Saturday, October 31, 2009

Breaking News! Bowdoin Students invite Townies to vote!

Extra, Extra! Side just received this communique from the Bowdoin College Student Government Central Committee. We are posting it in the spirit of full disclosure, and so that readers can take the steps necessary to avail themselves of a rare and golden opportunity.

October 31, 2009
Bowdoin College Student Government Central Committee
Memorandum on Election Inclusiveness

From: Hans-Marie Von Hoogenfloogengendenbenden-Schwartz, Outreach Csar


Mumsy and Chris brought me up to understand that beyond the certain je ne sais quoi that comes with life in the aristocracy, a soupcon of Noblesse Oblige is ever so impressive as well.

I explained this to the Central Committee after reading the recent college voting post on "The Other Side of Town," and they responded with a hearty Boola Boola. Acting forthknightly, they committed to reaching out to local residents in a spirit of open and affirming collegiality. Following a brief discussion of the specifics, I was authorized to speak to the town on their behalf.

Inclusiveness is a core principle of the Bowdoin experience. As is an accessible tolerance for a pluralistic multi-ideological electoral experience grounded in sustainability and carbon neutrality.

To express its unswerving devotion to these universally accepted tenets, the Central Committee has directed me to announce that Brunswick residents are invited to vote in the upcoming BCSG elections, to be held this coming Tuesday.

Committee officials graciously deigned that town residents will each be accorded a 3/5 vote in the election. To make things more convenient for the proletariat, and to avoid untoward desecration of the college grounds, officials declared that appearing to vote is not required, and is, to be politely blunt, discouraged.

"We were afraid the cultural and class differences would so complicate things as to make the process unwieldy and unpleasant for all," said Jill-Earnest Vejan-Windmilller, committee member and Campus Purity Csar.

Registration for the BCSG election is simple, according to Dubbell "Deuce" Stand-Hard, committee member and Registration Csar. Democrats can hold up a copy of a Brunswick phone book, a Brunswick newspaper, or stand anywhere in Brunswick while looking into one of Bowdoin's numerous security cameras stationed around town.

Independents can sing the Bowdoin Alma Mater in front of any of the cameras.

Republicans can call the Bowdoin President's Office anytime between 2 and 4 am, and spell chrysanthemum backwards twice, followed by forwards thrice, followed by recitation of the Whales Tales drinking contest chant while patting their head and rubbing their stomach. Those who do so correctly will have their registration request taken under advisement, and will be notified when it has been adjudicated.

Don't call us, we'll call you.

Local plebians whose registration is in order are directed to mark their electoral preferences on any available scrap of triple recycled paper, and to place it in an official green Brunswick Trash Bag to guarantee privacy and security.

Large green ballot boxes will be placed at the outermost four corners of the campus as a convenience to new voters. As a security measure, the ballot boxes will be disguised as trash dumpsters. Committee officials are in the process of arranging for consultants to pick up the ballot boxes at midnight Tuesday, for transfer to the appropriate destination.

Jacques-Alice Van Gleason III, a third cousin four times removed of the Monarch of the Yuengling Beer Dynasty, and committee Sanctimony Csar, was overcome with pride at this gesture of grace toward the less fortunate.

"The long-suffering people of town have so little meaning in their lives, and so little to look forward to, other than perhaps scoring one of our Volvo or Saab discards as we leave our beloved campus after completing the purchase of our degree. We must never forget that town adults are our past, and we do this for them in the name of all who have been annointed and will be annointed with the most reverent spirit of the endangered Polar Bear."

For further information, or to arrange for an interview, contact Hans-Marie Von Hoogenfloogengendenbenden-Schwartz, Outreach Csar, at Central Committee Headquarters. Or by phone at 1-800-SaveThePolarBears.

Dead Horse Of the Day: College Voting

(Late breaking note: In the I kid you not category, this reporter just read in The Bowdoin Orient that students could prove their Maine residency "e.g. with a Bowdoin Directory or utility bill." Given this high standard of integrity, the embarrassed lamp is lit at Side editorial offices.)

It's a gloomy Saturday afternoon, and I thought to myself, what the hell, it seems like a fine time to pull out an already dead horse and beat it some more.

How could I resist after reading about Council Candidate Karen Klatt spending $158 for an ad in The Bowdoin Orient, the local college newspaper? And that the town made special arrangements so that 400+ Bowdoin students could vote early in our upcoming election? And on a Saturday, no less, probably with overtime pay involved, and lots of heads full of yeasty cobwebs lining up to mark their choices.

The dead horse involved is the issue of whether attending a college makes you a legal resident for voting purposes. The reality that the Maine Constitution, Article II, Section 1, says the following regarding Qualification of electors

nor shall the residence of a student at any seminary of learning entitle the student to the right of suffrage in the city, town or plantation where such seminary is established.

has long since been deemed irrelevant by the powers that be. And even worse in this day and age, "unfair."

Side's view is that Bowdoin Students, unless their permanent home is in Brunswick, have about as much of a stake in the future of our town as I do in the future of Toronto, Canada. And that unless their actual home is in Maine, they have about as much of a stake in the future of our state as you do in the future of Sardinia.

So what. The forces of tolerance and inclusiveness say the more votes the merrier, and besides, the children are our future, and they spend money on ice cream and beer in the local area, so THEY DO have a stake in our town. That should make it right, shouldn't it?

And besides, they say with a scowl, why don't you want them to vote? Apparently these warm hearts aren't able to distinguish between wanting students to vote where they actually have a permanent residence instead of where they happen to be away at school.

My guess is that these same warm hearts, if they have children going to college elsewhere, remind them to file an absentee ballot in Brunswick because "this is their home, and they have a stake in its future."

The $64 question that comes to mind is whether "the system" has enough integrity to ensure that these innocent students don't accidentally vote both in their college town, and by absentee in the town of their home.

Here...let me whisper in your ear: the correct answer to the $64 question is no, it doesn't.

Well anyway, what's the big deal? An issue here, a race there swung by some dorm rats all in the name of holding a stake through local spending. And at the same time, making some old people feel good about themselves, no matter what the consequences.

If that's the standard, I guess I should get to vote in Detroit, since I've bought a boat load of cars from the former Big 3. And I should have been able to vote in Moorestown, New Jersey and Arlington, Virginia, since I spent at least the equivalent of a four year college education "in residence" in both, and I can assure you that I spent a good deal more in those towns than any Bowdoin student spends in ours.

But hey, as long as we're gonna extend the little cherubs the privilege of residency in our fair town, let's go all the way with it. Let's make sure they live up to their side of the bargain by getting a Maine Driver's License and registering their car in Maine, and even better, paying auto excise tax right here in Brunswick! Some will think this a bit harsh, but college seems like a fine time to learn about obeying laws, don't you think? And this is what Maine law requires of "residents." Along with filing Maine Income Tax Returns.

All it would take to make this come together would be for town election officials to ask to see a driver's license when the college kids show up to vote. Sounds simple enough to me; a great civics lesson combined with exercising responsible voting behavior.

Maybe town officials are already doing this to ensure the integrity of the local registration and election process.

And maybe University of Maine officials are giving in-state tuition rates to any of their students who vote in local elections, in keeping with their certified residence status.

And in a related story, hell freezes over.

Details at 11.

Lies, damn lies, and more "hits" coming in....

In this item, your humble correspondent went on and on about the lies being promulgated in this election season.

That isn't good for anybody or anything. It's one thing to be uninformed, it's quite another to be misinformed, and intentionally so.

Sometimes you can't tell you're being misinformed, because the clear details of the subject aren't available to you. A perfect example is the current congressional action on health care reform. We're now up to a four, count 'em 4 ream version of a bill, just a shade under 2000 pages in length.

When a talking head comes on screen to wax on the subject, the likelihood that you can and will compare what the head says vis-a-vis the actual bill approaches zero in the limit.

On the other hand, claims about Question 4 on the ballot are much easier to assess. And you even have me to help you do so.

A mailer arrived today from "Citizens United For Maine's Future," the shamelessly misnamed opposition group for Question 4, which as it turns out, operates from the Maine Municipal Association building in Augusta. There's a pretty picture - the MMA - a wholly owned subsidiary and lobbying arm of municipal governments in Maine, and funded by taxpayer funds, is the HQ for the opposition to TABOR II. I know that makes me feel better, and adds so much credibility to their stance.

The mailer says TABOR II will force "severe cuts to education, health care, and other services." This is a bald faced lie, and the folks at CUFMF know it, but they don't care. Personally, I find this outrageous and infuriating. And it only adds to the public perception that entrenched government beneficiaries will sacrifice anything to maintain their place at the trough.

