Yanis Varoufakis

I listened to another fascinating interview with Yanis Varoufakis today. His views on the economy and his analysis of current events are spot on in my view. Here is a link to the interview; I may add other links in the future, but if you care about the future you should listen to the interview.

I wanted to share the video but the WordPress.com editor gave me the alert above (that requires me to Upgrade to Pro) before I could do that.

Workaround: copy and paste this URL to your browser to watch the video:

A clickable link to the video is what happened when I pasted the URL into the new WordPress Block Editor [which I will probably never learn how to use]! Try clicking on “Watch on YouTube”.

Let me know what you think of the video.

Don Smallidge, Waterville, Maine

Sacred Heart Church Zoning Issue

Sacred Heart Church, Waterville, Maine

As background, I am Rev. Maureen Ausbrook, a Waterville resident and homeowner, and serve as the
Moderator of the Mid-Maine Interfaith Council (formerly the Waterville-Winslow Interfaith Council) and I am also the founder of Starfish Village, a ministry of the Waterville Congregational United Church of Christ. I have also served as a medical and community chaplain. I was originally trained as a historian and have taught college history and been a legal analyst specializing in ethics and public policy. I entered seminary after decades of doing other professional work. I have lived in Maine 10 years and been in Waterville almost 4. I am a native of Chicago.

I’ve been invited to share to this blog my email and subsequent Memorandum addressed to various officials of the City of Waterville concerning a request to rezone the parcel of real estate commonly known as “the Sacred Heart Church.” To the best of my understanding, the request to rezone was submitted by potential buyers of the property (a partnership of 3 investors operating under the name BACAS) who desire to operate the property as a for-profit event center (it would be the primary function). To do that, and to serve alcohol, the property must be rezoned.

My email protesting this change in zoning, dated June 23rd, was addressed to Councilor Claude Francke but I also cc’d the mayor, city manager, the town’s 2 state reps, and several other parties. I wrote to Claude because he wisely advised City Council that it was traipsing over some explosive legal ground. I thanked him for that and then wrote:

“… I am vehemently opposed to any change in zoning to accommodate the purchase of that property in order to turn it into an event center. Quite frankly, this town needs an event center like it needs more homeless people, empty mills, marijuana shops and Colby hotels. What Waterville DOES need is expanded shelter capabilities for the homeless and many more affordable (and I mean affordable to the working poor and elderly) rental units (no more Hathaway Centers) and we needed those YESTERDAY. The commission looking into housing development is about a decade late. 

I am not alone in this sentiment and would go so far as to say it is pretty much the opinion of many of my professional clergy colleagues, as well as the many of us who work in the trenches of social service in Waterville; a week doesn’t pass where I don’t have a conversation with someone about the shocking lack of available rental property that is decent and affordable. Not a week has passed in over a year where I haven’t spoken to an individual who has a job, sometimes a job and a housing voucher, or who has another source of income, but nonetheless remains homeless because of this great crisis. The lack of such housing has only inured to the benefit of those who are now able to gouge rents. The cost of even the most miserable apartment dwelling is offensive, and it is driven by the appalling scarcity of housing units.

I have lived and labored in ministry in Waterville for nearly 4 years and in my time here I have never once heard anyone say, “What this town really needs is an events center….” 

The very idea is ludicrous.   

If the diocese or local Catholic Church cannot be enticed to donate the property, I believe the city should make a strenuous effort to purchase it. To that point, it might be very helpful that the public learn the cost of purchasing motel space for the homeless since the beginning of the pandemic. I am sure people would be stunned to learn the staggering cost of that, even with the significant assistance of FEMA funds. Given that, the city purchasing the property would make a great deal of sense if the property could serve a loftier purpose, one that remains consistent with its historical use and serves the people who really need the help.

Rezoning this property so that it can be purchased for commercial development is easy lifting. What takes some real planning, vision, and understanding of the more challenging needs of this town is not so easy. Council should abandon the former and move into the latter phase and do the harder work required to make this property a true benefit to Waterville.” 

The next day I heard from many people who thanked me for this email and said they were also opposed to the rezoning and subsequent use as an event center. The sentiment was very strong that City Council, with the exception of Councilor Claude Francke, had not listened to neighborhood objections, ignored recommendations from the Planning Committee concerning hours of use, and had basically given BACAS all it asked. The people who called and emailed me were angry, felt dismissed, even insulted, and had legitimate concerns about the impact an event center would have on their neighborhood – an area they also felt was dismissed as not a true neighborhood and one, they had been told by a prominent politician, they had no right to any expectations that it would remain as it had been – quiet and residential.  What was curious was that not one of those people was cc’d on that email. When I inquired how they received the email, they mentioned the names of several people also not cc’d on my email. This clearly told me that my email struck a chord and was being widely circulated – and that was fine with me. The more eyes on this matter, the better. What was striking was how none of the people I cc’d on the email, except one, responded to that email. I’m not sure what that means but I think it is strange. 

I also received a copy of buyers’ (BACAS) Proposal to the City. I set it aside because I was busy and following up on a tip I’d received that told me even if the zoning was changed to allow serving alcohol, that didn’t mean the state would grant a license. Why? Because the Sacred Heart property falls within 300’ of a church and liquor cannot be sold within 300’ of a church or school without the State Board of Alcohol granting a waiver. You will see in the Memorandum below that I address this statute and the trouble it poses for buyer.

When I finally had time to read the BACAS Proposal… well, I was astonished. I hit the last paragraph, bottom of the 1st page, and my jaw dropped. I went to bed disturbed by what I read and knew there was no way I could not share my very strong opinion about the wording of that Proposal and my even greater worry that it represented something worse.

