Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In With A Bang: What to Look Forward to in 2013

Published in the Portland Phoenix, these are my contributions to a package done with Deirdre Fulton and Nicholas Schroeder

We're thrilled the world didn't end in 2012 — aren't you? Not just because it lets us keep those plans to go to Asmara for lunch every day (why is that place not packed?), and live up to our promises to actually read that book recommended (or possibly written) by a friend or co-worker. There are some pretty amazing things slated to happen in Maine in 2013, and now that we're going to be around to enjoy them, we're getting even more excited. As you celebrate the beginning of the new year, think about all the unknown prospects and possibilities — but also about these very real events, already slated to occur.
We've already seen the sparks flying between the Blaine House and the State House, with Republican Governor Paul LePage in a snit because the Democrats apparently want to hear — and record — everything he has to say at public appearances, but things may end up escalating. We know there will be huge fights about medical costs, tax policy, social services, and environmental regulations — not to mention labor agreements, business development, and how much Mainers can afford to spend coddling wealthy out-of-state corporations. We hope things won't get as far as actual combat, of course, but we expect talks will eventually break down completely. When that happens, our state's desperate leaders might remember that fireworks are legal — and start launching barrages across Augusta's Capitol Street, from the State House toward the Blaine House, or (more likely) the other direction. We're not expressing hope this happens, but rather warning about its possibility. It definitely wouldn't be the healthiest (nor safest) way to express political disagreement, but we have to admit it sure would provide some otherwise-missing drama for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network's planned "ME-SPAN" coverage of the usually staid meetings and conferences among policymakers. If it gets as bad as lawmakers replacing scheduled votes on bills with five-minute Roman candle fusillades, we'll be certain the legislative session will end with no winners, and a whole bunch of losers. Which is more or less what we expect anyway.
The Earth's climate is changing, quickly and dangerously. Even when we had a stable climate and semi-regular weather patterns, meteorologists were frequently wrong and often in doubt. Their jobs once involved standing in front of green-screens and looking out windows, with annual contractually obligated live shots in significant wind or snow. With our global weather system on the verge of being catastrophically disrupted, we expect they'll just give up. They're already unable to explain why it rained this afternoon, instead of being sunny like they said it would be this morning. Facing a community to tell them why, instead of a few clouds in the sky, their entire neighborhood was swept away, simply isn't a sustainable profession. No longer able to be generally inaccurate, not given the airtime to explain the detailed science behind weather-prediction models, and (like the rest of us) barely able to comprehend the monumental power of an extremely pissed-off planet, these poor weather-people will flee for the hills in the face of being comically — or catastrophically — wrong.
When US Senator Angus King is sworn in on January 2, his plan to calm the disturbed waters of Congress will begin to take effect. His peaceful, friendly visage and manner will radiate throughout the halls of the US Capitol — and beyond, unto Washington and all the land — bringing harmony and concord where we were so recently a people riven asunder by all manner of disagreements and offenses. Or, the gridlock will continue apace, just with a new, amiable, lanky Virginian from Maine taking the place of a nice Greek lady, still striving to unstick the country from its mire.
Maine is already a national leader in voting rights — allowing same-day registration, absentee balloting without an excuse, and even letting inmates and people with criminal records vote. But we can do even better, and we're poised to. Departing Secretary of State Charlie Summers appointed an officiously named Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine back in May, because he and his Republican cohorts apparently believed there was some sort of huge problem with voting fraud in Maine. (Spoiler alert: There's not, and never was.) The group has heard public hearings all over the state, and the vast majority of the commentary has been two-fold: 1) there's no problem with the existing laws, and 2) if we're going to change things in any way, it should be to expand access to the ballot box, not contract it.
Suggestions have included changing the state Constitution to allow early voting (a technical change from the perspective of those of us who vote absentee in advance, but a major improvement in the burden placed on municipal clerks handling those ballots cast before Election Day); restoring in-person absentee balloting on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday just before Election Day (it was removed in 2011 in hopes of easing clerks' workload but ended up inconveniencing voters instead); and clarifying ancillary rules relating to students who vote in Maine (the Constitution's position is clear, but there are other state laws not directly related to voting that may — or may not — come into play; it's those that might need tidying up).
Having heard all the testimony, and taken written comments as well, the committee will report its findings, and any suggested legislation, to the legislature by the end of January; we can look for the Democrat-controlled State House to frown on any new restrictions, and to cheer for any ideas to make voting easier, clearer, and more accessible to all Mainers.
We've long since lost count of how many hotels there are in Portland, how many rooms each has, and how often they're full or vacant. Until recently, though, we thought we had a handle on how many new hotels were in the works. But when we last looked, the list had grown by one more — and we're sure it'll have added another by the time this hits the streets. This sort of competition has existing hoteliers worried that oversupply will mean lower occupancy rates, cheaper room prices, and reduced profits. That's almost a given when many of the new hotels open in 2014. It's not outlandish to think that, in hopes of fending off this impending competition, Portland lodgings will drop their rates to ridiculous, Priceline-like levels, preferring to lose money and discourage new hoteliers, rather than make insane profit margins and attract gold-diggers galore. If this plan comes to fruition, by December, rooms will be so cheap that Portland's homeless situation will be entirely solved — and we'll still have rooms for all the tourists flocking here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What You Missed: Stories From 2012 That Dropped Off Your Radar

