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On Election Day 2012

November 6, 2012

Maine has one of the highest voter participation rates in America

It’s 1:00 PM Eastern Time in Old Orchard Beach, Maine and I’ve been at our local polling place (OOB HS) since 6:00 AM. It’s a crispy bright autumn day and the turnout has been wonderful.

I’m grateful that so many have taken the time to engage in the single most important facet of American citizenry – exercising their right to vote.

This year, national, state and local elections are hotly contested. Rhetoric is explosive and, unfortunately, sometimes contemptible. Yet tomorrow will be another day. The sun will rise regardless of the results of today’s voting and folks will go on with their lives.

And on that new day, Americans of all political persuasions need to remember a quote from one of our Founding Fathers which has somehow been lost in the battle of words:

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” -Thomas Jefferson.

Remember that tomorrow and every day thereafter.

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Elect People, not Parties

November 3, 2012

Election Day 2012 will be another defining moment in our national history, but an even more important moment on a state and local level.

Whatever your political convictions are, casting your votes for a particular party is, at best, a convenience and, at worst, a grave mistake.

Here in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, three candidates are running for our seat in the Maine House of Representatives. One has the Republican Party line, one has the Democratic line … and then there’s me. It’s the first time in our district’s history that there’s be a a candidate certified by the Maine Secretary of State to run as a Write-In candidate – without a political party endorsement.

Last week, our town held a Candidates’ Forum where each of us appeared on our local community television station to answer questions submitted from our neighbors. You can click here to see the unedited video from that night.

I’ve received a lot of comments from folks on the street this week. Many were surprised at what they saw. Some disappointed that there wasn’t more time for question. Everyone was pleased that they had to opportunity to see each of us delivering unrehearsed answers to unexpected questions.

It isn’t so much about winning and losing, the point is that the best voter is an informed voter, and reading campaign literature predigested by a political party is a poor way to decide who will represent you.

This weekend, most newspapers will be carrying profiles of the candidates running in your area. Read them before you vote.

It’s not about Parties … its about People.

Able To Do: Conversations on Walden

May 25, 2012

You’re Invited!

Thoreau … On Happiness.

Next Wednesday, May 30 (weather permitting) between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, I will be hosting the first in a series of public conversations about politics, the economy and general concerns of the voters in Old Orchard Beach. They will be unstructured gatherings (think lawn party with a purpose) to explore ideas for a better future for our Town and our State.

The address is 8 Walden Avenue, Old Orchard Beach, ME

Please stop by, everyone is welcome. Questions/Directions – email me at

CrisEdwardJohnson@gmail.com

No Income Taxes in Maine? Seriously?

April 24, 2012

Expecting something from your government for nothing is a bad idea.

Illusion as a Political Art Form

Recently, propped up by public announcements from Maine’s Republican Governor Paul Lepage, The Maine Heritage Policy Center (the leading “free-market” think-tank in Maine) has announced that it will be rolling out a “solid plan” to arrive at “Zero Income Taxes” in Maine. This is not only a misguided idea, it avoids addressing some uncomfortable economic realities.

As costs rise, income taxes are an increasing burden. Reducing government expenses with care is important, but so is maintaining revenues to provide essential services.

By reducing revenues derived from state income taxes to the level that existed in 1994 (as they propose) there would be a gigantic gain in the pockets of many Maine citizens, yet the savings to particular individuals would depend upon where they fall on the income curve.

More importantly, this suggestion ignores another essential reality: the costs associated with government services would not revert to what they were 18 years ago absent divine intervention.

The result, unfortunately, would be the impossibility of delivering those services without dramatic increases in some other income flow. Folks forget that states without an income tax have either another source of revenue to sustain government service or have substandard services.

You can’t have it both ways.

Only seven states (not nine, as they claim) have no income tax. Tennessee and New Hampshire both tax interest and dividend income. Additionally, Texas and New Hampshire make up the shortfall by having some of the highest real property taxes the nation. Alaska reaps it’s revenues from one source: the oil business. Nevada has gambling. It’s a simplistic view that holds that folks who live in states without income taxes pay less overall to fund their state government absent a sugar-daddy. Would we, for example, invoke a “View Tax” on Maine property owners as they do in New Hampshire, or Texas’ “MUD” tax?

