Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

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.

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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. 

A chat with the vaporwave wizard behind Lyokha

James Cooper is a self-described sonic alchemist and electronic music producer of the otherworldly trio Lyokha. Specializing in a dreamy, synth-and-sample heavy style of music borne out of a close-knit but all-inclusive subculture, Cooper creates sounds as amorphous and layered as the people listen to them and the culture that surrounds them. Everyone reacts to his music in his or her own unique way, pulling from personal memory banks to connect to whatever nostalgia the music evokes, or doesn’t evoke. Is it ambient electronica? Easy-listening music? Atmospheric chill-hop? Lyokha is all of those things and none of those things; trying to define vaporwave would be akin to trying to explain the Internet (or at least the 10 percent of it that’s accessible) to someone who’s never touched a computer. You just gotta dive in and experience it for yourself. Cooper spoke with The Phoenix this week ahead of the fundraising concert for the Prism analog studio. It’s the next time locals can ride out his Internet-inspired audio waves — at the Urban Farm Fermentory on March 25th.


How did you get involved with the Prism Analog Recording studio fundraising concert and why?

Well, I found out about Prism through the grapevine of social media and was immediately interested in the project and location. Analog recording has always intrigued me, and I’ve always been interested but lacked the means and funds to acquire the expensive gear. I got ahold of Nick Johnson and went down and checked out the spot and the build-out, slapped some Sheetrock up with the boys and started following their progress. Nick asked Lyokha to play the fundraiser as we are an analog (no computers) band and feel it fits the spirit of the studio.


How do you feel about recording music entirely in the analog domain? Would you ever consider doing it?
I think there are sounds and levels of depth and warmth in analog that you can attempt to re-create digitally but only come relatively close, a lot of character and “artifacts” that really give you a certain level of limitations in the process that are focusing compared to the millions of options in Ableton or digital recording. I would (and will) definitely record in the analog domain, not just because I have never been able to in such a serious intense setting (recording noise sets to a half-broken reel-to-reel doesn’t count... or does it?) with such beautiful gear. I think Lyokha will definitely be putting out a record recorded at Prism in the future.


So what are you up to these days? Is most of your energy focused on Lyokha?


Lyokha has been my primary focus. Now that we have our feet off the ground and have played a few shows, we’re settling into some writing time and working on a full length to put out this year sometime. I have a few solo projects in the works and a few collaborations also, but I don’t wanna give too much away.
What’s the biggest misconception about vaporwave or electronic music in general?


Well, vaporwave in itself is an ever-changing, growing genre with endless subgenres. I think the biggest misconception is that there is a finite conception. The beauty of vaporwave music is that you really can make whatever the fuck you want and adopt certain aesthetics and apply visual nostalgia to music to give it more of an otherworldly feel; maybe that sounds naive, but vaporwave has become more of a culture and representation of youths interested in finding cultural identity in a world where we spend most of our consciousness glued to screens on the world of the web. Vaporwave was born on the Internet so it has no geographical bounds. It belongs to everyone and is less of a genre than an Internet sub-culture.


What’s the most challenging part of the production process for you?


Smoking just the right amount of weed to write bangers without getting distracted by the vast collection of “Malcolm in the Middle” on my computer. Nah, I mean I guess I sometimes find it challenging to put a piece down and call it final. There’s always that tweak you wanna make a week after you’ve listened 200 times, or pushing the layers till the shit’s incomprehensible and then dialing it back, and wasting time. I guess the process is always a learning experience and I try to learn something new everytime I write and mix. I try to portray and push a vibe that is accessible but new and fresh to the ears, without being too obvious.


What does the name Lyokha mean?


Lyokha was a boy who was raised by wolves in Russia. They discovered him and tried to assimilate him into society, and he ran away back to the forest and was never seen again, I guess to me that is relative to how society and people in our generation tend to feel about it.
How do crowds react to your latest EP Two? Because it doesn’t seem to lend itself much to dancing as much as it does for straight contemplation.
To be honest, I never really pay much attention to the crowd. If I look away from my gear I tend to daydream and fuck up.


