I became a windows expert, both installing and fixing broken mechanisms in already installed ones. You can believe me when I tell you that being outside in the summer sun working with windows with the sun reflecting off the glass was a far cry from being a picnic.

It paid off for me once, though. When I took GW there for the first time for her and my parents to get to know each other, we went out to a nightclub one night. We got home rather late and my parents had already gone to bed. I had forgotten a key and the doors were locked. I hadn’t forgotten my time working with jalousie windows, they’re the windows with four inch slats that open and close with a crank, and had a door open in less than a minute. My parents were shocked the next morning to find us sleeping in our bedroom. They never knew I had maneuvered the window, we came in, and I fixed it.
My dad wasn’t surprised as he knew I knew how to do it.

I love telling those little stories out of my past. There’s a difference, though, in this old man telling long ago stories. I can still remember yesterday.

Oh, that trip GW had to make today. An old friend of hers is about to leave this world. Cancer. GW needed to say, “Goodbye.” She got the “it’s time” call from her friend’s family a day or two ago. They thought two of us might be too much and we respect that so GW is making the trek herself.

Let me stop today’s ramble with an often given admonition: If that heat does indeed reach us today, remember your elderly relatives and neighbors and check on them occasionally. Drink lots of liquid, preferable non-alcoholic, and keep yourself hydrated.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is new state budget good or just another state sham?

After listening to the weather forecast this morning, I’m very happy Gator Wife and I took the time yesterday to get a lot of outside work done. And we had some help doing it. GW just about completed weeding her gardens and, working together, we got our mowing completed, and my super neighbor brought his power trimmer over and trimmed for us. Now we won’t have to work outside in tomorrow’s projected heat.

Like I’m sure you have, I’ve listened to many reports on the passage of the new state budget for the next biennium. I told you yesterday that it had been approved after a late night Monday session and will now get a full discussion in the Maine Legislature before final passage.

I won’t go into the sparse details of the budget that I’ve heard, but it sure does sound strangely like a simple shift and shaft and a budget full of piecemeal changes that won’t solve future spending problems in the state.

A lot of the budget depends on stimulus money from the feds. That’s all fine and good, I guess, since the feds are putting our children into debt for their entire lives whether we take some money or not. But using the stimulus money doesn’t explain what will happen when this budget runs out of revenue. The state will be right back where it is now. Or was yesterday.

The shift and shaft part comes from cutting disbursements to cities and towns. Sure. A lot of money is saved in the state budget so the clowns in Augusta feel pretty good about themselves. But now the city and towns will have to raise their property taxes to raise the funds they’re not getting from the state.

I’ve heard at least one legislator say in the past few weeks they aren’t forcing the municipalities to spend the money and hope they will simply make the same “valiant” cuts the state has made. I wish municipalities would cut the local budgets, too; but, unfortunately, much of the money the state sends goes to programs the state mandates they follow. That is especially true for school departments. I didn’t hear or read anything about those mandates being eliminated, so that money must come from somewhere.

Yet the governor and legislators will be back slapping all over Augusta telling us what a great job they have accomplished. Meanwhile, we will be trying to figure out in our personal budgets where we’re going to find the money to pay for these accomplishments. The state saves, no one else does.

One of the sadder parts of all this for me is self praise of the Republican leadership proclaiming what great stride they’ve made working with the Democrats to create this bi-partisan budget. The Legislature must pass the budget by a 2/3 vote so this would have been a golden opportunity to force some substantive cuts in the way the state spends our money and does its business.

I read a public relations release by the Republican leaders as they praised their efforts in providing the Democrats with the proclamation, “It’s a bipartisan budget!” and yet all that which they praise sounds only like pap. I’d bet there’s a story about their proudness somewhere in this morning’s news, but I’m going to take my cue from the Republicans and be lazy and not do my duty to search it out for you.

I do feel sorry for the state workers who will be the only ones feeling any real brunt of the new budget. They will have to take pay cuts in the form of ten furlough days while state government shuts down in each year of the biennium. But those will once again be work days after the two years. They also will have to pay a sliding percentage of their health insurance costs, but they can earn their way back to the current plan over the two years. Some cut. Of course legislators, the governor, and judges will not be faced with those cuts.

So what have we gained? My simple answer: nothing. Gimmicks do not fix budgets. Only substantive changes in spending can do that, and we do not have elected representatives in either party with the courage to make those changes. Shucks, we do not have elected representatives that can recognize there is a problem.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New state budge almost complete

I believe our garden survived the overnight temperatures. Gator Wife had covered her seedlings with tarps last evening and, along with temperatures remaining in the mid to upper 30s right here, we didn’t get that potential frost. The temps won’t be as bad nights, at least for the foreseeable future, so we may now be out of those woods. Of course we won’t know for sure for another few days to be sure the plants are O.K.

My Fearless Friend and his wife are expected home sometime possibly late tomorrow. They’re apparently bringing some of the Florida weather with them. The weather guy on Channel Six said this morning some of Maine’s temperatures could reach 88 degrees Thursday.

I seem to be on a plateau in Senior Fitness. I went this morning, did my routines, changed nothing, and was happy to be leaving for home. I think the absence of one of our members due to illness has dampened the fun of the activity. It’ll get back to normal soon, I hope. I wish my fellow senior a speedy recovery.

Subject now to the approval of the full Maine Legislature, the state will soon have a new budget for the next biennium. Working well into the night, the Appropriations Committee unanimously passed a budget and will be sending it to the full body, I think today. Because it happened so late there isn’t much information about the budget anywhere early this morning so I can’t make any specific comments, one way or the other. I did hear on WCSH-TV this morning that it contains no broad-based tax increases and state workers will be taking a big hit.

There will be several shutdowns of government which will result in non-pay days, but apparently the five percent pay cut was eliminated. State workers will also have to pay a portion of the health insurance premium. I don’t recall other provisions of the budget this morning and when I checked their web site before I headed off to my Senior Fitness session, the story hadn’t yet been posted.

I had thought about checking again when I get home and delay this publication, but I think I’d rather get a chance to digest its provisions during the day and possibly make my comments tomorrow. You’ll know the story from many news sources, but I’ll bet there’ll be parts of it, like no substantial changes to programs that should be cut, that I might be able to offer a thought on.

