Hearin' out the crows — D.Gross & Los Federales travel far with new album 'Crooks'

In 2017, it’s downright radical to commit to an itinerant lifestyle. Virtually no one can pull it off. Worse, the ones who can afford to do so waste it by staying in lavish dwellings in isolated perches or sequestered in mile-high hotels, away from society. Few are those interested in both the road and the people who built it.

It’s tough to know how much D. Gross, the Portland poet and songwriter who fronts the group Los Federales, commits to itinerancy on a physical plane, but his musical excursions travel far. On the complex and triumphant Crooks, his third full-length and first billed with band Los Federales, Dana Gross sounds fully arrived, mucking around in musical styles and perspectives born from the soil and kept alive by a passion and dedication that the elites have long forgot.

Crooks is a record it’d be impossible to make for anyone who isn’t a keen observer of people. “I sit here in limbo, watchin’ the world go by. Don’t like what I’m seein’, well it makes me want to cry,” he sings on “Limbo.” “Train II” has nowhere to be and it’s not hurrying to get there. He sounds downright jovial on opening track “Fishin’,” dipping in his toes in the water and throwin his watch in the waves. Put this song or any on this album in a large room of people and they’ll be lively, cheerier, and more vibrant.

But a close listen reveals plenty of dark notes too. By track two’s “Big and the Bigger,” Gross and co. move into a kind of Rain Dogs-y, wayward Americana. “Well, the big keep getting bigger, the small sure come undone,” he sings over six minutes of loose, rootsy Americana. Sure sounds fun to play, crackling with rich and varied timbres — a mix of congas, shakers, piano, electric guitar, bass, fiddle, djembe, and Hammond organ — and Los Federales manage to make it sound like something you’d find inside some strange tavern off the Mississippi. Yet as playful as it is to the ear, there’s a strange, kettled anxiety in these notes.

The pendulous “Warman,” where Gross embodies the character of a mysterious sinister ego, is an album highlight. Gross waxes about weapons, war machines and killing floors, “feeling little and posing tall.” It’s one of the record’s most explicit, but in songs like these Gross is doing what the expert songsmiths do, collapsing the anxieties of a cultural moment into poetic kernels buried in an otherwise accessible sound. That takes work, and more importantly, it takes time. Gross has labored both.

Whenever Crooks feel a little listless, Gross and company know how to liven things up, as though taking a shot from the medicine cabinets of his various musical hosts. “Crows and Vegetables” opens with a vibe that sounds like an early rehearsal jam of some half-cooked idea. Fine, but nothing to pay close attention to. But a couple minutes in, the band stirs in some unexpected psychedelia — hardly sounding like the group on the first few tracks — giving Gross new sonic terrain to play with. By then, he’s head-down doin’ his thing, telling a sprawling seven-minute poem about soothsaying crows outside his window, explaining to him a harrowing future.

The dexterity on this album is mighty, the willingness to travel through ideas and relationships and personas. From the haggard and rugged Americana of “Big and the Bigger” to the fiddle-colored rockabilly of “Anchor in the Sand” to the Mediterranean-inflected instrumental “Intifada,” Gross and the band cover a lot of ground. On his first two recordings, Juggernaut (2015) and We Left the Roadside (2010), Gross showed off his finely calibrated indie-bluesy Americana songs nicely, but they also seemed to slot into pre-existing frameworks for how folks (or how I, I suppose) apprehend singer-songwriter material. On Crooks, he’s got an aesthetic all his own. It’s steeped in an appreciation for genelation’s of salt-of-the-earth folk players before him and hardened by a view of the future as a place he’s wary of going. But as much work as he’s done, we’re gonna need him to come along.


CROOKS | by D.Gross & Los Federales | https://dgross.bandcamp.com/

 

On Becoming a Baker — Kerry Hanney of Night Moves Bread + Pie

“For me, baking bread and pies is the culmination my life’s journeys.

 

As a young person, Kerry Hanney felt disconnected from nature. Born in the Midwest and raised in Atlanta, she recalled spending a good deal of time outdoors as a child, but that changed as she attended middle school and high school in the city.

 

That was how she came to Maine — well, that’s part of it. Kerry’s father passed away in the middle of her senior year of high school. His battle with Parkinson’s and the grieving process played a huge role in Kerry’s life. Sensing her longing to reunite with nature, her brother took her on a college trip to the northeast. Kerry visited many colleges and universities and settled on Colby College.

 

“The orientation to nature and the friendliness of the people there drew me to the school.”

 

At Colby, Kerry was an artist. She pursued a Studio Arts Bachelor’s with an emphasis on sculpture and printmaking. After settling in, Kerry put her love of the outdoors to work and began cycling to various parts of the state. Though she was happy out there, Kerry also loved baking — for her, it was a way of retreating to a comfortable place. She recalls baking many pies around Thanksgiving during the college years. She found available kitchens in the residence halls and baked whenever she had time to spare.

food nightmovesbread

Kerry graduated in 2009 and moved to Portland the day after graduation. Looking back, she recalls it being a sleepy town. There weren’tt as many young people as there are now and it was quieter. She remembers being very short on cash at that time and she and her roommate had to have several jobs in order to make ends meet. She took jobs at one of Portland’s art galleries and the Portland Museum of Art gift shop. One of her friends was a dishwasher at the time and knowing them taught Kerry a couple things. One, that dishwashing was good work for someone who is shy, and two, washing dishes can be a great way to break into the restaurant industry.

 

She soon took a dishwashing job, which she says changed her life, turning out as a gateway to the industry. Kerry kept this job for a year, but hoped she’d someday end up in a bakery.

 

Two Fat Cats gave Kerry her first break. She started out behind the register, but soon discovered mentors in the kitchen who were willing to teach her the ropes. At 22, she left Two Fat Cats to be with her boyfriend on Martha's Vineyard, where she worked at a seasonal high-end European bakery. This was a time in her life when she was seeking knowledge, freedom, and she had less concern about money.

 

After a short time, Kerry was put in charge of baking pies, a weak spot for the bakery. This continued a pattern in Kerry’s life, whereby she would excel in a role and be asked to take on more responsibility. Although Kerry welcomed the challenge, it also left her feeling taken advantage of and underpaid. It was at this point in Kerry’s career when she began thinking about being in control of her own destiny and possibly starting her own business.

 

But before this big step, a cross-country trip to San Francisco where she had a difficult time securing a position. Her life, consumed by long walks and baking at home, helped Kerry to work on ideas for the type of business she might start and codifying the need for simplicity in whatever product she chose to create. 

food nightmovesbread

In 2011 at age 24, Kerry returned to Maine and Two Fat Cats where she was promoted to head baker. The mantra, “I can run my own business,” repeatedly seeped into her conscious mind as she baked. A part of her, the realistic part, told her to continue working and exploring options. She worked at Rosemont doing some simple baking and took art classes at MECA. What was billed as an art retreat in the Virgin Islands turned into something more of a cook’s role and it was then that Kerry realized that she was born to be a baker.

