Thursday, December 20, 2012

Everyone agrees that kids should not be killed at school

How is it that we are even talking about first grade kids being brutally murdered at school?  When did this unraveling begin? When did little boys and girls become sitting ducks for some assault-weapon-wielding maniac?

And when did Americans become afraid to speak up, fearful of pushing for changes that truly are a matter of life and death?

When I was growing up, my parents did not worry that their children would be shot and killed, like trapped prey, in the safe confines of our local elementary school. We walked to school. We played outdoors. We were safe.

Still, even as children, we knew the larger world was a dangerous place. We worried about things like the Soviet Union, the Cold War, nuclear bombs, and the foreign military threat to America.

We knew those threats were thousands of miles away - not over on the next block. And not in the classroom. And we trusted that the adults were grappling with and trying to solve these problems.

All children are afraid of boogeymen.  I cringe remembering movies such as “Night of the Living Dead”  and hiding under our desks in a cold war drill.  I had nightmares over scary movies and a nuclear holocaust for years.

Today, America is living through a national nightmare. But that nightmare isn’t a movie. And it’s not on foreign soil. It is here, at home, in our schools, in our malls, in our movie theaters, on our streets.

The nightmare began with the all-too-easy access that Americans have to assault weapons, which originally were made for use solely by the military and the police. It began with the unchecked power of the national gun lobby. It began when our legislators and members of Congress became more concerned about receiving the NRA seal of approval and campaign contribution checks than their own communities.

We need to take back our country and rein in the gun lobby and other special interests that threaten the safety of our kids. Because, as President Obama told the residents of Newtown, Connecticut, at a heartwrenching vigil, “What choice do we have? Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

American society has been numb to the growing problem of gun violence for too long. We pretended its not been that bad, and won’t get worse, but our denial of symptoms and quest to be pain free has taken a toll. Pills for aches and despair are sold to us ad nauseum, but there is no prescription drug to mask the societal disease of mass shootings.

The gunman responsible for the Newtown murders was reported to be literally numb. He could not feel pain. The teacher who ran the technology club of which he was a member in high school had to make sure soldering tools and other potentially dangerous electrical equipment didn’t burn him. The heinous crimes he committed can not be explained, but numbness to pain is telling. 

If we are going to change, it’s going to hurt a little, and we can tough it out if we allow ourselves to see the humanity in the eyes of our neighbors and political adversaries, and feel their pain. 

The national dialogue has to throw off the wet blanket of “Democrats versus the NRA.” There is more to this country than faceless machines.

Corporations are not people, and neither is the NRA. Blaming a big powerful association for the mass murder of Newtown children and their principle is convenient because true answers are nowhere in sight, but it’s people who are guaranteed constitutional rights, and people who commit atrocious crimes. 

And it will only be courageous people who take meaningful steps to curb gun violence in America -- people who disagree about politics, people who belong to the NRA, and people who don’t. We need everyone at the table talking about a way forward that does not include mass shootings, because there is one thing we can all agree on - it wasn’t the kids’ fault that they were shot and killed in Sandy Hook. 

From this common ground, this fundamental belief in the need to protect innocent children, let’s begin a national conversation about how to prevent a tragedy of this magnitude from ever happening again. In Maine, lets have the courage to speak up with empathy of our neighbors from north and south. Let’s reject the oversimplification of the right versus left, rural versus urban, liberal versus conservative script. It’s obvious the rhetoric of the past is not working -- we are not more free, or more safe.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What I Lost This November

There is losing. And there is loss. In November, in the space of a few days, I learned that harsh life lesson.  

I lost my bid as U.S. Senate Democratic nominee from Maine on Nov. 6. One of my biggest supporters, a woman named Carol, died on Nov. 17.

Carol was the most unlikely of role models. I met her as a child when my parents were divorcing. Carol wasn’t my mother; I have a mother whom I love dearly. But Carol became my second mom, marrying my father when I was nine years old.

In her heart, Carol knew the journey she was about to take with my father and my siblings could cast her in the hurtful role of outsider, aggressor, divider in our family.

So she became the polar opposite. Instead of my family being ripped apart by divorce, a trauma that so many children and parents experience, Carol became a valued addition.

When I was younger I thought our family wasn’t ordinary because of the divorce. Later, I understood that family isn’t always neatly defined. Its possibilities are limitless. And because of Carol’s presence, my life became richer.

Carol was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and faithful conservative; so was my father. And I was always the left-leaning Democrat of the family.

I entered politics shortly after George W. Bush was re-elected, running for town council as a way to cope with my disappointment. One day, Carol wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, extolling my “peacemaker” role in the family. It was a part I didn’t realize I even played until she pointed it out.