I knew the City was waiting for a legal opinion from a law firm in Portland. After threats of a lawsuit, City Council was forced to retain counsel to render an opinion as to the lawfulness of its actions regarding the zoning change. However, I was very certain the law firm was only retained to render an opinion about actions taken by the City – that it was being asked to determine whether the City had erred in its process re: this zoning matter and not examine documents drafted by the Buyer/BACAS. So, I drafted my response to the Proposal and was still drafting it when the law firm issued its legal opinion. I was correct; it had not been asked to render an opinion about the Proposal, but only speak to actions performed and required by the City re this zoning matter. 

What follows is my Memorandum:

Memorandum

To: Mayor, Jay Coelho

City Manager, Stephen Daly

All City Council Members

Planning Board Members
City Attorney, William Lee, Esq.

Pleasant/Gilman Streets Neighbor Association

State Reps, Madigan and White

From: Rev. Maureen Ausbrook

Date: July 1, 2021

Re: Rezoning of property commonly known as “Sacred Heart Church” and its associated premises (72 Pleasant Street & 5 Middle Street)

I hope this finds everyone well and preparing for a safe but fun 4th of July. I am writing you in full candor and I pray  you will weigh my words carefully, understanding I have only the best interests of the city in my heart but also hold a particular duty and concern for those who may not be effective advocates for themselves.

The law firm hired by the city to give a legal opinion regarding the permissibility of certain city actions concerning rezoning the above referenced property issued its opinion and was limited to procedural requirements and failures on the part of the city. This memo addresses entirely different concerns and no less important issues.

I write this as the pastor of a ministry known as Starfish Village that is a ministry of the Waterville Congregational United Church of Christ, and I am also the Moderator of the Mid-Maine Interfaith Council (formerly the Waterville-Winslow Interfaith Council). I am a homeowner in Waterville and, further, I’ve been asked by a surprising number of Waterville residents for my advocacy.

The following is my partial response to the possible rezoning of the Sacred Heart property and to certain statements contained in the BACAS Proposal dated June 1, 2021 (hereafter “Proposal” and/or “Buyer”). It is not my last word on this matter, and I hope to have many positive conversations with all of you.

1. As to Buyer obtaining a liquor license if the zoning is changed to allow for Buyer to sell liquor: No one seems to be talking about the challenge Buyer will face trying to obtain a liquor license. The Sacred Heart property falls within 300’ feet of a church (Pleasant Street United Methodist) and this requires Buyer to get an exemption after a public hearing for that specific purpose.  See: Maine State Statute Title 28-A: LIQUORS, Part 3: LICENSES FOR SALE OF LIQUOR, Subpart 1: GENERAL PROVISIONS; Chapter 29: LICENSE RESTRICTIONS §701. Proximity to schools; exception:

  1. Location within 300 feet of churches and schools.  Except as provided in paragraphs B and C, the bureau may not issue a new license for the sale of liquor to be consumed on the premises to new premises within 300 feet of a public or private school, school dormitory, church, chapel, 
  2. or parish house in existence as such at the time the application for the new license is made.

A.   [PL 1987, c. 342, §33 (RP).]

B. The bureau may after holding a public hearing near the proposed location issue licenses to premises that are either in or within 300 feet of a church, chapel, parish house or postsecondary school.   [PL 1997, c. 373, §64 (AMD).]

C. The restriction in this subsection does not apply if a public or private school, school dormitory, church, chapel or parish house:  (1) Locates in a commercial zone that includes restaurants or bars as permitted uses and that had been established pursuant to a zoning ordinance as defined in Title 30-A, section 4301, subsection 15-A prior to the public or private school, school dormitory, church, chapel or parish house locating in the commercial zone; or (2) Is located in a downtown as defined in Title 30-A, section 4301, subsection 5-A.

Note: Emphasis not in the original
Source/Link: https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/28-A/title28-Asec701.html

This hearing is not to be confused with public meetings to discuss changes to zone and is meant to only determine if the 300’ rule should be waived.  I’m certain that if there is a public hearing on this issue, and it seems there must be one, the mood will not be in favor of granting Buyer an exemption. I know Pleasant Street United Methodist Church will protest any exemption, as will many people not in that congregation.  

2. As to Buyer’s Proposal: Although it’s hard to imagine that this real estate purchase is going to happen given the strong prevailing winds against that happening now, I still feel compelled to address at least a few of the assertions and presumptions in Buyer’s Proposal of June 1st. Some are  debatable, a few incorrect, and the Proposal mischaracterizes the neighborhood in which the property rests. I find this all unfortunate. However, I am greatly troubled by statements in the following underlined sentences; these appear in the last paragraph of page 1 of the Proposal:

It is likely that without another viable alternative, the location would be turned into low income or senior housing as was done with St. Francis as the property is already zoned residential.  There is plenty of land if you were to tear down the church, the office, and the rectory (Almost 1.25 acres).  The project at the St. Francis site received 6.2million dollars in federal funding and federally subsidized rents.  This would be a very financially rewarding project for someone.  It is our hope to take the property off the market to prevent such a project. (Emphasis not in the original)

The paragraph begins with the falsehood that low income and senior housing is an undesirable alternative to Buyer’s purchase and plans for the property. This is not supported by credible data; it is nothing more than prejudice and fear mongering. Also, the Proposal further errs in its suggestion that BACAS is the city’s last best hope to avoid the scourge of an abandoned, decrepit property. There are many other viable alternatives, but they will require some professionalism and commitment on the part of the city (a memo regarding that will follow).   

Most disturbing, however, is Buyer’s expressed “hope” (more accurately it’s a “goal” euphemistically disguised as a hope) that removing the Sacred Heart property from the marketplace will “prevent such a project” (i.e.: development of senior and low-income housing).

