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The high winds of election season

Goodbye Labor Day and welcome to the stretch run of the political season. All the candidates are churning out the message, shaking hands, attending agricultural fairs, and either demanding of avoiding debates with their opponents depending on the relative posture of their polling numbers.

Shenna Bellows has walked the length of Maine, meeting voters, learning issues and personal stories, and speaking at every chance about the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed by the next Congress; Susan Collins has taken her campaign bus to many small towns and reaffirmed her long relationship with people she has represented for 18 years.

Political celebrities come to Maine, eat some lobster, and speak to their respective choirs to energize the base. New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie holds a $2,500 a ticket event to convince loyal Republicans that Paul LePage's re-election is vital to the future of the nation.

Former President Clinton speaks to a thousand-plus eager voters in Portland explaining why progress requires Congressman Mike Michaud be chosen to lead Maine for the next four years.

Bruce Poliquin tries to distance himself from the Tea Party, and Emily Cain seeks to convince voters of the second district that a woman's voice is best to represent their views in Washington.

Take a deep breath Maine voters. Hurricanes Arthur and Christobal may have missed us and passed out to sea, but the big winds of the political hurricane season will be a direct hit.

The big winners of the next two months are the television broadcasters who will schedule the saturation campaign of 30-second sound bites around every local news cast and every televised sporting event. Millions of dollars spent to persuade the perceived normal Mainer to support one candidate or another based on what each has or hasn't done in the past and how each will fight for us in the future.

Candidates control a portion of the advertising and are careful to state approval for the message at the end. A rapidly increasing pile of messages is distributed by outside groups hoping to influence our votes.

Fortunately long experience with sound bite advertising has created an attitude of skepticism toward television advertising; most viewers avoid the political ads as they avoid product commercials. An entire cottage industry of journalistic fact checking has grown up around the proliferation of political messaging. Every time a new ad appears, its claims are dissected and rated with Pinocchio noses or "pants on fire" flames.

Add to this candidate-support storm the citizens initiative propositions tsunami and one can become truly overwhelmed. Maine is fortunate that only the bear hunting regulations question appears on the ballot this year to stir controversy; the other six questions are all bond issues with laudable goals and will be voted up or down on predictable general attitudes about the purpose of government and incurring debt.

A large sum of advocacy funding has already been generated on the issue of bear hunting practices and certainly careful voters will know clearly what is at stake. Citizen initiatives are increasingly popular throughout the country and are generating a whole new problem for legislative action. Based on specific numbers of voter signatures, any issue can be brought to a vote. Minimum wage standards in a city or state, legalization of recreational use of marijuana, implementation of common core learning standards, even dividing California into six separate states. Many states are using initiatives to reform voting practices like redistricting, early voting, registration, and primary election procedures.

So we are all caught in the heavy weather of the political season and must struggle to keep the riptides of advertising and robocalls from sweeping us off our feet. Stay focused on the issues of economic fairness, protection of the environment, social justice and equal opportunity. Ask serious questions and demand direct answers, then make sure you are registered and vote. Make sure everyone you know does the same.

(One Man’s Island columnist Robert Libby of Chebeague Island is a teacher, writer, organic gardener, executive director of the Maine Center for Civic Education.)

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 17:55

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Armchair quarterbacks

When it comes to restaurant operations, everybody has ideas about how almost every place serving food and drink can do better, operate differently or run more efficiently. "Everybody" includes people currently in the business, people who have never been in the business and people who have always wanted to be in the business. Because I am all of the above, I have to sit with my back to the dining room whenever I go out to eat because charming dinner conversation evades me. ladd-natalie copy

In addition to my continuously roving eyes, it's hard to pay attention anyway (Look! A Squirrel.) As a textbook Virgo, this isn't surprising. I'm analytical, critical and fussy. I'm also loyal, loving to a fault when I trust someone and empathetic. But, hey, so is Bad Dog. The point is: Suggestions and opportunities for most restaurants and bars jump out at me.

Long ago, restaurant great Roger Bintliff unsubtly reminded me often to keep my big mouth shut unless my opinion was solicited. After a particularly heated conversation during brunch one Sunday morning, he turned to me. "It doesn't say Natalie's above that door, does it?" he said. Carrying a loaded tray with the best corned beef hash and veggie Benedicts to ever hit Portland, I stopped midway up the stairs. "Well! Maybe it should," I retorted.