Published in the Portland Phoenix, these are my contributions to a piece done together with Deirdre Fulton and Nicholas Schroeder

So damn much went on in 2012, it's no wonder that some stories may have passed people by. You can't have missed all the campaigning (for president, US Senate, and every seat in the State House), the violence (13 mass shootings this year alone, according to the Washington Post), revolutions (across the Arab world), betrayals (by David Petraeus, TomKat, and Robsten Pattinstew), disasters natural (the derecho, Superstorm Sandy) and manmade (the fiscal cliff, the Olympics), and oh-so-much-more. We here at the Portland Phoenix have kept tabs on some other stories — ones you might have heard about briefly (if at all), before they sank back into the surging swamp of America's nonstop non-reflective news cycle. So read on, and catch up with a dozen things you didn't hear on the first round, or (if you did) that you might not have grasped the significance of — until now.
How best to avoid scrutiny for official actions, when pesky notes and emails qualify as public records open to inspection? Simple: Don't make any records. And sure enough, shortly after his 2011 inauguration, Republican Governor Paul LePage stopped taking notes in meetings or otherwise using written or electronic communication. Over the past year, the practice has expanded significantly, to most — if not all — of his department commissioners and other senior staff. (If they're unable to completely avoid creating a paper trail, what is recorded is extremely limited.) As a result, there are precious few records of discussions, proposals, and agreements being made at the highest levels of state government. We are losing accountability now and for all time because these political operatives are circumventing the state's open-government law while pursuing their agenda. Perhaps they're doing things we would all approve of, if we could only learn about them. That is indeed possible — but causes us to wonder what they'd have to hide, then. Less transparency in government is always bad, and barring public access to the thoughts and deeds of those at the very top is nothing short of anti-American.
The Bangor Daily News over the past year has made a real push to become Maine's primary news source. Starting with a foray into Portland in 2010 and 2011 as the Press Herald's position weakened amid uncertainty and bad leadership, the BDN in 2012 went beyond simply adding staff and paying more attention to the southern part of the state. Its online wing,, partnered with major college newspapers around the state, as well as other news outlets (such as the Sun Journal-owned Forecasternewspapers) to aggregate their content online. This even extended to bloggers like Munjoy Hill's Carol McCracken (previously an independent online poster) and politico Mike Tipping, who lost his blog briefly when Down East magazine shut down most of its online-only operations. It's true that the idea of the portal — an all-news online clearinghouse — has been around for nearly two decades. The BDN is localizing the concept — most of its electronic postings are not wire copy or international or national news. With energetic rising star Tony Ronzio coming in to lead the operation, the site is quietly, but importantly, becoming the must-read, go-to place online for Mainers statewide.
When the OccupyMaine encampment was ordered dismantled in Lincoln Park, plenty of people — publicly and privately — predicted a quiet end to the energy and collaboration that had swirled among the tents. But as we have written, including on the occasion of the encampment's one-year anniversary, something far more complex — and far more interesting — has resulted. With headquarters shifted largely to the Meg Perry Center, the Occupiers channeled their energy in new directions. Freed from having to spend time and effort protecting their living quarters, they have tried to spread their message of equality and fairness far and wide. They've taken on major national and international problems, like tar-sands mining, fracking, and Walmart's worker-burdening profit model; they've talked economics, about student debt, foreclosure resistance, and asking — in a punnily named "Soup or PAC?" event — whether our political process really should be as steeped in money as it is. And they've not forgotten the individuals. Alan Porter and Dawn Eve York spent weeks helping the recovery from Superstorm Sandy — including bringing donations from Maine all the way to New York City — while the government, the Red Cross, and the charity-industrial complex struggled to meet survivors' needs. Occupiers and those with similar ideals have worked to protect Congress Square from privatization, to win same-sex couples marriage equality, to promote street artists' First Amendment rights to display their wares on public property, and to stop loading educational expenses on students. A broad-spectrum group effort of grass-roots activism was missing in this city before Occupy revived it, and Portland, Maine, and the world are already the better.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Press releases: Blown away

