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Maine media's reaction to a conference call expose

You know, the media in this state sure has a warped sense of ethics. There has been a barrage of criticism, both public and private, about the actions of Steve Robinson of The Maine Wire.

As you may recall, last week saw a sling of charges and counter charges from the leading liberal nonprofits in Maine (I call them the "Profiteers of poverty") and the liberal members of Maine's media who were simply outraged that Robinson had taped a conference call of a gaggle of these nonprofits. The nonprofits were using the call to strategize about a political ad from the Republican Governors' Association (RGA) that was having a negative impact on Congressman Mike Michaud's bid to be Maine's next governor. rayrichardson-ray

First and foremost, these nonprofits are taxpayer funded. Philosophically, we should not allow any taxpayer-funded entities to engage in direct political action, and their nonprofit status precludes them from doing so.
Some will argue that they are not taxpayer funded, but by the very nature of being a nonprofit, that means the rest of us pay more in taxes so they do not have to. The bottom line is, they were engaged in direct political activity. The call's sole purpose was to create an effective strategy to blunt the effectiveness the RGA ad.

Instead of the media focusing on that aspect of this scenario, they went on the attack against Robinson, attempting to undermine his credibility. They questioned his methods. They questioned his ethics. To top it off, Bill Nemitz of the Press Herald, in his column, called for Robinson to lose his regular column with the Press Herald.
Funny, he did not have the same outrage at Mike Tipping, a paid political operative of the Maine People's Alliance (whose organization was also on the conference call) when he published comments from a secretly taped meeting that Governor LePage had last fall. Tipping bragged about having people everywhere. No condemnation from Bill or from other members of the media and certainly no call for Tipping to lose his column in the Press Herald. Sort of ironic that Donald Sussman funds both the Portland Press Herald and the Maine People's Alliance. I will leave any conclusions about that point to you.

The media will now say that LePage is the governor and everything he does is fair game. Okay, I will buy that as long as these liberal members of the media also acknowledge that government employees were on this strategy call and that makes the conference call fair game.

Face it, these liberals in the media want things the way they want them and whenever someone upsets their apple cart, they circle the wagons and attempt to destroy whomever got out of line.

The second point is really the only point. The media is silent about what these nonprofits were doing. They were completely in the wrong. Instead, the ire was focused on what Robinson did and there was no focus on what the Profiteers of poverty were doing.

Why was the Catholic Dioceses of Portland involved in the call? Why were they participating in a call with other nonprofits that was plotting a political strategy to combat a political ad in a governor's race? The Catholic Church is supposed to be a moral voice in the wilderness, yet a few years back, they remained silent in the gay marriage debate, but now they are jumping into a strategy session to combat an ad in the governor's race? The Church has been losing people in the pews for many years. Maybe they ought to rethink their priorities.

Funny ... if a conservative were to get up in their pulpit and advance the conservative ideology, the liberals would be all over their nonprofit status, seeking to have it revoked as they have done in other similar situations around the nation.

One former Speaker of the House in Maine thought I was all wet last week for referring to these groups as the "Profiteers of poverty." This Speaker said these groups feed and clothe the poor, see that children get vaccinations and help ensure Head Start is available to disadvantaged kids. This is their mission and I was wrong.

My response was simple. I thought it was the taxpayers of Maine who funded those programs that helped the poor. I was unaware that Maine Equal Justice Partners was paying for it. In fact, I thought Maine Equal Justice Partners was actually partially funded by the taxpayers.

I also asked an important question. Maine's government has been ruled by Liberal Democrats for 40 of the last 42 years. If Liberals in the Legislature were all about the poor, concerned about social justice and economic parity, WHY did they need groups like Maine Equal Justice Partners to tell them how to spend the taxpayers money? Were the Liberal Legislators so cold-hearted toward the poor they would not have funded social welfare programs, provided money for public education, supported vaccinations for impoverished children and so on without the guidance of these nonprofits?

Let's face it. Maine Equal Justice Partners and the others on the conference call were exposed for what their real mission is. They are one of many strategic wings of the Maine Democratic Party. They and groups like them stuff the committee rooms on public hearing days with Maine's most vulnerable to tug on the heartstrings of legislators, exploiting these people for political gain.

Groups like these have been running the show in Augusta for years. Their efforts keep Democrats in power and the elected Democrats do their bidding in exchange for the electoral support.

The reason those on the Left are so mad at Robinson is not because he listened in and taped their conference call. They are mad because he was fierce enough to take them on, not back down, and expose them for what they really are.

(Ray Richardson is the host of the Ray Richardson show, heard weekday mornings from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the flagship station 1310AM News/Talk WLOB in greater Portland and the LOB Statewide Lobster Radio Network. He can also be found at wlobradio.com and rayrichardson.net.)

