Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Special Interests:" the other side of the coin

I attended an event in Portland today at which a major player from the Washington DC area discussed the state of the Health Care "reform" shenanigans going on as we speak.

In the midst of his discussion, I had one of those moments of "clarity," or an epiphany of sorts. You've probably all realized what I'm about to discuss, but I hadn't thought of it in quite these terms.

We have all heard of "special interests" who manipulate the otherwise scrupulously honest elected officials in Washington by lavishing money and assorted other goodies upon them. And we've all been told that whether we realize it or not, we ALL belong to one "special interest" group or another. Some would even say that those who just want government to leave them alone have a "special," or unique interest.

Special interests, of course, are those things that can be catered to to curry favor; think labor unions, "big oil," etc. Most often, "pandered" is a better word than "catered" in such cases.

Today, however, it was made very clear that the flip side of being a special interest that expects to be pandered to is a special interest that can be blackmailed just as easily.

Case in point: the AMA. That's the association that represents MD's and lobbies for it's own interests as distinct from everyone elses'. When it says that it won't support the proposed legislation because of a certain provision, they find themselves vulnerable to blackmail. All the "congressional leaders" have to say is "fine; you don't support the bill, we will lower Medicare reimbursement levels by 20%."

Just like that, all of a sudden the AMA supports the proposed legislation, because they have to protect their own interests, even if they fly in the face of the interests of the greater public.

This is what we have become. This is how we are governed. There is no "special interest" group representing the interests of the public at large, or the country overall, or demanding faithfullness to the Constitution and oath of office.

So groups are bought off one by one; Senators and Representatives are bought off one by one, and the American system slips into a death spiral. And when they refuse to be bought off, out comes the other side of the coin: blackmail.

How easily can your vote be bought? How easily can you be blackmailed?

I suggest we all reflect on that as we ponder where our country and our future are headed.

We hear a lot about "the common good." In view of the foregoing, the concept is pure "poppycock," used more often than not to stimulate support for exactly the opposite. The next time you hear the term used, be skeptical, be very skeptical.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

News from Lake Basebegone, Dec 15, 2009

It's been a quiet several weeks in Lake Basebegone, where all the politicians are above average, all the Subarus are good looking and well groomed, and all the Volvos are strong and courageous.

There hasn't been any news to speak of on the Base Redevelopment front, especially as it relates to Oxford Aviation and that hot skitch of theirs, F. Lee Bailey. Come to think of it though, the absence of "news" is news in and of itself.

Someone more cynical than this reporter, in a fit of Diogenistic speculation, might suspect that the Oxford caper is turning to class C biosolids right before the MRRA's eyes, and the best way for any government agency to deal with such a daymare is to ignore the reality and hope it goes away without anyone noticing.

That same someone might suggest that the resignation of Shep Lee from the MRRA is a "tell." As reported in a local paper,

Lee, the owner of a group of Maine auto dealerships, wrote in a letter to Baldacci of his role on the MRRA board: “Frankly, I am not finding it interesting.”

There's an explanation I don't recall seeing before! Lee is clearly one of Maine's economic movers and shakers, and the least we can expect the governor to do is make his participation "interesting."

Sinking ship analogies don't seem appropriate in this case, but Lee's departure casts new light on that of John Richardson, Brunswick's own favorite son. There's no doubt that John is ambitious and aspires to higher office. Ostensibly, Richardson had to leave his post on the MRRA and his role as czar of Community and Economic Development for the state, because he wanted to join a field of 20 plus candidates seeking the Blaine House.

Again, someone more cynical than this reporter could not be blamed if they saw John's move as the cleanest way to escape the looming failure of an Oxford Aviation deal. And a way to avoid having to reveal the multiple "Fortune 500 company" prospects going on beneath those pesky "protocols" he called for.

But in keeping with Other Side's reputation, this reporter will not publicly sign on to such speculation. Instead, we will seek other ways to elevate the discourse you've come to expect.

Before ending this post, there are a nugget or two worth passing on.

Oxford Aviation Update

One of our field reporters passed along this recent item from Maine Biz:

Oxford Aviation, county back in court

A long-simmering dispute between Oxford County and Oxford Aviation, an aircraft refurbishing company that leases facilities at the county-run airport, is before Oxford County Superior Court again.

The company is seeking a summary judgment in its favor in a breach of contract charge filed in August 2008 against the county, which Oxford Aviation claims has not honored its obligation to keep the facility in good repair, according to the Sun Journal. The company claims problems such as roof leaks dating back to 2000 have continued, while the county counters it has put more than $100,000 into repair and remediation of the airport buildings.

In its counter-claim, the county says Oxford Aviation failed to live up to its obligations by not paying its $1,800 rent in April and May of this year, according to the paper. The lease between the county and Oxford Aviation extends to 2027.

For starters, it looks like a 30 year lease is involved. One can't help being curious about that little detail.

That aside, if you're in the "government can do no wrong" camp, then you have to assume that Oxford County is not at fault in this dispute. (Although we must remind you that the MRRA, repeatedly notified that Oxford is blatantly misrepresenting its circumstances at BNAS, has been unable to remedy the situation. We'll have to assume they haven't found the time to talk to Oxford about it just yet.)

If you're in the "Oxford is blameless and being screwed by government" camp, then chances are you haven't been keeping up with the history of this company as they have charmed willing and gullible government officials with access to large sums of other people's money. Or "OPM," pronounced "o-pee-um" here in the editorial offices.

In this situation, Other Side is inclined to accept culpability on the side of both parties. But knowing what we know, we lean towards the view that Oxford is "living up to our low expectations," to borrow a line from a Randy Travis hit of some years back.

I'm sure our trusted officials have a rational explanation why this report should be of no concern to those of us who worry about things here in Brunswick. I'd contact John Richardson to ask for an explanation, but you know how it is....he's "no longer in a position to comment." Shirley the other "public servants" on the MRRA will offer an explanation of how the dispute is factoring in to their "due diligence" process.

Good Riddance, Navy!

Other Side has long held that more local residents than one might guess are thrilled that the Navy (or any military, for that matter) are exiting Brunswick. We suspect parties were held around town to celebrate the departure of the last aircraft just a few weeks ago.

We reached this conclusion by observing the behavior of various activists over the years, and by reading innumerable letters and columns in the print media. Not to mention lots and lots of bumper stickers that seem to attract themselves to Subarus, Volvos, and Toyota Piouses.

Then there's the public statements made at council meetings and other forums. We especially remember one made by a new resident who reported that she was shocked, on her first night here, to discover that planes actually flew in and out of the base. She claimed great mental and physical distress, and said her cats were terrified.

So much for doing a little looking into the area before you move into town. But we don't recall ever reading a public statement that embodied the "good riddance" sentiment like one that appeared yesterday. Here's a passage or two:

I’ve read some comments in the past about how Brunswick would be a ghost town without the Navy base and how sad some people are that the base is closing. Well, I’m not.

For too long I’ve heard comments from base personnel who feel that somehow they are better than us townfolk because they are in the service and how they serve our country, etc.

I think they forget that it’s us townfolk around the country who are paying their way to travel around the world and do what they do, not to mention free health coverage and retirement pay for when they are done with their duty.

Well, I for one am glad the base is closing. Living here here for 40-plus years, I won’t miss the base or their attitudes or their money.

So there you are. All we can say is that the writer must have run into a different population of uniformed personnel than we have in my years here. Active, or retired, for that matter. We have never encountered anything close to what he describes, so we're assuming there's something more involved.

We'll never know what it is, of course. But it's probably fair to assume that the writer's disdain applies to all those who work and have worked at BIW; to all those who work and have worked for various enterprises associated with the defense establishment; and to all those who respect and honor our military and their families. And this reporter fits in there somewhere.

What a sad, sad man the writer must be; I hope the Christmas Season somehow gives him a new perspective on "our troops." Regardless of those in the area who share his disdain.

As for "us townfolk" here at the offices, we revere and will miss those who served, and will continue to serve in their new duty stations. We will be diminished by the lack of a daily visible reminder of what they do for us.

Sleep well, Mr. Johnson.

Monday, December 14, 2009

He's Baaaaaaaaacccckkk!

Ok! Ok! Stop with the calls and the letters and the otherwise frantic acting out because Other Side hasn't had a new post in two weeks! Are you really that addicted to fresh, bold, witty, and biting commentary on the issues of the day?

Of course you are, and it's all my fault, isn't it? I've spoiled you.

Well you can chill. Poppycock and the entire editorial staff are getting back to work after a planned but unannounced trip to the left coast, where this reporter and his family resided for more than 3 decades.

We had a delightful time visiting with good friends who raised kids together, attended church together, and provided the vital social network for our years from a young married couple to watching our kids graduate from college. We had a fine dinner party reuniting with career colleagues from the years at Hughes Aircraft Company. And the Mrs. relived the glory days of the "Christmas Cookie Exchange" she enjoyed with her female friends for 25 years.