I personally invite anyone who reads this, from the MMA, the CUFMF (the same thing, I guess), or elsewhere to substantiate that TABOR II involves cutting anything. Space will be freely granted on this blog.

Then it makes this claim: "It will require expensive elections for even minor tax and spending."

Apparently the folks at MMA/CUFMF are suffering from GDD, or Grammar Deficit Disorder, not to mention a failure to proof-read their own materials.

We should be collectively ashamed as an electorate that our lack of interest and vigilance over matters of governance has allowed this sort of hack propaganda effort to pass for campaigning in this day and age.

And we get what we deserve because of it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And the "hits" just keep on coming.

Just when I think I've beaten the dead horse to death, a reason to doubt myself arises.

Did you know that if you vote for Question 4, my hair could return to the full splendor of years ago?

And that if you vote for Question 4, unprincipled and unspecified evildoers could raid your home, steal your peanut butter and jelly, and convert it to certified Prime Grade filet mignons with which to gorge themselves while you and yours go unfed?

Do you doubt me? Why?

I didn't say such things will happen, or must happen, or shall happen. And as unlikely as these outcomes are, it's undeniable that they could happen, and you can't prove otherwise.

Silly me, I suppose, but all I'm doing is learning from a No on Question 4 campaign flyer that arrived today. It features a resolute Nurse Practitioner on the cover saying "when THE STATE cuts health care...."

And on the inside, it launches into a litany of "coulds" with no substantiation and no language from the initiative. It is, plain and simple, demagoguery at it's finest, intended to scare you to death without justification.

"Health care services could be cut." "Public safety services could also face significant cuts." "Seniors could face cuts to important services."

And, I suppose, monkeys could fly out of my butt singing Hail Britannia.

Then there's today's paper, in which the brave editors paste in an anti-Question 4 column from the web as their offering on the subject, and Doug "Pass the Kool-Aid" Rooks continues his unbroken record of support for big and unlimited government, no matter how much he has to compromise the truth to make his case.

Neither mentions, of course, that if Question 4 (or any other Question for that matter, including 2) is approved by voters, the legislature and the Governor are free to repeal any and all on the very next day if they so choose. They are not legally bound to abide such voter actions.

Nor are they "honor bound;" such a concept is alien to the halls of government.

It departed at the same time the concept of "public service" died.

Breaking News: Other Side wins Brunswick's top honor!!

P. C. Poppycock, reporter for "The Other Side of Town," earned the prestigious Brunswick Blogger of the Year Award for 2009 from the Brunswick Omelet, Donut, and Marching Society at their annual gathering held recently at the Frostys Donuts Convention Center on Maine Street. The award is often referred to by national media outlets as the NoBell Prize in Irrelevance and Futility.

Poppycock, 109, has reported on efforts to redevelop the Brunswick Naval Air Station, along with illuminating commentary on local and statewide government matters over the scant 5 months that the The Other Side of Town has been published.

In one of several letters supporting Poppycock's nomination, Red Knocks, the putative leader of Brunswick's underground Confederation of Intellectual Acerbics, praised P.C.'s cantankericity, and called him a "seasoned coffee drinker, even if he does only like black coffee."

Various town officials were similarly unimpressed, citing Poppycock's penchant for paying his property taxes before the due date as a blatant attempt to avoid controversy.

"Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me," said "Johnny Beans" Elderbridge, keeper of 'da books' for Brunswick.

Readers know and cherish Poppycock's 'watchdog' efforts, inspired by the standard set by the town's vunerable daily newspaper. Asked to comment, Poppycock demurred, citing journalism's sacred precept of objectivity, and the need to "protect sources" and "privileged information."

He allowed, however, that once the flurry of attention created by the award is exhausted, readers can expect that clinging to such outdated principles will no longer be an obstacle to serving the public interest. And that the standard of trust established in past months will be preserved and honored.

As well it should.

He added "you can trust me on this; I'm not like all the others," quoting a nationally recognized media giant.

Oh, yeah - more "f.u.d.d"

(That would be fear, uncertainty, doubt, and deception as mentioned in the prior post.)

There's an old saw that goes something like "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with, and I'm being polite here, Bravo Sierra.

You'd be right, I suppose, to wonder how I would know of such a 'saw.' Well you can keep wondering.

I'm about to coin a related saw which goes something like this: "If you can't dazzle them with logic, beat their butts with potholes."

I'm referring to what I will call "seat of the pants politics." By that I mean that letting roads go to hell, or threatening to do so, is a proven and effective way to get folks clamoring for more government spending. Arguments in the abstract for "more fairness" or "greater opportunity" or "cleaner this or that" can fall on their faces.

But rattle the bones of your typical Maine driver until his dentures pop out, or almost as effective, threaten to do so, and you can probably get him and her to say "please, please raise my taxes," or at the very least, "don't you dare cut my taxes."

And that's what's happening on the Question 2 Issue, which proposes to lower the excise tax on automobiles.

The prevailing argument of the opposition is that "excise taxes go directly to maintaining our roads" or subtle variations on that theme. Our trusty local paper has editorialized against Question 2 on that very basis. In essence, vote for Question 2, and your butt will be sore and your car will fall apart.

Well, here's the problem with such assertions. I can't find anything to confirm them. I've followed town budget cycles for more than ten years, and I don't ever once recall seeing a direct connection between road repairs and excise tax revenue. As far as I'm concerned, excise tax revenue is as fungible as most other sources of town revenue. They go into the total revenue line, against which expenditures are debited.

Nor am I aware of any state law or town ordnance that directly links and restricts excise tax revenue to road repair accounts, or that prohibits other revenue from being used to work on roads.

As a curiosity, Maine's constitution mandates that gasoline tax revenues be limited to specific uses, yet our legislature, with consent from our Governor, has frequently raided these amounts to pay for other expenses. And there is no practical way to stop them from doing so, I'm sad to say. Our Constitution is only as inviolate as the integrity of those who swear to uphold, protect, and defend it.

So, cutting the excise tax will reduce the income derived from that source. But the only way it will reduce the care of our roads is because our "public servants" decided to take it out on your butts as a way to get your attention and support for higher taxes by other means.

You could call it revenge, but I won't stoop as low as those arguing against the measure.

Other Side, after-all, has its own reputation to protect, as you well know.

Mommy, Mommy! I hear the ding-alings coming!!

No surprise to most, I'm old enough to remember the joyous days when the sound of the "ding-alings" coming from the street meant the Good Humor Man was approaching, carrying his load of frozen sweet distractions. I had only moments to get some coins and run outside to stop him before he passed me by.

Those simple and innocent pleasures are all but gone. Now-a-days, they've been replaced by a figurative "ding-aling," and it often comes from Seth Berry's Kool-Aid Truck as it treks its way through the media editorial pages, dispensing its load free of charge.

Berry effects the popular "nice young man-organic farming-save the tree" kind of personna that is a slam dunk ballot box winner in Maine, no matter how disingenuous and destructive his pleadings and policies may be. And the closer we get to elections, the more likely he is to be seen ringing his bells to let us know the kool-aid is ready.

Take his recent anti-TABOR II offering in our daily newspaper. Berry asserts that no such measure is necessary, because he and his friends in Augusta are so dedicated to reducing taxes and spending that they intentionally and willingly lowered the current budget compared to the prior budget.

The simple truth is that they did so because they had absolutely no choice, at least none that they could find and put past the public. They have an obligation to "balance" (and I use that word very loosely) the budget, and there simply wasn't enough revenue to spend beyond what they did.

Anyone who believes that if revenues weren't 30% higher that they wouldn't have spent every last penny of it, or who thinks that when "better times return" that they won't increase spending by every dollar that comes their way, or they can otherwise pry loose from taxpayers, probably believes that the word gullible is not in the dictionary.

Berry's homily is the equivalent of me having my car repossessed and then bragging to you how I'm voluntarily reducing my fossil fuel consumption, and expecting you to send me an award for it.

But let's cut to the chase. As I've said before, I strive to make this blog non-partisan and keep the focus away from elective issues.

That said, truth is not a partisan issue, and when lies are rampant in our midst, they need to be called out, and I will do so whoever is spewing them.

The campaign against TABOR II is following the "fudd" formula that gave them a win last time. "Fear, uncertainty, doubt, and deception" that is. You know...the "dead bodies will be found in the street approach" to campaigning. (By the way, have you noticed any such bodies since Berry and friends savagely brutalized the state budget earlier this year? I haven't, but maybe I don't drive down the right streets.)