 

Offered a significantly responsible position converting recipes to weight, creating new recipes and managing a very high volume bakery, she focused on whole grains at Morning Glory Farm in Martha’s Vineyard. Still, the idea that there was a lot more to learn haunted Kerry. She had a friend who had taken the career culinary course at the International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City and she looked into their renowned bread baking program. Morning Glory Farm help fund Kerry’s education with the expectation that she return after the program to bake for a season.

 

In 2014, Kerry enrolled in the ICC course and began learning the science of bread. Bread-baking can be very scientific; slow fermentation, baker’s percentages, enriched dough, and the importance of proofing are just a few considerations. But committing herself to this craft turned out to be life-affirming and fortifying.

 

Returning to Maine, a place she thought about a great deal, was truly her only option. Kerry crossed the bridge to South Portland, taking a job at Scratch Bakery where she baked bread while listening to Bob Seger. It was Seger’s song “Night Moves” — which she listened to on repeat with friend and coworker Emily Pappas while they delved into the world of sourdough — that inspired her most.

 

Although Kerry loved the opportunity to work with sourdough at Scratch, the money she was making did not line up with the kind of work she was doing or what her male counterparts were earning. In 2016, she began noticing an increasing number of entrepreneurs working with “liquid bread” (a/k/a beer) and she knew that her time had come. No one else in Portland was starting a small bread-baking business and Kerry decided she wanted to be the first. In addition, no one else was working exclusively with local grain, which she was working with at Morning Glory and then at Scratch. She got her home kitchen-certified and secured her first customer, Oxbow in Portland. Oxbow was using a natural fermentation method and some local grain and hops and Kerry’s bread was a perfect fit for them. Soon after she left Scratch and discovered Maple’s, a busy bakery in Yarmouth who offered Kerry a shared space in the evening.

 

Kerry will soon be 31 years old, her wholesale business is thriving and expansion is a future certainty.

 

“The physical aspect of bread baking is empowering,” says Kerry. “Further, the positive reaction of the community has helped confirm that I made the right career decision. I get to work with fun and creative people everyday. My next step is to partner with the Maine Grain Alliance and work on public health and social enterprise; it’s time to share my good fortune with others.” 

8 Days a Week: Men breaking down, pre-holiday anxieties, and constructive girl talk

THURSDAY 16

 

REAL BOYS | If there’s one thing men could learn from this cultural moment, it’s that they have a lot of work to do. Earlier this week, the journalist Eve Peysey published a piece titled “How to Apologize, A Guide for Men,” noting that if there’s one thing absent from the rationalizing explanations issued by Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein (to say nothing of the flat-out disavowals of Alabama GOP candidate Roy Moore), it’s an inability to say the words “I’m sorry.” A new and fantastic documentary titled The Work, which has been making the festival rounds this year, doesn’t deal directly with the subject of men’s systematic abuse of women, but it certainly serves as a necessary corollary. The one-of-a-kind prison documentary follows three free men sitting in on and participating in a four-day group therapy retreat comprised of (and facilitated by) level-four convicts in Folsom Prison. Through a series of intensely personal therapeutic practices and conversations, the men are able to excavate and isolate a ton of long-buried expressions of toxic masculinity, deeply embedded traumas, and self-flagellation. It’s a suckerpunch of a film (this writer saw it at the Camden Film Festival and cried a ton), but a necessary and unforgettable one. | 7 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $8 | www.space538.org

 

HERE COME THE WINDS | If there’s one thing older generations adore, it’s watching young people passionately adhere to a tradition that they themselves once participated in. Even better if the youths genuinely adore the work they’re doing, as we have no doubt the USM Youth Ensembles Fall Concert participants do. Tonight, the next generation of Maine symphonic musicians and ensembles show off their obliging enthusiasms for orchestral music at the Merrill Auditorium. | 8 pm | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland | FREE | www.porttix.com

 

TONGUE-TIED | The upstart artisanal Westbrook beermakers Mast Landing Brewing Company pairs with Massachusetts based Vitamin Sea for a juicy collabo in the Old Port today, pouring a double-dry hopped IPA called Same Sun that they made together, like friends. They say it tastes tropical, which is rare on the tongue in these days. | 5-7 pm | Thirsty Pig, 37 Exchange St., Portland | www.mastlandingbrewing.com

 

UP FOR A CHAT | The Maine fashion designer, entrepreneur, and cultural commentator Judicaelle Irakoze is the host of Girl Talk, a new series focusing on sisterhood and its various intersections as it plays out in Portland and nationally. Irakoze, a 22-year-old proprietor of Abigaelle Closet and founder of the initiative Choose Yourself, came to Maine via Burundi in 2014. “Girl Talk: A Conversation on Sisterhood, Resilience, and Power,” here in its second installment, is designed as a platform “to help women support other women,” designed to find common ground across generations and other divisions. Her guest today is Lex Schroeder (in full disclosure, the sister of Phoenix editor Nick Schroeder, this writer), a partner with the New York-based organization Feminists At Work, who lately specializes in feminist business model design and last week presented at the 2017 Entrepreneurial Feminists Forum in Toronto. | 5:30 pm | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo St., Portland | FREE | https://judicaelleirakoze.com

 

FRIDAY 17

 

PLUCKED FROM REALITY | If FAMOUS BANJO PLAYERS were a Family Feud category, then we’d bet Bela Fleck would rank no lower than third, survey says. One of the most respected practitioners of the craft, blurring bluegrass and jazz en route to 16 Grammy wins (wow, actually), Fleck is now removed from his work with the Flecktones. He appears here on tour with Abigail Washburn, the clawhammer banjo player from Illinois, who calls him her husband. She’s on the board too. | 8 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | $25-50 | www.statetheatreportland.com

 

THE ONE | Years ago, I read an interview where someone asked a young Elton John what the strangest thing he'd ever put in his mouth. His answer was unforgettable (and un-Googleable, apparently, making me consider whether I invented it). And though it's technically printable, I'm not going to chance it here. (This was all before he was knighted, of course.) Sir Elton hardly needs a plug from us, but he's going to light up the Civic Center — err, the Cross Insurance Arena tonight. | 8 pm | Cross Insurance Arena, 45 Center St. Portland | SOLD OUT | www.bangorwaterfrontconcerts.com

 

SATURDAY 18

 

IN THE ROTATION | The Maine Roller Derby get at it tonight with their annual Thanks-For-Giving bout, bending the rules of play for the benefit of charity. As they have it, those who donate during the bout will be able to send skaters to the penalty box, add points to their favorite team, and reverse the direction of the game. Wild! It all benefits the Opportunity Alliance, an organization which supports advocacy, health services, crisis intervention and more for needy Maine families. | 8 pm | Happy Wheels Skating Center, 331 Warren Ave., Portland | $6-8 |www.mainerollerderby.com

 

GREAT APES | Boston’s Hayley Jane and the Primates, billed as “theatrical folkadelic Americana,” seem true to their name. As frontwoman Hayley Jane explains in an interview with Relix magazine, she grew up Christian and obsessed with the relationship between humans and monkeys. They're safe odds at a good time. | 8 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | $8 |www.portlandhouseofmusic.com  

 