Published in the Portland Phoenix

I am, I admit, a frequent critic of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram — not because I dislike the paper, but rather due to my recognition of the importance of a vibrant, strong, active daily newspaper is to Maine and its largest city, and because I badly want the PPH to be that paper. And this week, I'm giving extreme credit where extreme credit is due: the Press Herald/Telegram truly impressed me with its massive Sunday package, "Deadly Force: Police and the Mentally Ill," kicking off a four-day series that has not yet been completed as the Phoenix goes to press.
The series focuses on police shootings in Maine, with a particular focus on the disproportionate number of mentally ill and substance-abusing people who get shot, as well as the lack of accountability for police officers and agencies who fail to de-escalate situations that perhaps need not end with deadly force. (Though when mentally ill people go to prison, things aren't always much better, as our ongoing reporting shows.) ThePPH's work is powerful investigative, analytical, and narrative work — with multiple stories, an online database, and perspectives from all angles (except those, of course, who have been killed; in their stead stand relatives baring their souls in hopes no more unnecessary deaths occur).
Strong praise should go to the reporters whose bylines have appeared in the series so far: Tux Turkel, David Hench, Ann Kim, and Kelley Bouchard. And it should go as well to all the behind-the-scenesers (editors, copy and otherwise; layout artists; photographers; online production staff; as well as people whose work hasn't been published before this issue of the Phoenix is) who are carrying out this vital inquiry into the admittedly infrequent times when police come to end the lives of Mainers.
Rather than summarize its findings here, I urge you to read the reports and the accompanying editorial, which are available from a special section of the PPH's website, — though if you'll permit me a moment of criticism, that section could stand some serious organizing: a comprehensive index to all the stories in this package would be extremely useful.
They are extensively reported, personal, fact-driven stories showing tragic consequences of the fearsome power of police weaponry and training coming into contact with the equally fearsome power of a disturbed mind. For example, more than once have police been called to help family members contain and restrain a distraught relative, and ended up shooting the person rather than defusing the situation. The toll on the person (who does sometimes survive, but often is killed), the family who called seeking aid, and the officers involved is devastating. Learning more about these tragedies from all involved will help the public, the police, and policy leaders make our state, and our world, better.
In addition to praising the worker bees who are getting it done, it's very important to note that this sort of project doesn't happen without crucial support from the very top. Here's hoping that this is the sort of work we can see much more regularly under the leadership of newish owner S. Donald Sussman, brand-new CEO/publisher Lisa DeSisto (up last month from the Boston Globe), and executive editor (since February) Cliff Schectman.
Some cynics may grump at my praise (and the heapings from others across the state), saying this is the sort of reporting that newspapers should be doing regularly, and ask why anyone should get credit for doing their jobs. But denying praise for great work done well would be the worse offense.
• Lawmakers better get used to the sort of trackers Governor Paul LePage says he hates: the MAINE PUBLIC BROADCASTING NETWORK just announced a service much like C-SPAN, but for Augusta. For a six-month pilot starting in February, there will be video coverage of sessions in the House of Representatives and the Senate as well, possibly, as committee proceedings — and, obviously, press conferences and other artificial attention-getting events. While review from legislative leaders (and MPBN board members) remains incomplete, we can hope that improved transparency will find friends in all corners of the State House, and maybe, one day, in the governor's office itself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

