Tuesday, August 31, 2004

No room at the Republican Convention

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 31:

Maybe we're too sensitive, or see slight where none exists.

But we believe that Maine's two popular U.S. senators should have a place speaking at the Republican National Convention in New York. As of Monday, both Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins were left off the schedule.

The decision doesn't track with everything else we know. Maine, we're told, is a swing state, especially in the 2nd Congressional District. President Bush has dispatched numerous surrogates to the state to make his case, and political ads are common on television here.

Republicans are putting some of their biggest moderates forward. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was scheduled to speak Monday night in prime time, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the card for tonight and New York Gov. George Pataki is scheduled right before the president on Thursday. Even Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia gets his chance at the podium Wednesday night.

There's TV personality Elisabeth Hasselbeck, made famous by "Survivor" and married to a third-string NFL quarterback, Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill and Miss America 2003 Erika Harold.

Nowhere, however, do Maine's two senators appear on the schedule.Snowe has run afoul of the president on several issues, including environmental regulations, but she is a pivotal player in Congress, often one of the swing votes who can carry the day in a closely divided Senate. She's a respected member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a prominent moderate.

Collins is the chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and one of the leading players in the efforts to reform the U.S. intelligence community. She penned an Op-Ed in Monday's Boston Globe that offered a strong endorsement of President Bush's actions to fight terrorism. In it, she called terrorism the defining issue of this election and "the defining issue of our time." But she won't make the case at the convention.

Neither Snowe nor Collins are up for re-election this year, and Republicans are likely trying to showcase candidates who will face voters in the fall. But it seems a little time could be made somewhere for Maine's two senators.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Dirigo: Italian? I don't think so

Watching the roll call of states from the Republican Convention on PBS. Peter Cianchette, the former Republican candidate for governor and the chairman of Bush's Maine campaign, said that George Bush embodies the spirt of Maine's motto, Dirigo.

"I lead in Italian."
"Uh, I mean Latin."

Funny little slip. Means nothing. What does mean something, however, is that Maine's two moderate, Republican women senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, have no official role in the convention. Cianchette mentioned both women, taking pride in them.

The snub has been noticed. More on this in tomorrow's editorial from the Sun Journal.

Fighting the wrong war

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 30:

The United States passed a troubling milestone last week in Iraq.

More GIs have been killed so far in 2004 than died in 2003. The United States is averaging about two deaths a day. Through Friday, 59 U.S. soldiers were killed in August. In July, the number was 54. In June, it was 50.While the world's attention has been focused on Najaf for most of August, violence has continued around Iraq. Soldiers have been killed in Fallujah, Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra and Baghdad - all in the last 10 days.

While debate continues to rage over the actions, or inaction, of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry during the Vietnam War, there's a modern day conflict that's slipped from the conversation.

If this year's trend continues, tomorrow there will be two fewer U.S. soldiers alive than there are today. Their war deserves more attention than one fought three decades ago.

A chance to outline what a 2nd term would look like

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 30:

For John Kerry, the Democratic National Convention was a chance to introduce himself to voters.

The task that awaits President Bush is significantly different. Voters already know George W. Bush. The Republican National Convention, which begins in earnest tonight, is an opportunity for the president to define the course he would steer for a second term.

Already, a broad theme of creating an "ownership" society has worked its way into Republican talking points, but it's a slippery concept that will need some detail. Whether it means enhancing homeownership, expanding personalized, tax-exempt savings accounts for health care, retirement and education costs or privatizing Social Security, the president has four days to make his case.Democrats spent much of their time looking back, examining the events and times that transformed Kerry into a candidate for president. They also spent a good amount of time dissecting President Bush's record during the last three and a half years.

We expect that President Bush and his surrogates will also spend some time explaining his actions during his time in the White House, and cheering his accomplishments, which include radical changes in the tax code, an expansion of Medicare entitlements and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Elements of each of these have given us heartburn, but there's no denying that they are things the president can check off his to-do list.

According to national and state polls, President Bush is in a tight race and many voters have already made up their minds. A majority of Americans say the country is on the wrong track and the president's approval rating is hovering around 50 percent, dangerous territory for an incumbent.

Voters are hungry for details about what they can expect if the president is re-elected. The goal for the Republicans gathering in New York should be to present a road map for a second term.

Democrats, during their convention, spent little time talking about the future, despite having detailed proposals that deserve discussion. Republicans have an opportunity to do better

Dirigo protects the status quo

Maine is attempting to launch a unique partnership with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The basic idea of the plan is to subsidize health insurance premiums for workers making up to three times the poverty level, or about $28,000 for an individual. The plan has incentives for business to participate, which means picking up 60 percent of individual premiums for at least 75 percent of employees.

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 29:

The system that ties health insurance to employment is failing.

The Dirigo health reform plan, which formally linked up with Anthem Thursday to create DirigoChoice, is an attempt to save the system that dominates the way Mainers obtain insurance.

Call it "raging incrementalism."

Those are the words Trish Riley, Gov. Baldacci's point person on Dirigo, used to describe DirigoChoice, the state program to help employees who work for small businesses buy insurance coverage.

DirigoChoice does not radically alter the way people will buy insurance in Maine. It relies on a private insurance company, Anthem, to offer a new policy that meets certain state requirements. The state, then, will subsidize the premiums for workers who earn less than three times the poverty level and offer incentives for small businesses that help employees get coverage.

