Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there might be a Santa Claus

Occasionally, we’re greeted by news that restores one’s belief in the Tooth Fairy, Fairy Godmothers, and yes, perhaps even Santa Claus.  All too infrequently, of course, but when we do, it behooves us to shout the news from the rooftop (where we maintain hope the state will soon fund a solar water heating system, just like Bowdoin’s), and to give credit where credit is due.

It’s all part of the jolly holly folly image we’ve worked so hard to establish for Other Side.

Just a few hours ago, always vigilant for the next breaking story, our offices received notification of the agenda for the town council meeting of this coming Monday, April 5th.  In recent months, we haven’t lived up to our own low standards for tracking and reporting on such matters, and we hope to make at least partial amends here.

We did, however, recently comment on a council motion to modify rules for public comment in this post.  Other Side, and others more credible, held that the proposal would figuratively, if not literally, kill off the public comment segment instituted not all that long ago.

So it is with considerable surprise and gratitude that we pass along this note from the agenda for the upcoming meeting:

(Please note that the item relative to changing the Council Rules of Order to have Public Comment after new Business Items has been withdrawn by the sponsors, Councilor Favreau
and Councilor Wilson.)

We know for a fact that our thoughts on such matters have no effect, so we can only assume that others in town took the sponsors to the woodshed, and after extended ‘counseling,’ convinced them to think better of their proposal.  We commend the public servants involved for coming to their senses.

Much as we would like, we cannot end on this high note.  The same agenda includes this item under New Business:

44. The Town Council will hear comments from Councilor Atwood relative to the relationship between the Federal budget and local budget challenges, with a focus on federal dollars allocated for war spending, and will determine if any future action is necessary. (Councilor Atwood)

As anyone who knows us can imagine, this sorely tempts your correspondent to launch into an Andy Rooney style “spot,” featuring our trademark irreverence and irascibility.  In the spirit of the moment, we choose not to yield to the urge.  Yes, we can be bigger than you at times.

We simply suggest that Monday’s meeting should prove more entertaining than usual, and we will gain immeasurable insight into how our public servants interpret the bounds of their authority.  In the past, we’ve had motions about policy regarding Cuba; this agenda item holds all the promise, and more, of that core municipal responsibility for foreign relations, national defense, and assorted other global matters.

One’s imagination, left to run free, could come up with all sorts of cosmic and transcendent issues for future debate at council meetings.  Why limit ourselves to drones, vernal pools, faerie shrimp, and other mundane details of community?

Readers are encouraged to submit their ideas directly to the council, or if they prefer, to us here at Other Side, where we will see that they receive the visibility they deserve.

John Richardson and Maine’s very own “Hack-o-rama”

Anyone who listens to the Howie Carr show out of Boston knows the guy does a masterful job of investigating and reporting on the sordid political patronage networks in Boston and Massachusetts politics.

Howie often says “it’s a hack-o-rama” to summarize the situation.

This reporter has always assumed that Maine politicians were just too inexperienced in such matters to rise to the level Carr describes, and besides, they just don’t have the same scale of patronage dollars to throw around.

Maybe, maybe not.  Today’s Sun Journal includes a lengthy investigative report on the subject, centered around John Richardson’s time as DECD in Baldacci’s cabinet.

Here’s a passage to whet your interest:

At his side for almost two years was Cook, a former political organizer for the Teamsters union and for Democratic causes, including being a paid staffer on Baldacci’s re-election campaign. Unofficially, and later on an official basis, Cook kept Richardson informed and in touch with organized labor.

No doubt the NOTWIUN will not pursue the story, as soon as they can not get around to it.  They’re already busy not reporting that Richardson may be in trouble getting the checks he needs to get on the ballot.  Why else would he send out a last minute web request asking for folks to send one in now?  His deadline is tomorrow.

On the one hand, if Richardson doesn’t make the cut, Joanne King, Brunswick’s town council chair, will no longer have the distraction of serving as Richardson’s campaign treasurer.  I suppose it’s fun, though, working (unpaid, we assume) at the left hand of a self-described “control freak.”

On the other hand, if Richardson does make it, managing his primary election finances should blend nicely with her role in shepherding through the town’s budget, which faces substantial challenges from a variety of angles.

If things get too hectic, the town can always bring in a paid special assistant during the peak activity period.  No doubt there are well qualified candidates at hand, highly recommended.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lake Basebegone: MRRA helps region dodge a bullet; takes one for the team.