I let a very funny headline slip by me yesterday and forgot to copy it or create a link to it, but it was priceless. Remember a few days ago when Vice Pres. Joe Biden revealed the location of the super secret bunker used to protect to the President and Vice President in a crisis? It was last used, at least the last time we know of, during the 9/11 crisis. I’m not sure what his motive was, but Vice Pres. Biden described the bunker the other day.

He gave another speech this weekend. I can’t quote the headline on a national publication exactly, but it was something like, ‘Vice President Biden gives another speech; doesn’t reveal any national secrets.’ Again, that wasn’t exact, but pretty darn close. Anyway, I’m wondering if it signals the beginning of a change of attitude by the national news media. I’ll surely try to be much more diligent next time I see something like that.

Another school related item hit me this morning. Well, actually, I saw it on TV last night. There is a Portland police officer who deserves a lot of credit for diligence. The Portland High School police liaison officer Stephen Black making his rounds spotted a man loading a rifle in an alley leading to the school from Congress Street. The officer ran to the man, ordered him to put the rifle down which he did, and took him into custody.

Apparently the high school was in no danger as the man was, according to witnesses, planning something for some members attending an AA meeting inside an adjacent church. Nevertheless, if shooting did begin, we’ll never know where it could have ended up, including in that nearby high school. Shades of past school tragedies cross the mind.

You can find the full story just about anywhere including the Portland newspaper, local TV and radio stations, and even on the national Fox News. I just want to give my “well done” to that diligent Portland police officer Black who prevented any real tragedy.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Planting done, frost expected, that's planning for you!

Gator Wife and our daughter accomplished their goal of getting seeds and seedlings into the ground over the weekend. Great planning. Today we’re faced with a frost warning for tonight along with the admonition to cover sensitive plants. The warning covers just about all the area between the foothills and the coast. GW will be covering her seedlings this afternoon. This is the first time she’s planted this early. I looks like she shouldn’t have taken the chance.

The Maine Legislature’s Appropriations Committee resumes working on the state budget for the next biennium today. It had received a proposal from the governor but then learned of a massive revenue shortfall. How to correct the budget to meet new revenue expectations has been a challenge for the committee.

It had hoped to have accomplished the task last week, but needed a little more time. After virtually day/night sessions most of last week, the committee decided to take the weekend off to refresh. The main sticking point right now appears to be how much to make state workers pay as their share of health insurance. The committee recommended workers’ base pay be cut five percent then needed the break. The committee resumes deliberations today.

I got my “stimulus check” from the feds last week. That check along with the “massive” reduction in withholding tax has just about turned my life around. I can hardly contain my excitement. But, I’m willing to do my part. I’ll save it until next April when I have to give some of it back with my tax returns.

This is the week when my favorite television show ends for the season. It has laid the groundwork for the elimination of one of the characters. N.C.I.S. didn’t tell us which one, but last week Ziva, the female lead agent, and Tony, one of the male agents, got into a personal spat, partially over Ziva’s love for a foreign agent. Tony shot the agent at the end of the episode and now they’re taking the body to Israel for interment.

A preview I saw yesterday on showed what looked like Ziva putting a gun to Tony’s chest and shooting him. I suspect that’s what the preview was designed to make me think and the end may not be anything like that at all. But the announcer said to the effect, “They went to Israel and only one will return.”

As long as it’s not Abby who gets eliminated, I suppose I’ll be happy.

I often wonder why producers of TV shows change cast members who have adapted perfectly to their roles. The entire cast of N.C.I.S. plays the parts as if they were really those folks. I felt the same way when they eliminated Caitlin a while back. She, too, was excellent and I didn’t know why she had to be killed off. The lady “director” of the agency was also killed off, but that was one of the few I didn’t miss. Wlomen have a tough time on N.C.I.S.

I suppose sometimes characters are eliminated because they wish to leave the show, perhaps for other roles they perceive as better opportunities. Nevertheless, my perception is when characters perfectly suited for their parts leave, the shows lose something. As an example Law And Order isn’t anywhere near as good a show as it was 18 years ago. Many of the changes there haven’t always been for the better.

I hope N.C.I.S. isn’t heading down the same road. Right now it’s consistently in the top five or seven rated shows which more or less insures its continuation. If they are to lose a cast member tomorrow night, I hope they don’t head down that road of unfortunate changes.

Another observation I made this weekend was about the Preakness Stakes in Maryland Saturday night. Rachel Alexandra, a filly, won. Fillies don’t usually fare well in the Triple Crown races, but because she was a favorite and pulled it off, the news media is making a big deal out of it. Unfortunately, I think it’s a misplaced big deal.

I watched the replay of the ending several times on the Sunday Today show yesterday and have come to the conclusion that if that race had been three strides longer, Kentucky Derby winner Mine that Bird would have won, coming once again from way back in the pack. Mine that Bird was held up trying to get around other horses about three quarters of the way through the race but was closing extremely fast to pull to within a half a horse length and still closing fast before hitting the finish line.

Already building is the hype for the Belmont, which is three weeks away, if both horses do run again. The Belmont is a longer race than the Preakness. There’ll be no competition between them.

Interesting fact, though: The same jockey rode the winners in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. It was the first time a jockey had won both races on a different horse.

Finally this morning, I think Red Sox manager Terry Francona must have read my comment last week that it was time to re-evaluate David Ortiz and his poor performance so far this season. Big Papi was benched over the weekend. Unfortunately for me, I seriously and honestly doubt Francona has ever heard of Gator in Maine. I have nothing to say about the Celtics as I didn’t see the game.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

A planting weekend

Happy Weekend! As you know, I stay away from any heavy stuff during weekends and just mention some of the Gator family plans. For most people weekends are days of rest, family, and fun. There are five other days to give my rants and raves about things politic and stuff like that. And since the weekend post stays around for two days, news type situations could change and be outdated before the Monday discussions arrives.

So it is this weekend. The weather is sort of going to cooperate with us. Saturday will start out with very nice weather, cloud up during the day and bring some showers late in the day and overnight. Those showers won’t last too long into Sunday morning and there is just a possibility we’ll see some sunshine before the day is done.

Gator Daughter will be by late Saturday morning. She will, of course, have her golden retriever with her and that will give Gator Golden a chance to do some socializing with her sister. It is always fun to watch them romp, chase and tackle each other and never lose their cool.

GD will give our two vegetable gardens a final churn and then I believe shaved steak sandwiches with the appropriate complements, yea, condiments, too, will be the menu choice at lunch. The two ladies will then put the vegetable seeds into place. If the overnight showers are just that, showers, it’ll be a perfect beginning for a summer of good eats.

