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  • Maine Democrats try and address opioid crisis within supplemental budget

    On February 24th, members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted unanimously in favor of LD 302, "An Act To Make Supplemental Appropriations and Allocations for the Expenditures of State Government and To Change Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2017." This bill will now proceed to the full legislature for a vote.  

    After a push from democratic leaders, specifically an amendment offered by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the supplemental budget bill now contains nearly $5 million in state and federal funds to provide opioid addiction treatment to Mainers most in need of help — the uninsured and those with low incomes.

    “Drug addiction strikes without prejudice and is affecting every community in our state. Overdose deaths are happening in our cities, our small towns and our rural communities,” said Sen. Breen. “We have to work together to address this crisis. I’m pleased to see bipartisan support for expanded treatment, and I’m hopeful we can continue to work together to save Mainers’ lives.”

    This $29 million dollar spending package also contains:

    • $7.1 million in funding to keep tuition low at the University of Maine,
    • $7 million to the Maine Military Authority in Aroostook county, and
    • $4.8 million to rehabilitate fish hatcheries in our Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Department.

    Additionally, the package moves $35 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. 

    “The problems we need to solve are bigger than this supplemental budget, but I am heartened that we are moving forward with a unanimous vote from this committee,” said House Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, Rep. Drew Gattine. “We will remain steadfast in our focus on long term solutions that strengthen middle class families, schools, and seniors, while growing good paying jobs and a strong economy.” 

  • Prescribers can play a bigger role in fighting addiction

     Editorial by Representative Colleen Madigan.

    Drug addiction is becoming Maine’s disease. Individuals may use but together our families, communities and economy all suffer.

    For too long Maine hasn’t been able to stop the drug crisis. It’s time we used everything we have to prevent addiction before it starts and effectively treat it before it claims the life of even one more Mainer.

    As a social worker, I’ve seen the toll substance addiction takes on people and their families.

    Community members, who as parents run businesses, work long hours and help each other out struggle to find treatment for an addiction that started with a legitimate prescription.

    Maine has the tools it needs to implement smart fixes that will stop the drug crisis in its tracks.

    Strengthening law enforcement to identify and prevent trafficking and funding prevention in schools are two ways we can stop the drug crisis from getting worse, but that should be only part of the solution.

    Research shows that addiction results in changes to the brain. Counseling with medication can help Mainers struggling with substance abuse to confront and gradually kick their cravings for opiates.

    Suboxone also known as Buprenorphine can give people a second chance.

    The problem? Suboxone is still hard to come by because Maine has too few trained providers who can afford to administer it.

    That means Mainers trying to get treatment for addiction have to resort to buying Suboxone off the streets.

    I once worked with a woman who served members of our community at a local pizza joint. She was given a prescription for chronic pain relief and became addicted to pain killers. After six months, she still can’t access a Suboxone provider.

    She’s not alone.

    I also worked with a Waterville father who got addicted to heroin after being unable to continue using prescription drugs. He found a Suboxone provider hours away but struggled to get there.

    Maine’s rural communities need more providers who can help people access counseling and medication assisted treatment to combat opiate addiction.

    This week I’ll present a bill to make sure physicians who prescribe opiate medications also have to be able to prescribe Suboxone.

    If you can prescribe addictive opiates to treat pain, you should be able to prescribe medication to help treat an addiction to those opiates.

    "An Act To Increase the Number of Suboxone Prescribers" also bumps up the reimbursement rate to make sure providers in rural areas can afford to proscribe Suboxone.

    This bill is one tool in our toolbox and I hope lawmakers will support it, but we can also learn from what other states are doing to identify other innovative solutions.

    Vermont for example has significantly reduced its prescription drug and heroin addiction statewide by expanding access to multiple forms of treatment and prevention, including medication assisted treatment and counseling. They’ve also focused intently on targeted solutions for rural areas that are often epicenters for growing substance abuse.

    This session Democrats will work to identify more solutions to the drug crisis using every resource Maine has to offer. 