Census figures released Thursday point to the problems with health insurance in this country. The number of people without coverage increased for the third year in a row. Nationally, 45 million people were without health insurance for some part of 2003. In Maine, the number is about 133,000.

While the census figures show that median income fell in Maine, from $39,815 to $37,619, in 2003, cost for health insurance was up six percent for the year, according to Riley. That six percent increase follows years of double-digit increases. In the last five years, health insurance costs are up 77 percent.

The stress is showing in the workplace. Employers are transferring more of the cost of insurance onto workers, while others are dropping coverage altogether. The cost to insure new hires is acting as an anchor on job creation, and pushes businesses to create temporary and part-time jobs that do not come with health care benefits.DirigoChoice is a finger in the health insurance dam. The goal is to restrain rising costs, improve access and maintain high quality. Whether it can accomplish all of these goals remains to be seen. The deck certainly looks stacked against it.The plan would allow an individual to purchase insurance for about $310 a month. That's not a huge savings over insurance already available, but the plan does include no-cost preventative care - uncommon in comparably priced private plans - and subsidies for low-income workers. For example, a person making up to $28,000 a year would be eligible for help with premiums. A family of four with income of $56,500 would also qualify.

The state hopes to insure about 31,000 people in the first year of DirigoChoice, with most of those coming from participating businesses. About 5,000 slots will be open for individuals seeking coverage without sponsorship from their employer.We would have liked for the plan to be cheaper and for it to be open to more people. But "raging incrementalism," by definition, requires going slow, and the state has an obligation to make sure the plan is sustainable before growing it too quickly. Anthem, legitimately, also has to make money on DirigoChoice or the partnership with the state will fail.

There is a general reluctance by many to support a plan that further entangles the government in providing health care coverage. But already the government makes private health insurance possible. Through Medicare and Medicaid, state and federal governments accept responsibility for high-cost populations - senior citizens and the poor.

Dirigo doesn't tear apart the status quo. But even incremental changes are expensive, and Dirigo is no exception. The state costs will be high, and the political costs for the governor could be even higher if the plan is unsuccessful

Friday, August 27, 2004

Sting stings police

It's not everyday I get to work a "Simpsons" reference into an editorial, but in this case it was perfect. No doubt, if the police plan had worked, I would have been advising criminals to check out cartoons on TV for the latest in police procedures.

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 27:

Police were too cute by half to catch any real criminals with a dubious sting operation that went down Wednesday.

Twenty cops from 13 police agencies set up a sweepstakes scam in an attempt to catch 472 people wanted on outstanding property crime warrants in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

A Rumford detective spent more than a year organizing the sting, which netted exactly zero criminals.

Police sent out a mailing to the wanted individuals announcing an "End of Summer Giveaway" by Sting Sweepstakes Control Center of Boston. Sting Sweepstakes, a tip-off perhaps?

Maybe police were auditioning their targets for a new episode of "America's Dumbest Criminals." They even used other police jargon as part of their promotional material. The gambit backfired, and it's the police who look foolish. ... http://www.sunjournal.com/opinion/ourview/20040827081.php

Grading attitude

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 27:

Middle and high school students in Poland will find a new grade on report cards this year. Teachers will be giving students marks for effort and attitude.

At first blush, we were put off by the idea of grading students for their effort and attitude. We didn't like the idea that a sour disposition could hurt an otherwise bright student's grades or be used as a blunt tool to get students to march in lock step.

But ultimately the idea has merit. ... http://www.sunjournal.com/opinion/ourview/20040827082.php

If you've been watching the Olympics

If you've been watching the Olympics in the U.S., you've probably seen the VW Touareg commercial where the young couple carry an old lady's camera to a beautiful vista.

The name of the song is "Ariel Ramirez" by Richard Buckner. It's off his 1997 album "Since."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Overtime confusion

You can bet someone knows what's going to happen. The guy who works for an hourly wage is in trouble. Does anyone believe that an initiative supported by the U.S. Chamber really works in the best interest of the worker? It just doesn't pass the smell test.

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 26:

New overtime rules went into effect for millions of American workers on Monday.

Described by the Bush administration and the Department of Labor as a much needed update to workplace rules that will end costly litigation over who is entitled to time-and-a-half pay and when, so far the results have just added to the confusion.

According to Labor Department estimates, 107,000 people are no longer eligible for overtime pay, while thousands of low-paid and previously titled "managers" now are covered. Liberal activists, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Economic Policy Institute, say 6 million workers are losing OT. That's a huge difference, and the truth will be sorted as the rules are challenged in court. Many businesses are taking a wait-and-see attitude. We envision more litigation, not less.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which hasn't been revised in more than 50 years and was passed in 1938, needed modernization. But we fear the changes in the law will take money out of the pockets of men and women who are paid by the hour.

Overtime is meant to accomplish two things: compensate workers who put in more than 40 hours a week and to encourage employers to hire more workers when they are busy.

Both goals are worthwhile, and both are threatened.

When Congress returns from recess, it should examine the new overtime rules, considering the impact on workers who depend on the extra pay to make ends meet and the effects the changes could have on employment.

Pentagon faulted in abuse

The buck continues to stay on the low-level soldiers caught up in this mess. No doubt, their actions deserve punishment, but at some point accountability must move up the chain of command. Whatever happened to the captain going down with the ship?