Well, it’s been a quiet several weeks here in Lake Basebegone, where all the plans are sustainable, all the politicians are apolitical, all government spending is vital, and the challenges for our future can be overcome by the right public statements by the right people.

Your humble reporter has not filed a report on this subject in some time, and there are those who suspect that our travel to Canada to worship its health care system, and a bout of the bug upon our return, probably contributed to this seeming lack of dedication.

Reasonable suspicions, we think.  But au contraire, mon amis; the truth is that Other Side did not want to scoop the Ostrich, who, we had come to believe, had a new found determination to lead on covering BNAS development issues, especially as they related to Oxford Aviation, F. Lee Bailey, and their tempting blend of spinning prop blades and flights of speculation. 

Somebody, please, make it stop!

We all know that local, state, and federal government are facing disastrous revenue declines, and are loathe to make the “tough decisions” to deal with the realities of years and years of unsustainable government growth.  Maine alone has had to deal with budget shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars per year, not to mention similar amounts of unpaid bills and billions in unfunded liabilities.

At the same time, a small elite institution like Bowdoin College is essentially immune from the economic climate the rest of us face, other than as it effects the returns on their half a billion or so endowment fund.  You haven’t read about any layoffs over at the college, or any problems filling their incoming freshman slots.  Economically, Bowdoin might as well be on another planet.

Imagine then how delighted we were to read that the Maine Public Utilities Commission, a state instrumentality, recently saw fit to award the college a $50,000 grant to install a solar hot water heater on the roof of their dining hall.  This is in addition to other state funding they received recently for installation of a “cogeneration facility.”

In view of the state budget challenges, one wonders how many will go hungry, untreated, or uncared for so that Bowdoin can make capital improvements to their facilities with taxpayer funds.  Is it just me, or is this the very height of fiscal idiocy that stems from the institutional addiction to spending other people’s money, or OPM (pronounced o-pi-em), in order to make one feel good?  I can think of no finer example at the moment.

Watching the “non-profit,” tax-advantaged college constantly spend millions upon millions on their plant, sometimes even tearing down a perfectly good facility to replace it with a better one (ice rink), we are incensed by the callous disregard for stewardship of public funds this demonstrates. 

And the next time we hear wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the loss of taxpayer funding, well, we’ll direct the actor to the roof of the Bowdoin dining hall for consolation.

Get your priorities straight, people.  The place where the campus elite meet to eat deserves your support before all those other “vital services” you’re always ranting about, like schools, roads, etc, etc.

PS: On an Other Side Bright Side note, at least this item provided 11 or 12 column inches of “news” for the Ostrich at essentially no cost and with no effort.  So the “benefits” of the grant spread further than initially reported.

Loose Screws, Part Deux

It’s only a few days ago that Other Side addressed the apparent partisan meltdown at the Ostrich in this little ditty, based on the column by Bob Herbert of the New York Times, the latter, of course, serving as the Svengali to our local editors.

Little did we know that the editors would oblige us by following up with a personal confirmation of the meltdown.

In a Friday “editorial," the NOTWIUN ran this little passage:

We need an immediate freeze on violent metaphors, overheated rhetoric and threats of violence and reprisals against political opponents. Continuing in the vein that we’ve seen escalating during this past year will threaten — indeed, already threatens — the foundation of our democracy, which depends on healthy political debate, not the verbal equivalent of all-out war.

In building up to this scolding, the editors listed a series of alleged offenses against Democrats, and somehow missed the news of offenses against Republicans.  Bullets fired, for example.  And cited alleged unhealthy rhetoric by Republicans while somehow not recalling any by Democrats

Perhaps the writer was constrained by his own word limits, and since D comes before R in the alphabet, he chose that way to deal with it.  We’ll be watching for follow-up reports that balance the reporting, and will run them here to make sure you are fully informed, which is the best defense against such partisan journalism.

Selective memory is something we all know about; selective outrage is far more troubling, especially in one of the “foundations” of our democracy.  Willfully uninforming on a selective basis is the height of unhealthy debate from the so called guardians of our freedom, but it becomes more common with each passing day.

They poop regularly on a major segment of their potential readership, and then can’t figure out why they’re going out of business. 

And we trust them to be government watchdogs and to uphold the public interest?

Doesn’t say much for us as a public, does it. 