3 Ways to Tap into Supportive Creative Communities

Published on

There are days when being creative is awesome – your juices are flowing, you’ve got great ideas, awesome clients, and loads of energy. You know what that’s like – the Holy Grail of pursuing a creative profession.
But none of us are lucky enough to achieve that everyday – and sometimes, it seems like it’s been weeks or months since that Holy Grail feeling has visited. And often, whether we’re writers (like me), or photographers, or designers, or any other sort of creative type, we spend much of our work time alone (even in an office environment). I sometimes end up stuck in a miasma of a downward cycle, where I lack energy so I don’t work hard enough to come up with new ideas, and my lack of ideas just gets me down. You know what I’m talking about  – we’ve all been there.
This is where supportive creative friends and colleagues can be crucial. They can save your day, your week, or even your business.
Here are three ways you can take advantage of creative community, without getting all New Age and touchy-feely about things.

1. Find Inspiration

Visit the websites or tumblrs or Pinterest pages of some friends who do work along the lines of your own – or even along totally different lines. Really look at them. Even pretend you’re a prospective client, and see what WOWs you. Now pretend you’re a competitor, and see what you’d like to do in your own work. 15 minutes and you’re in an all new frame of mind.

2.  Discover Distraction

Call up (okay, fine, Facebook-message) a friend or colleague in your town (someone who doesn’t work for the same company as you, if you’re in a firm). See if they can find time for coffee, or beer, or breakfast, or cocktails, or whatever, in the next 12 to 24 hours. If they can, go. No agenda. Just catching up, laughing, chatting. If they’re too slammed, either call someone else or – better yet – ask to shadow them for a few hours. Watch what they do, meet who they meet, listen to their process. Get your mind off your problems, and into someone else’s world.

3. Seek Help

If you’re in a more serious slump or have a deadline looming, ask for assistance. Put up a post on social media (check your privacy settings to be sure your clients don’t see your panic!) or drop a few emails to people who do what you do. Maybe you’ve worked with them before, or maybe you’ve kinda-always-sorta wanted to work with them, but never had an excuse. Now’s the excuse. And here’s the message: “Hey, it’s me. I’m stumped and stuck and need a hand. Can I borrow you for about an hour sometime today or tomorrow? Compensation will be karma and a suitable volume of your favorite beverage. The work involves me telling you what this project is about and you telling me what your brain says in response. No preparation needed!” You’ll get a zillion new ideas right on your focused target, all for under $20!
To be honest, I sometimes forget to do these things, and find myself stuck in a rut anyway. I’ll use these tips to revive myself, if you do too. Deal?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gifts for the entire year: Subscriptions to arts organizations are good for the community and for you

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Some gifts you open and are all excited about, but then you find, a few weeks or months later, that you have forgotten you even got it — and you've never used it. So here are some places that will sell you gifts of experiences that can last all year long.

A small number of non-theater organizations offer you the opportunity to buy tickets to all their events for a year, all at once! (See the theatrical ones next.)
BANGOR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA | Year-round performances of classical and contemporary music | Subscriptions start at seven shows for $80 | 207.942.5555 |
BAY CHAMBER CONCERTS | Producing a wide range of events at the Rockport Opera House | Discounts vary based on the number of shows ticketed | 207.236.2823 |
PORTLAND CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL | Summertime classical performances at USM's Abromson center | subscriptions start at four shows for $100 | 800.320.0257 |
PORTLAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA | Performing live classical and contemporary music year-round | classical subscriptions start at five shows for $85; PSO Pops start at four shows for $80 | 207.773.6128 |

