Friday, November 26, 2010

Please Forgive Us, Mr. Speaker

On December 1st the Speaker of the House for the 125th Maine Legislature will be elected by the 78 Republicans, 72 Democrats and 1 Independent who won their election on November 2nd. Because the Republicans now have a majority of the seats, for the first time in 36 years their candidate will be voted in and become the third most powerful person in Maine state government.

Some Democrats are faced with the dilemma of whether to participate in the traditional pageantry of casting “one unanimous vote” for the presumptive winner, or not.

The Republican Speaker-elect’s baggage is now widely known. Stories abound in the news that as the owner of True’s Pharmacy, Robert Nutting was found to have overcharged the State of Maine $1.6 million for rubber gloves, incontinence pads and liners between 1997 and 2001. He spent “over six figures” on fancy lawyers, counter-sued the state, and then declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy after paying back only $433,188 leaving Maine taxpayers holding the bag for $1.2 million.

Speaker-elect Nutting maintains that overcharging the state repeatedly using a formula that marked up some products 143% instead of 40% an “honest mistake.” He blames complicated rules and the stranglehold of government bureaucracy for his troubles.

Don’t take it personally, Mr. Speaker, if some of us can’t push our green button next week and vote to usher you in. You see, this isn’t really about you, but rather what you stand for, and what we are elected to do.

We might be willing to take you at your word that you were a victim of “the system,” but you represent that very small population of people who can beat the system. You made a very large mistake as the owner of a business that made millions of dollars overcharging for supplies sold to poor people. You have not repaid your debt to society, are not taking personal responsibility for your actions, and are nevertheless being elected to be the Speaker of the House. This is at a time when most people don’t have similar opportunities for redemption and coronation.

A time more people are poor -- the national poverty rate is above 14%

A time when more people are hungry-- one in seven people in Maine, as a matter of fact, which now also has the distinction of being number 2 in the nation for extreme food insecurity.

A time when American businesses earned profit at the annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the 3rd quarter of this year, the most on record.

At a time when nationally the unemployment rate is 9%, and millions of people are underemployed and working two or three jobs to keep afloat, we are being asked to hand you a job that holds tremendous power, a salary that is 50% higher than the rest of us elected members of the House of Representatives, provides health insurance and other benefits, pays a generous per diem and includes numerous other perks, all paid for by the people who elected us.

We know your constituents have sent you back three times since your little “incident,” but keep in mind the good people of Harlem, New York have voted to send Charles Rangel back to Congress since 1971. Most people, including Democrats, still support the November 2010 finding of the Ethics Committee that Mr. Rangel is guilty of 11 counts of violating House ethics rules, and further support the sanction of public censure and his removal as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Some things aren’t just about partisan politics, but what’s right and what’s wrong.

For many the quality of life has slipped so dramatically that what were once aspirations for a better life for future generations are now coping strategies to stay housed, fed and employed. This is wrong. Recreation is a luxury we can’t afford. This is not your fault, but you being elected to lead the peoples’ house after making a mistake that cost ordinary people over a million dollars, and spending more money on lawyers defending yourself and filing for bankruptcy than some families make in a lifetime, wreaks of a system that is rigged to lift only some. The American Dream no longer is open to the public but to only a very small group that you belong to, and most others don’t.

People are angry at government and believe politicians are incestuous and self-serving. For some of us Democrats, casting a vote for you as a gesture of good-will, or to avoid unpleasantness, or in hopes you might put us on a certain committee, or staff our office, or keep our favorite secretary on the payroll makes us complicit in this game. And this feels wrong.

We are hoping you won’t be too hard on us if we push that red button, Mr. Speaker. We aren’t voting against you, but rather voting for the people who are hungry, out of work, beaten down by greedy corporations, and taxed to pay your salary.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Good and Old, Again

Serenity might be too strong a word, but forgive yourself. My mind is foggy from heavy injections of sugar, butter, and tryptophan -- two slices of pies short of Thanksgiving nirvana.
As a kid Thanksgiving was ambiguous. No mandatory church service was a plus. Food as a holiday theme certainly was welcome, but some of it was really gross. Stuffing, for example. Soggy chunks of onions and celery? No thanks. Canned green bean casserole with chow mein noodles? Really? 