The wetness of the soil will determine whether the tomato, pepper, cucumber, summer squash, I think those are the ones GW has this year, get put into the ground Sunday or not. In fact the ground condition will determine if GD and her dog even come over Sunday. She’s thinking of trying a potato hill or two, too.

That sort of leaves me, doesn’t it? I completed the only outdoor chore I do Friday. I’m not a person who gets any enjoyment out of playing in the dirt. It hasn’t always been that way. When GW and I were first married back in the very early 1960s, her dad gave us several 40’ rows to plant and I was in his field every afternoon. GW canned, froze, and canned some more and we ate our own vegetables all winter long.

But those days are over. My main yard activity in these seasons is mowing the lawn and that chore was completed yesterday. It was started Thursday but my tractor doesn’t like to bag when the grass gets even a tiny hint of moisture. So I took the bagger off the machine and completed the mowing. Because I don’t have mulching blades, the clippings come out a side chute and really look awful on the lawn.

Our irrigation guy came by Friday morning and turned on the system and gave it a good check for leaks, etc. Since it did give a short watering to the lawn, I had to wait until Friday afternoon for it to dry. Then with bagger back in place, the machine became a vacuum cleaner. The lawn is now beautiful again.

Let’s see. You’ve read about my complaining about the snow blower in the winter and now the bagger. It may have a great reputation but there’s a good chance I’d neither recommend nor buy another green and yellow yard machine.

So, me for the weekend? I just might be able to find some sports on TV to watch. That’ll give me some time to try to plan for the week ahead. I hope you have a great weekend and I’ll be back with you Monday.


Friday, May 15, 2009

FF and Mrs. FF are on their way home

A possibility of some showers this weekend is the only blot on our weather for the next several days. In fact, with temperatures possibly in the 70s, today will be a rather nice one. At least it’s a good day for the irrigation company to turn on and tweak my system for the season.

I like today. My Fearless Friend and his wife will be heading north before this day is done. They’ve been in Florida since late February following his cataract surgery. They aren’t coming directly home as they’ve got two very important stops scheduled along the way. The first is in Jacksonville, just a few hours from his Central Florida home, where he’ll spend part of the weekend attending the wedding of his nephew.

That should put him just about a day’s ride to his second stop in Virginia to spend a couple days with his sister and her family. I expect FF will get back to Maine probably in mid-week. It’ll be several days while he unloads his van, gets food stuffs in, other necessary errands and chores completed and spends some time with his daughter and son, both of whom live right here in Maine, before I’ll get to sit with him and solve all the world’s problems.

It’s going to be really good seeing him again. Thanks to the internet and e-mail we’ve been in regular touch since he left and we really don’t have too much of the personal stuff to catch up on, but I’d bet he’ll have some stories about his stay that’ll bring out a laugh or two, perhaps even a groan.

Meanwhile, right here in the state our legislature continues on its merry way. The Appropriations Committee continues to seek ways to solve the state’s nearly $800-million revenue shortfall. Governor Baldacci has told the legislature he will not support any broad based tax increases and has asked the group to find ways to reduce spending.

The committee approved an across the board 5% pay cut for all state employees except in the Judiciary division. The Committee members felt that the across the board cut would be the fairest rather than having to pick and choose a pecking order. They also thought the cut would be easier on the employees than forcing unpaid holidays or a monthly one day state shutdown. That sounds like the fairest way to do it.

The cuts, if ultimately approved by the full legislature, would take effect Oct. 1st. The head of workers’ union says the cuts will create hardships on the employees.

Also being considered by the Committee is a proposal for the employees to pay for part of the health insurance cost. Currently state employees get the insurance as a benefit.

Many years ago I was an officer in a union. I think we would have taken a dim view of a one-sided change in our contract without any benefit of negotiation. I think we probably would have at the very least challenged the legality of unilateral changes to a contract. It did appear, however, that the union leadership was willing to accept the change for the short term. This change, however, may not have finished its journey.

The legislature continues to tinker with education. A proposal to track student progress by Social Security number is now up for consideration. Lawmakers were assured student data would be secure and parents could withhold their children’s SS number. If a tracking number is needed, I think it would be just as easy to develop a unique number for each student using a format similar to the SS number. Perhaps something like the year of expected graduation, a number designating a county or school district, and one for a birth day, something like 09-331-041691-xx where the xx would designate a unique number, would work.

That might be a little cumbersome, but it’s a suggestion. I’m not sure as a parent I’d want my kids SS number in yet another place to be tracked. I came up with my suggestion in a minute. With just a little work, I think the state could be more efficient. The tracking system is required if the state wants to get education stimulus money from the federal government.

Here’s one from the Feds that will get you all excited. Thanks in part to our Sen. Susan Collins, today is one for celebration. It’s the national Endangered Species Day. The hope is to raise awareness about threats to various species. Tell me that isn’t something special.

Finally, the season is over for the Boston Bruins. They were eliminated from the NHL divisional playoffs last night by Carolina. Actually, I think they were eliminated in a win the other night when they played the third quarter only trying to hold on to a lead for a win. They did succeed, but lost any fire they had had earlier and that fire didn’t return last night. The Boston Celtics continue for one more game after a loss last night tied their best of seven series with Orlando at three. And the Red Sox lost. One statement I really hate to make is it may be time to re-evaluate Big Papi.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just one of "those" days!

We started this day a little earlier than usual. There’s no particular reason for that, I guess; it just happened. Dawn is dawning with a beautiful sunshine. But the day is expected to be cooler than normal for this time of year and we are told the winds this afternoon have the potential of power outages, especially in all but the southwest coastal areas.

The air is dry, though, so that means my senior fitness session went well. I now am regularly riding the stationary bike for 30 minutes, a far cry from the three or four minutes I was able to ride it just a few weeks ago. I do get somewhat bored even though we are watching either The Today Show on NBC or SportsCenter on ESPN, depending who turns the TV on first. My legs continue to get tired, but I don’t get winded. The rest of my routine also went well this morning, and I’ll credit the sunny, dry weather for that. (For honesty’s sake, I must tell you I added this one paragraph after I got home. The rest was written before I left.)

Today is one of those really bad ones for me. I tried last night to get motivated on something, anything, but nothing came. I awoke during the night and again tried to find some motivation. None came. Senior Fitness didn’t help. Driving to the session, during it, and coming home left my “think” vacant.

