Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Side Transparency: Comments to the Town Council

In keeping with this reporter's commitment to readers to fully disclose those communications that he decides not to keep private, the following note sent to the Town Council is provided. The message was sent following the special MRRA/Council workshop held on Monday, Sept 28th.


1) Concerns about Oxford Aviation expressed by this author and others are clearly the least of the challenges facing base redevelopment.

2) When it comes to due diligence on Oxford, the town could invest $100 or thereabouts in a Dunn and Bradstreet report and get it's own independent glimpse of the company from a standard evaluation perspective.

3) The fact that MRRA knowingly allows Oxford to represent to the "global community" that they occupy (or will, to be more precise) the entirety of Hangar 6 for their "Jet Division" while knowing that the agreement or lease or contract only covers half the hangar is troubling on several levels. At the very least, it demonstrates a lack of attention to consistency, detail, and accurate disclosure to the public. Such discontinuities only add to perceptions that communications and accountability are suspect.

4) Oxford's willingness to misrepresent itself in such a way on the internet creates serious doubts about all the other grandiose projections offered up by F. Lee Bailey in public settings. Quite frankly, they appear anything but trustworthy, and base redevelopment efforts create a "look the other way" atmosphere when such concerns arise. This is not a good combination for the public interest and trust.

5) There is clearly a chain of contingencies in play. MRRA must be authorized to 'operate' an airport first of all; then they must engage a Fixed Base Operator. Only then can Oxford Aviation have a functional presence. Sans any other commercial enterprises for the "airport," it will be operated for the sole benefit of Oxford Aviation.

6) Oxford talks of bringing in major full size commercial aircraft. I don't know the first thing about this, but I would think they'd find landing and taking off at an "uncontrolled airfield" a bit sketchy.

I stipulate that everyone involved is intent on putting the best possible spin on things to keep optimism at a high level. That said, unfounded optimism borders on gross misrepresentation, and vigilance is required to make sure things stay on track.

Public statements not withstanding, it is clear that if the Base goes into the tank for whatever reason, the stink will attach first to the town, second to the region, and third to the state. Promises of state support etc. need to be heard in the context of a state that has huge fiscal problems, and that clearly prioritizes social programs over economic sustainability.

I suggest again that it would seem wise to have the town attorney, or someone more qualified, conduct a "worst case" legal analysis of what could fall upon the town's shoulders if things go awry and the state chooses to cut its losses. Good intentions are nice, and political assurances are comforting. Reality has a way of interfering with both, and the town trying to hold the state to its promises doesn't have much of a chance.

Look at the hospitals, which are owed $400 million plus by the state. Now think about the assurances we are getting.

We all know poop runs down hill, and frankly, the town is at the bottom of the hill. You cannot and must not lose sight of that reality.

If you take the runways out of the picture, the other "commercial" potential is based largely on believing people can't find real estate on which to locate a business. Does that really wash in a state so little populated as Maine?

I also question the validity of citing Pease as a model, rather than say Bangor. Pease has a business climate that is nearly the dead opposite of ours, along with proximity to the greater Boston area and deepwater port activities, etc.

Taking Drones to the next level

With all the recent concern about drones, local residents should find this report very interesting. It turns out that there are non-combat uses for the technology.

Pentagon's Unmanned Spokesdrone Completes First Press Conference Mission

Monday, September 28, 2009

Notice to readers

Side will be posting new items only infrequently over the next few days due to personal commitments.

Stay tuned for a return to the normal feverish pace of publishing.

Thanks for your loyalty.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Now, now, children, there's no reason to panic

Those of you who follow the editorial page in the local daily paper know just how seriously the editors take their role as a "watchdog" of government and our public servants. Why sometimes, they're downright nasty in speaking "truth to power," that favorite ploy of would-be benefactors.

I've tried time and time again to get them to soften their approach, but when bulldog journalists get a grip on someone's ankle, or something worse, it's best to let them gnaw away. They win awards for these things, and its all done in the public interest.

Why just today they carried another thoughtful and hard-hitting piece about the goings on with BNAS redevelopment. The editorial follows in the huge foot steps of a guest commentary some months ago by a pillar of our community, who similarly pulled no punches.

But before I get to the heart of this discussion, I have something else exciting to tell you about. We all know the lobster fishing this year has not been yielding the kind of income the very hard working lobstermen should make for all the risks and back-breaking work they put in.

So Side has a plan to fix things. Here's how it works.

We got out some nautical charts and a calculator, and after several hours of detailed computations, came up with the number of square miles of ocean bottom that local fisherman can cover as they chase the much sought after "bugs." Then, using accepted consultants' figures for the lobsters per square mile that the best fishing grounds provide, we came up with a maximum total catch by pounds. Using the highest and best prices we could find for lobsters in the global marketplace, we figured out the total value of the catch, allowing for the higher prices for the larger bugs.

After burning up a roll of adding machine tape, Side's conclusion is that this plan will yield total lobsterman income roughly 5 times that of the best years in the last decade or so.

Now THAT's a plan, don't you think? What an outlook; what promise; what a bright future to look forward to. It's enough to make one go out and buy a boat and 1,000 traps or so and get fishing. Or to ask for someone else to buy it for you.

Wait a minute; who's that grumbling over in the corner? Speak up say what? You don't think what I described is a plan with a capital P?

Why not? Oh...because all I did was run some numbers, and you don't think that's a PLAN???

Well that may be what you think, sir, but it's exactly the same kind of PLAN our trusty friends over at MRRA have come out with for redeveloping our base. At least as I read about it in the paper, and if you read about it in the paper, it must be so, right? You remember that young girl Virginia and Santa Claus, don't you?

Let me read you what the paper said:

We all need to work together to achieve the BNAS reuse master plan’s 20-year goals of 13,800 workers, $732 million in annual wages, an annual average wage of roughly $53,000, total annual income taxes of $40.8 million, total annual commercial and residential property taxes of $19 million.

Why they've got not just a plan, but a master plan! Doesn't that just beat all?


Ok, enough of Other Side's trademark silliness. Even though the silliness has a real point.

Some months ago, this blog reported on the "Field of Dreams" approach to base redevelopment and the exceptional projections that flowed from the consultants to the consultants who used it.

The relevant thoughts from that post are these:
These wildly optimistic figures are not based on a detailed assessment of global, national, state, or local economic conditions; they are not founded on local or regional demands for business space; they do not consider Maine’s and Brunswick’s anti-business attitudes and policies; nor do they factor in what has occurred in nearby base closures, like Loring, Pease, or Dow. And it’s safe to say the figures reflect primarily private sector activities, instead of government agencies and non-profits like colleges, homeless shelters, etc.

Instead, and I quote, “the methodology they used is standard build-out analyses for comprehensive planning purposes.”

Let me be very clear what this response from the MRRA means. One computes the square footage of the various facilities that could be reused or built anew, and assumes specific uses for them. The available space is then divided by assumed space per type of employee to arrive at a maximum employment estimate. Those employment counts are multiplied by assumed annual incomes to arrive at maximum annual wage estimates.

To reiterate: the projections of employment, economic impact, and tax revenues are based entirely on square footage that could someday be available, and an array of assumptions derived from it. In other words, the “if you build it they will come” theory.

Now, let's get to the punch line. Neither the lobster fantasy that opened this post or the consultants' wildly optimistic figures, repeated in the current editorial, have anything to do with a "plan." They are simply computations with no tactics, strategy, or other definitive and robust actions and execution behind them.

You might as well calculate how many ping pong balls would fit inside your house, and when you come up with the number, advertise that you're gonna save the economy in Brunswick with ping pong balls. Even though you don't have a clue as to how you make them.

At the risk of boring you beyond what you deserve, let me say it once again: a calculation is not a plan. A plan, generally speaking, is the design for a desirable future, as we used to say. It is a series of specific actions, metrics, and achievements that set you on a course to the desired objectives.

It is not the computation of how many clerical workers can fit in a given building. Which is largely the extent of the figures cited in the recent editorial, which are the same figures issued many months ago in an attempt to put on a pair of communal rose colored glasses.

I'm not sure what real plans MRRA has for long term base redevelopment, other than keeping lots of consultants at work. But I'm pretty sure that what ever ones they have fall under the "confidentiality is king" rule.

Oh hell, in the end, it doesn't make much sense to get cranky with the damn newspaper editors; chances are they didn't even write the editorial.

I think I'll take two protocols and hit the hay. I suggest you do the same, and I'll call you in the morning to see how you're doing.

And be sure to check your email for the 23 page full disclosure document for those "protocols." I hate to bother you with all those messy details and fine print, but the government requires full disclosure. They say the only way to protect the public is to make sure they're fully informed.

Who'd argue with that?

This & That: The Forecaster, Friday September 25

Another Friday, another lunch at Northern America's finest New York style deli - the Big Top on Maine Street in Brunswick.

No matter that the boss and owner can't seem to remember how to make a Reuben. His "innovative" alternative was quite acceptable, and I managed to squeeze a cookie out of him as "consideration" for unnecessary gustatory pain and suffering.