Demagoguing at its finest: health care legislation

Yesterday morning, Ed Rendell, the Governor of Pennsylvania, was being interviewed by a host on one of the morning cable news shows; that host is also an attorney, and has been reading and analyzing the “health care reform” legislation that is now the law of the land.

The host/attorney asked the Governor to comment on the legal challenges being raised around the country by several state attorneys general, including Pennsylvania’s.  Rendell gave the perfunctory “I like him” response, and then immediately played the emotion card, rather than respond on the legal substance: “why on earth would these officials want to deprive innocent children of the health care this bill would give them?” (or words to that effect – that’s the best I can remember it.)

In other words, only days after the signing, you simply demonize those who oppose the legislation and wish to challenge, repeal, or replace it.  You can always use the race card, of course, as we’ve frequently seen, but if that’s not appropriate for the moment, why not go with the “for the children” card that is a proven winner at all levels of government?

Forget the fact that the legislation will do irreversible harm to the future those children will face; forget the principles that our government is based on and our officials have sworn to uphold; forget the drastic and surely irreversible economic effects the legislation will have on the future of all Americans.

Forget those nits; how dare someone challenge a new government entitlement?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

“Servants” in Bizarro World

I don’t imagine too many Other Side readers have servants, at least in the traditional sense.  But imagine that you did.  Would you expect to pay those servants more than you make, and provide them better fringe benefits than you have? 

Would you expect to keep them in your employ even if you could no longer afford them, no longer had jobs for them to perform, or their performance was unacceptable?

For my own sanity, I’m hoping your answers to those questions are a resounding “no.”

Now here’s the Bizarro World connection: we taxpayers in the greedy “private sector” do have servants.  You know them – all those who like to remind us that they are ‘public servants,’ inferring they make personal sacrifices to attend to our needs.  And these ‘servants,’ on average, make more than their employers do, have better benefits than their employers, and have what amounts to guaranteed lifetime employment regardless of the need for their services or their performance in their jobs.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tighten those screws, Ostrich!


I was thinking I might head over to Sears to buy one of those 28 piece Craftsman screwdriver sets.  You know, the kind that has a tool to fit just about every kind of screw there is.

My idea was to donate it to the editors of the Brunswick Ostrich, which appears to have screws coming loose in considerable numbers.  Then I realized they probably wouldn’t know which end is which on the average screwdriver, and they’d probably just hurt themselves.  Besides, on reflection, their problem may be loose nuts rather than loose screws.

You may recall me taking the Ostrich to task some weeks ago for their despicable editorial in this item.  I thought at the time that they had elevated their journalistic integrity to a new low.

Fast forward to yesterday’s edition, in which they featured a column by Bob Herbert of the New York Times.  My proclivities are well known; still, even I found this column to be one of the most inflammatory and delusional I’ve read in some time. 

Especially since the editors chose to take perhaps the single most antagonistic passage from the column and highlight it.  It reads:

The toxic clouds that are the inevitable result of the fear and the bitter conflicts so relentlessly stoked by the Republican Party — think blacks against whites, gays versus straights, and a whole range of folks against immigrants — tend to obscure the tremendous damage that the party’s policies have inflicted on the country.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Other Side drinks dumbass; talks to MPBN

This reporter has a solid record when it comes to staying away from Kool-Aid.

But I can’t say the same about staying away from a nice, tall, cool glass of dumbass. Or two, or three, or four.

You’d think we’d have learned after a cordial half-hour conversation with Bill Nemitz of the Portland Newspaper a few years back. I fell into the trap of thinking he was objective and looking to explore, and held to that until I read the column in which I was quoted. 

Clearly, Nemitz had a plan for his column ahead of time, and talked to enough people knowing he’d get colorful quotes that he could cherry pick and use as punctuation for his own ideas.

Side should have learned, but we didn’t.  As they say, life is a learning experience, and then you die.  And I went to school again in recent days.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Escaping from the corner: an alternative to the usual budget kabuki dance.

Your humble correspondent has ‘invested’ a great deal of psychic energy, detailed research, and personal capital over the years in commenting on the annual circus known as the Brunswick budget process.  All for naught, as best we can tell, other than providing a big fat target for various councilors to demonize and politely accuse of ’delusions’ and ‘frankly inflammatory’ rhetoric.

All in a day’s work, I suppose.  Taking issue with town hall is never a career enhancing pursuit.  But if they don’t want us to do it, why do they keep setting up all those sitting ducks?