Most theater companies also sell season tickets. We've listed as many as we could find, but if your favorite theater company isn't listed, give them a call and ask.
ARUNDEL BARN PLAYHOUSE | Starting at five shows for $125 | 207.985.5552 |
CITY THEATER | Starting at four shows for $62 | 207.282.0849 |
GOOD THEATER | Starting at four shows for $55 | 207.885.5883 |
LYRIC MUSIC THEATER | Starting at five shows for $84 | 207.799.1421 |
MAD HORSE | Starting at four shows for $60 | 207.730.2389 |
MAINE STATE MUSIC THEATER | Starting at four shows for $122 | 207.725.8769 |
OGUNQUIT PLAYHOUSE | Starting at five shows for $237 | 207.646.5511 |
PENOBSCOT THEATRE COMPANY | Starting at three shows for $75 | 207.942.3333 |
PONTINE | Five shows for $90 | 603.436.6660 |
PORTLAND PLAYERS | Mid-season mini-subscription three shows for $50; or five shows for $80 | 207.799.7337 |
PORTLAND STAGE COMPANY | Starting at five shows for $129 | 207.774.0465 |
PUBLIC THEATRE | Four shows for $72 | 207.782.3200 |
THEATER AT MONMOUTH | Four shows for $90 | 207.933.9999 |

Though they don't sell outright season tickets, you can join these non-profit organizations as a member and get free or reduced-price admission to events and exhibits throughout the year.
ONE LONGFELLOW SQUARE | Individual membership starts at $75 | 207.761.1757 |
MUSIC HALL | Friend starts at $50 | 603.433.3100 |
MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY | Individual support starts at $40 | 207.774.1822 |
PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART | Individual membership starts at $50 | 207.775.6148 |
SPACE GALLERY | Individual support starts at $40 | 207.828.5600 |

There are plenty of other arts and culture institutions that could use your support, and (if you give enough) will thank you for it in their programs and publicity materials. If you're up for getting your name "out there," check in here, or with your favorite organization.
ACORN PRODUCTIONS | Highlighting theater arts through performances, workshops, and classes | accepting donations in all amounts | 207.854.0065 |
AIRE | Contemporary and classic Irish-American theater productions | accepting donations in all amounts | 207.799.5327 |
CHORAL ART SOCIETY | Singing the wonders of the human voice | Aficionado starts at $1 | 207.828.0043 |
DEERTREES THEATRE | Serving theater and music performances in the lakes region | accepting donations in all amounts | 207.583.6747 |
FRIENDS OF THE KOTZSCHMAR ORGAN | concerts and other events (such as scored silent films) featuring the group's namesake instrument at Merrill Auditorium | Piston starts at $1 | 207.553.4363 |
GASLIGHT THEATER | Memberships start at $15 | 207.626.3698 |
L/A ARTS | Producing all manner of performances in Lewiston and Auburn | accepting donations in all amounts | 207.782.7228 |
MAINE STATE BALLET | Based in Falmouth, the MSB puts on full-length ballets and shorter dance performances, as well as offering classes in ballet and other dance forms | Dancer's Circle starts at $25 | 207.781.7672 |
PLAYERS' RING | Local theater in a historic building in Portsmouth | Memberships start at $35 | 603.436.8123 |
PORTLAND BALLET COMPANY | Performing full-length classical and contemporary ballets, and teaching ballet to all ages | Apprentice starts at $50 | 207.772.9671 |
PORTLAND OVATIONS | Bringing all sorts of events — dance, classical and world music, Broadway shows, and more — to the Forest City | Friend starts at $40 | 207.773.3150 |
PORTLAND STRING QUARTET | Plays and teaches about stringed classical music throughout Maine | Friend starts at $1 | 207.761.1522 |
PORTOPERA | Producing opera and vocal performances year-round | accepting donations in all amounts | 207.879.7678 |
SEACOAST REPERTORY THEATRE | Contemporary and musical theater in Portsmouth | Intern starts at $35 | 603.433.4472 |
THEATER PROJECT | Maine's only all-pay-what-you-can theater | Stagehand starts at $1 | 207.729.8584 |