    By recognizing addiction for what it is - a disease and a public health crisis - and treating it with smart, diverse approaches, we can help combat substance abuse addiction in Maine.

  • Trump manipulates you and the press with using cognitive bias

    AMERICANS BORN IN the United States are more murderous than undocumented immigrants. Fighting words, I know. But why? After all, that’s just what the numbers say.

    Still, be honest: you wouldn’t linger over a story with that headline. It’s “dog bites man.” It’s the norm. And norms aren’t news. Instead, you’ll see two dozen reporters flock to a single burning trash can during an Inauguration protest. The aberrant occurrence is the story you’ll read and the picture you’ll see. It’s news because it’s new.

    The problem here is not just that this singling out creates a distorted, fish-eye lens version of what’s really happening. It’s that the human psyche is predisposed to take an aberration—what linguist George Lakoff has called the “salient exemplar”—and conflate it with the norm. This cognitive bias itself isn’t new. But in a media environment driven by clicks, where politicians can bypass journalistic filters entirely to deliver themselves straight to citizens, it’s newly exploitable.

    You know who else isn’t as likely to commit murders in the US as native-born citizens? Refugees. Or immigrants from the seven countries singled out in President Trump’s shot-down travel ban. Or for that matter, immigrants at all. According to numerous studies, increased immigration correlates with lower violent crime rates in a community. Yet next week, Trump is promising a revised travel ban in the name of safety.

    In the past, the president has also promised to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. What he hasn’t promised to publish is a list of crimes committed by Americans. That’s not news. But his list is likely to create the false impression that undocumented immigrants are especially prone to commit violent crimes—an impression in which the human brain is complicit.

    Taking Advantage of Bias

    Lakoff, a University of California, Berkeley linguist and well-known Democratic activist, cites Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” as the signature “salient exemplar.” Reagan’s straw woman—a minority mother who uses her government money on fancy bling rather than on food for her family—became an effective rhetorical bludgeon to curb public assistance programs even though the vast majority of recipients didn’t abuse the system in that way. The image became iconic, even though it was the exception rather than the rule.

    Psychologists call this bias the “availability heuristic,” an effect Trump has sought to exploit since the launch of his presidential campaign, when he referred to undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists.

    “It basically works the way memory works: you judge the frequency, the probability, of something based on how easily you can bring it to mind,” says Northeastern University psychologist John Coley. “Creating a vivid, salient image like that is a great way to make it memorable.”

    This is the same bias that makes you fear swimming in the ocean lest you get attacked by a shark, despite shark attacks being far less common than, say, death by coconut. When something is memorable, it tends to be the thing you think of first, and then it has an outsize influence on your understanding of the world. After the movie Jaws came out, a generation of people was afraid to swim in the sea—not because shark attacks were more likely but because all those movie viewers could more readily imagine them. 

    Psychologists stress that your brain has to work this way, to a certain extent—otherwise you’d have a very hard time differentiating and prioritizing the avalanche of inputs you receive throughout your life. “It’s not a cognitive malfunction,” says Coley. “But it can be purposefully exploited.” When Trump uses a salient exemplar that will lodge in your brain, he’s manipulating your brain’s natural way of sorting information.

    But if you can’t totally eliminate your brain’s predisposition, you can at least work against the potential for bias it creates by understanding that it exists. Journalists in particular need to be mindful because exploiters of this bias, such as the president, are taking advantage not just of the way the human brain works but the way journalism works. The daily news at its worst becomes a catalog of salacious salient exemplars that only serve to distort the reality journalism in its most ideal version aspires to reflect. “We haven’t done as good a job of actually explaining how things function at a higher level, the success stories,” says Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. This failing aided Trump during the campaign, Lipinski says. By focusing on negative stories, the news helped to paint a picture of an America in need of “being made great again.”