Back to the main theme.  We are in a period of acute economic stress, as reflected in reduced government revenues at all levels.  This is a direct consequence of the stress on individual incomes (personal revenues) at all levels, and the associated reduction in taxable consumptive behavior. 

Pretty basic stuff, unless you are a true believer in government immunity from the petty personal problems of the average taxpayer.  Astonishingly, a sizable segment of our population is, and similarly considers the laws of economics to be an inconvenience that can be overruled at will.  You know, it can be so constraining to require that 2 + 2 = 4, no matter what else is going on.

Why the rush to “health care reform?” Kept voters, that’s why.

Here are some basic facts. Those in America living in the range from 1 time to 4 times the federal poverty level add up to 130 million people, or about 40% of the population.

The  proposed reform would make all of these folks (as a minimum) dependent on the federal government (meaning taxpayers) for some or all of their health care coverage.  Add to that those above that income level that are on Medicare and other government programs.

Combine this with the reality that the lower 50% of the population pays less than 3% of the total federal income tax burden in the country and you get a magic potion: a virtually guaranteed voter base to keep a European style welfare state in place, and those who rule it in power.  And that’s before granting amnesty to millions and millions of illegal immigrants.

These beneficiaries will support any plan to raise taxes to protect their government entitlement since they would be unaffected by the tax increase, but would be affected by any decrease in benefits.

I believe this is what “moral hazard” means.  Welcome to the end of the American experiment in limited government and liberty that once enabled us to be an economic powerhouse and the most innovative, productive, and generous society in history. 

We have decided to forsake those principles and instead emulate those whose success is modest at best and whose sustainability is non-existent.

Makes sense to me, knowing what is behind it all.

Good night, Mrs. Calabash.

Correction on Council Meeting Replays

In this item posted just yesterday, Side spoke of recent inability to find municipal meeting replays as we had done in the past, and wondered out loud whether it was part of a larger effort to reduce “transparency.”

Happily for all concerned, that suggestion was entirely inappropriate, and we hereby correct the record and apologize for the innuendo.

A studious and tech savvy loyal reader contacted our offices to tell us that the meeting replays, which were formerly scheduled events, are now available “on demand,” which makes their viewing far more convenient and agreeable.  It brings the replay experience much more in line with TIVO or DVR capability, as you can advance, pause, replay, etc. Our compliments to all involved in making this advance.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MRRA: We’re from the Government, and we’re here to help you.

The “executive committee” of the MRRA had a commentary published in yesterday’s edition of the Brunswick Ostrich.

It is, perhaps, one of the premier examples of bureaucratic hand-waving and hollow rhetoric of this year, and will almost certainly qualify the Ostrich for another coveted award from its peer group of similarly clueless birds of a feather.

The item is clearly written to counter the well-documented criticism of the MRRA in recent months.  It has some particularly confidence-inspiring passages, such as this:

Each of the members of the MRRA board of trustees was selected by Gov. John Baldacci based upon their professional expertise in a number of disciplines, including: business, law, real estate, finance, environmental sustainability, marketing and economic development.

In addition, each of them successfully passed a thorough confirmation process in the Maine Legislature, where their qualifications were further evaluated.

If that’s enough to still your troubled mind, I have a bridge to sell you.  If I have to say more than that, you aren’t paying attention.

Here at Other Side offices,  we also took particular delight in these words:

Despite assertions from other press outlets, MRRA conducts very thorough due diligence for all its business prospects.  We do not rely on newspaper stories or blog sites for our analysis.

The assertion that the MRRA conducts ‘very thorough due diligence’ flies so completely in the face of what transpired in the last year or so that it borders on willfully misinforming, to turn a phrase.

The writers claim that everything the MRRA does is open to ‘intense public scrutiny,’ another bald-faced fiction.  Add to this the following intangibles and tired political hoo-ha, and you have a classic example of self-indulgent propaganda.

  • will be challenging, to say the least
  • it’s critically important to have qualified professionals managing this process
  • we are very fortunate to have a highly dedicated, experienced and professional team
  • a highly capable staff, made up of some of the most experienced and qualified professionals in the country
  • have extensive proven capabilities
  • Their work to date has been recognized nationally
  • conducts its business in a professional manner
  • manage this complex process efficiently and effectively
  • effectively analyze and evaluate potential partners for base properties based upon established criteria and business due diligence

Here at Other Side, we believe that from time to time it’s appropriate to back one’s assertions up with hard facts, especially when one is doing the “public’s business.”  We even think it’s incumbent upon our “public servants” to show a bit of humility on occasion, as foreign as that may be to their existence.

