Skip to main content.


This is the archive for December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

DirigoChoice health plan on death watch while state budget lands on heads of the poor (Apologies to Harry Shearer)

Lance Tapley of the Portland Phoenix is the most important investigative journalist working in Maine today. Unfortunately, the Phoenix does not get distributed up here in the wilds of Bangor. So, I'm a little late to point out (via Turn Maine Blue) this anguished year-end summary piece Tapley wrote two weeks ago. It expresses how Maine, with its nominally liberal Democratic governor, John Baldacci, along with dastardly national government have failed to address a variety of issues while paving way for the rich to eat up the poor. But I'll focus on just one that strikes home, the Dirigo Health program:

Everyone?s a neocon now
Looking back on state politics ? and forward
By LANCE TAPLEY - December 21, 2007
"Corporations have been enthroned. . . . An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people. . . until wealth is aggregated in a few hands . . . and the Republic is destroyed."--Abraham Lincoln, 1864

In the eight years I?ve covered the State House for the Portland Phoenix, I?ve been struck by the depressingly constant themes: paralysis on tax reform; public aid for health insurance and heating oil that cruelly leaves many of the poor out in the cold; abuse of people in state institutions; deference by officials to companies menacing the environment; and the wastefulness, cronyism, and self-indulgence of politicians and upper-level bureaucrats....

Dirigo Health
THE ISSUE Baldacci has failed to insure the many Mainers without health insurance -- at present, 122,000.

THE STORIES In his first year in office, Baldacci made national news by getting the Legislature to adopt the Dirigo Health Plan, which would within a few years insure all the uninsured. It didn?t happen. DirigoChoice, as the insurance is called, now covers about 12,000 people [including yours truly], but most have switched from private insurance. There are close to as many uninsured Mainers now as in 2003, and as the country heads into an economic downturn, possibly a recession, the uninsured undoubtedly will increase in number.

Why has Dirigo failed? Put simply, it wasn?t funded, as I detailed in several stories. The working poor and many lower-middle-class Mainers can?t afford it. Maine politicians were not willing to reshape taxes to get more money to better subsidize Dirigo?s premiums.
Attack of the white

This is how Westbrook looks today, a picture in black & white.

We're getting "Heavy Snow" warnings on a regular basis. Looks like another foot for some places around Maine:
1143 AM EST MON DEC 31 2007




Might as well make snow blogging a regular feature this winter too.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Maine baked beans

Before baking

After baking
Maiden voyage of our Christmas present

Saturday menu will be an occasional feature. Tonight we made our Aunt's secret baked bean recipe in the new dutch oven. It's a traditional Maine dish.

This post is dedicated to the late Steve Gilliard, a pioneer of political blogging who posted wonderful food features. His was one of the first blogs I read regularly. I continued to do so until his very untimely death this past June. The New York Times Magazine remembers him this weekend, albeit with a peculiar slant.

Friday, December 28, 2007

More snow

Snow in white pine: Veazie, ME (Maine Owl photo)
Snow in the big white pine (Maine Owl photo)

After the streets finally cleared from the messiest December in years, we had three or four new inches of snow last night. The big white pine out back caught a lot of this pretty, sticky, yet fluffy stuff.
Federal budget bill also includes $25.5 million in LIHEAP heating assistance

Veazie Dam Jan.04.2007 (Maine Owl photo)
Veazie Dam, January 4, 2007 (Maine Owl photo)

Following up on previous posts, President Bush has signed a $555 billion budget bill that includes probably $10 million for the Penobscot River restoration project and $25.5 million in LIHEAP funds for Maine winter heating fuel assistance. The Bangor Daily News today finally has something on the Penobscot River story within this front-page article:

$555B budget aids Maine:
Funds for Penobscot River fish habitat, LIHEAP in package
By Kevin Miller - Friday, December 28, 2007 - Bangor Daily News
The omnibus $555 billion budget bill signed by President Bush this week contains much-needed assistance for Mainers struggling to heat their homes and millions of dollars for local conservation projects, including fish passage in the Penobscot River.