All in all, it was a fine trip. This reporter even prepared a lavish Italian dinner for friends, and if you behave yourself, I might even post the recipes from that memorable event. Or perhaps I should conduct a cooking class at Chez Poppycock, and charge a princely price to watch the master at work and to sample the earthly delights.

We'll have to figure that out later. I'll have my people prepare an analysis of the various options.

For now, let me tell you that the most startling aspect of the trip was visiting the site of my 35 year career with Hughes, and finding that the facilities have been replaced with a very large shopping center and a wide array of apartment and condo housing.

My career began at a Hughes Aircraft facility in 1963, not very far from Disneyland in Anaheim. The facility was opened in 1957, on land Howard Hughes had wisely bought many years before. You remember him, don't you? He was the genius behind the Spruce Goose, and the movie "The Aviator" is a pretty good retrospective on his life.

When I hired in, there were about 5,000 working at the facility. At it's peak in the 80's, employment reached about 15,000. It slowly slid back to about 5,000 in the mid 90's when I was sent here to represent the company "on the waterfront," meaning shipbuilding programs at BIW, etc.

Now the place is just flat gone; bulldozed away, no memories, no monuments, no other trace of its existence. There's a super-sized Target right where our offices used to be. What a sense of age and history this gives you...the place where you made your career and supported your family simply "deleted" from the landscape.

The other notable aspect of the trip was that I visited briefly with the urologist who saved my life nearly 25 years ago. He was a mere "kid" then, and is at the age where he should be contemplating retirement. Not in this day and age. His story is a real eye-opener as our "public servants" decide to help us out in our health care, and I will treat this more fully in a subsequent post.

For now, let's just say that we should all be afraid, very afraid. All the trends are in the wrong direction if you are hoping to just maintain the status quo, or even hoping your circumstances will get better.

There's nothing to suggest that this is possible, let alone likely.

Aren't you glad I'm back?

Monday, November 30, 2009

A "Turkey" of a Blog

Other Side is a bit chagrined to hear this publication referred to as "a real turkey" as we travel around town. Those expressing such a view apparently have never had "a real turkey," nor are they particularly articulate in their criticism.

Other Side is, however, ready to be bigger than its critics, and in the spirit of giving that should overwhelm us in this season, herewith offers up a colossally good recipe for a real turkey with all the trimmings. It traces its lineage back to the Bon Appetit issue dated November 1994.

Fair warning is hereby issued. Generally known as "Apricot Turkey," for reasons that will be obvious as you read the recipe, it has been called "African Turkey" by some who simply couldn't believe the words apricot and turkey could make sense together.

Well, they sure as hell do belong together, as you will find out when you make this recipe. Be prepared for this to become your most requested and standard approach to turkey from here on out. It is THAT good.

The gravy in particular takes flavor to notches unknown, and if you don't yet own a "boat motor" (immersion blender), go out and spend the $30 or so it takes to get one. It is well worth it, for this meal alone.

Here you go....and all at no charge!


Apricot Glaze

1 cup apricot nectar
1 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon honey

For Glaze: Combine all ingredients in heavy small saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened and reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 15 minutes.
Herb Butter

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

For Herb Butter: Blend all ingredients in small bowl. Set aside.
Onion Mixture

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
3 large onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced
6 ounces shallots (about 6 large), thinly sliced

For Onion Mixture: Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and shallots and sauté until very soft and light brown, about 20 minutes.

(Glaze, herb butter and onion mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill. Bring herb butter to room temperature before continuing.)


1 21- to 22-pound turkey
1 14 1/2-ounce can (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1 14 1/2-ounce can (about) low-salt chicken broth

For Turkey:

• Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 400° F. Pat turkey dry with paper towels. Season turkey cavity with salt and pepper. Place turkey on rack set in large roasting pan. Slide hand under skin of turkey breast to loosen skin. Spread half of herb butter over breast under skin. If stuffing turkey, spoon stuffing into main cavity. Place remaining herb butter in small saucepan. Stir over low heat until melted. Brush butter over outside of turkey. Tie legs together loosely to hold shape of turkey.

• Roast turkey 30 minutes.

• Reduce oven temperature to 325° F. Roast turkey 1 hour 30 minutes, basting occasionally with pan drippings.

• Tent turkey with heavy-duty foil; roast 45 minutes longer.

• Add onion mixture, 1 can broth, thyme and sage to pan. Roast 15 minutes.

• Bring glaze to simmer. Brush 1/2 cup glaze over turkey. Continue to roast turkey uncovered until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180° F. or until juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pierced with skewer, brushing occasionally with glaze and adding more broth to pan if liquid evaporates, about 40 minutes longer for unstuffed turkey (about 1 hour 10 minutes longer for stuffed turkey). Place turkey on platter, tent with foil.

• Let stand 30 minutes. Reserve mixture in pan for gravy.

For Gravy: Pour contents of roasting pan into strainer set over large bowl. Spoon fat from pan juices in bowl. Transfer onion mixture in strainer to blender. Add 1 cup pan juices to blender and puree until smooth, adding more pan juices and chicken broth if necessary to thin sauce to desired consistency. (This is where an immersion blender saves the'll love it!)

Transfer sauce to heavy large saucepan and bring to boil. Cook until color deepens, skimming off any foam, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Be prepared to faint when you taste the gravy....

Serve turkey with gravy.

Serves 16.

Bon Appétit
November 1994


This impressive stuffing gets its Yankee accent from apples and dried cranberries.

14 ounces white bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
1 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
6 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 3 large leeks)
1 pound tart green apples, peeled, cored, chopped
2 cups chopped celery with leaves
4 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 cup dried cranberries (about 4 ounces)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 eggs, beaten to blend
1 1/3 cups (about) canned low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide bread cubes between 2 large baking sheets. Bake until slightly dry, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Sauté sausages in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling coarsely with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl. Pour off any drippings from skillet.

Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks, apples, celery and poultry seasoning to skillet; sauté until leeks soften, about 8 minutes. Mix in dried cranberries and rosemary.

Add mixture to sausage, then mix in bread and parsley. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Mix eggs into stuffing.

To bake stuffing in turkey: Fill main turkey cavity with stuffing. Mix enough chicken broth into remaining stuffing to moisten (about 3/4 to 1 cup chicken broth, depending on amount of remaining stuffing). Spoon remaining stuffing into buttered baking dish. Cover with buttered aluminum foil. Bake stuffing in dish alongside turkey until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover stuffing and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Note: Side bakes it all in a pan to develop a nice browned and crisp character.

To bake all stuffing in pan: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish. Mix 1 1/3 cups broth into stuffing. Transfer to prepared dish. Cover with buttered foil and bake until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Cro$$ Border Care:" Canadian "Wait Insurance"

Other Side's daughter and family live in Oakville, Ontario, a large, mostly bedroom community about 20 miles west of Toronto.

She forwarded the article below on health care from her local paper, convinced it would be of interest in our current circumstances. As her friend up there said, where will all those people go when Obama's behemoth of a health-care bill is passed???

Other Side wonders where WE will go when it is passed.

Read it and weep; and let me know when you find a good medical broker and affordable wait insurance.

Here are the relevant links: article 1 and article 2 and article 3.

Cro$$-Border Care
Melinda Dalton, Joe Fantauzzi and Matthew Strader
Published on Nov 26, 2009

Record numbers of Ontarians are being sent to the U. S. by their government for routine health care that should be available at home.

A Metroland Special Report shows thousands of others are funding their own medical treatments south of the border, at high personal cost.

The numbers have been rising for the last 10 years. Government approvals for out-of- country health care funding are up 450 per cent.

Should Ontarians have to use a passport to get health care?

* * *

Oakville’s Kelly Rosettani is happy with the quick treatment she was able to get in the United States for her six-year-old daughter’s curved spine.

When Rosettani’s daughter, Jenna Mayer, went in August for a regular checkup, the doctor said he wanted her to have an X-ray because it looked as if she might have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

A Toronto doctor ordered an MRI, and mentioned that depending on its outcome, Jenna might need a brace.

But the family was not satisfied with an MRI wait time of two to six months.

In October, the family went to the U. S. In less than six weeks, they had consulted at an American children’s hospital, seen a specialist in Virginia, acquired a medical brace for Jenna, and returned home.

The family believes they did the right thing by going to the U. S.

“We want people to know that you do not necessarily have to wait, you can get excellent treatment outside the country,” Rosettani said.

Long waits, unavailable procedures and poor physician access are driving record numbers of Ontarians to seek treatment south of the border and sometimes overseas.

A Metroland Special Report on Cross Border Care shows:

• A 450 per cent increase in OHIP approvals for out-of-country care since the beginning of this decade, a period of explosive growth in new technologies and therapies not covered or available here. The province agreed to fund 2,110 procedures or treatments in 2001, and 11,775 last year.

• Patient demand has created a new breed of health-system navigators, known as medical brokers, who find U. S. options for the growing number of Ontario patients who elect to pay for medical services south of the border themselves.

