BY AL DIAMON
As published in the Portland Phoenix
Thursday - February 9, 2005
This outsourcing thing may be getting out of hand.
First, it was shoe and clothing production being shipped overseas. No big deal, unless your job happened to go with them. Then, domestic TVs and stereos disappeared over the horizon. But the prices were so cheap my conscience hardly bothered me at all for supporting slave labor. Next, the customer-service representative I called when somebody screwed up my insurance policy turned out to be located in some third-world backwater like Rubato or Dyspepsia. But he was every bit as skilled as the American he replaced at not solving my problem.
Now, however, the situation seems to be spiraling out of control.
Recently, I came across a new Web site called "Maine Politics" (www.mainepolitics.blogspot.com). The author, identified only as Mike, offers daily updates on everything from how Maine’s representatives to the Democratic National Committee planned to vote for a new party chair (a story ignored by the local media), to synopses of political pieces from the state’s newspapers, to witty and insightful analysis.
For instance, when former state Senator Phil Harriman announced he had taken himself out of consideration for the 2006 GOP gubernatorial nomination, Mike noted, "That’s bad news to any of you who had Harriman at the top of your roster for the Maine Republican Politicians Fantasy League." He then provided a link to the fantasy league’s Web site, which — sad to say — does not exist.
Mike is obviously a liberal Democrat, but he’s unpredictable. While he sticks to the party line on social and environmental issues, he labeled Democrat-sponsored legislation to restrict public access to gambling-license applications as "a new nominee for stupidest bill."
After Democratic Governor John Baldacci proposed a genetics-research facility near Bangor and promised more effort to attract big corporations to the state, Michael Heath, executive director of the conservative Christian Civic League, distributed an email screed claiming those projects would damage Maine’s essential character. The new blog had this reaction:
"[Heath] claims that, among other things, ouiji boards, Feng-shui, and yoga are destroying our state. Mr. Heath is obviously wrong and possibly certifiable, but the reason why his words resonate with some Mainers is that he recognizes our collective state identity as something unique, good, and fragile."
I began visiting "Maine Politics" daily, eager to see if there were any ideas I could steal. (As this column shows, there were.) I also found the site to be a refreshing change from the state’s other on-line blatherers, such as the dozen or so right-wing nuts debating the minutiae of conservative policy on "As Maine Goes" (www.asmainegoes.com) or the tiny coterie of left-wing kooks still trying to prove Kerry won the presidency with their postings on Maine Indymedia (www.maineindymedia.org).
I decided to get in touch with Mike to find out why he was doing all this work without getting paid. Which is when I discovered "Maine Politics" had been outsourced.
The Web site’s author is 20-year-old Mike Tipping, a third-year political-science student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That’s in Canada. Or, possibly, Scotland.
Tipping does have a Maine connection. He’s from Orono and is still registered to vote there. He spent part of last year in the state volunteering for the Kerry campaign. When he returned to school, he decided to start his own blog because his classes had nothing about politics in his home state. He got on the Internet, scanned the state’s news media, made contacts who emailed him tips and set out to demonstrate how such a site could be a tool for activism, even from a long way off.
"Democrats in Maine really aren’t making much use of the Internet," he said. "In the last election, the Maine GOP site was much better designed, easier to use, and updated more often. The Democrats have nothing like that. Even the [Maine] College Republicans have a better site."
For now, Tipping is content to post his observations and happy when he has some impact. He says he got a big response after he urged readers to email the state’s US senators to oppose Alberto Gonzales’ nomination as attorney general. "I’m doing this because I hope this can be a place where people can talk about issues, organize, get informed," he said. "And there’s a healthy dose of ego, of course."
Tipping is not being as coy as Phil Harriman about his political ambitions. "I’d like to work in politics," he said, "and I’d like to live in Maine, but I don’t know where or when." For the record, he won’t be old enough to serve as governor until the election of 2022.
Tipping may be producing his blog in a foreign land, but if imported opinions have the same impact as outsourced TVs and footwear, guys like me could soon be looking for work. I wonder if the Democrats need help improving their Web site.
Will blather for food. Email donations to firstname.lastname@example.org. No veggies, please.
Visit the new Maine Politics.