To me I guess I feel refreshed playing visceral emotional wavy shit; there’s plenty of dance music around, and I usually have to get pretty tipsy to even think about dancing and not about people looking at me. I think making music you don’t have to be hammered to enjoy is nice sometimes, but I guess it’s ultimately not my goal to give anyone a particular “experience.” I think including as many aesthetic aids and visuals to a performance hopefully makes it more captivating and more of an experience, but I like to think most of the perception and ideas come from the listener being taken just a little further from their reality and having to think, especially with instrumental music.


Is there a venue in Portland that’s most conducive to the listening experience you provide?


SPACE Gallery is dope; we like lights and fog and projectors. But we also like free shows; the Jewel Box is probably my favorite place in Portland to play. So comfy and cute, ya know? And Nanl really takes care of a lot of local musicians. He puts on a lot of local talent and is always out supporting artists, and it feels more like a boiler room session than a “concert.”


What are your future plans?


A wife, kids, a dog, and maybe a big red Ford truck with mud flaps and not one but two cup holders because I like to have options.

  • Published in Music

Measure to put school bond issue on city ballot defeated

Measure to put school bond issue on city ballot defeated

 

After 8 hours of deliberation and hearing dozens of public comments, three city councilors voted against a proposal to put the $64 million school bond on the city ballot, effectively defeating it (for now).

 

The borrowing plan asked for $64 million ($92 million in debt after interest) to pay for much-needed upgrades at the Lyseth, Presumpscot, Reiche, and Longfellow elementary schools. These schools grapple with a host of infrastructure problems that include: cramped workspaces, closets that double as offices, leaky roofs, asbestos contamination, and a lack of accessibility for the disabled.

 

“The 4-School bond will not only provide our students with the tools they need to succeed, but also our hard-working city staff and teachers who have done amazing work with the funds they have had to work with,” wrote Spencer Thibodeau, City Councilor for District 2 on social media. “It’s time to make this critical investment.”

 

Outside of City Hall, a local artist and photographer Randy Roy Hazelton projected a message in light across the building: Rebuild All 4 Schools.

 

“It was simple way to convey an important message; it caught people’s eye,” said Hazelton, who teamed up with Progressive Portland to put on the light installation. “Education is really important to me. We have to raise money for our children.”

 

Although Hazelton doesn’t have children himself, he’s seen the poor conditions of the schools first-hand, and believes that an increase in sales tax is a small concern if it means creating better learning environments for Portland's youth.

 

“I get the money issue, I myself have crushing debt,” said Hazelton. “But we can’t just put this off like it’s not our problem; it’s all of our problem.”

 

Hazelton and others were disappointed that the push to get the school bond on the ballot was defeated after councilors Belinda Ray, Jill Duson, and Nicholas Mavodones voted against it. Parents, teachers, and other community members gathered outside during the meeting with stickers saying “Replace all 4 schools,” and chanting “Let us vote!” once the meeting ended at 12:30 am on Tuesday.

 

The following evening, Progressive Portland quickly organized an "emergency rally" outside City Hall urging others that “the fight is not over,” and demanding that the three councilors “end their obstruction and finally allow the public to vote on whether to fix these schools.”

 

The three councilors who voted no agree that the schools are in desperate need of upgrades, but they wanted to preserve the possibility of securing state funding to pay for them. A handful of people also expressed concerns about the bond raising property taxes, and potentially pricing out residents on a fixed income.

 

Initially, Ray, Duson, and Mavodones suggested the option for Portland to vote on two bond packages of $32 million each instead; the first bond would pay for Lyseth and Presumpscot, while the city worked on securing state funds for Reiche and Longfellow. If they failed to get state funds, they would put the second bond before voters.

 

This “2 + 2” proposal did not sit well with the rest of the city council, who were concerned with the timeline of repairs. The plan was rejected.

 

Most of the community members inside and outside of the city council meeting agreed that waiting for state funding is not a viable option and that these schools need repairs now, as the poor conditions are actively inhibiting the children’s education.

 

Some complained about a failure of leadership within the city council to prioritize Portland schools and obstruct the will of the people. One city councilor, Jon Hinck, took issue with this combative rhetoric and posted this to social media:

 

Portland should recognize that the city councilors — all of them as far as I can tell — are working hard to get our schools upgraded on an expedited basis (the work cannot be done at once no matter how much money is made available).”

