Francis Flisiuk

Francis Flisiuk

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When it comes to health care, America faces an existential threat

Despite all the wondrous comforts of the modern age, an inconvenient truth from our earliest moments still plagues humanity today: most of us will contract some debilitating illness at some point in life, and many of us will die from it.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 2 Americans have a chronic disease which they define as “the main causes of poor health, disability, and death, and account for most of health care expenditures."

Take diabetes for example, a lifelong disease that’s the 7th leading cause of death in America. It affects over 100 million Americans; 1 in 10 Americans has it, 1 in 3 have its precursor conditions, and ⅓ of people with diabetes don’t even know they have it.

Heart disease, the number one leading cause of death for both men and women in America, kills over 610,000 Americans every year.

Obesity, a condition that increases the risk of both diabetes, heart disease, and other cardiovascular ailments is also on the rise; over 40 percent of adults in America are obese, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

It’s estimated that the opioid epidemic could kill half a million people across America within the next decade, while 33,000 died from overdoses just last year.  

These scary statistics are worth considering as Senate Republicans in Washington attempt to pass a huge tax reform bill that includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most people have health insurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the repeal would save more than $300 billion over a decade but also leave 13 million Americans without health insurance.

Maine’s Senator Susan Collins is one of the seven key Republican Senators that could help kill the bill. She’s repeatedly cited her concerns with the tax code rewrite, including the repeal of the ACA mandate, which she called “the biggest mistake” on an ABC  news show last Sunday.

"I don't think that provision should be in the bill,” said Collins in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. “I hope the Senate will follow the lead of the House and strike it.”

Healthcare costs are rising astronomically in the U.S.; it’s safe to say many uninsured folks suffering from these chronic diseases are not getting the care they need. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that health-care costs a person an average of $10,345 per year. Overall, the U.S. spends more on health-care than any country in the world — an estimated 3.2 trillion each year.

These massive costs don’t just make it harder for health-care to be accessible, they balloon the country’s national debt to such unmanageable sizes, that authors and economists like Dave Chase argue that almost every financial problem in the country could be solved if our broken health-care system was fixed. Last year, Chase wrote on his website Rosetium that waste and sub-par performance in our healthcare system have convinced him that “there is no greater immediate threat to the American way of life.”

And while rising costs are deeply concerning, repealing the ACA mandate to help fund tax cuts doesn’t seem like a prudent, long-term strategy to ensure a healthy country. According to the CBO, it would actually push premiums up 10 percent each year which could further destabilize the fragile marketplace by encouraging healthy, unsubsidized customers to ditch their plans. Then, as the New York Times reported last week, higher premiums would also push the subsidies higher, increasing the government’s financial obligation to those who qualify for them.

So not only does this Republican tax plan leave millions without health insurance, it doesn’t even free up as much of the funds it claims to.

If market forces and lawmakers don’t find a way to drive costs down and expand coverage, a lack of affordable, accessible health care could be the literal death of this country.

 

  • Published in News

Paid Sick Leave campaign says they can make Portland healthier and more productive

 

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Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling talking with Eliza Townsend, the executive director of the Maine Women's Lobby, and one of the organizers behind the Paid Sick Leave initiative. Photos by Francis Flisiuk.

Last Tuesday, the Portland City Council's Health and Human Services Committee held a meeting to discuss a proposed ordinance that would grant workers earned paid sick time in Portland. The earned paid sick leave proposal would stipulate that workers would be credited with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours on the job.

The committee — which is comprised of councilors Belinda Ray (District 1), Nick Mavodones (At-Large), and Brian Batson (District 3) — heard a 20-minute presentation from Erin Hennessey, a staff organizer with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and Eliza Townsend, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.

Also in attendance were city staff, observers, and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who’s in support of the ordinance. While not a member of the committee, Strimling addressed the room with an introduction that stated that an estimated 26,000 Portlanders can’t take a paid day off of work.

“That, unfortunately, could result in a public health crisis,” he said. “As I listen across the city, I’m hearing stories of people not being able to take care of their kids, or having to go to work sick.”

The meeting served as an overview of the benefits paid sick time would offer Portland workers and a chance for city councilors to ask for clarifications and questions on the language in the ordinance.

As the council deliberates over the next few months, they plan to gather input from workers in Portland, U.S. cities that have adopted similar measures, and businesses both small and large. At the end of the year, a worker's unused accumulated sick hours would roll over to the next year. The sick time would "top off" at six days, and a worker would not be able to accumulate more than six, even when rolling over hours from a previous year. Workers would not be eligible to be monetarily compensated for unused sick hours.

What follows is a summary of the earned paid sick time campaign’s presentation, offered here before the city opens up the first public comment session “sometime in January.”  