Medical brokers negotiate discount rates with U. S. centres to get Ontarians faster diagnostics, second opinions and surgery.

Brokers say that for every patient sent south by the Ontario government, there may be up to 10 others who go — and pay — on their own.

• Ontario’s spending on out-of-Canada medical services has tripled in the last five years. Payments in 2010 will balloon to $164.3 million, from $56.3 million in 2005. The province said in last month’s economic forecast it needs to increase health spending by $700 million to cover “higher than anticipated” OHIP costs, including services outside the province.

While out-of-country spending is a small part of the $11 billion OHIP pays for all patient services a year, the increase is significant, Ontario’s health minister says.

“Are we looking at ways to reduce out-of-country? Absolutely yes,” said Deb Matthews, who became health minister last month.

Matthews says her ministry is taking steps to improve services and access across Ontario so fewer patients will need to go to the U. S.

At the same time, though, the ministry continues to negotiate preferred rates for Ontario patient visits to U. S. health centres, the Metroland investigation shows.

• Ontario has become a major contractor — a bulk buyer — of American health services this year.

Since spring, the ministry has entered into funding contracts with U. S. hospitals, imaging clinics and residential treatment centres.

It has these “preferred provider” contracts in place with about 40 American medical providers now — and is accepting solicitations from others. Contracts cover diagnostics, cancer care, bariatrics and adolescent behavioural disorders. The ministry says the agreements ensure “more immediate services for patients whose health is at risk.”

It has declined to release details of any of the agreements.

• The province does not track the number of Ontarians who cross the border for care on their own, never seeking government pre-approval or reimbursement.

But major U. S. medical centres contacted by Metroland — including Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System and the Mayo Clinic — say both government-funded and private-pay patient lists are growing.

The Mayo Clinic, which sees about 600 Ontario patients a year, says top reasons include wait times and diagnostic evaluations “when they’ve exhausted options in Canada,” says Mariana Iglesias of the Minnesota-based clinic.

OHIP’s pre-approved funding program for out-of-country care is supposed to fill gaps in health care for high-risk Ontarians.

But patients who use the system express repeated concerns — about the time it takes to get OHIP approval and to appeal, if refused.

“I really believe they make it as difficult as possible,” says Janet Nancarrow of Ottawa who is preparing for an OHIP appeal hearing for her 34-year-old daughter, Lisa, who is taking part in a clinical drug trial at the Mayo Clinic. Lisa has tumours that are encasing her vital organs and invading her system.

Her doctors and family say the trial is her only option short of end-of-life palliative care. With no outside help, Nancarrow said, she had to research precedent cases, find expert witnesses and keep up with enormous paperwork — all while accompanying her daughter back and forth to Minnesota for treatments.

“They shouldn’t put families through this,” she said.

• Ontario continues to struggle with wait times. This month, almost 140,000 people are on wait lists just for CT scans and MRIs.

• Wait-time insurance policies have emerged as the industry caught on to public angst. While no industry figures exist to indicate the level of consumer take-up of the coverage, plans are available to reimburse costs of private treatment when policyholders are forced to wait more than 45 days.

Ontario says it has made strides to reduce waits for the priority procedures it monitors. But the Ontario Health Quality Council — which the ministry set up to review provincial progress — says more needs to be done.

“Many Ontarians still wait too long for urgent cancer surgery, MRI scans … and specialists,” the council says in its 2009 report.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says the OHIP out-of-country surge has taken on momentum and that government must stop the southbound flow.

“The government needs to reinvest the dollars that they’re shoving out the door to private providers of health care in the States, and invest that in providing services here at home,” she said.

* * *

Wait Time Insurance

What it is: A privately obtained insurance that allows Canadians who have excessively long waits for procedures to obtain services at private U. S. clinics.

What it costs: Monthly premiums for wait-time insurance range from $100 to $200 a month.

How it works: Typically, benefits kick in when a covered person is on a wait list for more than 45 days. Coverage includes costs for diagnostic tests and treatment for hundreds of medical conditions. Coverage is subject to terms and conditions of the particular policy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Answer My Friend?....Well, it may not be "Blowing in the Wind." At least not yet.

Renewable energy (except wood, curiously, which we have in great abundance) is reportedly the savior of humanity, and in particular will guarantee that Maine's economy can continue on it's...ummm...excuse's current successful course. That is if government makes sufficient "investments" in the technology on our behalf.

If we were doing so with our own money privately, it would be speculation, but in the hands of government, investment is the word.

Locally, we have the MRRA and state government itself, all the way up to the Governor, working on the issue. Wind power, and composites as a component of the technology, are predicted to be the goose that may someday lay golden eggs all around us. A local icon and former governor is all over this, following in the footsteps of Al Gore, who has unselfishly risked his own resources to help us across the troubled waters that lie ahead.

Inspired by the personal sacrifice and dedication of such leaders, it was with great disappointment that our offices received the news of less than successful initiatives in wind energy, and even worse, here in Maine, where such things are not supposed to happen! How could this be??

The troubling news appeared here.

Interested students should read the whole report; we'll just pique your interest with a few tempting tidbits:

Turbine setbacks leave towns twisting in the wind

Saco's windmill didn't deliver enough power, Kittery's unit broke, and the manufacturer is now in bankruptcy court.

He said the windmills work best on flat, open land, like in Texas and Oklahoma, where the wind is strong and steady. New England, with hills and tall trees, has obstructions that can make even seemingly windy spots less than ideal for windmills.

"With the models we have now, we would never have put either one of those machines in," Heath said. "They should never have been sold."

Sounds like a perfect time for a little healthy skepticism. At least if you're a private "speculator."

On the other hand, if you're a public "investor," it looks like a sure thing.

Guess which assessment is going to "win" out?

It looks like a pretty sure bet from here. And it's always so much easier to bet with O-P-M. I wonder if Bernie Madoff would like to get in on this; does anyone know where we can get in touch with him?

Good luck!

School funding shortfalls...the irony of it all.

Other Side addressed school funding issues in this post.

We recall reading that the School Board was going to file a formal letter of concern with 'responsible' state officials regarding the curtailment in General Purpose Aid to Education.

Reflecting on the larger situation, an irony presented itself.

Some readers may consider what follows to be insensitive; so be it. Other Side is guilty of many things; being overly sensitive is not one of them.

Brunswick looks like it will lose about $665,000 in direct state aid to education, or about 2% of the current school budget of about $33 million. Enrollment is declining by far more than that as the base closes, but I don't have the exact number handy. But as we all know, factors that would reduce spending are irrelevant in such matters; only those things that would hamper spending increases, or preserve the status quo, are worthy of public notice and discussion.

It occurred to me that the heartburn over GPA reductions is coincident with the start of new school construction, calling for an increase in revenue from the state to cover the lion's share of construction costs. In round numbers, at the same time we're looking at a $665,000 reduction in one account, we're looking at something like a $2 million a year increase from the state to reimburse us for construction debt service. I haven't read about the School Board filing a formal letter thanking the state for their free money, but I'm sure it's in the job jar.

That's the theory anyway. As mentioned here before, at some point every state "promise" becomes negotiable, and revenue projections continue to worsen as time moves on.

If the state can't meet GPA promises, how will it meet construction promises? You tell me. Option 1 is that it could renege on the deal, claiming possible bankruptcy as an excuse. Or, it could borrow money to help us pay for the borrowing we are doing.

That's just dumb enough to make sense for government. Let's see; Brunswick borrows about $20 million, meaning we have to pay back about $30 million with interest. The state borrows about $30 million to pay our debt service, meaning they (we) have to pay back about $40 million. So if things work out right, the cost of the school could be twice the purchase price.

Hey, it's only money, and surely our local paper's editors can find a way to blame the whole thing on someone else.

Oh wait...I have one more idea. The state could pay for the school by further defaulting on Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals and other service providers. They already owe the hospitals more than $400 million; what's another hundred million or so among friends?

Especially when the hospitals (and doctors, etc) have such good credit and such swollen cash accounts to pay salaries and current expenses.

"What's in your wallet?"

It's YOUR fault, you dirty rat!

After reading last night's lead editorial in our local paper, entitled "Elephant in the room," I was reminded of the classic Jimmie Cagney sound bites:

"You, you, you did it; yoooooouuuuu did it, yooouuuu dirty rat, you."

This is one of those editorials, like others I've read, that give one a strange sense that they were written, or should I say ghosted, elsewhere, and then published as if written by the editors. But I could be wrong, and often am.

If nothing else, this statement in the last paragraph raises the suspicion:

This is an important step forward in an important national debt.

Ummmm...I think the word called for in that sentence is "debate," not "debt."

Well anyway, the editorial is in keeping with the Krugman Kool-Aid Klub theories that abound on these pages, laying virtually all blame upon "the prior administration" for our current state of affairs, and treating the current administration as the wisest in our nation's history. Krugman has already decided that the current stimulus plan is way too small. Given that only about 25-30% has been spent, I'm puzzled as to how he could reach that conclusion. But I'm not a Princeton PhD and Nobel winner; I'm just your basic country bumpkin, engineering variety.