Maine?s congressional delegation had made home heating assistance a top priority during budget negotiations. The federal spending package approved by both Congress and the Bush administration contains $2.6 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Maine will receive a minimum of $25.5 million in LIHEAP funds in the current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. It also will be eligible for a portion of the $586 million in emergency LIHEAP funding which the administration can dispense at its discretion.

Members of the Maine delegation are asking the president to release the emergency funding immediately to help low-income families offset the rising costs of heating oil. More than 48,000 Maine households typically receive money from the federal program.

Proponents of several high-profile land conservation projects also were pleased with provisions of the federal budget.

For months now, those involved with a historic plan to remove two dams and bypass a third on the Penobscot River have been working with Maine?s delegation to secure $10 million for the project....

The omnibus budget bill also contains $3.25 million in Forest Legacy funds to buy a working forest easement from GMO Renewable Resources on 24,500 acres near Great Pond in Hancock County.

Maine already had received $2.2 million in Forest Legacy funds for another part of what is known as the Lower Penobscot Forest project. Combined, the two phases will prohibit development on more than 42,500 acres stretching from the Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Milford to the west branch of the Union River....
Wow. That last statement of policy embodied in the act funding the Lower Penobscot Forest project is a staggeringly huge plus for our area. Why isn't our local media all over this one? Why was the Boston Globe ahead of them? I'm happy Congress (with the strong support of Republican Senators Snowe and Collins) managed to pull this off and get the Administration to go along.

Of course one always needs to be suspicious of Bush, as he has tended to use Maine as his environmental facade. And Collins could use some environmental cred in her re-election fight with Rep. Tom Allen who is the Democrat challenging her for her Senate seat. Of course, Allen is 100% behind this project as well. Well, it's all happy consequences for us, the inhabitants of this area.

On the LIHEAP front, it amazes me how both Snowe and Collins (correctly) abandon "free market" principles with respect to the home heating catastrophe brewing here in Maine this winter. The money will go a long way to helping those worst off. My question is, why don't we put some real liberals in those Senate seats? The state obviously requires public resources to assuage the horrors of the 21st century American economy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Westbrook, Maine

Christmas lights in Westbrook
Celebrating our woodland creatures

We have a very white Christmas, despite melting the last couple of days. I like the icy sheen on the snow from melting, rain, and re-freezing.

Merry Christmas dear reader(s?).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bush expected to sign omnibus bill containing money for watershed protection in eastern Maine

Part of Veazie dam
The Veazie Dam will be removed to restore salmon run (Maine Owl photo)

The Boston Globe had this story on Sunday:

US aid may preserve huge Maine tract
By Beth Daley / Globe Staff / December 23, 2007
The mighty Penobscot River and the thick blanket of forest surrounding it is legend in Maine: Its majestic salmon runs once lured fishermen from across the country; near its lower end, spruce fir stands and kettlehole bogs define one of the state's most unusual and striking landscapes.

Now the region is slated to receive $13.25 million in federal funds to restore the Penobscot, where dams have prevented fish from swiming upstream, and to protect 24,500 acres of a remote swath of forest near Bangor that is threatened by development.

The money, in two separate line items, is part of the federal appropriations bill that President Bush was expected to sign before Christmas.

"It's fantastic to see both of these projects happening at the same time," said Deb Perkins, Maine projects director for the Northern Forest Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of groups that work to protect the 26 million acres of the Northern Forest across northern New England and upstate New York. "It takes the long view to preserve our rural heritage and our connection to the river and woodlands."

About $10 million of the appropriation will be paired with $15 million already raised by a coalition of river-related organizations to purchase three dams on the Penobscot.

The two dams closest to the sea will be removed. A third, in Howland, will be decommissioned, and a fish passage will be built to allow salmon and shad returning to the river from the sea to bypass the dam to get upstream.