The first issue of the Bowdoin Orient for the school year, at least on a first reading, seemed decidely pedestrian in content. On to the Forecaster and the editorial page.

Ah! Targets worthy of snarky commentary by Side.

Perry Newman

Perry Newman, one of their regular columnists, wrote on health insurance reform and the need for Senator Snowe to "do the right thing."

This reporter, while always treading with the light steps of a butterfly in whatever subject area is being addressed, is none-the-less regularly accused of being over the top in choosing words to express a point. "Hair on fire" often captures the sentiment.

Newman's blazing coif and facial hair in this column beats anything coming from Side in recent memory. I hope you've got your Nomex suit on, because you're gonna need it when you read this passage:

Lives are at stake. At no other time has so much of our population been so imperiled by an enemy as pernicious and entrenched as our own health-care system.

They claim opponents of Obama's proposals, besides being racist, are going to extreme lengths to confuse and lie about things.

Newman bows to no one in this regard. Imperiled by an enemy? Pernicious?

Just to clarify things, has these relevant definitions of "pernicious:"

1. causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful: pernicious teachings; a pernicious lie.
2. deadly; fatal: a pernicious disease.

The bar has been raised, opponents. Better start sharpening those tongues over the weekend.

Jim Horowitz, Oxford Aviation President

Much has been written by the Forecaster and this reporter about Mr. Horowitz, his company's record to date, and their prospects for "global aviation leadership" as a lead occupier on Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Stepping out from behind the considerable presence of F. Lee Bailey, Horowitz responds to the recent Forecaster investigative reports.

Completely ignoring all the troublesome details of these articles, Horowitz instead calls for respect for his employees. A nice touch that, but an all too obvious ploy to distract readers from the facts he can't deny with sympathetic imagery.

Two Horowitz assertions call for comment.

Our national reputation is, without doubt, the highest in the industry.

As is the reputation of this blog, "without doubt." No hubris here on Oxford's part. I'm sure he submitted lengthy substantiation for this claim.

I'm reminded of how many "best lobster roll in Maine" signs I've see around the state.

While we're basking in the glow of Oxford's reputation, Horowitz reminds us that

All grant funds went into the construction funds, not one cent into Oxford Aviation's account.

Ummmm, OK. But I have a question. If I build a house for you with my money, while never putting a dollar into your account, does that mean you haven't realized a huge financial benefit?

Does the term "cost avoidance" mean anything? Does it really matter whether dollars were deposited into accounts, or is what matters the capital value gained at no expense?

Side notices a regular pattern with Horowitz. The main feature is lurking in the shadows while F. Lee Bailey does the "Denny Crane" act in public settings. No paintball guns yet, but the sheer power of the name is clearly in play.

When Horowitz does decide to show himself, it's with tender and tangential expressions that completely ignore the matters before "the court." In that respect, he is learning large from F. Lee. Hand-waving and theatrics are the best strategy when you have no defense.

In a court of law, and in the court of public opinion.

The Side rests, your honor.

It's time for some single malt and a fine cigar.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More from Canada: Part II of Daughter's Report

My lovely daughter has submitted a second installment relating her family's personal experiences with Canadian "free" health care.

When I spoke to her today, she told me about an ex-pat friend who is extremely frustrated with the Canadian system, to the point of returning home to Wisconsin for "procedures." Before US care changes for the worse, no doubt.

We hope to have a report from her in future days.

For the time being, posted below is part deux of my daughter's report. And lest readers fall into the trap of believing it's all free, here are some references on taxes in Canada. (Sales tax on nearly everything is 13% just to begin with.)

Income taxes in Canada.

Other taxes and charges in Canada.

Here's the personal report.

My husband loves to tell people when they ask about our healthcare system up here that it's "a great place to be healthy". He says it in a joking manner, but is very serious about that observation.

I'm the membership chair for our local American Women's Club up here. That means I'm a liaison for women who move to our area and are joining our club. It’s a wonderful position, and I enjoy the interaction with fellow Americans new to this experience.

Can you guess what their first question to me often is? If you guessed "How do I find a Doctor," you’re correct. While for many women, finding the right hairdresser and a good school might top the list, for Americans moving to Canada, their top concern is finding a Doctor, since they've never heard anything good about Canadian healthcare. If they come with a child who has medical issues (and many do) it's even more of a priority.

In our town of about 150,000 people, we have many Doctors. Family practitioners are the most common (not many pediatricians in the area), and many work in a group setting under a walk-in clinic storefront. While anyone off the street can go to a walk-in, not many of those Doctors are accepting new patients.

There are over 1.5 million residents in the province of Ontario without a Doctor. There's not much being done to stop that number from growing. Few family physicians are accepting patients, and if they are, one must "interview" with the Doctor before being taken on. The assumption is that if you are too "high maintenance," you could be turned away. A Doctor doesn't want to spend too much time on one patient if their chronic needs compromise their time with other patients.

This is the irony; a Doctor is in the field to help sick people, but because the system in place keep his services in high demand, he is forced to turn away those people who need him most because they require too much time and his expertise. In short, you're lucky if you can find a Doctor, and a good one at that.

Once you've found a family Doctor, making appointments to get your sick children in is difficult. You're vying for a limited number of spots per day with potentially hundreds of other moms and their sick kids. What's a mom to do?

I've made my rounds of the walk-in clinics, and know which ones to go to for a shorter wait ,and which ones are open on weekends . A long wait (1-2 hours) is not unusual. There's typically one Doctor covering a shift ,and rarely a nurse or nurse practitioner to help lighten his work load and move the line through.

Some walk-in clinics only squeeze you in between the people with appointments; that can sometimes double your wait time, which is not fun with two kids in tow. I confess as a mom that when my kids get any sign of fever, sore throat, or cough, I'm at the Doctor's office. Their condition can turn on a dime, and with our weather up here, things can get ugly and spread fast.

With "free healthcare" like this, it's easy to rationalize the trip to the Doctor since it doesn't cost me anything. However, when you begin adding up all the moms in a town this size, and throw in an illness that's being passed around town, you've got an overloaded system very quickly.

On a brighter note, you'd be surprised to know that for a "free" system of healthcare, it's not so easy to acquire. Here's the list of what to bring to prove you're qualified:$File/9998-82E_.pdf

For starters, you have to prove citizenship (don't let Obama know this), proof of residency (they need to know you're a hard working individual whose taxes will keep the system supported), and proof of identity (no aliases allowed). A 90 day waiting period after entering the country is required, and even for that, you must have "official proof" (work visa, border crossing papers etc).

I wish I could say those 90 days were worth the wait, but I'll have to kindly refrain from making any offensive remarks here.

I was raised right, you know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transparency, "Other Side" Style

First, a lyrical introduction, from the musical Chicago:

Mister cellophane
Should have been my name !!!!
Mister cellophane
'cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there!

The reader who has followed this blog from the start (thanks, Daughter!) knows from the opening preambles that this reporter is "transparent," in whatever sense you choose to interpret that term.

I have never, ever been called "nuanced," "inscrutable," or otherwise a conundrum.

The polar opposite is what I am, actually. You know what WYSIWIG means? That's me, unless you choose to modify it to mean what you get is less than what you see.

I am, in many ways, childlike, although others might call me childish. Take your pick.

The one thing I am sure I'm not is a "political insider" or a dealer in volatile and privileged information. If you haven't figured me out yet, you're trying too hard.

OK, I'm tired of reading the fine print on my belly button. At my age, and with my body, it's a challenge no one should have to face.

So, now that you've had to wade through this opening, let's grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.

The point of this post is "full disclosure" in the Other Side's way of looking at things.

The events of the last few days have stimulated "lively discussion" with a town official or two, including some suggestions on how I could improve my public countenance. Cue the broken record. It's too late to put lipstick on this hippo.

The discussion resulted in some suggestions and comments from our editorial offices, and it is only fair and responsible that such suggestions receive full public disclosure. So, here you are:


Negligence implies "neglect." If we haven't been neglecting this issue, then either I am the least informed citizen in town, or I don't understand what the word means, or both.

More suggestions:

- Spend some time with the Town Attorney, and if he doesn't have the right skill set, find one who does, to discuss the legal issues regarding base closure and transition and how it will/could effect the town in the short and long terms. It occurs to me that we put more effort and dollars into "land for Brunswick's future" than we do for getting our arms around the base issue.

- Think in terms of performing a "worst case analysis" to understand what the upper bounds on town/area challenges will be. It's nice to hear all the rosy talk of "global leadership" and such, but it shouldn't distract us from being aware of what the worst outcome could be. Remember Pease, Loring, and Dow. Keep in mind that the economic climate is arguably worse than what they faced for their transitions.

- Immediately schedule meetings with every official in Sanford who will meet with you. Understand what their experiences were. They got so far as to have Baldacci, Richardson, and Bailey there for a gala groundbreaking. I'm not sure Sanford officials, including local Chamber types, will want to meet with you, but you should try your best to pick their brains, not only on Oxford, but on what the implications were for the Airport. You should also include their state delegation in this, as they were likely in the mix.