We arrive at these convictions without relying on “newspaper stories or blog sites.”

And you can trust us on this, because we’re not like all the others.

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Brunswick Councilor: Raising property taxes “likely inevitable.”

A Brunswick town councilor, who shall go unnamed in this report, is reported to have said that in “this economy,” it makes sense to raise property taxes.

Said councilor is a B.M.A.T., a term that regular readers will be able to decode after a few moments of reflection.  (For those having trouble, the “B” stands for big, and the “T” stands for town.)

As reported in the NOTWIUN,

District 4 Councilor John Perreault and District 1 Councilor David Watson said they hoped to see a zero percent increase, although District 5 Councilor Ge__ld Fa___au and others acknowledged that a tax increase is “likely inevitable in this economy.”  (Favreau’s name has been modified to protect his identity.)

Brunswick Town Council: going underground

This reporter well remembers the council/public interaction that not all that long ago resulted in the addition of a public comment period to each town council meeting.  We have former councilor and town resident Nancy Randolph to thank for spearheading that effort.

The usual suspects on the council of that era were horrified that the public would have a “bully pulpit” from which to take issue with the council or otherwise express themselves.  As if councilors don’t have a permanent “bully pulpit.”  They tried to limit the idea to a trial period; to schedule the comments for the very end of the meeting; and otherwise restrict it.  A shameful disdain for the public voice was apparent.

Now it seems that the same thing is being tried again: claiming to support public comment while rendering it so impractical and discouraging that all but the most determined will write it off as a real option.

We refer to this item on the agenda for this past Monday’s council meeting:

The Town Council will discuss changing the Council Rules of Order to have Public Comment after new Business Items, and will determine if any future action is necessary. (Councilor Favreau and Councilor Wilson)

We can envision no motivation for such a motion other than to diminish public comment to a nullity without actually eliminating it from the rules of order.  Imagine the gun control lobby proposing to change the rules associated with gun ownership to require a $10 million liability policy for each gun a citizen owns.  They would claim they aren’t infringing on the right, even though they would put it beyond the practical reach of the vast majority.

Placing the comment period “after new Business Items” makes it, practically speaking, the last agenda item of the evening.  The only other item before adjournment would be the “consent agenda,” which by definition is a one second gaveling of preapproved items. 

For the uninitiated, this means public comment would typically take place somewhere between 9 pm and 10:30 pm, after the majority of meeting attendees have bailed out, and the unknown audience watching the Cable 3 broadcast of the meeting has dozed off or tuned out or both.

Taken on its face, this proposal is an exceedingly arrogant attempt by the council to stifle and marginalize public comment on non-agenda hearing items, and to march backwards on public participation in “community discourse,” open government, and approachability. 

While the meeting report in the Ostrich says the item was tabled, we cannot imagine a straight faced explanation of why such a change makes sense.  (Unless you consider council boredom and disdain a ‘straight-faced’ explanation, that is.)

Having missed the council meeting and its broadcast because of personal travel, I decided I’d plan to watch the replay of Monday’s council meeting. 

XXXXXX says the studio audience!!

When I attempted to track down a meeting replay a few weeks ago, I was unable to find the scheduled replays that used to be SOP on our local cable access channel.  I emailed the cable channel then, and got no response at all.

I can find no indication that Monday night’s meeting, or any council meeting, is now scheduled for replay.

So it appears that not only has the town council decided they’d like to severely discourage, if not eliminate, public comment at council meetings, they have also decided that such meetings should not be replayed on the local community information channel.

Are we misreading this, or has town government veered sharply towards avoiding public engagement and limiting access to public meetings?

As always, those in power who would like to respond will be given full access to these pages.

This reporter, as you would expect, has contacted those responsible for the suggestion to limit public comment, even though one of them blocks our email address.  When we hear back, we’ll be sure to publish their response.

We can’t wait to hear from them.  While I did ask that they limit their answers to less than 10 words, and that they be written between 3:07 am and 3:09 am, I trust they will understand these are simply procedural details meant to make Other Side more open and welcoming to government officials.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

He’s hoping for “change”

Other Side was bemused, amused, and confused by the recent report that the Brunswick School Superintendent is considering a plan to collect spare change from area residents to supplement the usual revenue sources that fund the school budget.  You can read about the concept here.