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 26:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not directly order the abuse of prisoners that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But his policies led to confusion and indirectly contributed to the beatings, humiliation and torture of prisoners in U.S. military custody.A damaging report released Tuesday by a group of independent civilian defense experts tasked by the Pentagon to investigate Abu Ghraib found that the soldiers running the prison and their commanding officers were mostly to blame for the abuse.The report, however, goes further. It traces the root of the problem up the chain of command and back to Washington."The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline. There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels," the report says.Meanwhile, the soldiers involved in this disgusting affair face criminal proceedings. Already, seven have been charged, and reports suggest more than 20 others - including doctors and medics, who may have violated their professional oath and helped cover up abuse and falsify death certificates, and civilian contractors - will be prosecuted. Yet no senior military officer has been held accountable.What happened at Abu Ghraib goes beyond the soldiers who are facing court-martial. According to James Schlesinger, the former secretary of defense who heads the four-person panel, there are more than 300 cases of abuse being investigated, including events that happened in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.Schlesinger said that senior officials, including Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded operations in Iraq, shouldn't be punished or forced to resign.We disagree. If fault can be traced up the chain of command, and Schlesinger says it can, punishment should follow.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Hamm's achievement

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 25:


U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm won Olympic gold last week for his performance in the all-around gymnastics competition.

It was an amazing comeback after a fall seemed to knock Hamm out of the running for the gold medal.

But a mistake by three judges has sunk the achievement in controversy, and now the president of the International Gymnastics Federation has suggested that Hamm voluntarily give up his gold medal.Three judges erred in scoring the performance of Korean gymnast Yang Tae Young, who won the bronze medal. The mistake likely cost Yang the gold. The three judges have been punished. But the results can't be changed because the Korean team did not correctly protest the scores.

Judges are human, prone to mistakes like the rest of us. Scoring in gymnastics is subjective. Those facts are part of the sport.Corruption can not be tolerated in the Olympics. But there's no indication the all-around competition was fixed. As it stands, it was an honest mistake made by some of the best judges in the world, who have now been suspended.

Hamm shouldn't be pressured to turn in his gold for the mistakes of three judges and the Korean coaches, who let their athlete down. Hamm did nothing wrong. The medal is his.

Changes needed in Maine Revenue Service hiring

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 25:

This is a folo to a column that appeared Sunday, Aug. 22.

Merit should always be the most important factor when state government looks to hire.

Sadly, that's not always the case.Already having a government job can push some applicants ahead of others with better qualifications.

The Maine Revenue Service is in the midst of filling 20 new jobs, including revenue agents, to beef up enforcement of the state's tax laws. Behind the new hiring is the need to catch enough cheats to raise about $5 million in the first year alone in additional state revenue.

Success is unlikely. First, even well-qualified agents take between two and three years to learn the nuance of tax enforcement. Less-qualified revenue agents will take even longer to get up to speed. It remains to be seen whether the state will realize the promise of the new revenue used to justify the hiring.

As it stands, job candidate scoring in the state's Bureau of Human Resources skews jobs toward people who already work for the government. Such patronage makes it harder for new faces - even highly skilled ones - to get into the Maine Revenue Service.Since only the applicants with the top six scores are passed on for interviews, the higher grades for government workers shut out quality people.

Additionally, Revenue Service employees receive a 10 percent stipend, which boosts their pay above other civil servants on the same pay grade, making the posts attractive to transfers.Several things should happen.An applicant's skills, education and training should carry more weight during the screening process than years of government service, and supervisors in charge of hiring should have access to more than six applications.

The decision to award Revenue Service employees an extra salary stipend should be revisited. Originally, the idea was to help the Revenue Service compete for the talent with the private sector. If most applicants for M.R.S. jobs come from within the government, the program isn't working as designed.

A quiz, just now being created, will be given to test an applicant's basic accounting skills. That's a solid improvement, but we question why the test has been missing until now and why it's being rushed when hiring has already begun.

Investigating taxpayers is a serious business. The people entrusted by the state to do that job should meet the highest qualifications. Current hiring procedures undermine that goal.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Najaf and U.S. history

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 23:

Victory may not be possible for the United States in Najaf.Certainly, the United States is vastly superior militarily to the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which has been occupying the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf's old city.Political, cultural and religious considerations are preventing a purely military victory, and there doesn't appear to be a good outcome.

If the United States destroys the Mahdi Army, the victory could turn al-Sadr into a martyr, uniting disparate factions throughout Iraq in opposition to the United States and the interim government it supports.

If the United States doesn't destroy the militants, the possibility for future clashes is high. This is the second time U.S. forces have faced off with al-Sadr's followers. The current confrontation began Aug. 5, and signs of a possible resolution are mixed even as the fighting has intensified.

There is a striking parallel to the siege of Najaf and a battle in America's own history. We are certain some readers will find the comparison distasteful, but we believe it points to the conundrum faced by the U.S. military.

In 1836, a small band of mostly volunteers held a mission in Texas against an assault by a large Mexican force. The names from that fight are legendary: Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and the infamous Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.More than 160 years later, the battle still lives in American lore.We still remember the Alamo even though it was a complete defeat. Between 189 and 257 defenders were killed at a huge cost to the Mexican army. The slaughter became a rallying cry for Texans battling for their independence. Movies, songs and plays have retold the story countless times, recalling the bravery and sacrifice of the volunteers.