Well, every now and then, to borrow a phrase, these tactics make me "mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore."

Let me give you a specific example. In Berry's column, he says "If Question 4 passes and further cuts are required, funding in these areas will go from bad to worse."

And another one. I love our Public Safety folks; we underpay them for what they do for us, especially when compared to others on the public payroll. But lying to the public is no way to improve your lot. There's an anti-Question 4 radio ad running where a police officer says "budgets will be frozen."

Well pardon my english, but both Berry's and the LEO's claims are crap. You got that - crap, plain and simple. Or for those of you with a military background, Bravo Sierra. And the claims are made intentionally to mislead you.

Why are these claims crap? Because nothing, I repeat NOTHING, in the TABOR II language calls for any cutting or freezing. And anyone who cares about what they are voting on knows or should know this.

The measure talks to how spending and tax INCREASES are enacted, and it allows them to grow as high as the governing body and the voters decide they should. It simply establishes guidelines, beyond which specific votes of approval by the governing body, and when necessary, the voters themselves are required.

Oh the horror! Imagine that! Our benevolent "public servants" would have to ask for our approval before increasing spending or taxes by more than nominal amounts!

(Funny....this sounds a lot like the heralded LD 1 enacted by our Governor and the legislature a few years back. When it was their idea, it was "bold leadership;" when it's our idea, it's a "ham-handed, one size fits all" monstrosity.)

Let me repeat again; nothing in TABOR II requires any cutting or freezing, and the opponents know it. But they haven't let that stop them from scaring you by saying it does. Instead, they pass out the Kool-Aid to a thirsty public, and Berry flavor is very popular.

As a candidate for Governor has said,
Voting "yes" on Question 4 does not cut spending, but it might limit future spending increases, depending on what the voters choose. There is absolutely no reason not to vote "yes."

Given the unadulterated deceptions being served to us, some questions arise.

1) What are Berry and his fellow "public servants" so afraid of?

2) Do they really think the public is so dumb that they can't be trusted to weigh in on such matters?

3) Do they worry that the little people and the great unwashed won't reliably say "yessir, yessir, three bags full?"

4) Do they truly believe that they're that much smarter than you and I?

5) What do they find so compelling about the status quo that it must be protected at all costs? Is it the fact that as a state, we have the highest percentage of our population on Medicaid? Or that we have virtually the highest health insurance rates in the nation and the highest percentage of uninsured? (Gee, do those two dots connect?) Are they that enamored of our depressing economic climate, extremely low income levels, and our demographics? You know, we're the oldest state in the nation, and our youth, as few as we spawn, are fleeing for other pastures. How about the second highest percentage of residents on food stamps and welfare? Gee...that's something to be proud of! And you can top off this collapsed souffle with our nearly worst in the nation business friendliness ranking.

Boy...they've really got a lot to be proud of, don't they??? I can see why they don't want anybody getting in the way of more of the same.

I'll close by asking the "interested students" among the vast throngs who follow Other Side to do a little homework. Here in Maine, we've had nearly exclusive one party rule for more than 30 years. I'd like you to name three things that have gotten better in this state during that period, and let me warn you that any answer that cites increased dependence on government will be thrown where it belongs.

Good luck, and if you need more paper and pencils, let me know. I'll run right over with some.

As soon as I get my car back, that is.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Health Care "costs"

About 23 years ago, in another place, a land far, far away, a young, bright, and extremely competent medical specialist..a urologist...saved my life as I see it.

He rescued me from kidney cancer, and we began a lifelong 'relationship' in the medical sense.

I touch base with him from time to time to get his take on the state of the health care industry. Generally speaking, what I hear from him would not encourage you, as the overwhelming trend in the system is to devalue the role and contribution of the medical care provider.

Most recently, I asked him about the burden malpractice insurance places on the system. If you've been paying attention, you know that the issue of "tort reform", or in simpler words "medical liability reform," has been largely excluded from the ongoing national debate. The consensus is that this is so because lawyers who deal in such matters have great influence over the debate; in other words, they are a special interest of the first order.

On to more specifics. I asked my specialist friend how much malpractice insurance adds to his annual expenses. He replied that in California, because of regulatory reform, this insurance costs about $25,000 per year, or about $500 per week.

He adds that in other states, coverage can run 5 to 10 times that amount annually, or $500 to $1000 per day! Think about that.

How much does this add to the overall cost of "health care" in this country? You can't easily know, because the subject, as I mentioned, is being kept off "the radar screen."

Probably because it's so very clear what a drag on the system this is. If a Doctor pays $500 a day in insurance costs, and sees 25 patients a day, each patient carries a $20 per visit cost simply for insurance purposes. If more critical specialists, like OB/GYNs, pay $1000 per day, than each patient visit carries a $40 burden having nothing to do with pure health care, but only to cover the various loaders on the system.

And we wonder why our system costs so much. More importantly, we should wonder why our so called "public servants" refuse to address this liability issue.

I think I know; how about you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Colorado and TABOR: The Lie and the Truth

It's no secret to those who follow this site and/or who know the publisher where this reporter stands on the TABOR II ballot item.

We have worked hard to avoid having this site become a partisan destination.

That said, there is an issue before us that demands comment.

The opposition to TABOR II is focusing, as it did when opposing TABOR I, on reputed disasters in Colorado, which has had Taxpayer Bill of Rights in force since the 90's, as a Constitutional Amendment.

Ads decry the elders lying dead in the gutters, the schools shut down for lack of heat and staff, and the hospitals and doctors shunning patients for no good reason. And then they go on about serious problems.

Balderdash, hogwash, and poppycock.

This reporter has been to Colorado visiting friends in the last two years, and has read extensively on the subject in recent months.

Simply put, the negative press being pushed upon us are lies, plain and simple. You got that--lies!!

In recent years, Colorado has built the largest commercial airport in the nation. It has built two new stadiums for its professional sports teams. It has massively improved infrastructure with light rail and other impressive developments.

Driving around the state will reveal a vibrant economic climate. New schools, new housing, new commercial development, new community colleges. And so much more.

Everywhere you look, growth in jobs, growth in the economy. Growth in employment and major firms moving in.

And all this in a state supposedly devastated by TABOR.

Spare us the negative propaganda, please, opponents. You may want Maine to remain a backwater economy that young people can't wait to get away from. And employers run away from.

The least you could do is tell us why that's what you want.

After all, honesty is "the Maine way."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lake Basebegone....where the snow falls

The time draws near for our benefactors in State Government and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to cast their votes for our future. Much discussion and reporting has taken place on the issue of Oxford Aviation and the politics surrounding their potential claim on the crown jewel at BNAS.

Word is that the MRRA will have a dinner meeting this week, and we will only find out after the fact whether they yielded to F. Lee Bailey rhetoric about "global leadership," or managed to grasp the realities of Oxford's horribly flawed dealings to date and the concerns surrounding their record.

At this point, this week's "news analysis" in The Forecaster provides as good a summary as you will find of this subject.

Read the article here.

While there are numerous pithy passages, this one says it all:

Oxford Aviation made few friends when its deal to create a Sanford Jet Division collapsed last year after about a $1 million investment by Sanford taxpayers.

The story is similar at the company's headquarters at Oxford County Regional Airport, where it has benefited from about $5 million in public grants, loans and tax incentives, yet has been unable to fulfill job creation promises. The company now finds itself embroiled in a legal dispute with its primary benefactor, Oxford County.

Oxford Aviation has also become involved in a disagreement at Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg.

From everything I read, I hope Oxford gets approved as the first occupant of that huge Hangar 6. Side loves the idea of "job security" that Oxford will provide.....offering a target rich environment for endless commentary in the future.

And it will be a delight as well to watch the squirming and spinning that emanates from on high.

Bowdoin College: "The Worried Well"



Even though it is from the latest edition of The Bowdoin Orient, the college newspaper distributed to various locations around town.

So you have been fairly warned.
Regular readers know that this reporter loves to scan any and all print media found in local establishments, and that The Bowdoin Orient often provides a stunning glimpse into the youth culture, and in particular, the pampered youth culture.

While lunching on Friday, the latest edition of the Orient came into view.

In the midst of a pleasant Big Top lunch, we came across the column titled "From the kitchen to the bed," which begins thus:

Hey babe, want to engage in some sweet sitophilia tonight? As your partner runs screaming out of the room, you'll probably realize that the fastest way to desexualize a fetish is to call it by its proper name. Sitophiliacs are those who find sexual arousal from incorporating food into sexual activity.