The "writer" did include this equivocation, however:

Yes, Obama shares some of the responsibility for the ballooning federal deficit. As do all of us.

Talk about a transparent and shameless attempt to transfer responsibility to the anonymous unwashed.

All of us? Excuuuuuuuse me? I'm willing to believe that YOU share some of the responsibility, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna take any of the rap!

There are plenty of big government fans around here, and the local newspaper bows to no-one when it comes to advocating for government domination of virtually every aspect of our lives. Which means more spending, and more deficits, and less prosperity.

I may be a lot of things, but there's no doubt about my limited government, less spending stance on just about everything.

So the editors can take their "as do all of us" and stuff it where home delivery is not yet an option.

Test Time; Oil : Water as Politics : ????

A few weeks back, I wrote on Scott Ruppert's (also known as Basicman) great op-ed column, and also his "Whatever Happened to Truth" blog post. The link to the Basicman Blog is over on the right under "Sites I follow."

After completing my post, I realized it was a perfect chance to weave in a musical interlude, and I had missed it. So here it is now:

The whole world's gone low-brow. Thing's ain't what
they used to be.

They sure ain't, Mama. They sure ain't it's all gone.

Whatever happened to fair dealing?
And pure ethics
And nice manners?
Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass?
Whatever happened to class?

Whatever happened to, "Please, may I?"
And, "Yes, thank you?"
And, "How charming?"
Now, every son of a bitch is a snake in the grass
Whatever happened to class?

Those who follow musical theater will recognize this is from Chicago, one of our great favorites. (It's playing again at MSMT next summer, so if you haven't seen it before, or want to see it again, you better get in line early for tickets.)

Today I happened to notice the Quote of the Day on the right side of the page is:

Politics have no relation to morals.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Spot on, many would say. Especially after watching a Senator from Louisiana sell her vote on the health care debate recently for $300 million in taxpayer money. Or hearing a Congressman from Pennsylvania say that pork coming his way may look like graft or corruption, but if it supports his people, he supports the corruption.

One wonders what sort of "leverage" Maine's two Senators will use as the health care debate proceeds; it should be interesting to watch the bidding.

Which all ties in with an Imprimus column that came my way in September.

In it, Walter Williams discusses "Future Prospects for Economic Liberty." When I read it, I circled this passage:

Some will respond that big government is what the majority of voters want, and that in a democracy the majority rules. But America’s Founders didn’t found a democracy, they founded a republic. The authors of The Federalist Papers, arguing for ratification of the Constitution, showed how pure democracy has led historically to tyranny. Instead, they set up a limited government, with checks and balances, to help ensure that the reason of the people, rather than the selfish passions of a majority, would hold sway. Unaware of the distinction between a democracy and a republic, many today believe that a majority consensus establishes morality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In other words, morality is whatever the times and the people decide it is. Just think for a moment how dangerous that concept is, and I would offer up WW II and Nazi Germany as just one example of such danger.

But this also speaks to the larger point of modern politics not being grounded in any established morality, other than the self-interests of those who govern and what it takes to keep them in power.

Williams adds:

Another common argument is that we need big government to protect the little guy from corporate giants. But a corporation can’t pick a consumer’s pocket. The consumer must voluntarily pay money for the corporation’s product. It is big government, not corporations, that have the power to take our money by force. I should also point out that private business can force us to pay them by employing government. To see this happening, just look at the automobile industry or at most corporate farmers today. If General Motors or a corporate farm is having trouble, they can ask me for help, and I may or may not choose to help. But if they ask government to help and an IRS agent shows up at my door demanding money, I have no choice but to hand it over. It is big government that the little guy needs protection against, not big business. And the only protection available is in the Constitution and the ballot box.

Sadly, we have virtually no protection left against big government; the Constitution is dismissed as so much inconvenient baggage ("negative rights"), and the permanent ruling class renders the ballot box far less effective than it should be. Incumbency is simply too easy to purchase, the Constitution be damned.

Recently I was reading a book review in The Weekly Standard entitled "Cool Gone Cold."

I found these two lines regarding "perspectival thinking" to be memorable, and relevant to this discussion:

Loosely, this means regarding reality as lying mainly in the eye of the beholder rather than being fixed, immutable, and objectively given.

The idea that reality is whatever it is perceived to be, rather than something with independent existence, is likely to be with us as long as our culture survives.

There is obviously broad support for moral relativism and its many byproducts in this day and age. And especially despised in our big government age is any notion of constraining Government with a Constitution. Why how do you expect our benevolent "public servants" to save us from ourselves if we put chains on them?

How quaint a concept, I suppose.

But ask yourself this if you don't think there is a need for absolutes within the framework of our lives. Suppose your bank, and your employer, and your investment company all decided that instead of the absolutism of the mathematics we learned as children and came to hold dear, that their math "realities" lay mainly in the eye of the beholder rather than being fixed, immutable, and objectively given.

In other words, your bank, your employer, and your investment firm would come up with results for you that bear no relationship to what you think they should be, because they could each invent their own math rules to suit their purposes.

That might sound a little hair-brained, but it's not too different than what the federal government does as it reinvents the laws of finance and economics to make the answers come out the way it wants, rather than the way "arcane absolutes" would make them come out.

And feels free to reinvent them further, whenever the need arises.

Anything for the greater good, right?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Charles Lawton: Maine's "economic and demographic death spiral"

Charles Lawton is a well known economist and consultant who has a column every week in the Sunday paper. He was the keynote speaker at the recent annual meeting of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the politically appointed group charged with overseeing the redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Lawton reportedly gave an optimistic assessment of what the future holds, especially as it relates to the base. This comes as no surprise, I suppose, since those who are paid to speak at such events would not do themselves any favor by delivering bad news. Put on the old rose colored glasses, sip a little wine, laugh it up, and rub shoulders with the great and near great.

Simply put, this was not an event where harsh reality would be welcomed.

It came as a shock to this reporter, then, that in his regular column of this past Sunday, Lawton would use the most pessimistic language I've ever seen in any of his prior offerings. Why would this be? Has he seen facts the rest of us haven't? Is the end of the Baldacci reign a signal for Charles to go blunt? Is he suddenly really, really worried?

At some level, the reason why is something to be determined in due time via future offerings or conversations. For the moment, his choice of words are the item of greatest interest. You can read the entire column here.

Here are the two passages that caught my attention, which is a challenge in and of itself:

An avowed capitalist, he is motivated by his love for Maine and a deep-seated conviction that nothing short of a revolution of creativity and innovation will save his beloved home state from the economic and demographic death spiral it is slipping ever closer to entering.

And then there's this:

Those wishing to help Maine avoid the death spiral must also convey this same message to the world at large.

This makes it pretty clear to this reader that Lawton, a very public voice, believes Maine is staring directly at a death spiral....both economic and demographic. I agree completely, and I have substantial evidence to back it up, as does anyone with an open mind.

Time to wake up, Maine.

Tom Friedman: "You're wrong"

Some months back, I wrote that the 'overwhelming evidence' in support of global warming, and particularly human causes of it, seems to be eroding. And that this signaled the need for those with a theological commitment to climate Armageddon to up the rhetoric level by an octave or two.

In this item, I said the following:
In the last few weeks, I've heard that global temperatures have cooled in the last 10 years and that they have been flat since 2000. Then I read in a Paul (Pass the Koolaid) Krugman column, printed in the Times Record, that the predictions for global temperature change are twice as horrible as previously thought.

Krugman writes:

“The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility.”

“Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees.”

Krugman further opines that “the vote on the Waxman-Markley cap and tax bill is an abomination: I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.”

That’s Krugman; always calm and collected. There’s nothing wrong with him that a quick blast from a fire extinguisher aimed at his noggin couldn’t fix.

So how can such diametrically opposed views exist in an era of supposed "scientific consensus?"

In a moment or two it dawned on me. The recent evidence of flat or even declining temperatures involve actual observations, while Krugman's case depends on predictions that build on dire historical reports For those who are true believers in global warming, the most recent data undermines their arguments, and so predictions of catastrophe need to escalate accordingly to compensate for wilting prior evidence.

In the last week, Tom Friedman, respected columnist and book seller for the New York Times, penned a similarly devastating column. Now that the global warming projections are slipping away with the tide, Friedman has decided his way to make his point is to add the "population bomb" into the mix. To whit:

The first is that the world is getting crowded. According to the 2006 U.N. population report, “The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion ... passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050.”

In other words, if you aren't swallowing the global warming bait in one piece, there is more to it....devastating population growth that the world cannot support.

Does anyone remember this projection of population doom flooding the news channels decades ago? Does anyone remember warnings about "global cooling" making the rounds in the 70's?

