Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Adult Children of America


When my parents were born, Americans took care of themselves. They didn’t depend on government to feed them, clothe them, house them, or pay their doctor bills. If they fell on hard times, they got temporary help from family, friends, church, or private charity - none of whom were obligated to help, but who did so out of human compassion. Now, millions of Americans - perhaps even a voting majority - cannot imagine life without government paying for all their basic needs from birth to death. Obama’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the other day: “We write 80 million checks a month. There are millions and millions of Americans that depend on those checks coming on time.”

When Americans got help from family, friends, church, or private charity, they tended to be grateful. They were motivated to give back after getting past their hard times. Both giver and receiver got something out of the dynamic. Extended families became closer. Bonds were strengthened. Communities were fortified. Americans today, however, feel entitled to whatever assistance they get from government. They don’t even know who contributed the revenue they receive and don’t care either. They may not even know who their next-door neighbors are. All they know is, a check comes in the mail. This kind of big-government “assistance” doesn’t strengthen us as a nation. It weakens us at every level.

What happened? How did we become a nation of dependents in only three generations? It began with FDR’s New Deal, expanded with LBJ’s Great Society, and now is disintegrating under BHO’s (Barack Hussein Obama’s) Devastating Debacle. These were Democrat Administrations constantly expanding the scope of government and its cost. They’ve changed us from a nation of independent citizens into a nation of dependent children afraid of life without the indulgent-parent government taking care of us cradle to grave - adult children of the nanny state.

Between the above administrations, Republicans have either made half-hearted attempts at dismantling big-government entitlements, or actually expanded them as George W. Bush did with his prescription-drug benefit. Federal and state governments are going bankrupt because they cannot afford to pay for the promises they’ve made since the 1930s. The money simply isn’t there, and won’t be there in the future either.

Take Social Security for instance. Passed during FDR’s New Deal in 1935, it was designed as a trust fund people pay into all their working lives and then draw from it when they retire. Americans visualize it as a pile of money built up by millions of citizens. Al Gore counted on that illusion when he promised to put it all in a “lock box” while running for president eleven years ago, but there is no pile of money. Government has already spent it all - every last cent - around $2.6 trillion. Last week, President Obama inadvertently admitted as much when he warned that, unless Congress raised the debt ceiling beyond $14.3 trillion by August 2nd, he couldn’t send out Social Security checks August 3rd - “because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it." The only things Al Gore would have been able to put in his lock box were piles of IOU’s from the federal government.

Most of the federal budget is spent on social programs and interest on the debt, not on defense or infrastructure. The federal government has largely become a vehicle to suck money out the wallets of Americans who work so as to send checks to people who don’t. The former group is dwindling and the latter group is growing. At some level, we understand that this cannot go on forever. Yet, still, we borrow trillions from the rest of the world, and when they balk at lending us more, we simply print it.

“Progressives” in the White House and Congress insist that if the rich would pay more of what they earn, the gravy train could continue for everyone else. This kind of class warfare rhetoric is the progressive stock-in-trade. Yet even if “the rich” were taxed at 100%, there would still be mounting deficits passed on to our children and grandchildren to pay back. Nonetheless, President Obama stokes the fires of class envy by repeating the mantra of “corporate jet owners” at least six times in just one press conference June 30th. Granny and Grampy are starving because rich people fly jets. America’s adult children don’t want to take care of Granny and Grampy themselves anymore. They’d rather put aging parents in nursing homes and let government pay.Lee speaking for the Congressional Black Caucus

Left-wing progressives refuse to acknowledge the borrowing and spending must stop, that government cannot continue supporting a nation of dependent adult children. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), for example, blames Tea Party conservatives in the House for “manufacturing” the debt crisis because they’re calling attention to it - because they’re insisting that there be real cuts to unsustainable, pie-in-the-sky, entitlement programs. According to Lee and the millions of Americans who think as she does, the problem isn’t progressives like her who spend us into insolvency, the problem is with conservatives who make us face up to it. They don’t want anybody pointing out that we’re about to go off the cliff if we don’t reverse course.From Gateway Pundit