ROLE REVERSAL | The dance/burlesque troupe Red, Hot, and Ladylike have 35 dancers under their banner. Tonight, they mobilize to “stimulate your imagination from the temple to the brothel, through the after-school halls and to the moon” with a show titled “Give Spanks.” While we’re not wholly sure what they mean by all that, we’re in full support of women defining the terms of fantasy in this era of radical empowerment, while numerous pillars of a patriarchal order are being toppled and held accountable for assault, rape, and systemic abuse of power. And wouldn’t you know it — 100 percent of proceeds benefit the Family Crisis Center, an organization fighting to end domestic violence. We don’t know how much the dancers themselves want to politicize this stuff — they might just like to dance. We’re just saying nothing is without context. And no (wo)man is an island. | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | $20-35 | www.portcitymusichall.com

 

CHAPTER BREAK | Even though insidious forces have conspired to saturate our free time, exasperate our attention spans, and keep us in a state of deep social media paralysis and paycheck-to-paycheck precarity such that it would seem that the only folks who actually have the expendable time to purchase and read printed matter are so-called elites of the leisure class, we’re all smart enough to know what’s really going on. Books fully rule, and tell you what! They still literally make the best holiday presents. Today at Print, the bookstore at the foot of Munjoy Hill, stock up on holiday gifts at their one-year-anniversary sale, where a whole bunch of books will be 20 percent off. (We’re sure other area bookstores are doing sales soon too.) | 10 am-7 pm | Print: A Bookstore, 273 Congress St., Portland | www.printbookstore.com

 

SUNDAY 19

 

HOW TO DO A LIFE | New Mainer Abdi Nor Iftin left East Africa in 2014, arriving by way of a U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery system and a bureaucracy-fueled waiting period so excessive his story was later the subject of an episode of This American Life (called “Abdi and the Golden Ticket,”). Today, he’s not such a new Mainer anymore, studying poly-sci at the University of Maine and working as an interpreter in Somali communities. He’s a big personality and a talker (hence the podcast), and his appearance at the High Mountain Hall in Camden Sunday afternoon should illuminate the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers pre- and post-immigration while checking off a few charming boxes as well.| 2 pm | High Mountain Hall, 5 Mountain St., Camden | www.highmountainhall.com

 

DERN TOOTIN’ | The boisterous Portland bluegrass group Dark Hollow Bottling Company do their thing tonight at Blue as part of a monthly residency. See why the barn-burning five-piece is up for one of our Portland Music Awards.| 8 pm | Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland | by donation www.portcityblue.com  

 

MONDAY 20

WE ALL FALL DOWN | In the early stages of a courtship or the middling stages of a friendship, it’s a nice idea to do a sort of diagnostics test on humility. Laughing at yourself is fun, arguably one of the first “games” people played (with their own psyches). As we know from the French philosopher Henri Bergson, comedy is a sort of “momentary anesthesia of the heart” that arrives in the sort of gray area between the expected and the impossible — the slip on the banana peel, for instance. You may agree that ice skating, a thing humans weren’t designed to do, is an activity often deeply in the service of laughter. The Rink at Thompson’s Point opens this afternoon for a third season, where lovers, families, and neighbors can suffer the rigors of winter in communion. This year, they’ve added a beginner’s rink for young skaters, leaving the main pond to adults and their various embarrassments. | 3-9 pm | The Rink at Thompson’s Point, 10 Thompson’s Point Rd., Portland | $8, $5 youth | www.therinkatthompsonspoint.com

 

MEET ME IN THE CAVE | Sometimes, the venue a concert is held in can function as one of the artists on the bill. We really like seeing shows at Oxbow Blending and Bottling. We can’t always figure out why — it’s a big, chilly, cavernous and ill-lit warehouse on the edge of town, but that’s often exactly the mood we’re in when we want to appreciate music. (Plus, they’ve got good beer and that dope fernet from Liquid Riot.) Tonight, a few off-kilter folk songwriters convene there, and it’s a lovely Monday hang. See Montreal’s garage-folk maker Ada Lea and the experimental post-punk group Goodfight (from Brooklyn) playing with locals The Loblolly Boy and New Spine, the latter a tenderhearted roots-folk outfit fronted by Geneviève Beaudoin and aided by a cello. | 8 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland | prolly a few bux | www.oxbowbeer.com

 

TUESDAY 21

 

FORK TONGUES | If you’re on the hook for a Friendsgiving platter and don’t know when you’ll fit in the kitchen time, solutions exist at Fork Food Lab in Bayside. They host a “One Stop Thanksgiving Pop-Up Shop” from noon to five today, where elaborate and many-flavored desserts will be repped by local companies like The Whole Almond (granola), Bubbe and Bestemor (cookies), Renee By the Bay Maine Pies (tarts) and more. | Fork Food Lab | 72 Parris St., Portland | www.forkfoodlab.com

 

WEDNESDAY 22

SO ANX | Americans tend to treat this evening as a sort of nebulous interzone where it’s difficult to know which rules or social customs apply. It’s the evening before a family holiday — which is both uncomfortable for a certain and subjective batch of reasons (familial, trauma-related, dysfunctional) and also another set of reasons (colonialism, imperialism, racism), and often also excessively comfortable for yet another set of reasons (reprieve from capitalism, yesteryear nostalgia, binge nourishment), a condition which can sometimes unlock even more discomfort (lethargy, flatulence, confusion, dehydration, etc.) — which is itself the evening before an exercise in corporate-manufactured resource scarcity, which carries us until the dark season. So you’re forgiven if you don’t know what to do with tonight. Direct that wayward energy to Flask, where you’ll find other caught-in-the-middle types dancing it out at Drip Sweat, a dance party with DJ Double Dessert. | 9 pm | Flask Lounge, 117 Spring St., Portland | FREE | www.flasklounge.com

 

ALT-AUGHTIES | Elsewhere, two of Portland’s interminable rock bands, Sidecar Radio and Paranoid Social Club, join forces to play songs they haven’t played in a while. Fronted by Walt Craven from go-for-it rock Portland rock band 6gig in the early 2000s (who got caught up in a national discussion for Ozzfest-style alt-metal bands), Sidecar Radio plays a more melodic, anthemic style. They officially split up in 2012, so their appearance is a special one. Paranoid play more frequently, a rock group side project of Rustic Overtones' frontman Dave Gutter whose sound can vacillate between Sugar Ray and the Foo Fighters. A decent community hang. | 8 pm | Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland | $8-10 | www.portcitymusichall.com

 

THURSDAY 23

RE-FLOW | While we're not going to outright tell you to spend Thanksgiving Day in some sort of volunteer service — everyone works hard and deserves some rest — we'd nudge you to consider supporting the organizations working to help those around us who don't have access to such comforts, whether they be soup kitchens like Wayside Food Programs, restorative justice organizations like Greater Portland SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), labor organizations pushing for causes like paid sick days (Southern Maine Workers' Center), or decolonization efforts working for advocacy and rights for indigenous peoples (such as Maine-Wabanaki REACH).

This Machine Tests How Strong Your Bud Is — Here's how it works

If (for whatever reason) you had to convince someone about the legitimacy of the burgeoning cannabis industry, show them some of its products.