This is a stunning admission, especially when this community (the entire state and nation too) is in a historic housing shortage that not only causes immense human suffering but damages the entire social fabric. This crisis  complicates the hiring of employees, gravely impacts the health, education and safety of children, and costs taxpayers right here in Waterville millions of tax dollars in expenses they don’t see and don’t comprehend, and it certainly does not inure to the advantage of business owners or those who wish to promote an alluring picture of Waterville and its colleges. The cost of providing emergency temporary shelter by the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, General Assistance, and other agencies is staggering, and the burden of trying to also help is crushing churches and ministries like Starfish Village and the Interfaith Council. And it is going to get a lot worse.

This detachment from what is truly needed in the community is repeated throughout the Proposal and I am saddened to read it. Far more troubling, however, is the question Buyer’s prejudicial wording provokes, which is:

Does the city share Buyer’s hope/goal?
Is this why there is such eagerness to give BACAS all it asks, even in defiance of the suggestions of the Planning Board and vehement pushback from people most affected? As a business plan, an event center at that property has never made any sense — but if there is a bigger plan afoot, perhaps it does. I find it curious Buyer is comfortable enough to put such a statement in writing and use it as a sales pitch. Is it merely poor judgment or suggestive that Buyer knows the goal to “prevent” more housing opportunities for seniors and low-income people is a hope – even deliberate design – shared with elected officials?

I wonder if this language, if tied to other actions by the city, wouldn’t be seen by courts as a form of redlining? Are seniors and low-income people a protected class? I do not know. I know, however, that federal and state fair housing laws say a city has the duty to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

When presented with an excellent piece of property that would “affirmatively further fair housing” should the city not aggressively act to make sure that happens? Yes. Is City Council fulfilling this duty? Doesn’t appear so. Could it even be working by intent or negligence to do just the opposite? I pray not.

It would be nice to have some proof that what appears to be a full-throated rush to accommodate this Buyer is merely misguided and nothing more troubling. However, the difficulty in believing benign cluelessness rather than malevolent collusion becomes somewhat challenging when the language in the Proposal is mirrored by many public statements that have been made by certain city officials. One wonders what is said less publicly.

It is interesting that not one person who has spoken to me about not wanting an event center at the Sacred Heart property has ever said “well I guess it’s better than having a bunch of low income and senior housing people over there on the corner,” NOT ONE. People throughout the whole town regret the loss of Sacred Heart’s decades’ long hot lunch program, a necessary service that the newly constituted Waterville Area Soup Kitchen has not been able to fully restore because of an inability to find a kitchen and gathering space. The Sacred Heart property offers opportunities for more than housing; it could be an event center but one that is not-for-profit serving many needs. 

A lot of mistakes were made regarding this zoning issue but the biggest could yet happen and that would be if the zoning is changed, a license is acquired, and the purchase goes through. The memory of what happened will endure. I don’t expect politicians to always see the lofty side of things, but I am surprised when they don’t see how the numbers for them are going south. I also don’t understand how anyone claiming to have business savvy could think it’s smart business to show contempt for a large number of people – many of whom would be the very people a small business needs to employ, not to mention count on as patrons.   

I know my words can sound harsh but there is a great deal at stake here. I have no ill will for anyone and sincerely wish the BACAS partners well. I do not know any of them personally and I am not averse to any legitimate business opportunity available to them or to any other business — but it needs to be the right business, in the best location. I also believe that any unfortunate language in the Proposal was just ill-conceived and without ill-intent, as could have been the language sometimes used by Waterville officials.

I look forward to discussing other options for the property, something the Interfaith Council is now aggressively exploring. It is calling an emergency meeting regarding housing on July 14th 12:30-2:00 and inviting key partners in the community. You will all receive further information about that meeting next week and we hope many of you attend.   

Thanks for reading this; I know it is very long, but I believe the group that reads this blog will take this very seriously.

So I pray.

Rev. Maureen Ausbrook (Rev. Mo)
Starfish Village Ministry, Pastor
(a ministry of the Waterville United Church of Christ)
Clergy member of the Waterville-Winslow Interfaith Council 
Pronouns: she, her and hers

Privacy and Cookies

Privacy and Cookies

If you spend any time on a browser on the internet, you have probably encountered a notification that your browsing experience is being enhanced by cookies. You have probably also been informed about the terms of service (rules governing the web site you are on) and the privacy policy. Everyone has their own level of concern about privacy and sharing information about themselves.

Plate of edible cookies!
These are great looking cookies, but not the kind we’re talking about.

The Grumpy Progressive is the blog for the Mid-Maine Progressive Forum, a place to share our thoughts and feelings about the latest news and opinions on matters of interest to progressives and PINOs [progressives in name only]. Even when we don’t agree, we respect each other’s right to express an opinion (or ask a question).

“Terms of Service”

Please feel free to read the material of this blog with an open mind and feel free to send us feedback. Apart from reassuring you that we don’t sell (or even share) whatever information we know about you, I thought this might be a good time to remind readers of this blog that we are not a group, not an organization, etc. We are a completely informal gathering of individuals with many common interests and views (as well as many diverse interests and views). We do have a mailing list [which is never shared], this blog, regular weekly Zoom sessions and a website (that has not been updated since May 2020). We don’t take attendance. We don’t collect money (no dues) because we don’t “belong”, we just “discuss” and share our views with each other when we interact. As individuals, we do belong to organizations and political groups (and we occasionally invite various representatives from organizations and political groups to join our discussion and/or to share their views), but we don’t have requirements or litmus tests to join a discussion. Our interests and passions are all over the map (politics, economics, movies, birding, food, government policy, gardening, philosophy, etc.). Our goal in publishing this blog is to inform you and/or to share our views on important issues of the day. You may not agree with any or all of our views, but we hope that expressing them will at the very least provide food for thought.