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:09

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What about Bill for Beer Week?

The story has already been picked up by The Portland Press Herald, all the local news stations, and even Boston Magazine — to name a few.9-19-14-oped-CS-beer
I've also covered it in my blog for The Bangor Daily News and for my new column in The West End News, but I've still decided to write about it in this week's From the Margins column as well.
See, the story is just too cool, too unique, too community inspired, too ingenius for me to resist writing about it for the third time this week.
Portland Beer Week is set to kick off on Nov. 5, and one of Portland's favorite local bartenders has come up with a way to lure none other than comedy icon Bill Murray to town.
Shahin Khojastehzad, co-owner and manager of local watering hole Novare Res Biere Cafe, started a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #BillMurrayBeerWeekMe in an effort to get Murray's attention and convince him to make an appearance. shorr-chris
About a week ago, Khojastehzad, a friend of mine since high school, tagged anyone he knows with media connections in a Facebook post explaining the idea. Within hours the story was making waves, garnering enormous community support and constant requests by people like me for interviews and photo ops.
According to Khojastehzad, the idea started as a late night conversation over beers with coworkers after a shift months ago. The question was proposed, "if Bill Murray were a beer, what beer would he be?"
They came up with names like "Pils Murray," "Rushmore Red," and "Darjeeling Tea IPA," but as most late-night moments of brilliance do, the idea was largely forgotten by the next morning's coffee.
Khojastehzad didn't entirely forget about the conversation, though, and as he said, "It started off as a joke, but at some point a switch just went off in my head."
So the idea, which is still gaining steam each day, is to get all the local breweries to create a unique "Bill Murray Beer" of their own, and serve it at Portland Beer Week. What started out as a handful of interested breweries has turned into a stampede of beer makers from as far away as Boston.
Breweries like Maine-based Allagash, Banded Horn, Maine Beer Company, Oxbow, and Bissell Brothers have been joined by out-of-staters like New Hampshire's Smuttynose and Massachusetts' Cambridge Brewing Company to contribute with beers like "Lost in Fermentation," "Groundhog Day IPA," "Rauchmore," and "Broken Flowers IPA" which will be brewed specifically for the event.
Now you might be wondering how the heck something as random and unplanned as this is going to lure one of the most famous actors in the world to our neck of the woods, but Murray is actually known for things like this. A quick Google search of "Bill Murray encounters" will result in endless stories and pictures of the star doing things like crashing random bachelor parties, kickball games, construction sites and karaoke bars.
My personal favorite is the story told by a man who was sitting in a McDonald's one random day. Murray approached the astonished man as he was eating his lunch, and without saying a word, grabbed a handful of the man's french fries and stuffed them in his mouth. Murray then turned to walk away, but first looked over his shoulder and said, "No one will ever believe you."
On top of the support from all the breweries, local hotels have offered Murray free rooms, several bars and restaurants have agreed to screen different Murray movies, local artists are creating Murray-inspired works, and there's even talk of him being provided a golf cart to be chauffeured around from bar to bar ("Caddyshack" is my all-time favorite movie, so the idea of Murray on a golf cart in the Old Port has me beyond excited).
One of the other very cool aspects to this story is that if Murray does in fact show up, which is starting to look like a very real possibility, proceeds from the "Bill Murray Beers" will go to a charity of Murray's choosing.
So if the idea of raising your glass with Bill Murray is one that excites you, too, hop on your Twitter or Facebook account and tell Bill why he should come to Portland. Remember to use #BillMurrayBeerWeekMe, and then start thinking of your favorite Murray character — because whether he shows up or not, Murray-inspired costumes will be encouraged in bars across Portland on Nov. 5.
Let's cross our fingers and hope he shows up, but either way Portland Beer Week looks to be a great time for all.
Said Khojastehzad, "Portland Beer Week isn't just about one entity in Portland, it's about all of Maine coming together under one banner, having a good time, and celebrating beer."
I'll toast to that.

(Chris Shorr is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta. He blogs at tides.bangordailynews.com and writes this column for the Weekend Edition of The Portland Daily Sun. Contact Chris by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)


Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:08

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The deal on fuel prices

Leading into the upcoming midterm elections, we contemplate a future weaned off of fossil fuels, and the price of gas remains in the public spotlight. Halkias-Telly

Over the years this has been on readers' minds. Having had a chance to write on the subject, I've collected a short list of their questions this week, with some answers:

Question: When a barrel of crude oil was $140, the price of a gallon of gas was $4-plus. So when crude oil dips down to $90 a barrel, shouldn't gas be just over $2 a gallon?

