Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Special Interests:" the other side of the coin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

News from Lake Basebegone, Dec 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxford Aviation Update

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

Oxford Aviation, county back in court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Riddance, Navy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep well, Mr. Johnson.

Monday, December 14, 2009

He's Baaaaaaaaacccckkk!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aren't you glad I'm back?