Twenty-nine states have implemented some sort of legal marijuana measure in the past 20 years and entrepreneurs and growers there have had time to test out some cool gadgets related to the business.  

To me, the use of these  — often scientific — tools speaks to the seriousness of the cannabis industry; it’s clear from the level of technology utilized in these cannabis operations just how mature the business has become. For example, last week I learned of a device made by Sage Analytics out of California that lets people test the potency of cannabis right from their own home. Want to know exactly how dank your strain is? Now you can, right down to the molecular level. 

Typically if you want to find out how much THC (the compound that gets you stoned) or CBD (the non-psychoactive compound with medicinal benefits) is in your weed, you’d have to send a gram of it to a lab, pay the fee, and wait for results. There’s a facility down in York called Tested Labs that seems to be the closest place Portland area people could send to, and they charge $40 per sample and per profile. If you’re a big-time supplier with many strains to test out, that can add up.

Some are completing the process themselves inside their own home or business with a new machine called the Humboldt Profiler II. It’s a rugged-looking box that you plug into the wall and wait beside for 20 minutes while the light warms up. After that, you grind up some bud, place it in the special container on top, seal the lid, and hit a button that says calculate. The machine will then do just that and provide full details on the levels of THC and cannabinoid levels in your sample. From there you can print labels to stick onto your bottled cannabis product.

These home potency calculators are allegedly selling well all over the world, including here in Maine, but are doing best in places like California and Colorado, states that have had a head start on both recreational and medicinal marijuana markets.

I spoke with Lauren Wilson, who lives in California and works at Sage Analytics to learn more about the science behind this fairly new portable technology.

According to Wilson, the Profiler II uses near-infrared spectroscopy to analyze a marijuana sample. There’s some hard science behind this, which involves measuring the overtones and combinations of bond vibrations in molecules. The cannabis sample is bathed in near-infrared light and by measuring and comparing the wavelengths of what's reflected and what's absorbed by the sample, an observer can calculate exactly what's in it. Light particles, known as photos, contain a lot of information. Thankfully, you don't need to know anything about the electromagnetic spectrum, because the machine does all the heavy lifting, spitting out data after about 10 seconds. Near-infrared technology is a fast, reliable, and non-destructive technique used already in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. 

The technology is typically only available for people in scientific careers priced at hundreds of thousands of dollars, however, it has been used through these smaller devices by growers, extract producers, edible manufacturers, and dispensaries for a couple years now.

“We took the same technology that was being used in pharma to test drugs and designed it to test the potency of cannabis,” said Wilson. “It’s an FDA approved technology and it’s very inexpensive.”

Wilson says the applications for the Profiler II are varied. Growers can use it as a tool when monitoring their plants — pulling plants exactly during the moment when its buds have maxed out of its THC content. They can later use potency testing as a way to help negotiate their prices when it’s time to sell a harvest. Dispensaries can use the device to provide testing for customers on the spot, possibly assuring them of any concerns they have about dosages. 

“It can give you information so that you can calibrate and grow the best possible plant,” said Wilson. “Before you had to be very skilled to be able to do this.”

But, as Wilson made sure to point out, in-house potency testing should not be perceived as a replacement to third-party testing. “Growers still need those,” she says, because only at a laboratory can the cannabis be tested for things like heavy metals, solvents, pesticides, mold, and fungus.

Plus, under Maine’s Marijuana Legalization Act, which is currently being re-worked by a special committee, recreational and medicinal operations are required to have their product tested by a third party for contaminants and THC potency.

While devices like the Profiler may still prove far too expensive or superfluous for some, its growing popularity shows just how committed many marijuana professionals are about putting out a safe, quality product. And that’s a good sign.


 Francis Flisiuk can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information on the Humboldt Profiler II visit: http://sageanalytics.com/ 

Catch a Lift

When it gets to be around turkey time, especially when the real early birds are already enjoying man-made snow on the Kingfield slopes, active Mainers’ thoughts get around to sharpening edges, shopping for lift passes, and finding (or placing) shiny new slope-conquering equipment under that pine tree that will soon be in the living room. If the smell of oncoming flakes isn’t already in the air, it is in the anticipatory musings of the winter-sports enthusiast. We feel the tug of gravity and centripetal force helping us carve turns, hear the lonely wind at the mountain’s peak before we plunge into that black-diamond run, in short, we become friends with Old Man Winter all over again.

 

One man’s name has achieved nearly as legendary a status in the world of skiing and boarding, and that man is Warren Miller. Way back in 1946, the cinematographer-to-be bought his first 8mm movie camera once safely home from the campaigns of World War II, and used it to film himself and a pal skiing and surfing. He would show the reels at off-season parties, cracking jokes and adding bits of narration for the entertainment of an ever-growing circle of friends. In time, he began to receive invitations to show his films in small venues, with compensation. In 1950, Miller produced his first full-length ski film, Deep and Light. The productions continued with regularity and increasing scope and quality, until Warren Miller Entertainment winter-sports features became nearly synonymous with the start of the ski season each year.

 

The latest, Line of Descent, will be shown two times at the State Theatre (142 High St) on Saturday, November 18: an early show at 5 p.m. and again at 8:30 p.m. Tickets prices are steep at $20 per, but the investment in an invitation into the snow-sports family is a good one.

 

Look for Maine’s own Seth Wescott, as well as Moe, Moseley, and many other pros. Exotic locations and breathtaking maneuvers will be the order of the day. Well, maybe your online purchase of those new goggles will be the order of the day. Either way, you ought to remember where your waxing iron is by now.

 

Event site: https://www.statetheatreportland.com/event/1552709-warren-millers-line-descent-portland/

 

Warren Miller Entertainment: http://www.skinet.com/warrenmiller/

Cumberland County Jail extends contract with controversial for-profit health care provider — Despite multiple audits and lawsuits, Corizon Health Services rakes big profits from the incarcerated

brian sonensteinAbove The Law is a column featuring news and analysis on incarceration, policing, and the criminal justice system in Maine. The name evokes the extrajudicial actions and impunity of law enforcement that will be covered here, while also imploring citizens to think "above" and beyond the status quo to envision better ways of dealing with harm. Here, we will question and critique not only the conduct of law enforcement but the roles played by various institutions of justice in communities across the state and nation. Above The Law aims to elevate the perspectives, stories, and voices of impacted communities, reporting the ideas and work being done on the ground to advance new visions for justice, security, and accountability.


The Cumberland County Jail extended its contract with a controversial for-profit health care provider for another year, despite a lack of transparency and oversight that has made it difficult to assess medical and mental health conditions at the facility.

Cumberland County approved the $3.14 million extension with Corizon Health Services at a meeting of county commissioners on October 10. The county has exercised its option to extend the contract every year since it began in 2007.

State law requires regular oversight in each of Maine’s 15 county jails, but only four have an active Board of Visitors. These boards monitor facilities and take “necessary precautions for the security of prisoners, for the prevention of infection and sickness, and for the accommodations of the prisoners.”