Answer: Not necessarily. The pricing of light sweet crude follows certain conventions. Other than insider circles or business news, what the public sees is a number that represents the wholesale price per barrel.

What's less emphasized are the words which address the timing of fuel release. For example, a barrel of oil was quoted by one energy source as: "Thursday, September 18, 2014: NYMEX Light Sweet Crude Oil for November delivery closed down $0.89 at $92.32 per barrel."

That's a lot of verbiage to digest — much of it irrelevant. What's pertinent, however, is the phrase "for November delivery."

Oil prices are determined on futures markets, which are speculative. A future is a financial contract obligating a buyer or seller to deal a commodity at an agreed upon future date and price.

When a wholesale distributor buys bulk fuel from a supplier, that price was fixed months before delivery. By the time it is available for distribution to retailers, any interim flux in crude oil quotes will not influence contemporaneous gas station prices. And the retailer's profit is about a penny or two per gallon – if that.

Question: Years ago, diesel fuel was always less as a gallon of gas. Why is it now the same or more per gallon?

Answer: Several reasons. First, diesel has indeed surged in price past that of gasoline, so there actually has been divergence from the historical pattern suggested above.

Next, consider the pricing fundamentals of diesel. Two-thirds of what you pay at the pump consists of the crude diesel quote for time of delivery. Then one-fifth covers the cost of refining, and one-tenth is taxes. What remains is 5 percent devoted to distribution and marketing.

As with gasoline, the retail profit is a few cents per gallon.

The current fluctuation vis-à-vis gas has more to do with these breakdowns rather than with gasoline itself. While world demand, particularly in the U.S., has fallen more recently, certain elements of diesel pricing continue to influence its retail rate.

Most importantly, in this country, the move to ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel has affected production and distribution costs. Refining and subsequent transportation expenses have increased. The latter is important, as locations farthest from the Gulf Coast - which produces 50 percent of U.S diesel - are hit hard as a proportion of its final price.

New England is one of those places.

Also, the federal excise tax on diesel fuel is 6 cents higher (24.4 cents to 18.4 cents) per gallon than the tax on gasoline. Ratchet up diesel's logistical costs, throw in a higher tax and the result is more expensive diesel.

Question: Gas and oil prices have always gone down before a national election since the 1960s. Will prices jump after the election?

Answer: Anything is possible, and we may see an upward bump in 2015. But going down before an election is one thing; collapsing at record rates as the current prices is quite another.

Prices should hold steady, especially if Americans continue cutbacks on their driving, and find alternative sources to heat their homes. OPEC's tendency to slash production of barrels per day has to be considerable to stop any downward spiral of crude's price – though it has been known to do it, with mixed results.

Such a cut in barrels, at this late date, are still for November (read: post-election) and later delivery. If anything, any reaction to OPEC emphasizes the drop in global fuel demand at a time of flux in trading exchanges. It also means that if market volatility resumes, speculators who thrive in futures should bail out, leaving little cause for higher wholesale prices.

So that's the deal on fuel. Drive a little less. Use some electric heat. We've already made a difference. It all adds up, or in this case, down.

(Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. You may contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or follow him on Twitter at @TellyHalkias. He blogs at fromthestacks.bangordailynews.com.)

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:11

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Attack ads at work

Television commercials have two times when they rise to become true art forms.
The first, of course, is during the Super Bowl, when famous directors and corporate creative talent join forces, hopefully to gain fame but sometimes to hasten the demise of Radio Shack. The other is during the "political season," which, of course, is in full swing. robinson-curtis-new
For years, I was alone in watching Super Bowl ads, pleading for silence while others babbled about the actual game. This was art-meets-commerce porn but it took years to gain mainstream acceptance.
It is likewise with political ads.
And by "political ads," we, of course, mean "attack ads" because who cares about those soft "get to know me" spots?
Many denounce the attack ads, pointing out that that the United Kingdom bans TV ads from its national elections. Granted, it takes great leadership to protect your voters from 30-second TV spots, if only because you're admitting your voters are too childlike and stupid to dismiss the commercials outright.
Ah, but they do work.
The fact is everyone knows why, but there's only one real rule of politics: You can't blame the voter.
If you could, then somebody would be pointing out that when we say "they bought the election" or "corporate money is destroying our elections" we'd also admit that it's because voters fall for those attack ads the way kids fall for sugary cereal: They are the Count Chocula of public discourse.

