Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

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. 

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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.

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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.

  • Published in News

A future progressive city leader? Joey Brunelle lays out his vision for Portland's future

Getting people to understand the importance of local government starts by convincing them it isn’t boring or intimidating.

 

That’s what the local digital communications specialist Joey Brunelle wants to do. Besides designing print ads and podcasting, Brunelle has been engaged in a lot of civic-related activities, and he hopes you will too.

 

Last year, he was part of the movement to help save the India Street Health Clinic. He was also the Secretary of Portland Democrats. More recently, he’s been live-streaming from inside Portland’s City Council meetings and blogging bite-sized bits of related info from them later. He’s active on social media, attempting to drum up early support ahead of his run for the at-large city councilor seat in November. His mission lately has been to get people more involved and educated on local civics in general, but also prime them for what he hopes to be future progressive reform, and direct action on several key issues in Portland.

 

Earlier this week Brunelle spoke to The Phoenix about a range of big issues as he laid out his vision for Portland’s future.

 

First things first, where are you at on the political spectrum?

 

I’m definitely on the left. I’ve been using the word progressive on my branding but I'm not entirely sure if I align with the term; we’re at a strange point in history right now where we’re not really sure what it means anymore.

 

I’ve considered using the term Democratic Socialist instead. I believe strongly that we shouldn’t leave anybody behind and that we all need to collaborate to do that.

 

What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the Portland City Council right now?

 

It’s really amazing how diverse the council is. There’s an incredible array of people and backgrounds there this year. I think they all do a pretty good job of bringing their own experiences to the table.

 

As far as weaknesses, there’s the elephant in the room: whatever disagreement is going on between Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings. Without assigning blame to either one of them, it’s made the whole environment difficult to work in.

 

The councilors also don’t do a good enough of job of looking to see what other cities are doing in terms of policy. Whether it’s housing, the environment, or civic participation. They have this mentality of ‘Oh, this is the way we’ve always done things.’

 

Why did you decide to run for city council?

 

To be honest, Bernie Sanders was a big part of it. When he said that he can’t change anything because the movement starts with the people. It was a kick in the pants to do it myself. I always had ideas on how city government should work.

 

But also the India Street situation played a role.

 

As a gay man, the discussion around that clinic was infuriating to me. Councilors and city staff obviously didn't understand the importance of that clinic to Portland’s gay community, because they’re not gay.

 

I thought to myself that if there were a gay person up there we wouldn’t be having this discussion. So I said, ‘Hey, I’ll be that person.’

 

What are your thoughts on the outcome of the India Street health services situation?

 

The city has done a less than stellar job of communicating what the current state of it is.

 

The 230 patients that were part of the program that got shut down found care elsewhere. They went to various places. The remaining three parts of India street are still there, but staff has been reduced to about four or five people, so they’re kind of running with a skeleton crew.

 

A substance abuse treatment clinic now shares a place with the India street clinic as well. It’s good in the sense that they do great work, there will opportunities for the services to integrate and overlap, but in the other sense this place that was part of the LGBTQ community is now been refocused towards something else, like the opioid problem — which is worthwhile, but it’s still a loss of the LGBTQ community.

 

Do you go to each city council meeting?

 

I do try to go to all the meetings. I believe very strongly that the city needs to do a better job of communicating to citizens what the hell it’s doing. They should have an agenda that’s more understandable.

 

Can you talk about why you’ve been trying to increase transparency through your blog and podcast?

 

People are interested in what’s going on in city government but they're having a hard time interfacing with it, and the city’s not making it easier.

 

The school board does a better job of explaining what it’s doing in a way that people can understand.

 

OK, so on your website you write about a bold, innovative progressive vision for the city of Portland. What is it?

 

Providing more affordable housing. I lived in San Francisco for five or six years, at the height of the housing crisis. I saw first hand how destructive it can be. It got to the point where teachers couldn’t live in the city. It’s still going through a teacher’s shortage. Restaurants couldn’t find people to work in them. It offed its cultural economy. The artists and musicians left.

 

I see the affordable housing issue as the most pressing one. I see us on the same path. I see glimmerings of the same phenomenon happening here.

 

We need to look at what other cities are trying to combat this problem and experiment and apply those strategies here. Not enough was done last year on housing, not enough is done this year. I have friends everyday that say I can’t live in Portland because the rents are too high. That’s a big loss.

 

What else do you see as pressing issues in Portland?

 

Property taxes are a big issue. Where rent prices are an issue for musicians and families and working class people, property tax is an issue for elderly and retired people. We need to address their needs as well.