Oh, oh! I have a friend down in Florida who will grab that last line and gently ask me, “When wasn’t it vacant?” Perhaps I’ll defuse that one and send him an email telling him not to bother reading today. That should do it.

It’s not like nothing has happened locally, in Augusta, or in Washington that’s worth discussing. It’s just that nothing has grabbed my attention. Earlier this week, I had planned an essay on a foolish Maine legislature proposal to ban RVs from parking overnight free in various parking lots like the ones at Wal-Marts. The legislature beat me to the punch and killed the bill.

Always on the slate is the Maine budget which is in terrible shape with a huge revenue shortfall. But hearings and discussions are continuing on it in Augusta and I’m not there. I could listen to it on line, but just sitting here trying to follow a budget debate which I can’t see just doesn’t sound like too much of an exciting time.

The Maine House did kill a bill yesterday that would have allowed Mainers to seek health insurance out of state. Proponents of that proposal say it would lower our staggering health insurance costs by allowing people to shop around. Opponents said it would take protections away from Mainers if they ran into problems with an out-of-state carrier. That’s about all I know about that one.

The legislature is saying state workers must take cuts, including paying for part of their insurance and taking unpaid holidays. There’s more to the discussion, but seems to me there just might be a contract issue with the plan so I don’t feel I can adequately discuss it. I’m not a lawyer but I do recall reading about an attempted change in a contract between a Maine town and its employees. The court said, “Unh-unh” on that one.

Washington is so screwed up I can’t add anything to that debacle. But we’re going to be paying big time when universal health comes about. You’ll be taxed almost out of existence to pay for it. Ask your Canadian friends how much they pay in taxes.

A little bird flew over last evening and dropped a note suggesting I put my college major to use and discuss the plight of American newspapers and news outlets. The note did remind me I’ve touched upon the subject in the past, but to do any justice to a topic like that would really require a lot more research than I have time for this morning. I think I can say simply, “There are precious few real news organizations around anymore. About all that’s left, with the exception of a few local weeklies, are one-sided liberal, socialized repeaters.”

There is one really good piece of news that interests me. Tomorrow is D-Day for my Fearless Friend and his wife. They’ll begin the trek back home to Maine with a short stop to attend a wedding and another short stop to visit with his sister along the way, but FF and Mrs. FF should be home next week. It’s going to be really good to have them home. I’ll bet their kids will find it even more so.

That will complete the homecomings of my snow bird friends. My other Wednesday Lunch Group friend who lives in Florida arrived home earlier this week. It’ll be good to have the full complement of retirees at the next last Wednesday of the Month luncheon.

No promises, but I’ll try to do better tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A necessary election?

Yesterday turned out to be a great day in my little part of the world. The sun was out all day, the temperatures were comfortable, and it looks like an even nicer day today. This is the spring weather Maine is all about.

Cities and town have undergone what I would think is a needless expense because of a school consolidation law enacted last year by the state. As a result of that law, voters must give their approval of a school budget before it is finally enacted. The problem I see is more often than not, as in yesterday’s voting procedure, is that because of mandated time tables the voting must take place often with nothing else on the ballot.

That was the case in my town yesterday, as well as the neighboring communities that also held their votes yesterday. There is a pretty big expense to holding elections, and even with just the one question on the ballot, yesterday’s was no exception. The state, however, says we must make this expenditure even in these tight times.

In just another month, the annual June elections will be held, and like yesterday’s with very little for the voters to decide, that too will be a costly day.

Voters don’t generally turn down school budgets, whether in full elections or in town meetings. There have been some communities that have told their elected leaders to cut, but most of the time proposed spending plans are accepted. That was the case yesterday in the three communities that received any publicity about school budget voting.

The sad part is, however, the turnout. I don’t know how many voters are registered in the three communities, but in Portland only 2102 registered voters took the time to make a choice, 2300 in Cape Elizabeth made the trip to the polls, and fewer than 1100 voted in Scarborough. Those numbers make a very expensive per vote cost.

To me, though, the even sadder part is that such a few members of the communities took the time to fulfill their opportunity, their obligation, their right, their privilege to vote. Gator Wife and I did cast our ballots but the line certainly didn’t hold us up one second. I’m proud that I’ve only missed one election of any type since I could first vote back in the 1950s and that was last year’s school budget. I didn’t know it was being held.

Switching gears just a little, remember that massive class action lawsuit filed against the Hannaford food chain for the credit cart breach in 2007? I don’t think the lawyers are going to get rich on that one. A federal judge has tossed out all claims except one saying they were just an inconvenience as the breach didn’t cost those people anything except a little time. We all go through inconveniences every day. The one remaining deals with a woman whose bank did not reimburse her.

Another switch and it’s a “who cares?” type of switch. With all the budget woes we’re facing in Augusta the Legislature continues to work on bills that probably won’t solve any problems. The House has approved a measure that would require lobbyists to wear name tags that include the name of the person or group they’re representing. I’d bet there are very few, if any, lobbyists wandering the halls in Augusta that the legislators don’t know or know about. Seems to me this is just another “feel good” piece of legislation trying to fool us into thinking the legislators are accomplishing something for our good.

Aren’t we all just happy that Carrie Prejean will remain Miss California? Donald Trump says her nudity on the internet isn’t a breach of her contract that says she will not and has not posed in the nude. Her real difficulty came when she got into a debate with a Miss America judge about her support for marriage being between one man and one woman. Trump says that Miss PreJean has a right to her opinions, too. Donald Trump owns the pageant.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just catching up on some 'stuff'

The sun is out this morning and a beautiful day dawned. The weather guy says it won’t last and we’ll be seeing an increase in clouds later in the day with a chance of some shower activity. What’s new? Well, one thing is the nice weather in the morning makes for a nice day at my senior fitness session. You read before that when we have nice weather all goes well there, and it did today as well.

The removal of railroad tracks at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Marginal Way in Portland began last night. I think this is an interesting event because somewhere along the line, I’ve missed something. The last time I read about the Downeaster, I was under the impression a new station was being planned for the Bayside area.

I thought I had read that the tracks would then continue along an existing railroad trestle after some upgrading past the Burnham and Morrill plant and then on to Brunswick and eventually beyond. If the state is now removing those tracks across that intersection, a serious damper is being placed to what I thought were the plans.

I’m surprised at myself for missing that change.