America was founded on the principle that “We’re endowed by our Creator with . . . rights . . . to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We’re not guaranteed happiness - only the pursuit of it. We’re not children and government isn’t our mommy or daddy. It’s time those among us who don’t understand that to grow up, and soon.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monhegan Maine Mystique

There’s something about an island, any island. Maine has lots of them and that’s part of its mystique. I’d been hearing how picturesque Monhegan was and my wife had been suggesting for years we make a visit. There’s a ferry to the island from New Harbor, Maine and we spent a sunny day out there a couple of weeks ago.Monhegan, near the harbor

On the journey over, the ferry captain told us - twice - to use the bathrooms on the boat before arriving so as not to have to use island facilities “And, bring your trash back when we pick you up because you won’t find trash cans there,” he added. As a former selectman in a small Maine town, that put me in mind of disposal issues every municipality has to deal with, which would be more challenging on an island of little more than a square mile. There are only 75 people there year-’round, but over 1200 in summer. Thousands of day-trippers like me would add to the burden.Manana Island from Monhegan

It was a perfect July day, sunny and not too hot. I could see why painters have been attracted to Monhegan for more than a century, including Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Jamie Wyeth. Wyeth commented recently that “Maine is very emblematic. But what interests me is to go deeper, to go beyond cuteness and prettiness to get to the angst of which there is a lot in Maine.”Waiting for the New Harbor Ferry

Emblematic of cuteness, prettiness and angst? Is that part of Maine and Monhegan mystique too?Kevin Beers' "After the Last Boat - 5pm"

I had enough time to check out one gallery and, though I don’t know much about painting, works by contemporary Monhegan artist Kevin Beers impressed me most. He’s a realist and I like what he does with color and light. Wish I could have afforded to buy one of his paintings, but it cost $2000.Monhegan on the eastern horizon

I’d been looking at Monhegan while staying in New Harbor, beautiful against the distant eastern horizon. It’s even prettier getting closer from the water. Soon I noticed four-inch, cast-iron sewage pipes leading directly into the sea over the seaweed-covered rocks. I wondered how they got away with that. Later I learned they have a special exemption from the state. Electricity comes from a diesel generator.Monhegan, looking northwest

Walking around, I was thoroughly charmed by the ocean views visible over rooftops from its many hillsides. There was something special about the lighting and I wondered if all that ocean around reflected it in some different way. I don’t know, but I was inspired to take more than 230 shots. Then I was thinking like Wyeth that it can’t all be this beautiful, and I began looking for an underbelly.Lobstering gear

I noticed the newer lobster traps made with plastic-wrapped wire weren’t as appealing as the old wooden ones that aged so nicely, and they were stacked up in various places along with other gear alongside neglected outbuildings. But even they had their charm. It was in their colors - purples and yellows and lime-greens against weathered cedar shingles.buoys

Near a small beach at the end of one waterfront lane, however, was a burn area with traces of partly-singed trash. Nearby was discarded garbage on rocks exposed at low tide, including lobster and crab shells as well as a pig’s foot in which even nearby sea gulls weren’t interested. Guess they’re picky on Monhegan, being so well-fed. Wyeth must have been talking about that spot when he said about one of his experiences there: “I was down among garbage. Other artists were shooting the surf [and] here I was covered with garbage saying, ‘Thank god they don't see this you know…’”Cliffs on Monhegan's ocean side

My wife asked me why there was so much more sea glass on that tiny beach compared to others we’d explored on the mainland. I could only shrug my shoulders, but a lady eating at a picnic table nearby said that locals smash their bottles on the rocks. Many shards were still sharp. “Well, that’s another way to recycle,” I thought. Glass is made from sand after all, which is made from rocks.Monhegan's Lighthouse