Has anyone seen recent reports of emails from the most revered climate authorities working their magic to tamp down dissenting views and assure that their preferred projections of gloom carry the day in national and global policy circles?

Does anyone else think that Friedman and Krugman have no other choice but to up the ante on the disasters they predict, because they can't counter the information coming to light? I know what it's like to have one's hair on fire; can it be on fire twice as much?

At one point, I actually believed Friedman was a rational voice, even if I didn't agree with everything he wrote. With this latest item, he seems ever more an ideologue with a huge public stage who has adopted Krugman style hyperbole when reality gets in the way of his convictions.

As proof, here's his parting shot at those who dare disagree with him:

So, as I said, you don’t believe in global warming? You’re wrong, but I’ll let you enjoy it until your beach house gets washed away. But if you also don’t believe the world is getting more crowded with more aspiring Americans — and that ignoring that will play to the strength of our worst enemies, while responding to it with clean energy will play to the strength of our best technologies — then you’re willfully blind, and you’re hurting America’s future to boot.

I'm touched to the point of tears, and I have a sudden inexplicable urge to go Subaru shopping.

Perhaps not a willful urge, but maybe a few more of his columns will take me to that level.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vacant schools & senior housing....a follow-up

Fast on the heels of yesterday's item about the Brunswick Housing Authority and a vacant school in Lisbon comes news advancing the story.

The Lisbon town council approved the sale of the school to the Authority for $1.

The authority has budgeted the conversion of the 100 year old school building, a registered historic landmark, at $2.5 billion, "but is hopeful the costs will actually be less."

This will cover renovation and conversion into apartments on 4 levels of the building, plus an elevator and who knows what else.

That's a pretty amazing number, especially when you consider that the Brunswick town council recently told us that the estimated cost of renovating the old Times Record Building for police use would be $3 million plus. For a building that had already undergone recent renovation to prepare it for its current use.

Too bad Brunswick's council didn't use the same firm as the Housing Authority to perform the estimate.

Oh well, it's too late now. Time to move on to grander plans. Plans that will save us money, no doubt.

Maybe we should sell the Times Record building to the Housing Authority for $1, and let them turn it into apartments. It would be interesting to see what that would cost.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vacant schools can become affordable senior housing. Who'd have guessed???

Did you see the recent article in Brunswick's local paper? It reports that the Brunswick Housing Authority is interested in converting a vacant hundred year old school in Lisbon Falls into "affordable senior housing!"

Wow...what an innovative idea! I'm impressed. Take a nice old cherished building, abandoned by its owners, and turn it into something useful, rather than just bulldoze it out of the way. And in the process, preserve a landmark "for Maine's future."

Is this what they mean by "re-purposing??"

Check out the details; a Brunswick authority looking for property a few towns away. And it looks like they could get it for nothing, or within $1 of nothing.

If only there had been opportunities like this closer to home! Too bad Brunswick itself didn't have any vacant school buildings that could be turned into affordable senior housing.

I'm sorry, did you say something? What's that? Brunswick DID HAVE a vacant school building that could have become affordable senior housing? Right here in town?

Nahhh. Seriously? Well then why didn't the town do it?

Because why? Because it would cost too much? And it wasn't feasible? Says who?

Oh yeah....the memories are starting to come back. I remember now.

A group of volunteers got together to look into saving the old Brunswick High School by converting it into affordable senior housing, which seems to be a popular way of doing things around the state. They got in touch with folks who do this sort of thing for a living, and who know the ins and outs of the various grant mechanisms and tax incentives. And that group made a proposal to the council, and showed examples of where the process has worked elsewhere in the state.

Nice job, the council said, but "we don't think it will work." And then the council got some other folks to provide some estimates for conversion. Way too expensive, they said. The public won't support it. But what about asking for proposals, the volunteer group asked? Not necessary, the council said, we know what we need to know. It can't be made to work.

Which makes one wonder why the Lisbon Falls building can be made to work, even though it is considerably older than the old Brunswick High School.

Other Side has a theory on this, and it's really quite simple. It all boils down to what the powers to be want, and what will best serve their purpose.

In the case of the Lisbon Falls property, reading the published report makes it look like there were no competing plans for the property itself, and the town has found itself a patron who will turn the school into something of value again.

In the case of the old Brunswick High School, the "schoolies" had set their sights on the real estate to build a largely unnecessary new school as a monument to community pride and free money that feeds it. And you never want to mess with the "schoolies."

Which means that the fix was pretty much in from the start. Some might suggest that letting the volunteer reuse group go through their exercise was a cruel charade to delude the public; you can decide for yourself.

This reporter prefers to remain objective in such matters. Because if I didn't, I'd be forced to conclude that the old saw about "all politics are local" has an unsavory meaning, and that wouldn't be charitable, would it?

Meanwhile, we can only wonder what would happen if the council was to insert itself in the possible project in Lisbon Falls. Strange as that may sound.

I'm sorry...what did you say?????

Richardson....out as Commissioner of DECD

John Richardson gave up his job as Commissioner in Baldacci's Cabinet. Should make the MRRA meeting interesting viewing today.

I wonder if he's taking all those "protocols" about the scads of businesses he had lined up for BNAS with him, or if he's left them in the DECD file cabinet. Come to think of it, those deals were probably built only on his dynamic business skills, his trustworthiness, and his personal integrity in the Commissioner's job. So in all likelihood, POOF! they're gone. Just like that.

Other Side is trying to track down F. Lee Bailey to get his reaction, but so far, no luck. He and Richardson made such a good team. It'd be a shame if they didn't find another way to work together. We'll be watching closely.

The departure means that if Richardson doesn't make it to the Blaine House, he'll have to go back to making several hundred large a year as a lawyer working for his union clients.

Looks like a win-win.

For him, anyway.

Monday, November 16, 2009

News Flash....Richardson to announce run today

Other Side just heard via the grapevine that John Richardson of Brunswick will be announcing his run for Governor at 11 am today here in town. (I wonder if it will take place in front of Frostys?). I can just hear the surprised reactions of the multitudes.

That should put an end to the speculation about the Oxford Aviation outcome (and the "protocols" on Fortune 500 deals, etc.) being critical to his ambitions for higher office, which if reports are true, will no longer be in the "possible" category. It also raises the likelihood that communications on the subject will climb to new heights of obscurity and evasiveness. Timing will become increasingly important, one would think.

We're now taking bets as to whether Richardson will resign from the MRRA today, or at their meeting tomorrow, or will instead, turn it into his campaign vehicle. Either way, I can already hear the compous statements being issued.

Here in the offices, we're pretty sure what he should do. We're also pretty sure what he prefers to do. Put your money down now.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lake Basebegone Update: Mid November 2009

Mail call! Mail call!

It looks like just about everybody has mail! Oops....not so fast, Poppycock.

Gloomy day, gloomy Gus here at Other Side offices. Once again, no mail for us from the MRRA, or the town council, or anyone else for that matter. I guess that must have been them when the phone didn't ring either.

All that work inquiring of our "public servants," only to be shunned again and again. You'd think we'd be developing self-esteem problems by now, wouldn't you? Mere mortals would; but trained professionals don't let it bother them. If it did, we wouldn't be able to serve the public with our reporting. And all without public grants, loans, tax breaks, or other incentives.

Well, enough jibber-jabber. Time to give you the latest.

The MRRA will be holding its next board meeting this coming Tuesday (the 17th) at 4pm in the council chambers in the Maine Street Station building, above Scarlet Begonia's. (If you go, make sure you back into those diagonal parking spots, or it will cost you plenty.) The meeting will be televised by Cable 3, which means you can also pick it up via live video streaming at their web site. Go here and click on "watch live" at the top.

According to Steve Levesque, executive director of the MRRA, the board "is not scheduled to vote on a lease" with Oxford Aviation at the meeting. At least as of two days ago or more. Nothing in that statement precludes them from doing so, however, if they should have a mind to. It's simply a matter of how coy they wish to be.

They're not scheduled to glare with disdain in my direction either, but that doesn't mean it won't happen, does it?

Levesque said the MRRA is still "negotiating," and "we continue to exercise due diligence on the lease, and when it's ready, it'll be ready." If you parse those words, it sounds like they've already decided to go forward with a lease; they've just got to iron out some details. Like who will bear the greatest risk.

If only they could find a way to exercise due transparency on the Oxford deal, perhaps we could all feel a lot better about this.

Since there hasn't been a whole lot happening recently, I had some spare time to think. And that's never a good thing.

Hangar 6 at the Base, which Oxford wants to occupy, cost taxpayers $31 million plus just a few years back. Levesque says it will cost $650,000 a year to fund airport operation at the base. That's $54,000 plus a month, or $12,500 a week. And until "a miracle occurs," that cost will be borne by taxpayers one way or another.

That's not peanuts, especially if Oxford Aviation is the only cause for operating the airport, and the only potential source of revenue to offset the costs.