Al-Sadr and his militia hold the center of the old city of Najaf and the Imam Ali Shrine, which is one of the holiest sites in the Shia Islam. The majority of Iraqis are Shiite and any assault on the shrine likely would come with a stiff price.

To damage the mosque, to kill al-Sadr, to drive him from the holy place could well create a Shiite call for rebellion heard throughout Iraq.To leave al-Sadr in place would be no better. His willingness to use violence and his resistance to the interim government and to the United States make it impossible to integrate his most committed followers into a legitimate political process.

Ideally, Iraqis should lead the confrontation with al-Sadr or find a political solution that would end the standoff. So far, they have been unable or unwilling to do either.

As U.S. soldiers and Marines continue their struggle with al-Sadr, military and political leaders would be well-advised to hear the battle cry from 1836: "Remember the Alamo."

Monday, August 23, 2004

Debunked smears

President Bush came out today and denounced the SBVT ad. No doubt he read my editorial.

Editorial, Sun Journal, Aug. 23:

A group calling itself "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" is attacking Sen. John Kerry, challenging his war record and the circumstances of the medals he earned during his time in Vietnam.

The most incendiary claims of the group - which is backed by big donors to the Republican Party - have been debunked by FactCheck.org (Aug. 15), The Washington Post and by the crew who served with Kerry in Vietnam. In short, the allegations aren't substantiated.

Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war and a Republican who has endorsed President Bush, has called the ad "dishonest and dishonorable." He's right on.

Kerry has made his service in the Vietnam War a central part of his campaign for president. It's legitimate to question that service, just as it is legitimate to question the activities of President Bush when he was a member of the National Guard.But the criticisms coming from the "Swift Boat" group aren't based on the truth. They are allegations with only the thinnest connection to actual events, bought and paid for by a major donor to the Republican Party with the only intent being to drive down Kerry's standing with voters.

Such things can be expected in a presidential campaign, but they shouldn't be tolerated.We believe most voters can smell a rat, but these smears are drawing attention from the real issues that should decide this election: the economy, national security, foreign affairs and health care, among a long list of others.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Putting teeth in the law of small claims

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 22:

There's just no winning. Even when you win.

An investigation into the state's small claims legal system by the Sun Journal has found that winning a judgment often falls short of actual justice.According to estimates from the clerks, who are in the best position to know, maybe one-third of the people who win their cases actually receive the award they are due.

The system is broken and should be fixed.

The most obvious problem is that the law has no teeth. After a judge has ruled in favor of a plaintiff, the real work of collecting begins. The burden of proof still rests with the plaintiff, while the deck is stacked in favor of the person who is sued. ... www.sunjournal.com/opinion/ourview/20040822100.php

Hiring flaws threaten tax enforcement

Column, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 22:

The convergence of two reasonable ideas is likely to hamper the Maine Revenue Service's ability to hire the best qualified applicants for as many as 20 new positions created in this year's budget, and may lead to unnecessarily high salaries for some workers.

The Maine Revenue Service is in the process of hiring 20 new revenue agents. The goal behind the expansion is to improve enforcement of the state's tax laws - and add an estimated $5 million to the General Fund in the first year.

The hiring already has begun for some of the positions, and interviews for others will begin in the next few weeks.

But the system is flawed and at least one last-minute fix is being rushed in to make it better. ... www.sunjournal.com/opinion/columnist/20040822095.php

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Tough to reconcile daydream with death

This column ran in the Lewiston Sun Journal and the Bangor Daily News on Saturday, Aug. 21:

There's something romantic about bush pilots.

They fly into places without landing strips or runway lights. Into the wilderness. Into the wild.
Bush pilots - maybe all pilots - carry themselves with confidence. They are precise, professional, charismatic and cool.

Kathy Hodgkins fit that bill.

Hodgkins, who was 47, ran KT Aviation with her husband, Tim. Thursday morning, Aug. 12, she was killed when the plane she was piloting crashed near the peak of Big Houston Mountain in Piscataquis County. She was on her way to Lobster Lake to pick up a group of sports.

I flew with Hodgkins once and the trip left an impression on me that I haven't been able to shake, and feels spooky now. ...

For the rest:

Friday, August 20, 2004

Tax cap's message is flawed

Maine voters this November will vote on a ballot measure that aims to cap property taxes. The law is similar to California's Proposition 13, but Maine ain't too much like California ...

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 20:

There are fundamental and serious flaws with the tax cap legislation that goes to voters in November.

Supporters of the ballot initiative, who met with the Sun Journal editorial board Wednesday, recognize the problems and say they would support changes once the question has passed.

The most important part of the proposed law - the limit on the mill rate - is crucial for the state's future, they say. And, they say, the problems can be solved, but a message must be sent to lawmakers in Augusta and town selectmen that spending as usual cannot continue.But rewriting state tax laws with bad legislation doesn't send a message demanding reform. It undermines the ability of towns and cities to provide the services that voters want and have voted to support.Elements of the proposed law are likely unconstitutional. A four-member majority of the Supreme Judicial Court has said that the provision to roll assessments back to 1996-97 levels would violate the state's Constitution by mandating that taxes not be assessed uniformly. Some people would face higher taxes just because they're new to their neighborhood.While the proposal would allow municipalities to adjust the mill rate above the 1 percent cap to pay for debt service, it's not at all clear that applies to municipalities like Lewiston and Auburn, which have a town manager-city council type government. The cap legislation allows for increases only on debt approved by a two-thirds vote. Debt that was not approved directly by voters is not specifically addressed. That could create a real crunch for Maine's cities.