There was love in the air, with a touch of family tension. Leading up to sitting down for dinner, the momentum in the kitchen was palpable and intense. Humming sounds of mixers, the buzzing of an electric carving knife and whisking accompanied by the oven door opening and closing, again and again, in crescendo. Foil-covered bowls and pots outnumbered guests. "Stir the gravy!" Mom barked to Grandma. It was hot. The dishes and pans to wash were overwhelming.
Then I got married and marched to the beat of Martha Stewart. I toiled over an artichoke stuffing with free-range walnuts that nobody liked. The turkey was blessed and fed a last supper of organic grain before it was killed, wrapped and priced accordingly. Roasted root vegetables with sprigs of herb we grew in pots on our deck were not quite the hit I hoped for. That fourth trip downtown in heavy traffic for the Gewurtztraminer we absolutely needed for dinner made me cranky. The dishes that I transferred the food to from the pots to look good on the table were even more overwhelming, and not dishwasher safe. With a headache from our unique and expensive wine, everything was more challenging. My kids didn't eat Thanksgiving dinner and were hungry for macaroni and cheese. And I made it for them.
Thank God middle age has set in.  I look in the mirror and the blurry, older version of myself accepts that I was never much of a fancy cook and I no longer care. That's what older sisters are for, right? All I want is family, friends and my dog to be around and relatively happy. Flowers and candles beats fussing with complicated decorations. A "natural" Butterball Turkey is very content in my refrigerator. A pretty box of Bell Stuffing is sleek enough in its simplicity, and the ingredients thankfully too small to read. Pie-making is happily surrendered to my cheerful and enthusiastic daughter. I am able to turn a blind eye to my son drinking soda, eating cookies and playing video games minutes before dinner. It's their smiles and laughter I crave.

I drink the wine that is closest to me, and open. 

Even dog hair blowing around in tumbleweeds in the right light can be artistic. With this age comes freedom to give in to the unique energy and momentum of our family.  The recipe for fond memories, it turns out, is pretty simple.
Presented on Thanksgiving is an opportunity to live in the moment of the incredible abundance that surrounds me, and I'm deeply grateful to have the good sense to seize it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Democrats: Surfs Up

The tsunami of GOP and Tea is still flooding our country. The choices seem to be ride this wave and succumb to fear-mongering and blaming the most vulnerable among us for the corporate theft of our nation’s dignity, or drown. 
Or is there a Third Way?
Take it from a Rhode Islander now living in Maine - when a big breaker is coming at you, dive under it! Come up on the other side and catch your breath. Get ready to take the next white horse for a ride.
The backside of the 2010 election wave looks like a Saturday Night Live version of Messrs. Smith Goes to Washington. An army of wide-eyed GOP freshmen marching in to the capital, flag pins prominently displayed and pocket constitutions in tact, ready to repeal healthcare reform and the deficit, and “take our country back.” 
Just how far back are we going to let them take us before we snap out of it and take credit for the good work that has been done on our watch? We reduced taxes for the middle class! We saved an American car company and increased jobs!  For God sakes, we brought most of our kids home from Iraq and put them on our health insurance plans.
Democrats, we are down but we are not out. We just need to keep working hard to help ordinary people, and brag more. We need some attitude.
The number of new jobs created during the eight years of the Clinton administration was 23 million, and the number of new jobs created during the eight years of the Bush administration was 3 million.  The difference is more than just an old-fashioned math problem. Since Obama came to office the hemorrhaging of jobs that occurred on W’s watch began to decrease, and now jobs are being created. This is so totally radical, right? Why aren’t we screaming from the rafters?
The biggest middle class tax cut in U.S. history was the largest single component of the stimulus bill recently passed by Democrats, accounting for $300 billion of the $800 billion total. Right on, Blue Dudes!
If you had invested $100,000 in the stock market on the day Barack Obama was sworn in, it would be worth around $180,000 today. $100,000 invested the day George W. Bush took office was worth $65,000 eight years later. That’s, like, gnarly.
Republicans right now have a success problem of their own. They have a bunch of know-it-alls with sights on the 2012 coronation and now this pesky little thing called “governing,” is in their lap. 
This is our chance. Right now we must begin writing the rest of the real story. With attitude!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Democrats: Our Dog Died

Your first child was a large Golden Retriever named after jazz great Miles Davis. He had a large head, muscular shoulders, and a fur coat that was gorgeous. With the exception of your brother-in-law Fred, everyone you knew loved Miles. He was handsome, well-behaved, good natured and smart.

Miles got old and strange bumps appeared on his body. He walked so slow it was painful to watch, but you did for many years. His legs began to give out. Smelly “gifts” were left for you around the house. Then Miles died and your hearts were broken. You buried him in the yard, held hands and cried.

After a while, when the grieving faded and the fond memory of Miles replaced the emptiness, a sense of freedom snuck up on you. No longer did you have to brave the elements to walk him twice a day. The tumbleweeds of fur and fragrance of wet-dog were noticeably absent. You were a lighter load when traveling and more nimble. Having Miles was wonderful, and not having Miles was good, too.

Democrats, our dog died on November 2, 2010. What was large, promising and wonderful became bumpy, old and dysfunctional. We will miss it dearly. Fond memories of being the majority party will hopefully soon replace the confusion and remorse we feel now as the minority.

Soon, however, we will be liberated.

No longer are we saddled with the sole responsibility of governing in a time of world-wide economic turmoil and terrorism. The Republican machine can show Americans how exactly we reduce spending, the deficit and taxes simultaneously with fighting the good fight in Afghanistan. The conservatives can crack the nut of the unabashed and grotesque spending of money in the United States on political campaigns. The GOP can demonstrate how in the era of powerful interest groups and extremists Government can represent We the People.