“Cookies and Privacy Policy”

This blog’s cookie and privacy policies are provided by WordPress.com. To find out more on how to manage and delete cookies, visit aboutcookies.org. MMPF and the Grumpy Progressive have no interest in these cookies whatsoever (other than the technical work required to keep the blog and website up and running). If you are concerned about your privacy in the context of the blog or the forum, feel free to reach out to me.

Donald Smallidge

Waterville, Maine

Teach-In on DC Statehood

Teach-In on DC Statehood

Let’s Make it a Reality in 2021!!

Join Josh Burch of Neighbors United for DC Statehood and Chris Myers Asch, Historian at Colby, and author of Chocolate City for a Teach In on how we can act together to bring about Statehood for Washington DC!

 It is a racial justice issue!  It is constitutional! It is an equity issue!

You can help in a number of ways. The first step is to educate yourself (by visiting the website and/or by joining our Zoom Meeting): Wednesday April 28th, at 7 pm.(EST)

Meeting ID: 874 4233 7265
Passcode: 583854

Where things stand right now: DC Statehood faces a crossroads with congressional vote.

Another thing you can do is reach out to your legislators!

And, here is the flyer you can pass on to others who might be interested!

Feel free to share this flyer with your friends!

Emanuel Pariser

Waterville, Maine

Social Media and Stifling Free Speech

By Daryl Cagle – Jan 14, 2021 07:48 pm [reprinted by permission]

Cartoon by the great Dario Castillejos from Oaxaca, Mexico

I wrote a syndicated newspaper column yesterday [January 13, 2021]. Here it is.

While the mainstream media is rightfully focused on the second impeachment of President Trump and the assault on the Capitol, right wing media is obsessed with “Freedom of Speech.”

Right wing outlets are calling for action against the “censorship” of conservatives by big, liberal, tech companies after Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites banned President Trump, taking away his preferred megaphone. The radical social media platform Parler was shut down after Amazon refused to continue hosting the site.

I run a newspaper syndicate for editorial cartoons and columns. Half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers subscribe to my service, which features about 75 political cartoonists and ten columnists. Sometimes I choose to “kill” a cartoon or column that I think is inappropriate, which often leads to an angry response from the creator about censorship and First Amendment rights. I always remind them that I have First Amendment rights too, and I can choose to syndicate whatever I want.

I also hear from cartoonists whom I don’t syndicate, demanding to be on my Web site as some kind of entitlement, claiming that I’m violating their rights by refusing to allow their voice to be heard. I also hear from cartoonists in nations with no press freedom about how their government censors their cartoons; they claim this is “just the same as in America” because there are editors here who kill cartoons, too.

Cartoonists don’t seem to understand that our First Amendment rights of free speech and a free press are protections only against censorship by the government, and they don’t give cartoonists a right to be reprinted in any publication or a right to avoid editors. Cartoonists don’t have the right to be syndicated, or to be reprinted in newspapers, and no one has the First Amendment right to force Twitter or Facebook to post their rants.

If I syndicate anything that violates the rights of third parties, I can be sued. Potential liability encourages people to act responsibly. President Trump wants to strike back at social media companies by repealing “Section 230,” which generally protects these companies from liability for third party content, treating the social media sites more like telephone companies that aren’t held responsible for what people say on their telephones.

Defenders of Section 230 argue that big tech can’t be expected to police the billions of posts on their sites. This is nonsense.

Social media sites may not be liable for user posts that libel or incite violence, but they are liable for copyright infringement, and there are millions of posts that violate copyrights, especially involving cartoons. Congress imposed rules on big tech in the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act” (DMCA) that created a procedure for copyright holders to demand that a hosting company remove infringing content within a short time period, and if they don’t, the hosting company can be sued.

As a cartoonist and syndicate guy, I’ve filed hundreds of these “DMCA notices,” and in every case the hosting company has followed the procedure properly and responded to take down the content before their deadline. Some people complain about abuses of the DMCA system, but the system works, and it proves that tech companies can comply with millions of demands from injured third parties.

Why should tech companies have liability protections for some kinds of third party content (libel or incitement to violence) and not for others (copyright infringement)? Big tech can and should be liable for any harm they do.

The Section 230 protections for big social media companies should be repealed. But that’s not really what conservatives want, because removing these protections will make the tech companies act even more responsibly, prompting them to remove even more voices from the far right.

Calls to repeal Section 230 have been diminishing as conservatives begin to see this irony, replaced by calls for big tech monopolies to be broken up, replaced by condemnations of “censorship,” and replaced by demands for “Free Speech” that use the same goofy logic I hear from cartoonists.

Daryl Cagle

Founder & President

Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Our reader supported site, Cagle.com, still needs you!  Journalism is threatened with the pandemic that has shuttered newspaper advertisers. Some pundits predict that a large percentage of newspapers won’t survive the pandemic economic slump, and as newspapers sink, so do editorial cartoonists who depend on newspapers, and along with them, our Cagle.com site, that our small, sinking syndicate largely supports, along with our fans.

The world needs political cartoonists more now than ever. Please consider supporting Cagle.com and visit Cagle.com/heroes.  We need you! Don’t let the cartoons die!

White House Fence

This Peter Konieczko essay was posted on 06/09/2020.

One of the most often quoted lines is, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ The line is in Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall. It has been argued that the poem does not praise fences. Frost says:

‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out, …’

I could ask Donald Trump the same question. What is the second fence around the White House walling in or walling out? A Secret Service source told Fox News that the new enclosure is an anti-rioting fence. It walls out the rioters, who are no longer rioting. But they might. In fact, the new fencing doesn’t surround the White House, but it makes more land in the neighborhood off-limits to the public. It walls in more real estate for the sole use of the White House.