    Recently, Trump told an audience of senior military commanders at CENTCOM that the “very, very dishonest media” didn’t report on terrorism. The implication was that journalists bury important news about terrorism because of some alternate agenda. Later that day, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer released a list of terrorist acts the president felt that journalists didn’t spend enough time covering. Journalists pounced: Hey, we reported on ALL OF THOSE! We won Pulitzers for our reporting! Here are a bazillion front page headlinesproving it!

    In doing so, journalists took the bait. The stories about their stories fed the narrative that terrorism is everywhere (it’s not). Instead, reporters need to get smarter about covering the non-aberrant, to show that commonplace does not equal mundane. It may not be rare, but it’s reality.

  • Belfast regional job fair seeks to close cap between employers and job seekers

    Front Street has transformed the Belfast waterfront, they employ workers that are highly skilled. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In an effort to further energize the workforce in Waldo County, several Belfast area organizations are collaborating to host a regional job fair to be held at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center on Tuesday, March 7th, from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. 

    “There are amazing opportunities for workforce development in the Belfast area,” says Emily Baer, Executive Director of the Belfast Creative Coalition, one of the entities organizing the job fair. “Our goal with this fair is to make sure that local employers are connected to the folks who are looking for jobs and wanting to invest their energy in our community.”

    With that in mind, the City of Belfast, the University of Maine Hutchinson Center, the Maine Department of Labor, Workforce Solutions, the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce, Our Town Belfast, and the Belfast Creative Coalition have joined forces in an effort to connect local citizens with employment opportunities.

    Working across Waldo County’s economic sectors, these organizations work closely with businesses and entrepreneurs to foster growth and development in the Belfast area. After hearing growing concerns about employers’ inability to fill jobs due to low unemployment rates, they decided to form a small working committee to address these frustrations.

    “With unemployment low, this is a tough time for businesses to find qualified hires but there are good jobs waiting for people who have the skills and qualifications and want to work,” says David Oxton, of State Sand & Gravel, Inc. in Belfast. 

    Organizers hope to connect employers and job seekers alike to seasonal and permanent employment and look forward to hosting a diverse array of Waldo County businesses at the event.

    (Photo- Downtown Belfast, Maine with reflections of historic buildings on car windows. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

    Additionally, groups such as the Maine Department of Labor and Workforce Solutions will be onsite to provide information to job seekers about upcoming interview readiness coaching, job training opportunities, and job placement assistance resources. Most of these programs were intially strated under Commissionar Laura Fortman at the Maine Department of Labor during the Baldacci administration. Unfortuantly, the LePage administration has not funded the programs to the degree they need to be. That's why this job fair will help, thanks to Belfast, by bringing local employers in to talk directly with those looking for jobs.

    This job fair is free for all employers and all job seekers. Interested employers are asked to e-mail David Grima at the Maine Department of Labor (david.m.grima@maine.gov) by February 28th in order to reserve table space. Please include the employer’s name, location, brief industry description, phone number, and a contact name in the body of the email. Job seekers are not required to register, but are invited to RSVP to the event on Facebook by searching for 'Belfast Regional Job Fair.’ 

     For additional information, please contact the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce at 207-338-5900 or Our Town Belfast at 207-218-1158.

  • Legislation in Maine could help keep children out of harms way of led in water

    By Ramona du Houx

    Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Environment Maine launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign in February of 2017.  

    An analysis by Environment Maine Research and Policy Center gave Maine a grade of F to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. The Maine Public Health Association, Prevent Harm, and State Senator Rebecca Millett all joined Environment Maine in calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in Maine’s schools and daycares.

    “Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but state is failing/not doing enough to protect our kids from lead in drinking water said Laura Dorle “Kids’ developing brains are especially susceptible to highly toxic lead so it’s time to get the lead out.”

    As more Maine schools test their water, they are finding lead.  For example, last year officials in the Yarmouth School District found lead levels above the EPA’s standard of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

    Yet a new report Get the Lead Out: by Environment Maine Research and Policy Center shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  For example, the report cites new data from Massachusetts, where half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school.

    “Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Rebecca Boulos of the Maine Public Health Association.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

    All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.   In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. 