Most intriguing was this reference by Mr. Perzanoski to a little known blogger that seemed to suggest the pajama-clad, irrepressible columnist would support his proposal:

"This program would be voluntary," Perzanoski said. "People like (Brunswick resident Pem Schaeffer) often go on about how residents should have the choice to decide if they want to support the school system, and I agree with him. ... We have to find ways to fund public education other than property taxes."

Knowing Schaeffer as I do, I feel qualified to comment.  Consider the following.

As reported in this prior post, in Brunswick schools, the average “cost per student year” has climbed from $8,841 in 05/06 to $12,189 in 09/10.  That’s right; in just four years, we’ve increased the amount we spend per student by $3,348, or 38%. 

Auguring “illegitimate” prospects for BNAS?

Augur Letter: Forecaster analysis “unfounded”

Newell Augur, one time Brunswick Town Councilor, is upset by the Forecaster’s diligent analysis of MRRA activity, specifically as it relates to dealings with Oxford Aviation and F. Lee Bailey.  He does so here in a letter entitled “Critical analysis hurts Brunswick's image.”

Augur accuses the Forecaster of “character assassination of Steve Levesque,” and then proceeds to completely ignore the specifics in the Forecaster column.  Instead, he launches into the same kind of fawning praise we’ve seen in recent months by others as they attempt to convince us that all is well and we are in the best of hands, regardless of the facts on the record.

Funny; you would think an attorney like Augur would refute or otherwise counter the points raised by the Forecaster, but instead, he plays to the public via the press.  Reminds me of my earlier citation about playing to the judge if you have the law on your side; to the jury if you have the facts on your side; and to the press if you have neither.

Augur, of course, is not an objective witness in this matter, given his position on the Governor’s BRAC Advisory Council.  And he is, as best I know, a career creature of government.  Before becoming a state house lobbyist, he was the official public spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. 

One could easily assume he has brotherly affection for those who spend their years orbiting the planet Augusta, and the myriad bright shining stars that illuminate the heavens surrounding it.  All of whom seem genetically predisposed to believe they are public servants whose merits are beyond question.

Augur speaks of an “unfounded attack,” but offers an unfounded defense, unless you consider personal praise to be rock-solid evidence.  Rhetoric such as “I know I echo the opinion of anyone who has worked with him…” is the sanctimonious malarkey of politics.  Most experts think such statements are a “tell” for a lack of confidence.  One is reminded of “Joe Schmaltz is our coach, and I have 100% confidence in his ability to lead our team,” a statement usually released about a week before said coach is fired.

To Augur’s credit, he admits that the MRRA romance with Oxford Aviation was a mistake, or at least as close to saying that as any involved bureaucrat is ever going to come.  But apparently, the MRRA ED had no role in that mistake.

Side got the biggest kick, however, out of this statement by Augur:

“although one wonders in this economy how many legitimate prospects are on the horizon.”

Should we take this observation as an indication that hopes for a glorious future in global aviation leadership, as F. Lee Bailey would have it, are unfounded?  The Governor should be pleased by that posture from his Council Vice Chair!

Or is Augur recommending that the MRRA continue to entertain illegitimate prospects?

Whichever it is, Augur will get all the column inches he needs right here on the front lines to make his case.  In a founded manner.

Let’s hope he augurs for something better than we’ve seen so far.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Questions for an Economics Expert

Why is it that if I were to print up a boatload of very fine currency, and inject it into the monetary supply chain in order to boost economic activity, it would be considered felony counterfeiting; but if the federal government does exactly the same thing, it’s considered a perfectly acceptable economic stimulus plan?

What if I were to use my currency to make low interest loans to small businesses?

Petty legalisms aside, just what is the difference between my acts and those of the government?

And why is it that if I take out a high interest loan that I have virtually no chance of being able to pay off, in order to buy a new house and a new car to stimulate the economy, the resulting “instruments” will be considered “sub-prime” and “toxic assets?” 

But if the federal government takes out loans that it has virtually no chance of being able to repay, in order to buy all sorts of things to stimulate the economy, it’s considered to be “investing” and a bold stroke for economic “recovery"?

In principle, is there any difference between the two acts?