This column was a real yawner compared to previous items that addressed the finer points of shaving one's "nether region," and exploring the erotic potential of the prostate. This is what college is about, right?

Bored by this pedestrian matter, your reporter probed further for more profound news from the Ivory Tower. And there on Page 4 was the "Security Report."

If you have no idea what "the worried well" means, or just how pampered the students at our local institution are, try these reports on for size. The citations have been edited for brevity's sake.

- A student with a stomach ailment was transported to Parkview Hospital.

- A student with a back problem was transported to Parkview Hospital.

- A student with cold symptoms was transported to Parkview Hospital.

- A student returned from break to find a room light on and window partially open. There was no sign of entry and nothing was disturbed or missing.

- A student with an ear ache was transported to Parkview Hospital.

Wow...these are frightening emergencies. And since they appear in the official Security Department report, and use the word "transport," we conclude that the "victims" felt it necessary to use the college equivalent of ambulance transport to take them to the Parkview Hospital Emergency Room, which is (oh the horror!)a few blocks from the campus.

Is it too much to expect that an elite college with a billion dollar endowment and a cost of $50,000 per year might have a duty nurse who tells those with an ear ache or "cold symptoms" to take two name-brand aspirins and call back in the morning?

I suppose it is if you are pampered and "Mumsy" and "Daddy" want you to be cured in 8 hours or less, no matter what your malady is.

But there is a larger point to be made. We live in an era of expectations that government should provide "free" health care and a huge variety of other benefits that stem from perceived "rights." No matter what you want, government (meaning others) should provide it.

Health care costs have increased greatly for several reasons, but among the leading factors are utilization and the amazing advances in diagnostics and treatment.

There is no more perfect example of the excesses of "utilization" than that 20 year old young people with an ear ache, or cold symptoms, or other non-life-threatening symptoms need to be "transported" by professionals to a hospital where emergency room treatment is the absolutely most expensive form of health care service.

No doubt the "service minded" darlings at Bowdoin seek economic and social justice and all the other righteous goals of our enlightened era.

Why is it, then, that they appear to be so completely clueless when it comes to the devastating burdens they place upon "public services" at the expense of others?

Where is their humanity and their humility?

Don't answer won't make you any friends.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hey Stella, you betta order some more cellophane

Another message sent just now to the town council:


I did a bit more research on the Oxford/Job Fair issue. Here are the results:

This item includes a video shot at the Oxford site and shows you Jim Horowitz live and in person. It talks of a 97% increase in the business by moving to Brunswick, and keeping the "65 jobs" in Oxford at the current site. How it makes sense from an economic standpoint is beyond me. An obscure rural facility with lease problems etc does not seem like a winner, nor does it recognize economies of scale.

The Oxford Aviation Employment Application from their web site says the application is active for 45 days. After that period, people need to re-inquire.

This item says Oxford had 1000 people show up at the job fair, and that they have an 8-10 year backlog of business. (Now that I think of it, 1000 folks would be quite a crowd to accommodate at a four hour job fair on Industry Road. That whole area should have been backing up Federal Street, Mason Street, etc. It should have been an unforgettable traffic and parking mess if nothing else. The photo on the Oxford web site doesn't make it look THAT busy. Oh well, estimating is an art, not a science.)

The frequent quotes of 65 jobs at Oxford location are not borne out by the Forecaster's on site visit, or this writer's drive by the facility and parking lot count.

This item from Channel 6 cites more claims from Horowitz.

This item is an MPBN report on the workshop with added quotes from Horowitz and other discussion. It also has an audio clip.

Other related items:

This one has a different video clip.


Pem Schaeffer

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Mr. Cellophane" Reports In Again

In a recurring theme, Side hereby errs on the side of transparency in reporting on its efforts.

The following is a message sent to Town Councilors moments ago.


It has been two weeks since the special workshop that the town council held with the MRRA to discuss BNAS redevelopment.

At that session, it was pointed out that Oxford Aviation's web site shows them completely occupying Hangar 6 on the base.  This page shows that explicitly, and this is the image that Oxford is promoting to the global aviation industry

It was further pointed out that the solicitation for a Fixed Base Operator for airport operations at the base states that the FBO could occupy space in Hangar 6, and that this appears to be a conflict.

In response, Mr. Levesque stated that the agreement with Oxford calls for them to occupy only half of the hangar.  This was the first and only disclosure of any details of the "memorandum of understanding" or the planned "lease contract" with Oxford, which reportedly will be voted on by MRRA this month.

Two weeks after this public disclosure, Oxford's web site still shows them occupying the entire hangar.  Given the statement by Mr. Levesque, this is a bald-faced misrepresentation of the facts of the "negotiations," and reinforces the concerns about the troubling history and gross mis-portrayal of Oxford by its Owner/President Jim Horowitz.

Further, the failure of the MRRA to demand that Oxford correct their internet representation of the commitment for BNAS occupancy is a matter of extreme concern.  By failing to do so, MRRA tacitly endorses the deception, and raises larger questions of integrity in public dealings on our behalf, and the credibility of their public statements and pronouncements in these matters.

Sadly, a consistent pattern emerges with respect to Oxford, and it is very troubling.  They held a "Job Fair" in January of this year in "anticipation" of occupying the BNAS space for their "Jet Division," which is shown on their web site as if it already exists.

According to media reports, the Job Fair was to take applications for Brunswick "that will create 200 jobs there and grow the existing workforce in Oxford."

Specifically, the Forecaster reported as follows:

BRUNSWICK — An aircraft refurbishing business is hosting a job fair this weekend for openings at a facility planned at Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Oxford Aviation will hold the fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Maine Advanced Technology Center on the Brunswick campus of Southern Maine Community College, 6 Industry Road. The company said it will have more than 200 openings in the Brunswick Jet Division starting this summer.

This clearly oversteps the bounds of reality.  At the time of this "job fair," Oxford had no firm agreement in place for occupying any BNAS facilities (nor does it now); there were no firm plans in place for post-Navy operation of airport facilities (nor are there now); and there was absolutely no reason to expect that any such arrangements and plans would be in place by this past summer, as the base will not be vacated by the Navy for some time.

Accordingly, the conduct of such a "job fair" smacks of an intentional public relations ploy with no foundation in reality, and was grossly unfair and deceptive to those applicants who believed a job might be available in a matter of months.

Go to this page and what you read should disgust you in view of the facts known earlier this year, and especially in view of the increasingly negative media reports about Oxford in recent months.

There is no choice but to conclude that Oxford is conducting a full blown public relations blitz that is wholly unwarranted by the facts and realities of the situation.  The word scam would seem to be appropriate.  While my concerns are much deeper, I will stop with that.

Once again, then, I implore you to become fully informed in this matter, and to exert whatever forms of due diligence you can on behalf of town residents.  I recognize that as established at the workshop, any votes taken by the council in this regard have no tangible consequence.

At the same time, I would remind you that Oxford Aviation and their spokesman F. Lee Bailey have no tangible power in the matter either.  They simply have the opportunity to lobby MRRA officials to advocate for their interests. 

And you have exactly the same opportunity; please make every good use of that option as you represent us and the future of our community. 

Pem Schaeffer
We here in the news room hope that readers and residents with similar concerns will express their concerns to town officials.  We will be happy to publish any such submittals sent our way.

P. C. Poppycock

Bizzaro Parking: In Pictures

Given Side's well known inability to succinctly and clearly articulate various concepts, the editors were concerned that "Bizzaro Parking" may not have been clearly enough explained. Especially for those unfamiliar with Bizzaro World.

So the editors dispatched a staff photographer to "The Station" to capture the concept visually. Here are the photos taken today:

Some readers may think that the images were flipped in the camera, but rest assured they were not. This is the cognitive disconnect of back in parking coming in to play. As amply demonstrated by those working on the site today who did exactly what most would do, absent significant financial penalties.

Which leads to another theory. Perhaps this is how the town intends to cover its losses on the development of The Station. Who needs parking meters when a goodly number of the uninitiated will be incurring significant fines for not thinking counter-intuitively?

Ah, there's that Diogenes side of me again. Slap, slap, whack, whack.

On a related note, the photos were taken in proximity of the second generation Scarlet Begonia's, whose opening the Poppycocks anxiously await. Recently, for old time's sake, we made one last visit to Scarlets the first generation. The photo below shows us with friends and Doug the owner along with Sally his daughter, who ran "the front of the house" with gracious skill and personality.

Here's hoping the new location builds on the considerable legend established at the original. Best to you, Doug, Colleen, and all the rest!

Bizzaro Parking: The Answer

In this item I mused about the oddly arranged diagonal parking spots in the Maine Street Station development.