 

The city council will vote again on this issue on March 28th.

 

Maine’s Craft Beer Industry Contributed $228 million to the economy

 

According to a report released by the Maine Brewers Guild (a part of the University of Maine School of Economics) craft breweries added $228 million dollars to the Maine economy. And their popularity seems to be growing.

 

Maine had about 15 brewers in 2006, and since then the number has jumped up to 80.

 

That shift in culture away from drinking mass-produced beers like Budweiser and Coors, and supporting local breweries has percolated to areas beyond Portland and Lewiston. Both Penobscot and York counties are seeing a surge in beer entrepreneurs launching successful ventures. In fact, there’s only one county in Maine, Piscatiquous, that doesn’t have at least one craft brewery.

 

Sales tax coming for Maine shoppers on Amazon

 

Shoppers on the e-store Amazon will be subject to a 5 percent sales tax, according to a report from WMTW.

 

Although the retail giant hasn’t confirmed this news for Maine, Amazon did start collecting sales tax from 10 other states earlier this year.

 

“Amazon’s decision to collect and remit sales tax to the state of Maine is an important first step in leveling the playing field,” George Gervais, commissioner of the department, said.

 

So buy what’s on your wishlist now, before it gets more expensive in a couple of months!

  • Published in News

Trump EPA Budget “declares war on clean air, clean water, and public health”

Last week the Trump administration revealed what some are calling an “anti-environment agenda,” by releasing their proposed federal budget.

President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion, a figure that’s not too far away than the entire defense budget of Russia, according to a recent report by Quartz.

The budget also directs $2.6 billion to pay for the first stages of Trump’s wall on the Mexican border, $314 million to Homeland Security to pay for more border patrol and immigration agents, and $1.5 billion to detain and remove undocumented immigrants.

To pay for this massive increase in defense and security spending, Trump has proposed cuts, and in some cases complete eliminations, of institutions and programs that many Americans consider vital — check out our sidebar for a brief overview on the all the potentially affected organizations and services.

There’s a lot he wants to take the chainsaw to, but we’re going to focus on the Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump has singled out for the deepest cuts. The EPA stands to lose 31 percent of its funding, resulting in the loss of 50 programs (including everything related to climate research) and over 3,200 jobs.

The budget says that slash in funding is necessary "to ease the burden of unnecessary Federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits."

In a recent press release, John O’Grady the head of the union that represents EPA employees, said that the organization is already on a “bare bones budget.”

"It is a sad day when a group of millionaires and billionaires in Washington can decide what's best for America's health and environment," said O'Grady. "How can this administration tell America that we will have clean air and clean water with a 25% reduction in U.S. EPA's budget?"

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Clean air and water is vital to the health of Maine's community and economy. 

The budget cuts could have profound effects here in Maine, a state where the economy is directly linked to the health and sustainability of its environment and natural resources. Progressives and environmental advocates across the state have condemned the proposed $1.12 trillion budget  and urged others to put pressure on Maine’s delegation to denounce it “dead on arrival,” once it makes the rounds in Congress. If this happens, Trump’s final version of the budget is due in May.

 

“The EPA budget that threatens the health of Maine people, our environment, and our economy,” wrote Lisa Pohlmann, the executive director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine in an email statement to The Phoenix. “In proposing to cut EPA’s funding, President Trump has declared war on clean air, clean water, and public health.”

 

According to Pohlmann, the effects of the budget cuts will literally kill some of Maine’s ecosystems where EPA grant funding provides restoration work; send more asthmatic kids to emergency rooms; create more polluted waters that will be off-limits to swimming, fishing, and drinking; and spur more climate-disrupting pollution that will escalate the threats to Maine’s lobstering, fishing, and coastal communities.

 

news environment2 Maine has more than 6,000 lakes and ponds, that need to be protected from non-point source pollution. 

“The list of potential damages goes on and on,” she said. “If these cuts are allowed to stand, then the consequences for Maine, the nation, and the world could be extremely dire.”

 

I spoke with Pete Didisheim, the advocacy director at the Natural Resources Council, about the winners and losers in this “war on the environment.”