 

Portland has an opportunity as the largest and most liberal city in the state to lead on a bunch of issues. We should be leading on climate change. We’ve just been sitting on our hands for the last couple of years.

 

South Portland is way ahead of us on pesticides, tenants rights, composting, and that shouldn’t be.

 

I would want to see us grow into our role and have a city government that reflects the values and desires of the people in the city. The people are hungry for it.

 

How do outside interests relate to the housing crisis?

 

We’re in a bit of building boom right now, which is great, but it creates interesting situations. There are decisions that come before the city council almost every week where some real estate developers profits are put on the line.

 

For example, there’s a meeting later on this week on the economic development committee for parcels of land that the developer wants for something that they're going to build, and the city is either selling it to them or swapping land with them. I don’t want the temptation to be influenced by the real estate developers. I’m glad they’re building housing, I just wish they were building affordable housing.

 

How do you feel about the trend towards privatization, like in the case of waste services?

 

I don’t think it’s always true that the private sector can do a better job. San Francisco runs a world class, city-run public health system, that provides way more services and is a huge asset to their community. There are plenty of cities that have public waste departments that do great work.

 

Privatizing them would trade away non-unionized jobs. Private companies will tell us what we want to hear in the proposal stage, and then 5-10 years down the line the costs will go up by surprise. Once we sold all the garbage trucks, and the private companies hold all the negotiating cards, they’ll start putting the screws to us financially.

 

I’m worried that privatization would lower the quality of these services because the management won’t be local anymore. One of the companies they’re looking at for garbage collection is based in Massachusetts.

 

Where do you stand on the school bond debate?

 

I’m definitely in favor for the school bond because we’ve been having this discussion for 20 years since I was in high school. There are other schools that are going to need fixes as well. If we’re going to look for state funding, we’re also going to need them for high schools, and we’re going to have to be thinking about that very soon.

 

Nobody can guarantee that the school board will find funding. We could wait and see, but we wouldn’t know until 2019, and then the councilors will say ‘Oh, we need another ad hoc committee, another study, another set of 10 votes on this,’ and we’re right back to where we’re at now. It’s disingenuous; nobody can say what future city councilors will do.

 

 

What are the biggest challenges ahead?

 

We need to do a better job of making collaborative decisions. There’s a real sense that City Hall doesn’t really give a damn what people think and it’s going to do what it wants to do, and you can speak all you want to public comment, but they’ve already decided what their decision is.

 

I want to change that mentality. I’m seeking people to help me develop a platform on these issues. I want to give people a voice on a local scale.

 

Bernie was right, we need to start locally. For too long we have felt that local politics was too boring, and we’ve avoided it to our detriment. If you look at a lot of the Republicans who are controlling our national government, a lot of them started in city government. The Democrats don’t have that kind of pipeline.

 

If I can help people see how campaigns work and how city government works, and bring them into the process that’s not intimidating or boring, I will have considered this a success.

 

If you want to learn more about Joey Brunelle and where he stands on other key issues, go to: http://brunelleforportland.org/

  • Published in News

A quick Q and A with Zoo Cain

The prolific artist and longtime Portland resident Zoo Cain shared some wisdom with the Phoenix ahead of the local premiere of "Peace, Love, and Zoo," an award-winning film by Reginald Groff that chronicles his road to recovery and shows that when you give to the universe, sometimes it gives back. 

 

What have you been up to lately? Where is your energy focused?

 

Walking the wilds of Cape Cod with my wife Cindy.  Staying close with my art, visual art, while doing some cool reading and writing.  Spending a lot of time with my three new friends, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kokopelli and Shirley Jackson.

 

How do you feel about the reaction to the film Peace Love and Zoo so far?

 

Well for a person more drawn to flying under the radar the film is somewhat daunting and exciting at the same time.  I am grateful for people's great vibes towards me.     

 

What has been the most reoccurring piece of advice you've offered people struggling with addiction, or any type of ailment or anxiety for that matter?

 

Never give up. Folks that are suicidal simply have run out of hope. One of the few survivors of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge said that all his insurmountable problems actually had solutions other than the fact he just took that fateful leap. Like almost everyone that has survived an attempt to die, they are so happy to have another chance.  Life is precious.  Transform and be at rest inside yourself.        



How does art factor into that?

 

Art enables you to think with the whole brain. You can at once be on and in tune while creating. Also it's real fun. Going to plays, movies, reading, and listening is grand.

 

Art can definitely help a person paint their way out of a very dark place. Making things, poetry, songs, drawings, vessels, other than all this constant destruction active using involves, is very good for the soul and psyche. It can actually change patterns in the body, imprinting positivity rather than the negative. Enrich your insides and the outsides will look after themselves.        