The dam purchase is a cornerstone of one of the largest river restoration projects in North America along the approximately 350-mile Penobscot. PPL Maine, which owns eight dams on the river, conservation groups, the Penobscot Nation, and federal and state agencies have been working for seven years to allow the same amount of hydropower to be produced while reopening the river and its tributaries to 11 species of fish. PPL will ultimately be allowed to increase power at six dams to compensate for the loss of power at the other three.

"The Penobscot Indian people, whose homeland includes the Penobscot River Watershed, have waited patiently for many years to see the once great fishery runs of the Penobscot restored," said Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Indian Nation. It is, he said, "as good a Christmas present as we could have hoped for."

The remaining $3.25 million of the federal funds will go to protect 24,500 acres in an area the US Forest Service recently declared one of the country's most threatened by development. That tract of central and eastern Maine land, known as the Lower Penobscot Forest, begins about 15 miles northeast of Bangor.

The region hosts one of the last trout strongholds in the state, and on sections of the Union River, which runs through it, people can paddle canoes for miles without seeing any other sign of humans.

The money will go to buy development rights from landowner GMO Renewable Resources, meaning that the land can still be harvested for timber but will never be sold to build houses. The agreement also guarantees the public the right to use the land in perpetuity for hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling.

"This is great news," said Bruce Kidman of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, which brokered the deal and thanked GMO for taking the initiative to sell the rights.

"If you look at a map, there is a road cutting through the property; there are a lot of for sale and subdivision signs," Kidman said. "It needs to be protected."

Once, the vast forests of Maine were owned by the same timber barons for generations.

But beginning in the 1990s, millions of acres went on the auction block. While most of the land was sold to other timber companies, some was subdivided and sold for houses, sparking fears of conservationists and state officials that Maine's vast woods would be fragmented. Bears, moose, and scores of other species in the region need large swaths of such land to flourish, and the private holdings are used by fishermen and hikers who treat it as a vast public park.

The 24,500 protected acres will become part of a much larger swath of protected lands in the Lower Penobscot Forest. Ultimately, conservation groups want to create a belt of conserved lands from Bangor to Acadia National Park...
Wow. This project takes a big leap forward. The tracts of land on the east side of the river just up from the offices of Maine Owl are essential habitat and offer wonderful waters in which to dip the canoe.

I had some initial skepticism when I reported in June 2004 about the signing of the agreement in principle between the stakeholding parties and the kick-off of the fund raising project. Then Interior Secretary Gale Norton--not an environmentally-friendly figure to be sure--came to our neighborhood near the Veazie Dam with grand promises of a strong federal contribution. Now that help appears to be at hand. Thank you Congress and thank you Bush Administration.

But one odd question I have is, Why is the Globe reporting this first, not our local media?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Meanwhile, Maine PUC seeks to grease the skids for FairPoint

The first question you have to ask is: Why? Why would FairPoint Communications want to buy all of northern New England's copper land-line phone systems from the major telecommunications carrier Verizon? FairPoint is a vastly smaller North Carolina concern that serves a nationwide collection of rural phone exchanges and floats above water through profits from the broad-based phone bill charges known as the Universal Service fund. Verizon seems not to think these traditional phone lines are worth their effort any more. So how does it figure that FairPoint will be the DSL Santa Claus in northern New England as they promise--given that the transaction as originally proposed will put them in hock to the tune of $2.7 billion?

It doesn't figure, and red flags are up everywhere. The Maine Office of the Public Advocate and the Maine Public Utilities Commission staff last month caused something of a stir by issuing a report highly skeptical of the deal. But after a mad behind-the-scenes scramble in Maine, the PUC seems by the end of last week to have been assuaged and was poised to approve the deal, after what looks to me like some half-hearted, empty promises from Fairpoint, and debt reduction much less than recommended.

