The Universal Notebook: Sharing enriches the American Dream

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The things we share make possible the things we don’t. At a time when some people want to elevate private enterprise and personal profit over the common good, we need to remind ourselves that private gain is only possible when the public interest is well served first.

The ground upon which consumer capitalism grows is prepared by public education, public libraries, public safety and the justice system, public works and public health. Few would prosper without the investments we make together in a civil society.

Public facilities are an expression of a community’s shared values. That’s why I was so pleased to see that voters in Regional School Unit 5 last week finally approved construction of a new track and field after several failed attempts to do so. Voters in Durham and Pownal voted against the track, but voters in Freeport carried the day.

Investment in public education, whether in salaries, programs or facilities, is never wasted. Good schools are self-perpetuating. They produce a healthy, educated citizenry that values education and they attract people who will support public education. Good schools also create property value. The difference between property values in Yarmouth, where we lived for 32 years, and Brunswick, where we have lived for two, is the school system.

Here in Brunswick, the Stowe School and the high school are first-rate, but the junior high and Coffin School in my backyard are not. Though I will never have children in the Brunswick schools, when it comes time to vote on replacement and renovation, I will support a major investment in our shared future. It will make Brunswick schools better, which in turn will make Brunswick better.

Among the things we share, the most fundamental is a commitment to a set of shared constitutional values. The U.S. Constitution was established not to elevate the one above the many, but “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

These are the communal ideals upon which America is predicated. Currently, in this state and in this country, these ideals are everywhere under attack by forces of self-interest and personal gain.

Maine has a proposed state budget that would save money by throwing 20,000 people in need off Medicaid and that would end general assistance altogether, forcing municipalities to take up the slack left by the state cutting the social safety net.

Nationally, Republicans are in the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, throwing 59 million Americans to the wolves. The underlying tenet of the ACA is that if we all share the risk of health-care costs, it will 1) guarantee that everyone is covered and 2) bring down the cost of health insurance. The reason it has failed so far to bring down costs is that too many healthy Americans have opted not to participate. That’s why we need a universal single-payer health insurance system.

When you look at the current crop of cabinet nominees, all you see are people who do not believe in the missions of the departments they will head. Environmental protection? Justice? National parks? Fair housing? Health and human services? National security? Fair labor practices? Economic regulation? Public education? All threatened by the prospect of being led by people who either have no experience or who have no commitment to these ideals. The very air we all breathe is threatened when the desires of the few are placed ahead of the needs of the many.

The things we share express the highest and best ideals of the American Dream. What it will take to keep that dream alive over the next four years are generous spirits and selfless individuals, people willing to share their time, their talents and their resources to better the lives of all.

For me, as a Christian, the primacy of sharing in the grand scheme of things is nowhere more succinctly distilled than in the words of the communion liturgy:

“We thank you for the beauty and bounty of the earth and for the vision of the day when sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.”

Can they hear that in Augusta and Washington? “The vision of the day when sharing by all will mean scarcity for none.” That’s what I believe in. That’s what I voted for.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Charles Martel

    Defending the expense of a track & field facility while claiming to be a Christian as Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East and willing to facilitate Sharia-adherent Muslim free-loaders seeded into our communities is the rationale of a lunatic Leftist.

    • Scott Harriman

      Did you comment on the wrong article?

  • peterplus

    Mr. Beem, all racists are cowards at heart. Terrified, and pathetic cowards. If you ever dignify this coward, Martel, with a reply, I will never read another sentence you write in your column. Trust me on this, the only other people who listen to him are his family members who probably know him for precisely what he is. I pray he has no kids.But if he does, I’m willing to bet they find him a sickening embarrassment.

    • EdBeem

      I rarely reply as his positions and prejudices are well-known.

  • Chew H Bird

    I do not disagree with the value of education and providing of services that all of us need. What I disagree with is providing those services at a rate that raises taxes on an annual basis and perpetuating the cost of debt service. I also disagree with pandering to sepcial interest groups, whether their cause be generally worthy or not, when funds provided by the many are utilized by the few (and I’m not talking about people with dire need, but people who simply “want” something because it serves their purpose or interest).

    I also believe there needs to be accountability among the people comprising our elected and appointed officials. By failing to hold engineers, architects, and contractors accountable for the structural failure at Jordan Acres our elected officials basically wasted millions of taxpayer dollars. By making a poor deal with Bowdoin for the new town offices we wasted a million dollars. By purchasing the Times Record building, fixing it, failing to utilize it, and then demolishing it we wasted millions of dollars. Accountability has been lacking in Brunswick for decades and we need to step up, make some difficult choices, and move forward with purpose and integrity of we want to stop the annual increase in taxation and stop doing silly things like paying town employees overtime to water plants on Maine Street on a Sunday in the fall (yes this happens every year).

    • EdBeem

      I’m no fan of government waste, but I can see that Coffin School and Brunswick Junior High have outlived their usefulness and need to be replaced.

  • justanotherfakename

    Thanks for the positive column Edgar. And for pointing out the truth about the short sighted mean spirited proposed Maine budget, and the politically expedient Trump proposals that favor those who are already very well off, and make vague promises to those who are not. I hope those who can’t yet see the difference between being politically correct and factually correct, see the light before harm is done to all of us that will be hard to undo in one lifetime.

  • poppypapa

    Let this soak in:

    “Investment in public education, whether in salaries, programs or
    facilities, is never wasted. Good schools are self-perpetuating. They
    produce a healthy, educated citizenry that values education and they
    attract people who will support public education. Good schools also
    create property value. The difference between property values in
    Yarmouth, where we lived for 32 years, and Brunswick, where we have
    lived for two, is the school system.”