- Immediately schedule a meeting with Oxford Town/Airport officials to gain the benefit of their experience base.

- Come to think of it, you should schedule meetings with the appropriate authorities, both base and town, in the Pease, Dow, and Loring areas. What have you got to lose by sitting down to talk about their experiences?

- Going this alone as "first timers" with support and advice only from politicians seems like the worst possible approach.

Forecaster Update on Oxford Aviation & Brunswick

It looks like Oxford Aviation is not on the "most favored airport tenant" list these days.

Oxford Aviation's performance has also become an issue at the Eastern Slopes Regional Airport in Fryeburg, where the company runs a small avionics shop and is the airport's fixed base operator. According to airport manager Dave Cullinan, The Eastern Slopes Airport Authority was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to discuss possibly evicting Oxford Aviation for its failure to pay rent and fulfill its duties at the airport.

It must be because they haven't been working with the right people. Everything should be different in Brunswick.

Check out the real reporting work here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Welcome Aboard!

Other Side notes a flurry of "absurd" votes on the most recent posts!

It's great to see the new participation, and we can't wait until the reaction rises above simple voting to actual comments on the posts.

And rest assured that your voting IDs will be kept private!

That's the least we can do for the increased revenue.

A Daughter's Experience With Canadian Healthcare

I have a grown daughter with two children, one delivered in the US, and the other delivered in Canada. She and her family have lived in Canada for five years, so I asked her to describe her experiences.

Here you are:

After living in Canada for 5 years now as an ex-pat, I have a unique perspective from which to compare the two countries and their differing approach to caring for their citizens.

Not many women can brag about having each of their children in a different country, but that's exactly the privilege I have. My son was born in Arizona under the care of an OBGYN that was very well trained and had an impeccable bedside manner. He also took copious notes, spent adequate time with me during each of my pre-natal visits and made sure to put me at ease. It was my first pregnancy and he did all he could to allay any fears a typical first time mother would have.

When it came time to head to the hospital, there wasn't much I had to pack except clothes for me and the baby and the usual essentials (baby book, magazines, etc). My son was 8 days late, and the Dr. was happy to induce me. During the labor, there were plenty of nurses available, all friendly and reassuring. In fact, they were the ones doing most of the leg work, calling the Dr. only when the delivery was near.

My Dr. showed up just in time to “catch” my son, and was as professional as I'd come to expect him to be. He stayed and visited following the delivery to ensure the baby and I were fine. He even recommended I take advantage of the baby nursery overnight because "you will have plenty of time to change diapers when you're home" Sage advice on his part! In fact, our son did spend time in the nursery so that I could rest.

There were no complaints on my end of anything that could have been done to improve my experience. When we left Arizona three years later, I was pregnant with our second child. One of my saddest thoughts was not having my OB to deliver my baby, and the stress of trying to find a new Doctor in Canada.

Luckily, when we arrived in Canada, we had friends living in the same city, and the wife had just delivered her third child. She recommended her Doctor and we arranged a meeting with him immediately. As a Doctor who had been practicing for several decades, he had his fair share of patients. I was fortunate to be told by him "one of my greatest loves is delivering babies, so I’ll take you on as a patient". Boy was I lucky! I'd later been told by several people that finding a Doctor is difficult, as many aren't accepting new patients (too few Doctors for too many people).

My pre-natal visits were less than thorough; weigh in and measuring my belly for uterine growth. The Doctor kept a piece of loose leaf paper in a manila folder and wrote down these numbers, but nothing more that I was aware of. The exam rooms were old and cluttered.

As we approached my due date (Dec 18) I was concerned about being in the hospital over Christmas. By Dec 22 there was still no "action" so I asked to be sent for an induction, and my Doctor hesitantly sent me to the hospital. The on-call Doctor there checked me out and reported that at "0 dilation, there is nothing that can be done for you" and sent me home frustrated and upset.

Having been induced with my first child, I knew there were options, but for some reason they would not use them. Finally, on Christmas night I began to have contractions and phoned my Doctor. His suggestion was to bathe in some warm water until things calm down. Looking back, I'm not sure if this was his desire based on finishing his Christmas celebration, or really allowing nature to run its course!

By 11:30 pm I was in tears and begged my husband to take me to the hospital, regardless of what the Doctor said. Once at the hospital, it was apparent there wasn't much coverage in labor and delivery. Two nurses at most were visible and the first one we approached was less than friendly. She hooked me up to the monitor and let me sit in excruciating pain without offering any means of comfort. She finished with the monitor and then explained that I was free to go until "more" had happened with my labor.

Thankfully my husband spoke up and asked if there wasn't "something you could do for her?" Only then did she mention laboring in the tub they had available. It was while on the bed during this conversation that my water broke - a true blessing that I finally was taken seriously by this nurse.

The anesthesiologist wasn't even in the building and had to be called in, and that alone took 2 hours or more. By the time I received my epidural I was spent. Everything took longer, and no one was very helpful. I'm not sure if it was the Christmas night issue or that they were always this aloof. My Doctor came in after my water broke and spent the entire time with me and my husband (from about 1am to the delivery at 6am). Now that was amazing!

After my delivery, I was reminded there was no nursery for the baby (lack of funds) and would need to have her near me at all times. Did I forget to mention how I had to pack EVERYTHING for baby and me from diapers, to wipes, to maxi pads - if I needed it, I had to have it packed. The hospital provided nothing of the sort. My husband was kind enough to video tape my delivery and in it I whispered (in between pushing) "quote me now, I will never have another baby in Canada". The experience up to that point had obviously been very negative.

Some months later, I discovered that this particular hospital, in their deliveries, takes a more "natural' approach, and tries to do less inductions and scheduled c-sections and more of the laboring at home approach. It all came together for me upon hearing that.

Now however, I have an entirely new perspective. From a cost standpoint, this is their goal - to have as few patients as possible, in for as short a time as possible, with as little intervention as possible. They achieve this by having you come in at the last minute, not offering many comforts, and even by keeping the anesthesiologist out of the building!

On a personal level, I never felt that my delivery mattered to the nurses and staff with my second child. Their attitude made it appear to be more of a "job" than a "passion." Is this a result of socialized healthcare? If so, how do you explain my Doctor, who was happy to sit with me all night while I labored? His passion for his line of work was rare, and was welcomed by someone like me who was new to the country and the system.

You'd be surprised by how many American women that move here for their husband's job plan on delivering their babies in Buffalo (over an hour away!) because it's difficult to find a Doctor and they feel more comfortable in their home country where they know what to expect in a hospital.

I don't blame them.

Urgent Workshop Notice

I have just learned from the Town Office that as a result of the discussion last night, there will be a workshop with MRRA and the Council next Monday night at 7:00 at the Municipal Meeting Room at Maine Street Station (Sept 28).

Please circulate this notice widely, and attend if you possibly can.

The entrance to the meeting area is a rather innocent looking door at the rear of the space that will be occupied by Scarlet Begonias, on the Northeast corner of the building.

Claps and Slaps....

Claps for the Town Council

After years of speaking before the town council at regular and special meetings, I have come to expect nothing more in response than a polite "thank you."  There were occasional memorable episodes in the past where I'd be called various names, but fortunately that has not happened in more recent years.

Now I learn that last night the council, spurred on by other events as well, took up the subject about which I spoke, and decided to take action.

So in the spirit of outreach, Side hereby rises to deliver a standing O to the council for last night's discussion, and we look forward to reporting on the outcome of future actions.

Slaps for this Reporter

Conversely, you can color Side embarrassed for having left the meeting shortly after finishing its "testimony," and before the discussion just referred to occurred.  The reason is plain enough; after dozens of occasions speaking to the council, and watching those being addressed riff through papers, yawn, look unhappy, or otherwise wish the yapping would come to an end, there seemed to be no good reason to stick around for a one in a million chance of follow-up.

Last night that was the wrong thing to do, and so we offer a sitting raspberry for our own behavior.

Due Diligence and Oxford: A glimpse

OK, you information groupies. I'm here to pass along some specifics that should illustrate my earlier points, and provide a launching point for your own pursuits should you feel an insatiable intellectual curiosity on the matter.

Aircraft painting and the related services proposed by Oxford Aviation at BNAS are not an under-served market. It is zealously courted by a worldwide array of established companies – from the very smallest like Oxford, to multi-national groups that have existing arrangements with Airbus and others.

Their capabilities, locations, facilities, staffs, and experience are impressive.

Here are some examples:

The STTS Group of Europe and QAPS, one of their subsidiaries. Be sure to see the pictures as well. STTS has facilities in Spain, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, and can handle aircraft from business jets to A340 and B747 airliners.

Domestically, look at Leading Edge Aviation Services, with four facilities in the US, and one in Malaysia. Be sure to check their portfolio , which includes many major airlines and UPS.