Break down the shakedown: Give the gift of telling debt it’s busted

Published in the Portland Phoenix

While you're out spending your hard-earned dollars on gifts for yourself and others at holiday and year-end sales, remember that money has to come from somewhere. Unless, of course, you're a Wall Street investment executive, or a banker. They get to invent money out of thin air. How come? Occupy Wall Street activists explain, in a new book about extracting yourself from America's drain-circling debt problem:
"We gave the banks the power to create money because they promised to use it to help us live healthier and more prosperous lives — not to turn us into frightened peons. They broke that promise. We are under no moral obligation to keep our promises to liars and thieves. In fact, we are morally obligated to find a way to stop this system rather than continuing to perpetuate it," writes the book's anonymous author collective.
As you might expect, the book, The Debt Resistors' Operations Manual, is free and openly downloadable as a PDF at Part manifesto, part history, and part step-by-step action plan, it's an easy read that stays away from overly technical language, preferring to stay high-level and comprehensible to most people who have dealt with the modern American financial system.
Observing that 76 percent of Americans are debtors (and one in seven is being pursued by debt collectors), a rhetorically strong introduction puts the lie to the idea that our debt crisis is the fault of irresponsible individuals who deserve moral chiding and no sympathy or help. If you weren't already upset by the chant that "Banks got bailed out; we got sold out," give page 2 a read.
So in this season of giving, the DROM is a reminder not to forget to save — yourself, from the vagaries of our economy. It's also a plea for collective action: "help beat the system that wants you to fail."
Make no mistake: Wall Street literally banks on the struggles of regular Americans. Can't afford education? No problem — you can borrow money, guaranteed by the government, with fees paying private companies to process the payments. Get sick or injured? No problem — medical-debt collectors will pack your bags and send you on a guilt trip as far away as they can, with no return until you pony up. What about living costs, or food? How about mortgage bundling, a credit card, a debit card, or — better yet (for them) — a prepaid charge card?
Worse than all that is how it snowballs into a credit score, which can affect not only your ability to get a loan, but even to find a rental apartment, or even a job. (How sick is that? Being short of money can prevent you from earning anything.)

In sections divided by type of debt (credit cards, medical, student, housing, payday loans, and so on), the authors provide deep (but brief) histories of how each market got the way it is (you'll see a business-government collusion theme develop), followed by details of the current practices that make these industries so repellent. (Example: credit-card companies are now robo-signing documents claiming to own debt with no actual legal proof, just like mortgage lenders did.)
The writing manages emotion well, never becoming truly overwhelming, and always offering hope for a better world. Just when you're mad enough to want to act come the specific steps for rectifying almost any situation.
For example, there are solid suggestions about how to avoid having to use the usurious payday lenders without subjecting yourself to the full power of Big Finance.
Many of these ideas subvert the existing systems — like detailing a multi-month, multi-step letter-writing campaign to dispute validity of reports to credit-monitoring agencies, and even forcing debt collectors to prove they are empowered to seek repayment from you. It might be a pain to write and mail various letters, but you'll help keep the US Postal Service operating, and the dollars you'll need to spend will likely be far less than you owe. (Don't miss the super-clever way out of doctor and hospital bills, involving an overlap between collection laws requiring itemization of debts and medical-privacy laws barring disclosure of medical treatments to third parties.)

But rather than deciding it's enough to simply take advantage of the byzantine "consumer protection" regulations, the DROM also explores the sort of options that few official sources will tell you about — like how to escape payday-loan hell (it involves borrowing lots and then leaving the country) and mortgage resistance. (Occupy's unsurprising, but surprisingly effective basic rule: Don't leave; see a variant in the sidebar.)
The DROM also highlights the potential power of collective action. (Student debt in the US totals more than $1 trillion, and 41 percent of the college class of 2008 is already in default on their loans. Think of the power of the people!)
A goodly amount of the book is devoted to exploring how to play defense if you're already in a bad situation. But there is quite a lot there about playing offense too. The basic idea is a call for systemic reforms to align the US with other industrialized countries, many of which have far less wealth than we do — such as supporting universal health care and instituting free higher education.
A revolutionary book whose time has truly come, the DROM is worth much more than the time you’ll spend downloading it. It might even save the US economy, since nobody else will.