    And we know from his body of writing, that by extension, virtually no government spending

    In other words, facts, details, history, honesty, and disdain for the public trust are irrelevant. Mo money! Mo money! Mo money!

    It’s all good! How much more should Brunswick spend to meet your ideals, Eddie?

    And how do you respond to locals who are convinced “Brunswick has the best schools?”

    By the way, Brunswick Property Taxes have increased by 35% in the last 10 years, during which the cost per student has increased by 70%.

    Up, up, and away!

    There’s sustainability for you!

    • EdBeem

      Lots of government spending is wasted. We just wouldn’t agree on where. I’d cut defense and corporate welfare. You’d cut education and heaven only knows what else.

      • poppypapa

        Let’s talk locally first. Brunswick doesn’t spend on defense, other than police, fire, etc. But do you disapprove of town spending on corporate welfare?

        Now at the federal level, do you then disapprove of breaks given to outfits pushing wind power, and disasters like Solyndra?

        Corporate welfare to me does not include tax law on the books. I’m assuming you follow relevant tax law when you do your taxes, and everyone else should be able to do the same, including businesses. Don’t like those laws? Change them.

        As to defense, per se’, why don’t you tell us what cuts you would make?

        Oh, and before you complete this distraction, what about the 35% local increase in taxes, and the 70% increase in spending per pupil? Are you ‘all good with that,’ and support continuing it at same or even higher rates?

        • EdBeem

          Yes, I have no problem with a 35% increase over 10 years and a 70% per pupil increase, if this is in fact accurate. Lots of reason for this starting with being underfunded.

          • poppypapa

            Eddie…..of course the numbers are not accurate. As one of the unenlightened, I just made them up so that an omniscient like yourself could demonstrate your superior grasp of all the details of implementing the common good.

            By the way, I’m impressed that in your brief years here in our second rate little town, you’ve already toured all the school buildings to evaluate their condition. And can distinguish the difference between deferred maintenance on the part of the caretakers, and downright undesirability.

          • EdBeem

            You don’t to look too close to see that those two schools are tired and out-of-date and have portables in the parking lot. It’s just a shame that you and your friends let your schools deteriorate like that. I will work to jack up your taxes to pay for better facilities. In my experience, those who don’t value public education then move out to the boonies where the taxes are low and the schools are lousy. And about that 35% increase, the per pupil cost statewide increased by 42% over the same period, so Brunswick is ahead of the game.

          • poppypapa

            C’mon, Eddie. Is that the best you got? The town has lost 1,000 students or so in the last 10 years, and could easily have gotten rid of any remaining trailers. But we gave one school to the administrators; traded another away to Bowdoin, which continues to use it daily for other purposes, and allowed another to collapse under snow loading.

            Per pupil expense in Brunswick increased by 70% over the period I mention. The 35% figure was the increase in the tax rate.

            So you haven’t inspected the schools, but are an expert on their condition. Maybe you get your info in the fruits and nuts department at Hannafords, eh?

          • EdBeem

            I stand corrected on the numbers. I also stand for improving Brunswick’s school facilities. If you’re such an expert on all things Brunswick, how come you just stand on the sidelines and piss and moan? Run for council or school board. Do something positive for a change.

          • poppypapa

            I’m not an expert. I just pay attention, think, and collect information. And observe, analyze, and report.

            My positive contribution is not running.

            Oh, and I forgot to ask, since you see corporate welfare as deplorable, how do you feel about its use here in Brunswick to favor local businesses?

          • poppypapa

            “It’s just a shame that you and your friends let your schools deteriorate like that.”

            Here’s a clue, Eddie. It’s those we entrust with the use and care of the buildings that let them “deteriorate like that.”

            And no-one wants to hold them accountable. Exterior deterioration is always the preferred choice, so that drive-by building inspectors get the ‘right impressions’ as early as possible.

  • peterplus

    Mr. Beem, one more thought about this fool, Martel. I bet he has to carry a gun around with him in order to feel brave. That is a common practice among these racist cowards.

  • Jimmy_John67

    Ed Beem advocates that the poor and elderly residents on fixed incomes in Brunswick should accept any and all property tax increases to support the schools no matter what the reason or use. He says those people should go without food, heat and other essentials and sacrifice with no questions asked to support his beliefs. Meanwhile he lives in a large, expensive home despite the fact that his children are grown, he owns a second home on a lake and regularly indulges in meals out that cost in excess of $100 for two people.

    As always Ed lacks basic compassion and empathy for those in need while continuing to display deep seated hypocrisy and greed. Not suprising but very sad.

  • poppypapa

    Hey, Eddie. Just did a little quick checking, and your beloved Yarmouth was spending $13,940 per student in the 15-16 school year if I read the data correctly.

    The same school year, Brunswick was spending $15,695 per student.

    Based on that empirical evidence and your experiences, the less you spend, the better the students do.

    Funny how that works.

    • EdBeem

      The most recent data I see on the Maine DOE site for December 2015 puts Brunswick’s per pupil cost at $12,496 and Yarmouth’s at $12, 395. I had managed to go almost three weeks into the new year without responding to the frequent fliers and now that I have a remember why I don’t.

      • poppypapa

        Silly me; I used budget and enrollment data from the Yarmouth web site, and the same for Brunswick.

        • EdBeem

          Calculating per pupil costs is not as easy as one might think. Budget cutters often get it wrong.

          • poppypapa

            I don’t know; doesn’t seem that hard to me. Take the budget top line and divide it by the number of students.

            Budget raisers often find distractions and equivocations to get it wrong.

          • EdBeem

            That’s what I mean. That’s now how per pupil costs are calculated.

          • Queenie42