Ever curious, this reporter went on the hunt for an explanation, and several days of bird-dogging turned one up. And all it cost me were several black and blue marks and a bruised ego delivered courtesy of my source, who scolded Side for not providing regular coverage at all town meetings, including the one at which this "outside the box" approach was discussed.

Here is the rationale for the approach, according to a brochure on the subject:

1. Improved visibility and increased field of vision.
2. Decreased number of collisions.
3. Improved safety for children and cyclists (drivers can see them)
4. Improved loading and unloading--trunks and hatchbacks are on the sidewalk side, not the traffic side.
5. Traffic calming.

Reportedly, this parking method has been adopted by cities and towns from Honolulu to Birmingham, Ala., to Pottstown, Pa., and several in between. Tuscon reported an average of three to four bike/car crashes per month before back-in angled parking and none in the four+ years following implementation.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

High School Reunion II: What a difference will makes

In High School Reunion I, your reporter wrote the following:

The High School itself, Weehawken High School, is located about two blocks from the Hudson River, on the bluffs of Weehawken where the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton took place. From that lovely spot all of the Manhattan skyline and more unfolds before your eyes with the same awesome scale as a visit to the Grand Canyon.

The opening highlight of the reunion weekend was a tour of the school guided by the principal of the last 30 years. It was a wonder to behold. When I attended the school, it had grades 10-12, with about 700 students. Now it has about half that many, with grades 7-12. The school is in spectacular condition, and is run as if it were a private school; no social promotions, no drug issues, and so much more.

What makes this all the more startling is that the school was built as a WPA project about the same time the "Old Brunswick High School," now returned to dust, was built. The sense of loss and disbelief that descended upon us over the latter as we toured was profound, and truth be told, maddening.

As it turns out, the school was built in 1940, 3 years after the original Brunswick building. The school web site has a nice picture of the school along with a variety of very interesting information.

Here's a few pictures I took the day of the tour:

For sake of contrast, here's two shots of Brunswick's High School built in 1937:

What a difference 3 years and the will of local citizens can make. To repeat, the contrast was startling and gut-wrenching, on two accounts. The first, the physical structure and how it has been lovingly maintained and operated. The second, the education operations of the school, which are nothing short of amazing....the stuff of which movies are made.

On the first account, it is clear that Weehawken has maintained the school in pristine condition. Windows have been replaced, bathrooms, locker rooms, and cooking areas refurbed, and an elevator added. But the physical arrangement of the school has not been changed one bit, and the emphasis has been on preservation of historic touches, including the original lettering on the classroom doors. It is evident throughout that the student body respects the school immensely; nowhere did we see signs of decay, graffiti, or other disrespect for the place.

Take a look at the auditorium:

Or a hallway:

Or a classroom:

It's amazing how you can honor and preserve something if you have the will. As we toured the school, sadness and anger came over me as I recalled the exact opposite in Brunswick.

Then there's the subject of how the school is run. Once again, I refer you to the school web site, where you will find that grades 9-12 are operated as three collocated Academies: Masters Academy, Collegiate Academy, and Career Academy.

The Principal, who has been in place for 30 years, is right out of a movie like "Stand and Deliver." Listening to him was an epiphany, and all we could think is that the man needs to be "bottled" for distribution everywhere. The school's success rates are astounding, their discipline problems virtually non-existent, and there is no coddling of any sort. There are no social promotions. It is run, in effect, as a private school.

Here's a very telling example of the culture and atmosphere in the school. A poster with the following words was seen all around the school:

Cell phones, I-Pods, and other electronic devices are not to be seen or used in any classroom, hallway, or other part of the building at any time. This includes waiting in the hall for first period to begin and during lunch. They also must not be visible. If a student is seen wearing an electronic device, it will be confiscated.

First Offense: A parent must come to the school to retrieve it after 3 school days.

Second Offense: The device will be returned at the end of the current school year.

Third Offense: The device will be returned after the student has graduated.

Cell phones must be kept in your locker and I-Pods must not be brought to school.

I don't have kids in the Brunswick School System, but I would be shocked if the rules were anywhere close to this rigid and clear-cut. And we know Brunswick makes "seat-time" or social promotions.

This principal has received donations for the school in wills and from other sources, and has had up to $2 million at his discretion to award to needy students or to give them awards for furthering their education.

If a student is suspected of being under the influence of any substance, the parent is called and given an option: either the school will test the child immediately, or the student will be sent home, the parent must have the child tested, and the student is not readmitted to test results are provided to the school.

Most of the students go on to a four year college. For those who graduate from an Ivy League School, the principal attends their graduation. How's that for follow-up?

This was a remarkable tour of a remarkable place by a remarkable man. I and other alumni will be working in follow up to somehow gain wider benefit of the advances made at this school, and the success it breeds.

It all boils down to determination and commitment, not a bunch of gobbledy-gook from the Ivory Tower institutions or the elite education engineers. It's just basic common sense and its no nonsense application.

What a wonder. Words fail me at this point; I fell a warm sentimentality mixed with total disgust that we have all the wrong influences get in the way of the simple pursuit of excellence and character building. And I am powerless to articulate these thoughts; hell, I'm just an engineer.

So thank you, Dr. Olivieri for all you do, for making these alumni so proud of our High School alma mater, and for renewing so many fond memories for those of us who took the tour. It truly was a heartwarming experience.

Go Weehawken! Go Indians!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What's that smell: are the pogys dying off again? Or, is it something else?

In keeping with the intent to get up to date on various subjects, including base redevelopment, Side reports that the Forecaster ran a letter of his on the subject two weeks ago. The letter was shortened by more than half to meet space constraints, so in keeping with our characteristic humility, and commitment to full disclosure, we hereby post the original submission for your edification. New commentary will be appended below.

Oxford Aviation, Bailey: The Bodacity of Hype

Thank goodness the Forecaster and its parent the Sun Journal are investigating and reporting on Oxford Aviation’s pursuit of a plum deal as Brunswick Naval Air Station is redeveloped. Curiously, other media outlets with closer ties to the base have turned the other cheek.

Oxford Aviation is a small aircraft painting and interior refurb company with a history of lobbying eager political authorities for taxpayer funded corporate welfare and tax breaks, founded on promises that end up unfulfilled. As soon as a deal closes (or sometimes sooner,) it looks to jump elsewhere for a better deal.

Oxford has had skilled help in working the system. If you’ve ever doubted the power of courtroom theatrics, look no further than F. Lee Bailey, celebrity attorney and “spokesman” for Oxford. Compared to getting O.J. Simpson off the hook, schmoozing receptive public servants for OPM is like dining on lazy lobster.

With no publicly disclosed formal authority, Bailey has mesmerized an anxious MRRA and a State Commissioner with higher political aspirations. So much so that they are in a rush to sign a lease contract for the crown jewel on the base, with no public disclosure of the details, on October 20, less than 3 weeks from now. What’s the hurry? Where’s the due diligence?

Bailey uses soaring flights of hyperbole, enchanting all within earshot without the slightest bit of evidence, analysis, or substantiation. Try these: “a tremendous opportunity for Brunswick, far beyond anything I had imagined;” and “further cement Brunswick as a global leader in the aviation world.”

Bailey touts “contracts with aviation industry titans,” and avows that Oxford is “in discussions with Airbus.” His speechifying is all we have to go on. I suppose we should be grateful, though; this is too good a deal to pass up, right? (If you were an Airbus executive, would you take Oxford Aviation seriously?)

Jim Horowitz, the owner of Oxford Aviation, has kept out of the public eye, except to plead for more respect for his employees, a frivolous distraction from the troubling facts on the record.

Let’s be clear here. Some businesses succeed and grow because they provide products or services that didn’t previously exist; think personal computers and the huge wave of digital technology they have spawned. We have all come to depend on products and services that were barely imagined not very long ago.

Aircraft painting and related services are not in the same category. This is not an underserved market. It is 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. As a bit of research will clearly reveal, their capabilities, locations, facilities, staffs, and experience are impressive.

I have room for just a few examples:

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

Or Leading Edge Aviation Services, with four facilities in the US, and one in Malaysia. Look at them at, and be sure to check their portfolio at

And there are a plethora of others, 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. Find info at and research the Fact Sheet linked on the page.

If anything, there may be overcapacity in the industry at this point.
Clearly, the only way for Oxford to fulfill Bailey’s soaring promises is to take business away from other well established and entrenched providers. Airlines aren’t going to buy more airplanes or service them more frequently because Oxford moves into a Brunswick hangar.