Is it too much to ask……..

Is it too much to ask that our for profit print media demonstrate at least a modicum of editorial skill and oversight, and perhaps make use of garden variety spell checkers and grammar checkers?

The NOTWIUM, as I reported a few days ago, has had a particularly bad spell of embarrassing grammatical goofs.

This morning, while partaking of our first breakfast at the newest spot in Brunswick – Jen’s Place on Stanwood – I was reading the Coastal Journal.  Jen’s, by the way, was excellent, and she’ll soon wish she had more room.

Upon reading a story about Aviation Services and BNAS plans, I came across this gem of a sentence:

Bailey could not be reached for comment on for this story; it is not appear that he had other interaction with Town officials.

A bit further on, I began to read an editorial on nuclear energy, and it began like this:

In the last couple of weeks, the fedeal government…..

Even the software I’m using here doesn’t want to let that one slide.

Editorials are presumably written by the editor, and goodness knows Gina has her hands full writing almost every item, penning her own folksy column, and generally acting as the mother hen for all things CJ.

None the less, what do these little examples, which are all too common, say about the state of our beloved public education system?  And more to the point, what do they say about the care, pride, and discipline that goes into the publication of such journals?

Should we be holding the press to a lower standard; one they can occasionally meet?

Gotta be careful, though.  If we set the bar too low, even the press could have trouble getting under it.


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Friday, March 5, 2010

Of Tiffany’s, Tiffs, and TIFs

We had been thinking about this post for a few days, and were about to address the current tiff over the TIF for JHR development, and their plan to build an Inn on the Maine Street Station property.  Other Side is always distressed by discord in the community, and was determined to reach out to the relevant parties to facilitate a ‘coming together’ in the interest of shared destiny. 

We have, to be modest, an innovative proposal for a win-win-win solution.  It grabs the dilemma by its horns and wrestles it to the ground.  Side’s achievements in such challenging circumstances are a matter of record, yet we have never sought compensation for our heroic efforts.  That’s because we are givers, not takers.

As fate would have it, before we sat down to draft the post, an opinion piece from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal appeared over the transom.  It’s by Daniel Henninger, and entitled “Bring Back the Robber Barons.”

The subtitle is:

There's a big difference between entrepreneurs who make a fortune in the market, and those who do so by gaming the government.

The essay illuminates the differences between “market entrepreneurs” and “political entrepreneurs.”  I heartily suggest you read the item, and I’ll tempt you with this passage:

Willful Misinformation piece of the week

Occasionally, the Ostrich - (‘serving the willfully uninformed since 1967’) - reaches into the willfully misinforming realm, and uses whatever means it must to do so.  Even if it means publishing blatantly erroneous reader submissions.  In this case, a willfully uninformed reader.

Yesterday they ran an item from a retired midwest college employee who moved to the area less than a year ago.  He addressed the contract kerfuffle in RSU 1, and in the process, launched into the textbook weepy rhetoric that always surrounds negotiations with teachers and their administration.  He claims teachers are the “least appreciated and most disrespected professionals” in the US.

Have you ever been to a public meeting on school budgets and related issues?  In this area, if you do so, you will hear testimony that every teacher is if not a saint, at least an angel, and deserves everything their unions demand and more.  If the writer has some evidence otherwise, let him produce it.  He’ll have to send it to me, though, because the Ostrich isn’t interested in taking issue with the goo-goo talking points.

But here’s the piece-de-resistance:

‘Time and time again, many school administrators and boards ask their educators to take less in the way of salary and benefits and yet expect them to accomplish more.’

Bravo Sierra big time.  Show us some facts.  It’s clear the Ostrich didn’t ask for any, or the piece would not have run as it did.  Only those who challenge the editors’ agenda are asked to back up their claims.

So our writer sets the stage for another budget season confrontation by convincing the uninformed that teachers are getting by on less and less.  The Ostrich’s typical readers will lap up the proffered propaganda.

Any one who has been engaged in understanding the realities in Brunswick, for one, knows that the diametric opposite of the writer’s claim is true.  In the ten plus years I’ve been tracking the details, local teachers have received more in salary EVERY year and in EVERY contract, and their benefits have not been reduced.  Any extra contribution they’ve been asked to make to their health care plan has been more than covered by a concurrent pay increase.

And I’ve looked at enough data on statewide web sites, published by the unions themselves, to conclude that the pattern in Brunswick is typical.  In case the writer hasn’t noticed, unions don’t exist to accept less to do more.