The tax cap plan also attempts to storm the state's tax code, and then pull up the ladder so other changes are more difficult to initiate. The tax cap would be able to pass in November with a simple majority. As written, however, once passed the law would require a two-thirds statewide vote for it to be changed by initiative. The text of the legislation relies on voters for ratification, but then doesn't trust those same voters not to change their mind. That's a serious affront to the initiative process.Former state Sen. Phil Harriman and former Secretary of State Mark Gartley, two respected spokesmen for Tax Cap Yes!, (www.taxcapyes.org) agree the rollback won't pass muster and has to be changed. They also recognize the other problems.

But they also maintain that something must be done about out-of-control government spending and that state lawmakers have not taken the demand for property tax relief seriously. They put forward a compelling argument about the need to restrain government spending.

But the tax cap would go beyond fiscal discipline; it would put the state in a financial chokehold. Proponents of the tax cap ask: Just look at the numbers. For this proposal, here's the number that counts: 1 percent. In many cases, the tax cap would force cities and towns to cut their expenditures by more than 50 percent. That's not trimming fat, that's cutting government off at the waist.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Olympic freak out

Ok, home with my daughter this morning who's sick and I've got the Olympics on the TV for a little background noise.

China just beat the Netherlands for gold medal in badminton, and the anchor on Bravo is flipping out. It's like she trying to do a stand-up routine about back yard badminton and kids getting stuff stuck in a tree. Not funny, just odd.

Maybe she was trying to fill otherwse dead air...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Military redeployment is questionable

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 18, 2004: http://www.sunjournal.com/opinion/ourview/20040818063.php

President Bush on Monday unveiled a massive redeployment of American forces around the world.

Important elements of the plan are on target. The United States does not need to maintain the force structure and posture developed during the Cold War. A more nimble fighting force better able to quickly respond to hot spots around the world is better suited to fighting insurgencies and non-state threats. Shifting units to new bases in Eastern Europe and the Middle East puts them closer to areas of likely deployment.

But the biggest part of Bush's plan - at least as it was presented Monday - moves about 70,000 troops back to the United States, mostly from Germany, South Korea and Japan, beginning in 2006.While Germany is not as strategically central to the defense of Europe as it was when the United States provided a protective umbrella against an invasion by the Soviet Union, it is still significantly closer to possible theaters of combat than much of this country. U.S. troops there are closer to the fight than they would be in North Carolina, California or Texas. Plus, Germany helps cover the costs of U.S. operations there.

Removing forces from South Korea is even more problematic. North Korea poses a significant threat to U.S. allies in Asia and is openly pursuing a nuclear arsenal. The country may already have a limited number of nuclear weapons. By removing American soldiers from the Korean peninsula, the North wins a major concession without giving up anything in return.Pulling troops out of Japan could fundamentally change the region's balance of power.

As China grows, it will become more able to dominate its neighbors, militarily and economically. It seems likely Japan would seek to expand its military and protect its influence.

Major policy announcements made during the heat of the campaign season are always suspect. Even though work on the changes began under the Clinton administration, the policy directive comes at a bad time.While the country needs its allies to help in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to counter the threat of international terrorism, Bush's announcement appears to be a retreat from the world just when what we need is more cooperation.

The military is stretched thin by the poor planning for postwar operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States needs more troops who are able to deploy faster. Shifting soldiers back to the United States from Europe and Asia doesn't necessarily address those needs.

America's other war is faultering

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 2, 2004:

Afghanistan is on the verge of falling apart.

A report released last week by the British Parliament concludes that without more troops on the ground and more aid resources, the country is likely to "implode."

In the United States' haste to invade Iraq, the repair of Afghanistan has fallen out of the policy spotlight and off the front page. While toppling the Taliban received widespread support both in this country and from allies in Europe, the job of rebuilding the country has been left unfinished.Warlords remain powerful outside the capital city of Kabul, opium production is increasing and remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida remain free, causing havoc and threatening the prospects for a new, democratic government.

Doctors Without Borders, an international relief agency that has been in Afghanistan for more than two decades, said last week that it's pulling out. Aid workers and election volunteers are among those who have been assassinated.

The United States leads about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan who are searching for Osama bin Laden, and NATO has about 6,500 peacekeepers there. But it's not enough. The lack of security, the report says, has allowed terrorists to regroup and to plan new assaults on the West.

Unfortunately, the United States doesn't have enough troops. Already more than a third of National Guard and Reserve troops are committed, and violence in Iraq, which has continued unabated since the hand-over of power at the end of June, requires the attention of at least the 140,000 U.S. soldiers there.

New attention must be given to Afghanistan. It's clear the United States has little left to give. That means the Bush administration, hat in hand, must lead the diplomatic effort to secure more resources from NATO and Europe. Similar efforts have failed to draw allies into Iraq. Hopefully, efforts on behalf of Afghanistan would be more successful.

The Taliban was toppled with a minimum of U.S. ground forces, but the peace has proven more difficult than the war, just like in Iraq. The gains that have been made are at risk.