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A recent report from Bankrate found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans can’t afford to cover a $500 unexpected expense. Townsend mentioned this statistic during her presentation and suggested that paid sick time would benefit low-income earners the most because they simply can’t afford to miss a day of work.

“We know that people in Portland are struggling,” said Townsend. “And we know that when we can’t afford to take a day off to get better, we go to work and get more sick and risk infecting others. When we can’t leave work early to pick up a sick child, she stays at school infecting others, unable to learn. If we cannot miss a day’s pay to take a loved one to see the doctor, even if they’re seriously ill, they’re isolated in the face of a health crisis. These stories, playing out over and over again all over this city, makes Portland an unhealthier place for us all.”

According to Townsend, earned paid sick time is a proven tool to decrease the spread of illness, improve recovery, support preventative health care, improve productivity for businesses, and reduce employee turnover. A growing number of states and cities across the U.S. have adopted an earned paid sick leave law, including Chicago, Berkeley, and Minneapolis.

Hennessey shared a poster from the U.S. Center for Disease Control that echoed those points, with text that read, “Employers, make it easier for your staff to stay home when they’re sick.”

According to a report from the American Medical Association, a lack of access to paid sick leave results in the spread of infectious diseases, as well as delayed screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

"With both dual-earner and single-parent households on the rise in the United States, it is increasingly challenging for workers to juggle family and work," said former AMA Board Chair Barbara L. McAneny, M.D. "Workers without paid sick days are more likely to work sick and are more likely to delay needed medical care, which can lead to prolonged illness and worsen otherwise minor health issues. Lack of paid leave also has a ripple effect across a worker's family. Paid sick leave has been shown to aid children's health, shorten hospital stays and reduce the risk of disease transmission by allowing parents to stay home with sick children. Paid sick leave keeps our homes, offices, and communities healthier while ensuring the family's economic security."

Eight states (including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island), two counties, and 30 cities all have some kind of mandatory paid sick time policy. Councilor Mavodones suggested the committee check in with some of those cities of comparable size to Portland to see how well their policy is working.

Just last week, New York City expanded their paid sick time law to cover “safe time” which would give workers a paid day off “when the employee or a family member has been the victim of a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking.” The Portland version aims to do something similar, allowing workers to stay use their paid sick leave to take care of a family member — with an inclusive and expansive definition of family — and including a section devoted to survivors of violence.

“These ‘safe days’ are vital to help survivors of violence access critical services without risking financial security, and when leave policies fail to cover these circumstances, it can further stigmatize and traumatize victims,” said Townsend.

Hennessey cited a poll that found that 84.6 percent of businesses in NYC said their policy had no impact on their costs two years after it was enacted. There’s actually evidence to suggest that enacting paid sick leave would save employers money — according to the Journal of Occupational Medicine, paid sick leave decreases employee turnover, which leads to reduced costs, while working sick costs the national economy $160 billion annually in unproductivity.

“The policy makes common sense, which is why it has already been enacted all over the country, in states and cities large and small,” she said.

Support for the measure is growing locally. Hundreds marched in favor of it last September, and according to Hennessey, 1,800 locals signed up for their campaign since it launched a couple months ago. Small businesses like Think Tank, Aura, CÔNG TỬ BỘT, Coffee By Design, and Étaín Boutique have also thrown their support behind the proposal.

“Missing a paycheck due to an illness is a scary proposition when you’re living on the edge of poverty,” said Hennessey. “Getting fired because you missed work due to an illness is even scarier.”


For more information on the Paid Sick Days Campaign, visit: https://maineworkers.org/ 

 

  • Published in News

The 'world's first cannabis death' was fake news

If you’re the type of person that seeks out columns like this one to read, you’re most likely exempt from the following judgment: why are there still so many ignorant people that view marijuana as some highly toxic, dangerous drug?

It’s a question surprised I still ask in 2017, a time when as of now, 29 states have legalized medicinal marijuana, eight states recreational, and according to a CBS poll, 88 percent of Americans believe that it has physical benefits.

But then I log online and I re-realize why a negative perception of marijuana persists: there’s so much misinformation out there. And I’m not just talking about political campaigns exaggerating the dangers of cannabis like ones put out by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Backer (and our very own LePage) last year, or even the right-wing pundits who blog about how marijuana can drive you insane or make you violent.

I’m talking about the mainstream media, who, on occasion, are guilty of discussing cannabis like it’s lethal. Recently, a CBS affiliate in New Orleans misinterpreted findings from two poison control doctors and reported that cannabis was responsible for the death of an 11-month old baby in Colorado two years ago.