We’ve known for quite some time that the casino in Maine debate was far from over. That knowledge was reinforced a couple months ago when a western Maine legislator introduced a bill to the legislature to allow a casino in that area. One had been planned there during the last statewide vote on Maine casinos. Along with the other proposals, it was defeated by the voters.

This time the legislator introduced the bill without a statewide citizen vote, but the voters of a proposed town would have to approve. I don’t remember how those townspeople voted last time, but I think it was narrowly defeated. In any case, the legislator is saying, “To heck with the citizens’ vote. I want a casino.”

A legislative committee discussed the bill yesterday and deadlocked five to five on deciding if it ought to pass” or not. As a result it will go to the full legislature without recommendation for a full debate. It will be interesting to see if the full legislature will go against the wishes of the people or not. I wouldn’t be surprised at anything this current bunch would do.

Governor Baldacci has signed into law another in a long list of specialty license plates for Maine. This new plate is for animal rights. I saw a picture of one on the Baltimore Sun web site and it is a rather nice looking plate. The plate was designed by Maine adoptions leaders and includes a cat, dog, rabbit, horse, and bird. Along the bottom of the plate replacing “Vacationland” are the words, “Respect, Love, Adopt.”

Like all Maine specialty plates this one will cost you an additional $20 for the first year and $15 at each renewal. After the state takes its share, half the remainder will go to supporting Maine animal welfare and half will go to the state’s neutering program.

High school graduation requirements and the way schools make up storm days have also been topics in Augusta. The Education Committee held a public hearing yesterday on a proposal to change the credits needed to graduate. As usual, some praised the changes while others said the state would take a step backward.

Basically, the bill would give students some choices on what they want to study in high school to best meet their perspectives of what’s important for their future plans. English, Math, science, and social studies would still be required. Students would then choose a fifth area of their choice. The choices would include arts, health, world languages, or a career study. Students would also take other courses, but they wouldn’t need as much proficiency for credit.

It has been a very long time since I was a high school student, but since high school I’ve changed my career choices several times. In high school I would have had a hard time deciding on which programs would best meet my future needs. I wonder what has changed so that today’s students have that knowledge. Perhaps the Department of Education is just trying to find a way to cover up its previous curriculum screwups.

The Governor has signed into law a bill that gives school districts some flexibility in making up “storm days.” Most districts currently build additional days into their schedules to allow for some storm-closed school days, but occasionally they have to go beyond those days and add to make up no school days. As I understand it, generally is one make-up for one closing.

The new law changes the make-up requirements from days to hours giving the districts the flexibility of adding time to existing days so that students are not still in school at the end of June. Is this a good change? I don’t know; I guess we’ll just have to see how the districts address the loss time make up.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Census underway; you are being 'marked'

We awoke this morning to cloudiness. Unsettled weather is forecast for Maine for much of this week, although today in our corner should be mostly sunny. Our weekend was uneventful, but Gator Daughter did spend part of a very windy, cloudy, and rainy Sunday honoring her mother. Even though they couldn’t do outside stuff, it was a good visit.

The census which will be conducted in 2010 has begun. You are being marked by GPS. I got marked last Saturday when a young lady stopped by to ask just two questions, but that probably wasn’t the purpose of her visit. She was carrying a GPS recorder and while standing on our front steps talking with Gator Wife, pressed the button which logged the location of our house forever via GPS (Global Positioning System).

GPS is a series of satellites that can track a location by just a few feet for us peons and within inches for government operations. People who have those portable gadgets to find their way or who have a computer program to guide them (as I do) depend on GPS.

And now the U.S. Census Bureau, a part of the Department of Commerce, is depending on them to get an accurate picture of where people live and how many are living there. That information will be used primarily to establish new national election districts for Congress once the 2010 census is completed.

President Obama has also hired the Democrat support group Acorn to assist. It is unclear what Acorn will do in the process, but it has been accused of massive voter fraud in the last election. Some of its members have even gone to jail over the fraud. It is curious why that organization would be included in this official census.

The two questions, designed I would assume solely to keep the canvasser on the front steps long enough to get the GPS coordinates recorded, were simply, was (and she read the address off her clipboard) the correct address for this house? And were we (referring, of course, to GW and me) the only people living in the house? With the coordinates recorded, she thanked us and left. Seems to me the census was now already taken, too.

She did give us a half sheet of paper written in English on one side and in Spanish on the other explaining the upcoming census and how all our answers would be confidential under penalty of law. I guess the GPS coordinates aren’t included in that information.

There is an interesting discussion of the canvassing on one of the forums I like to read. The comments on As Maine Goes run from one poster who says this canvassing is a presidential plot to give more individual control to the government to others who say it is all legitimate. The original poster cites many news links (which you can get by reading the forum) to back up his argument. If you get only the home page, then click the “Public Square” link in the right corner.

It was, according to at least one of the articles, one of the reasons New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg declined the Obama offer of being the Commerce Secretary. He learned that Obama wanted to take the Census Bureau out of the Commerce Department and put it under the control of the White House. That takes all semblance of impartiality in the census process away. The President later backed down from this plan.

Question: Last week the Legislature passed a law, now signed by the governor that has banned button cell batteries that contain mercury beginning in 2011. Why are these batteries banned yet the same legislature and governor encourage the use of CFL light bulbs which also contain mercury and have a much higher chance of breaking and getting mercury into the air? I often think no one in Augusta has a single clue as to what they are doing. I am concerned as I hope to still be around in 2011 and I wear two hearing aids which require button cell batteries.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

It's a Mom's Weekend!

Oh boy. Another weekend is here. That means we’ll have another few hours with our daughter who spends many of them with us. Of course the weather will be the ultimate control over her coming or not. If it rains much, she doesn’t like a soggy doggy roaming around the house. The early forecast for Saturday is for some sunny skies for just a little while, then the clouds will roll in with the chance of showers throughout the afternoon and even some thunder showers Saturday evening.

Sunday isn’t expected to be very nice with showers and very windy conditions as a low front passes through our area. I have written about those weather forecasts for a long time now, and I’ve learned the best forecaster is the weather itself whenever it happens.

Our weekend activities are about to begin as I write this. It’s Saturday morning and in just a few minutes, Gator Wife and I will be heading to the town dump to take advantage of a once-a-year day when we can take just about any non-hazardous waste from appliances to furniture to yard brush and just about anything in between to a dumping spot.