No car ferries make the 11-mile trip and only a few islanders had pickup trucks for the narrow, gravel roads - and they have the right-of-way. We had to step off the road many times when one came by. Most of the houses are old and kept up nicely. Some were built in the 1700s. European landings on Monhegan were much earlier than most of the rest of Maine. Some claim there are Viking inscriptions on Manana, the smaller island that helps form Monhegan’s harbor but I didn’t have time to go over there. Others claim John Cabot visited in 1498 and Verrazano certainly was there in 1524. Samuel Champlain and John Smith came in the early 1600s. It’s since been settled and abandoned, destroyed and rebuilt because of wars in Europe and on the mainland, but it has survived into the 21st century.Looking for supper in Monhegan Harbor

It’s worth a trip.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maine Mystique


There’s something about Maine, a kind of mystique I think. While traveling elsewhere in the United States people ask me where I live. When I say “Maine,” I often hear, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there,” or “I was there once and I really want to go back.” It’s happened so often I’ve been thinking about why. Do people think differently about my state than others? I’m suspecting they do but I haven’t thought to ask them yet. Have they heard others talk about Maine? Have they seen pictures? Have they read Stephen King novels? Seen movies? I’ve decided to start asking.

When meeting English-speaking people in other parts of the world they usually recognize me as an American and then ask where in the US I live. Most of the time, they never heard of Maine, so I explain that it’s north of Boston on the coast and bordering with Canada. “Ah,” they say, and leave it at that. Maine’s mystique, insofar as it exists, is mostly with other Americans I suspect.

For the past several years I’ve been exploring Maine’s long coastline. Each summer my wife and I rent a cottage for a week on one peninsula, of which there are many on Maine’s coast. My wife likes the beach so I’ll spend a day sitting and walking on the sand with her, but then I’ll drop her off and drive up every road that doesn’t have a “No Trespassing” sign. In the off-season I’ll rent a motel room for a weekend and do the same. Either way, I always have my camera with me and I’m seldom disappointed with what there is before me to shoot.New Harbor, Bristol, Maine

Last week we vacationed in New Harbor, which is actually a village and harbor in the municipality of Bristol. Pemaquid and Round Pond are also part of Bristol, and the latter is actually a harbor. On Pemaquid Point is the lighthouse represented on the Maine version of the new quarters. Browsing around the fishermen’s museum in the light-keeper’s house, I listened to a woman from Virginia talk to the old fisherman who was working there and answering questions. She thanked him for preserving the old tackle, the old newspaper articles about shipwrecks on that rocky point, the old lobster traps, handlines, and so forth. I heard her tell him how much she liked visiting Maine and how wonderful it was. When she worked her way over to where I was standing I asked her what exactly she liked about Maine.Pemaquid Beach, Bristol, Maine

She found it amazing that there were no security cameras in the museum and that she was allowed to pick things up and touch them.

“Did you notice the house where you can buy eggs on the honor system?” I asked. “You would have passed it down the road about a half a mile.”

“I did,” she said. “You’d never see that where I live, which is in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.”

She said Maine was well preserved, that being here is like going back in time. She liked that there were few chain restaurants, few traffic lights, and that people kept their property up. She noticed how people looked her in the eye and talked to her easily.Fourth of July, Pemaquid Beach

She was renting a place in Damariscotta and had toured the Boothbay Harbor region which I haven’t explored yet. “People take pride in their homes over there,” she said. “All the lawns were mowed and the flowers were so pretty.” I could see Boothbay looking south out the museum window, and as she talked I pictured some places around where I live in western Maine that were not well-kept at all. They were littered with old snowmobiles, abandoned cars, discarded furniture and assorted trash - all overgrown with weeds. It’s true, however, that most of Maine is fairly well-tended, but I haven’t traveled enough to know if others states are different in that way.Stone Sculptures on Pemaquid Point

Interesting rock formations below Bristol’s Lighthouse Park are typical of what can be found over all of Maine’s coast. Layers of sediment laid down hundreds of millions of years ago have been melted into wavy lines, interspersed with magma, pushed up into the perpendicular, and weathered by wave, wind and frost for God knows how long. According to one geologist, Maine has the most varied bedrock formations of any other place on earth of similar size and it’s all on display where land meets water.Mexican Man from one angle

Just above the normal high-tide mark, visitors used small stone fragments to construct their own delicately-balanced variations on Nature’s work, forming them into trees, dogs, and people.Mexican Woman from another angle