Cumberland County is one of the few counties with an active board, but they haven’t held any meetings this year. A meeting scheduled in January 2017 was cancelled. 

On November 14, at the only other Board of Visitors meeting that took place this year, Sheriff Joyce said that the board does not oversee health care at the jail. Instead, oversight is conducted by accreditors like the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and through an outside consultant. An audit of health care is scheduled to take place this month.

While the jail is fully accredited, there are no publicly available independent reports on health care conditions at the facility.

At the meeting where Corizon’s contract was extended, Cumberland County Commissioner James F. Cloutier noted his colleagues have “no oversight on grievances and that they are trying to increase money for mental health issues within the jail.“

A growing proportion of people incarcerated before trial in Maine have mental health care needs, with one survey estimating between 30 to 60 percent taking at least one psychiatric medication.

Cumberland County Jail has also been called the state’s “largest detox center.” Sheriff Kevin Joyce estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the 100,000 inmates that pass through the jail each year suffer from some form of substance abuse.
The sheriff expressed satisfaction with Corizon during the board meeting despite these challenges. He said staff turnover was high and that the facil- ity could use more money. The primary issue has been a lack of bed space in treatment centers. The jail is working to expand on-site treatment through a potential partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, but that has not been approved.

Corizon lost its contract with the Maine Department of Corrections in 2012 following an audit that found ”some prisoners did not receive standard medical services, such as physicals, dental services or sick call response within the timeframe required.”

Between 2011 and 2016, Corizon was sued over 660 times in federal court. They were involved in the horrific treatment of inmates with mental illness at New York City’s Rikers Island — conditions so bad that the city ended the contract in 2015. Inmate deaths spiked in Florida after Corizon took over.

Multiple investigations have found Corizon inadequately staffs facilities and withholds and changes prescriptions in an effort to reduce costs. Sheriff Joyce has said the jail saved thousands of dollars by making its policies around psychiatric medication more restrictive.

Cumberland County’s contract also indemnifies jail and county officials from lawsuits and includes millions of dollars in insurance coverage.

10 years ago, during the first year of Corizon’s contract with Cumberland County, a 26-year-old inmate died by suicide. The company and the county were sued by the inmate’s mother, who accused Corizon of violating his right to “a safe environment and protection from serious, life-threatening harm and injury, including that incurred by self-harm or self-mutilation, and guaranteed him treatment of his medical and psychiatric illnesses or injuries.”

An attorney representing Corizon told reporters the company and its employees should have been dismissed from the lawsuit because they were technically government employees and were therefore enjoyed qualified immunity.

That lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. Others, involving inmates suffering from mental illness and cancer, have been unsuccessful in holding Corizon accountable.

Concerns over mental health care were raised again in March when another 26-year-old inmate died after his second attempt at suicide. Sheriff Joyce refused to release the internal investigation of the death to the public, telling reporters it found no wrongdoing and that all policies had been followed. The sheriff specifically cited the possibility of a lawsuit by the inmate’s family as a reason to keep the report secret.

Last year, the Guardian reported Corizon’s revenues grew by 15 percent over three years, reaching $1.5 billion in 2015.

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Women Are Seizing Their Power — Is 2017 The Beginning of Herstory?

Sultana Khan“I honestly don’t even know.” Several weeks ago, in the wake of the Weinstein maelstrom, I posed a question to my friend Olivia, “What will the world look like when women seize their power?” We were sitting in her kitchen, having tucked away a bottle or three of wine, impatiently waiting for a Moroccan-inspired chicken dish to finish cooking while the smell of cinnamon and roasting apricots surrounded us. The silence of our unknowing drew long as we contemplated the enormity of the question.

“Themyscira,” I semi-jokingly replied, referring to the paradisiacal island home of Wonder Woman, where women thrive and develop rippling muscles without the male gaze shaming them into wondering if their bodies are too masculine. I laughed for a moment, but unfortunately, my reply served as a reminder of last year’s United Nations fuck up, when, apparently facing a dearth of real-life candidates, the organization appointed Wonder Woman an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls.

Not long after, Wonder Woman was stripped of the title, thanks to a petition that amassed more than 44,000 signatures calling for a non-fiction ambassador whose brand wasn’t that of an “overtly sexualized image,” which was also “culturally insensitive in many parts of the world.”  It’s hard to determine which of these diametrically opposed viewpoints took precedence in the public arena’s outrage — if Wonder Woman was a degrading representation of the objectification of women, actually objectifying her by claiming her clothing too sexy for public consumption feels almost hysteria-inducing.

As we discussed the reality of a more equitable world, our fear and fury laboring under the weight of a hashtag that had inundated our timelines, it felt almost impossible to believe that time would ever come.

This is what it means to be a woman in America in 2017. An America where a female friend and I could be sitting in her kitchen, discussing the tortuous path to a world where women’s bodies aren’t commodified, legislated, raped, or murdered, only to discover the very notion is so far out of the realm of believability that we can only stare blankly at one another in depressed, unsurprised silence.

+++

If this sounds like a hyperbole — or “female hysteria” if you’re an asshole — it might also surprise you to know that in 2015, according to an annual report from the Violence Policy Center, Maine was ranked ninth in the nation for the per capita rate at which men murdered women.

Statistically, nearly half of Maine’s of homicides are linked to domestic violence. While the number of murders in Maine remain relatively low, that’s 20 percent higher than the national average, according to data from the Department of Justice.

This might account for some of the urgency found in the language of last year’s biennial report, On the Path to Prevention, from the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, a statutorily mandated entity formed in the late nineties and housed under the Office of the Attorney General. The position is currently held by Janet Mills, who wrote the foreword and recently successfully sought permanent funding for a Panel Coordinator position. On the Path to Prevention chronicles the Panel’s review of 16 cases in which the homicide was linked to domestic violence, and investigates the factors surrounding the case that escalated the violence into murder.

The report’s grisly details dissect the relationships between perpetrator (two of whom were female, fourteen of whom were male) and victim, whose ages ranged from 10 weeks to 81 years old, as well as the factors leading up to the homicide. It is easy to see how the Panel’s mission — which is to “engage in collaborative, multidisciplinary case reviews of domestic abuse-related homicides for the purpose of developing recommendations for state and local government and other public and private entities in order to improve coordinated community responses to protect people from domestic abuse” — necessitates the level of detail found in the report, but it’s a viscerally upsetting read nonetheless.Maine isn’t the only state to employ this method for developing recommendations — Fatality Review Panels can be found throughout the country — but the Maine Panel, comprised of 21 women and four men, is one of the leading panels in the U.S., so much so that they were invited to present at the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative Conference on their methodology and processes.

This could be a contributing factor as to why Maine did not appear on the top 10 states of the Violence Policy Center’s 2015 or 2016 reports.

 

(It's worth noting that Mills's foreward focuses not on the dead women murdered by their male partners or former partners who comprise nine victims in the 16 cases reviewed, but rather the children who are adversely affected by the violence experienced in their homes. "A child without a safe and loving home is a child adrift, left insecure for life." Rather than giving dignity to the women as multidimensional beings, the Attorney General laments the loss of a child's mother — no woman is mourned simply for herself.