    Unfortunately, current state law does far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.  Maine law only requires testing of water at schools that draw their water from non-public sources and does not require remediation.  In Environment Maine Research and Policy Center’s comparison of 16 states, these shortcomings gave Maine a GRADE OF F.

    “We were disappointed to find that Maine’s efforts are a GRADE at the back of the class for protecting children from lead at school.  Our kids deserve better,” said Environment Maine Research and Policy Center’s Laura Dorle.

    LD 40: An Act to Strengthen Requirements for Water Testing in Schools, introduced by State Senator Rebecca Millett, who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough would help to change that by starting a system that would require all schools are rigorously testing for this issue.

    ““All families deserve to know that the drinking water at their children’s schools is safe,” said Sen. Millett. “We cannot have a strong set of standards for some schools and a lesser standard for others. Lead poisoning can have disastrous effects on children, and it is our responsibility to protect all of them, regardless of where they live. We have got to do better than that.  We owe it to our kids.”

    These efforts have wide support including from environmental health advocacy group Prevent Harm, Toxics Action Center, the Maine Academy of Pediatrics, the Maine Public Health Association, and more.   Parents are especially eager to see the bill move.

    (PHOTO: press conference at the state house about LD 40)

    “Do we really want to wait for more tests to show that our kids have been drinking lead?” asked Gretchen Migliaccio, UMaine Augusta student and parent whose daughter attends Laura E. Richards Elementary School in Gardiner.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

    Parents in other states are demanding action too.  Environment Maine’s counterparts are working with doctors and parents and community leaders in seven other states to advance policies that Get the Lead Out of schools and daycares.

  • Congressional legislation introduced to improve the federal historic tax credit

    Using the Historic Tax Credit, established under the Baldacci administration with the help of developer Tom Niemann, the Hathaway Center in Waterville came to life with it's renovation. Photo by Ramona du Houx 

    The Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act was introduced in both the US House and Senate on February 16, 2017). The bill will simplify the federal historic tax credit (HTC) making it easier for small rehabilitation projects that need this incentive to be feasible, by successfully using the credit.

    Maine passed a companion HTC in 2008. The federal and state historic credits have been used together in 75 projectscompleted or under construction across the state since, with total investment-

    • exceeding $400 million,
    • creating more than 5,000 jobs 
    • 1,200 rental units, 770 of which are affordable housing.

    PHOTO: Tom Niemann's project in Waterville, Maine, restored the Hathaway Center, which was a former shirt factory and a major business in town. Attention to detail and strict adherence to the preservation laws really makes this project stand out as the best in Maine. Niemann helped the state draft the Historic Preservation Act. Photo: Ramona du Houx

    The federal and state credits together have resulted in 5 times as many projects and 9 times the investment as prior to 2008. But the average project size is over $5 million. Many small projects now cannot use the federal credit, which this bill would fix.

    Both the House and Senate companion bills have bipartisan sponsors and co-sponsors. This is Sen. Sussan Collins's bill in the Senate.

    "Senator Collins is spot on with this proposed legislation. Similar to the Maine legislation, these improvements to the Federal Program will make smaller projects on many Main Streets and in rural areas in Maine more feasible. We should do all we can to support this in order to continue the strong revitalization efforts in Maine, create even more jobs, and more economic vitality!" said Tom Niemann developer of the renovated Hathaway Center, in Waterville, Maine.

    660 Congress Street renovation with Maine's Historic Tax Credits. Before and After photos 

    "The historic tax credits have been  an important incentive for Maine communities. These rehabilitation projects have repurposed abandoned schools, mills, inns, and apartment buildings transforming Biddeford & Saco, Norway, Portland, Lewiston, Dover-Foxcroft, Waterville, and many other towns across the state," said Maine Preservation Executive Director Greg Paxton.