Social media fans might like to believe this is somehow changing, and that our personal networks will overcome the old-media ads. Really? With something like 70 percent of all political advertising money going to attack ads?
Here's what you will NOT hear at campaign HQ:
"Good news, we have another million bucks to spend getting our message out!"
"Great! Let's expand our website, Tweet every 6 minutes and expand the financial plan white paper to 100 pages, and, heck, let's flesh out the draft of our jobs bill! This will really pin that SOB opponent to the wall!"
They are going to see if the TV station will return their calls, not that they're going to have much time left to sell.
(And when you insiders note that the U.S. Supreme Court opened the flood gates with unlimited spending from non-campaign groups, don't forget that federal regulations limit how much actual campaigns can be charged. But not those independent groups.)
Once you see the light, it really helps to understand how to watch the ads.
First, the basic rule of political attack ads is that you have two separate but equal elements: the image and the sound, which includes words also music and effects. The snow leopards of the industry understand that, at all times, one of those two elements must be misleading.
Critics might contend that the ads "lie," but that is seldom the case. The classic tactic of vote-counting shows why: Say your opponent voted in committees or other procedures for a new tax, only to vote against the tax at the end — maybe because of amendments or a change of heart.
Darn, no tax-increase vote?
You just track those preliminary votes and say "... he voted 17 times in favor of laws to increase YOUR taxes." Let the opponent respond that he voted before it then voted against it — because that always works. Or maybe the words are fairly truthful, and the target really does support nuclear energy, but maybe that mushroom cloud over your town might be photo-shopped?
All serious political wonks should embrace the work of John G. Geer, who wrote a book called "In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns."
He argues that negative ads raise vital political issues and actually give voters critical information.
That's where you can learn just how important it is that sound and image work together.
Like that famous "Dukakis tank" ad, which featured the candidate in an ill-fitting helmet riding in a tank. The GOP used the campaign's own footage and stressed that Reagan favored more military spending — but at the end, you can hear Governor Dukakis grinding the gears in the tank — how inept, and it really drove home the point that this guy didn't have any business in that tank.
Except tanks don't have gears like that. The GOP dubbed in the familiar sound of an 18-wheeler gears.
See? With the right eyes and ears the ads can become even more interesting than the actual election, just like the Super Bowl ads oven out-shine the big game.
Just don't confuse Count Chocula with nutrition.

(Curtis Robinson is the founding editor of The Portland Sun.)


Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:12

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TechWalk 2014 expected to be major event for MTI

The Maine Technology Institute, based in Brunswick, is an industry-led, publicly funded nonprofit that promotes the creation of new jobs and the attraction of new private investment in innovative technologies across a variety of sectors including forestry, agriculture and information technology.9-19-14-oped-Whitney

The director of MTI is appointed by the governor and is an employee of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

MTI, as you may have heard, recently experienced a change in leadership. In the coming weeks and months, the MTI Board of Directors will work in collaboration with the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development and the LePage Administration to identify a nominee to serve as director of MTI. That nominee will be presented to the Maine Legislature for confirmation in early 2015.

In the interim, I have been designated to serve as acting director of this enormously important job-generating entity. In this capacity, I am working with MTI's exceptional staff and board to maintain steady and effective operations and to ensure that the organization continues to help entrepreneurs and businesses fund and grow their enterprises utilizing MTI's financing programs, and to connect them to resources and assistance available through our partner organizations.

Undeniably, just as it has since 1999, MTI will continue to function as a vital lynchpin to helping to encourage, promote, stimulate and support research and development activity leading to the commercialization of new products and services in Maine. MTI's role is critical to the long-term development of Maine's research, development and commercialization infrastructure. Precious state resources must continue to be invested with job creation and new private revenue as the ultimate goal. That is unmistakably what Maine taxpayers deserve and expect.

There is little question, of course, that MTI has had a momentous and enduring impact on Maine's economy over the years. MTI has invested nearly $180 million in over 1,500 Maine companies and has helped create thousands of quality jobs throughout the State of Maine. Our state has many well performing clusters, and investments must continue to be made in new technology to achieve meaningful and maximum growth opportunities.

To help celebrate MTI and the role it plays in the successes of Maine companies, MTI will, once again, convene TechWalk — the organization's signature event that showcases its many portfolio companies, partners and advocates. TechWalk 2014, which takes place on Thursday, Oct. 2 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, is expected to be MTI's largest and most successful event ever. Over 90 of MTI's portfolio companies and partners are expected to exhibit and close to 1,000 people are projected to attend.

On behalf of MTI's Board of Directors and staff, the LePage Administration, our portfolio companies, strategic partners, and the many lawmakers who have supported the organization since 1999, I am pleased to guide the organization through this transition period and ask that you please join MTI at TechWalk 2014 to celebrate Maine's remarkable innovators and entrepreneurs.

(Brian Whitney is the director of business development and innovation for the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development and is serving as acting director of the Maine Technology Institute.)

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 01:12

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