We didn't speak for the rest of the day, and I felt terrible having a tantrum in front of a foyer of hungover people on a waiting list. Unlike other great chefs I've worked with, Roger was even-keeled with a dry sense of humor. I learned a great deal from him, and when I tearfully apologized later he left me with the following advice: "Don't ever lose your ability to see the big picture and the tiny details all at once. It's really a gift," he said. We hugged and to this day, I make a concerted effort not to give my two cents unless asked.

Luckily for me, my restaurant creative consulting team was discussing simple things various owners could or should do to improve their restaurants. Based upon that conversation, I'm thrilled to share the ones I agree with. While we named names and pointed fingers among ourselves, it isn't my style to do so in this column. Therefore, everything on this list won't apply to all establishments,

1) Unless you're the tiniest of places, have live acoustic music at least once a week. This is especially key if you have a patio or deck. No place is too ritzy or divey for live music. Many people will sing for their supper, and untapped talent can be found in the USM music department.

2) Offer a small tasting of a popular dessert. Better yet, offer a dessert sampler plate for tables of four or more. When one or both of those gold mines are implemented, let me know. I promise to shamelessly promote you.

3) It get's hot when we're busy running around the restaurant, but please, ban all tank tops or sleeveless dresses in your work place. Nobody wants to see armpits, no matter how cute the bartender reaching up for a martini glass may be. Maybe my creative consulting team is made up of stuffy Americans, but so be it.

4) Make sure all servers check their sections for rocky, uneven tables prior to the shift. As a rule, matchbooks no longer exist so call 1-800-Shuvit (Yes, I'm serious.) for a nice, rubber wedge designed for this very purpose. I've said it before, but why didn't I invent this thing?

5) It's a glue factory favorite, but if my entree is over $12 I want a linen napkin. Charge $12.25 if money is your excuse.

Plenty of other things made our list that pertained to staff training issues, shapes of plates, dining room layouts, icky bathrooms and obnoxious, oversized menus. We talked about lack of curb appeal, too much stuff set on the tables and much, much more. We also agreed that lots of places do things exceptionally right and agreed to make a list next time we all work together.

Even Virgos would rather celebrate when things are done right. This one promises to write about them.

The Down Low: Hats off to Chef James and the staff at the Frog and Turtle in Westbrook for the classy birthday card awaiting me this past Wednesday. Set on our table, it was hand signed by every staff member and is a classy touch I haven't seen elsewhere.

Wednesday was the perfect night to be dining at F&T with my best girlfriends and my daughters because we're all fans of live blues music. Check out their Facebook for a complete listing of entertainment and upcoming events.

(Natalie Ladd is a columnist for the Portland Daily Sun. She has over 30 continuous years of corporate and fine-dining experience in all front-of-the-house management, hourly and under-the-table positions. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 21:54

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Market Basket story adds spice to Labor Day