You can believe in David and Goliath if you wish. But how much of your hard earned money are you willing to risk on such an ill-defined scheme? Our government benefactors ensure we can’t buy mutual funds without a detailed written prospectus. Why are they doing all they can here to ensure we have not one solitary written detail, relying only on the extravagant oratory of a celebrity pied piper?

In conclusion, this proposal is irresponsible speculation with public resources, and it should be summarily refused until such time as a credible business plan is made public.

Meanwhile, neighbors of the Naval Air Station should plan on trouble sleeping in the years ahead if Oxford moves aboard. Judging from recent reports, fly by night operations should be expected.

Since submitting that rather benign item, several new thoughts have occurred to your reporter.

As it pointed out, Oxford's business model has to count on taking business away from other established service providers. To do this, you need discriminators, or "competitive advantage." Other than F. Lee Bailey's rhetoric, fawning political support, and copious amounts of taxpayer funds, no such discriminators are apparent.

In spite of the fact that Oxford's owner, Jim Horowitz, professes that:
Our national reputation is, without doubt, the highest in the industry.

Anxious to see the Oxford operations that attain such notoriety, this reporter took a drive by the "Oxford County Regional Airport" on a recent weekday morning. Let's just say that Oxford Aviation is the only entity at the airport; there is absolutely nothing else going on. The place looks desolate and nearly abandoned. From what one reads elsewhere, it's easy to surmise that the facilities occupied by Horowitz exist only because of taxpayer/bureaucrat generosity.

There were 24 cars in the parking lot. It's impossible to know how many of those are there for the use of incoming pilots, or left by outgoing pilots, both of whom make use of the remote rural airport for high-end commuting. One way or another, it's difficult to believe that 65 employees are working there.

It's also apparent that Horowitz has a sweetheart deal if he's only paying $1800 a month in rent, and if you believe reports, is delinquent in that regard. Rentals like this make him more of a charity at taxpayer expense than a viable business.

Anyone who visits the facility and can envision an Airbus executive or other major international interests stopping by and deciding that this is the company they want to service and paint their airliners in the future has a far different understanding of economic reality than I do.

Here's a glimpse or two:

Add this to all the troubling reports in recent articles, and the fact that Oxford held a job fair in January, reportedly because "The company said it will have more than 200 openings in the Brunswick Jet Division starting this summer," and I can only conclude that we are being treated to a major scam-o-rama. Complete with celebrity distractions.

Frankly, I'm disgusted, and highly dubious of the actions taken on our behalf by our so-called public servants.

And finally, to the pogys in the title. It was 1985, I believe, when a major stench descended upon our fair coast, caused by the massive die-off of hordes of menhaden, also called pogys, when they were chased up estuaries by predators and fell victim to a lack of oxygen. Anyone who saw and smelled them in the tidal marshes will never forget it; I especially remember the smell.

Decades later there's a very fishy smell in the air again. I've checked the local news sources to see if the pogys are dying off once more, and I can find no such reports.

Which leaves us to look for something else that smells fishy.

Especially a fishy smell with a hint of eau d'aviation fuel and essence of drying paint.

I wonder what it could be.

News from Lake Basebegone, Oct 10, 2009

This reporter is now ready to resume timely, informative, and profoundly useful reporting on local matters.

This post will provide an update on the Oxford Aviation initiative to assume control and occupancy of the crown jewel on BNAS, with the ample support of MRRA officials and state commissioners anxious to prove themselves, and generous application of taxpayer funds with virtually nothing gained in return other than easily broken promises. All of this "business" is being conducted in the relative dark of night, of course.

If you're Jim Horowitz, owner of Oxford Aviation, you can't be too happy with the mounting reports that seriously undermine his credibility and reflect growing problems with Oxford's existing operations.

You wouldn't know anything about this from reading our local BRUNSWICK newspaper, which has so far succeeded in keeping its editorial head in a very large sandpit, except for an occasional gasp for breath. Others might suggest that this apparent insouciance is inspired by pressure from well-known members of the local aristocracy, political and otherwise, but Side is above such pettiness.

For some reason, the Forecaster, and even the Lewiston Sun Journal, have taken an interest in the subject. They must feel a certain obligation to residents of the local area that is not shared by our local "government watchdog" press.

Herewith I refer you to several recent articles which I hope you will read carefully, as they are very troubling, and contribute to an overwhelmingly negative perception of the entire Oxford undertaking. A second reading is warranted, as it often reveals even more cause for concern.

Let's begin with this item from the Forecaster dated September 23rd.

Here are a few troubling passages: may not eliminate questions about the company's deteriorating relationship with Oxford County, which earlier this year sued the company for breaking its lease agreement by repeatedly withholding rent payments.

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. The executive committee, Cullinan said, could discuss Oxford Aviation's repeated failure to pay rent and fulfill its duties at the airport.

In return for public funding, the company was supposed to create 50 jobs. Grant close-out documents obtained through a Freedom of Access request show that Oxford Aviation created just 15 jobs.

On September 25th, the Sun Journal ran an item titled "Fryeburg Airport Authority mum on Oxford Aviation Issue."

You should find these words disturbing:

Eastern Slopes Aviation, a division of Oxford Aviation which operates at the Oxford County Airport, is under the gun by Authority members who were reportedly set to discuss terminating its lease at a meeting Wednesday, according to the Forecaster.

Eastern Slopes Aviation mechanic Kevin Gilbert of Harrison said Thursday that work at the small aviation maintenance shop, where inspections and repairs are made on about 20 to 30 airplanes a year, has slowed considerably in the past four years.

The Forecaster followed with another article on October 1st suggesting many more questions about Oxford Aviation.

These excerpts are informative:

Pilot Bob Mahanor said last week that the Sept. 9 eviction letter from the authority's counsel to Oxford Aviation's attorneys was distributed to attendees of the airport authority's meeting on Sept. 24.

The Sept. 9 draft letter tells a different story.

It claims Oxford Aviation did not settle default rent payments by Aug. 22, and therefore its lease was not automatically renewed. The authority's attorney said that despite Oxford Aviation's attempts to catch up, the company still failed in its airport duties, such as hiring a full-time mechanic and providing market-priced aviation fuel.

That was the case in 1999 when the company was supposed to create 50 jobs as part of a state-organized funding package of $935,000 for a hangar expansion. State records show the company created just 15 jobs.

There simply is too much damning reportage in this article to copy here; you simply must read the entire article if you want to be informed.

And lastly, there's this curious offshoot of the Oxford Aviation & F. Lee Bailey partnership. A Sun Journal article dated October 2nd is titled "Bailey advocates for felon work-release program in Maine." It says:

Nationally known trial attorney F. Lee Bailey advocated work-release programs for convicted felons..

Then, connecting the dots from this initiative to his "aviation" advocacy, Bailey pointed out that:

Oxford Aviation hired a felon for six months who was successful.

Readers might thus reasonably wonder whether the Horowitz/Bailey "vision" for Hangar 6 is to serve as a halfway house for felons assigned to work on major jet-liners. That's a comforting thought.

And lastly, this ironic and incredibly suggestive remark:

Bailey said the participants in a program have to be carefully selected and a former inmate should be part of the system "because they can spot a con man who talks a good game."

I could'a laughed the socks off my feet and the remaining hair off my head when I read that line!

I wonder if we can hire "a carefully selected former inmate" as a consultant to let us know if we might be victims of a "con man who talks a good game."

I have my own suspicions in this regard, and so should you, but neither of us apparently has the right credentials. At least I don't, and I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Innocent until proven guilty and all that stuff.

What are the chances?

The chances of exactly what, I suppose you are asking.

All in due time.

As I recall, the original estimate for the new unnecessary elementary school was about $28 million, and we were told the state would pay about $23.5 million of that while the town would pay the rest, or about $4.5 million.

(Note to the interested student: whatever the total, the town will take on the entire obligation and borrow the total amount in our name. The state's participation is by making annual payments to the town to offset the debt service payments. So everything will be in our name, and we have the "promise" of the state to help us out on our payments. If the state finds itself unable or unwilling to do so in the future, you and I will be holding the entire bag.")

Reports are that the bids coming back in for the construction from seven interested parties are running about $5 million less than the original figure.

Accordingly, town officials face a decision. Should they leave the specifications as is and save us $5 million or so in debt, or should they immediately upscale the scope and specifications of the construction task to consume the $5 million in headroom with more goodies and luxuries?

There is another option of course; the state could reduce its share by $5 million, and given the budget crisis they face, they will be sorely tempted to do so. I can't begin to assess what the political implementation of such a change would involve.