 

I checked previous reports, including 2014’s Building Bridges Towards Safety and Accountability to End Domestic Violence, as well as reports from 2010, 2008, 2006, and 2004, some of which were written by Mill’s predecessor, former Attorney General G. Steven Rowe, and not a single foreword contained the word “women.”

In part, this is due to the reports’ focus on all manner of domestic violence, which is separated into two categories, intrafamilial homicide and intimate partner homicide. It’s a deliberate choice to convey that domestic violence is not only visited upon women, but in its bid to adhere to political correctness, an important opportunity to advocate explicitly for women is missed.)

+++

A few weeks ago, a former colleague of mine, Erin Gloria Ryan, was interviewed on The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, a satirical show that premiered earlier this year on Comedy Central. Ryan, whom I met while she worked at Jezebel, pointed out that many of the men who are being outed during this glorious purging of serial rapists and assaulters chose their victims based on a lack of power. But the growth of what Ryan dubbed the “me too moment,” and the growing empowerment of women seeing their private experiences reflected publicly on every social media platform, has led to a kind of power most victims never dreamed they would hold. And, as more previously untouchable men topple under the weight of public exposure, the shift has left many, including Ryan, cautiously optimistic that it might be permanent.

Unfortunately, the insidious nature of these allegations is that they never exist in a vacuum — the cultural collusion that must take place in order for women to remain victims of this kind of violence permeates every level of our society. The connection between domestic homicide and the secret predations that have systematically undercut the ability of women to claim their power remains a sickeningly entrenched narrative in American society, as well as our legal and political systems. Is it so hard to wonder why a future led by powerful women is impossible to imagine when these shocking behaviors have been “open secrets” for so many years? When a man who has bragged on tape about sexual assault is president? When our only means of defense in these realms is the “whisper network,” in which women quietly warn one another away from men who might do them harm.

In Maine, despite the Review Panel’s mandate to churn out reports every two years, women continue to fight for incremental changes in the status quo. In May of this year, Republicans blocked even the possibility of a voter referendum to enshrine gender equality via an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution. A current bill to create a “victim’s bill of rights” has met with staunch opposition, including a blistering editorial in the Bangor Daily News, which framed the amendment as an out-of-state billionaire’s agenda with too many problems to be of actual use.

While it’s true that Henry T. Nicholas, a billionaire from California, is the money man behind the campaign for Marsy’s Law, named after Nicholas’s sister who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend, the logic behind denying victims protections through a constitutional amendment seems shaky. The BDN’s editorial — which was published with no byline, by the way — essentially argues that the state would have difficulty complying with an amendment that protects victims’ rights, due to the state’s inability to meet the current legal requirements, which are not enshrined in the constitution. Their proposal is to create a fund that ensures victims are rewarded restitution that is owed, a legal obligation the state already faces, but has trouble carrying out.

Why not both?

Is it too much to ask that women, who would obviously benefit most from this law, be protected by all the powers at our disposal after years of systemic marginalization and abuse? Shouldn’t we be implementing laws and policies at every level to protect women now that the veil has been lifted on a furtive culture that has stunted the power and progress of women at every turn?

DrewChristopher Joy, Executive Director of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC), is working on one of those levels. It’s one of the reasons that their current campaign for earned paid sick leave includes a stipulation that would allow Portland employees to take paid time off to care for themselves or family members who have been victims of domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault.

“Our campaigns have always been intersectional because we know that there is a direct impact of gender on a person’s ability to get work, maintain work, and get to work safely.” Joy says the current state labor law, which guarantees victims’ time off but doesn’t guarantee compensation, doesn’t do enough. SMWC also plans to relaunch their hotline, where members can report abuse from employers, including sexual harassment, early next year.

The connection between a seemingly simple campaign for paid leave and the revolution of women’s power may not seem obvious, but one recommendation On the Path to Prevention makes it clear: “Employers, supervisors, and co‐workers have the opportunity to engage in protective actions when framed by a comprehensive workplace response to domestic abuse. Employers who institute workplace domestic abuse policies foster a workplace culture of safety, and identify response strategies that increase safety and support for victims, as well as identify measures of perpetrator accountability.” The ability to take time off without a financial burden for the victim could literally save lives in Portland.

+++

The growing visibility and education around everyday abuses of women in this country — particularly women of color; queer, femme, non-binary and trans women; and women living in poverty — are creating a strengthening vortex where powerful men with hidden proclivities for violence or misconduct must be starting to tremble at the edge. But this moment comes only after years of enabling, secrecy, and money created a culture that prioritized money over women’s bodies.

While Olivia and I continued to pick half-heartedly at the carcass of a truly superb dinner, I noted with dark humor that in her aromatic kitchen, we’d managed to pass the Bechdel test, a rubric meant to expose the structural inequalities of gender representation in the film industry. The test dictates that at a bare minimum, a film must have two named female characters who converse with one another about something other than a man. For such a simple scale, little more than half of last year’s top-grossing films passed the test.

But then I remembered that this year, women made more movies, dominated box office earnings, and amassed more praise from critics than ever before. Women just helped the Democratic Party win seats they ran for because their opponents were toxic masculinity personified. Black women, in particular, voted overwhelmingly for progressive candidates — their votes ensured our continued march toward a less apocalyptic future. And women, who comprise the majority of the Domestic Abuse Homicide Prevention Panel, have made recommendations at the expense of their own mental health, by reviewing grisly reports every month, that have created a safer Maine for other women.

Perhaps the “whisper network,” which operated in selective secrecy for so many years but has now gained public attention, is ready to become the shouting revolution. Maybe a future where women are free to pursue their passions without threat is almost visible.


Sultana Khan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Local Elections Recap — The real winners and losers of Portland

The establishment ran the table in council races and citizen questions, but the four school bond sailed. Ho-hum? Hardly. Here’s what it all means.

 

Bond to fund repairs of four elementary schools: Passed, 65 percent in favor.

The Winner: The school bond was Mayor Ethan Strimling’s way of controlling a bit more of the city budget. But with the Mayor’s approval rating at around 50 percent, the victory may have come as much in spite of his efforts as because of them.

The Wiener: Progressive Portland co-founder Steven Biel staked his ground on this bond but the victory came at a heavy cost to his reputation when he got caught sharing a voter list with Bree LaCasse campaign for the at-large City Council seat.

The Real Winner: The kids, it’s all about the kids.

The Loser: City Manager Jon Jennings wanted just a two-school bond, but he’ll survive.

 

Referendum on rent regulations including incremental increases: Failed, 64 percent opposed.

The Winner: The Landlord’s Association was the main opposition. They had city officials, nonprofit developers, and the city establishment on their side while the proponents of the bill ran out of steam just as the battle reached the pitch.

The Real Winner: Jill Duson. As head of the Housing Committee, Duson held the party line against the activists and was duly rewarded, although an open discussion of the matter would have saved a lot of time and money.

Money Matters: The landlords spent $20 per vote (and raised about $300,000). The bill’s sponsors spent less than $1 per vote.

The Loser: Proponents are hoping this is the start of a conversation about rent stabilization — but it might be the end.