Seemingly on cue, this Labor Day weekend brings the heartwarming conclusion of our weeks-old Market Basket grocery store labor controversy, a narrative that gave loyal workers an unlikely victory over greedhead evil-mongers eager to destroy a humble CEO's legacy of humanity, dignity, truth, justice and the family-owned American way!
Perhaps I oversimplify. robinson-curtis-new
But compared to most media coverage, that's an understatement.
Batman villains have more sympathetic backstories that the relatives of Arthur T. Demoulas, the CEO ousted by his family. The resulting boycott and customer exodus eventually threatened to close 61 of the family's 71 stores, dragged elected officials into the fray and left many reporters all but waving pom-poms and knitting "Artie T" varsity sweaters.
Shirley Leung, a Globe staff business writer, said of the protesting workers "... we were riveted because we wanted to be them. These rebellious employees gave voice to the voiceless masses who just wanted to hold on to decent wages for a decent day's work at a time when fat cats get $50 million paychecks for showing up, and the gap between the rich and the poor is as gaping as ever."
Later, she says that "... there were rallies, posters, an anthem, and catchy slogans demanding his return. He made every CEO in America feel unworthy — and for good reason. The Good Arthur paid generously, knew employees by name, and acted like he cared about them."
Made every CEO in America feel unworthy? Fat chance.
But she articulates the narrative, especially now that the employees are returning to work. Because there's one thing about "wanting to be them," when "them" is out of work — we don't, not really.
The Globe also reported the story as "... the improbable success of the employees' grass-roots campaign, which included walk-outs, rallies, and more than a few online manifestos, stunned longtime observers of the grocery industry and captured the imagination and attention of a region."
The newspaper quoted David Lewin, professor of management at the University of California Los Angeles, saying, "To have an internal uprising of just about everyone, without a union, is very unusual in American industry ... and it's even more unusual for workers to say, 'We want this guy to come back' — and to have him actually come back.'"
It makes for the feel-good hit of the summer, and just in time for a holiday that signals the end of summertime and celebrates workers.
Face it. Like most holidays, Labor Day offers a chance to embrace your inner cynic.
After all, it was only created as the 19th century's version of presidential crisis control and designed to combat actual global worker organizing efforts. President Grover Cleveland, no fan of labor, signed the holiday into existence after sending the military into a Chicago labor strike (the Pullman Co. action against the American Railroad Union) where 34 workers were killed.
There was already a logical day to honor workers. The May 1 "May Day" was fairly global even then, but the communists and socialists were embracing that date to unite workers of the world, so the U.S. Labor Day was set for the first Monday in September.
Think of it as "if you like the Labor Holiday you have now, you can keep it."
Speaking of organized labor, we have moved from something like 40 percent union labor in the 1950s to less than 15 percent now. We live amid debates of the 1 percent, living wages, minimum wage hikes, regulatory impacts and nobody really knows why Wall Street is doing so well and the jobs recovery does so poorly.
Meanwhile, we have turned Labor Day into such a shopping frenzy that, ironically, many retail employees have to work extra — and retail is maybe 25 percent of our economy.
Cynical enough for ya?
So into that context marches the Market Basket story.
Sure, it's no doubt over-simplified and media-sweetened and even perhaps unfair to some of the folks involved. No doubt the coming details of the $1.5 billion deal that returns Arthur T. will surprise everyone, and maybe the stores take a while to return to normal.
But this Labor Day weekend, for some 25,000 workers and their families, the barbecue is going to be much sweeter. It's more than just a great "underdog wins" story, it's a story about standing up for something, about organizing as a community and "not taking it" anymore.
It's certainly about history, because business leaders will be talking about the Market Basket case for decades to come.
Mostly, though, it's about the power of labor, and just in time for its special day.

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

Last Updated on Friday, 29 August 2014 02:25

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Pack 'em up and push 'em out

Shipping our kids off to college is a mixed bag of emotions and financial stress. That, and the logistical details can be hellish to manage. ladd-natalie-new-col copy

Those of us with more than one child attending school may be faced with the problem of how to clone ourselves when required to be in two states on the same date. Others of us who are sending our kiddy collegiates far away may not be accompanying them on the adventure. This, I'm told by friends in the know, causes a good deal of empty nested separation anxiety, especially before freshman year.

Still, a lot of good stuff comes from the "pack 'em up and push 'em out" process. There's satisfaction for parents when we finally pull onto campus with the minivan stuffed to the gills. We get to meet the roommates, look closely at the showers, help unload bedding and see first hand how secretly excited our child is to be there. We stroll the campus, perhaps hitting the bookstore or taking them to a local grocery store for snacks and such. No matter what we do or see, one thing is for sure. They sincerely want us there, but they can't wait for us to leave.

For campus savvy returning students who already know their roomies, a sense of relief and familiarity oozes from their pores. As much as most kids enjoy coming home for the summer, the pull to go to college and continue their new lives is a powerful one. Not unlike a television series with fresh episodes starting in the fall, their cast of characters has been determined and subplots underway.

As cool as all of this apron-cutting is, for many it's still the aforementioned logistical nightmare of getting from point A to point B. Each academic institution calls the shots concerning the times and dates when differing grade levels can move in. If mom has to work or dad's out of town on business, tough luck. It takes an act of Congress to change the assigned time and it almost never happens. Believe me, I know.

Carlykardashian's swanky apartment-like dorm room check-in time is resolutely 2 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 1. Both of our Honda CRV's will be overstuffed as we make the almost three-hour drive south. Only one CRV and one driver will be returning to Maine after they are emptied of everything she owns.

That driver is obviously me, and because it will take at least two hours to unpack, I don't anticipate getting back on the road until 4:15-ish. Think about it. I'll be heading north from the south shore of Boston, just a short distance from the mass exodus that is Cape Cod, at 4:15 p.m. on Labor Day. Combine that with the non-stop head shaking motion I'll be making over leaving my daughter alone in her room with Frat Boy, and I'll be a mess.

On top of the road rage and head shaking, I'll be reminded of the fact I'm missing a lucrative shift at work. The Monday evening shift will be even more lucrative if the weather guys get it right and it thunderstorms as they've predicted. (Holidays are always busier in a restaurant if it rains. People can't grill out or picnic.) And what of those heavy rain, lightning and thunderstorms? We'll probably be driving down in them, unloading the cars in them, and, of course, I'll be stuck in traffic in them.