Where's the money?
While the successes of the war in Afghanistan are at risk from inattention, some U.S. activities in Iraq are receiving unwanted, extra attention.
An audit of the Coalition Provisional Authority has prompted at least 27 criminal investigations. "The CPA created policies and regulations which, although well-intended, did not establish funds control and accountability over $600 million" and were subject to fraud, waste and abuse, according to the report by the CPA's inspector general.We know now that planning for the invasion of Iraq began as early as 2001 and maybe before, but the CPA inspector general confirms once again that planning for after the invasion was missing. There is no good reason that proper accounting controls were not in place before the CPA began spending millions of taxpayer dollars.

The Los Angeles Times reports that equipment can't be accounted for, that some U.S. government officials used their power to line their own pockets and that contractors charged the government for work and workers that didn't exist.

In addition to the $600 million from the United States, more than $20 billion from Iraqi oil revenue passed through accounts that did not have proper oversight or accounting procedures in place. There's no wonder a large number of Iraqis said that we were stealing their oil.

The CPA inspector general only started work in January. That work must continue, and people must be held accountable for their financial misdeeds. That's the only way to restore another piece of our fatigued reputation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

No room for stolen letters

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 5, 2004:

Democrats have decamped from their convention in Boston and Republicans are gearing up for their convention in New York.

Traditionally, election campaigns don't hit their full stride until after Labor Day. This year, it's different.

Partisans on both sides are motivated, political advertising is saturating the airwaves and people are eager to contribute their views to the process.Excitement for the Nov. 2 election bodes well for a large turnout and an interested electorate.

Letters to the editor about President Bush and Sen. John Kerry have been pouring in to the Sun Journal. Unfortunately, a fair number of writers aren't playing by the rules. There's a scourge out there and it's hurting everyone who hopes to have a letter to the editor published.With the increasing integration of the Internet into campaigns, information is available almost instantly to volunteers. Republicans, Democrats and advocacy groups of all stripes are capitalizing on our wired culture to spread their ideas and rally supporters. They're also trying to pull the wool over the eyes of editorial pages around the country.

The Sun Journal requires that letters to the editor be exclusive and original. Simply put, that means the person who signs a letter to the editor has to be the person who wrote it and the same letter can't be sent to other newspapers.

We've had a rash of letters recently that have been taken directly from Web sites, talking points and information sent out by candidates. When a writer lifts passages that someone else has written and doesn't cite the source, that's plagiarism - a fancy writer's word for stealing.

If we discover a letter has been taken from another's work, we won't publish it. Period. We consider the letters fake, as bad as the spam that clogs e-mail inboxes.Letters created en masse allow campaigns to steal the integrity and credibility of other people. It's easy and quick, and is meant to create the illusion that a groundswell of public opinion is building.Such campaigns require people to lie, and they cheapen the marketplace of ideas. Undoubtedly, these campaigns are able to slip letters into the Sun Journal and other newspapers, but we are checking.

Normally, letters to the editor are limited to 250 words. That holds true for letters that talk about particular issues. However, letters that advocate specifically for the election or defeat of a particular candidate are limited to 150 words. We do this so we can publish as many letters as possible. If current trends continue, the Sun Journal is on pace to break our record for the number of letters to the editor received and published in a year's time. It's great news, but we strictly enforce length limits so we can publish as many letters as possible.

We encourage readers to send their comments to the Sun Journal. Public discourse on the issues of the day, that's what opinion pages are all about. We want to hear from you.

President's hindsight is blurry

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 8, 2004:

During a news conference Monday, President Bush said that even knowing what he knows today, he would still have gone into Iraq.

Here's what we know today:Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, had not reconstituted its nuclear weapons program and could not launch a chemical or biological attack against the United States or its allies.Iraq did not assist al-Qaida with the attacks of Sept. 11 and did not have a collaborative relationship with terrorist network.Al-Qaida terrorists did not meet with Iraqi agents in Prague.

Military operations in Iraq have drawn resources away from Afghanistan, which is on the verge of chaos despite U.S. promises to rebuild the country.And Osama bin Laden and other remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban are still on the loose, still planning to attack the United States and still a real danger.

Knowing what we know now, we can see that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.Of course, Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant who oppressed his own people and destabilized the Middle East. In his absence, Eden has not returned to the Middle East. It's hard to believe, but the region is more unstable now than before the war.Our commitment of troops and money will likely continue in Iraq for years to come. Our Reserves and National Guard soldiers are over-deployed and our military is stretched so thin that military intervention elsewhere would be almost impossible. See Sudan for a tragedy the United States seems unable to stop.

Our credibility in the world has been undermined.Polls say that about half of the country believes, in hindsight, that invading Iraq was a mistake. They say hindsight is 20-20. We don't know what to think, however, when the president's hindsight is as blurry as the debunked claims used to justify an attack on Iraq.

Making time for terror

The United Nations has signed the death warrant for an untold number of people living in the Darfur region of Sudan.

In a watered down Security Council resolution passed July 30, the U.N. gave Sudan 30 days to disarm the militia forces, called Janjaweed, who have conducted a campaign of murder, rape and exile against the black Africans living in Darfur.Much can happen in 30 days in a land where people are tied together and burned alive. More than 30,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million displaced in the last 18 months. Estimates suggest the death toll could multiply tenfold if conditions don't change. Another 2.2 million are in desperate need of food and medicine.