 

Neighbor Approval of Zoning Changes: The measure failed with 53 percent opposing, but it was closer than many had anticipated and strongest in the peninsula districts.

The Winner: A development-friendly group that included Maine Medical Center.

Money Matters: Amendment sponsor Mary Davis and her YES campaign spent virtually nothing. Her opponents spent roughly $100,000 (about $10 per vote).

The Real Winner: Off-peninsula homeowners. Interestingly, more conservative districts (3, 4, and 5) voted against but are most likely to see the most rezoning voted. The city planning department is getting set to “upzone” some neighborhoods of single-family houses on quarter-acre lots. The denser development will increase property value.

The Loser: YIMBYs. Considering the strong showing of this somewhat cuckoo proposal, it does not appear that these anti-change forces are going away anytime soon, especially on the peninsula.

 

City Council At-Large

The Winner: Incumbent Jill Duson carried the day with 44 percent while Joey Brunelle (30 percent) and Bree LaCasse (26 percent) fractured the left-wing opposition. [Disclosure: I was a contributor and volunteer for the Brunelle campaign.]

Money Matters: LaCasse raised over $40,000 thanks in large part to Steven Biel. Duson raised about $25K, mostly in a late push and with some real estate donors, and Brunelle $13k, accepting only in-state contributions.

The Wiener: State Senator Mark Dion’s robo-call for LaCasse touted a bogus poll that put her in close contention. He also mispronounced her last name. Not an auspicious start to his gubernatorial campaign.

The Real Winner: The Portland establishment kept Duson thanks to Biel’s recruitment of LaCasse after Joey Brunelle refused Biel’s support. As a bonus, they got to sit by and watch Mr. Brunelle’s widely publicized takedown of Biel over the unethical sharing of voter lists.

The Loser: Steven Biel came out of this pretty bruised. Biel lost his leadership position with Progressive Portland, and his wife, Emily Figdor, is being challenged for her chair by the Portland Dems.

 

City Council District 5

The Winner: Kim Cook won the vote with 63 percent against two challengers.

The Real Winner: Affordable housing. Cook’s work as a consultant for affordable housing developers and the district’s rejection of the NIMBY proposal (Question 2) might clear the ground for some low-income housing projects off-peninsula.

Meet the New Boss: Cook was the treasurer for David Brenerman, the current D5 councilor, and like him, she is a political consultant. She should soon be feeling comfortable in his old chair.

 

City Council District 4

The Winner: Justin Costa held his seat with 68 percent against Kim Rich. With an easy victory over a progressive challenger, Costa should now consider his seat safe and can take on greater leadership of the City Council.

The Loser: Cheryl Leeman, who is the former District 4 councilor, an aide to Senator Olympia Snowe, and longtime Portland power broker. Although Leeman supported Costa in his campaign, her sway over him should now be on the wane.

 


Zack Barowitz can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

An earlier version of this article misstated that Cheryl Leeman was an aide to Senator Susan Collins. It is Olympia Snowe. 

An earlier version of this article misstated that the rent stabilization won two districts. It won two precincts.

Just Say Yes — Mint, coffee, and jalapeno beers shine at Yes Brewing

In a crowded market, there’s a tendency for new breweries to “go big,” to have eyes on big money and a seat at the table of a large-scale craft. So it’s refreshing to encounter a start-up brewery with an acute understanding of scale, one that uses its size to its advantage. Yes Brewing in Westbrook had five beers on draft when I visited, and not one kowtowed to trends. Each was unique and delicious.

From a jalapeno pale to a kettle-soured cherry Berliner Weiss — head brewer John Bigelow’s response when I asked whether it was a lactobacillus pitch or a lactic acid addition was “Fuck lactic acid.” — the beers displayed remarkable singularity and balance across the board. Over a flight, I chatted with Bigelow and owner Brady Frost.

How did you guys come together and launch the idea for Yes?

Brady: We had mutual friends. I was introduced to John when he was looking for potential investment in this project. He was homebrewing for like 17 years, telling pretty much anyone he met “I’m gonna do this thing.” It got real about a year and a half ago, my brother [Trevor] and I were into it. John had a bunch of pilots ready, the beer was really good, and we decided to get involved.

drink hopsHamblemFarm

John and Brady of Yes Brewing get the hops for some of their beers from the Hop Yard at Hamblen Farm in Gorham. 

Did you always have eyes on Westbrook?

John: Westbrook was always one of the fat spots. We know half of these people that come in by first name.

Brady: There was somewhat of a saturation level in Portland, there’s just so much going on at once. It’s not that I don’t think our beer would stand out — you know, we’re pretty weird — but it was cool to be just the second brewery in Westbrook.

John: Competition is one thing, but we’ve got synergy. You build a couple breweries, you build a couple more, and now you’ve got a reason for people to come around.

I have to ask, why the name? Why Yes Brewing?

Brady: It was kind of a joke, it was a placeholder. We were like “OK, we’re just gonna leave this here, then we’ll come up with something we like more.” Then we checked the federal trademarks and it wasn’t taken. And that’s one of the most common words in the English language, and it’s positive! We have kind of a '90s aesthetic, but we also have kind of a carefree, high-five type attitude; we’re all positive people. We’re just trying to avoid that stigma of craft beer pretension, you know?

You're on draft in a number of bars and restaurants around Portland, are you fostering more connections with draft accounts?

Brady: Well yeah, I do that, I suppose that’s my job, apart from drinking the beer. We’ve had some really good accounts. Great Lost Bear was first. They’re awesome, super supportive. Bayside Bowl has worked with us a lot. Brian Boru has been huge. Basically, we’re not trying to go over-the-top and force it too much, but if we can find some commonality between us and a business, I’m happy to work with them.

Do you have plans to expand distribution, maybe upgrade your scale?

Brady: Yeah, we’re saving that for now, definitely, upgrade the brew system, fermentors we’re gonna upgrade. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit in there, but John’s making it work, he’s a MacGyver. We’ll definitely buy a canning line, coming in hot for sure. I’d say for the spring, we’re going to try to get some canning and bottling done.

"LePage Can't Stop This" — Mainers want more health-care, not less

Last week 59 percent of Maine voters approved of Question 2, which seeks to expand Medicaid coverage to residents living below 133 percent of the federal poverty line. Actually, the measure was the highest percentage of the vote of a citizen's initative in Maine in almost two decades. 

But it might take much longer than necessary before those newly eligible folks — a group estimated to be around 80,000 Mainers — will be able to sign up.

Gov. Paul LePage threatened to veto the measure last week, as he’s done five times in the past with other Medicaid expansion efforts. He argues that expanding Medicaid would plunge Maine further into debt and prove burdensome to the taxpayer, pointing to Medicaid expansion in 2002 that resulted in $750 million in hospital debt.

“Therefore, my administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels [the Department of Health and Human Services] has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled,” said LePage in a recent radio address. “We don’t mind helping people get health care, but it should not be free. ‘Free’ is very expensive to somebody.”

WHO SHOULD GET FREE HEALTH-CARE?