There they sit until the next big storm smashes them back into random jumbles of stone. I was careful not to brush against any as I walked among them taking pictures on a clear, sunny morning at low tide.Stone people and trees

It’s good to get fresh perspectives on familiar things, and seeing Maine through other eyes can be a nice way to do that. I shall continue to ask visitors why they come here and residents why they choose to live here.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Gun-Free School Zones


A teacher meeting was just ending in my room a couple of years ago when the school secretary announced over the loudspeaker that the school was going into lockdown. Students were in their “Unified Arts” classes, which used to be known as Gym, Shop, Home Ec, and Art. Emergency procedure dictated that I stay in my room with the door locked, the lights out, and out of sight of anyone who might look in the windows.

Cowering in the face of a threat is not in my nature, however. I knew I was supposed to sit there quietly and let the appropriate authorities deal with whatever the threat was, but I couldn’t. I looked out into the hallway to see what was going on. Policemen were searching student lockers which were lined up on either side of the wide corridor. Later, I learned that someone had scrawled “I have a gun” on a wall in one of the girls’ bathrooms. The principal decided to take the threat seriously and called police. Hence, the lockdown.

Before learning that, however, I ran the possibilities through my mind of what the threat might be. In declining order of likelihood, I figured it could be an irate parent who felt aggrieved by a custody decision. It could also be a deranged student or students reenacting a Columbine-type episode, or, least likely, it could be a terrorist attack. Whatever it was, I knew one thing: because of the screwball Gun-Free School Zones Act enacted during the Clinton Administration, we could all be assured that the perp would be the only one with a weapon and all the rest of us would be at a distinct disadvantage as his unarmed victims.

Feeling the familiar frustration of the many ways federal intervention had screwed up public education during my then-35-year teaching career, I reflected on the what I’d recently taught my students about “gun-free zones” as part of a Second Amendment lesson. Fox News had put together an effective, short satire on them in the form of an infomercial. The pitchman explained the benefits of putting up “gun-free zone” signs in homes, businesses and public places. A potential robber with a gun would try to hold up a store. The owner behind the counter put his hands up and pointed to a “gun-free zone” sign, whereupon the robber put down his gun and left the store in frustration. Then he repeated the scenario in a sidewalk mugging and in a home invasion. Students caught on immediately to the absurdity of the whole “gun-free zone” concept.

Asked how many had guns in their homes, about two-thirds of my students raised their hands. We discussed the correlation between the high rate of gun ownership and the low crime rate here in Maine and in other rural areas of the country as well as the high correlation between strict gun control laws in our major cities and their high crime rates.

All this came back to me when Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s newly-appointed a new police chief blamed the National Rifle Association and Sarah Palin for the roving hoards of bandits and murderers terrorizing that city. “[It’s] federal gun laws that facilitate the flow of illegal firearms, into our urban centers across this country, that are killing our black and brown children,” he said. However, there are way more guns in Maine, per capita, than in Chicago, and lots of people here leave their doors unlocked and they don’t kill each other. As the saying goes: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. In this case at least, a bumper sticker slogan easily trumps progressive “thinking.” The problem lies with people in Chicago, not the guns. All those Alinsky-inspired community organizers have done a wonderful job in the Windy City, haven’t they? If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, do you think smug progressives would learn anything if they were forced to put up “Gun-Free Zone” signs in front of their own houses?

When I first taught here in Maine back in 1977, I noticed students driving to school with rifles on racks across the rear windows of their pickup trucks. During November, they hunted before and after school, and so did many teachers including this writer. Parents dropping their children off in front of the school often had rifles visible in their vehicles as well. Then in the 1990s I found myself distributing notices to parents warning them against doing that anymore after the ludicrous Gun-Free School Zones Act was signed into law by President Clinton. The notice students were instructed to take home and give to parents said those parents could be arrested if they drove onto school grounds with their deer rifles or shotguns in their vehicles. This, progressives insisted, was going to make us all safer.

God save us all from progressive do-gooders.

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