Try their video gallery; it's really something.

There are too many others to count, like Duncan Aviation, with more than 20,000 active accounts, 2000 worldwide employees, full repair capability, and multiple facilities with five times the total space of Hangar 6 at BNAS. You can look at the Fact Sheet linked on the page.

If anything, there may be overcapacity in the industry at this point, given the reduction in routes and flights, and the switch to smaller aircraft.

The only way I can see for Oxford to fulfill F. Lee Bailey’s extravagant but verbal only promises is to take business away from other well established and entrenched providers. There's no reason to expect Airlines to buy more airplanes or service them more frequently because Oxford moves into a Brunswick hangar. Or to expect them to pay the OJT costs and the absence of economies of scale at Oxford. Not to mention the lion's share of any "airport operations" costs.

Could we please have someone do a real business case analysis on this, before our public treasures and assets are committed?

Pretty pretty please?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Follow-up to "Due Diligence and Oxford Aviation"

Side is well aware that you were teased with the prospect of a forthcoming "breaking story." And we here at headquarters are looking sorely ashamed for not having delivered on that tease.

There are reasons, although a critical reader would consider them petty personal problems, so I won't go into them.

Instead, I am posting the text of the statement Side presented to the Brunswick Town Council tonight, which addresses the "breaking story" issue without going into exhaustive detail. The text has been slightly edited only for readability in this format.


• I’m here tonight because I am extremely, and I mean extremely concerned about base redevelopment and how it will relate to and affect this town.

• I’ve yet to see any evidence that town government has even begun to grapple with the challenges, obligations, burdens, and expenses that will accrue to it as the transition gets underway.

• I don’t believe any work has been done to determine the “business model” for the immediate future as the base closes, and in the longer term as the MRRA departs the scene. If it has, I haven’t seen or read any evidence of it.

• For the life of me, I can’t understand how this could be. I could talk about ostriches and elephants and monkey trios, but they wouldn’t communicate my concerns with sufficient force. So instead I’ll use the word negligence, unless you can convince me otherwise. The negligence amounts to running from your duties.

• I suppose it’s easy to get wrapped up in the Maine Street Station buildings, the excitement about a new school, new police buildings, and all those other fun things.

• Well let me slap you upside the head with a verbal 2 x 4. The MRRA is about to make the town of Brunswick a partner in a very sketchy business proposition, one month from now, whether we want to or not, and without the slightest due diligence or agreement on the town’s part.

• Oxford Aviation has been getting considerable examination these days, no thanks to our local paper. We should be grateful that the Forecaster sees this as a worthy issue to investigate and report on.

• MRRA is about to lease the single biggest, newest, most valuable facility on the base to a company whose reputation and resume are, to be kind, problematic; a company that feels it’s in their best interest to use a celebrity California attorney as their public face. His stake in Oxford’s future is mysterious, just as the details of the lease are completely unknown. But as you’ll recall, Commissioner Richardson says “protocols” are necessary and “confidentiality is king.”

• Poppycock, balderdash, and nonsense. This is the business of the public being conducted by a public body using public funds. And they are about to saddle the town and the region with the consequences of this transaction before the town wakes up and gets its pants on.

• The greater part of my career was spent in business development, where a good deal of time and attention was spent on market analysis and understanding the competition. From time to time, potential acquisitions came into view.

• Due diligence was the key to making sure that that investments required were based on sound analysis and facts, and that a reasonable return on any investment could be expected.

• We see none of this discipline and rigor in our current situation. Instead, we see undue negligence. It’s amazing how working with other people’s money can eliminate the healthy skepticism and survivalist instincts that would otherwise apply.

• Well, just to see what was going on, I conducted a little “due diligence” myself this weekend. I used a sophisticated research apparatus called Go Ogle. Some people pronounce it “google,” I think.

• I researched the competitive landscape in “aircraft painting” and “commercial aircraft painting.” What I found in this brief effort astonished me and set off reasonability alarms. I am convinced that further study is urgently called for, and would amass a wealth of vital and troubling information before any commitments are made.

• We don’t have time to go through details here. I will simply say that F. Lee Bailey’s grandiose pronouncements of an international business base and global leadership in aviation for Brunswick are bizarre and unwarranted, and should be completely disregarded until such time as a serious and objective case study and business plan is developed. But given the politics of the situation, it’s more likely I’ll have a full head of hair when I wake up tomorrow morning. And I almost forgot about his teasing us with contracts ready to go if we would please, please, please just sign on the dotted line.

• Numerous well established companies exist to serve this marketplace, many with multiple facilities, some bigger than Hangar 6, with complete painting, engine and structural maintenance, and avionics capabilities. With established and proven business relationships with Airbus, airlines, and others. In other words, on a prima facie basis, buying into Oxford’s promises seems reckless and irresponsible at this point. I see no reason to believe this David can conquer numerous Goliaths. Especially when you are putting public money and public assets at risk.

• Perhaps these realities were a major factor in OSO backing out of venture financing for Oxford in Sanford. Not to mention that commercial aviation is not exactly a growth business these days, with routes and expenses being cut everywhere you look.

• Unless this council takes immediate and forceful action, you will have committed the citizens of this town to a partnership with Oxford of unknown consequence and unknown costs, and with zero understanding of the long term effects on the town. How much will it cost to provide fire protection and other public safety coverage? What other obligations will be incumbent on the town and those who pay the bills? How big an iceberg are we heading for?

• I don’t see how you can possibly stand by and watch this happen. I don’t understand why you haven’t already planned a weekend retreat or something of similar scale to get away from the normal course of town business, where you can come to a thorough understanding of the scope and consequences of base transition so that an orderly plan can be developed and executed, and so that your constituents will know what to expect.

• We’d like to see the trains come to Brunswick. Based on the foregoing, I suggest we may see a major train wreck before regular service arrives, and nobody can see it coming or assure us that it will be avoided in time.

• I’ve heard from some people that the town has “no voice in this matter.” Well, you better find one. To start with, our Town Manager is on the MRRA Board of Directors. If that doesn’t give us a voice and full disclosure, than we’re in a far more political and troubling mess than I thought, and I’m pretty damn cynical in such matters.

• And maybe you should think about issuing a disclaimer to MRRA and Oxford saying that Brunswick officially declines any financial obligations or encumbrances now and in the future. If that doesn’t get some attention, the battle is truly lost.

• I’ll close with an irony or two; I just can’t help it. I don’t know how many times I’ve read complaints in the paper about the disturbing practice of “corporate welfare and tax loopholes” for greedy capitalists, and how they’ve got to be stopped. Hmmmm; it’s hard not to snicker given the situation we’re in.

• Then there’s our environmentally concerned neighbors. I well remember the great poop deliberations of some years back, or should I say “biosolids.” When the debate against application could not be won on the merits, the arguments came down to “but why take a chance?”

• Now we’re entertaining the stripping, metallurgical treatment, and painting of massive high speed aircraft. It would seem that the environmental and toxicity challenges here are immense, and I suggest, completely unknown and undisclosed in the case before us. Yet I hear nor read nary a peep.

• Oh well. Don’t worry, be happy, I guess. It’s ever so much easier.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Due Diligence and Oxford

This is a heads up to Side readers.

I will have "breaking news" to report in the next day or two on the pending agreement with Oxford Aviation to occupy the huge new hangar at BNAS. As I reported from Forecaster coverage, barring any surprises, MRRA will be signing a lease with them in one month, based almost entirely on the charm and persuasiveness of F. Lee Bailey. And without revealing a single detail of the agreement to the public. You know, "protocols" and "confidentiality is king."

I am compiling the details of the story, and it will take a few more days to complete the effort.

From my perspective as a retired business development/marketing manager, this looks like enough to be a deal breaker.

Stay tuned.

Brunswick "Truthers"

Side wrote last week on the appearance of a "truther commentary" in our local paper on the anniversary of "9/11."

We heard from friends who were disturbed about this editorial act, but waited in vain all week for some sort of reaction to appear in the letters section, to no avail.

Finally today a group of letters took issue with the practice, and in generally very strong terms.

In particular, Side appreciates the letter from Captain Will Fitzgerald, CO of BNAS, who probably feels more strongly offended than just about any other reader.

Thanks to those who wrote for restoring some confidence in the sanity of the local populace. And a sense of decorum and sensitivity.

Now, Mikey, you can have your friends come on over and hyperventilate like they did last week. We could use the income.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reflections.....on yesterday.

"Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."

"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

Macbeth, Act IV

Sometimes, in the bubbling cauldron of my mind, things cook quickly, I serve them up, and just like that, what to cook next grabs my attention.

Other times, things bubble and cook slowly, ingredients meld, flavors take on new complexity, and a surprising new dish results.

Yup; it's me being silly again. But not THAT silly. I told you yesterday that the two posts occurred to me separately, but as I composed the second one, something more came to mind.

After a day of casual reflection, I am convinced that there may well be more to the story than a first reading revealed.