The new riot fence makes Donald Trump more isolated from the protesters. Perhaps that is Trump’s plan – to frame protesters as the enemy. Democratic candidate Joe Biden has taken a different tack. He has reached out to protest groups and started dialogs. As Trump is more isolated from the issues, Biden is making himself more relevant.

lafayette-square-signs-2048x1536

Frost contends that walls, or fences, should have a purpose. Sometimes the purpose is to be symbolic. The protest groups are taking over the fence and plastering it with posters that champion their cause. By doing so, they are hijacking the symbolism of the fence from Donald Trump and turning it into their movement’s best spokesman.

Peter Konieczko
South Portland, Maine

The Inhumanity Along our Southern Border

One hundred years ago Mexican agricultural workers entering the United States through Texas had to endure humiliating delousing baths of kerosene and vinegar before they were granted entry. We have not made significant progress in how we treat those asylum seekers who come from south of our border. Currently there are an estimated 65,000 people who have been forced to return to Mexico from the United States; they are in border cities spanning from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on which city they are in, they are living in tents , or on the streets, or squatting in abandoned buildings, or are in shelters. These are dangerous cities which have been labeled by our government as too dangerous to visit. Cartels patrol them with the intention of kidnapping asylum seekers and extorting money from them. There have been many reported rapes, kidnappings, murders, and torture by these cartels. For obvious reasons they cause intense anxiety and fear in the asylum seekers, who have no protection from them. Often the Mexican police are in cahoots with the cartels, feeding cartels the very people who go to them for protection.

Screenshot 2020-02-03 at 6.21.30 PM

It has been a little over a year since I began work helping those striving to bring attention to the inhumanity along our southern border. Some label it ethnic cleansing and genocide. I am inclined to agree. That is what is happening. For me it began by organizing the witness movement at a migrant child “temporary influx shelter” that sat on the edge of a hot swamp in Homestead, Florida. In January of 2019 children began to arrive from the recently closed Tornillo child detention camp in Texas. From January 2019 through August 2019 over 14,000 children went through Homestead. Homestead was the largest child detention camp in the country and the only one that ran for profit. The last of the children left Homestead August 3, 2019. We still do not know where the children went and neither do the Members of Congress representing that area.

Screenshot 2019-08-15 at 7.53.43 PM

Witnessing at Homestead was a vital action because it brought attention to this national disgrace. Nothing can prepare you for the emotional and physical reaction you have when you climb up on one of the ladders which stood by the side of the road overlooking the soccer field inside the camp. Looking at children who were taken from their families is not something anyone in the United States should ever experience. Yet there we were, a handful of us, from different areas in the country, standing on ladders watching teenage boys from Central America play soccer. It is difficult to describe the physical pain I felt at that moment as well as the emotional sense of deep grief. Grief for the children and their families certainly. But also grief for what our country had become.

Chris-Britt-

Several months later a fellow Homestead witness and myself traveled to El Paso, Texas to see for ourselves the effects of our administration’s policy, called Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) or what is commonly referred to as the Remain in Mexico policy. We connected with two young women living in El Paso who cross daily into Mexico bringing supplies to the shelters in Juarez. At the time, fall of 2019, an estimated 1,700 asylum seekers were in Juarez, Mexico waiting for their turn to present their asylum cases. 600 were in shelters. Several hundred were in a makeshift encampment by the bridge. The rest were wherever they could find shelter, both indoors and out.  We quickly saw that what we were being told by our government were bold and blatant lies. For three years our current president told us through television and Twitter, that those crossing our southern border were “bad hombres, criminals, vermin, drug runners, very dangerous people, an infestation”. They were not. Many were women with young children. Some were teenage boys. Most were from Central America, although that is now changing as many Mexican nationals are joining them (as well as people fleeing Cuba, Brazil, and several African countries). It didn’t take a lot of time to see the toll that their travels had taken on them; their faces gave away the realities of their exhaustion and how deeply traumatized they were. It was clear that they continued to live in deep anxiety and fear. Seeing and speaking with these people was the most  heart wrenching thing I have ever experienced in my life. It was late October with temperatures at the hillside shelters in the 30’s and 40’s, yet many of the seekers were in tank tops, shorts, and flip flops. I can’t imagine a journey such as they had just experienced in such clothing and footwear. We brought warm clothing and blankets to them, but not nearly enough. 

Screenshot 2019-06-15 at 9.54.40 PM

Yet they quietly shared what we brought, passing blankets to those who I assume were in the most need. These were the people we were told to be afraid of. They were gracious, kind, shy, and appreciative. The children were beautiful.

During our time in Juarez we learned about something that the asylum seekers all experienced and were deeply afraid of. Initially I was under the impression they were telling us, through an interpreter, about the journey north and the dangers they experienced along their travels. But it was explained to us that they were telling us about what they referred to as: the icebox. When they presented themselves to Customs and Border Protection agents at the bridge which crosses into the United States, not only did they have their possessions taken from them (including medications and rosary beads) but they were also put into icebox cells. They and their children, even babies, were put in these cells with their scant clothing anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The depths of this practice was still lost on us. When the Roman Catholic priest explained to a young mother of three that her asylum hearing was coming up the next day she burst into tears. He explained to us that she didn’t want to go back into the icebox. We began to understand that something was very wrong with what was happening here. We met a young boy who looked to be about ten and who had frostbite across his left cheek due to being in the icebox. I realized then that these cells aren’t just cold from air conditioning but are freezers! This is what our country is doing to these vulnerable, scared, traumatized people. I had never felt such deep shame to be a United States citizen as I did at that moment listening to these mothers share their stories.

Later this February a group of Maine women, including myself, will be traveling to Brownsville, Texas. We will help with the humanitarian work that is occurring across the border in Matamoros, Mexico. In Matamoros an estimated 2,500 asylum seekers are living in tents along the edge of the Rio Grande River.