To win passage, the United States was forced to ease the language of the resolution and delay the implementation of sanctions. Even then, Pakistan and China abstained from the 13-0 vote, afraid to offend the oil interests in Sudan with which they deal.Sudan reacted oddly. The government reluctantly agreed to the deadline out of fear of the threatened economic and diplomatic sanctions outlined in the resolution. On Monday, however, the Sudanese army called the U.N. resolution an "act of war."

What's happening in Darfur is genocide, and the United Nations has extended the reign of terror for another month. Maybe the weak-kneed threats will stop the violence eventually. Maybe thousands more will die because the "developed" nations of the world failed to act decisively.

Blurry hindsight, part II

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 11, 2004:

Apparently, admitting a mistake is not possible for the men who are running for president.

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, on Monday joined President Bush by saying he would have voted to authorize the war in Iraq even though the justifications for the war have proven false.We chided the president for blurry hindsight. Now, it seems, Kerry's campaign is taking the same line. The candidate couched the decision as one about presidential authority: "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." But that sounds like a dodge.

The authority to declare war rests squarely on Congress. But practice has made the notion outdated. Wars are launched, fought, won and lost without ever being declared. Congress has abdicated its responsibility on this score.

The vote to authorize the use of force is not the same thing as declaring war or giving the thumbs-up to an invasion. But the vote did give President Bush political cover for his actions.

Knowing now that Iraq was not an imminent threat, did not help al-Qaida in the Sept. 11 attacks and could not threaten the United States or its allies with chemical or biological weapons, it is difficult to justify an invasion that has gone so poorly and cost so many lives.

We know the intelligence was flawed. We know the people of Iraq, while hopeful, still struggle against terror. We know corruption and violence continue.We don't know if democracy can be created out of this mess.Kerry says he would have carried out the war and occupation differently. That suggests he can recognize failure when he sees it."Why did we rush to war without a plan to win the peace? Why did you rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth?" Kerry questioned.

Why would he vote to authorize the same war knowing all these things? That's a better question for the Democrat to answer.

Mayor's vote good for the city

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 17:

Lewiston Mayor Lionel Guay made a politically difficult decision last week, one for which the residents of the city should be glad.

Guay was called upon Tuesday to cast the tie-breaking vote to redevelop St. Dominic Regional High School's Drouin Building into senior housing. Council members were knotted, 3-3, over whether to spend $1.11 million in grant money.Guay pushed the project forward.

Considered in a vacuum, questions over the St. Dom's project are understandable. The $11 million project will create 37 one-bedroom rental units for senior citizens and a mix of public and private spaces. Of the total project cost, about $7.3 million will be used to build the apartments. That comes out to just under $200,000 per unit, a hefty price tag to be sure.

An argument can be made that the same amount of money could be spent to build more units, less expensively. True. But that thinking doesn't consider other implications.

St. Dom's is centrally located. It would consolidate senior housing close to already available services, create a mixed-use development that would provide support to residents and benefit other city residents, and advance the city's plans to revitalize the downtown. It also preserves a historically significant building.

Scuttling the St. Dom's project would have pushed senior housing to the fringes of the city, where it is more expensive to provide services and care. The building would likely have been lost, and the move would have been at odds with the city's overall redevelopment initiative.

There are other worthwhile uses for community development grants, as Council Norm Rousseau suggested in voting against the project. But we believe this use ranks high.

The need for senior housing is apparent, and likely to increase. Already, there's a backlog of some 63 people waiting for affordable senior housing. The city currently has 252 units. Maine's population is aging and a big surge is expected as baby boomers near retirement age.

Restoring St. Dom's fits into the city's comprehensive plans, while providing needed facilities. Under current economic constraints and pressure to restrain spending, it was a tough vote to allocate more than a $1 million. But it was the right vote.

Tough questions for Goss

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 12, 2004:

Rep. Porter Goss was nominated this week by President Bush to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The question of what job he would actually fill - and what authority he would have - has not been answered. The Sept. 11 commission has recommended significant changes in the way the intelligence community is organized, including the appointment of a cabinet-level director of national intelligence who would have budgetary authority of the diverse elements responsible for America's spy work and analysis. President Bush has endorsed the idea of a DNI, but his vision would create a job with sharply more limited power.

It's a precarious time to appoint a new CIA director. The country faces unspecified threats from terrorists, a national election is approaching and if President Bush is not re-elected, any new director would likely have a very short tenure, adding one more difficult transition to an already complicated process of reforming the intelligence community.

Goss has been criticized for his partisanship and has sharply attacked Sen. John Kerry, who is challenging Bush for the presidency. Goss' opponents say he has politicized the House Intelligence Committee, which he has chaired.

Partisanship in Washington should not eliminate a qualified person from a position of authority. Party fights are inevitable for someone serving in Congress. The president can choose his own advisers - and will be held accountable for their actions.Goss also is a former CIA covert operative and has an abiding affection for the agency. According to published reports and the book "Ghost Wars" by Washington Post editor Steve Coll, Goss romanticizes the cowboy days of CIA operatives in the 1960s and early 1970s. He was chairman of the House committee responsible for oversight of intelligence when the country was attacked on Sept. 11 and during the bungled predictions about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

He has been a consistent defender of the agency, doubting the need for a lengthy investigation of its failures. Not until almost three years after Sept. 11, when a confrontation with the CIA was politically unavoidable, did he rebuke his former colleagues.

Whether Goss can oversee the reform of the CIA depends exactly on what job he's being offered and what specific vision he has for changing the agency.It will be up to the Senate, during confirmation hearings expected in September, to seek answers to these important questions.