 

What advice would you impart on any struggling artists out there? 

It surely is not easy being an artist wanting to get by in a place that is being bought up and sold for many tens of thousands. What happened to our beloved Munjoy Hill for instance? New fire department interest in places that house the artist, since a very tragic fire, also adds strain to the less than rich and middle class. One has to really want to create to make art.  Its never been an easy road, especially if selling out is not a personal option.

 

How do you feel about Portland's art scene currently?

 

Portland is a wonderful place to live and work.  It will only get better.  A rock and roll band will sooner than later put Portland center stage.  People should be ready for that big sure change.            

  • Published in News

Myles Bullen urges Portland to Wake Up in latest music video

It’s probably easy for you to show compassion to someone who’s similar to you, pleasant, or successful. But are you willing to offer someone support when it’s difficult or uncomfortable? Most of us consider ourselves to be good people. To those that virtue signal on social media, or claim to be filled to the brim with positivity, do you extend those good vibes to a homeless person on the street or a refugee that can hardly speak English and stops to ask you a question?

 

Those are among the questions that arise from interpreting the first single, "Wake Up Century," off the upcoming album by the same name, by Portland songwriter-artist Myles Bullen.

 

Bullen's music video was just released on YouTube last week, garnering positive feedback from the circles in the art scene. It doesn’t stray too far musically from Bullen’s past work — an ambient, slowly uplifting hip-hop beat behind his signature poetic style of rapping — but it does feature some sweet aerial shots of Portland, and layers of poignant messages, one of them being: the arts scene is vibrant in Portland, partly because working-class grind hard for their passions, and support each other when no one else does.

 

Or as Bullen raps in the video: “we’re artists with insomnia, working we don’t sleep.”

 

“We don’t ever clock out,” said Bullen in an interview with The Phoenix. “The song resonates with the artist community. We push hard. The arts scene here is blossoming because community empowers each other.”

 

Myles Bullen has been a central part of the youthful street art scene in Portland for the past three years. When he's not encouraging others to pursue their passions, he's bouncing between his own which include teaching yoga, spoken word poetry, and creative writing. Bullen, a short, fair-skinned dude who's prone to rapping and grinning at just about any moment, focuses his energy on motivating new generations of artists; he's taught at prisons, addiction recovery centers, schools, and youth detention centers. Although he loves to talk about the power of pursuing creative passions, he doesn't shy away from serious topics, as evidenced in the Wake Up Century video. 

 

It begins in Bullen’s apartment studio, where he’s putting the finishing touches on the song and marking up a cassette tape with the words Wake Up Century. Everything is in black and white, except for the boombox that Bullen pops the tape into and takes to the streets: an old school aesthetic. It’s also emblematic of what Bullen and his fellow artist friends try to do almost every day: bring art out of the “cage of the gallery,” and place it right in front of people, encouraging interaction and conversation.  

 

In between some fantastic aerial drone shots of Deering Oaks and the Old Port, the video reveals its main subjects: Myles Bullen, the spoken word poet, rapper, and youth educator, Earth Person, a local electronic music producer, and Cory Tracy, a diehard hip-hop fan (whom you may recognize as the dude who sits in Congress Square with signs).

 

“He’s a local legend,” said Bullen. “He’s always smiling and bringing happiness to someone’s day.”

 

Who didn’t have a chuckle when Tracy sat all day in Congress Square Park during last year’s presidential campaign with a sign that read “They Both Suck”?

 

As the troupe meanders through familiar streets in downtown Portland, the chorus rises and the main point of the song appears instantly: You have to lose to learn to love, pick yourself off the ground, anything's possible. It's this light and hopeful message that's sung pleasantly on the track and lies at the core of Bullen's life philosophy. 

 

In the video's bleak, black-and-white version of Portland, where Bullen’s scarf and radio are the only splashes of color on screen, the first verse rolls in: Pleasant and kind, love is incredible / Your hate speech is unneeded, unwanted, and unacceptable / We leveled up, invest in growing vegetables, confession / We are a collective of the source that everyone’s connected to / a new generation that’s breaking through.

 

Later in the video, we get appearances from the local rapper and community organizer Stay on Mars, who plays a homeless man with a sign reading “Love, Listen, Learn,” and Abbeth Russell, a visual artist, fixture of the First Friday Art Walk, and founder of the Hidden Ladder Collective.

 

We see Russell in the middle of painting her recent work, “Gem and Eye,” an acrylic that features two of her creepy ladder creatures, one orange-skinned and one blue-skinned, coming together and forming a heart with waves from their mouths. The image, conveying “balance between differences,” would later be used as the single art for Wake Up Century.