Screenshot 2020-01-30 at 4.32.19 PM

Like those in Juarez, they too have presented themselves to Customs and Border Protection agents on the bridge coming into the United States. Like in Juarez, they too have experienced iceboxes only to be returned back into Mexico to wait for their asylum hearings. It use to be that when people were fleeing violence and seeking asylum they would wait with family or sponsors in our country. That has changed, and now we have MPP. Because these people are arriving in Matamoros with nothing, the citizens of Brownsville began humanitarian work providing food, the tents they live in, clothing, medicine, and legal counsel. Volunteers come from all across the county to help in the relief efforts that should be provided by government agencies and humanitarian organizations but are not.They help those who live in constant fear of the cartel while they wait for the opportunity to cross the bridge and have their asylum hearings in the Tent Courts. Their hearings in these courts are via teleprompters with judges who live far away. Most do not have legal representation. Most will never be granted asylum even though they share stories of unimaginable violence in their home countries. These tent courts are what many immigration attorneys rightfully call a sham. There are now United States citizens who bear witness to these atrocities standing outside the tent courts. We will join them while we are in Brownsville.

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This witness presence in Brownsville began in early January. The purpose was to shine a light on what is happening in the courts and across the bridge in Matamoros. But since then an unexpected series of events came up and witnessing has also included spending early morning hours at the Brownsville airport watching the deportation of asylum seekers to Central America. It appears that separating children from families and putting them into child detention camps wasn’t cruel enough for this administration, so they enacted the Remain in Mexico policy. And it also appears that they didn’t consider that cruel enough, so they enacted the third country asylum rule. According to this rule, asylum seekers who did not present themselves for asylum to the first country outside of their own will be sent to a bordering country outside the United States. Families are still being separated, with some members shackled and sent to a country they do not know. Many wonder what the next cruel policy will be.

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Right now human rights abuses are occurring in the name of Homeland Security throughout our country. Asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, migrants are living in fear of being rounded up and sent to detention camps or jail cells or deported to countries they don’t know and without their families. It has even happened right here in our home state of Maine. So we must ask ourselves: “Do we choose to see this or do we choose to look away?” I hope we are very careful with this decision, because we are living in a historic moment right now and not one that will be remembered kindly. Please reach out to your representatives. Ask them how they are responding to this. Ask them if they have been to the border to see for themselves. Ask them if they have seen the camps, the shelters, the airplanes taking shackled people away to a land where they will undoubtedly experience yet more violence. How do we and they want to be remembered?

Mary Dunn, Maine

For more information about this important issue, contact Mary [mdunn80@gmail.com or on FB as Maryellen Dunn] or read her blog. Mary accepts donations to continue her work on the border: Mary Dunn, PayPal – mdunn80@gmail.com or contact her to send a check.

More Links:

One of Trump’s Cruelest Immigration Policies, A Year On

The abandoned asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border

‘Vulnerable’ Asylum Seekers Are Supposed to Be Able to Stay in the U.S.—But Critically Ill Migrants Are Still Being Sent Back to Mexico

Tornillo will reopen as a migrant detention center, this time for up to 2,500 adults

How the Trump Administration is eliminating asylum in the U.S.

 

Who To Vote For on Super Tuesday!

Are you still undecided? Not sure who you want to vote for? You are not alone!

We are finally getting close to our chance (here in Maine) to weigh in on who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States in the November 2020 election. It seems like it has been a long slog already, with an enormous number of candidates vying for that honor. President Trump started his own campaign for reelection more or less directly following his election in 2016!

You will not be surprised to hear that over the past year I have participated in many discussions about who we want to be our champion in the upcoming struggle to save the republic from what most of us agree is an authoritarian regime [the Trump administration]. I have watched or listened to countless hours of discussion, interviews, analysis and commentary on the campaigns and watched all of the Democratic debates

Like many of you, I have found it difficult to make my choice. I hope that by sharing my thoughts on options for the primary, I will help you to arrive at a choice on March 3rd. The primary is the best chance you will have to vote for who and what you want in our government [until ranked choice voting comes along for presidential elections]. My advice is to forget about the polls and who the talking heads think has the best chance to win: vote for the person you want to be the nominee to run in November 2020!

The Washington Post has a good article about where the candidates stand on more than 85 policy questions. They have a questionnaire with 20 questions to help you decide how closely the candidates are to your values.

Tom Steyer has said that climate change is his number one concern. If elected, he would declare a state of emergency and address that immediately. He is a self-made billionaire who divested from fossil fuel investments about a decade ago, after deciding that we needed to address the impact of green house gases on the climate. He believes capitalism needs to be restrained with major structural reforms and a wealth tax.

Joe Biden was Vice President in the Obama Administration and would like to erase the Trump years and reset to 2016 and continue the Obama Administration where it left off. Before 2008, Biden was a senator for many decades (an “establishment” Democrat); his foreign policy positions are weak and he was a supporter of the banking system that led to the Great Recession. He claims credit for much progressive legislation, but he has a lot of baggage and make an easy target for the Republican attack machine. His performance in the Clarence Thomas Hearings and in the Obama Administration has many critics. He thinks he would be the best candidate to beat Trump in the general election; he is Trump’s primary target so far (even leading to articles of impeachment related to the Ukrainian phone call that led to the Senate trial). He is prone to gaffes in his speeches and has a spotty record in the primary debates so far. He connects well with people on the campaign trail and has a lot of support among people of color and among people who favor tweaking the system and returning to Obama Administration policy positions. He believes in gradual changes to improve the system.

Amy Klobuchar is a mid-western pragmatist who has a good track record in the Senate. She has won consistently in heavily Republican areas of her state. She believes in making relatively small changes to improve our lives, not overhauling the whole system to make it fair. She has not been polling very well, but she has grit.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are the progressive candidates who want to see major changes in the way our government is run. Their plans for the changes are slightly different. The emphasis in the Warren plans is on eradicating corruption and getting a fairer representation for women and the working class. Her style is intellectual and professorial; she appeals to the more economically comfortable voters. She is a “capitalist in her bones”; she believes the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes. She has been a champion for attacking greed by Wall Street corporations and would work hard to prevent another financial disaster like the one we experienced in 2008.