As to having expectations increased, Bravo Sierra part deux.  Class size continues to decline, and there are no performance requirements imposed on teachers, or anything that approximates a measure of merit.

Willfully un-informing is bad enough in view of the lofty view journalism has of itself; willfully misinforming is enough to merit going out of business.

There’s an old yiddish curse that goes something like “may all your teeth fall out except one, so you can have a toothache.”

I challenge readers to author a similar sentiment for our over-appreciated and over-respected newspapers and those who produce them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Local newspaper: “Ready, fire, aim”

Brunswick’s local newspaper, aka the Ostrich on Other Side, or more cryptically, the NOTWIUN (Newspaper Of The WIllfully UNinformed), has once again demonstrated its razor sharp editorial marksmanship.

A quick read of yesterday’s and today’s edition reveals a glaring lack of basic proofreading effort before committing to print, to the point where one wonders whether they have access to 21st century word processing software to check spelling, grammar, and text structure.  Or even 20th century versions.

But here at the non-profit offices of Other Side, we’re especially taken by yesterday’s piercingly analytical editorial attacking Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s ‘unconscionable’ rate hike request.

Citing the always reliable Joe Ditre of Consumers for Affordable Healthcare as their source. the editors parroted his claim that Anthem doesn’t “need any more increases in profits.”

Readers should not interpret what follows as support of or opposition to Anthem’s request; we simply want to point out the failure to count to 10 and conduct due diligence before publishing an editorial.

The proof of these increases in profits, according to the NOTWIUM, is this: ‘in Maine alone,’ Anthem made ‘$75 million in profits in 2007 and $51 million in profits in 2008.’  Wow!

Now we’re willing to believe that in the Ostrich’s parallel universe, calendar years count backwards instead of forwards, so in their minds, the year over year profit figures represent an ‘increase,’ as opposed to the decrease the rest of us might see. 

Local newspaper adopts new name, image

According to unconfirmed reports, the owners & publishers of Brunswick’s daily newspaper have announced that the publication is putting a new face on the operation.  Determined to stem a precipitous circulation decline, the paper’s leadership has been searching for an identity that would breath new life into its pages, and be more consistent with its editorial policies, journalistic rigor, and the refined sensibilities of the region.

“We felt it was important to get the best ideas possible in this endeavor,” the paper’s owner allegedly said, “so we enlisted the help of the noted media consulting firm Bailey, Balderdash and Malarkey, who’ve recently been helping ABC News and the New York Times with their images.”

The locals were advised to connect with the character of the community, and Bowdoin College is clearly a cultural pillar of the town.  Impressed by the catchiness of the college newspaper’s name – ‘The Bowdoin Orient’ – the publisher asked the consultants to come up with something similarly appealing and symbolic, and after months of rigorous study, they struck pay dirt.

Henceforth, the broadsheet will be known as ‘The Brunswick Ostrich,’ and the masthead will read:

The Brunswick Ostrich

Serving the willfully uninformed since 1967

In keeping with the theme, the editorial board adopted the mascot shown below:


Editors claim to be excited about the new identity, and believe it will “tie all the loose ends together,” a willfully un-named source close to them said.  “Even the photographers feel a new sense of dedication,” the source said, “and to prove it, they offered this shot of the editors digging in to a crucial story,” presumably about the planned beach resort on the redeveloped Brunswick Naval Air Station.


Calls to Ostrich offices were not returned by post time, so this reporter cannot confirm or deny whether “feathers will be flying”  due to any possible staff realignments. 

And questions about whether the beach resort is simply a Potemkin Village do-over for Oxford Aviation and renowned barrister F. Lee Bailey will go unanswered.

Which, come to think of it, is just the way the editors have always liked things.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Other Side goes live streaming tonight

For loyal readers who don't get enough punishment just reading what appears here, be advised that this reporter will be speaking live in front of the Brunswick Town Council tonight, promptly at 7pm, immediately following the Pledge of Allegiance that opens the meeting.

If you go to this link:  you will notice a green area at the top of the page, and a "watch live" choice there in.  Click on it, and you should have the video and audio open up in an appropriate application on your computer.

If you do want to watch, I suggest you sign on at ten of seven or so, to make sure things are working.  In all likelihood, I'll be done by ten after, so be prompt if you want to catch the performance.