So I asked myself, self, why does Oxford Aviation deserve various government grants, loans, and tax breaks to make use of a fully paid for, brand spanking new $31 million hangar, a brand spanking new, fully paid for control tower, and world class 8,000 ft runways? With custom capital improvements?

If Oxford's potential is so great, why aren't greedy venture capitalists and private lending institutions courting them as an investment? Given F. Lee Bailey's promises of "global aviation leadership" and "potential beyond anything he imagined," why is anything more needed or deserved from the taxpayers? Obtaining financing should be easy, especially with "deals with Airbus" and others just waiting to be signed.

Why, indeed, should taxpayers make yet another major cash infusion and capital investment on Oxford's behalf, when it has failed so miserably to deliver on the promises made in past "public-private financial partnerships?"

Especially when Oxford's public image is one of unashamed misrepresentation; just look at it's web site, where it advertises to the world that it will occupy the entire hangar, even though Levesque says negotiations involve only half the space.

Even worse, look at how it lied to working families in the mid-coast area when it advertised that 200 jobs would be filled on the base this past June. When they, the MRRA, and anyone else in the loop knew that was patently absurd.

This is a company worthy of taxpayer speculation? On what basis? If the promise and potential is so great, why are taxpayers the funding source of last resort?

Does Oxford have us over a barrel? Are there really that many other $31 million hangars available elsewhere, with 8,000 foot runways in operation? With sweetheart deals on the table? Are we in some kind of bidding war to get Oxford?

I don't think so, Tim.

Levesque says Oxford Aviation isn't the only potential tenant with which MRRA is negotiating, but has declined to identify the others. Why is Oxford being made public, but everyone else so private? What's the difference here? Is Oxford the best we've got in the hopper?

Oxford's past is extremely troubling, raising warning signs aplenty to say this is a very risky scheme. If Oxford is worthy of public disclosure, what does it say about the others that aren't????

State and local officials have looked the other way, been silent, or caved in when Oxford didn't deliver on promises made elsewhere. Some willingly, some probably unwillingly. Some for obvious reasons, some for reasons not so obvious.

Under known and reported circumstances, it's not hard to surmise what the outcome of the MRRA's "due diligence" should be.

It won't be long before we know. The early odds are in favor of "yes, but this time will be different, and you can trust us on that."

Roll the dice anyone?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Basicman" hits it out of the park...again

This reporter has written before about core principles, and how liberty is a much more profound concept than freedom. Likewise, integrity is much more profound than honesty.

A local blog listed in my favorites is Basicman. His works are thoughtful and philosophical compared to the everyday drivel you find here.

Last Friday, Scott Ruppert, who is "Basicman," had a great op-ed piece in our daily paper titled "What American politics needs is a good dose of tough love." You can find it here.

As someone who has spent a good number of years in the political environment in Washington and Augusta, Side resonated with Scott's thoughts, and wished he had the writing skills on exhibit. Scott seems to be focused on getting it right; Side seems more focused on getting it done.

Oh well. After reading the column, I visited his blog to catch up, and was struck by two items: the newest, which is a heartfelt and moving discussion of Arlington National Cemetary, and "Whatever happened to truth?", the prior post. You absolutely must read it. (It begins with a Mark Twain quote that I am archiving.)

When you do, if you let the words sink in, you will hopefully appreciate the profound principles necessary for this country and society to have a desirable future.

I want to leave it right there. Superfluous bloviation from this reporter is entirely inappropriate to the moment.

Afterthoughts...of a Tuesday Evening

Besides a predilection for beating dead horses, Other Side is cursed with the "just one more thing" affliction.

Symptoms of which showed up after posting the item on "Major Awards" here, which discusses the process of newspapers saluting themselves with prizes.

The afterthought is that perhaps the Times Record and the other rapidly declining print dailies should focus more on winning "awards" from subscribers, readers, and buyers, rather than gloating over the adulation of their peers.

Peers don't buy ads or subscribe. Readers do. They are the ultimate jury and judge.

Self-aware publishers and editors would recognize that and evolve in response.

Agenda driven publishers and editors would continue the same-old and wonder why their bottom line is sinking.

Maybe they should catch up on the latest news.

A Daily Double: Transparency and Dead Horses

In respond to popular demand, Other Side is adding a new category: Dead Horses. It's obvious to regular readers that here at the editorial offices we believe there's no such thing as a horse that's too dead to beat.

College student voting fits the rubric perfectly. I revisited the subject here less than a week ago to relay an editorial from the Bowdoin college newspaper that treated election law as mere suggestions.

As I scooted about town today attending to my busy social calendar, I realized that I had failed to be fully "transparent" in follow-up reporting on this subject. I had posted two messages on the subject to relevant officials, but had not disclosed them to our faithful and vigilant readers.

I am correcting that oversight in this post. In a humorous aside, I expect that both these messages on the "dead horse" subject will end up in "dead letter" files at their destinations. In the unlikely event that a meaningful response is received, you can be sure it will be posted here before it shows up on the major network and cable news outlets.

Because the dead horse stops here.

The first message was sent to the Elections Division at the Maine Secretary of State's Office:
Much has been said over the years about college students voting in the town in which the college is located, even when their home is elsewhere.

Legislation has been proposed, guidelines have been issued, and nothing has fundamentally changed in this regard. College officials appear to uniformly support the idea that being on campus makes you a legal resident of the town, and town officials willingly comply with this judgment.

I have been concerned about the subject for years because of the opportunity it provides for abuse of election law.

The editorial attached below, from The Bowdoin Orient of October 30th, raises red flags beyond anything previously addressed. It suggests that students vote where they most "feel" like residents, as opposed to complying with relevant law, in which "feelings" have no relevance. It further suggests that students are free to "volley" between residence locations for voting purposes in order to pick and choose the ballots and issues that concern them most.

The opportunities for double voting, abuse of registration law, and corruption of voting rolls are clear in such practices, especially since local authorities are in the habit of encouraging students to register and vote locally, while failing to enforce the other requirements of residency. I am not aware of any mechanisms that would detect double registration or otherwise automatically cancel registration in one location or another when a new registration is filed.

Please reply with a response to this editorial that states what the official SOS position is on such practices, and how the SOS goes about enforcing applicable law to ensure that our elections are honest and conducted with full legal compliance.

Thank you

The other was sent to Brunswick Town Officials:


I understand that "the system" has ruled my objections in this area irrelevant, but I've got to tell you that this editorial in last Friday's Bowdoin Orient relights the fire in my hair on this subject.

It very clearly articulates the belief that students should vote wherever they feel like it at the moment.

How this can be consistent with any understanding of what election law means is lost on me. I find tolerance for such practices irresponsible.

So far, no response from either quarter.

But as you know, riding a dead horse doesn't get you anywhere and wastes your time, if not the horse's.

But at least you're not at risk of falling off.

Now, if I could just find some rolls of caps for my two pearl handled six-shooters, maybe I could stir up some action that way.

Transparency, and "all that jazz"

Well, Stella just got back with a fresh supply of cellophane, so it's time to make use of it. I'm posting two recent messages I sent off on the subject of the MRRA and Oxford Aviation.

The first is this, to MRRA officials:

I find Oxford's continued web site representation of their potential BNAS occupancy to be extremely troubling. They clearly show that they will occupy the entire Hangar 6 building.

I raised this point at the workshop with the Town Council in September, and you stated that the potential agreement with Oxford is for half of Hangar 6.

Surely there has been more than enough time for them to correct the graphics and content of their web site, and I don't understand why this has not been done.

While some would say that Oxford is free to misrepresent itself however it wishes, they are also blatantly misrepresenting the MRRA position as you described it. They have no right to do so, and you and the MRRA board should be taking direct exception.

Given that the MRRA is the guardian of the public trust, please explain why this clear and intentional misrepresentation has not been corrected, and why you continue to tolerate it.

Thank you

I'll let you know if I get any sort of response. If I do, it will be the first since the "why do you want to know" exchange with the ED many months ago when I first asked questions. Such a welcoming and helpful response encouraged me to continue.

The second was posted to the town council:

Councilors et al:

I am appending below the most recent Forecaster article on news of MRRA and the Oxford Aviation initiative. It is more than two weeks old.

The annual meeting of the MRRA took place on October 22nd. A vote was expected to take place on the Oxford Aviation "agreement," but that did not happen. It appears from the reports that no serious business took place at the meeting, and that the MRRA kept its thoughts on the troubling Oxford issue out of public view.

F. Lee Bailey was in attendance, but did not speak during the public comment period. Jim Horowitz, owner of Oxford, was at the reception and dinner, but did not attend the "business meeting."

I have yet to come across a credible explanation of why F. Lee Bailey is so involved in this initiative. Why he would come to Maine for this meeting and not speak, at least in public, is even more baffling. As to Jim Horowitz, the fact that he showed up, but avoided the public session, raises even more questions, none of which are encouraging.

Now we are left to wonder when the MRRA might schedule a special meeting to take such a vote, which they can do with only 24 hours public notice.