Last year, when I took Carlykardashian to school we early arrived on "freshman day" and lined up in a queue of cars. Once in line, we waited over an hour for our turn to crawl toward her dorm, and at the very moment we were given the thumbs up, the car battery died. Two future classmates pushed us out of the way and we waited for campus security to give us a jump. I had convinced myself that "Can you believe it?" incident would become a smile-making memory. Thus far, it hasn't.

While complaining to my BFF about the day of CK's departure, bad luck in the allotted time frames, the dangerous weather and the loss of income, she just looked at me and smiled. "None of that stuff is any different from anyone else's moving stuff, and it probably isn't even what's bothering you," she said. "Just own it. You're taking it even harder than last year with her. She was ready to go back to school in July."

As usual, my BFF was right. No matter what day, date, time, weather condition or winning scratch card came our way, dropping my youngest at school is never going to be easy. Maybe next year, I'll send her off alone, as if she were going to school in Alaska.

I'm sure I won't feel any better about her move that day, but at least I won't have to pay any tolls.

(Natalie Ladd is a staff columnist for The Portland Daily Sun who has spent the last two decades becoming empty nested. Although blindsided by the ordeal until her youngest graduated from high school, she is pleased to address all-and-any empty nested considerations, no matter how random they may be. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Last Updated on Friday, 29 August 2014 02:25

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A wilderness awakening

To those that know him, born and raised Portlander Chris Poulos is an inspiring story.
The good-natured, but often misguided kid that they remember growing up has truly turned his life around. The youngster who was once notorious around town for troublemaking has grown into a man who not only wants to make the most out of his own life, but also wants to help others reach their potential as well. shorr-chris
Poulos and I used to run in the same circles, and we had our share of late nights together getting into mischief when we were in our early 20s (which, amazingly was about a decade ago).
So when I ran into him last summer at Monument Square while collecting signatures to run for City Council, I was just as shocked to hear that he's now a student at Maine Law as he was to hear that I was seeking public office.
We talked for several minutes, and he told me that he also volunteers at the Youth Center in South Portland and works in a law office right downtown. As we parted ways, I remember the look on his face and thinking that something was different about him from the last time I had seen him years ago. It wasn't just that he seemed happier, or in (much) better shape, it was more than that. It was the way that he carried himself — he was confident, proud of who he was. And I was happy for him.
Fast forward about a year. In the middle of this August, Poulos decided he wanted to go on a 10-day solo journey into the 100 Mile Wilderness on the Appalachian Trail and finish on the summit of Mount Katahdin. The first time he climbed Katahdin was with his grandfather when he was a kid. Around the time of that adventure the cancer that would eventually take his beloved grandfather's life was beginning to creep through his body, unbeknownst to them at the time.
Poulos and I are connected through Facebook now, so when I saw his plan for the journey I immediately contacted him and asked if he'd be keeping a journal. He told me that he would be, and that he'd be happy to share his story with me to publish on my blog on the Bangor Daily News website.
He handwrote his journal in a small notepad, but I've transcribed the whole thing which you can find at tides.bangordailynews.com. It's quite the adventure, and it should be going up online at about the same time that this column hits newstands.
Over the course of his 10-day trip, Poulos hiked roughly 120 miles. He encountered dangerous river crossings, numerous wild animals, potentially deadly weather and painful injuries and wounds.
He also experienced a level of solitude and clarity that most of us only dream about as we stroll along with our faces in our smartphones. He saw endless scenes of natural beauty and sprawling landscapes that would make anyone feel small and introspective.
He also met incredible people who he will probably never see again, but the connections they made were so intense that he said by the end of the trip, "it felt like I had found my clan, my family."
He acquired the nickname (or trail name) of "Counselor," and his friends had names like "Phys Ed," "Tomahawk" and "Bacon-Dog."
He spent half the trip wishing the rain would stop, and only when he realized that perhaps the poor weather was part of his challenge — and accepted that possibility — did the sun come out.
He didn't simply find his way through the woods, he re-discovered the path that he wants to follow in life.
Reflecting on his return home he said, "Everyone keeps coming up to me telling me that I'm glowing. I feel like I was able to strip down several layers while I was out in the wilderness. Layers that everyone has, and that keep us from discovering the amazing balls of light that we all have inside of us."
It's an incredible story, and I hope you all take the time to read it.
Have a great week folks.

(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, 29 August 2014 02:26

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