I lost my first election by six votes. The next several races I won. My career in politics progressed: town councilor, state representative, state senator, Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. All along, Carol was there. All along, we held opposite worldviews.

Again, Carol, this most unlikely role model, inspired my love of politics. Through her values and actions, Carol taught me that politics is personal, but not hurtful. People carry beliefs with passion because they care deeply for their communities and their nation. We are all members of a larger, diverse family that doesn’t always agree.

Carol never held back her political viewpoints. Nor did I. The disagreements made us closer as we sought lovingly to understand each other. Carol ardently followed all my campaigns, giving me suggestions and advice. This year, when I ran for U.S. Senate, Carol studied all my debates and sent follow-up emails with comments.

“We liked the answer you gave about old white rich men,” one email read.

Another: “I have a suggestion for you. There is an old saying, ‘It is not what you say, but how you say it.’ Sometimes you sounded sarcastic. Other than that you were good.”  

Yet another: “I know you must be beside yourself with these outside donations, but Cynthia, this is politics, just like lobbying is. If you want to be in politics you will witness this going on everyday. We are sorry you are in this as a profession, it is a dirty one. Hope you don't get caught up in it.”

On Nov. 5, the day before my biggest election and one that I would surely lose, Carol emailed:  “GOOD LUCK TOMORROW! Dad and Carol.”

Carol, 75, learned to use Twitter just to track the campaign Tweets; I was her only “follow.” After I wished my chief opponent, Angus King, good luck on Election Day, she tweeted me: “What a nice thing to do!”

On election night, Carol cried. She wanted Mitt Romney, the Republicans - and me - to win.

She wrote: “Sorry you couldn't do it. I guess it just was not your time. You ran a hard race.... Love, Dad and Carol”

Several days later, Carol died from a stroke.

Then I understood what loss really was. Some things that we fail at can be tried again; some choices can be made anew. Some damaged relationships can be repaired; some families torn apart can be restitched and enriched. Losing the election was tough, but Carol’s loss put that defeat into perspective.

I gave the eulogy at the service, noting her steadfast commitment to our family and her honesty, loyalty, kindness, generosity and patriotism. The people in life who give you unconditional love can never be replaced. But you can always hold fast to their love and wisdom, their teachings and legacy.

Through Carol’s life, I learned that it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. For there are too many improbable destinations for us to even imagine. I am still on my journey and, thanks to Carol’s inspiration and impact, she will always be there with me.

Not to the side, left or right, but to the center of one’s self, where love resides.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

There has to be a BETR way forward for Maine.

When more than one fifth of Maine’s kids are living in poverty, why are its taxpayers handing out nearly one fifth of their money to companies such as Verso Paper, Bath Iron Works, Katahdin Paper, S.D. Warren and Nestle?

Maine’s projected $100 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program, $35 million revenue shortfall in the budget that ends June 30, and a projected $880 million gap in the next two-year budget is going to require every stone be unturned to balance the books. 

What appears to be a "crisis" might be an opportunity to start anew. It's time to take a fresh approach to budgeting instead of the usual demand that every school board pony up its music program, and every town lay off its fire fighters.

One obvious place to begin are business subsidies and “incentives” not tied to job creation or elevating the quality of life for Maine families. Maine taxpayers donate $.17 of every dollar in the state budget to corporations. That’s $379 per person, according to a recent investigation by Louise Story of the New York Times.

The BETR program “refunds” property taxes paid by businesses on equipment purchases, and costs Maine taxpayers $55 to $60 million per year. Interestingly, companies don’t have to create or retain even one job to qualify.

Take for example the case of Katahdin Paper Company, LLC. Between 2008 and 2011, Maine paid $9.8 million back in property tax abatements, corporate income tax credits, rebates and reductions according to the Times story. Piling on, Brookfield Asset Management, the parent company of Katahdin Paper, left state officials with a predicament in 2011: either assume ownership of the nearby polluted Dolby landfill, thereby enabling the mills to be sold, or the corporation would permanently dismantle the mills in order to pay for the costs of closing and cleaning up the landfill.

The State of Maine assumed ownership of a polluted landfill on top of writing checks to a private multinational corporation for millions of dollars to “save” about 220 jobs in East Millinocket. Are these jobs important? Absolutely. Is this the best we can do for future economic prosperity in the region? I don't believe so. 

There may be good reason to provide economic incentives to companies that want to invest in Maine people, add value to communities and create jobs. But cutting deals with corporations 
without built-in protections, while cutting budgets to early childhood education programs, public safety, and schools that will train the future workforce is something we no longer can afford.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bangladesh Factory Fire May Have Started in New York

Was the Bangladesh Factory Fire the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of the Global economy? Will this be the international incident that brings to the surface the working conditions of the poor around the globe whose sweat, blood and tears produce the racks of cheap shirts at Walmart?