Let's review the circumstances. The Forecaster report on the MRRA board meeting in Bath earlier this week described the discussions related to Oxford Aviation's proposal to occupy the massive new hangar at BNAS, specifically mentioning comments by F. Lee Bailey, Commissioner John Richardson, and Steve Levesque, the MRRA head. And how approving the lease agreement between Oxford and MRRA was a top priority, and would be voted on at the October meeting. That's right; the deal could be sealed in a month, before anyone locally knows what hit them.

The Times Record report on the same meeting didn't mention Oxford, Bailey, or Richardson at all. Instead, it focused on no-cost transfers, Blue Angel visits, and more space for MRRA, so it could accommodate a "clean energy" manager. Or should we say clean energy czar? (Note to MRRA: a national expert in such matters recently became available, and has impeccable Washington czar-level experience.)

How could our local paper completely miss the Oxford/Bailey/Richardson nexus?

THIS is how the slow cooking in the cauldron of my mind came to pass.

I tried to remember what coverage the local paper had provided over the last year on the Oxford initiative, and the pickings were pretty slim. I remembered the three commentaries I submitted on base redevelopment, the second of which raised some concerns about Oxford claims and comments.

This second column elicited a letter in response from Jim Horowitz, CEO of Oxford. The letter showed little rigor in vetting by the editors, if any at all, since Horowitz refuted an assertion I had not made. This was curious to say the least.

His letter in turn caused me to delve more deeply into Oxford's past, and the result was a third commentary. Only after repeated probing did the editors retreat from their "still considering it" excuse making and demand that I substantiate everything in the column. Detailed 'exchanges' ensued, following which a slightly modified version was printed. This episode led reluctantly to the creation of this blog.

The only other published item I can recall on this subject is a commentary authored by a well known "pillar of the community," who argued that MRRA was doing a swell job and that they should be cut some slack because of the tough challenges they face. I took it as a back door dismissal of my last commentary on the subject.

Since then, I cannot recall a single news report or editorial piece on the Oxford initiative, the consequences for the town, the corporate welfare issues, and the very obvious political implications of the negotiations.

Flash back to the 2000 Brill's Content article. It turns out that the author of the "cut MRRA some slack" commentary, who I characterized as a pillar of the community, was prominently mentioned in the article. And in a troubling and unflattering way, specifically related to who decides what our "free press" covers and how.

Which is what led to the "slow cooking" analogy. New and complex "flavors" came to the fore, along with curiosity about how things really work in our little town of "Perfect."

I'd link to all the relevant items, but as I noted yesterday, the Brill's article is not available on the web. And the local newspaper's web based archive spans all of the last two weeks, which is to say it isn't really an archive. This eliminates the possibility of compiling a meaningful history of their coverage on just about anything.

Side has no other option, then, but to pose the following questions for Chris, Robert, and Jim over at the Times Record, and just for the heck of it, for Doug the Director as well:

1) Who actually runs the paper?

2) How is it decided, and by whom, what gets reported on and what doesn't, and what approach the reporting takes?

3) What does it take to make the cut on what is relevant to the local region, its residents, and its future?

Jeez, Louise, if Oxford, Bailey, and Richardson don't make the cut, what would?? Those concerned have my offer of unlimited column inches here to answer.

It's enough to make some wonder whether the sale of the "old" Times Record building to the town doesn't warrant concern in retrospect.

There's more than one "elephant in the room" these days; but this "white" one is looking more and more un-adoptable. If you know anyone who could provide a foster home for it, give the town office a call.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

News from Lake Basebegone, Sept 16 2009

It’s with an eerie sense of apprehension that I draft this post, just hours after posting on the Brill’s Content article of 2000, and the less than flattering views it expressed on our local newspaper and various “town fathers.”

You have my word that this juxtaposition happens to be, well, happenstance. After completing the “Color me clueless” post, I discovered that the Forecaster had once again done some solid reporting on the MRRA and the Oxford Aviation proposal. I stopped work to gobble down some victuals, and glanced at the local paper’s coverage of the same meeting while I did.

Then it hit me; could we be witnessing the same pathologies described in the 2000 article here and now as base redevelopment unfolds?

To the point. The Forecaster reported on yesterday’s MRRA meeting in Bath with an emphasis on discussions about the Oxford Aviation proposal, citing comments by Commissioner John Richardson, the irrepressible and irresistable F. Lee Bailey, and Steve Levesque, head of the MRRA. Levesque is a predecessor of Richardson in the Commissioner spot, and was appointed by Gov. Baldacci to his current post.

Our local paper's report on the same meeting, on the other hand, mentions not one word about Oxford, Bailey, or Richardson, but instead dwells on issues of broader general interest, featuring a picture of the Blue Angels with a suggestion that they may someday return if things work out right.

As readers know, this reporter in months past, and the Forecaster more recently, have focused on exploring the history of Oxford Aviation and its pursuit of corporate welfare and tax loopholes from MRRA and local taxpayers.

The local newspaper, other than carrying this reporter’s op-ed pieces some months ago, and with “vetting” rigor not applied to other authors, has blithely ignored the Oxford situation and the political posturing surrounding it.

The referenced Forecaster article gives cause for concern. First, there seems to be a rush to consummate the deal, as indicated in this passage:

Richardson, who has not returned phone calls seeking comment about Oxford Aviation, on Tuesday appeared anxious for MRRA to vote on the lease agreement.

"When can we expect to ratify the (contract)?" Richardson asked. "I feel like we've had this in front of us for quite some time."
This is the same Richardson that sermonized on “protocols” and “confidentiality is king” just a few short months ago at a town council meeting. Apparently Richardson wants to rush this through, raising questions about a desire to take credit for the deal when he makes his widely rumored pending announcement to seek the Governor’s office. Time is a wasting, one surmises.

Careful reading of the article further reveals a change in the status of the Oxford deal. MRRA in the past had only gone so far as to say that they had a “memorandum of understanding” from Oxford, and refused, under cover of their lawyers, to disclose any content or details.

Now the rhetoric is about a “lease agreement,” or even more binding, a contract:

Richardson asked MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque if the contract between MRRA and Oxford Aviation was signed. Levesque told Richardson that the MRRA board needed to ratify the agreement.
Side can’t help but wonder whether the influence peddling described in 2000 isn’t alive and well and working its magic even today, in what is surely the most far reaching and consequential era in Brunswick history.

Inquiring minds also have to wonder why MRRA, its board, Richardson, and the rest take the word of F. Lee Bailey in discussions about Oxford. He is not an officer of the company, and has no accountability or stake in these matters. At least none that have been disclosed.

Are our “public servants” that blinded by celebrity? Are they that in awe of it? Will it trump their fiduciary obligations for our interests?

There’s no denying that Richardson and Oxford are in a rush to get it done. The only reasons for such haste that come to mind are unseemly and troubling. And they suggest a vulnerability to gamesmanship of the vilest sort, primed by personal ambition.

Get it done by October 20th, that is. Set your clocks, you interested students of the local scene.

From Side’s perspective, it looks like the rush is a bum’s rush. And it’s probably not a good idea to stand in the way. Hell hath no fury like an ambitious politician denied.

Color me clueless.....

I used the word "clueless" to attract "Mike" and his friends that consider my posts "disgusting." Any publicity is good publicity, right?

For the more charitable among you, if there are any, consider the title to read "Color me uninformed...."

A friend of Side recently provided me with a copy of an article that appeared in a short-lived and now defunct magazine called "Brill's Content." I actually subscribed to it for a brief period, and as I recall, it was intended to be a critical eye on the world of "media." This was before my level of engagement had reached the fever pitch that led to the creation of "The Other Side of Town."

The article was called "small-town minded," and describes the experiences of author Sandor M. Polster in his brief stint as Editor of the Times Record. It must have caused quite a stir in town when it appeared, and I am at a loss to understand how I could have been "out to lunch" during the entire fallout period. Perhaps certain interests gobbled up every available copy and did their best to snuff the story. We'll never know, unless those in the know forward the details to me.

That's water over the bridge, and in a way, reading the article now with the benefit of greater awareness of our beloved "community", and accumulated experiences with said newspaper, is all the more delicious. And confirms all the more that my view of editorial policies over the years was well founded.

Perhaps readers will remember the article, and in particular, if one of you has an electronic version of it, I'd love to get it. Failing that, I will pursue other means of digitizing the article and making it available to readers.

For now, suffice it to say that the article is none too flattering to the reputation of the Times Record, nor to various town "movers and shakers." Including some I know. The article falls into the "making sausage category" but clarifies things a good deal.

It will certainly effect the lens through which Side views things from here on out.

Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Morning Update

The Numbers

Thanks to Mikey the elder, I guess, because at close of business yesterday, the totals were about triple the normal traffic. I don't keep records too far back, but as best I can recall, this was the second highest total ever.

I guess I'll have to work harder if I'm going to break the record.

(My darling daughter tells me that the "Mikey likes it" commercial was for Life Cereal. Interesting, since we have our own little "life serial" unfolding here.)