We can rid our home of everything and all we can get into the vehicle, whether it be a car, SUV, pickup truck. I liked it better when we had the roadside pickup at our house, but this is a decent alternative. We packed GW’s SUV last night and we couldn’t get another toothpick into it. There’s barely enough room for the two of us.

The rest of Saturday remains a puzzle. Gator Daughter wants to wait at her home in the morning so she can mow her lawn once it dries enough. We’re hoping she can get it done in time to come at least for some lunch and a little visit time with us and so our dogs can get a good romp and play time together. Of course it depends entirely on the weather.

Sunday is even more of a puzzle as once again we’ll be in the hands of the weather gods. Nice weather equals a visit and possibly some garden work. Not so nice weather…well, we’ll have to wait and see. We do know that GD will be here at least for a while, probably through lunch, so she can honor her mother on Mother’s Day. Mother and daughter have developed a great relationship, even though GD tells us that there were times she ‘hated’ her mother (and me, too) when she was a teenager. I guess it goes with the territory.

We probably will get a phone call from our son from the west coast, too. He usually doesn’t miss holidays, birthdays, etc.

While I’m on the topic, let me wish the mother of my children a great day Sunday and to Mothers everywhere, I hope you are blessed with a very happy Mother’s Day.

Speaking of mowing the lawn, we got ours done Friday. Because of all the forecasts all week that said every day would have showers at least until next Tuesday, we didn’t anticipate giving the lawn a shave until at least then. But the Gator homestead had nothing but sunshine all day. By noontime, we were able to get outside and get some unbelievably long grass cut. The weather was absolutely beautiful.

The phone was ringing when GW and I came inside. Gator Daughter informed us it was raining cats and dogs and she was having thunder and lightning at her house. In spite of the suggestion one not make calls during a thunder storm, she wanted to be sure we were O.K. We were; we weren’t getting any storm.

That’s what the Gator weekend looks like and we plan on making the best of it. I hope you make the best of yours, too, and join me again when I return here Monday morning.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Gay Marriage, A Governor's Race?, Dump Day, Goodbye, Dom

Surprise, surprise! We have sunshine this morning. It’s beautiful. Unfortunately rain or showers are heading our way once again.

As we mentioned earlier this week when the Maine Legislature passed the gay marriage bill and within moments signed by Governor Baldacci, a petition drive would be coming to overturn the new law via a people’s veto. Minutes after the governor signed the bill, the people’s veto option was put into high gear.

By yesterday a formal application for petitions had been filed with the Secretary of State. A coalition of opponents and opposition groups needs to get more than 55,000 signatures of registered Maine voters within 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature, sooner to make the November ballot.

In 29 other states, according to the Wall Street Journal, popular vote has defeated the same sex marriage bill which is why the gay community turned to legislative action and the courts to get such measures passed. They have been successful in four New England states, via courts in Connecticut and Massachusetts and the legislatures in Vermont and Maine, with a bill pending in New Hampshire. Rhode Island has yet to join the fray.

Courts in Iowa and California also legalized gay marriage, but a popular vote in California overrode the courts. I hate to mention what polls show as polls generally only show what the pollsters want them to show, often depending on who’s paying for the poll. But at least one poll shows 54% of Americans oppose gay marriage which may be why the gay community chooses not to go the popular vote route. But please take that poll result with the same grain of salt I take all polls with.

Nevertheless, if the petitioners are successful, we can look forward to a very active, loud, contentious off-year election season. This issue would totally overshadow absolutely anything else the voters will face.

Speaking of elections, we’re still more than a year and a half away from the next governor’s election. Yet one Republican has already announced his candidacy. With no previous elected office experience, Matt Jacobson has tossed his hat into the battle that doesn’t yet exist. It’s probably a good thing as I’ve never heard of him and I’d bet many Republicans haven’t, either. He may need all this time to get us to know who he is.

We have learned from the news that he is a CEO of a private management company that specializes in bringing jobs to Maine. We certainly do need jobs in this state. But, Holy Smokes, this is just a wee bit early in my opinion. I suspect all Republicans, and Mainers in general, will wait until we know who else, if anyone, will be up for consideration.

Governor Baldacci will be termed out and cannot run again.

Tomorrow is what I guess one might call “Open Dump Day” when all residents in our town can tote any unwanted trash, such as appliances, dead TV’s, toasters, and such stuff to the dump. Prove you’re a resident of the town, pay a very small fee, and your stuff is made gone. Yard brush, well, just about anything non-hazardous can be eliminated.

The town will have a hazardous dump day I think next week or the week after. I didn’t jot down the date because we don’t have anything we need to dump in this one, but three towns are participating in the hazardous day.

Gator Wife has been doing some spiffy cleaning for the past week. I don’t think there’s a dead stick, bush or tree remnant, or weedy things left anywhere on our property. Yesterday afternoon and today she “packaged” the stuff up in lawn waste bags so we could easily pack it in the back of her SUV. Those bags will make it easier to unload the car as well, but they will have to be individually dumped as I don’t think the town will accept the yard waste in the bags.

We’ll also be putting a dead TV and a broken folding chair in the vehicle for disposal. We’ll pack the car tonight and have it already for early tomorrow morning. We’ll head for the dump long before it opens as past experience has shown us that it will be a very long line of cars/pickup trucks taking advantage of the day.

Last year, the facility was extremely well-organized and there were ample workers there to direct us to the various dump areas. One drives into the facility and is directed on the route to take to get rid of all that’s in the vehicle as each of our three items will be discarded in different places. If my memory is any good at all, there were about six different areas last year.

And that will be how our weekend begins tomorrow morning.

Before I go this morning, I’d like to say goodbye to one of my heroes when I was a much younger lad. Boston Red Sox outfielder Dom DiMaggio passed early this morning. He played in the shadows of his brother Joe of the New York Yankees and fellow Red Sox great Ted Williams, but those of us who were around remember him as one of the Red Sox’s great outfielders.

Dom DiMaggio was 92 years old. May he rest in peace.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shrink the house

Simple weather remark: Rain. It should be leaving the Greater Portland area later in the morning and we could see some sunshine in the afternoon while we patiently wait for tomorrow’s rain. As I say frequently on senior fitness days, my old body is affected by wet weather and that was true today. I successfully completed my routines, my body protested, and I didn’t add anything new today. C’est la vie!

I’m absolutely not sure whether a measure given initial approval in the Maine House of Representatives is an honest attempt to lower the cost of government and make it more efficient or a smoke screen to make Mainers think the House members care.