Vermont yesterday appears to have taken a step much closer to the right one: it has for now blocked the deal. (All three of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont must approve it in order for it to go through):

Vermont Rejects FairPoint's Purchase of Verizon Lines
By Crayton Harrison

Friday, December 21, 2007

Telcos, not voters, dear to U.S. Senate majority leader and most Democrats

This is just a follow-up to the FISA revision/telco immunity legislation delayed this week in the U.S. through action spearheaded by Connecticut senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd. Glenn Greenwald posts today concerning some statements given to Washington Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane revealing Democratic attitudes, especially those of Harry Reid, towards Senator Dodd and his little FISA revision show against Telco immunity:
Greenwald: Notice, too, who is smearing Dodd's motives here. It isn't Dick Cheney or Mitch McConnell. Instead, it's Harry Reid and anonymous, cowardly Democrats whispering in Paul Kane's ear about Dodd's manipulative "grandstanding" and proclaiming that Dodd will ultimately fail, dismissing the notion that he achieved anything other than delaying their well-laid plan to ensure that the President has everything he wants.

So here we have one of the very few acts of the last year by a Democrat in Congress which has actually engaged and energized people; made them feel as though someone was listening to them and taking a stand for what they believe; something that enables actual citizens to have some influence on the political process; and, most of all, an effort that at least disrupted the relentless Congressional march to capitulate to all of Bush's demands.

And in response, Harry Reid and his mewling anonymous Democratic allies immediately recruit the Washington Post's Congressional reporter to attack what Dodd has achieved, demean his motives with a ferocity that they never display in opposing George W. Bush, and assure everyone that their will to do the President's bidding will be realized despite Dodd's temporary interference.
I don't think this is too hard to understand. Telcos like AT&T and Verizon have a lot to lose here if by some crook the courts hold them responsible for flagrantly violating black letter law prohibiting warrantless surveillance. Harry Reid's personal campaign war chest and those of many other Democrats, not to mention the Republicans, are well stuffed by Telco contributions. Now, partly that's because the media/telco corporate policy and consolidation agenda requires big Congressional guns to do the shooting down of the public interest.

Take John Kerry, for example, who is massively funded by Telco interests and the network of law firms that push their agendas. You've gotta believe that none of these politician-employing folks are very happy with Dodd, and his helpers Feingold and Kennedy, keeping massive Telco liability on the table for one second longer, voters and public be damned.
Last dawn before winter solstice

Solstice dawn
Early light in yard at base of the lilac

This is an old lilac bush that is showing its wear, just like The Owl, who marks a half century as the solstice arrives.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Technorati Profile

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Connecticut senator temporarily blocks illegal surveillance immunity for Telcos

In a previous post I decried the Congressional Democrats as a bunch of capitulators, citing the complex pending legislation revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to grant immunity for past illegal acts to the major Telecommunications companies. Now Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has been forced by Chris Dodd's action to delay consideration of, what the New York Times calls, this "bad bill." It's at best a brief win. But it's a win thanks to Senator Dodd.

Maine Owl's sister site, has very significant posts featuring Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows in speeches and an August interview. Rolled up in the major case now before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a Maine case concerning Verizon's phone records snooping on behalf of warrantless Bush domestic intel gathering. Presumably the immunity that would be granted by the revision would end this case and make Verizon and the other telcos untouchable for illegal acts of spying.

Now I want to give MSNBC's Countdown program and guest host Alison Stewart huge kudos for they way they have reported this story the last couple of days. Stewart did an excellent, lengthy piece on Monday including an illuminating interview with Air America's Sam Seder, and then did a post-game interview with Senator Dodd on Tuesday.

I am embedding the YouTube video of both of these segments below. But first I want to appreciate the fine writing in Stewart's Monday setup that captures the essence and significance of the issue. I especially like the way Stewart sharply contrasts candidate Dodd with the other Democratic senators running for president. Why can't we have more of this on television??
Alison Stewart (Dec. 17): The next time anyone tells you no one can make a difference in Washington, that no one person can get anything done, tell them about what happened today. In our number three story tonight, the senate began debating a bill that would strip you of the right to sue phone companies for eavesdropping on you.