Portland-the foodiest small town

You can find info from the magazine here.

Berry's Knutt Farm

You may have seen my letter on Rep. Seth Berry's knutty behavior in yesterday's paper. It ran right above a praise song to Berry and Thom Watson, thanking them for working so hard to deprive the state of revenue so that we could have more money in our pockets. (If Berry doesn't last in politics, he can always join the circus. P. T. Barnum would approve of his tactics.)

Now there are reports that Berry and his minions have kicked things up several notches to force the tax money give back down our throats, whether we want it or not. There are recent reports of signature collectors cars being keyed, air being let out of tires, and even windows smashed to steal signed petitions.

What determination! What dedication!

As details come in, I'll be sure to keep you posted. I'm acquainted with some of the people involved, and I'm confident in the integrity of their reporting.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Update on "the numbers"

Side's devious and immature mind was churning after posting that last item on zeitgeist, and it occurred to me that I could have used the classic line from a famous commercial series of some years ago: "Mikey likes it."

At the moment, I don't remember the product, but it will come back to me.

For now, thanks to the 'Mikey of the moment.' The numbers are continuing to climb, and by the end of the day, I expect a new record will have been set. I suppose I'll have to live down to his expectations to keep the numbers up and climbing.

On a completely different tangent, for you foodies out there, the newest issue of Bon Appetit magazine, dated October 2009, has chosen our own Portland as "America's foodiest small town for 2009." It mentions many places Side knows, and many it doesn't. It even includes Micucci's Groceries on India Street, one of our most loved places for delicious staples.

It's all about flavors and quality, which has been discussed here before. Scarlet's and Back Street Bistro in Brunswick were cited as masters of the art.

It's great to hear about more places to try in Portland, but no doubt the publicity will make it even harder to get a res at Fore Street, one of the best places in the entire world to enjoy a classic martini (up.)

What a shame that Mikey and friends will not get to try one; the carbon footprint required to get to Portland renders such pleasures declasse'. Cretins like Side are expected to engage in such despicable and unsustainable behavior, and so one feels a sense of duty to partake of said martinis before they are outlawed.

One must do what one must do. Or as Jimmy Hoffa put it, "ya gotta do what ya gotta do."

Reading the Brunswick "Community" Zeitgiest

If you haven't personally dabbled in it, take it from Side; blogging is an interesting "hobby."

If nothing else, it puts you in touch with the apathy and sense of futility that are such driving realities in the conduct of our "common" affairs.

I've posted well over 100 items in the months that Other Side has been in operation. Most were intended to report, to inform, or to advocate a particular view. Every now and then, an item was posted to draw some fire, to stimulate some engagement.

What a failure those attempts have been. The number of comments submitted can be counted on one hand. The number of items submitted as guest posts can be counted on no hands.

Side does have a tracker that provides "analytics" of blog traffic. It's interesting to look at the results, but anything but scientific. Traffic does spike following ads, or when the blog is referenced in a letter to the editor.

The last day or two has seen a change in things, however.

On Saturday, September 12th, I posted a strongly worded piece on the "truther" commentary run by the local newspaper on the anniversary of the attack against our country (or should I say "this" country?) In it, I touched on editorial sympathies and how they relate to the local 'peace at any price' folks.

Not much happened in the day following the post, but the wires sure lit up this morning! Early hour traffic was the heaviest I've seen, and the numbers have continued to increase to what are currently the second highest on record. We'll see what happens by midnight.

The commentary has drawn reactions elsewhere in the state, including one from Al Diamon, a legend in his own mind, and in the minds of many others. Al pulled his punches, suggesting only that the TR had run an op-ed "full of lies."

As to this blog, a thoughtful comment was posted by "Mike," and you can read it here. He goes to some lengths to argue logically for the Shaw truther perspective.

Apparently, Mike stirred up the local 'truther' coalition and vectored them to Side's compelling and cogent treatise.

And in so doing, he has helped this reporter gain a more accurate profile of the local community.

In the interest of keeping the 'dialogue' going, Side extends an invitation to Mike to submit essays on the bombing of the USS Cole, the '93 bombing of the WTC, the train bombings in Spain, and all the other fabricated reports of terrorist attacks upon American interests and those of other countries.

Hopefully, when he does, he'll maintain the same control of his passions demonstrated in his first comment, so that we can have the same confidence in his further disclosures, and what they say about the rationality of he and his associates.

Meanwhile, Side thanks him for boosting circulation. And for teaching us what they mean by "earned publicity."

Random Thoughts on the "Health Care Reform" Debate

When the "Reform" would take effect

We hear over and over that our health care system is "in crisis," and that we must act now! And that our economy will not and cannot recover until we enact this reform.

How can it be, then, that any time you hear dates mentioned, the claim is that the "new" system would not go into effect until 2013?

Could it be, pray tell, so that we could sneak in another Presidential election and two more congressional elections before the rubber meets the road, before reality sets in?

Could it be that the current administration wants to get hired for another four years, and make sure that its congressional majorities survive until that happens?

Nah.....that couldn't possibly be. It's just me being cynical again.

What else would you expect from an organized, overdressed, anti-American Nazi? At least according to our high ranking "public servants."

Dropping Medicare Advantage

As I understand the debate, Medicare Advantage plans will be dropped, because they are "windfalls for the insurance companies." Anytime you see reason focused on a villain, you should be suspicious.

We've been on a Medicare Advantage plan since signing up for Medicare. It doesn't cost a penny more than we are already paying for Medicare, yet provides additional benefits, including prescription coverage (with the donut hole, of course.)

So from where I see things, the private Medicare Advantage plan provides a far better value than the plain vanilla government offering. Yet opponents see it as a big profit maker for the evil capitalists.

I don't understand how this could be a "windfall" for the insurance companies, unless Medicare is also a "windfall" for the government if you stick with the basic government option.

So there you have it; a private entity can provide better value than the government for the same price, and supposedly make big bucks doing it.

Is there any clearer explanation of why you want the government running less of the health care system, not more???

Buehler? Anyone?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pretty Soon We'll Be Talking Real Money

To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, I believe, "$3 million here, $3 million there, and pretty soon, you're talking real money."

I can remember his deep, gravelly voice and unique countenance; too bad most of his orations predate the modern media archive age.

You may have read that our local authorities have eliminated the former Times Record building over by the Public Works yard as a candidate for use by the Police Department. If you didn't, you're out of luck, unless it's in the Forecaster, because the local daily didn't consider the item worthy of their web page.

The reason it's been eliminated is because "consulting architects" have estimated the renovations required at about $3 million. This would be on top of the $800,000 we've already spent to make the place pretty spiffy, at least those parts I've seen.

The Times Record building history as it relates to town governance has been "undistinguished," to use a euphemism, and provides a pretty clear example of just how ineffectual our government can be in handling capital acquisitions and construction.

The facility, comprising something like 33,000 square feet, more than 6 times the space now housing the Police, was acquired for less than $1.3 million a few years back. Apparently no-one in our government understood the words "due diligence," because shortly after the town bought it, it was announced that it would need more than $5 million in work to be useful as a town facility. This number was considered a deal breaker for such purposes, even though we owned the place by then.

The idea of "due diligence," in case you don't already know, is to look into such things BEFORE you close a deal, so that you know exactly what you're getting into. It's a "caveat emptor" kind of thing. This is why there are people called "building inspectors" and others of similar purpose. One might have expected this to occur to our highly compensated and certified town staff, and others, but apparently it did not.

End result: one 33,000 sq ft bag being held by all of us, with little apparent use for the future. And under the circumstances, very little chance for sale to someone else.

So, here we are. A white elephant for town purposes, and the sure probability that the solution for the Police will exceed the costs mentioned, but no doubt it will be "worth it in the long run, especially when community pride is considered." I could start writing the statements for the council right now. No matter who they'll be at the time.

My real purpose today is to ask you to come to grips with the concept of $3 million in renovations. I could be way off, but as I think of Police, besides the need for plain vanilla square footage for offices, lockers, and "interviews," the only unique requirements they have are for holding cells and all their communications gear.

The latter already exists, and simply needs appropriate space; the former, well, how much can it cost to build some holding cells? Especially if you "recycle" the bars from the current facility.

I've been made sport of for equating $1.8 million to four upper end homes in Meadowbrook. But I stand by that as a way of picturing things, absent other reference points.

So I'll leave you with this. $3 million to renovate the building is equivalent to buying 7 or so upper end homes in Meadowbrook, paint, wallpaper, kitchens, yards, and all. Is there anyone else who thinks that this doesn't pass a first test of reasonableness, especially after having spent $800,000 in renovations already? Is there anyone who thinks the Police need nearly 7 times their current space?

Am I destined to be out on a lonesome limb as the only one who thinks that our "public servants" and paid staff have become desensitized when it comes to spending OPM, and that they start off with "grandiose" as a minimum concept?

Yup, I think I am. But should you feel sorry for me in my loneliness, you could always post a comment, or even better, decide to ask some questions.