An over-crowded garment factory, a fire, locked doors, no sprinklers or working extinguishers and workers jumping to their deaths. Eerily similar fact patterns.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City prompted new regulations, safety standards and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. What will result from the Bangladesh Factory Fire?

Friday, March 16, 2012

The "I" in independent

There are those who argue that not belonging to either American political party is important.

This certainly may be true for the rational and busy voter who has no appetite for exhausting crude primary battles and prefers his or her choice in November to be whittled down to two by political junkies.

For the candidate, not knowing where you fit in or where you stand, or worse not able to play well with others might be a sign of something other than "independence."

Recently many of us received word that one unenrolled candidate was enthusiastically endorsing the other unenrolled and uncommitted-on-the-issues candidate for US Senate before anyone else even got on the ballot. Not a knee-jerk endorsement, perhaps, but clearly an uninformed one by one spoiler to the potential next.

I'm not suggesting this was a back room deal. I'll leave that to the Twitterers.

Some of us like being on teams and the challenge of working with others towards a common purpose for the common good. We recognize that all communities are interdependent including the chambers of the US Congress. That one party is having an identity crisis is not an invitation to give up the two-party system in the United States -- a system that has nurtured the leader of the free world -- but rather a call for true leaders to fix it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Freedom of Choice in 2012

"Religious freedom" for employers affiliated with churches to discriminate in healthcare coverage between birth control and Viagra is not the real issue underlying the fake GOP hysteria over contraception. What motivated Mitch McConnell to declare a cultural war and inspired Senator Snowe to flip-flop on women's rights and join Tea Partier Marco Rubio in sponsoring the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012 is raw unadulterated political power and the 2012 elections.

The righteous indignation expressed by the Republican Party posing as "the Church" this week nationally coincided with an effort in the Maine Senate to protect lawmakers from the deluge of church-generated anti-abortion mailings that are overwhelming the publicly-funded staff.

Maine State Senators were given a choice whether to continue receiving duplicative fire and brimstone letters arriving daily in boxes and piling up until public employees distribute them, or not. The photocopied tirades harangue lawmakers to act according to scripture as interpreted by an evangelical sect that takes advantage of bulk-mail rates for non-profits.

Some churches are feeding Maine's poor children and housing homeless veterans. Others want unlimited freedom to influence politics at a discounted rate, but reject on "religious freedom" grounds that politics should influence church businesses that provide programs and services to the general public. Thanks to the First Amendment we can choose between churches, and churches can choose between candidates.

Senator Snowe was for "basic fairness how we treat and view women's reproductive health care versus every other health care need that is addressed through prescription drug coverage" before she was against it.

Your choice in 2012.

Friday, February 3, 2012

We have the tools to fix America.

I am running for the United States Senate because I know we have choices as a country, and I will vote to help the people who elect me, not the elite group of special interests that are running things now. We have the tools needed to change the course of America, and we need people who have the political courage to use them. I am not afraid to stand up for fairness and families. I will create jobs here in the United States by investing in desperately needed public infrastructure. I will protect seniors and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, not weaken it. I will reward veterans, not abandon them. I will hold Wall Street accountable to avoid another economic collapse, and regulate the polluters of our environment. I will reform our tax laws so everyone pays their fair share, and work tirelessly to remove the corrupt influence of unlimited corporate money on our democracy.

Washington is not working for middle-class American families, and the United States Senate in particular is completely out of touch with the challenges ordinary people face today. Exorbitant health care and energy costs, unemployment and poverty are critical issues that are not being addressed by our government. Unfair tax laws that favor the super wealthy, the corrupt influence of big corporations on our democracy, the deregulation of Wall Street and the weakening of the labor movement have shipped jobs over seas and left millions of families without hope or opportunity.

This election will present voters with a stark choice -- return the same millionaire Washington insider to the U.S. Senate for what would be her 33rd consecutive year in Congress -- or elect a new generation of leadership who believes government belongs to and should be working for the people and the common good.

Does Maine want a career Republican politician who enjoys the lifestyle of the 1% making choices that further the interest of corporations, or a progressive working mother who will cast votes in the interest of future generations?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Progressives Teach You to Swim

If you are drowning in 12 feet of water, a moderate Republican will throw you six feet of rope.