Bernie also emphasizes fairness, but his emphasis has a much more socialist flavor. He is the closest candidate to the policies of FDR; he believes in a role for government in certain areas like healthcare and education, where the profit motive interferes with ensuring that all recipients get the services that benefit society the most. The quality of education is reduced by not paying teachers adequately. The cost of healthcare in America is so high because of unnecessary administrative overhead and by allowing health care providers to profit from delivery of health care (a basic human right).

Bernie’s signature issue is Medicare for All, paid for by an income tax on everyone, but offering healthcare as a right to everyone. Elizabeth agrees that Medicare for All is the right approach, but wants to fund it directly by a wealth tax instead of by an income tax. Both approaches would save consumers a lot of money and would eliminate redundancy and profit for the healthcare industry. It would also result in unemployment for many clerical people and administrators; a generous plan of support and retraining of those displaced is part of the plan.

If you agree with Andrew Yang, AI will eliminate many clerical and white collar jobs soon, anyway. Andrew Yang got into the race because he saw the impact that automation and AI was having on employment in this country. Nobody else seemed to have a good strategy for coping with the tsunami of unemployment that he expects to see in the near future (2030). His signature issues of Universal Basic Income (a Freedom Dividend of $1000 per month for all adults, paid for by a value-added tax) and Human-Centered Capitalism (“humans are more important than money”) are his solution to the threats of massive unemployment, income inequality and a culture that “serves our common goals and values”.

Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are the “establishment” candidates. They believe that switching from a private insurance market to Medicare for All would alienate voters who like their current medical coverage and don’t want to be forced to switch to a government-run plan. They believe consumers should be offered the choice (to choose a “public option”). Their approach would cost taxpayers less than they pay now, but would continue to support the profit motive (which would be paid for by consumers) and the administrative overhead (which is also paid for by consumers). They all agree that the current system needs to be improved, but want to tweak it instead of replacing it.

Pete Buttigieg is a very articulate campaigner and the only openly gay candidate in the race so far. He is younger and has less experience in politics than many of the senators but he has captured the attention of the media (much as Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris did earlier in 2019). He claims that his experience as mayor of South Bend, Indiana is sufficient and will scale up to the presidency. He is having a challenge getting support from the African American community; there is commentary suggesting that he did not treat them well as mayor. He and Amy Klobuchar are in the part of the country devastated by the NAFTA trade agreement. Is he the dark horse in this race, the candidate who will surprise us all by winning in Iowa and igniting popular support? He thinks he is offering a sensible alternative to the “radical” programs advocated by Warren and Sanders.

An interesting new entrant in the race is Mike Bloomberg, billionaire and former three-term Mayor of New York City. Unlike Trump (who inherited his money), Bloomberg was a truly successful business man. He has used his money to support important causes like education, public health and the fight against climate change. When he decided to enter the race, he also decided to skip the caucuses and debates before Super Tuesday, instead launching a massive ad campaign in states that will be holding primaries on Super Tuesday and beyond. Because of the DNC rules for the debates, he will not be in any of the debates (though he has offered to debate if they change the rules).

“Whether he wins or loses the nomination, the ubiquitous television and digital ads he is running have been crafted as the opening exchange in a conversation about Trump’s failures that will continue through November.”

A few other candidates are still running (Michael Bennett, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney and Deval Patrick) but are polling far behind the leaders. Will any of them appeal to you? In the end, the only poll that matters is when the votes are counted.

This blog post is about what factors I consider when evaluating the candidates. Regardless of who wins the nomination, any of the remaining Democratic candidates would be preferable to four more years of Donald J. Trump. There are essentially five factors that I feel should be considered:

  • Issues and Proposed Remedies
  • Electability
  • Candidate Characteristics
  • Track Record
  • Working with Congress

Issues and Proposed Remedies. Is the candidate a strong supporter of the Green New Deal (plan for addressing climate change)? Is the candidate a strong supporter of Medicare for All (universal medical coverage); do they have a credible plan to pay for it that results in lower out-of-pocket costs to consumers? Does the candidate have a strategy to address growing income inequality? Does the candidate have a strategy to address the unfair burden of college debt? Does the candidate favor meaningful immigration reform and a path to citizenship for immigrants already living in America? Does the candidate have a plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure? Does the candidate have a plan to end the wars in Afghanistan and in the Middle East?

Electability. The candidate must be able to increase voter turnout by bringing new voters to the polls. A very large proportion of regular Democratic and Republican voters have already made up their minds, so the election will likely be won or lost on turnout by independents and new voters.

Candidate Characteristics. The successful Democratic nominee must be capable of raising money from regular voters (not corporations and special interests). The nominee‘s motivation must be to help middle class families and working people, not to be a steward of the status quo. The general campaign will be grueling so the candidate must be able to stand up to vicious attacks by the Republican opponent.

Track Record. The successful Democratic nominee will have either solid executive experience or legislative experience (or both) and will not have baggage that can be exploited by the Republican attack machine. Nobody is perfect, but support for policies that are out of step with the current political climate would not be helpful.

Working with Congress. Whoever becomes President will have their hands full working with a divided Congress (or with a centrist Congress); they need the skill to make very good use of the bully pulpit and move the public to put pressure on legislators to support progressive policies and plans. It will be tremendousely helpful to bring new voices into Congress that share a progressive outlook.

Final Word: Vote! Don’t stay home because you are disgusted by the process. Vote because it is one of the most important ways that you can influence who will have the power to make decisions that will affect your life and the lives of those you care about.