    "These projects raise the spirits of Mainers who see these formerly dilapidated buildings put to good use, and help reverse the decline of their surrounds by spurring additional activity. Plus, due to income sales and property taxes paid for to complete and operate these projects, they pay for themselves. But it is currently too difficult for small projects to use the federal tax credit, and Senator Collins excellent bipartisan bill would fix that.”

    Dover Foxcroft renovation - before and after - made possible with historic tax credits.

     

  • Maine's Franco-American veterans community program

    Contact Janet Roberts:  Coordinator, Franco-American Collection USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College 51 Westminster Street Lewiston, ME 04240 janet.roberts@maine.edu or telephone (207_753-6545.

    A program to highlight the archives will include presentations by Colonel Donald Dubay, United States Army-Retired, a native of Lewiston, Maine who grew up in Auburn and Major Adam Cote of Sanford, Maine.. VIP guests will include Ambassador Charles Dunbar of Brunswick, Maine and Severin Beliveau, Esq., honorary French Counsel to Maine, of Portland, Maine.

    Save the date! This program is free and open to the public:

    FRANCO-AMERICAN COLLECTION at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC) Contacts Doris Bonneau dbbonneau1@gmail.com and Juliana L’Heureux juliana@mainewriter.com and Janet Roberts janet.roberts@maine.edu

    USM’s Franco-American Collection preserves and promotes the culture and heritage of Maine’s Franco-American population. It holds a wealth of research materials, and it sponsors a variety of events that celebrate and promote the history and culture of Franco-Americans.

    Join us to recognize 100 years of Franco-American Veterans History.

    When:    Tuesday May 23, 2017 from 5-7:30 PM

    Where:  University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College the Franco-American Collection  51 Westminster Street in Lewiston Maine  https://usm.maine.edu/franco/overview

    What:   Reception, exhibits, recognitions, presentation and panel discussion

    Why:    To capstone the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) project to digitize the history, experiences and artifacts of Franco-American Veterans from all campaigns with a focus on World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Cold War, Vietnam, Bosnia, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan

    Special Guests:  Ambassador Charles Franklin Dunbar of Brunswick, ME, who will introduce the guest and honored speaker Colonel Donald Dubay USA-Ret. They will speak  in both French and in English to briefly describe their shared experiences serving with the United States diplomatic missions in the Middle East. Colonel Dubay will be the guest speaker to describe his historic service with the US Army.  Colonel Dubay is a native of Lewiston, he grew up in Auburn, a graduate of Edward Little High School and the University of Maine in Orono. He and his wife Gail Schnepf Dubay live in North Carolina and visit Maine frequently. During his Army career, Col. Dubay served during the Vietnam War, in the Middle East and during the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm).

    Panel Discussion will honor Severin Beliveau Maine’s  honorary French consular who will speak about his father’s World War I experience as an officer in France; Major Adam Cote will speak about serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; Bert Dutil- USA veteran, will speak about serving as a French army interpreter in the Korean conflict and Hon. Paul Dionne, former Lewiston Mayor, will speak about his experience in Vietnam.

    Representatives from Edward Little High School and the University of Maine will be among the VIP guests.  This event is free and open to the public.  Please save the date! Merci Beaucoup!

  • Bayside Bowl will host 2017 L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup

    “Bayside Bowl is excited to welcome L.L. Bean as the title sponsor of this year’s PBA League Elias Cup. L.L Bean is Maine’s iconic brand,” said Justin Alfond, co-owner of Bayside Bowl, speaking at the press conference.

    Bayside will also host the MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship

    Bayside Bowl announced on February 16, 2017 that it will host the 2017 L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup and the MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship this April.

    “Bayside Bowl and the Portland community can’t wait for the Professional Bowlers Association to come back to town,” said Charlie Mitchell, managing partner. “The Elias Cup and the Roth/Holman Doubles Championship showcase the world’s best bowlers, most passionate fans and incredible sponsors that realize what a big deal this event is for our state.”

    The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is an organization of more than 3,200 of the best bowlers from 27 countries who compete in PBA Tour. The PBA is in its 57th consecutive year of nationally-televised competition, reaching bowling fans around the world who follow PBA activities through the PBA Network which includes Xtra Frame, the PBA’s exclusive online bowling channel, ESPN and CBS Sports Network.