Already strained by cuts in funding, without income tax revenues or some new source of funds, Maine’s ability to allocate money to infrastructure maintenance and repair, education, essential health services, public safety, administrative and judicial services and environmental and recreational resources would collapse.

So exactly where are the dollars necessary to balance Maine’s budget going to come from assuming providers of goods and services to the government aren’t going to agree to drop their pricing to 1994 levels?

I look forward to reviewing The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s proposal.

History in a Closet

April 20, 2012

 

Somewhere is Augusta, Maine, a modern masterpiece has been hidden in disgrace by Maine’s Republican Governor, Paul LePage. The story of the Taylor Murals is worth telling at a time when a battle rages between the power of business and the dignity of labor.

Governor LePage was adamant from the outset that our state must become more “business friendly.” And, in a sense, he’s right. Vibrant business is a vital component of any economy. But in his zeal, he’s forgotten something.

The Taylor murals depict the history of the labor movement in Maine and were commissioned as a work of public art to be displayed for the benefit of the people of Maine.

Shortly after assuming office as Governor in 2011, Paul LePage announced that he had received an anonymous email complaining that artist Judy Taylor’s mural (which had been installed in the lobby of the Department of Labor in our capitol city) wasn’t business friendly and ordered the work removed.

In the ensuing year great controversy arose, protests took place, the national media took note and lawsuits flew in all directions.

The Governor stood firm by his decision, refusing even to divulge the whereabouts of this testament to the struggle of Maine workers and the legendary figures of Maine politics whose images adorned the work.

My suspicion has always been that a mural depicting life in the mills of Lewiston/Auburn caused the Governor intense personal pain. Growing up as the son of an abusive mill worker in Lewiston, Maine undoubtedly colored his perceptions, yet the fact that the shoe workers’ strike of 1937 (a major image within the work) was supported by 5,000 out of 6,000 workers certainly establishes it as a significant historical event in the story of labor in Maine.

Today I read that a replica of our Labor Mural will be touring in other states and that gave me some pride as a Mainer, yet I’m saddened that the original has been shuffled away to some dark closet in Augusta by the flippant order of a single man.

Judy Taylor’s work graphically illustrates not only the experience of those shoe mill workers, but of shipbuilders, woodsmen, paper mill workers, craftsmen and artisans, the casting of the first anonymous ballot in Maine and many famous faces of Maine Labor including our revered Francis Perkins (U.S. Secretary of Labor and the first woman ever appointed to a U.S. Cabinet position).

Yet behind this small story there is another, more important lesson.

We seem to have lost our way in the understanding of the importance of American labor to the American economic recovery. American union workers, especially public sector workers, have become the scapegoats of the Republican Party.

For me, the Taylor mural represents an essential economic and social truth that has escaped the Governor and his pundit supporters. While owners with their capital may be the captains of business, workers are the engine that provides the steam to make it run. Being worker hostile is not business friendly.

I hope you’re faring well, dear Maine Labor Mural. Perhaps the next time you see the light of day it will be in a more “people friendly” environment where you can tell your story with the dignity it deserves.

Perhaps the grand new lobby of the Portland International Jetport would suit you better.

Self Interest: There’s a Donkaphant In The Room

September 10, 2011

America is tired of the side-show. Here are some truths:

Any institution that values its own interests above the interests of the population it serves is bad.

A governmental agency devoted to generating work for its employees is bad

A business devoted more to making profits for its owners than to providing quality goods and responsibly valuable services to its consuming public is bad.

The real question is not whether big business is bad or big government is bad. Neither is intrinsically evil. The more important question is: How does a society protect against the irresponsibility of both while assuring prosperity for all?

For as long as this nation has existed, a strong but mostly rational debate on the topic has raged. There has been an ebb and flow of sentiment and shifting legislation from national and state legislatures trying to find balance.

These days, however, howling voices of condemnation in our legislative halls seem to have missed the point on both fronts yet managed to polarize the American public and effectively shut down our way of life. Balance, it seems, is no longer the objective.