Don Smallidge

Waterville, Maine

Note: This is a draft/work in progress! I knew this would take a lot more time and effort but I wanted to get started (“the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step“). I welcome your help to clean up my logic and my language. Supporting links for much of my analysis is in progress and will be added to this blog post over the next few weeks.

Hilary Koch Running for State Senate

Progressives in the 16th District have wanted to see a viable alternative to State Senator Scott Cyrway for some time. Here is the announcement speech from a new voice in Waterville, Maine who decided to step up and provide meaningful representation for the 16th District. 

My name is Hilary Koch and I am running for Maine State Senate District 16.

 

HilaryKoch

I married my college sweetheart, who was an immigrant, and we’ve been married for almost 25 years. We have two boys, Noah and Leo, and about a year ago my grandfather joined our family. I am a former teacher, but for the better part of the last 10 years, I’ve been a caregiver. When Noah was born, I learned what every parent knows – that parents would do anything to make sure their children are healthy and safe. My youngest son, Leo, has had several medical challenges throughout his life and I have been his primary caregiver. He was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when he was 6 months old and when he was 2 and a half, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. There is no cure for either of these conditions and both are life threatening. I learned quickly that not only would I need to care for his medical needs, but I would also have to learn how to fight to get the care, the medicine and the supplies to keep him alive. Having a prescription doesn’t mean access to medicine. Having a recommendation for a surgery doesn’t mean insurance will cover it. The tragedy of having medical needs in the United States is that we don’t have a system that works for us. It often works against us. And people don’t just go broke over healthcare, they die.

So over the years, I developed an attitude that if life could be better, I needed to make it happen. When the medical industry failed to produce technology to make managing type 1 diabetes better, I joined an international, open-source medical project and built my son an artificial pancreas. When Leo’s neurosurgeon said there was no hope for his debilitating headaches, I refused to accept a lifetime of pain pills, and found him a surgeon in Boston who could help. And when my grandfather faced some of the challenges unique to senior citizens, I invited him to move in with us and suggested we tackle the challenges together.

The moment that led me to tonight was when people within the type 1 community started dying because they couldn’t afford insulin and lawmakers seem helpless to make it affordable. So I’m done waiting for things to get better. If the system doesn’t work, I want to change the system. I want to help create a future in which my son’s existence is a guarantee, not a hope. And I think we owe it to Mainers to make sure everyone is taken care of. We deserve access to quality and affordable healthcare and prescription drugs. Such access needs to extend to people suffering from opioid addiction. We also need to protect Maine’s future and to do that, we must address the reality that we have an aging and a declining population. Focusing on providing quality education to all our children is a good place to start. We need to treat teachers like the professionals they are – their pay needs to reflect it and they need supplies to do their job well. Teachers also need to be allowed to teach what they are trained to teach and not be forced to teach for standardized exams. Maine educated, and trained students need incentives to put their skills to good use here in Maine. So, trade skills and job creation must be priorities. And we need to be willing to welcome all newcomers into Maine and entice them to stay as well. This means recognizing that immigrants have not only played an important part of our past but will also be integral in our future. Maine landscapes are second to none; we need to keep them that way by protecting our environment and supporting renewable energy.

Finally, I want to note that a desire to serve and a wealth of ideas aren’t enough. We need leaders who tell the truth and bring us together in ways that strengthen us. We can disagree and have passionate debates, but the public is better served when we work together rather than act like tribes drawing lines in the sand. We need to remember that good problem solving only happens when diverse ideas can flow freely. True consensus must come from everyone having their voices heard and considered, and it can’t just be “my” side. I’m committed to making sure that happens. Real leaders focus on people, not partisan politics.

So I’m done waiting for change and that’s why I am running for Senate District 16. If you’re done waiting too, please join me on this journey. I need to hear your ideas, I need volunteers, I need money, and most importantly, I need your vote.

If you want to join our team, please see our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HilaryKochForMaineSenate
Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HilaryforME

For more information about Hilary Koch’s campaign, check out her web site.

Don Smallidge
Waterville

The Second Democratic Party 2020 Presidential Primary Debate

The Democratic Party candidates running for President met in Detroit for their second debates at the end of July. If you missed the first debates, check out our coverage (including material on each of the candidates in the first debate); this post will give you some more information about the candidates (including those who were new to the stage for this debate). Some candidates have dropped out since the debates began (Rep. Eric Swalwell after the first debate; Governor Jay Inslee, former Governor John Hickenlooper and Rep. Seth Moulton after the second debate)! You can watch the entire four hours of the debates if you wish.

Remember, you don’t have to watch all the links below, but you are welcome to watch whichever ones jump out for you.

The debates ran from 9 to 11 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday nights [July 30 and July 31, 2019] with ten candidates per debate, moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon. Wikipedia gives a good summary of the candidates that qualified for the second debate. For some MMPF reactions to the debates, see the bottom of this blog post.

Highlights : if you are in a big hurry – CNN – 07/31/2019 [4:57]

Tuesday Night – July 30, 2019 – Second Debate – CNN: full video [5 videos – 150 mins.]

The lineup for Tuesday night’s debate (see our first debate coverage for links about each candidate):

  • Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Governor Steve Bullock
  • John Delaney
  • Former Governor John Hickenlooper
  • Marianne Williamson
  • Rep. Tim Ryan

Wednesday Night – July 31, 2019 – Second Debate – CNN: full video [5 videos – 150 mins.]

The lineup for Wednesday night’s debate (see our first debate coverage for links about each candidate):

  • Former Vice-President Joe Biden
  • Senator Kamala Harris
  • Senator Cory Booker
  • Andrew Yang
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
  • Senator Michael Bennet
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Julián Castro
  • Senator Kirsten Gillebrand
  • Governor Jay Inslee

REACTION TO DEBATES: