Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

Make America Smart Again: How Science Literate Are You?

 

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” - Aldous Huxley

 

Humanity today faces several ethical dilemmas that require, at the very least, a rudimentary reverence and understanding of science. Questions like when does a cluster of cells become a person, or how can we make cities more resilient to rising sea levels can only be tackled by someone who believes that early abortion isn’t murder and climate change is real and serious.  

 

One day, future generations may have to answer even more anxiety-inducing questions like: Should artificial intelligence be granted rights? Is it morally right to genetically modify our offspring?

 

But it’s hard for a community to confront big questions like these when some of its members still believe that fluoride is poisoning our tap water, planes leave chem-trails, and that the Devil scattered dinosaur bones everywhere to confuse people. It’s no surprise then that a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that there are widening gaps between what scientists report as fact and what the general public believes to be true.

 

If scientific literacy is the ability to draw from existing knowledge to solve problems rationally instead of just the raw memorization of facts, then it’s at an all-time low here in America.

 

For example, Dave Champlain told me that he frequently encounters people who don’t believe that we share a common ancestor with apes.

 

As a biology professor at the University of Southern Maine, who often reads surveys about modern Americans' growing skepticism about established science, Champlain is frustrated by those who disregard evolution. To him, being skeptical about science is an oxymoron.

 

“Skepticism on evolution is the ultimate source of this attitude that science is optional,” said Champlain. “It’s the starting point of widespread science denial.”

 news sciencemarch dave

According to Champlain, if a student of his shows skepticism towards evolution, they’re more apt to deny other objective realities like the importance of vaccinations, the seriousness of climate change, or the dangers of antibiotic resistance.

 

“With freedom of speech comes this enthusiastic attitude that we can agree to differ, but there are some facts that we simply can’t disagree on,” said Champlain. “When someone is pro-science, they’re not making a political statement.”

 

I spoke with Champlain on Saturday, April 22, during Portland’s March for Science, which two of his former students helped organize. Over a thousand scientists, educators, and enthusiasts marched down Congress Street, many with humorous signs, professing the importance of science in everyday life.

 

“We’re all benefiting from science,” said Champlain. “None of us would be alive without it.”

 

“It is because of scientific exploration that we have been able to eradicate Polio, land rovers on Mars, and create life-saving and life-enhancing devices like artificial hearts and mechanical limbs,” said UMaine graduate student Amber Hathaway. “Science has brought us computers, smartphones, and so many other devices that would have seemed inconceivable even 50 years ago. Imagine where we could be 10, 20, or 100 from now if we continue to invest in scientific research and support scientists.”

 

Last week’s march ran in solidarity with over 600 other events around the world, which aimed to be the first step in a movement to “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments,” according to the movement’s official website.

 

Despite Champlain and many other marchers' statements that science isn’t a partisan issue, the march stood firmly against President Trump and his administration, which has called for cuts to vital research organizations like the National Institutes for Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and NASA. During the march, giant paper mache puppets of Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon reimagined as grotesque swamp creatures wound down Congress Street amidst signs like “no alternative facts,” “Science Trumps Propaganda,” and “fund the EPA, not the wall.”

 

Many marchers I spoke to said that it’s ridiculous that science — which is fact and data driven — has become so politicized and dismissed as a “liberal conspiracy.” But they reconciled this inconvenience with the fact that Trump’s administration may be the most “anti-science” administration this country has ever seen.

 

“I’m marching today because it’s reprehensible how U.S. policy has downplayed the role that science should play in shaping our thought,” said Ben Rosenbloom, a Portland-based high-school physical science teacher. “Progress towards climate change has stalled because we still have to waste time debating with others that it’s happening.”

 

Rosenbloom recognized that science should inform policy and does have a bit of a political agenda, but that the agenda is foundational to American politics and values. For example, Obama’s Clean Power Plan may have reeked of leftist ideals that call for more governmental regulations, but its intended goal, clean air, is something that every American should get behind.

 news sciencemarch ben

The problem, however, according to Rosenbloom, is that we live in a country where it’s common to distrust our scientific experts who make claims that run contrary to our political or religious beliefs. This sense of skepticism in America, fueled not by facts but emotions and ideology, was one of the main reasons Rosenbloom decided to become an educator.

 

“The degree that Americans trust or don’t trust science often doesn’t come from a place of true science literacy,” said Rosenbloom. “It’s okay for people to blindly trust the experts, but I wish people could interpret data themselves. If everyone here was able to do that, then we’d be able to push policies informed by science. Data combined with values.”

 

My short conversation with Rosenbloom, who was dressed in a white lab coat while he marched down Congress Street, got me thinking about the overall state of science literacy in America. It’s one thing when fossil fuel lobbyists and politicians deny the science behind climate change to protect their financial interests, but what about the average citizen? What leads people, like some of Champlain’s students, to dismiss evolution, antibiotic resistance, and climate change? How do they perceive science as a discipline?

 news sciencemarch

“In our society, we think of scientists as inhumane, but they’re just a bunch of people,” said Champlain.

 

Others at the march agreed and said science and its educators come with some negative stigmas attached.

 

“People fear scientists, but their work is so universal,” said Nathan Katsiaficas, a Portland-based geologist. “Science literacy is at an all-time low.”

 

James Cormier, a science buff, and astrophotographer who grew up after the space age of the '60s experienced a time when people cared deeply about science and understood how it benefited humanity. Back then, he says, kids were fascinated by it.

 

“But now, science has taken a backseat,” said Cormier, who also attended last week's Science March. “It’s a cultural problem. The youth need to catch on about the benefits of the scientific method and how we’ve come to understand reality.”

 

Cormier pointed to science celebrities like Bill Nye and the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (both with fantastic shows on Netflix) as examples of great science communicators — people who don’t just understand science but are able to convey it in an engaging way to the broader public. According to Cormier, we need more people like them to promote a more comprehensive (and entertaining) culture of science literacy.

"Everyone should just take science more seriously," he said.

 

 

  • Published in News

The Cannabis Generation: Pot and Pan Kitchen offers an array of medicinal sweet treats

For over a year now the folks over at Pot and Pan Kitchen have been quietly putting their botany knowledge and cooking skills to good use by offering up an entire menu of marijuana-infused sweet treats.

One of the owners of Pot and Pan Kitchen, Andrew Doolittle, told me that the company began with Doolittle making hard candies out of his own kitchen. He would melt down Jolly Ranchers, boil them with a little water, and add his cannabis extract. They came out outrageously strong but didn’t taste very good.

“I thought they kind of sucked and people were getting way too fucked up on them,” recalled Doolittle.  

Since then, Doolittle and his team dialed in the recipe for their own hard candies, did some math, bought new molds, and have perfected their own version of cannabis hard candy called medicubez.

SourMedicubezgummies

Sour medicubez gummies. 

Doolittle’s been a caregiver for over 7 years and saw the demand for edibles within his patient base. So he changed and expanded his business model to allow for caregivers to use his company as a processing center. Now Pot and Pan Kitchen is able to potentially serve every patient and caregiver in the state!

“Once we started doing that, that’s when we really took off as a company,” said Doolittle. “It was huge for us.”

Now Doolittle’s team works out of a commercially licensed kitchen and makes a whole assortment of treats from hamburger whoopie pies, caramel bonbons, cinnamon sugar cupcakes, cookies and cream brioche donuts, cake pops, raspberry cheesecakes, peanut butter cookies, gummies, salves, and s'mores.

“You name it,” said Doolittle. “And we can infuse it with cannabis and bake it.”

I interviewed Doolittle last week, and we chatted about what first time users should know before consuming edibles. Read up, because Doolittle is gearing up to apply for a commercial sale license next year, meaning that his delicious cannabis concoctions could be legally and readily available to everybody through a Portland storefront. A Portland marijuana bakery? This could be huge.

 

MoxieLollipops

Moxie lollipops.  

First up, what’s the process for making edibles?

Cannabis butter is the traditional way to make edibles, always. You take the marijuana and saute it, and then you add butter. That’s like the old school way.

How many times have you had a pot brownies and it either didn’t really do anything for you, or it got you way too fucked up? I know 100 stories like that.

It’s really hard to use butter without getting it tested for an accurate dose. That’s one thing that we pride ourselves on at Pot and Pan Kitchen is accurate dosing. You always know what you’re getting when you’re eating an edible.

The easiest way to do that, instead of using plant material (flower or trim), is by using a concentrate or extract. An oil of some kind. That allows you to accurately dose your product. You don’t have to use weed butter. You just add activated cannabis oil to your product and as long as it’s mixed properly you get an even distribution.

 Hamburgwhoopie

Hamburger whoopie pies.

Breakdown the doses for me, because I would be the one to eat too many treats because I didn’t feel the effects right away.

It’s totally a person to person thing. It’s tricky with edibles. They can hit you anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. They can last anywhere from 4 hours to 10 hours. It’s common that you hear that people get way too high over edibles. They probably ate a dose that was way too high for them, or they didn’t wait long enough before eating more.

And that’s hard to do because our edibles are delicious.

 

DarkChocolateSeaSaltBonbons Dark chocolate sea salt bonbons.

So what’s the best advice for first-time eaters?

For someone who doesn’t smoke much I would say start with 5mg. If the person’s a little bigger, their body chemistry is different, their metabolisms different, 10 or 20 mg might be a better amount.

Always start small. Because you always can eat more.

It’s always healthier to eat marijuana instead of smoking it. It lasts longer. You get more out of the medicine.

 

Is there a taste difference between foods made with cannabis butter versus extract?

Most people don’t like that subtle weedy taste. There’s nothing worse than a gross tasting weed edible. You get that from using cannabis butter.

Cannabis butter imparts a strong taste because of the chlorophyll,the plant material, and the terpenes, which are the flavor molecules. They will add that gross taste that you experience in cannabis butter; it’s basically burnt chlorophyll.

If you use a cannabis oil extract with terpenes in it, you’ll still get some weed flavor but it’s not that burnt flavor.

There’s a refined version of cannabis oil that’s called distillate. It’s made through alcohol extraction, that strips the oils of all terpenes. It literally has no flavor. That will make an edible with absolutely no taste, and we work with that product often.

 

How do you feel about cannabis culture in general nowadays?

Marijuana isn’t demonized at all anymore. Millennials love it. We are going to be the cannabis generation. It’s well recognized for its medical benefits. Maybe some of the old-timers don’t like. But I would say that anybody under 30 in Maine is pro-cannabis.

Climate skeptics demand safe space for their unscientific beliefs

 

For decades, the overwhelming consensus from scientists and their peer-reviewed studies is that climate change is both accelerated by human activity and a serious threat.

 

But despite this, it would seem that contrarian voices are getting louder in the Trump era — at least a third of the seats in Congress are held by climate change skeptics. Here in Maine, a bill is being introduced that would "protect" those who don’t believe that climate change is an urgent, human-caused issue, despite 70 percent of Mainers believing the opposite.

 

State representative Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) has introduced LD 771, An Act To Protect Political Speech and Prevent Climate Change Policy Profiling.

 news climate larrylockman

Larry Lockman, pictured here on the left, is no stranger to controversy and outlandish statements.

The bill comes in response to attorney general Janet Mills, who joined law enforcers across the country to file a lawsuit against oil conglomerate ExxonMobil last year for potentially misleading the public by downplaying the dangers of climate change. According to Lockman, the bill would prohibit the state’s attorney general from prosecuting someone based on their climate change beliefs.

 

In other words, this bill would protect those who wish to advocate that climate change isn’t happening, or at the very least isn’t exacerbated by human activity and carbon emissions, from prosecution. It's an indirect response to the Citizen's United case — proponents of the bill say that political speech is the most protected form of free speech.

 

According to a press release, Mills responded to the bill by writing that she is, “committed to using the authority of my office to address (global climate change) in a meaningful way by defending important Environmental Protection Agency regulations against attacks led by the coal industry and exploring litigation options that will hold the worst polluters accountable for their actions.”

 

This bill to "protect the free speech" of climate change skeptics comes at the behest of Jonathan Reisman, one of the most prominent ones in Maine. Reisman is an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Machias, and is a leading conservative voice on environmental policy in the state. He said this bill is a direct response to the partisan investigation of Exxon and that he doesn’t want to live in a state where the attorney general doubles as the “environmental thought police.”

 

“I was quite concerned that the attorney general's office was once again suppressing political speech they disagreed with,” said Reisman in an interview with the Phoenix. “I’m offended by the Leonardo DiCaprio rule, if you don’t believe or accept the alarmist view on climate change, you’re not allowed to have public office.”

 

Reisman was referring to National Geographic's highly lauded documentary "Before the Flood," which had Leonardo DiCaprio traveling the world and asking world leaders how their nations will cope with climate change challenges.

 

While Reisman does believe that the climate change is indeed happening and that “human activity is part of it,” he’s not convinced that it will lead to any apocalyptic scenarios as “climate change alarmists would have you believe.” He says people like Senator Angus King like to play the “apocalypse card” because it gives them the moral authority to steer environmental policy.

 

“The models that we are using don’t have a strong record of predictive validity,” said Reisman. “We’ve seen efforts to massage the data that don’t inspire a lot of confidence.”

 

According to Reisman, when he examined the models from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (the international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions), the suggested reduction of emissions didn’t even have a tangible effect on reversing climate change.

 

“But they don’t want to talk about that,” said Reisman. “There’s political opportunism in it. But correlation doesn’t equal causation, King’s not telling the whole truth. He’s pushing more government to solve a problem, but what’s being proposed isn’t even going to solve this allegedly apocalyptic problem.”

 

20 years later, many environmental scientists and policy experts have said that by and large, the Kyoto Protocol was a failure. Although several countries did meet their emission standards, including the U.S. (which failed to ratify), two of the world’s biggest polluters, India and China, never signed the deal.

 

However, the Kyoto Protocol did operate under the assumption that climate change exists and is caused by human activity. It paved the way for last year's Paris Climate Agreement, signed by President Obama, which promised the world that the U.S. would reduce its emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 levels by the year 2025.

 

But now that sustainability standard is at risk, partly due to denial that climate change is a pressing issue. Is it just cognitive dissonance? One study from Swedish psychologist Kirsti Jylhä last year found that most people who accept hierarchical power structures and conservative values tend to deny climate change more often. Another study, from 2011 in Global Environmental Change, asserted that climate change denial was much more popular among conservative white men, presumably because they've benefited the most from the industrial capitalist system and stand to lose money if their businesses take sustainability seriously.

 

I observed this "white male effect" with a couple of Trump supporters I spoke to last week, who asked to remain anonymous, and said that they’ve always been skeptical of the science behind climate change, and dismissed it as just another part of the “liberal agenda.”

 

“Unfortunately, science has become a partisan issue,” said one Trump supporter from Gorham. “It’s just an unnecessary way to increase government regulations over businesses.”

 

According to Dylan Voorhees, the Climate and Clean Energy director at the non-partisan organization the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Lockman's climate denial bill is "ridiculous." He dismissed climate change denial as purley a political phenomenom, interest politics on a grand scale where "doubt is the product." 

"It is beyond question that, at the national level, this climate change denial propaganda and dark money campaign has become overwhelmingly affiliated with the Republican party and various conservative causes," said Voorhees. "Psychology plays a role in all kinds of public opinion, including on science and policy. But it would not play a role in public debate if it wasn’t for hundreds of millions spent trying to manipulate our beliefs."

 

Are we in a new chapter where it's cool to disregard facts and science? Probably not. But people like Lockman must feel emboldened by President Trump and his administration dismissing climate change as a “faith-based ideology.” We’ve got Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil as Secretary of the State, telling the Atlantic that he doesn’t think climate change is caused by human activity. Last month we read news that Trump signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which curbed carbon pollution and toxic pollutants from power plants.

 

And just last week, Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who also doesn’t trust the science behind climate change, told Fox News that he’d like the U.S. to exit out of the Paris Agreement, calling it a “bad deal.” He falsely asserted that China and India have no obligations to curb their emissions until 2030, despite the fact that they’ve already begun work on renewable energy.

 

It’s no wonder that Glen Brand from the Maine Sierra Club (and many others) have dubbed Trump’s administration as the “most anti-environmental administration this country has ever seen.”

 

Mainers gather with thousands to resist science denial

 news climatemarchNYC

The historic "People's Climate March" drew thousands to NYC in 2014.

Trump, his administration, and his fellow climate change deniers holding state offices around the country are poised to influence environmental policy for years to come. According to Brand, the timing couldn’t be worse.

 

“The timing is particularly tragic, because it’s at this time that we have to ramp up and make progress towards 100 percent clean energy,” said Brand. “And now we’re going to be delayed by fossil fuel lobbyists. He’s offering a really dark vision of the world where scientific fact is ignored.”

 news climatemarch2

People have been rallying for environmental sustainability for decades, but the issues surronding climate change are more pressing than ever before. Photo courtesy of the "People's Climate March." 

Brand is doing what he can to fight back against the anti-environmental agenda. With the Sierra Club of Maine, he’s charted six buses to take Mainers to the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29. According to Brand, although America “will survive Trump,” it’s important to resist and send a strong message that the people will continue to fight for justice, equality, and a safe and healthy natural environment.

 

“I’m hopeful that events like this will have long-term reverberations,” said Brand. “Of course, a march doesn’t reduce carbon emissions. But it galvanizes people. We will pump up people's energy to do the resistance work that’s necessary right now.”

 

A couple satellite marches are happening locally (in both Augusta and Portland), organized by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, 350 Midcoast Maine, the Maine Conservation Alliance, and the Maine People’s Alliance.

 

“Climate-change from carbon pollution threatens our natural resource based economy, damages coastal towns with rising sea levels and extreme storms, and makes people sick, increasing Maine’s already high rate of asthma and tick-borne diseases,” said Judy Berk from the NRCM. “President Trump is not going to protect people and our environment from the threats of climate change, despite the fact that most Americans believe climate change is happening and we need to act now.”

 

Lockman's bill was sent to the judiciary committee last month and will soon go before the full Legislature. 

 

The March for Science | April 22nd, 10 am-1 pm | City Hall, Portland | http://maineresists.org/

 

Maine People’s Climate March | April 29th, 10 am-1 pm | 111 Sewall St., Augusta | https://actionnetwork.org/events/peoples-climate-mobilization-in-maine

 

  • Published in News

Teach your children well

My folks are the best. I was extremely lucky to have the greatest parents growing up. They treated me so well, always looked out for me, taught me the right lessons and I think instilled a great perspective on how to go about life. I owe everything to my mother and father and I love them with all of my heart and soul.

That being said, I’m still pretty pissed off they never put a guitar in my hands when I was a kid!

Here I am listening to so much music as a young person. By the time I was seven or eight I was into jazz, big band, classic singers, doo-wop, oldies, Motown, soul, disco, classic rock, pop rock, new wave and power pop to name a few. I listened, collected and talked about music like it was my job before I even hit double digits. How do you not get that kid to play an instrument! Anything! 

They didn’t even go the cautious route by sticking me in a school band. Hand me a trumpet or send me down the street to Mrs. Whoever’s house to pick up piano lessons! Something!? Nothing.

So, what was their hang up? To this day, I still don’t know. I mean, I haven’t really had it out with them about it, yet, but they loved music. It was always around. They liked that I liked music. They loved to dance and sing along. My dad played amazing finger drums on the couch, steering wheel and dinner table. They played music everywhere we were and they always let me buy records and tapes with my allowance money. I had stacks of tapes, records and 45’s. Enough music in my bedroom that you’d think the average parent would say to the other parent, “honey, we should probably start to get him some lessons”. 

Did they think I was going to be an eight year old rebel renegade musician who would mess up the works in town and have the locals shaking a fist at me as I drove by in a black Mustang blasting my music smoking two cigarettes at once? I think they knew me better than that.

Did they hope I’d become a doctor, lawyer, mayor or simple law bidding citizen that wasn’t going to shake up things with that rock n’ roll music? No. I think they knew me better than that.

My folks weren’t pushy or suffocating. They let me do my thing, which at a young age was collecting and loving music and hanging out with friends playing hoops. I hung up Van Halen posters in my room, wore Beastie Boys t-shirts and tried to grow my hair out a little bit. The signs were all there that this was perhaps my calling. I should be playing something.

Which instrument though? I didn’t know. I liked so much different music. So, I can’t expect they would have known either. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever even asked them to buy me a guitar or if I could buy my own guitar. Years and years AND YEARS of following Eddie Van Halen; how did I not beg them for a red Kramer (guitar) with white and black scattered stripes?! Maybe this was all on me.

It’s funny, I didn’t even really know any kids I could have jammed with then. I knew kids in sports and acting, but not many musicians. Later on in high school, sure I knew one or two guys. Even then, it was the same guys everyone in school knew. These guys were like mystical legends. Who were these aliens?! There was always that guy from school band who played traditional sax. The best he could do though to impress anyone outside of class was playing “Urgent” by Foreigner or “Bitch” by the Stones. Doesn’t sound like much but it was partially impressive. 

I remember one friend’s reputation starting to grow. “Dude, Roger plays guitar. He’s got an amp and his folks let him play in their basement”, a close friend said to me. Whoa! Roger came off like a rock star to all of us. I let him borrow one of my Ozzy tapes long ago so he must have some skills.

I remember going to his house once to see him play. The journey was long. Friggin’ guy lived over a half hour away! Still we trudged on to see Roger and his guitar. I remember he kinda stunk. He knew, “Hey Joe” by Hendrix which was no fun. He didn’t really play anything by Van Halen except, “You Really Got Me”, which wasn’t even a Van Halen song, but he played it and it was impressive enough to all of us. All we knew is it got him girls and that’s when you know it’s working folks!   

So why didn’t the inspiration of Roger fire me up to go to my folks to say, “Hey, I wanna rock! Let’s handle this accordingly”.

I’ll be honest in my life, variety has been the musician dream killer. I’ve been into so much different music, I wouldn’t know what instrument to have played or what type of music to write.  Even as I got older I still don’t think I could have settled down to a single sound or instrument. I have a musical multiple personality condition. One minute Al Green, later on Iron Maiden, then Peter Tosh followed by Roy Orbison and then XTC.

My dad and his brother were into drums as kids. They both played a little bit. So I had the drums in me bigtime, but it never developed. I just didn’t know what instrument to pick… so I pursued none.

It took me a while to realize it was best for me to be into everything, not one thing. It allowed me to work with all kinds of music and deal with all types of artists because I honestly could speak their native tongue when it came to what music they made. Rock, rap, metal, acoustic, punk, r&b; I was able to work with and respond to it all working in music for the past 28 years.

Today, we’re in a dangerous time for kids learning how to play instruments. Music in schools, music programs, public broadcasting and the arts are losing too much its support. That’s unacceptable. If this curve unfortunately continues to head in that direction, it is up to parents to bring their kids to Mrs. Whoever’s house for lessons or to see the Jack White poster on their kid’s bedroom wall and realize they’re the only ones who need to put a guitar in that child’s hands or a piano in front of them. We need to handle this crisis and support it as a community. In a city like Portland, drenched in spectacular art, music and culture; it’s up to us to preserve its future. Now, more than ever.

Music will never go away, if WE keep it alive.

News Briefs

Thousands show support in the wake of meteorologist's suicide

Last week, the local television station WCSH-6 released a touching video tribute to meteorologist Tom Johnston, after authorities found his body and revealed that he committed suicide.

The video, now viewed over 20,000 times, featured snippets of Johnston’s colorful personality through clips of weather reports and on-air banter with his colleagues.

“He was a meteorologist that felt more like a friend,” said reporter and co-worker Amanda Hill in the video. “Tom, as we know, had a huge smile and an equally large heart.”  

Johnston, known by his nickname “TJ Thunder” moved to Maine from Florida three years ago and quickly developed a following as the upbeat, wise-cracking weatherman from Channel 6. Colleagues said that he loved the weather, and, like many Mainers, held a strange obsession with snow.

Police found Johnston’s body in a wooded area outside Auburn after he was reported missing days after he was emceeing at a ski event in Newry. As we remember Johnston’s life and positive energy, his demise serves as a cautionary tale; that no matter how happy someone appears to be, the anxieties they face inside are often times only knowable to them. Locals who knew Tom or watched him on TV alluded to this notion as they expressed their shock and grief.

“We watched Tom every night,” wrote PJ Wilson from Harpswell in response to the tribute video. “Tom was awesome. To his family, and his WCSH6 family, do not be too hard on yourself about not seeing signs. I lived with a ‘joker, smiler, giver’ that suffered depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and never saw through the smiles into the pain. Thank God my family member confided in someone. I too was blind. Fortunately for me I have the chance to keep my eyes and ears open.  I know that you are sad and want to blame yourselves.  Be kind to yourself, sometimes signs are not there.”

 

LePage renews efforts to slash candy and soda from EBT benefits

Maine has about 180,000 food stamp recipients and if Gov. Paul LePage gets his way, they won’t be able to buy candy or soda with their card.

Feeling that Trump and his administration will be more amenable to their cause, LePage and other state Republicans are renewing their efforts to ban these sugary foods from food stamp eligibility. LePage cites rising cases of obesity and diabetes as the motivation behind this ban.

According to the Portland Press Herald, LePage’s efforts have inspired legislators in Tennessee and Arkansas to pursue similar restrictions.

“We don’t allow people to buy alcohol and cigarettes with welfare dollars, why should we allow people to buy junk food that leads to just as many health problems?” Tennessee Rep. Sheila Butt told the Press Herald.

 

Immigration agents arrest Somali man inside Portland courthouse

 news aliabdi

Abdi Ali. Courtesy of the Cumberland County Jail.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a Somali asylum seeker named Abdi Ali at the Portland courthouse last week, according to his lawyer Tina Nadeau.

Ali was there for a meeting with his attorney about a previous drunk driving charge when ICE agents reportedly surprised him, pushed him against the wall, and detained him, according to Nadeau.

“It is very disturbing that someone coming to the courthouse for his scheduled court date and to get legal counsel is being dragged out in handcuffs,” said Nadeau to the Bangor Daily News.

According to ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer, Ali has a criminal history that includes resisting arrest, various misdemeanors, and two counts of assault.

Many progressive locals and groups like Portland City Councilor Pious Ali, Progressive Portland, and the Maine ACLU have condemned the arrest. They don’t think it’s right for immigration officials to ambush asylum seekers when they show up to their scheduled court date.

“Lurking at courthouses to arrest immigrants, is shortsighted and not the best way to implement immigration laws,” wrote City Councilor Pious Ali, an immigrant from Ghana, on Facebook. “Acts like this will negatively affect the relationship between local law enforcement and the immigrant community and are not in the best interest of our community and city.”

The Maine ACLU released a letter last week signed by 179 Maine attorneys noting that the practice "impedes access to justice and makes Mainers less safe." The letter is on its way to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, urging them to stop the practice of ICE agents arresting people inside courthouses. 

According to a press release from Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, the Portland PD was unaware of the situation.

“The Portland Police Department was unaware federal officials were investigating or had plans to arrest Mr. Ali,” wrote Sauschuk in a press release. “We work very hard to build trust between the Police Department and all immigrant communities,” the chief said. “It is imperative that all the residents of our city are able to seek assistance from the police, and also provide us with the help we need to solve crimes and continue to make Portland a safe city. We know that cannot truly happen if they are in fear of the police.”

This comment arrives with some added weight behind it; the Portland Police Department has been repeatedly criticized by the Portland Racial Justice Congress (a group of racial equality activists) and others for their use of lethal force against an armed man named Chance David Baker two months ago, and the arrests of 15 Black Lives Matter protesters last July.

 

 

Islamophobic graffiti outrages students a second time

 

For the second time in six months, an anti-Muslim graffiti was found on USM’s Portland campus, provoking intense anger amongst students both on and offline.  

 

The phrase “Kill the muslin,” was scribbled on a USM poster depicting what to do during an active shooter scenario. Could the perpetrator just have been expressing his disgust with light-weight cotton cloth? Many don’t think so, including USM President Glenn Cummings, who has condemned the act as a hate crime.

 

“I am personally sickened by this and apologize to our many Muslim students whose presence on our campus and contributions to our university I could not value more,” wrote Cummings in an email to the entire USM community. “While we can not control the behavior of every single person who finds their way onto our campus, I can assure you our approach is that even one incident is too many and will not be tolerated.”

 

8 Days: The Return of Rustic, Freaky Beat Shows, and One Very Famous Rapper

THURSDAY 13

 

POP UP SQUATS | If you want a booty looking like it walked off a Tyga music video, you’ve got to put in the time...and the squats. The social athletes at Booty Bomb are turning the Stroudwater Distillery into a boot camp, so if you want to shape your rump, or just shake off the seasonal lethargy, I suggest you enlist. And if it’s been awhile since you’ve broken a sweat, don’t worry, the instructors here will work at your pace. The best part? A full-service bar and the Mami Food Truck will be on hand to serve you after the workout, but you’ve got to earn it first.

| $30 | 6 pm to 8 pm | Stroudwater Distillery, 4 Thompson’s Pt., Portland | http://www.stroudwaterdistillery.com/

 

PSYCHEDELIC SAUCE | A rare fungal ear infection known as “psytrance” originated in 1996 by way of two sonic innovators that call themselves the Infected Mushroom, and it's set to re-infect hundreds this month. This Israeli electronic music duo is known for putting on a pretty trippy show: aggressive beats, layers of dreamlike instrumentation, strange samples, and an amorphous structure. Catch this bizarre bug when Infected Mushroom debuts the unrestrained experience of their newest album Return to the Sauce, on a Portland crowd that might not even be ready for it. Prepare your eardrums (and maybe your pineal gland too). International trance star Randy Seidman opens.

| $25 | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portcitymusichall.com/

 

KICK OFF SHOW | Maine’s own Fall of Rauros have new folk-laden black metal nightmares to share with their new work Vigilance Perennial (check out Nick Schroeder’s take on the album on page TK). They’ll be joined by Obsidian Tongue, purveyors of an organic, apocalyptic, and truly fucked up style of black metal. Also on the bill are the doom-tinged folk collective Ada, and the chamber ensemble Forêt Endormie.

| $10 | 8 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/

 

STRIPPED DOWN SHOW | If you’ve finally untwisted your knickers over that one-asshole-bouncer-in-Empire drama, then head over there for a wholesome night of original music. Alternative folk artist Dan Tedesco will guide the room through a journey about his music addiction — which has led to the mastery of at least five instruments. Like most great musicians, he too is a misfit, a social outcast. He’s joined by Calen Perkins and Portland’s own Pretty Sad.

| $8 | 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/

 

FRIDAY 14

 

VIBRANT SAFE SPACE | The SPACE Gallery is screening an ode to gay New York with Kiki, a film about the beauty and struggle of LGBTQ youth of color in an underground ballroom scene. It’s an honest, if somber, take on the gay house scene. Recommended.

| FREE | 7 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | http://www.space538.org/

 

8Days SofiaTalvik PhotobyTiffanyThoelke

The visually and audibly arresting Sofia Talvik. Photo by Tiffany Thoelke.

SHIVERS FROM SCANDINAVIA | Enter Sofia Talvik, a Swedish singer/musician described as “a North Sea siren blending sparkle and melancholy with a twang of Americana.” She’ll be performing her special niche of folk music to a small crowd at Blue, and soothing all their souls in the meantime. When you hear the Siren’s song, you can’t help but dive into her cold and mysterious waters. Talvik’s music is bright, passionate, thought-provoking, and sorely missing from your sonic diet.

| one-drink-minimum | 8 pm | Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland | http://portcityblue.com/

 

8days WakaFlockaFlame

Waka Flocka's newest music video, "Workin", is intense AF. 

NO HANDS | Hot 104.7 Maine has resurrected a rapper whose time in the international spotlight was about five years ago with the release of singles No Hands, and Hard In The Paint. Yes, I’m talking about Waka Flocka Flame, the dude whose barks and beats you’ve probably slammed down many a shot to. He’s back in the mainstream discourse on the heels of a new album called Flockaveli 2 (and an intense beef with Gucci Mane). Prepare for a decisively rowdy experience.

| $30 | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | http://www.statetheatreportland.com/

 

8days RusticOvertones

Dave Gutter of Rustive Overtones unleashing that signature voice. 

OUR TREASURE | Perhaps Maine’s most worthwhile export to the rock and soul scene, the Rustic Overtones, are swinging back through home country for a show. Let sounds of Dave Gutter's smooth but gravely voice and his ass-kickin backup brass follow you all the way home. They’ll be performing their 2012 album Let’s Start A Cult from start to finish. They’ll be joined by the circus punk powerhouse of Bella’s Bartok, a genuine conspiracy to get shy people everywhere dancing.

| $20 | 9 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | http://www.portlandhouseofmusic.com/

 

SATURDAY 15

 

GRAB A PEPSI | It’s time for another protest. With our daily news cycle inundated with fresh scandals and controversies, it’s easy to forget the old unresolved ones. Like President Trump’s tax returns -- what up with them? Why haven’t they been released? How long is this IRS audit going to take, and why isn’t the public told anything at all about the investigation? The people want answers, and they’re planning on demanding them at another protest that starts at City Hall. It’s time to put a stamp on this conspiracy of Russian business ties as either fact or fiction, once and for all. Show up.

| FREE | noon to 1:30 pm | Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St., Portland

 

A SERIOUS ACT | Emanuel Ax, described as a master of the concert stage, and universally respected piano player is scheduled to make a triumphant return to Portland today. He’s bringing with him masterful live renditions of solo works by Franz Schubert, Samuel Adams, and Frédéric Chopin. Students get in for $15. That’s a sweet deal for this classical culture bomb.

| $50 | 3 pm | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland | http://portlandovations.org/

 

8Days tenstrongsandagoatskin

Ten Strings and a Goat Skin play tradional music for modern audiences. 

NEW SCHOOL | They’re youthful, energetic, and know how to squeeze the life out of a fiddle, a guitar, and a hand drum. They’re Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, a trio from Canada’s Prince Edward Island who aims to give traditional music that modern edge it needs to stay relevant in 2017. “We’re less anchored in traditional structures, the way many players assemble dance sets,” said Rowen Gallant, one of the trio’s string players. “We’ve left them by the wayside. We retain the melodic elements, but we’re not opposed to messing with things.” Sometimes moody, sometimes raucous and prone to some serious stomping; Ten Strings and a Goat Skin will make you feel all the feels.

| $18 | 8 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland | https://onelongfellowsquare.com/

 

HAPPINESS NOW | Swing by Geno’s for release show of Wedding Camps’ new EP, Clear Fizzy Things. Female fronted, soaked in lo-fi sounds and a soft punk attitude, Wedding Camp unpretentiously oozes with coolness. They’re joined by Portland friends Cadaverette, Ossalot, and Notches. Grab a beer and open up to some local tunes will ya?

| $5 | 9 pm | Geno’s Rock Club, 625 Congress St., Portland

 

YOU GOT A PROBLEM | Xander Nelson’s punchy melodic rock band is also throwing an album release concert, just down the street from Geno’s at Empire. These dudes are going to rock out by debuting A Dull Roar, and they're going to look dapper as hell doing it. Also on the bill is the Johnny Cash-inspired Americana band Love to Burn, and local death punks Covered In Bees.

| $7 | 10 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/

 

SUNDAY 16

 

LAUGHTER PLEASE | When comedians like Louis CK and Dave Chappelle — whom liberals usually love — get dragged on social media for jokes that go too far, you might ask yourself: where do we draw the line? In this time of hyper-political correctness, how are our local comedians faring? How do the navigate the balance between what’s funny and what’s too offensive? By sticking to weed jokes? Portland’s own Ian Stuart (who’s picked up some impressive national cred over the years) will host a comedy night with a rotating cast of funny men and women. Let’s see what they’re made of.

| $4 | 7:30 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/

 

JUST RELAX | George Winston plays the piano three ways — melodic rural folk style, stride style inspired by Teddy Wilson, and New Orleans R&B style — and does it all with the excellence that only comes from decades of practice. His mastery of the keys can provide the background for a nice, chill night. No drama. Just a cocktail and the soft drip like melodies of a great pianist. Do you deserve it?

| $35 | 7:30 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland | https://onelongfellowsquare.com/

 

8days theMinimalists PhotoByAdamDressler

Joshua and Ryan, the Minimalists, say that their movement is about "the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things—which actually aren’t things at all."

LESS IS NOW | Having just spent an entire day last week donating nearly half of my possessions (including furniture, books, media, and clothes) I can sense there’s something to the whole “minimalist movement.” It’s liberating in a way, to know that all my belongings can fit into 2-3 bags and I can take off and live anywhere at a moment's notice. I have no mortgage, or car payments tying me down either. In 2017, too much of our wealth, identity, and physical space is tied to material objects. Joshua and Ryan, filmmakers and speakers of the “Minimalist Movement” are touring through Portland to share their wisdom on an intimidating, but ultimately rewarding alternative to the American dream.

| $27 | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portcitymusichall.com/

 

MONDAY 17

 8Days theeaglehuntress

Face it, this 13-year old Kazakh girl is probably more badass than you'll ever be. Screenshot from "The Eagle Huntress" - Sony Pictures. 

A SOARING TALE | Ready to be floored by an exhilarating and visually epic documentary about a young eagle huntress from Kazakh? The PMA is screening The Eagle Huntress, which Vice Magazine has lauded as a “breathtaking documentary that shows when we encourage our daughters, amazing things happen." This cultural treat is screening all week.

| $8 | 11:30 am | The Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq., Portland | http://www.portlandmuseum.org/

 

ART FOR EARTH | Do you ever go outside? Do you like it out there? It’s pretty depressing (and infuriating) that we still have to rally to convince others that climate change is indeed a thing that’s happening. But we do. Radical action is needed to support the EPA and other climate change initiatives that Trump has either gutted or undermined. Join the Artist’s Rapid Response Team and make signs, puppets, and other visual aids for the People’s Climate March in Augusta and Washington D.C. And because protestors are typically fueled by pizza, Flatbread has donated some slices of their sweet, thin and delicious pies. Yum. Part of the GET READY WEEKLY art residency at SPACE throughout this month (read Nick Schroeder's interview with GRW principals Erin Colleen Johnson and Marieke Van Der Steenhoven on page TK.)

| FREE | 5:30 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | www.space538.org/

 

BRILLIANT BEATS | Because it was so popular last year, local DJs Dirty Keys, Zimbra and DoomsdayJ will spin some post punk and synth pop hits for their 2nd Annual Talking Heads night. They’re hard to categorize but easy to dance to. Props to Flask for not only hosting consistent and free dance nights but also for keeping that new wave spirit alive-n-kickin.

| FREE | 8 pm | Flask Lounge, 117 Spring St., Portland | http://flasklounge.com/

 

8Days stayonmars photobyJackieSpencer

Zachary Mullin (AKA Stay On Mars) is more than just a Portland rapper; he's a community organizer, activist, and youth educator. Photo by: Jackie Spencer.

INTROSPECTIVE CYPHERS | Monday of the Minds, Portland premiere hip hop night delivers in both style and substance. They’re moving the show to Empire for one week to accommodate Cryptic Wisdom, a deep-thinking kind of rapper touring from Tuscon Arizona. Other acts include James Grant, Ill Murray, and Portland’s faithful trap-hop artist, cultural critic and founder of Monday of the Minds, Stay on Mars. Get your brain fed behind a sick beat.

| $7 | 9 pm | Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland | http://www.portlandempire.com/

 

TUESDAY 18

 

WAR SUCKS |  Did you know that today is the International Day Against Military Spending & National Peace Action's Move the Money Campaign Day? Me neither. Maine Resists will be tabling all day with the hopes of inspiring others to join the anti-war effort. To some degree, we’re disconnected from reality in peaceful ol’ Maine, but it’s important to be reminded that our tax dollars often end up funding death and despair around the world.

| FREE | noon | Monument Square, Portland | http://www.maineresists.org/

 

8Days Danceclass

Rene Johnson can teach even those with two left feet how to dance with grace and confidence. 

CONFIDENCE BOOST | Chances are you either know how to dance or you don’t; there’s really no in-between. Furthermore, if you can’t dance you’ve probably made peace with it and reconciled with the fact that dancefloors will forever be foreign territory for you. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The talented and exuberant local artist Rene Johnson, artistic director of the Theater Ensemble of Color, is hosting a class called “Dancing For Non-Dancers.” Don’t be shy; all you need are two working legs.

| $35 | 6:30 to 9:30 pm | Acorn Productions, 519 Congress St., Portland | https://acornproductionsportland.wordpress.com/

 

COME ON DOWN | If you’re a '90s kid, you’ve likely fantasized about winning money on the "Big Wheel" from The Price is Right. I certainly did. With a bizarre mix of optimism and bewilderment, I learned this week that The Price is Right tours with an interactive stage show, and it’s coming to Maine! Portlanders will get a chance to play all those wacky stage games, and actually win money, appliances, cars, and vacations. Are you feeling lucky?

| $39 | 7:30 pm | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland | https://tickets.porttix.com/

 

WEDNESDAY 19

 

CREATURE COMFORTS | If you don’t think that the Kora Shrine Circus is in the business of animal abuse and exploitation, then you can head over to their last couple of performances in blissful ignorance. This day marks the last of their Portland visits this year.

| $12 | 2 pm and 7 pm | Cross Insurance Arena, 1 Civic Center Sq., Portland | http://korashriners.org/circus/

 

CULTURAL CONFECTION | Talented musicians take you places inside your head. Great ones accomplish even more. The Argentinian folk artist Richard Shindell writes songs that “paint pictures, tell stories, juxtapose ideas and images, inhabit characters, vividly evoking entire worlds along the way and expanding our sense of just what it is a song may be.” You’re in for a treat with this one, trust me.  

| $30 | 8 pm | One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland | https://onelongfellowsquare.com/

 

8Days KishiBashi

Kishi Bashi is touring with his new album Sonderlust "a rapturous mix of '70s soft rock, disco and synth pop."

HEARTBROKEN HUMANS | The indie strangeling and multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi has crafted an album from globs of his heart and shreds of his soul. It’s called Sonderlust, and it’s staggeringly creative and quite adventurous for clear-cut pop-rock. The violin gymnastics and deeply emotive storytelling present on the album might have something to do with its mysterious quality. Tall Tall Trees are set to open.

| $17 | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland |  http://www.portcitymusichall.com/

 

THURSDAY 20

 

LOOKING AHEAD | There are many hip happenings coming down the arts/entertainment/nightlife pipeline, but you’re going to have to wait until next week for details. Here’s a preview of some Portland events that have caught my eye: one of the greatest forces of Irish music hits the State Theatre; Ian Stuart is releasing his 4/20 themed comedy album; the real life Catch Me If You Can con-man Frank Abagnale Jr. is going to give a talk on security at USM; Mighty Mystic is set to perform and host a big reggae party at Port City; and noise act Wolf Eyes is set to chill spines at SPACE Gallery.

Letters to the Editors

Dear People:

For many years I have complained about my government’s lack of concern for the present and future of struggling people and the planet. I have withheld one hundred dollars from my properly-calculated tax payment as a protest, and sent that money to an organization that distributed collected funds to organizations helping people in need and causes worth supporting. Every year there has been good reason to do it, and every year I have felt good about doing it. My only hesitation has been at withholding only $100, but I do believe in taxation, I do support much of what my government does.

The election of Donald Trump makes my concern about my government more troubling than ever. Never before in my sixty years has my government been so callous about the “tired, your poor, the hungry, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Trump has only been in office less than three months and already the misery is spreading like a cancer, and it shows no sign of abating.

I can not do less than I have before, I must do more. As in the past I have prepared my tax return as carefully as I can. This year I am withholding two hundred dollars of my calculated payment. I am not keeping this money, I am sending it to Haymarket People’s Fund in Boston to do what the government should be doing - supporting society.

Ironically, a president who believes so strongly in privatization should thank me for such forward thinking on my part. I am not asking government to fund programs, I am supporting private efforts, and I am supporting reduction of taxation. If all people did as I am doing the government could do less, as it wants, and private agencies could do more, as government wants. This is not what I want, mind you, I want government to do its job, and am in fact willing to pay a fair share for the work and investments. But I thought it worth mentioning that what I am doing is in fact consistent with Trump’s expressed policies. 

Sincerely,

Seth Berner

 

To the Editors:
Re: Sultana Khan article March 30
Sultana, Keep up the good work. Your insightful and observant reporting is refreshing to see in this ultra-left house "organ". Mush-minded liberals and right wing wackos are blinded by doctrine. Observed reality is enlightening.
Regards,
SC Taylor

 

To the Editors:

Many of the same proposed Sunday hunting bills come up every year with only a change in the LD (legislative document) number and a slight change in the title.  The basic concept of the bill remains the same with the usual focus of allowing Sunday hunting of wildlife as evidenced by the following bills:

LD61: An Act to Allow Bird Hunting on Sundays by Licensed Hunters Using a Shotgun; LD 189: An Act to Allow Bird Hunting on Sunday in Aroostook County and Unorganized Townships in Western Maine; and LD109: An Act to Allow Sunday Hunting by Landowners and Those with Landowners’ Permission. These are just a few of the Sunday Hunting bills currently being considered by the 128th Session of the Maine Legislature. Described by some as getting a foot in the door, these Sunday hunting bills are scheduled for a public hearing this Thursday, April 6, at the Cross State Office Building, Rm. 206 at the State House in Augusta, ME.   Opponents of these Sunday hunting bills point out that while some states allow hunting on Sunday, not all states allow silencers on guns for hunters.

Last year, in the 127th Session of the Legislature, LD942: An Act To Permit the Use of Firearm Noise Suppression Devices in Hunting and To Provide for a Chief Law Enforcement Officer’s Certification for Certain Firearms, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Mason (R-Androscoggin), was approved by the legislature.  Included in the bill is a provision that “until August 1, 2018, this bill allows a person to use a noise suppression device while hunting, as long as the person has lawful possession of the device and has not had a hunting license revoked as a result of a serious hunting violation.”  

At the time, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was opposed to the bill and expressed concern about the potential for increased difficulty in apprehending poachers with silencers.  We need to address this issue of whether or not we are going to continue to allow silencers on guns because Sunday is the one day of the week during hunting season when a citizen can go hiking in the woods with a dog and members of the family without having to worry that someone may be hunting within a short distance with no warning because of shots not being clearly heard.  Lastly, let’s give the animals and the game wardens in this state one day a week to rest.  

Val Philbrick

Scarborough, ME.

Mainers Object to Gorsuch: Checking in with 'The Resistance'

Portland joined several cities across the nation last week for a series of rallies under the name, “The People’s Defense.” Protests were centered around the slogan: We Object. Pro-democracy and civil rights advocates objected to a number of issues — Trump’s travel ban, spikes in hate crimes, health care reform, budget cuts to the EPA, Internet privacy — but most were focused on what they considered the most pressing and important: the nomination of Trump’s pick for Supreme Court Judge, Neil Gorsuch.

About 150 voters gathered on Sunday at Portland’s City Hall to object to Gorsuch, a candidate who’s both praised and criticized for his conservative views and strict constitutionalist perspective. One can see the ideological divide over Gorsuch locally in recent stories from the Portland Press Herald which report that a group of 98 Maine lawyers wrote and signed a letter in opposition to Gorsuch to Maine’s Senators, while a separate group of 49 signed one in support.

I went to last Sunday’s “People’s Filibuster” to take the temperature on the Trump resistance, and learn why local progressives are so opposed to Gorsuch.

The speakers at the rally included former State Rep. and Bernie voter Diane Russell; Mike Sylvester, a State Rep. for District 39, and founding member of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America; Glen Brand, the chapter director at the Maine Sierra Club; Barney McCleland from the AFL-CIO; Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesney; and Michael Langenmayr, a steering committee member of the advocacy group Progressive Portland.

“We’re standing up to the idea that this man who has a terrible history and a terrible ruling record could automatically get a seat on the Supreme Court,” said Diane Russell to a cheering crowd. “We’re calling on both Senator Susan Collins and Angus King to ensure that should Gorsuch be confirmed that it is by 60 votes.”

Russell was referring to a Democratic filibuster. After the rally, it was reported that Senate Democrats did secure the 41 votes needed to filibuster Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. 

Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans vowed to get Gorsuch appointed by Friday, and are planning on invoking the “nuclear option,” which calls for a simple majority vote to rewrite the rules of the Senate — effectively forcing Gorsuch’s way into highest judicial seat in the country. (Presidential nominees typically need 50 votes in the Senate to pass, but now Gorsuch needs 60 to break the filibuster unless Republicans go nuclear and eliminate the threshold.)

“If Gorsuch can’t earn 60 votes on his own accord, Republicans should change the nominee, not the Senate system,” said Russell at the rally.

Renee Cote, a legal copy editor from Auburn, was among the protesters at City Hall. She said that it was unfair that Gorsuch was even considered in the first place, citing that Barack Obama had the constitutional right to nominate his own Supreme Court Justice, Merrick Garland, after Antonin Scalia's sudden death last winter, but was met with Republican obstructionism. Because of this, Gorsuch should be expected to garner at least 60 votes.

“It seems to me that someone whose character would let them step into a seat like that should be required to get at least 60 votes,” said Cote. “I’ve read a lot of Gorsuch’s cases, and frankly, they’re depressing.”

After Republicans stalled progress for 11 months last year in the Senate, effectively forestalling Merrick Garland Supreme Court appointment, Democrats were not happy. Should Gorsuch win the nomination, many like Cote, will consider the seat stolen. (Mitch McConnell admitted to the press last week that blocking the vote of Garland to the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was an election last year was just a matter of principle, not real rules.)

On Sunday, Portland protesters shared other concerns about Gorsuch, pointing to a track record that they perceive as anti-women’s rights, anti-working class, and too conservative and invested in dark money groups for their political tastes. They also believe that Gorsuch holds a troubling pro-corporate bias, something that rank-and-file citizens on both the right and the left typically oppose. (93 percent of American voters believe that politics today “empower wealthy special interests over everyday Americans.”)

When Mike Sylvester addressed the crowd during the second speech of the rally, he touched on this disconnect between politicians and the working class.

news mikesylvester

A socialist perspective was offered by Mike Sylvester, (pictured above) the Maine State Rep for District 39.

“As a socialist and a union organizer, I’ve been working with low-income folks for 20 years, the people that aren’t supposed to matter,” said Sylvester sardonically. “It gives me a particular point of view when I hear the word pro-corporation, what that means to me, is that the top .1 percent owns 22 percent of all our resources. To them, none of us matter. We’re the unseen, the unheard and the unwashed. They don’t care about our unmet needs.”

According to Sylvester, America needs a shift in culture and attitudes about labor, and that “the smallest business in America is the individual worker, selling their labor to highest bidder.” He urged the others in the crowd to call Senator Angus King and demand that he reject Gorsuch’s appointment, reminding the crowd that a Supreme Court appointment is a lifetime position (at 49 years of age, Gorsuch would be the youngest Supreme Court appointment since 43-year-old Clarence Thomas in 1991).

“Let’s not fool ourselves, there have been many pro-corporate people put into positions of government for the past 30 years,” said Sylvester. “But today we are looking at the last line of defense. It’s the vote between what justice means and what is illegal.”

Others at the protest voiced concerns about Gorsuch’s conservative values (saying they were even more on the right then the last Justice Antonin Scalia) and his relationship with the Federalist Society, an organization that advocates for a strict adherence to the constitution, states' rights, and judges that interpret the laws instead of make them.

“In 21 out of 23 cases, Gorsuch would side with the employer over the employee, the haves over the have nots,” said Jeremy Mele, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. “I personally feel that what we need on the Supreme Court is people that understand the plight of the working class.”

Mele, Cote, and others at the “People’s Filibuster” rally didn’t display confidence that Senator King would vote the way they wanted, but all of them expressed the importance of voicing their dissent anyway. 

news gorsuch crowdshot

The People’s Defense was the name of the string of protests that took place last Sunday that called for, among other things, the rejection of Neil Gorsuch’s nomination.

For activists like Mele and Harlan Baker, the local organizer of the “Say No To Racism” rallies on First Fridays in Portland, protests are an integral part of democracy, and help with both big picture planning and day-to-day struggles.

“You’ve got to make sure the movement shows up at the polls,” said Baker. “We have to organize inside the Democrat party and find the new blood and the new ideas and push them to the surface.”

“I’m hoping that resistance keeps going until 2018, so we can put more more Democrats, people like Sanders and Warren, back in office,” said Mele. “But for the day to day stuff, what’s really important is that it shows the people who might not be feeling welcome, that there are people that care about them. People in the LGBTQ community, people of color, they see these top politicians demonizing them and they really need to know that that’s not how the majority of Americans feel.”

For them, the resistance isn’t fading away anytime soon.

“The resistance will sustain itself by the interpersonal contacts that are made here all the time,” said Cote. “It’s going to keep us from getting tired, losing faith, and dropping out, I don’t see that happening.”

  • Published in News

Information for sale: The fight for Internet privacy and why you should care

 "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power." Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Republicans in the House and Senate just repealed landmark FCC regulations on internet privacy. And you don’t need to wear a tinfoil hat to be concerned about it.

After a vote of 215 in favor and 205 against in the House, the new measure S.J. Res 34 is on its way to the desk of an eager President Trump for signature, while Americans from both sides of the political aisle express outrage.

"People should be concerned," said Zachary Heiden the legal director at the ACLU of Maine. "We’re all customers of these companies, but now they’ll be able to treat us like products."

It’s hard to find someone outside the telecom industry that was for this repeal, that now allows internet providers to sell your data without your consent. From Democrats in Congress, and progressives of all persuasions, to alt-writers at Breitbart, Christian conservatives, and the country folk of Aroostook county — most of American rejected it. Even the trolls that lurk in the_donald subreddit expressed anger towards their hero and his decision to roll back Obama’s privacy provisions. 

“I am against anything and anyone that can track and sell my internet browser history,” wrote a Reddit user named Hoffa, under a post in the_donald titled “Let’s Discuss this ISP privacy bill.”

If you spend a minute online or asking the people in your community it’s quite clear: nobody asked for this.

feature privacyprotest2

Lewis Sigler, from Gardiner, at a recent Portland rally where he said this about the FCC repeal bill: "It’s outrageous, our information belongs to us, it's not up to the companies to sell it to highest bidder. Collins sold us out."

Other fans of privacy in an interconnected world of 3.2 billion internet users have pointed out online that this move undermines basic rights, commodifies our digital identity, and sells it to faceless corporations without permission.

Heiden from the ACLU believes we could and should be doing more to fight for our rights to privacy. 

"So many people in this country care about privacy, but they’re not as organized about it like the companies that care about profits," said Heiden.

Have Americans just gotten used to this reality four years after the Snowden revelations? Has that bombshell just been reduced to old news

 

WEB AND APP USERS LOST WHAT THEY NEVER HAD

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Anytime you log onto the internet, especially from public WiFi like at this Portland Starbucks, third parties can collect your data. 

The FCC regulations would have required that internet service providers (ISPs like Comcast and Verizon) ask their customers for permission before they sell their web and app browsing habits to third parties for advertising.

“The vote in Congress to repeal the broadband privacy rules, allowing internet service providers to spy on their customers and sell their data without consent, is a terrible setback for the American public,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America.

Without these rules, ISPs are allowed to install stealth software on your phone to track your activity in real-time, placing advertisements in your web browsers and on websites where you normally wouldn’t see them.

“I understand that network executives want to produce the highest return for shareholders by selling consumers’ information,” wrote the chairman of the FCC under Obama, Tom Wheeler, in an op-ed to the New York Times called ‘How the Republicans sold your privacy to Internet providers.’ “The problem is they are selling something that doesn’t belong to them. What is good business for powerful cable and phone companies is just tough luck for the rest of us.”

If this seems like nothing new, you wouldn’t be wrong. Some have argued that Americans have grown complacent in an age where tech-related issues are the norm: government surveillance, identity thefts, and advertisers pining after your identity. Google and Facebook have been tracking and collecting our browsing habits and selling them to the highest bidder for years; that’s why the ads you see on those sites seem so catered to your interests. According to an ad spending forecast from eMarketer, Google and Facebook’s advertising market is worth more than $80 billion.

However, privacy advocates say that although the services of Facebook and Google are so ubiquitous to Internet activities, a user can still choose not to use them, whereas people don’t have much choice over an ISP, especially if they live in a rural area.

On top of that, Facebook and Google are free services which depend on ad revenue to stay in operation; ISPs are paid for by customers that don’t expect their data to be used as a commodity. 

 

THE ARGUMENT FOR IT

Representatives like Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have justified the repeal by saying that the FCC regulations undermine customer choice and infringe upon the free market.

“These broadband privacy rules are unnecessary and are just another example of big government overreach,” said Rep. Blackburn, who sponsored the repeal bill, in a recent press conference.

During Sean Spicer’s daily circus, he told reporters that Trump had “pledged to reverse this overreach,” and that the FCC regulations were an example of “bureaucrats in Washington” placing restrictions on one kind of company — internet service providers — and “picking winners and losers.”

Our very own Senator Susan Collins also believes that the FCC regulations are an example of government overreach. She voted yes on the repeal (alongside Congressman Bruce Poliquin) and according to a statement her press secretary wrote to the Press Herald, she believes that it was a “misguided rule” that had created “an inconsistent, confusing standard,” and “limited broadband innovation.”

Collins also argued that Google and Facebook aren’t beholden to the same strict standards, and this creates competitive disadvantages to internet service providers.

 

FACEBOOK IS NOT THE INTERNET

Do Republicans and so-called moderates like Collins have ISPs confused with websites? The FCC only applies to telecommunication companies, so they wouldn't be allowed to develop rules for internet businesses even if they wanted to.

This confusion has had many opponents of the repeal in Maine and across the country scratching their heads and facetiously asking, “When did Facebook and Google become ISPs?”

“An ISP (a service that I pay for) is not the same as a Google or Facebook (both free and voluntary services),” wrote Fred Michel from Westbrook in a written letter to Susan Collins. “You and your colleagues have conflated this issue, and are voting against the interest of your constituents. Be honest, have you ever heard a voter ask you to allow their ISP to sell their personal data to the highest bidder? This was an extremely disappointing vote.” 

“One thing Senator Collins will learn is, you don't mess with people and their internet,” wrote BGoodie on the Maine subreddit. “This woman needs to be tossed out. I'd honestly rather have a gaggle of LePage's [sic] over every spineless person who is ‘representing’ us.”

 

FOR SALE: YOUR INFORMATION

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Research has told us that over 81 percent of adults use the Internet — some for up to 10 hours a day — but how many of us care to cover our tracks? 

So who are our representatives actually representing with this repeal?

Well, if you follow the money, it would seem that lawmakers value the wishes of big corporations (in this case ISPs) instead of their constituents. In today’s world, corporations are granted personhood in legal cases.

And when you're in bed with big corporations, you can bet deals are made under the sheets.

The Verge recently released a list of the 256 members of Congress who voted yes on the repeal alongside the number of financial donations they received from telecom industries during their last election cycle. According to the chart, Senator Collins was bought out for $57,550, and Poliquin $47,500.

“They betrayed you for chump change,” T.C. Sottek wrote for the Verge. 

It’s also important to note that the telecommunications industry is one of the largest lobbying groups in US history; they’ve been notorious for spreading their wealth and buying votes left and right.

 

"All the people that voted for it got paid by the industry," said Carl Blue, an associate professor of technology at USM. "It’s bewildering."

WHY INTERNET PRIVACY MATTERS

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This brings us to why this is all a really big deal. Why be worried about something that you can opt out of (although it’s rather difficult to do so). Some of you reading this might not care about this issue, thinking “What’s the big deal about more targeted ads?”

Heiden stressed that data protection and net neutrality are indeed big deals, even if you don’t somehow don’t have anything remotely compromising on your browsing history.

"People sometimes suggest that if you have nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about," said Heiden from the ACLU of Maine. "Very few of those people post the contents of all their emails in publicly accessible spots, very few of them leave their doors unlocked, and very few of them want their history publicized beyond their control. Privacy is a meaningful human right. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you care about it."

On top of this ethical dilemma, other privacy advocates like Edward Sihler, the technical director at the cyber security lab at USM, pointed to more objective problems: cyber crime. According to him, once data is collected and exchanged between multiple parties, it can be vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves. 

"I wouldn’t want to trust one ISP over another because most of them have leaked data at various times," said Sihler. "Personally, I do everything I can to protect my data from being viewed. I’m very cautious about it."

Trump’s FCC, under newly appointed commissioner Ajit Pai (who’s also a net neutrality opponent), recently voted to roll back requirements that ISPs must take “reasonable measures” to protect their customers' sensitive and confidential information. ISPs already don’t have a great track record of protecting their customers information — in 2015 AT&T was fined $25 million after their own employees stole and sold private information from their 280,000 customers.

AT&T employees were also caught recently selling their customer’s information to the government and law enforcement agencies.

Repealing this bill doesn’t just line the pockets of Republican lawmakers and executives from big telecommunication industries, it encourages a culture of mass surveillance. Today it’s mining customer data for targeted advertising, and tomorrow it could be cracking down on anybody that’s downloaded media on a sharing service, or shared a picture of illicit drugs on Snapchat.

And because the Internet is so ubiquitous to modern life, many see its use as a basic human right. Let’s compare the Internet to a public city square, where you’re able to have a private or public conversation, but you’re always in control over who hears it. In that same vein, Internet users should be able to send an email or visit a website without worrying that someone you didn’t approve of can snoop in and take advantage of that data.

But overall, many see the repeal of the internet’s privacy rules as indicative of something far more disturbing: our society functions on a pay-to-play system.

From health care official’s relationship to insurers, to the fossil-fuel industry's relationship to Trump’s EPA, and now with ISP’s lobbying for freedom to extend their profits at the customer’s expense, Americans have witnessed an ongoing and troubling reality: the Trump administration isn’t fighting over ideological differences, they’re fighting to protect corporate interests. 

Are we really living in a democracy? Or are we living in an oligarchy, a government of, by, and for the rich?

 

 

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

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It’s not like we’re going to give up on using the Internet, are we? Whether you’re a bitcoin miner, a media pirate, or just an average web surfer that wants to be in control over who sees and uses your data, here are the top five ways you can kinda-sorta ensure your anonymity on the web.

And don’t worry, you don’t need to be an encryption wizard to take these simple steps. Anything and everything goes on the Internet, and who knows who’s watching; arm yourself with protection!  

Call your ISP and opt out

Most major ISPs care about their image, and despite their freedom to compile and sell your data, many have reaffirmed their position on customer privacy. Take it with a grain of salt, but that's what they're saying. Many major telecom companies including, Verizon and AT&T, signed a pledge in January ensuring that customers can opt out of having their data sold to third party marketers.

Hold them accountable to this promise. Call your ISP and opt out.

Use a VPN

Check the symbol in the top left of your browser bar. Do you see a padlock marked secure? If so, the data you exchange with the site is private.

Sites that are marked with the “https” prefix only share the name of the domain you visit to your ISP. All traffic within that site is encrypted and doesn’t get sent anywhere else.

However, across-the-board privacy costs money. So you’re super paranoid, or your favorite sites don’t offer encrypted connections, consider downloading a VPN, or Virtual Private Network.

The most popular and reliable VPNs are TorGuard and Private Internet Access. These tools scramble all your data and hide your IP address, keeping snooping ISPs and governments out of your digital life. Other good options include Freedome and TunnelBear.

Many journalists, whistleblowers, and political advocates connect to the web through these VPNs, guaranteeing them freedom from censorship.

The only downside to using a VPN? You can’t watch Netflix through it.

And while we don’t necessarily advocate for illegally downloading music and moves here at The Phoenix, if you’re going to pirate media and you enjoy not being in jail, get a VPN ASAP.

Download the TOR browser 

This is the simplest way to protect your data online; everyone should be surfing the web through the Tor browser, AKA the Onion Router.

It isn’t bulletproof, but it’s free and ensures that your identity, sensitive information, and browsing habits are obscured. The Tor browser does this by bouncing the data coming from your IP address through a vast network of other servers, making it impossible for others to trace its origin.

There is, however, a dark side to the Internet that’s only accessible through the Tor browser, which we don’t recommend you seek out.

Block third party cookies

Make it a weekly habit to delete your cookies: small bits of data that are accessible to third parties. Harvesting cookies is the most common way for advertisers to build up profiles on their target customers without consent.

It’s not a fix-all solution — ISPs and websites can access your data through other means — but if you delete your cookies, and block third-party cookies in your browsing settings than you’ll likely see fewer advertisements tailored toward your hidden impulses.

Turn the tides

This tip won’t protect your data, but it will grant some catharsis if you’re pissed at the repeal of the FCC Internet privacy regulations.

In what’s probably the most refractory response to the repeal, a couple websites are asking for contributions to help buy the Internet data of the members of Congress who voted for the repeal. The GoFundMe page “BuyCongressData,” and the website “https://searchinternethistory.com/">SearchTheInternetHistory.com” are raising money to buy the browsing history from the politicians that sold our privacy.

If it’s successful, it would be a clever way for them to get a taste of their own medicine.

Planned Parenthood says the fight is far from over

A victory was won last week when the GOP pulled their flawed health care reform bill from the House floor after acknowledging they wouldn’t be able to drum up enough votes.


It was a victory particularly for women, who hours before the bill died, saw a room full of men (in that tone-deaf Freedom Caucus photo Mike Pence tweeted out) make decisions on cutting maternity care, hospitalization, and other essential health services.

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Notice anything strange about this photo of a conversation that could have impacted the health care rights of millions of women?


“Friday was good day,” said Amy Cookson, the communications manager at Planned Parenthood Maine. “24 million people are keeping their healthcare coverage and 2.5 million patients still have access to Planned Parenthood.”
According to Cookson, if it wasn’t for the incredible grassroots organizing and activism of Planned Parenthood supporters, “the worst bill for women’s health” might have passed the House.


Volunteers met with Senators Angus King and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, and delivered more than 1,200 letters to Congressman Bruce Poliquin’s office. This level of civic engagement was echoed across the country.
But that moment of light in a dark battle for women’s right to accessible health care was only temporary.


Last Monday President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that they’ll be looking for “other opportunities” to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization that so many depend on for low-cost reproductive and sexual health services.
Staff at the Portland branch of Planned Parenthood are poised to keep their growing supporter base politically activated, as they anticipate more threats to their member's funding in the future.


“We know politicians will try again,” said Cookson.


Staff are worried that Congress might try to block Medicaid patients from accessing their services, which range from a multitude of sexual and reproductive health needs that every woman will need at some point in their lifetime. (They do far more than just abortions, which amounts to just three percent of the total services they offer and can’t be federally funded anyway because of the Hyde Agreement.)


And if Trump’s White House does succeed in blocking Medicaid patients from using Planned Parenthood’s services (like STD/STI screenings, contraception, pap smears, etc.), it’s not clear they’ll find care anywhere else because Republicans haven’t proposed a plan that guarantees that the surrounding facilities could absorb the demand for those services. Often times a Planned Parenthood clinic is the only one of its kind in a community for miles.


“There has already been a bill introduced to restrict family planning funding,” said Cookson. “Judge Gorsuch has an extremely troubling record on women’s rights and reproductive rights, and there are bad bills to fight right here in Maine, too.”


Although Democrats would unite against it, there’s an upcoming spending bill that could include a defunding provision.
Despite the moral outrage over the fact that Planned Parenthood offers abortions, not many people are actually putting stock into that argument. A recent poll found that 80 percent of Americans actually support government funding of Planned Parenthood, including 50 percent of Trump voters.


“It’s interesting when voters are informed about what we do and the care that we provide,” said Nicole Clegg, the Vice President of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood.


For Clegg, that Freedom Caucus photo that went viral symbolizes everything you need to know about the Republican’s disregard for the needs of women.


“I will say that 99 percent of women will use birth control at some point in their lifetime, so this is basic health care for women,” said Clegg. “To try and carve out the argument that somehow this is special or unique, speaks to how deeply disconnected these politicians are from the reality of women’s lives. They’re out of touch.”


“We feel like we’re pawns in a political game right now, and women are the ones that are going to pay the price,” said Jessica Dolce, a resident of North Yarmouth and volunteer at Planned Parenthood.


Dolce said that she’s relied on Planned Parenthood for over 25 years as a safety net service for when she didn’t have health insurance. As a teenager in the ’90s growing up in New Jersey, Dolce relied on the local Planned Parenthood for STD testings and learning about contraception. Later she would depend on them for annual check-ups and cancer screenings.


“I was given accurate information that kept me healthy,” said Dolce. “People don’t understand that birth control pills are medication. It’s a medication that’s prescribed to me for really debilitating menstrual cramps. The men in that room don’t understand why people use these medications.”


“It’s a tremendous relief to know that you’ll always have that care,” said Dolce. “You can’t put a price on it.”


Stories like Dolce’s can be found thousands of times over across the country, and are the reasons why there’s such a push to support Planned Parenthood.

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