I may be one of the few that expects all such deliberations in the public interest to be conducted with unquestioned integrity. And that representations of these efforts to the public are scrupulously honest.

Accordingly, I find Oxford's continued web site representation of their potential BNAS occupancy to be extremely troubling. I have written to you before on this subject, and as you know, have written directly to the MRRA just a few days ago, to no avail.

Oxford's web site shows that they will occupy the entire Hangar 6 building, even thought the FBO solicitation states that the selected contractor will be housed in Hangar 6.

I raised this point at the MRRA workshop with the Town Council in September, and Steve Levesque replied that the agreement in discussion with Oxford is for half of Hangar 6.

Surely there has been more than enough time for Oxford to correct the graphics and content of their web site, and I don't understand why this has not been done.

While some would say that Oxford is free to misrepresent itself however it wishes, they are also blatantly misrepresenting the MRRA position. They have no right to do so, and since the MRRA is the guardian of the public trust, they should have acted deliberately by now to correct this. And you as the council should be objecting strenuously, in writing, since they have not.

This pure and intentional misrepresentation of the facts comes on top of the sham "job fair" that was held by Oxford in January, advertised to fill 200 jobs that would begin this past June. Reportedly, 1000 plus applicants showed up to apply for these jobs.

Since everyone in the official "loop" knew full well that there was absolutely no way that the base properties would be available by then, or that Oxford would be in any position to deliver on those potential jobs by June, it seems clear that this was a shameful public relations ploy.

This was another major breach of integrity, and the MRRA did not intervene. Even worse, this was a cruel hoax perpetrated on area residents that are anxiously looking for work. Such behavior is shameful and inexcusable, and tarnishes the name of Oxford even more. The MRRA should be embarrassed as well for their tacit acceptance of such unprincipled behavior.

The questions and doubts continue to pile up without response or explanation. Things get only worse, not better. As a result, I once again implore you as a council to lobby strongly to protect the interests of the town, the region, and it's residents. To repeat, you have just as much influence in this situation as Bailey and Oxford do if business is being conducted honestly.


Any of you who have written to the council know that they are not in the habit of responding, except in very rare cases. Something about not wanting their comments to be in print and on the record. I don't know why that is; do you have any idea?

Life on a one way street can be frustrating enough; add backwards parking to the mix, and you've really got some fun!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lake Basebegone Update....Since Like Forever....

Wow! It's one day short of three weeks since Other Side last reported on news from Lake Basebegone.

It must be because those "protocols" in place are protecting the public from being annoyed by all the good and exciting progress known only to those to whom "it" has been revealed. We average folk can only wonder what the enlightened will send our way as a holiday surprise.

The much anticipated annual meeting of MRRA on October 22nd, at which a vote on the Oxford Aviation "agreement" was expected, has come and gone. From all reports, the event was a dog and pony show, with much attention paid to keeping all the cards close to MRRA's vest.

F. Lee Bailey was in attendance, but did not speak during the public comment period. Jim Horowitz, owner of Oxford, was at the reception and dinner, but did not attend the "business meeting."

While this reporter would never question such behavior, Other Side readers could not be faulted if they doubted whether F. Lee Bailey would really make a trip to our little corner of the world simply to decorate the proceedings but not engage in any form of "dialogue" with relevant officials.

Or if they asked whether Horowitz, the seeker of much from the same officials, and more importantly, we the taxpayers, would find the public session just too irrelevant to endure.

Perhaps he's just shy and uncomfortable in the spotlight and forgot to bring his SAD medication.

A concise report on these circumstances can be found here in the Forecaster. Among other things, it mentions how the MRRA could be coy about holding the vote on Oxford:

If MRRA calls a special meeting, the state's Freedom of Access Law requires the agency to give public notice 24 hours or more prior to the gathering.

Given the determined vigilance of the local populace, and the fervent openness of MRRA principles, we can be sure that we'll be alerted to the meeting the moment it's scheduled. I expect a loud klaxon to sound, followed by a very clear and precise announcement over the public PA system. Given my remote location, I may miss it, so I hope that readers within range of the speakers will notify me instantly. When they do, I'll relay it to the throngs that come here for news of such matters.

While we await word, I'm pleased to report that Oxford continues to advertise to the world via its web site that it will occupy the entirety of Hangar 6, even though the MRRA ED said publicly that the agreement in work only involves half of that hangar space. I suppose it's just an inadvertent slip of the web page.

Much like the job fair that was held in January, which reportedly drew 1000 applicants. That event was held by Oxford to recruit a staff of 200 for the new Brunswick Jet Division in Hangar 6, advertised to begin operations on the base in June of this year.

I could be wrong, but I think June has already passed. And I could be wrong in believing that everyone involved directly, specifically the MRRA and Oxford Aviation, knew full well that there was not a snowball's chance in hell of occupying that space and conducting business anywhere remotely close to June of 2009.

I have to be wrong, right? Because if I'm not, it would mean that we were all being misled intentionally, and that those desperately looking for a job in the area were victims of a cruel hoax perpetrated by Oxford as a public relations gambit, while the MRRA conveniently looked the other way. Just like the MRRA is tacitly endorsing the fraud being perpetrated on Oxford's web site.

I suppose I should be ashamed of myself for even thinking that such a thing could happen in Brunswick and Maine; where everything is above board and otherwise generally perfect. Where "quality of place" infuses every aspect of life and the people's business.

If you look carefully into your computer screen as you read this, you should be able to see me looking appropriately contrite.

And for those of you who thought you'd start work on the base in June, or know of someone else who did, get in touch with me. I have an idea for a whipped creamed pie business that could take off quickly if current trends prevail.

Are the Free Money Trees "Evergreen" or Not?

In the last few weeks I've come across these passages in the local press:

The survey asks two questions: First, whether the Brunswick School Department should develop programs for 4-year-old students, given that state government will reimburse the district for each 4-year-old student at the same rate as students in kindergarten through grade 12.

That report appeared on October 27th in the local daily newspaper.

The following appeared in the latest edition of the Forecaster, with the headline "Brunswick School Department braces for state aid curtailment:"

The School Department anticipates it will have (to) slash approximately $664,000 from its budget to cope with an expected state aid curtailment.
Perzanoski said the local cut is 1.4 times last year's curtailment of more than $474,000. He said he is confident Brunswick can absorb another cut by continuing a freeze on nonessential purchases.

Do you see something wrong with this picture????

Does it seem logical that the School Department should consider expanding its programs because of free money from the state at the same time it's bracing for a further reduction in state general purpose aid to education? When there is nothing on the horizon to suggest that state revenues and aid transfers will increase, let alone return to prior levels, or as this scenario implies, even higher amounts?

Do School officials know something about the laws of economics that the rest of us don't?

Consideration of "programs for 4-year-olds" brings back a bad memory for this reporter. In the midst of budget hearings some years back, an earnest young lady rose to speak, and in a tone just short of demanding, said the town should provide day care services, because she was new in the area, and was having trouble finding suitable arrangements.

This was one of those eye-openers for me. Many times before I'd heard our Town Manager and School Super relate that "people are demanding more services," without ever saying who it was and what they wanted. It was more along the lines of those classic budget rationales that can't be refuted, as exemplified by "costs beyond our control," or "it's the state's fault."

I had not heretofore witnessed a resident so confidently asserting that town government (taxpayers, to be more precise) had an obligation to provide whatever services she desired, regardless of the cost or the charter authority to do so.

It was then I realized how we've reached the point of unsustainable growth in government at all levels, with a fiscal death spiral close behind. As I heard someone say a few years back, we've gone from "give me liberty or death" to "give me liberty" to "give me."

This seemingly competent lady was convinced that the rest of the people at the hearing, and the thousands who weren't, should simply fork it over to give her what she wants. I came to see this as the hidden meaning behind the word "community" more often than not.

While the current discussion does not broach "day care", how far behind can it be? More and more, parents want to turn their children over to someone else to worry about, and the education bureaucracy welcomes the opportunity to shape young minds to their wills while justifying more jobs and more funding.

Especially in circumstances like ours. We've known for 4 years or so that base closure would reduce our student population by 20%, aside from other demographic effects. At least according to those high-priced consultants we pay well to discern such things. The numbers I mention were published in several of their works, and in School Department briefings to the council.

Not that long ago, we had half day kindergarten in our system. Now we're going to all day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. And looking at pre-school as a School Department function.

Yippee! I can hear parents around town thinking about how much they'll save on baby-sitters and other child care arrangements, unconcerned about turning over more and more of their child's development in the most formative years to government schools and their largely unknown curriculums.

What a perfect match this is for the dilemma our teachers' union is facing - a precipitous 20% decline in enrollment, and demographics that point to a long term slide in school-age population. One might reasonably have expected a significant staff reduction as a result.

If one was cynical, one might project that there will be no reduction, and might, if you can believe it, be an increase required. If the number of students are declining, why not require that they spend an extra two years or so in the system? That should keep staffing demands robust, right?