Not at any public meetings, though. You won't get any answers, and you could well be gaveled down for a breach of decorum.

And directed to publicly apologize for the TV cameras. And then you'd be a laughing stock.

Rest easy, though; it can be fun.

Record Low on 9/11 (and I'm not talking weather)

Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.
Oscar Wilde

It’s always a good idea to believe everything you read in the papers; it makes them so much more interesting. Author undetermined.

In an extraordinary combined display of duplicity, irresponsibility, insensitivity, and horrible judgment, our local newspaper yesterday ran a commentary called “A skeptic’s view of the 9/11 attacks,” by Steven Shaw of Brunswick.

In his “truther” essay, Shaw asserts:

“To probe the facts of that day is to discover abundant evidence of a fraud of mind-boggling proportions: that a faction within our own government must have been central to the planning and execution of the attacks.”

In so doing, Shaw joins ranks with Van Jones, the recently departed “Green Jobs Czar” in the Obama administration, and with untold millions who are willing to strain credulity beyond all human limits and dismiss what more lucid thinkers consider common sense. But when your very self-image depends on proving that George Bush and Dick Cheney are first cousins of Lucifer, you’ll grasp at any straw.

I’m reminded of September 12, 2001; the day after the attack. On that day, in the midst of great national fright, the Times Record ran a letter by Rosalie Tyler Paul, a leader in the local PeaceWorks coalition. In her letter, Tyler Paul confidently stated that the attack was our fault, (and as I recall, that we deserved it.)

I was taken aback by the clearly unsubstantiated claim, but even more, by the Times Record publishing such a toxic and insensitive letter while bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage. That single event elevated my view of the Times Record to a new low. It opened my eyes on their editorial policy and the local zeitgeist in a way that is permanently burned in.

I've had many items published in the Times Record, and often they have demanded that I document or otherwise substantiate my assertions. Most recently, on the last item I wrote on Oxford Aviation, they came at me from all levels in the organization to challenge my effort.

From this experience, I was supposed to take away that they are scrupulous and diligent in making sure that anything they publish, specifically on the op-ed page, is ‘vetted’ for accuracy before publishing.

What a crock, if you’ll pardon a bit of “other side” language. I could cite case after case of official/professional/paid columns (Doug Rooks, various members of our Legislature, Paul Krugman, and others) where “healthy journalistic skepticism” was still putting on its pants when the paper went to the presses. And if you are a citizen or public contributor whose values and claims align with the editors, skepticism can’t even find its pants, let alone put them on.

The double standard is indisputable to anyone who reads critically and has had experience knocking heads with the editors and the “editorial board.”

That said, running Shaw’s piece in the prized central position on the “weekend edition” op-ed page, and on the very anniversary of the event, demonstrates an especially insensitive “in your face” attitude on the part of the editors. I can imagine many readers turned to the page while watching news coverage of the poignant memorial events taking place on the anniversary of this tragic event. How thoughtful of the Times Record to run an item that spit in their face, in a manner of speaking, as their hearts ached for those who were lost.

I have no doubt that in this area, there will be throngs who disagree with me, because they agree with Shaw. For my money, however, this is a new low in journalistic ethics and judgment at the Times Record.

I won’t link to the Shaw commentary. Most who follow Other Side would be repulsed by it, and those who agree with Shaw will have already read and framed it, or looked it up at the very least. If you think that promoting such theories is rare around here, you would be wrong. Our own community cable TV carries frequent content provided by PeaceWorks, including various academics theorizing on the “truther” view.

So in a rather sad commentary in itself, the Times Record is, in a way, mirroring the judgment, ideology, and sensitivity of the local “community.”

(editor’s note: Side has a reputation for a sharp tongue, and does not deny such tendencies. At the moment, however, said tongue is quite bloody from being bitten, and bitten hard.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

“The Speech” and Captain ObVeeous

Side is beside itself over the speech given by our President in front of a joint session of Congress last night. How could anyone not be?

Our take on the message was illuminated by a call from Captain O’Seau ObVeeous as bedtime neared. Dedicated readers are already familiar with this valued consultant to our blog.

Before elaborating on Captain ObVeeous’ reaction, Side wants to address “decorum in the chamber.” As readers know, the airways have been overloaded with shocked reactions to the supposed “breach of dignity" in the halls of our Capitol last night.

Here’s a suggestion. If they want dignity and decorum, have the President enter the chamber accompanied by US Marine side boys to symbolize the seriousness of his position as Commander in Chief. And proceed directly to the dais, rather than play meet and greet.

Instead, what we got was the equivalent of Rapper “Fitty Cents” entering a Hollywood nightclub. Except it was “Dollar Trillion Barry” entering a gathering of ego-inflated big spending junkies, each hoping that face time and camera time would advance their careers. And neutralize allegations of tax evasion, bribe taking, or promise breaking.

It went on for what seemed like an hour, insulting the concept of “public service,” and reminding us that the top priority of all too many in that chamber is serving themselves, not us. In a recurring theme, we wonder why they’re surprised that we little people don’t see them in a positive light.

Before you call me a partisan, I find this behavior inappropriate and shameful no matter whom the President is. Elected officials acting like teenaged bimbettes who have a chance to touch the garment of a Jonas brother is an affront to our Nation’s founding principles.

Side hated this ego frenzy when President Bush entered the chambers to give a State of the Union address. One could rationalize, however, that such an event was pro-forma, destined to provide gratuitous media coverage.

Last night was different; it was a political stage show, pure and simple, specifically designed to attract and influence a susceptible public. State of the Union speeches discharge a Constitutional obligation, which in and of itself is a near miracle in our day. Last night’s event was a blunt instrument attempt to sway public opinion.

Alright; let’s move on to the specifics.

“You won’t be required to give up your current Doctors or your current coverage.”

“Require” is an interesting word. The legislation may not include it, but it will likely include lots of other words whose net effect is the same. For example, suppose private coverage is taxed at 10% to ‘fund coverage for others.’ Think that’s crazy? I refer you to Maine’s revolutionary Dirigo health care, which is a bona fide failure.

Or, the feds could regulate private coverage to the point that it is unaffordable; once again, see Maine. If you want single payer, make the current system so unbearable that voters will flock to “government help.”

This reminds me of something I heard a while back. The concept was that Government can exercise gun control without actually legislating “gun control.” What do I mean?

Suppose Government says you can keep your guns, but you’ll be required to have a personal liability policy of $5 million for each firearm you own. And that a Social Safety Administration (SSA) will be created to administer this policy, and will withhold the premiums from your paycheck to make sure you comply, and otherwise administer the program.

“See….we don’t want to take your guns away.”

“We just want to make gun ownership fair and responsible.”

“There are hundreds of millions in fraud and abuse of Medicare.”

Is there anyone who doubts that? Well, then, why isn’t the administration attacking that problem independent of any reform legislation?

And why isn’t the state attacking the same problem in Medicaid?

“I won’t sign any bill that adds to the deficit.”

Did I tell you that the word gullible does not appear in the dictionary? That aside, there is a simple way to keep this promise: raise taxes in the amount that the program will cost (or more.) No increase in the deficit, but a major decrease in your income, which is to say, a major decrease in your right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“If the savings we promise don’t materialize, we’ll cut elsewhere to cover the difference.”

Hey…here’s an idea: if there is spending that can be cut to fund this new program, why aren’t you cutting it now in order to reduce the ridiculous growth in our deficits?

Here’s another idea: how about outlawing taxpayer funded “gender reassignment surgery” in prisons, and what must be hundreds of other expenses that have nothing to do with “health care.”

And,yet another idea. It’s widely accepted that tort law and the consequent costs in our system add $100 billion or more to the national health care total. Dealing with this distortion has nothing to do with remaking the overall system; why aren’t you addressing it separately?

“My plan will not cover those here illegally.”

Given the political realities of our day, is there anyone who really truly believes this?

For starters, there goes about 30% of the “uninsured” problem. Which is the motivation to destroy our system and replace it with a government system.

One way to fulfill that promise is to issue an executive order declaring every illegal legal.

But that’s not necessary. We have Medicaid and the requirement to treat anyone who shows up at the ER. Add to that the prevailing trend to make inquiring about a person’s immigration status illegal. Law enforcement officials are prevented from questioning such status; why would health care providers be given greater latitude?

And if all else fails, there’s always the ACLU/MCLU, the LaRazas, and the rest.

Side has another question. We’re not sure how many folks are employed in the private health insurance sector, but it must be a million or so. Once the sector is destroyed, how will those unemployed be dealt with? Will they all become government employees?

There’s some heartburn, to recall a cute commercial of some years ago.

OK, it's time to wrap this up. But as we do, let’s agree that critical thinking is a lost art.

And that “end of life” counseling is called for at this point.

Specifically, that the current reform initiative should be declared dead on arrival.

Because it’s anything but life affirming.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Who'd have guessed?

Another one of those teaching moments slapped me in the face this afternoon.

Regular readers of this blog know well that the editorial policy of our local newspaper, and the inclinations of its op-ed page editor, are well established and anything but hidden.