ONE THAT GOT AWAY:Here's an idea the DROM folks could use
We're no lawyers, but for people who can't afford their mortgage payments, rather than walking away, rather than trying to negotiate with a nameless, faceless bank — what if they just stayed? Pay the utilities, keep the lawn mowed, and even do some light maintenance. Stop paying the mortgage and just wait for the bank to come foreclose. There's the trick: Banks actually don't want to foreclose — it means taking a valuable asset off the books (the mortgage) and turning it into a lower-valued asset (the property at its actual worth) plus a liability (taxes and upkeep).
If the bank ever came knocking, the response is easy — and is increasingly attractive, even to policymakers: make the bank produce in court the actual paper documents signed at the mortgage closing. Not a scan, not a photocopy, but the actual page. (Some states, including Maine, have considered requiring production of this document before a foreclosure can continue.) After all, who's to say that a person knocking on your door with a photocopy of your mortgage owns anything other than just that — a photocopy of your mortgage? That can't be enough to prove you actually owe them actual money. So stand there in court and tell the judge that as soon as the bank proves it actually owns your house, you'll pay. But not until then. And wait for the banks to sort out the paperwork.
You'll live rent-free for years — or even own your home free and clear. Don't forget to pay the property taxes, though — the town can take your home if you get too far behind on them.

Money Talks: After the campaign: paying off debt

Published in the Portland Phoenix and Out In Maine

The final days before the November 6 vote on same-sex marriage saw a crazy amount of spending from political-action committees on both sides of the question, which has led both PACs to seek post-election contributions to pay off lingering debt.
In reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission on October 26, both PACs — Protect Marriage Maine (opposed to marriage equality) and Mainers United for Marriage (in favor) — laid out their pre-election financial positions. At that time, PMM had $535,012.97 in ready cash and $96,006.75 in outstanding debt; MUM had $99,756.50 in cash, and unpaid debts of $139,827.62.
As far as yearly totals, MUM was by far the big spender, with 2012 outlays of $4,214,648.07 million by October 26, compared with total spending of $843,353.35 by PMM as of that date.
Both groups spent even more in the final days, with PMM buying so much advertising that the group ran through all its ready cash and more — ending with roughly $80,000 in unpaid debt, according to group treasurer Penelope Morrell.
While MUM went into the immediate election period with a net $40,000 deficit, MUM spokesman David Farmer says he does not know exactly how much his group needs to raise now. He estimated "it's in the tens of thousands," and not more than $100,000.
How well the groups do in their fundraising now that the battle is over will first become apparent on December 18, which is the next deadline for PAC reports.
If they don't raise the money by then, Matt Marett, who handles PAC registration for the Maine Ethics Commission, says the groups can simply remain active as PACs, and "collect contributions and continue to spend money for whatever they do in the future." They do have to continue reporting according to the commission's schedule, until whenever they decide to terminate operations, Marett says. (A PAC can dissolve itself with debts still on the books; "that's between them and their creditors," Marett says.)
Either group — or both — could also decide to continue to exist, and even change the registration paperwork on file with the commission to allow them to raise and spend money in the future to back candidates or other causes, or even become a standing lobbying organization seeking to influence legislators.
And WHAT HAPPENS IF A PAC DOES END UP WITH A SURPLUS after an election? "There really are not restrictions" on how the money could be spent, Marett says. It could be given to candidates, other PACs, charities, or to organizations that supported them (such as the Christian Civic League in PMM's case, or EqualityMaine in MUM's case).
They could even spend it on a party to thank supporters, or for travel to hear an issue-related speaker, he says, though in response to a hypothetical question about using surplus money at a casino, Marett allows "we may raise a red flag about that."