Where there's a will, an inattentive citizenry, and a town council fearful of opposing the schoolies, there's always a way.

Hopefully the Governor and the Legislature can make regular fertilizer applications to the Free Money Trees to keep them producing. I know there's plenty of fertilizer in Augusta, but the demand is big and getting bigger by the day.

Gosh; maybe those Class A Bio-solids rejected by our town can find a productive use on the statehouse grounds.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Major Awards:" Follow-on Notes

Other Side has been remiss in attending to all the issues that need attending to. Intentions outstrip performance by a good 3 to 1 or so.

This post is an effort to scratch one item off the "to do list," or as others might say, remove one item from "the job jar."

The good intentions were hinted at in this item reporting on a major honor sent our way.

This story was inspired, in part, by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama, and the reports of various prizes being awarded to the local newspaper at the annual gathering of the Northeast New England Newspaper Association.

It is important to note that there are "absolute awards" and there are "relative awards." For example, the Oscar is given to the "Best Picture" of the year, regardless of how good it is in an absolute sense. If all the movies in any given year were undistinguished, the least undistinguished would still win the Best Picture award. Even worse, if all the movies stunk, the least stinky would win Best of the Year.

I'm not aware of any year in which it was declared that no movie worthy of "Best of the Year" was nominated, and so no award was granted. Similarly, I don't know of any year when a Nobel Prize for Peace was not awarded because no achievement worthy of the prize had been nominated.

This phenomenon is in keeping with the general decline in our culture. No matter how low we sink, there is always someone or something that, relatively speaking, is "best." No pass, no fail; this is grading "on the curve" taken to it's most destructive extreme.

I'm reminded of the state's ranking system for which town should receive funding for construction of a new school. I visited with the officials in charge, and it became very clear that there was no absolute standard for receiving funding. Rather, the whole system was based on allocating a predetermined amount of funding every year.

There was no pass/fail grade on the applications submitted by the various school districts; there was simply a "scoring" followed by a rank ordering of the applications. If 30 applications were received, and 27 of them really didn't warrant new school construction, it didn't matter. The state had a sum allocated for the year, and it would be spent no matter what. The awarding of funds was completely relative, and the primary goal was to spend every last available dollar, whether it was warranted or not.

That's the way the annual awards the local paper is so good at winning work. Every win is for "Best of the Year" in this or that category. Further, the award selections are made by industry peers, rather than objective outside authorities.

Given this standard of merit, and the rather small number of newspapers in our area, the net result is that nearly every paper gets to claim some "award winning" performance for the year.

The process is not particularly rigorous or error free. Not that long ago, our local paper's former opinion editor was awarded the prize for best editorial of the year for an item she didn't write. When I pointed that out to her and the editors of the paper, they blew it off as just an irrelevant nit.

It turns out that in the recent award cycle, Seth Koenig was deemed the Reporter of the Year. I know Seth a bit, and believe him to be a fine journalist. But he works for a newspaper that is anything but robust and dedicated in it's pursuit of the story behind the story, and that falls flat on its face in the "government watchdog" role.

And it seems to be getting worse week by week, month by month, even if they were voted the "third best" daily newspaper of the year (out of how many?) These awards, if you read the annual reports, give the distinct impression that they are handed out with an eye towards "egalitarianism," if you get my drift. In other words, everybody gets some, because the association wants to make sure there are no self-esteem issues among the publishers and editors.

Which is probably why "four major newspapers in Maine had circulation declines in the most recent six-month period, according to a report released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations of Schaumburg, Illinois.

Out of the four, the Times Record had the greatest decline, with circulation for Monday-Thursday down 19.5% compared to 2007, and Friday circulation down 15.2% over the same period.

Chris Miles must be really glad he and his firm bought the paper, and must really feel good about how they're serving their readership.

And those awards they've won and the circulation figures confirm the merit of their efforts. Good work, folks!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

School construction costs: a windfall!

A few weeks ago, Other Sidecommented on reports about the cost of the new school here.

Now we have great news: the cost of construction will run about 35%, or about $7 million, below expectations.

But I wouldn't be true to myself or my readers if I didn't say that while this is good news, it raises a series of questions, most of which will float off into never-never land, rather than be addressed by those involved.

For example, what does this say about the competence of those who have been in charge from the start, and developed the estimates that were on the table? This includes state officials in the Department of Education, various architects and consultants, and no doubt untold others who make their living coming up with such figures.

It's important to note that all of the above are engaged in estimating such costs in various locations around the state several times every year; this is not some one of a kind, highly unique undertaking. It is what they do full time; a high degree of accuracy should be the normal expectation.

Then, consider Murphy's Law when applied to government involvement in almost anything, but especially capital construction projects. When's the last time you heard of any project coming in below early estimates, especially by 35%? If you look at Brunswick over the last several years, you have actuals coming in well over predictions and estimates in just about every case. Try Maine Street Station prep work, council chambers, public safety buildings, Times Record building renovation, and just about anything else you can think of.

Anyone who isn't riding in their first rodeo automatically expects costs to end up well above the figures the project was sold on. There's virtually no forces in play to make things come out otherwise. No profit motive, no job at stake, and we're always talking about other people's money, which is not conducive to fiscal prudence and cost containment.

OK, so what happened here? Are we simply lucky? Did we win the lottery? Or is this a train wreck waiting to happen? Or even worse, was the system gamed for reasons not clear?

Or on a different angle, are profit margins on such projects in "normal economic times" highly inflated, and when things get tough and work is scarce, they suddenly descend to competitive levels? Who the hell knows; these are reasonable questions, aren't they?

We're told that the unexpectedly low cost proposals are a reflection of the tough economy we're in.

OK, that sounds good. It also sounds like the town council should revisit the cost estimates for renovating the old Times Record building to turn it into a Police Station. The estimate of a few months ago had no rigor and no competition to back it up; it was an 'architect's estimate' based on a cocktail napkin level of computation and backup. If the school is any indicator, the conversion should come in more at the $2 million level, rather than the off the cuff $3 million plus figure that was used to summarily dismiss the possibility of using the building for this purpose.

And if tough times lower costs, we can all look forward to the next town budget, due for discussion in 4 or 5 months, to come in well below last year's figures. It's about time our property taxes get substantially reduced.

I can't wait; how about you?

Dead Horse Reprise: College Voting

It's my habit to accumulate a stack of newspapers and other items to "look at later" for possible interest in blog posting. At some point, guilt confronts me and I decide to weed through them. Bad weather helps in doing it sooner rather than later.

I posted last week on the "dead horse" issue of college voting. I really had nothing more to say on the issue, and the election is over, obviously.

So it seemed like time to move on to the next windmill.

That is, until I paged through last Friday's Bowdoin Orient. To update the record, it turns out that Joanne King advertised in the paper as well as Karen Klatt. It's also the case that town residents and others wrote letters to the Orient endorsing candidates and referendum positions. So like it or not (and I clearly don't), the issue of college voting in town has become not only a dead horse, but a situation to be leveraged.

What has driven me to revisit the horse is the lead editorial in the Orient, entitled Vote at "home," which you can find here.

This offering adds an additional level of insult to the discussion of this "settled" subject, inasmuch as the editors think it's perfectly acceptable to choose where you want to vote based on the ballot issues involved. In so many words, applicable election law is irrelevant; vote where you feel like it will give you the greatest satisfaction. Far worse is their belief that it's hunky dory to switch back and forth between your permanent residence and the campus location from election to election.

In other words, you might call yourself a "resident" of Brunswick for this week's election, and then call yourself a "resident" of your hometown next year because they're electing a governor in your home state. Simply put, whatever suits your desire of the moment is where you should vote.

These passages make the point:

For the majority of students hailing from states other than Maine, this allows them a choice between two ballots. Virtually no other demographic in the United States has this choice.

We are left in a strange legal limbo, able to claim residency and vote in one or the other, depending on our preference.

Note the use of the word "preference" to decide where you vote, not adherence to the letter of the law. As confirmed in these words:

Our ability to register and vote in either state presents an opportunity to volley ourselves between states based on hot-button topics, rather than issues important to the local population.

Given my experience with voting rolls, this cavalier attitude towards establishing residence and then voting is fraught with opportunity for abuse and error, if not problems of conscience, which seem passe in this day and age. The ability to double register and then vote in two locations is a snap, especially since each place you register would do their best to make things easy for you. It's just their nature.

This "volley" concept, if nothing else does, demonstrates how Maine election law enforcement is violated at will. "Residency" in Maine is something you "establish;" you don't do so simply by being somewhere. So's for the kids, and they deserve some slack.

If this editorial doesn't alert you to the dangers of student voting, and the potential for electoral abuse in general, than I'm afraid nothing will. Hey...don't worry, be happy.

It's only the town's future and other details of government operation that are at stake. Who has the time to worry about such things when there's chicken-keeping and bio-solids to worry about?

Hmmm.....maybe that's what that smell is.