 

music artbyabbeth gemeyes

"Gem and Eye," by Abbeth Russell. 

“Abbeth’s art is beautiful because it’s so dark,” said Bullen. “It’s important to show the beautiful parts of people that aren’t trying to be happy.”

 

“My art usually contrasts the light and the dark of the world,” said Russell. “We all have both. None of us are bubbles of positivity.”

 

The themes explored in Wake Up Century certainly don’t tread on any new or exciting ground.

 

The song embraces a Beatle’s philosophy of “All You Need Is Love,” an idea that’s been played with in just about every artistic medium for decades. Sure, Wake Up Century flirts with the sort-of-tired truism of “opening up your heart,” but it does localize the message in an engaging way. It forces one to think about small-scale altruism and community building on the streets of Portland, instead of just in conversations around social issues or online circles centered around the big news of the day.

 

It urges action and conversation instead of passivity. It calls for viewers to wake up, and offer something, anything, to those that might need help.

 

Wake Up Century  The Wake Up Century troupe: (from left to right) Abbeth Russell, Stay on Mars, Myles Bullen, Earth Person, and Cory Tracy.

“A stranger is just a friend that you haven’t met yet,” said Bullen. “Give people your time.”

 

Russell agrees with this mentality, telling me “some are just afraid of people that are different. Just say hi to them.”

 

For Russell and Bullen, reaching this utopian social vision of a community that supports not just artists, but anyone who’s struggling in life, requires us to talk honestly and openly about pervasive issues: racism, sexism, homelessness, addiction, oppression, and suicide. Otherwise, we can’t grow as a community without at least starting on the same moral foundation, as verse two suggests, “Strong move along, uprooting our feet / Confronting our ego, hear our spirit when we speak.”

 

“I know a lot of positive people that don’t actually have the depth to be positive humanitarians,” said Bullen. “Show love when it actually matters, when it’s difficult. You have a choice to ignore, or open up.”

 

You can watch Bullen and Earth Person’s love-letter to Portland’s street art scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFumuTSs0Yg

 

  • Published in Music

Seaweed tea: the next big drink trend?

If you go to the Arabica coffee shop on Commercial St. close to the pier, you’ll find a curious offering on their drink menu: seaweed tea.

 

What impressions first come to mind when you think of seaweed tea anyway? A mouthful of salt water, but piping hot? The company name behind the tea is “Cup of Sea” after all.

 

Arabica patrons that day simply said that it “sounded interesting,” but maybe they’d try a cup next time. Instead they ordered matcha green tea lattes and macchiatos, like usual.

 

Seaweed tea has a long history in Asia — it’s known as kombu cha in Japan, not to be confused with the fermented yeast drink from Russia — but the person behind this latest addition to Arabica’s beverage menu, Josh Rogers, is the first one to bring it to Maine, and quite likely New England.

food cupofsea

Kimberly Teret holds a plate of dried kelp, bladderwrack, and floral petals.  

“I’ve always loved cooking with seaweed,” said Rogers. “One day I had the idea of mixing kelp and green tea, and I pitched it to a friend. She said, ‘you know with all the crazy drinks out there, yours could taste terrible, and people would still buy it. But I don’t think it would be terrible.’”

 

Rogers took that backhanded compliment and ran with it, later “inventing” three blends of seaweed tea. Last week, I tried them all.

 

The first one, Great Wave, is a mixture of kelp and green tea. After steeping it in boiled water for five minutes, I brought the cup to my nose. It smelled faintly reminiscent of the air outside Commercial Street, and unmistakably seaweedy.

 

But you know what? It’s subtle. Unlike a great wave smacking you in the face while swimming at a Maine beach, the tea doesn’t taste bitter or salty. I learned later from Rogers that the process of seaweed harvesting entails an immediate cold rinse to wash off any excess salt. Hints of ocean brine are present in the brew, but they’re equally balanced with the familiar taste of green tea.

 

The next tea I tried was an interesting one. Rogers described it as his version of genmaicha tea, typically a mixture of green tea and roasted rice. Genmaicha has been around for centuries in Japan, originally drunk exclusively by poor farmers who added brown rice to dwindling tea stocks to increase its bulk. People began to develop a taste for it and the practice spread worldwide. It’s much more popular today and is colloquially known as “popcorn tea.”

 

But Rogers made it his own, swapping out the green tea with kelp. The result is a tea that’s very drinkable, and my favorite of the three; it’s got notes of toast and seabreeze.