Assuming the state did not do so, saving the $5 million could, for example, allow for construction of Public Safety facilities without incurring debt beyond what was originally expected for the school alone. That would be fiscal prudence and appropriate stewardship of town resources in the face of a severe economic outlook.

On the other hand, those afflicted with brass plaque syndrome and a pathological desire to shower other peoples' money upon "the children", or more correctly, the adults who surround the children, will no doubt feel an obligation to consume the potential $5 million savings by making lavish additions to the design.

They'll rationalize that the town was already conditioned to a $28 million price tag, and made their feelings known based on that figure. So they might as well give us what we were expecting, right?

How do you think it will play out? As for me, I wouldn't bet on saving the money for other uses. As they say, it's "in their nature" for officials staring at a boat load of public money to spend it. Especially when the adulation of "the schoolies" is involved.

Some will call me cynical for that view, even though I am simply making a judgment based on history. Those in charge can gain the satisfaction of proving me a cynic, rather than a sage predictor of official behavior, by going with the lower bids and saving us $5 million.

When it comes to gambling though, betting on the reduced construction cost is like betting that the leaves will fly up from the ground and reattach themselves to the trees from whence they fell come spring.

And turn a lovely spring green in the process.

How many chips would you like to buy?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Double Standards: Favoring the Politically Annointed

It occurred to me that the rules and procedures surrounding the spending of our own personal resources are at once duplicitous and arranged to favor our so-called "public servants."

Just a few days ago, I posted on the subject of OPM, or "other peoples' money."

If you say "O-P-M" with just the right touch and accent, it sounds very much like "opium," an addictive substance of the highest order. And so other peoples' money is in the hands of our benefactors, elected or appointed.

Said officials are always looking out for our best interests. Especially when it comes to us choosing what to do with our personal resources. Want to buy a house or take out a mortgage? Get ready to read and sign stacks of disclosures, disclaimers, and other mind-numbing legal sized pages of fine print mumbo-jumbo, most inspired or required by our benefactors as they attempt to protect us.

Want to take a brand-name prescription medication? Perhaps you saw an ad for it in Parade Magazine on know, two happy people running on the beach with their dog, with a caption that says "Ask your doctor if Goozornium might be right for you." The ad is typically followed by 3 or 4 pages of fine print cautions, warnings, and side-effects that should cure whatever malady you have just in the reading. Who'd want to take a pill that could cause 20 problems worse than what it's supposed to treat?

Get cable TV? How often do you get 8-10 pages of fine print "information" in your monthly statement, most of it no doubt stimulated by concerned regulators and benefactors in our government?

Bought a new egg cooker? Get ready for a 12 page instruction book, 11 and a half pages of which fire hoses you with various safety warnings, disclaimers, and other completely non-sensical and useless information clearly resulting from government meddling and ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers.

Do you have auto or homeowner's insurance? How about those policies you get in the mail, complete with "endorsements," to make sure you have all the details on what you are buying, even if you need a friendly lawyer to help you understand them.

How about those credit card offers you get in the mail? Is there one among you who would actually read all the fine print in the multiple paged offer documents? How about an "important news" mailing for a credit card account you already have? Talk about being overwhelmed by excruciating detail written by fine print specialists.

Wanna buy a mutual fund? Well, no offer to sell such a fund can be made other than by a detailed Prospectus. I've seen more such documents than I can count. They're nice and informative, to a fault. No doubt because those in higher places want to make sure that under no circumstances do we take undue risks or make serious mistakes when investing our own money.

You can probably cite many more examples of the same overbearing government demands for full disclosure and disclaimers and warnings before we can take decisive action to spend our own money on something important.

Isn't it 'curious,' then, how those same benevolent public servants escape the same requirements for rigor, disclosure, and cautionary warnings when they want to spend OUR money on something whether we want them to do it or not. To them, dealing in O-P-M (go ahead, pronounce it 'o-pi-um') needs to take place in the shadows where no one can see what's going on.

When these folks want to spend a Trillion dollars or so on "health care reform," or more than $3,000 for every person in this country, hell, they're not going to put the legislation on the web for anyone to read, or even read it themselves. And they're sure as hell not going to send you a copy of the "insurance policy" they're gonna force you to buy before you know what it covers and what it doesn't.

Similarly, when they increase the federal deficit by Nine Trillion Dollars over the next ten years, or about $30,000 per person, shame on us for wanting to have full disclosure before they do so.

Now to the local scene. Base redevelopment. MRRA, consisting of Baldacci appointees, and Commissioner Richardson, another Baldacci appointment, are resolute in declaring that the spending of OUR resources in such matters demands confidentiality, privacy, and complete lack of public disclosure. No multi-page documents describing and disclosing the MOU or Lease Contract with Oxford Aviation; why the vary thought, in their minds, would put the negotiations at risk.

No details on how much of OUR resources will be committed, or why, or giving us the right to sign off on the deal. Whilst the general view is that citizens need to be protected by full and complete disclosure of all contracts and free exchanges, the rules suddenly change when our politicians are doing the deal.

I don't know why I'm being so persnickety about such irrelevancies. It must be a penalty of my upbringing.

That said, is it too much to ask our long-suffering and overburdened public servants to provide the same transparency and clarity in committing OUR resources as they demand from others when we wish to do so on our own?

You should trust me on this, because I'm not like all the others.

High School Reunion I: Weehawken '59, New Joisey, and New Yawk

This past weekend, Side's life essentially came "full circle."

The Poppycocks traveled to the place of my birth, Secaucus, New Jersey, to attend my 50th High School reunion. This was the very first reunion of any sort I have attended, and it was a wonderful time.

The High School itself, Weehawken High School, is located about two blocks from the Hudson River, on the bluffs of Weehawken where the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton took place. From that lovely spot all of the Manhattan skyline and more unfolds before your eyes with the same awesome scale as a visit to the Grand Canyon.

The opening highlight of the reunion weekend was a tour of the school guided by the principal of the last 30 years. It was a wonder to behold. When I attended the school, it had grades 10-12, with about 700 students. Now it has about half that many, with grades 7-12. The school is in spectacular condition, and is run as if it were a private school; no social promotions, no drug issues, and so much more.

What makes this all the more startling is that the school was built as a WPA project about the same time the "Old Brunswick High School," now returned to dust, was built. The sense of loss and disbelief that descended upon us over the latter as we toured was profound, and truth be told, maddening.

But that is a subject for an upcoming post.

We were in the area long enough to take a full day tour of New Yawk City, and to enjoy the cuisine in New Joisey as well. All I can say is that this area of the country has an awesome cultural and ethnic flare about it. In particular, do they know how to do Italian!

On the tour, we lunched on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. In Joisey, we had a basic pizza with friends that was the best I can remember ever, notwithstanding Scarlet's gourmet offerings. The plain sauce and the cheese were basic yet transcendent. And it was from a local "joint" that reflects the common skills in such pursuits.

We had dinner in Secaucus at two wonderful Italian restaurants, and one was the hotel establishment. Atmosphere you can't find elsewhere, an indescribable character to the patrons and their enjoyment of the evening, and a wonderful innate skill with the basics and beyond. Simply a feeling that you can't recreate without the locals involved.

Even the dinner for the reunion was catered by the hotel's Italian restaurant. An incredible antipasto buffet kept this reporter from moving on; one forgets how enjoyable and addicting the best quality meats, cheeses, and other items can be. A chef was preparing custom pasta dishes at a saute station....I never got that far. Other dishes too difficult to describe. And a selection of Italian deserts that eventually caused us to give up in surrender. The tastes were simply too rich and hard to handle in any quantity.

All I can say is that there is a remarkable cultural essence to the area that is impossible to duplicate and export elsewhere. We have no desire to move back to that area, but damn, it would sure be nice to enjoy that unique character whenever we wanted!

Enough already, and if you wanted to know more, fuggedaboutit. Oh yeah...I almost forgot about the "full circle" part. By that I mean from Secaucus, to Rutgers College, to California, to Maine, and back to Secaucus. A full circle, where "full" has several meanings.

Let me close with this. I am convinced that 20th, 25th, 30th, and 40th reunions could be very enjoyable. But it is when you attend a 50th that you see things in a truly reflective sense as you look back on what was, what wasn't, what could have been, what never could have been, and all the other ruminations on a long life hopefully well lived. As I reunited with the most treasured of old friends, all the joys of those innocent days of unfolding adulthood and the mysteries of what might lie ahead resurfaced. It was a time of unembarrassed joy and warmth.