LePage — and fellow state Republicans like Senator Eric Brakey (R-20) — view expanded health-care coverage as a handout that able-bodied adults shouldn’t be given when they can “work and contribute to their own health insurance costs.”

“When setting priorities in our social safety net, I believe those who are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves must come first,” said Brakey in a statement to the Phoenix. “Funding Medicaid expansion for able-bodied adults before we adequately fund services for our seniors and disabled would make our most vulnerable Mainers wait even longer for desperately needed services.”

Lori Gramlich, the executive director of the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, mobilized many Mainers to support Medicaid expansion and played a big role in its passing. She said that Medicaid expansion wouldn't take away services from others and believes that everyone has a right to affordable health-care. According to Gramlich, most of the people who will qualify for Medicaid are working but in low wage, often entry-level or seasonal, service industry and/or part-time jobs which often don’t offer health insurance coverage.

According to Gramlich, the expansion wouldn’t send Medicaid dollars to new enrollees but instead directly to health care providers to pay for the services they deliver.

“Maine taxpayers are already paying for Medicaid expansion in other states, but not for people here in Maine,” said Gramlich. “As social workers, we advocate for a more just society. Medicaid expansion will decrease Maine’s health disparities and will have a direct impact on the life, health, and economic stability of Maine’s low-income residents.”

The notion touted by LePage that Medicaid expansion would deplete services to Maine seniors is also untrue. Although Medicaid’s known for primarily helping poor people, 80 percent of its budget benefits children and the elderly. One in three people helped by Medicaid expansion is between the ages of 50 and 64.

“LePage’s claims about seniors are completely bogus, and in keeping with his tradition of pitting groups of Mainers against each other,” said James Myall, a policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “The reality is that there’s no connection between funding for the two programs and no reason why we can’t fund both. In fact, the governor and his appointees at DHHS have repeatedly cut Medicaid for the non-elderly without making significant progress in care for those with disabilities or the elderly.”

A COST WORTH PAYING

news CourtesyoftheHenryJKaiserFamilyFOundation2

Graphic courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 

To be fair, Republican's say their opposition to Medicaid expansion hinges less on a moral concern about who deserves health care and more on economic concerns on how that care would be paid for. The federal government would pay 94 percent of Maine’s Medicaid costs in 2018, and 90 percent from 2020 on, a deal which according to the Office of Fiscal Program Review would still cost the state 54 million a year.

LePage has indicated that he will veto any funding proposal that raises taxes, uses the rainy day fund or cuts services for seniors and disabled Mainers. It’s unclear how else the $54 million could be drummed up beside raising taxes or cutting services elsewhere.

But supporters of Medicaid expansion don’t believe an extra $54 million would prove catastrophic to the economy and remarked that Maine has an $8 million budget surplus and over $1 billion in the rainy day fund.

“We do not have a deficit,” said Gramlich. “This is a matter of priorities, and other states are benefiting in many ways — including experiencing savings in their state budgets, especially in the area of mental health and substance use disorder treatment.”

Myall said his colleagues at the MCEP will be working directly with the Legislature on the issue of funding, but regardless, he’s confident that the price tag won’t be an issue. He said the $54 million is a small increase and represents only 1.5 percent of the state’s general fund.

For supporters like Gramlich and Myall, spending an extra $54 million — funded through whatever mechanism the Legislature thinks best — is well worth it to secure an additional $500 million in federal aid.

But Brakey’s not convinced the federal government — which he says is itself $20 trillion in debt — would pay up.

“Washington D.C. politicians are making promises with money they don't have,” said Brakey. Even if the politicians maintain this promise in the short-run, they can only avoid economic reality for so long. The bills will come due and this financial house of cards will come crashing down on all of us. When that day comes, Maine people will be left holding the bag.”

These are the reasons why LePage is willing to try and overturn the will of the voters, despite numerous promises in the past that he’d respect the democratic process even on issues he disagrees with.

The irony of a conservative leader with Tea Party roots using the power of government to dismiss a citizen’s initiative is not lost on us. Considering LePage's recent vetoes of voter-approved measures like the Marijuana Legalization Act and Ranked Choice Voting, it’s clear LePage’s politics are almost synonymous with contradiction and obstructionism.

news CourtesyoftheHenryJKaiserFamilyFOundation

Graphic courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundaton. 

LIMITS OF POWER 

But LePage’s recent threats of veto are still puzzling, presumably because the Governor knows what he can and can’t get away with. Does LePage know there’s nothing he can do to stop this?

Because according to it, a veto of a citizen’s initiative is beyond the power of his office.

According to Section 19 of the Maine Constitution titled Effective Date of Measures Approved by the People; Veto Power Limited, “the veto power of the Governor shall not extend to any measure approved by vote of the people, and any measure initiated by the people and passed by the Legislature without change, if vetoed by the Governor and if the veto is sustained by the Legislature shall be referred to the people to be voted on at the next general election.”

A voter-approved initiative that requires state spending won't become operable until 45 days after the next legislative meeting which won’t be until Jan. 3, 2018.

After that, LePage — who will be out of office next year — is required to submit the necessary paperwork to the federal government to implement the expansion within 90 days.

So legally, LePage can’t stop the Medicaid expansion from happening, but he can try to delay it.

“The governor is basically irrelevant in this process,” said Myall. “It’s his job to implement the laws of the state, and this law is structured with minimal opportunity for meddling by the executive branch. As far as the legislative process goes, a supplemental budget requires a two-thirds (veto proof) vote anyway so legislators shouldn’t be unduly swayed by a lame duck governor.”

Maine’s Speak of the House Sarah Gideon assured voters the Legislature would implement the measure and intervene if LePage tried to stop it.

In a recent press release, Gideon wrote that “Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert this law will not be tolerated and will be fought with every recourse at our disposal. Mainers demanded affordable access to healthcare yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver."

Because of the inevitable delay of Medicaid expansion in Maine and the repeated (albeit failed) Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, affordable health care still faces an uncertain future. Meanwhile, Trump cut the advertising budget for ACA by 90 percent; we’re assuming he doesn’t want Americans to know that they can lock in coverage for 2018 by enrolling before Dec. 15.

But despite the uncertainty, thousands of Americans are signing up; Between November 1 and November 4, an average of 150,366 new members enrolled each day. (It’s important to note that individuals can drop their coverage without penalty should they become eligible for a different plan under the new Medicaid expansion.)

Given the state Legislature and the Federal government act on the measure, Maine will be the 32nd state to expand Medicaid, and the first to do so through a people’s vote. Other states like Utah, Missouri, and Idaho have been monitoring the situation as new committees there work on getting their own expansion effort on next year’s ballot.

“While states can end their expansion anytime, no state has done so," said Gramlich. Instead, they "cite huge economic benefits, the ability to provide coverage to low wage workers, the ability to provide very much needed resources to hospitals and community health centers, lower costs health insurance premiums on the Marketplace (about 7 percent less in states that have already expanded) and job creation."

"It’s no wonder other states that have not been able to expand would consider doing so. Keep in mind, Maine is the first state to pass expansion through citizen referendum at the ballot. Our motto — Dirigo – We Lead — would be fitting in this regard.”

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