Loss starts with the Maine Department of Energy, which like all state environmental agencies depends on EPA pass-through grants. In 2016, the Maine DEP received $11.4 million (21 percent of DEP’s overall budget) from EPA, which covered 99 staff members. DEP has already experienced cuts over the years, down from a staff of 460 in 2004 to 373 in 2016. Under Trump’s proposed budget, the DEP could lose even more staff, and funding for programs that clean up industrial sites, and monitor air, and water quality.

“Laying off 3,200 employees would have absolutely devastating impacts for the nation as a whole, and particularly for state-level programs here in Maine,” said Didisheim. “The cuts to the environment will cost lives of American people. They will have a significant impact on the Maine economy.”

 

Didisheim explained that because Maine is a nature-based economy, ensuring the cleanliness and sustainability of our state’s lakes, rivers, and beaches doesn’t just promote good community health, but it boosts property values for land and home owners, and encourages tourism. After all, who would want to swim in a pond that may hold contaminants, or buy property in a location with poor air quality?

 news WinterinOgunquitbyJamieDorr NRCM

Winter in Ogunquit; marshes and coastal dunes are delicate ecosystems. Photo by Jamie Dorr/ NRCM. 

Examples of environmental restoration helping the economy can also be found at Maine’s numerous “brownfield sites.” It’s a term used to describe abandoned industrial sites like paper mills that contain asbestos, radon, lead-based paints, or other hazardous materials. Brownfields are all over the state, and federal funds go to the DEP to clean them up, and restore their economic viability. The Maine Street Station in Brunswick serves as a recent example — the DEP spent $750,000 from 2004 to 2006 to clean up the site, and now it’s an economically thriving real estate and transportation hub.

 

But the grants used to pay for these operations, and other environmental restoration projects, may be pulled.

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The Bucksport Paper Mill is now a "brownfield site." 

When it comes to public health there are concerns with the part of Trump’s budget proposal that frees up $100 million by discontinuing Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an initiative that imposes carbon regulations on power plants. Didisheim believes this (and climate change in general) should be viewed as a national health and security risk because of their widespread impacts.

 

According to him, most of Maine’s air quality issues come from power plant pollutants that travel upwind from southern states with laxer regulations. In a future where power plants aren’t beholden to emissions standards, the prevailing winds could bring even more instances of breathing problems to Maine’s elderly, children, and those with asthma and other respiratory issues.

 

“Coal-fired power plants could pollute at higher levels,” said Didisheim.

 news airquality

The red signifies historically poor air quality. Most of our air pollutants travel upwind from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. 

In short, the Maine DEP does a lot. Environmental restoration work is done across the state, from protecting Maine’s 6,000 lakes from non-point source pollution, to managing and enforcing wastewater permits, to cleaning up hazardous waste in places like the Callahan Mine, a site in Brooksville that’s contaminated with arsenic, lead, and thallium. But with the appointment of Scott Pruitt a climate change denier as the head of the EPA, and details on Trump’s budget, the new White House has revealed its anti-environment agenda, and much of the sustainability work done in Maine over the years, is threatened to be rolled back.

 

Didisheim sees a link between Pruitt’s dismantling of environmental regulations and the fossil-fuel interests that helped put him in power.

 

“Pruitt is in the middle of a quid pro quo,” said Didisheim. “He’s fulfilling the fossil fuel companies greatest wish of dismantling the agency that imposes regulation on them and literally saves lives and avoids premature deaths. But the fossil fuel industry isn’t interested in that.”

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Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA has said that the "science isn't settled" on climate change. Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr. Creative Commons.

According to Didisheim, another motivation for these cuts could be to deplete the resources of state environmental agencies to the point where they’re simply unable to enforce their regulations and local laws of the land. That would allow businesses to increase their pollution and  cut corners to decrease costs. I guess an increase in profits now is desired over avoiding health risks in the future.

 

But, it’s important to note, that this budget, as devastating as it is for some, is still just in its first phase; it’s got a long way to go before it becomes a reality, and many believe it won’t.