    “Bayside Bowl is excited to welcome L.L. Bean as the title sponsor of this year’s PBA League Elias Cup. L.L Bean is Maine’s iconic brand,” said Justin Alfond, co-owner of Bayside Bowl. “We are also thrilled to continue our partnership with the Maine Office of Tourism. We couldn’t have picked better partners to showcase the best of Maine to the country.”

    Bayside Bowl offers the Portland region an unique place for the community to get together, to bowl, to party or to watch these championships.

    “We’re super excited to be partnering with two great organizations, the PBA and Bayside Bowl, on this fun, unique event,” said Chuck Gannon, L.L.Bean’s corporate advertising manager. “This is a rare opportunity right in our own backyard, so we’re really happy to be involved. Plus, bowling is a great activity for folks of all ages, especially families.”

    “The PBA is fired up to bring the Elias Cup back and to showcase for the first time the Roth/Holman Doubles Championship” said Tom Clark, Commissioner of the PBA. “Bayside Bowl has the best audience in bowling and our players love Portland.”

    The entire event will take place from April 9th to April 16th. The MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship will be aired live on ESPN on April 16, 2017 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. The L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup will air on ESPN on four consecutive Sundays from 1:00pm to 3:00pm: April 23rd, April 30th, May 7th and May 14th.

     

    About Bayside Bowl:

    Bayside Bowl opened its doors in 2010 as Maine’s premier bowling entertainment center. Bayside Bowl is home to twelve lanes, a full bar with twelve beers on tap, an award-winning kitchen, live music, and Maine’s best bowling league, Bowl Portland. In March 2017, Bayside Bowl will unveil its expanded venue, complete with eight new bowling lanes, a mezzanine and bar overlooking the new space, and a rooftop deck. For more information, visit www.baysidebowl.com

    About the PBA:

    The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is an organization of more than 3,200 of the best bowlers from 27 countries who compete in PBA Tour, PBA International Tour, QubicaAMF PBA Regional, PBA Women’s Regional and PBA50 Tour events. The PBA is in its 57th consecutive year of nationally-televised competition, reaching bowling fans around the world who follow PBA activities through the PBA Network which includes Xtra Frame, the PBA’s exclusive online bowling channel, ESPN and CBS Sports Network, and the PBA on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. PBA sponsors include Barbasol, Brunswick, Ebonite International, GEICO, Grand Casino Hotel and Resort, HotelPlanner.com, MOTIV, 900 Global, PBA Bowling Challenge Mobile Game, QubicaAMF, Rolltech, South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, Storm Products and the United States Bowling Congress, among others. For more information, log on to www.pba.com.

  • Trump unfit to serve

    Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve

    Editorial by E.J. Dionne Jr. Opinion writer The Washington Post

    Let’s not mumble or whisper about the central issue facing our country: What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?

    The Michael Flynn fiasco was the entirely predictable product of the indiscipline, deceit, incompetence and moral indifference that characterize Donald Trump’s approach to leadership.

    Even worse, Trump’s loyalties are now in doubt. Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away, even if congressional Republicans try to slow-walk a transparent investigation into what ties Trump has with Putin’s Russia — and who on his campaign did what, and when, with Russian intelligence officials and diplomats.

    Party leaders should listen to those Republicans who are already pondering how history will judge their actions in this wrenching moment. Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to know it is only a matter of time before the GOP will have to confront Trump’s unfitness. They also sense that Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser for lying about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States raises fundamental concerns about Trump himself.

    The immediate political controversy is over how Congress should investigate this. Republican leaders say attention from Congress’s intelligence committees is sufficient, and for now Democrats have agreed to this path. But many in their ranks, along with some Republicans, argue it would be better to form a bipartisan select committee that could cross jurisdictional lines and be far more open about its work.