I mourn the fact that in recent decades the high school and college years have become a period of great anxiety for most, mainly because the culture and other pressures are dictating the rate at which youngsters are forced to "grow up." By contrast, for those of us celebrating the 50th, we did so at our own pace and as our situations allowed.

The most common statement I heard all weekend was "I have no regrets." May you feel the same, and if your 50th is still ahead of you and you don't feel like attending, I hope you will change your mind.

You may think you're already "grown up." I think you'll find such a reunion a belated opportunity to grow up even more if you'll only take the chance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reprise: A Marriage Made in Hell

Last night when I drafted the earlier post, I forgot to append a very relevant article from the Weekly Standard, which opens thus:

Medicare Advantage (MA) is the crown jewel of government health care programs. It allows seniors to choose a health insurance plan that fits their needs. It gives them extra benefits, including eyeglasses and hearing aids, and pays for preventive care such as physical exams. Under MA, seniors don't need to buy supplementary Medigap insurance. It covers prescription drugs, in many cases beyond what the regular Medicare prescription drug program does. It requires lower deductibles and copayments, and thus is more affordable. Roughly one in four Medicare beneficiaries has signed up for MA. That's 10.6 million seniors. A disproportionately high percentage of them are poor African Americans and Hispanics.

You can find the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"Health Care" and Politicians: A Marriage Made in Hell

Side has reported before on the subject of Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs. You'll find an opening salvo here.

I come to readers today to assert that granting "elected officials" the authority to meddle, regulate, and otherwise screw with our "health care" system and provisions is probably the dumbest thing we could do.

Why? Well, to begin with, I can't think of hardly anything that becomes better once the government decides to get involved. Many readers will leave me at this point, deciding that I'm a classic "government hating," "tax hating" crank, just like a former town councilor (guess who) labeled me.

That won't fly this time. Any Maine resident who has signed up for Medicare and checked out all the options knows there is a bewildering selection of Advantage plans offered, and that their availability is regulated down to the county level.

Live in Brunswick? Here's the plans you can choose from. Live in Bath? Sorry, your choices are different. How can this be....Medicare is a federal program; how can your options vary depending on your zip code?

Silly as this seems, it's much worse than you think. Mr & Mrs Poppycock spent the last week in another state for a variety of reasons, some of which will be reported on in other items. In particular, we spent two days with recently "retired" friends in New Jersey, which, believe it or not, is actually a part of this country. They just turned 65, and are now Medicare eligible.

As we sipped on a glass of iced tea, I described the Poppycocks' Medicare Advantage program, which costs us nothing extra a month, and provides "supplemental" and prescription coverage.

Our friends told us that Medicare Advantage is not available as an option of any sort in New Jersey. Instead, they each have a "supplement policy" and "Part D" coverage that costs $400 PER PERSON per month in addition to their Medicare Parts A & B coverage.

Wow; that makes a lot of sense. But only if you are a regulator, a bureaucrat, or only a political opportunist.

How the hell can a federal program vary so much from state to state, and from county to county within those states? Shouldn't the concept of a "federal" program mean that it functions the same and provides the same benefits no matter where you live? Would you be happy if your Social Security retirement check amount depended on which state you lived in, and in which county in that state you lived?

I don't think so; and if it did, throngs would be moving to maximize their benefits. Which makes absolutely no sense; no sense at all.

Which leads to the conclusion that government is the crux of the problem.

The practice of congressional district gerrymandering in an effort to perpetuate power is well established. Such shameless practices pale in comparison to screwing with Medicare options in your state and your zip code.

Perhaps some reader is better informed than this reporter, and will correct the record by reporting in on how this very odd arrangement came to be.

Until that happens, and I am compelled to rescind my assertions, I conclude that there is no more ridiculous concept than turning our health care system over to politicians. "Good intentions" are a cover-up for the compulsion to remain in power, and those who believe in the former in the face of the latter are easy prey for the latest "trust me I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" pitch.

Billy Mays may be gone, but there is no shortage of pitchmen plying his trade.

The Ivory Tower Aristocracy

I'm sure many of you have wondered, just as I have, how much the academic elites at Bowdoin College earn as they fill and mold the minds that arrive on their doorsteps with buckets of mummy and daddy's money, or more commonly a ticket to ride on the half billion dollar endowment train.

It turns out it's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to this AAUP information site will give you all the information you could hope for.

At the site, you'll find that Bowdoin full professors average $129,000; associates average $90,000; and assistants average $71,000.

Not bad for barely nine-months of work, virtually total immunity from the state of the economy, and no doubt the nicest benefits packages you ever saw.

All this for working at a "non-profit" institution that pays little or no taxes on its extraordinarily valuable assets and real property.

Just 5 years ago, the Bowdoin numbers were $104,000, $75,000, and $59,000 respectively. No flat-lining here.

These figures beat out Colby and Bates by substantial amounts, and absolutely swamp the numbers at other state institutions.

In today's environment, one has to wonder when the eyes of government will decide to take an interest in "big education," and conclude that salaries need to be controlled. Or conversely, that government/congressional salaries need to be much higher.

I'm betting on the latter choice.

This and that...Wednesday, October 7

Bizzaro Parking?

Am I the only one who thinks the parking slots in the new Maine Street Station are facing in the wrong direction? Are we supposed to back into them? Will we observe British rules and drive on the left side of the street when on the property?

THAT should make things interesting!

Or are we simply the guinea pigs for "outside the box" thinking on street diagonal parking? It could be, I suppose, that the folks who brought us the open school/open classroom design of some decades ago had to find a job somewhere, and became parking design "experts."

I can't wait to hear the explanation. Hopefully it will be a "duh" moment when it arrives.

$400 toilet seats and such

You've heard me chat about my days in the defense business, and how ordinary things like hammers and toilet seats become wildly expensive when the government buys them.

I got a glimpse of the new dais in the new council chambers today, and believe me, the town bows to no-one in finding ways to make ordinary things unusually expensive.

Now I'm not in the dais business, but I might decide to give it a try. I have a pretty good idea how much lumber and plywood and counter tops cost, and from my perspective, it looks like the dais business is pretty lucrative. On the other hand, maybe our dais consultant had to work for a day or two to locate a fabrication consultant who could find someone to build the damn thing.

Under that scenario, $8500 is probably a bargain. And the new "furnishings" should certainly cause residents to view proceedings and officials as far more "honorable."

This little example should cause us to wonder much as $3 million estimates for old Times Record building "renovation" are tossed around and dismissed as too expensive so we can build something new at probably twice that price. Now that I think of it, though, that would be cheap compared to an un-needed $28 million elementary school.

I'll leave you with a passage I've posted before from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

Nobody spends somebody else’s money
as carefully as he spends his own.

Ever wonder about those stories of $600
hammers and $800 toilet seats that the
government sometimes buys? You could walk
the length and breadth of this land and not
find a soul who would say he’d gladly spend his
own money that way.

And yet this waste often
occurs in government and occasionally in other
walks of life, too. Why? Because invariably, the
spender is spending somebody else’s money.

Economist Milton Friedman elaborated
on this some time ago when he pointed
out that there are only four ways to spend

When you spend your own money
on yourself, you make occasional mistakes,
but they’re few and far between. The
connection between the one who is earning
the money, the one who is spending it and
the one who is reaping the final benefit is
pretty strong, direct and immediate.

When you use your money to buy someone
else a gift, you have some incentive to get
your money’s worth, but you might not
end up getting something the intended
recipient really needs or values.

When you use somebody else’s money to
buy something for yourself, such as lunch
on an expense account, you have some
incentive to get the right thing but little
reason to economize.

Finally, when you spend other people’s
money to buy something for someone
else, the connection between the earner,
the spender and the recipient is the most
remote — and the potential for mischief
and waste is the greatest.

Think about it
— somebody spending somebody else’s
money on yet somebody else. That’s what
government does all the time.

But this principle is not just a commentary
about government. I recall a time, back in the
1990s, when the Mackinac Center took a close
look at the Michigan Education Association’s
self-serving statement that it would oppose
any competitive contracting of any school
support service (like busing, food or custodial)
by any school district anytime, anywhere.

We discovered that at the MEA’s own posh,
sprawling East Lansing headquarters,
the union did not have its own full-time,
unionized workforce of janitors and food
service workers. It was contracting out all of
its cafeteria, custodial, security and mailing
duties to private companies, and three out of
four of them were nonunion!

So the MEA — the state’s largest union of
cooks, janitors, bus drivers and teachers —
was doing one thing with its own money and
calling for something very different with
regard to the public’s tax money.

Nobody — repeat, nobody — spends someone else’s
money as carefully as he spends his own.