In any event, the House has said it might approve an amendment to the state Constitution to reduce its membership size. That preliminary endorsement would, if ultimately passed as is, reduce the number of the House districts from 151, the present number, to 131. There have been calls to reduce the size of the Legislature for several years as it is one of the larger ones in the country for the state’s population size.

Most calls have been for more than the 20 now proposed, but it is a start. The size of the Senate, however, would not be affected if the change ever does come to pass. The call for fewer than the current 35 state senators has also been made, but that is not part of the House plan.

I haven’t seen any projected dollar reductions connected to the measure, but at least the House members seem to be recognizing that the size of Maine’s government is part of the budget problem in the state. Once they can connect the dots on that recognition, then a start on cutting other governmental areas could also begin. What a wonderful development that would be.

More action by House members is needed before the measure can be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Look at that face. Gator Golden seems to be patiently
waiting at the doorway to the den. If she could think
in English, I think she might be thinking, “Dad, why are
you always sitting there with that computer. I need you
to spend some time playing with me.”

There are times when I wish my courage to try new things was even half as strong as that of my Fearless Friend. He sent me an email the other day from his Florida home about the new operating system that Microsoft Corporation is now releasing. The company is making Microsoft 7 Release Candidate available for beta testing.

Microsoft 7 is the latest greatest operating system which the company hopes will solve all the problems and poor ratings of its XP and current VISTA systems. The new system will be on sale to the public either late fall or early next year. The RC will automatically expire in June, 2010, with a nightmare of warnings, such as bi-hourly automatic shutdowns beginning two weeks earlier, as it closes its usefulness.

You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with FF. In his email to me he said he’s been reading about the RC on a variety of sources he follows regularly. They’ve all been extremely positive reviews. I have read similar reviews myself along with a warning that no new Microsoft release should be adopted for at least six months after its release. FF agreed with that assessment.

Nevertheless, he’s considering trying the RC on an old computer he has when he returns home to Maine later this month. He would like to see for himself how it fits in with his computing needs. I urged him to give it a try as I’d like his report on it.

Well I can’t get that darned “trying” off my mind. I currently have three computers in use in my house and one of them just might fit the minimum requirements for Microsoft 7 RC. It currently is operating under the XP system, but it really needs a good cleaning. Perhaps loading the beta on it would give me an idea, too, of how it compares with VISTA, which I have on my laptop. The third computer is my main one, also with Windows XP.

Unfortunately for me I lack FF’s “just do it” attitude. Hmmmm. He’ll be home in a few weeks. I wonder if I could talk him into spending some time at my house. Now that’s something to ponder.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gay Marriage, Menus, Tax loopholes

The weather is easy to describe today. Rain. And not much will change until at least late next Monday. My lawn is going to require a scythe to cut the grass.

Both houses in the Maine Legislature have passed the same sex marriage law. Only two steps remain and at least one of them is expected to happen today. The Senate gave preliminary approval last week followed by House yesterday. It’s back in the Senate today for final passage and since that body has already given its approval once, there’s no reason to think it won’t repeat it today. (Edited at 11:30 AM -- The Senate has given final approval today. The measure now goes to the governor.)

Then the measure goes on to Gov. Baldacci for his signature. He will have ten days to either sign the measure or veto it. He has said in the past that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman and has not signed similar measures unless they included a provision for a statewide vote. The law passed this year does not. (Edited at 1:30 to add: Governor Baldacci has signed into law the gay marriage bill.)

The governor hasn’t said how he will treat this new law, but speculation is that he has stuck his finger into the air, felt how the wind is blowing, and probably will sign it. That probably won’t be the end of the issue, however, as a couple of groups have joined together to begin a people’s veto petition drive to repeal the law if the governor signs it. They will wait until after the signing to begin. The group will have 90 days after the end of the legislative session later this month to gather almost 56-thousand signatures.

If they get them by the first week of September, the question could be on the November ballot, or if they get them by the near end of September, it won’t make it until next June. Also, if the drive is successful, the law’s implementation will be held until after the vote.

Anyone opposed to this law had better get their feelings to the governor right away.

There’s another new law making its way through the legislature, a law I think is a waste of legislative time and money. It would place another expensive burden of Maine’s food industry by requiring menus and menu boards on walls to include nutritional information on the various offerings. There are many people who say such a requirement would help fight obesity in children and the health of adults by giving them choices.

I seriously doubt few people going into a fast food restaurant to buy a hamburger, for example, already don’t know it isn’t diet food. I honestly don’t believe many people will read that information on menus and then make decisions on which food to buy. I can only speak for myself here, but if I go into a restaurant, I already know what food is being served and, more often than not, know what I’m going have when I get there.

I have my favorite eating places for various kinds of food and nothing about the nutrition value of those foods will change that. The place to educate both ourselves and our kids is in the home. Teach them proper nutrition there and they just may make nutritional choices when they eat out. Meanwhile, our state government is giving business yet another expensive reason to make decisions as they attempt to do business in this state.

Speaking of businesses, I received an e-mail from my Fearless Friend yesterday which pointed out an interesting thought about President Obama’s vow to close the tax loopholes on companies that do business off shore and hide money from taxes. The President says he will close loopholes and raise taxes on those companies.

FF points out that history shows us that those companies will just find other loopholes or new ways to hide their money. The current administration pays no attention to history, however, as it has shown us through all the spending and welfare enhancements it has already passed. We don’t have to look too far into history to see that government has never succeeded with bailouts, stimuli, oppressive corporate laws, etc., to fix economies or the way of life.

History taught us nothing about the 1930s or the 1960/70s for example. We seem to refuse to look into the past to learn about the future. FF pointed out to me that the solutions are very simple: just lower the taxes to match the off shore places and there would be no need to find loopholes. The companies would save money, the government would get more money and everyone would be happy.

Every time government has lowered taxes, it has taken in more revenue. Congress, however, has looked at all that new money, created more ways to spend it faster than it comes in, and then complains that lowering of taxes doesn’t work. There will come a time, and I hope it’s soon, the American people will demand a return to more responsible government.

FF took one last shot, but mostly at us for allowing the growth of government: Oh yes, so soon I forget. Then he would have no talking points and couldn’t blame business for all the troubles of the world and get all those votes from the stupid people.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Pleasure of a Pup

Rain. Showers. That’s about it for the rest of this week. It wasn’t raining as I headed out to my senior fitness session this morning. But it was cloudy and the rain was right on our doorstep. That, of course, affected these old, fragile bones and joints. I hate putting myself through the workout when the weather is like this. So, how did I respond? I showed them who’s boss and increased the time, speed and distance on the stationary bike.