One in five Maine children are hungry and living in poverty, family budgets are crushed under the weight of exorbitant healthcare and energy costs, and too many people can't find a decent job. The American middle class is drowning and all we see and hear in the media is the spectacle of ridiculously wealthy men who have contributed nothing to the common good tell us why they should be president. Crazy right-wingers in the Congress are so busy trying to dismantle the social safety net, gut and "investigate" programs for women and kids that they don't have time to balance the budget.

None of them can be trusted to throw us a life line in Maine. Self-interest and greed is shockingly the agenda for all those afflicted with Potomac Fever, and the silence of our United States Senators in the face of their GOP caucus is deafening.

For over thirty years Washington has created vast income inequality. The insiders have stacked the deck in favor of corporations, and have failed the children and grandchildren of the greatest generation.

Members of Congress use their position of public trust to become career politicians and K Street lobbyists. Any of them who have been in DC and voted to deregulate Wall Street, corrupt the tax code and invite corporate interests in to the chambers of the U.S. Capital is responsible.

It is time for bold ideas and a progressive agenda. We need public financing of elections, everyone to pay their fair share of taxes, and investment in and celebration of goods made in America.  We must protect public spaces that enable community-building. We can and should amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent a corporate coup d'etat. Our Supreme Court can and should be increased to dilute the power of the sitting right-wing element under the spell of the economy of influence. Healthcare must be reformed. Education, research and protecting the environment must move up the list of American priorities.

Equal opportunities to succeed must be offered by a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

If you are drowning in 12 feet of water, a progressive will teach you to swim. And that's what will make the difference for the future of this country.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have a Dream of Economic Justice

Olympia Snowe has spent the last 33 years in Washington. That’s 33 years -- and counting -- that have made her one of the wealthiest people in America.

Lately, that wealth has been showing up in votes that put profits before people.

When Snowe voted against the Senate jobs bill in October, she identified only one provision of the bill she disagreed with: the surcharge on taxpayers who earn more than $1 million in adjusted gross income.

According to a study by Citizens for Tax Justice, only one-tenth of one percent of Maine taxpayers would be affected by the surcharge — about 375 people.

The legislation would have created 2 million new jobs and cut taxes for virtually all Maine taxpayers. While her constituents struggle to survive the bleakest economic conditions in generations, a small segment of Mainers -- 375 -- have a senator on their side.

Did she vote against a small tax increase for only 375 Mainers because she is one of us?

Or one of them?

According to the Media Matters Action Network, Snowe’s estimated net worth -- between $12.6 million and $44.7 million -- makes her the 10th richest member of the Senate, a millionaire's club in itself.

But she makes only $174,000 a year as a U.S. senator. Though Snowe's most recent official financial disclosure form does not list specific income for her husband, John McKernan, it does indicate two income sources that make them millionaires.

McKernan serves as chairman of the board of directors of Education Management Corporation.

Education Management's corporate filings describe a "McKernan Agreement" under which he is paid an annual salary of $330,000, plus a target bonus of $412,500. McKernan is also a member of the board of directors of BorgWarner, which paid him $328,000 in cash and stock awards in 2010, and he serves on the board of directors of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Snowe's vote against the jobs bill is thus much easier to understand, since Snowe and her husband are among those fortunate few.

Everyone knows we need to change the dynamic in Washington to protect the many against the privileges of the few, to unleash the middle class and create a broad-based economic recovery.

But we can't keep sending the same people over and over again and expect a different outcome.

We need a senator who is one of the people.

A member of the middle class who wants to reduce taxes on middle-class families and keep alive the American Dream. Someone who believes everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed.

Someone who demands those who have reaped the biggest rewards pay their fair share to the nation that nourished that wealth.

Olympia Snowe never will.

I already have.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 U.S. Senate Race: What would Einstein do?

Will 2012 be the year America gets its groove back, or are we going to send the same people to Washington that we have been sending for decades and hope things will change?

Against all odds I am considering running for the U.S. Senate against Olympia Snowe,  who has been in Washington D.C. since 1979 and is now one of the wealthiest U.S. Senators in America.

Am I crazy? I want America to educate our children, protect our seniors, reward our veterans and keep people healthy and safe. I want corporations and wealthy people to pay their fair share of taxes, and I know that corporations are not people. I want a senator who will stand up for ordinary people and speak loudly for economic justice.

Not since George Mitchell have we had a Democratic Senator in Washington fighting for the middle class and taking a stand for good people struggling to find and keep jobs, put food on their table and protect their families. The Republican Party is out of touch with the challenges American families are faced with, and quickly becoming more and more extremist and obstructionist. Gridlock in Washington is robbing a generation.

I would love to hear from you -- the People I wish to serve. Are you ready for change in Washington? Are you willing to fight for it? I hope so.

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