Some pontificate about government announcing indignantly that what we have is not what the Founding Fathers really intended (as if they knew). Others proclaim with rigid indignation that capitalism is somehow a draconian system designed by sadists who enjoy enslaving the cowering masses of workers (and they do it with a straight face). The victim of this disingenuous argument has been the most successful economy the world has ever seen and the very people who made it work: you and me.

I have my own theories about how this all got started, but they’re my theories and the genesis of the problem isn’t the problem. Pointing fingers at the past won’t move America productively into the future, but each group of representatives is so entrenched in it’s own paranoia that discussion is impossible. Forget about finding consensus, the order of the day is to find the devil in every detail the other side proposes.

Barack Obama is an interesting character. He entered the White House like a homeowner returning to New Orleans after Katrina. There was quite a mess to clean up. He’s spent the past several years trying to make it liveable again with some success, but not enough to please either side.

This Thursday he tried again, admirably, to get the conversation back to a productive middle and away from the edges of what can be reasonably expected in such a backbiting political environment. The Left is angry. The Right is angry. They volley and thunder. But where does it get us as a nation?

The American economy is a business trying to get started again. So give it a chance. Stop sitting on the leader who was elected to get things done and just give it chance. It may be instructive, at this point, to consider that more business start-ups fail because of indecision than bad decisions.

What the Donkaphants don’t consider is that their profound self-interest is squeezing us all out of the room and we’re the ones who bought their tickets to their circus.

Shorting America

July 12, 2011

Three weeks from today, one of two things will have happened and either way a few people will make a hell of a lot of money and score some huge political point.

As the political pundits, serious journalists and the general population speculate on whether the United States Congress will authorize an increase to the Federal debt limit (a necessary and normally simple process), there are wagers being made by the few who understand financial and political reality and aren’t ashamed to take advantage of that knowledge at the expense of the rest of us.

The same people who grabbed windfall profits betting against markets a few years ago (and were richly rewarded both by governments and market recoveries) are shorting” America and perhaps the entire global economic structure.

There is not a single rational economic argument to be advanced in favor of permitting the United States to default on it’s debt obligations. None, unless blind greed or political nihilism is your objective.

Yet someone like Eric Cantor, with a straight face, is trying to do just that because he understands the political reality of the position he’s secured for himself in American politics.

Cantor is not stupid. He attended the prestigious preparatory Collegiate School in Richmond, received his B.A. from Georgetown University and followed that up with a J.D. from William & Mary Law School backstopped by a Master of Science from Columbia. He’s a well-educated man, but more importantly, he’s crafty.

Cantor has emerged as the leading voice for the continued support of the G.O.P. within a community defined by reactionary self-interest and the dismantling of governmental programs (local, state and federal) which provide for the general well-being of all U.S. inhabitants. He employs super-patriotic slogans and defines words like “citizenship” and “constitutional” with a tortured appeal to what I find to be a really distasteful elitism.

I suspect that his motivation in all of this is not only to secure his continued re-election in Virginia’s strongly conservative 7th district (where he’s trounced every opposition candidate since 2000); but worse, because he knows that it means prosperity pocketbooks of those who’s financial success depends upon his continued quest, and perhaps his own.

In the process, Mr. Cantor’s personal gaming hasn’t gone without notice. His wife, Diana Cantor (a lawyer and C.P.A.) is the Managing Director of the Virginia branch of Emigrant Bank’s wealth-management division, called Virginia Private Bank & Trust, which targets an ultra-rich clientele. Eric, meanwhile, has been Washington’s strongest supporter of the Republican stonewalling of tax code revisions that would require income earned by hedge fund managers to be taxed at normal marginal rates (like the rest of us) rather than the current flat 15% rate.  This single, largely unknown hiccup in the Internal Revenue Code steals billions (yes, billions) of dollars every year from the U.S. Treasury. It’s currently a perfectly legal wealth management tool. And it’s perfectly indefensible.

Should reasonable voices fail in stemming the tide of this Quixotic mission, you can bet that Eric Cantor and those like Paul Ryan who subscribe to it will not suffer. Neither at the polling place nor in their portfolios.
Shorting America, it appears, is a reliable way for some to hedge their bets.