President Bush is pushing to give blanket immunity to any phone company that agreed to let the government listen in on phone and track e-mail traffic passing through its lines without going through the special top secret courts known as the FISA courts. It is far more than a legal battle for several reasons. One, the three dozen lawsuits against phone companies offer one of the only ways America can hope to find out exactly what Mr. Bush has done. Two, immunity for the phone companies could set a precedent for other companies assisting the government in certain activity, such as renditioning.

Democratic presidential candidates oppose immunity, but when the FISA debate began today, only one had left Iowa to fight the battle in Washington. Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster as long as he could to block the immunity provision from the overall FISA bill which is intended to bring the government?s electronic eavesdropping within shouting distance of constitutionality. Despite the absence of other candidates, Dodd did get help on the floor today....
Here is the Monday video:

MSNBC Countdown December 17,2007

And here is Tuesday's interview with Senator Dodd:

MSNBC Countdown December 18,2007

I've not in the past been a great fan of Chris Dodd. He's very tight with banking and other financial interests. But in supporting civil liberties against the surveillance state and in opposing the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment virtually declaring war on Iran, he has earned a lot of respect from my point of view.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Republican Senator Susan Collins blames market failure

Senator Susan Collins of Maine recently has taken an interest in the fuel price situation in Maine. Last week, an article in the Bangor Daily News described a "desperate" home heating crisis before the calendar has even passed winter solstice:

Home heating crisis in Maine now 'desperate'
By Anne Ravana - Saturday, December 08, 2007 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR - Toys for Tots? How about Oil for Tots?

Many, if not most, of the state's neediest families are now in crisis when it comes to finding a way to pay for home heating oil, and assistance agencies are running so low on fuel funds that they are desperate for private donations.

That was the consensus at a fuel assistance resource meeting at U.S. Sen. Susan Collins's office Friday [Dec. 7]. Collins's office called the meeting to gather representatives from more than 10 social service agencies from area counties to determine how to use their existing resources most efficiently.

"A majority of people I see are in an emergency situation. They are out of oil when they call," said Harold Conners, director of social services for the Salvation Army office in Bangor.

Conners said he believes it is "a matter of weeks" before the state sees an overwhelming number of residents with empty oil tanks and no money to fill them. All the meeting attendees expressed concern that low-income families have little choice but to cut back on food, medicine and other essentials when their home energy costs rise.

The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is the primary source of aid for families whose income is 150 percent to 170 percent of the federal poverty limit. This year, the program is expected to help about 47,000 Maine households with average annual incomes of $13,000, according to Joanne Choate, LIHEAP manager for the Maine State Housing Authority.

This year, applications are pouring in in record numbers, and at least 51,000 people are expected to apply, Choate said. The Penquis program in Bangor already has denied at least 600 applications.

"We're seeing more and more requests from the working poor, people who work more than 40 hours a week and still can't pay their bills," said Nathalie Perry, director of Brewer Health and Human Services.

On average, families receive $580 in assistance, which is not enough to fill a 250-gallon tank with local prices for oil hovering around $3.20 a gallon.
In response, the Republican senator offered the following analysis, and proposals for hearings and legislative action:

Monday, December 17, 2007

I'm normally no fan of the usually-truculent warmonger Charles Krauthammer. But a friend over at the email list (Mailman system, all Maine Owl readers are welcome to check it out and self-register if you wish to be on it) recommended his truly-sane Friday column called "An Overdose of Public Piety."
KRAUTHAMMER: This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN-YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher. In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race -- changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next -- so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American.
Right on, Charles.
Democratic control of Congress has been a useless fact in the past year. Pure trivia. I've been trying to construct a good post about why I will pretty much sit out any involvement in the Democratic political process this year. And I may switch my party registration back to Green, or I may go to unenrolled. But Glenn Greenwald has made the entire case for me.