I’m “pooped” this morning, whoops, “physically exhausted” is a nicer way of putting it, but I seem to be finding working through the weather is becoming much more tolerable.

I got an e-mail from a friend I trust yesterday who gave me some light “devil” for what he said was a pessimistic post yesterday. I can’t change the events of the world no matter how much I think both Maine and the nation are not heading in a right direction. All I can do is offer my usually unsubstantiated thoughts and feelings about those events. As my profile over to the side says, sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, but my opinions are mine.

I am totally right about one thing, though. Dogs are great to have around and bring a whole lot of happiness and pleasure to a family.

This is the little girl who brings all that pleasure and
happiness to this household. Golden Gator has
a sister who does the same for our daughter.
It is just wonderful watching them play together.

Most breeds accomplish the same thing for households that adopt them. The key is simply the way they’re treated by their humans. There are some breeds that have bad reputations, but most experts will tell you that in families offering a lot of love and tender care, those breeds also can be wonderful companions.

The Golden Retriever, though, like most of the retriever/lab breeds, has just one simple goal in life: bring pleasure and happiness to its owner. GG is the fourth Golden in our family and all of them have succeeded in their goals.

A certain, large round ball is what she’s staring at
here. Her predicament is she’s on the deck and the
ball isn’t.

It is only fair that I point out that many people prefer kitty cats. From what I’ve read elsewhere, those folks feel about the same about their pets as we puppy dog owners do. I also think cats are cute, except, perhaps, a 150 pound feral cat that roams our neighborhood.

A couple weekends ago I showed you a picture of Gator Wife’s round garden, one of several flower gardens she has in our yard and around the house. She still hasn’t done a thing to it this year except remove the loose stuff that accumulated since last fall. She and GD had planned to work in it this weekend, but GD was unable to come Saturday and the two gardeners worked on other plans during the Sunday visit.

Among them, the two vegetable plots were tilled once again. One more tilling will take place next weekend, but they actually could be planted with the vegetable seeds and seedlings just about any time. Knowing GW, I’d bet she’s waiting just a little longer to be sure we won’t get one last frost this spring. We usually can’t count on any happening until after May’s full moon.

This is where it stands now:

GW says she’s got some work to do next fall
to move some of those white bulbs around.

I have learned one thing about cameras. You may recall my old one expired last winter so GW bought me a new one for Christmas. I picked it out, so I’m not in any way blaming her, but we got one that had no eye piece to look through for framing, etc. This one only has the screen on back. I’ve grown to hate it this spring as when the sun is out nice and bright, I absolutely cannot see what the picture I’m taking looks like.

I’m going to spend some time with the instruction manual to see if there’s a way to correct this ridiculous situation.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Flu, Taxes, Arctic Melting

A nice beginning to the week. The sun is shining this morning, but clouds should be increasing before the day is over. Soon we’ll enter a mostly showery week right into next weekend. Wednesday may be dry.

A good supply of flu medication arrived in Maine Saturday night and President Obama has asked Congress to set aside 1.5 billion dollars for future possible crises. But it appears as if this current flu scare was, as we suspected, more political and news media hype than reality. Reports Sunday were that the epidemic was slowing down in Mexico, the hardest hit country.

Speaking of the flu, did you read over the weekend that after his gaffe last week telling everyone he would recommend people not travel in confined places like planes, trains, and buses, Vice President Biden went home for the weekend. He lives in Delaware. How’d he travel? Yup. On an Amtrak train.

As he promised, and he did it in the morning, last Friday Gov. Baldacci released his plan to close up the almost six million dollar revenue shortfall for the state. That shortfall includes more than a million dollars that had to be cut from the current budget which expires in less than two months. Unfortunately, his plan did not make long range changes. He almost has the currently projected shortfall covered, but it’s mostly through stop gap measures, some of which could force municipalities to increase property taxes.

There were some program budget cuts and state workers will take a pretty big hit, but as legislative Republican leaders said over the weekend, the governor only left the real problem for the next governor and legislature to solve. The governor apparently has relied heavily on the state’s Rainy Day Fund and stimulus money to cover his plan for the immediate future.

The Republicans would like to see some major program spending changes such as bring Maine into line with federal guidelines for welfare programs.

The Rainy Day Fund is designed to pay for emergency situations and I’d guess the current budget crisis might be considered one. I wonder if enough will be left for the forest fire season or next year’s storm season or, even though it isn’t turning out to be an emergency, something like a the current so-called flu epidemic.

I also have to wonder how using ‘stimulus’ money is stimulating anything? Seems to me it’s misnamed; should be “bailout” money. What will Maine’s government do when those funds all run out? Hmmm? Tax us out of our funds?

For some inexplicable reason, the Maine Heritage Policy Center has endorsed the governor’s plan. As I read the release, it’s primarily because the plan adheres to the governor’s no tax increase pledge. I guess that outfit isn’t concerned with the future, either. I could be wrong as I only read through the release quickly.

Speaking of taxes, there was a report over the weekend that many of us might be in for a surprise when next year’s income tax time rolls around. Seems the tax reduction was only to be $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples. (There’s a difference there?) The IRS apparently goofed on the new withholding tables and many people will discover that more than the allowed amounts will have been taken out of paychecks. Guess what? You guessed it. The money will have to be paid back at income tax time next April.

NASA has released a report where it says, yes, people are responsible for the arctic warming. Only it isn’t the CO2 and stuff being released into the air but rather its clean air laws we have to live under. Those requirements are causing an unnatural balance in nature which, according to NASA, is the real culprit in any warming trend. I first saw that article either last Friday or Saturday.

We alluded to it Friday that the passage of the same sex marriage law in Maine would lead to an attempt for a People’s Veto to overturn in. Over the weekend we learned that indeed Michael Heath of the Maine Family Policy Council will initiate such an attempt if the law gets signed by Gov. Baldacci. He will have 90 days from the closing of the legislature to get nearly 55,100 signatures to force a referendum. He would need those signatures by Sept. 3 or 4 for the question to be on the November ballot, or a couple weeks later to meet the 90 day deadline for a June ballot question.

It was a busy weekend for politicos.