 

The budget outline was quickly subjected to criticism in Washington from both Democrats and Republicans. Maine’s delegation isn’t too happy with the budget either. Senator Susan Collins is concerned with the cuts to clean energy technology and said that “as the appropriations process moves forward, I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop a revised budget.” Senator Angus King was quoted saying, “I have a hard time seeing how eliminating heating assistance, cutting medical research and ending economic development funding do little more than harm people, families and businesses across Maine.”

 

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Senator Angus King keynoting a day-long conference on climate change at the University of New England in Biddeford. 

Although it’s likely that this budget will go through a major revision, it’s worth paying attention to because it reveals where future battles over policy will be fought. It shows what the new administration considers national priorities, and Trump’s preferred size, shape, and role of government. It paints the picture of a nation committed to beefing up its military and perceived sense of security, lifting environmental regulations that protect that land and its people, and providing less assistance to the country’s most needy.

 

For Didisheim, the fight is far from over, and he urges other to call Congressman Bruce Poliquin and encourage him to reject the budget. Poliquin hasn’t yet taken a strong position on Trump’s budget and released this lukewarm statement on his website: “I want to make sure we maintain support for programs and agencies that serve our families and communities, help protect our environment and provide quality programing for children. I’m specifically concerned about making too significant reductions for programs like LIHEAP, Community Development Block Grants and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I would also need to closely look at any changes to environmental services that directly impact Maine.”

 

I wanted to ask Poliquin why he needs more time to assess the environmental impact of a budget the completely eliminates climate change research and the Clean Power Plan before taking a strong position like King, Collins, and Pingree did, but every attempt to reach his offices in Maine and D.C. were unsuccessful. Maybe others are already giving him an earful.

 

“We’re hoping is that Maine people understand the seriousness of this risk,” said Didisheim. “Contact your senators and congressmen. Environmental protection never used to be a partisan issue.”

 

SIDEBAR:

Although what was released last week was just a “skinny budget,” meaning that it will likely go through some major revisions, it’s worth taking a second look at. Treat it like a forecast of where future battles over funding and national priorities will be fought. But as dramatic as the changes are, nobody can say that that this budget comes as a surprise. Trump has dropped hints on where he’d invest, and where he’d cut funds throughout last year’s campaign. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney even said that his team reviewed the President’s speeches to help craft this budget proposal.

So what's in it? Here are the highlights of a fiscal policy that features the biggest cuts and changes since World War II.

 

The Defense Department got a $52 billion boost, along with $2.8 billion to Homeland Security, and $4.4 billion to Veteran’s Affairs. This is to increase the number of armed forces, jet fighters, and nuclear weapons technology, and provide the funds for Veteran’s health services and the construction of the wall on the Mexican border.

 

The EPA will lose 31 percent of its funding, or $2.6 billion.

Because the Trump administration believes that too many regulations hurt business, and efforts against climate change are a “waste of money.”

 

The Department of Agriculture down 21 percent, or $4.7 billion.

To eliminate loan and grant programs for water and sewage systems, and reduce funding to the National Forest System.

 

The Department of Transportation’s budget is down 13 percent, or $2.4 billion.

To, among other things, privatize air traffic operations, and eliminate funding for rural airports in soon-to-be, literal “fly-over states.”

 

The budget eliminates funding for all climate change research at NASA and the UN.

Because the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, isn’t convinced that the climate change is accelerated by human activity.

 

The State Department would be down 28 percent, or $10 billion.

Diplomatic aid, cultural programs, and peacekeeping operations in foreign countries will take a hit.

 

Facing the biggest cuts in dollars, is the Health and Human Services Department — down 16 percent to $12.6 billion.

 

The Department of Commerce faces a 16 percent reduction, or $1.5 billion.

Goodbye grants for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s not like our marine ecosystems and resources need to be maintained.  

 

The Department of Education is down 14 percent, or $9.2 billion.

This guts before and after school programs and reduces Federal Work-Study and other forms of financial aid.

 

The budget does add a $500 million increase to the health and justice department to address America’s growing opioid epidemic.

 

To save $2.7 billion in federal funds, the budget proposes eliminating 20 programs and independent agencies entirely including: the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the United State Institute of Peace, and Legal Aid for the Poor and Low-Income Heating Assistance.

Source: http://www.npr.org/2017/03/16/520379061/read-president-trumps-budget-blueprint

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