 

The last of Rogers’s creations is called “Sea Smoke,” and is arguably the most intense. It’s a blend of lapsang souchong (a Chinese black tea that’s dried over burning pine cones for a distinctly smoky flavor) and dulse, a fiber-rich snacking seaweed. Brewed together, the tea presents itself for adventurous sippers.

 

“Some think it’s way too intense,” said Rogers. “But others have said it’s amazing and very nostalgic. I just want to create teas that are interesting and drinkable.”

 

As a former editor at Zagat, and writer for The Portland Phoenix way back in the day, Rogers says he’s familiar with the foodie world and anticipates seaweed to be “the next big thing" in terms of culinary trends. In parts of the world it already is. Apart from marketing to people with an affinity for sensory experiences related to the ocean, Roger also thinks his teas will catch on with people that consider themselves explorers in the food world, consumers eager to try the next weird thing.

 

And in a country dominated by offbeat food trends like rainbow bagels, dessert pizza, sushi burritos, and bottled cactus water, it’s hard not to believe there’s space for a seaweed tea to carve its own niche of popularity.

 

“I want to celebrate the seaweed in these teas,” said Rogers. “It doesn’t exist elsewhere.”

 

One could call these teas adventurous because they’re the only type of easily accessible hot drink that activates our umami sense. In its most reductive definition, umami means savory flavor. It's found in foods like beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, soy, carrots, and shrimp. But the “Cup of Sea” teas are special in that they don’t come close to tasting like a salty broth. The flavors are robust but emerge in delicate ways, like most teas do.

 

And because seaweed isn’t a plant (it’s an algae), the teas can’t be classified as floral, or herbal either; they exist in their own category entirely.

 

The story behind Cup of Sea starts with Rogers missing the Maine coast while working in New York City. Rogers lived in Portland during the ’90s but spent the last six years in NYC, first as an editor at Zagat, and then as a content strategist at Google. During that time he would visit Maine often, most notably for the Maine Startup Week and the Seaweed Festival.

 

 

“I always wanted to come back to Portland,” said Rogers. “I’ve always wanted to do something that’s connected to Maine.”

 

So eventually, he did. Rogers quit his job at Google and recently moved back to Portland, partly to provide a more comfortable environment for his two young daughters, but also to launch Cup of Sea with the intention of working with as many Maine connections as possible.

 

So far it’s working out for him. Roger buys tea from Little Red Cup, a company based in Portland that imports loose leaf teas from China, that’s guaranteed fair trade, organic, and high quality. His logo was done by Patrick Corrigan, a Portland musician and visual artist. And his seaweed is sourced from Maine as well, at the Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company situated on a tiny island seven miles off the coast of Stonington.

 

Micah Woodcock works there, and has been commercially harvesting edible and medicinal seaweeds for seven years. He also has been hosting “seaweed appreciation” classes to inform the public around the state that consuming seaweed provides benefits to both the body and the natural environment.

 

“Seaweeds hyper-accumulate the trace minerals in ocean water and make them available to us in dietary form,” said Woodcock. “There are about 60 trace minerals considered essential for the human body, and seaweeds have all of them. They are the best dietary source of iodine, have a broad spectrum vitamin content, are low in calories, and contain unique beneficial compounds found almost nowhere else in nature, like Laminarin, Fucoidan, and Algin.”

 

Micah WoodcockA screenshot from a Youtube video that features Micah Woodcock, the owner, and operator of the Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company, talking about the process of harvesting seaweed and sustainable resource management.  

 

Woodcock said that interest in seaweed is on the rise, and that he’d like to see us interacting with it more, but that growth needs to happen thoughtfully and considerately in order for it to be sustainable.

 

It’s true that growing and harvesting seaweed can be a net-positive for the environment (often times growing seaweed restores life to dead zones, and helps combat beach erosion) but Woodcock stresses the importance of ensuring the 5 companies harvesting wild seaweed in Maine consider the long time viability of the industry.

 

“Responsibly harvesting and growing seaweed improves water quality, creates habitat for other marine organisms, and produces some of the most nutritionally dense food in the world,” said Woodcock. “For those reasons and more, I would like to see the industry continue to grow, albeit slowly and responsibly.”

 

But Rogers doesn’t want his teas viewed simply as an alternative health trend, although seaweed is packed with hard to pronounce minerals. He just wants to attract people that dare to mix up their routine and try something out of the ordinary.


“People don’t know what it is,” said Rogers. “That’s the challenge; putting it in front of people and getting them to try it.”

You can try your own "Cup of Sea" during the next tasting session: Wednesday, April 12th at Arabica on Commercial St., 2-4pm or Sunday, April 23rd at Dobra, 2-4pm. 

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