And we aren't talking right-leaning or centrist. Which leaves only one remaining option.

That makes today's editorial quizzical. In it, the editor quotes a statement from the Glenn Beck show. Later in his essay he inserts a quote from the Rush Limbaugh show.

I must say I'm impressed. I know the editor to be a busy and engaged man, with above average intellectual curiosity. But I'm the last one to have guessed that he is a regular listener to conservative talk radio, and makes a point of recording statements by the best known talk-masters on such shows.

Which leads us to believe that even the most unrepentant "progressives" are open to new political thought, especially that offered on the most right leaning of the talk shows.

Unless there's some other explanation for including such quotes in his editorials.

You don't suppose I've "misread" the evidence before us, do you? You don't mean to suggest we're being "misled" as to the originality of the editorial's content, do you?

C'mon. What do you take me for, a fool?

A Train Comes to Brunswick; Maybe You Missed It?

There’s been much discussion and concern over whether Amtrak will make it to Brunswick, especially now that we have Maine Street Station opening. “Station” has many meanings, but there can be no doubt that the theme of this in town development is based on the classic definition of a depot for various forms of transportation.

It’s unclear, to this reporter at least, what the outlook is for a train that runs on actual rails to reach our Station and provide regular service. As you know, this service would be an extension of the Amtrak Downeaster that runs between Portland and Boston.

Those who know the background of Amtrak realize that it is anything but “sustainable.” It requires generous political capital to survive, on top of the more ordinary financial capital.

Brunswick’s Amtrak situation is ripe for meddling and political posturing, and rumblings on the rails are that both are occurring in full measure.

No matter; there is another train already making its presence known in the Brunswick area. It depends heavily on political backing and all that comes with it, but it has nothing to do with Amtrak. I refer to the Gravy Train.

The Gravy Train has already caused major excitement in our area. If you’ve been following the exploits of Jim Horowitz, F. Lee Bailey, and Oxford Aviation, you know they’re expecting a sizable tank car full of gravy to arrive soon, compliments of redevelopment of the Naval Air Station, or to be more specific, taxpayers.

They’re not the only ones. Others are already dining on a gravy shipment that arrived a few months ago. The whistle didn’t blow when this train came in to town, so most don’t know about it, but it arrived just the same.

Here I go again being a tease, for no good reason, right? OK, I’m talking about the traffic study “designed to investigate traffic alternatives related to redevelopment“ of BNAS, as reported recently in our local paper.

It’s a $1.2 million effort “commissioned by the Maine Department of Transportation in partnership with the governor’s office, the Maine Office of Redevelopment and Re-employment, the towns of Brunswick and Topsham, and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the civilian entity charged with leading civilian redevelopment of the base.”

Clearly, all relevant local agencies and entities are involved in the commissioning, signaling that they all support the cost of the effort. The performing firm is VHB, operating out of its office in Bedford, NH.

Let me digress for a moment. I spent my career in the defense industry, and I’m no stranger to outrage over “$400 hammers” and “$800 toilet seats.” If you like, I can give you an explanation of how our government sponsors such apparent idiocy.

But we’re not talking about special hardware or systems here; we’re talking about a study. The only tangible product involved is paper on which intellectual content is recorded. And it’s about traffic and highways, not defeating the subsurface threat or ICBM’s.

My employer’s price structure for labor, including studies, was transparent. You took actual labor cost (salary) and added overhead (benefits, security, plant operations, and all sorts of things) at about 125%, and to that total, you added “general and administrative expense” at about 17% and “fee” at about 10%. The net result was that a dollar’s worth of labor went “out the door” to the customer at somewhere between $2.50 and $3.00, depending on the labor category.

Using this as background, I wondered what a $1.2 million traffic study was buying in the way of services. If it was a one year study, they would be spending $100,000 a month. If the average study employee was making $1500 a week, a very nice income, thank you, and the overhead structure of the consulting firm was as outrageous as the defense industry, the study would be employing 5 full time individuals for the year to conduct the study, all while the parent firm was earning a tidy profit.

But those figures aren’t appropriate in this situation. There should be a labor mix of technicians and computer analysis operators, along with a few senior engineers and a program manager or two. And the “loaders” on their salaries should be nowhere as high as an aerospace firm.

I suggest that the average salary for a study participant should be about $1200 a week, still a far above average income, and that overhead and fees on top of that should elevate the total out the door price to no more than $2500. Do the math, and that should mean a full time staff of 10, start to finish, on the study.

That’s a lot of people working for a year to figure out how to re-route our traffic.
Now the plot thickens.

I followed the study link given in the article, and guess what. The study has a 7 month schedule. Given the holidays, we could expect the actual work duration to be 6 months. That makes the “burn rate” $200,000 a month, or twice what I assumed in the prior paragraphs.

That equates to a full time staff, start to finish, of 20 on the study. If you’ve spent a good part of your life spending other people’s money, these figures probably sound reasonable. But if you haven’t, you might find it troubling to say the least. Will there be 10 people standing by the side of the roads monitoring traffic 40 hours a week for 6 months, while 10 others chew away on the data and prepare a report to deliver at the end?

I said when I established this blog that “oxen would be gored, sacred cows would be skewered, and dead horses would be beaten.” I bow to no-one when it comes to cynicism about the conduct of the public’s business by “public servants.”

Now it’s time for you to ask yourself whether the specifics of this study pass a test of reasonableness. Or are we simply being taken advantage of by a system and special interests that know how to ride the train?

As for me, I’ll be looking at my local representatives far more carefully the next time I see them to see who has gravy stains on their shirts, ties, or blouses. And keeping an ear to the ground for a train whistle telling us of the next gravy shipment.

I can’t resist one more observation. While this study has a $1.2 million tab, the city of Portland is proposing a $1.8 million project to build sleeping quarters for four crew members of their new fireboat. To give Brunswick readers a sense of scale, that’s the equivalent of four upper end Meadowbrook homes dollar-wise. That is reasonable, isn’t it?

It’s a sad commentary when the excesses of one government body make the excesses of another look reasonable by comparison. Like it or not, this is how we all go to hell in a hand basket.

One teeny-weeny excess at a time.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Afterthoughts…Saturday, September 05

On “For the Children”

In this piece I pointed out that “for the children,” the all purpose incontestable rationale for public spending, has a far more worrisome relevance in our current era of huge government overspending, borrowing, and currency printing.

I was going through my ‘stack’ when I came across a comment someone had made at the Fiscal Sanity event.
It’s far easier to spend OPM (other people’s money) when they’re not old enough to vote, or not ever born yet.
Which reminds us of why our politicians love to “export” our tax burden to “tourists.” Even if you and I put on our tourist hat anytime we get something to eat at a commercial establishment; something as simple as a donut and coffee qualify. The theory, of course, is that “tourists” don’t vote in Maine. And there’s no more preferred targeted for tax abuse than those who don’t have a vote with which to rebuke the taxer.

It’s a known fact that state residents pay the lion’s share of this so called “exportable” tax burden. So the next time you’re in Portland or somewhere else in the state looking like a geeky tourist, dumping your tourist money into the state coffers, remember that you do have a vote with which to issue a rebuke.

On Berry Flavored Kool-Aid

In this item I discussed Rep. Berry’s proposal for a “do-over” law, and how incredulous his position on “tax reform” is. I addressed it further in the recent moral hazard discussion.

Adding to the “Berry doth protest too much, methinks” perception are disturbing reports that Berry has been harassing folks collecting signatures for the people’s veto of the tax reform legislation. And House Majority Leader John Piotti has been encouraging such behavior at various locations around the state.

One report adds that “There was a representative at the school union vote in Freeport who was telling people that if they sign this, the state's going to lose $57 million." This correlates with the suspicion raised earlier that the “tax reform” plan will actually increase state revenues, in spite of protestations by Berry, Piotti, and others.

They want us to believe they are desperate to cut state revenues, and even more desperate to give us more coin in our pockets, and they’re willing to travel around the state to make their case, and even risk disturbing the peace in some cases. They can sell this crazy somewhere else; Side isn't buying.

I’ve collected signatures on a variety of petitions in the past, and have even had the honor of being thrown off the Naval Air Base while doing so, at the direction of John Richardson, who, naturally, had jurisdiction over federal property during his tenure as Speaker of the House.

I can’t think of anything that does more to create fear and disrespect of the democratic process than having state officials harass those trying to collect signatures on petitions to which such officials object. This behavior is chilling and shameless, and reaffirms the perception that “public service” has gone the way of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

This behavior is from the same caring souls who have changed election procedures to cite not only “voter intimidation,” but “fear of intimidation.” Which in today’s climate, includes simply being there to observe and challenge per accepted practice.

Side wonders whether Berry, Piotti, and the rest were trying to sell Kool-Aid shooters at the fair without obtaining the appropriate permits. They should know better; but maybe they were wearing their “Do You Know Who I Am” buttons, and intimidated officials in charge of such matters.