Adding a new fear

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 13, 2004:

Paraskevidekatriaphobia. What a mouthful.

It means fear of Friday the 13th. Folklorist and urban myth master David Emery suggests that it's probably the most widespread superstition in the United States.

Today, of course, is Friday, Aug. 13. And while Emery writes that fewer people will go to work today and we shouldn't expect too many weddings, there's really nothing to be afraid of.

On Monday, Sept. 13, however, the country faces a serious and real risk. On that day, the 1994 ban on assault weapons is set to expire.Congress shouldn't allow that to happen. Unfortunately, it probably will.A majority of Americans support keeping the ban in place. Police departments from around Maine and around the country support it. And President Bush has said he would sign legislation to extend the ban, although his support seems shallow at best.

But Congress, controlled by Republicans in the grips of the gun lobby, is unlikely to act. Gun makers are already lining up shipments to dealers and stores, ready to cash in as soon as the law expires.AK-47s, Uzis and other military-style semiautomatic weapons have a single purpose: to kill people. They have no place on our streets or in our neighborhoods. They have no practical sporting purpose. And America, despite a culture of fear that has stained the country even before the attacks of Sept. 11, is not so dangerous that citizens should be barricaded in their homes, highly armed and waiting for the invasion that will never come.

We don't expect leaders in the House of Representatives to buck the National Rifle Association so close to an election. But their inaction threatens to harm the entire country and they should be held accountable.

Superstitions surrounding the number 13 date back thousands of years and can be found in cultures as diverse as Viking myths and Hindu legends. Triskaidekaphobia is the psychological term for the fear of 13.

If the assault weapon ban is allowed to expire on Sept. 13, maybe we'll need a new term for a real problem, gunsrunamokaphobia: a fear of heavily armed men and women stashing AK-47s in their trunks and under their beds - just in case.

Bon appetit

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 16, 2004:

Julia Child brought fancy cooking onto TV screens and helped demystify the culinary arts long before Emeril or the Iron Chef turned kitchen work into mainstream entertainment.

Child died Thursday [Aug. 12, 2004] at her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. She was 91.She made cooking fun and helped generations learn their way around a stove and oven. She will be most remembered for her first PBS show, "The French Chef," which debuted in 1963, and her multiple cookbooks. Her home kitchen in Cambridge, Mass., which was used for that series, was dismantled two years ago and moved to the Smithsonian.

She returned to the air with chef Jacques Pepin in the 1990s, introducing a new audience to her particular style.During World War II, Child served in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. She was stationed in Sri Lanka, where she met her husband, Paul Child.

Her colorful life and the joy she took in cooking and food endeared her to a fast food nation.

Au revoir, Mrs. Child.

GOP wins; now move on bonds

Editorial, Lewiston Sun Journal, Aug. 16, 2004:

Now, with time running out, Democrats have essentially agreed to Republican demands on new state borrowing. Having won, Republicans should help move the bonds forward.

Gov. Baldacci, in search of a deal with Republican leaders in Augusta, has pared his proposal for new state borrowing to $40 million.On Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee will consider the latest offer meant to bust the logjam over bonds for this November's ballot.

Earlier this year, Republican leaders suggested they would be willing to support a bond in the neighborhood of $40 million. The governor and state Democrats had bigger plans and a larger proposal, which topped $100 million in its early forms. Republicans balked at the amount, and there was no movement for months. Baldacci then offered a $55 million plan, which was also rejected.

The latest offer from Baldacci would dedicate $20 million to the Land for Maine's Future, a popular conservation program; $9 million to transportation improvements; and about $11 million for economic development and the environment.It takes a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to place a bond on the ballot. Democrats have a majority, but need Republican votes.

From their actions, the Republican leadership seems determined to keep any new borrowing off the November ballot. "What's the rush?," is the mantra; bonds can wait until next year.If approved, the bond plan could leverage almost $80 million in matching federal dollars. The money would help upgrade drinking water, clean up hazardous waste sites, replace the Waldo-Hancock Bridge and protect valuable natural resources from development.

Republicans have sought changes that would require state budgets be approved by a two-thirds majority, including changes in tax law and new spending. But their obstruction on bonds - an important investment tool for the state's future - illustrates why no Democrat in his or her right mind would support such a change. The wheels of government could fly right off. Some might argue that outcome wouldn't be that bad but, with the challenges facing the state, inaction is not an option.

All along, we have supported placing bonds on the ballot in November. On Tuesday, there's a chance for bipartisan agreement to do just that.

Democrats have put the good of the state above partisan pride. Republicans have gotten their way. They've won. Why not declare victory and put the bonds on the ballot for voters to decide?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

An introduction

My name is David Farmer and I'm the editorial page editor for the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine.

My intention is to post some of my work from the newspaper here and add other posts on topics of interest.

At the Sun Journal, all editorials are signed, so I feel a bit more ownership over the words than I might if the work was anonymous. But the editorials must still meet with the approval of the editorial board -- primarily the executive editor. The editorials are edited by others, who I depend upon to keep me from looking too stupid in print.

All posts will cite the publication date of the editorial or column, if it has appeared elsewhere. And as soon as I figure out how, I will add links to the Sun Journal homepage, which is located at sunjournal.com.

My goal is to learn more about blogging and to experiment with quicker posts, while learning some html.

Thanks for visiting.