Brief review: In just the last week, there has been a spate of stories from Washington about total Democratic capitulation to what should by all right be a dead Bush agenda: "Pelosi Backs Down in Spending Battle," "Budget Deal Would Probably Give Bush Victory on War Funding." And one of my favorite topics, what Greenwald calls "The Lawless Surveillance State," is going ahead full speed with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid firmly steering the helm towards Telco immunity for cooperation with illegal warrantless government spying.

I don't think it's so hard to understand why the Democrats are failing to do anything to stop the War and why they, with a few exceptions like Senators Dodd and Kennedy, are keen to grant the giant telecommunications companies the immunity Bush so desires for his broad-net spying operations. I think it's because the elite interests of the Democrats largely coincide with the Republicans.

On the Iraq war, everyone inside the beltway understands (though as former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan in his most prescient remark a couple of months ago pointed out, no one can discuss it in public) that Iraq is a long-term strategic asset over which toleration of Saddam in the chain of control had ended. Iraq is potentially the only genuine swing producers of oil as the Saudi domination of that role diminishes every day. The US-written Iraq oil law almost says this explicitly, as it gives what would be a foreign-dominated Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council the absolute right to decide how to "optimally" produce the resource.

This is why the very few decent Democrats, like Dennis Kucinich, are shouted down in their own party for suggesting the Iraq War is about oil. Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership, especially Carl Levin from Michigan, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, embraces the Bush-developed, "benchmark" method of evaluating "progress" in Iraq. The Democrats soon will vote $200 billion to continue the war and claim that they're minding the taxpayers' money by making the Iraqis dance right, as if that's supposed to make us feel better that all these lives and treasure are being flushed down the toilet. What good are these Democrats??

It's all so sad and disgusting. The Democratic presidential candidates pretend in this charade of campaign politics that the voters' desire to see the debilitating wars ended and the troops brought home means something to them. It doesn't, as only Kucinich and Gravel can even say they would stop the war. None of they others even would say, in a debate a few months ago, that they would bring all the troops home before 2013. But Kucinich and Gravel now are blocked from debates in Iowa over technical interpretations of arcane rules.

I suppose I'll go to my caucus in early February (Maine is a caucus state) in order to stand for Kucinich. But that will be the end of it. I will not take out a weekend in May to be a state delegate again. It's not worth it.

Update: HERE is a discussion Democratic machinations behind Telco immunity. An important bill is up for debate in the U.S. Senate TODAY!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Winter settling in a week before solstice

Broccoli in the snow
Broccoli long gone by

When 4pm comes this time of year, the light disappears fast. We are very snowy at this point in December, for the first time in four years. We'd been getting used to winter not really starting until mid January.

Friday garden blogging and Friday nature blogging will be regular features of Maine Owl, as will additional nature & environmental photography features.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Imagine Peace
I had no idea that life was about to teach me the toughest lesson of all. I learned the intense pain of losing a loved one suddenly, without warning, and without having the time for a final hug and the chance to say, "I love you," for the last time. The pain and shock of that sudden loss is with me every moment of every day. When I touched John's side of our bed on the night of December 8th, 1980, I realized that it was still warm. That moment has haunted me for the past 27 years - and will stay with me forever.--Yoko Ono

Monday, December 03, 2007

This is the new blog. Testing the system. Wasn't that interesting, an edit. That's entertainment!
Maine Owl is a comment & nature photography blog. It is written by The Owl, a long-time peace & justice activist now residing in the Bangor, Maine area.

This is the successor site to Deep Blade Journal, the archives of which are here. The new blog will differ from Deep Blade Journal in that I intend to keep the content driven more from a local & personal viewpoint. Maine Owl will cover many of the same issues as Deep Blade JournalIraq and the Terror War, for example. But more often that coverage will be inspired by local events and media. I will be less likely to post here on national electoral politics or national-level politicians unless there is a local event or media appearance to discuss. And, I intend to amp up the photography here as time goes on.

All posts will be written by your host, The Owl, unless otherwise indicated. I know some other very, very good writers who I hope will one day finally decide to post here. If that ever happens, the conversation will be richly elevated from what I am able to do.