    Those pushing for the select committee have reason to fear that keeping things under wraps in the intelligence panels could be a way to bury the story for a while and buy Trump time. Letting Americans in on what went on here, and quickly, is the only way to bolster trust in this administration, if that is even possible. And let’s face the reality here: It could also hasten the end of a presidency that could do immense damage to the United States.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in the meantime, must immediately recuse himself from all decisions about all aspects of the Russia investigation by the FBI and the intelligence services. Sessions should step back not simply because he is an appointee of the president but, more importantly, because he was a central figure in the Trump campaign. He cannot possibly be a neutral arbiter, and his involvement would only heighten fears of a coverup.

    In this dark moment, we can celebrate the vitality of the institutions of a free society that are pushing back against a president offering the country a remarkable combination of authoritarian inclinations and ineptitude. The courts, civil servants, citizens — collectively and individually — and, yes, an unfettered media have all checked Trump and forced inconvenient facts into the sunlight.

    It is a sign of how beleaguered Trump is that his Twitter response on Wednesday morning was not to take responsibility but to assign blame. His villains are leakers and the press: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.”

    It is notable that in acknowledging that the news reports are based on “information,” Trump effectively confirmed them. At the same time, he was characteristically wrong about Russia, whose government prevents transparency and punishes those who try to foster it. There’s also this: Kremlin agents stole information from a political party in a free country. That is very different from the actions of the media’s informants inside our government who are holding our own officials accountable for their false denials and fictitious claims.

    It will be said that Trump was elected and thus deserves some benefit of the doubt. Isn’t it rash to declare him unfit after so little time?

    The answer is no, because the Trump we are seeing now is fully consistent with the vindictive, self-involved and scattered man we saw during the 17 months of his campaign. In one of the primary debates, Jeb Bush said of Trump: “He’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.” Rarely has a politician been so prophetic.

    And this is why nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump than for him. His obligation was to earn the trust of the 60 percent of Americans who told exit pollsters on Election Day that they viewed him unfavorably. Instead, he has ratified their fears, and then some.

    As a country, we now need to face the truth, however awkward and difficult it might be.

  • Phil Bartlett's letter of endorsement of Congressman Keith Ellison to head Democrats

    (Photo by Ramona du Houx of Phill Barlett outside MDP headquarters in Augusta.)

    The following is the Maine Democrat Party Chairman's letter of endorsement of  of Congressman Keith Ellison to head Democrats. 

    OPEN LETTER TO THE DEMOCRATIC STATE COMMITTEE

    Dear DSC members:
    One week from today I will be heading to Atlanta for the Democratic National Committee meeting and elections. I committed to inform you of my vote for chair in advance of the meeting, and I have now made my decision.
    As many of you know, I have been openly critical of the DNC in recent years. The 50 State Strategy that helped us win the White House in 2008 was abandoned and the DNC seemed to focus almost exclusively on the presidential election at the expense of state parties and down ballot candidates. And the DNC failed in 2016 at its core responsibility of conducting a fair and open primary process free of any appearance of bias.
    In evaluating the many outstanding candidates for DNC chair, I asked candidates questions about their plans to support our grassroots work, offered feedback and reviewed their detailed proposals.
    Here in Maine, we are working hard to strengthen our municipal and county committees, to expand our electoral work down ballot to ensure Democrats are elected at every level of government, and to support grassroots activism. We are also working to enhance our communications and develop a four-year strategic plan. I want to make sure the next DNC chair will support our work and offer innovative ways to engage voters, volunteers and supporters. 
    I believe that Congressman Keith Ellison has both the experience and passion to lead the DNC for the next four years. He is committed to a true 50 State Strategy and understands the role state parties can play in building a long-term progressive movement. Over the course of this campaign, he has sharpened his ideas and taken feedback he received to heart. His willingness to step down from Congress to be a full-time chair is a testament to his passion for this work. 
    Thank you for your commitment to the Maine Democratic Party!
    In solidarity,
    Phil Bartlett
    Chair, Maine Democratic Party
  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.