“As of this writing, this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure,” read the CBS report. Other news outlets ran with the same angle.

Except that’s not actually what the doctors concluded.

“We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child,” one of the doctors who authored the report told The Washington Post in a later interview.

A closer reading of the case report, first published in March in the Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine, reveals that the infant died from myocarditis ― an inflammation of the heart muscle, and that marijuana could have contributed to the condition. The only clear concern about cannabis in the doctor’s report was that there could be a link between myocarditis and THC — the psychoactive chemical present in marijuana.

But contrary to the misleading language offered in the first articles and comment sections on the case, “potential links” aren’t proof that marijuana did cause the unfortunate death of the infant.

Furthermore, cardiac events are rare, as evidenced by a 2014 study from the U.S. National Institute of Health that found symptoms in less than 2 percent of the 985 cases of infants exposed to cannabis. Also, myocarditis wasn’t reported, and none of the infants died.

I wish the mainstream media wasn’t so eager to exaggerate for the sake of a catchy headline, and it’s frustrating, that in 2017, every outlet hasn't accepted this known fact; it’s impossible to overdose on marijuana. The CDC reports over 15,000 people overdosed and died from heroin in 2015. That same year saw 88,000 deaths related to alcohol. But nobody died from cannabis, ever, according to the DEA. (I include the comparison to opiates here to illustrate how absurd and infuriating it is that cannabis is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category for powerful drugs like heroin, ecstasy, and meth.)

Science proves the non-lethal, almost innocuous nature of cannabis. In toxicology, the median lethal dose, abbreviated as LD-50 is a good metric to test how dangerous a drug, substance, or toxin is. Its value is calculated as the dose required to kill half the members of a tested population after a specified test duration. For cannabis, the LD-50 is 1,270 mg/kg, compared to 21.8 mg/kg for heroin. In layman’s terms, this means the impossible: a person would have to consume 1,500 pounds of marijuana — some 20,000 joints — in 15 minutes to induce a fatal response.

So while I think we should definitely study and have conversations about cannabis and its potential effects on heart (and brain) health, let’s use the right language. Overdose is a word not needed in the cannabis discourse.

Privacy in Peril: Facial recognition technology is getting popular, but should it be?

Last spring, local John Hobart traveled to Amman, Jordan with a small team of developers from Coria, a tech company he co-founded, with the lofty goal of utilizing data science to come up with a useful response to the refugee crisis.

The mission technically started three years ago when Hobart launched Coria right here in Portland, and since then it’s grown to employ over 40 people. Its main focus involves consulting with clients — typically big businesses — and contextualizing their data and web traffic to use for marketing purposes. But Coria’s also involved in several side projects that Hobart says are using emergent technology to benefit the public. One of these projects just started and, through a partnership with the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center and the Southern Maine Community College, aims to create a job and training network for immigrants and refugees in Portland.

The second project, the one that took him to Jordan, Hobart developed his own facial recognition technology to reunite families separated in the ongoing refugee crisis.

Because of war, unrest, and natural disasters, the world today is facing the largest amount of displaced people since World War II — some 25 million people — many of whom settle in Jordan. According to the UN Refugee Agency, Jordan is in the top three countries containing refugee populations in the world. The country has a population of 9.5 million, 3 million of which are not native to the country.

Hobart, a 43-year old white man originally from Canada but now living in Acton, Maine, is aware of the countless other Westerners that have had dreams of making a positive impact in the Middle East with little to no avail. People with instant plans to “solve the refugee crisis” typically don’t have a deep understanding of the long and complex history of the region, or the tools necessary to navigate the cultural and religious differences. “Do-gooders,” he called them during our interview while letting me know he wasn’t one of them.

“We just wanted to find out if the stuff that we’re good at could be useful to others,” said Hobart, who felt mobilized by both the frequency of anti-immigrant rhetoric here in the U.S., and the severity of the refugee situation abroad.

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John Hobart, the co-founder of Coria. Photo by Francis Flisiuk.

But after arriving and consulting with representatives from the United Nations, UNICEF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, groups working on the front lines of this humanitarian crisis, Hobart quickly realized they didn’t need his help.

“They have their own awesome data nerds there, doing some amazing work,” he said.

It took deeper conversations with locals and closer inspections of some of Jordan’s refugee camps for Hobart’s team to finally settle on facial recognition technology as what they determined to be a meaningful way to leverage their highly specific skills.

“Immediately, one of the recurring themes we experienced was the need for families to be reunited,” said Hobart. “About 28,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day. Families are split up across camps and spontaneous settlements.”

Hobart told me of one Jordanian aid worker he met, whose job it was to visit families with missing loved ones and show them photos from the local morgue to see if there was a match. According to that worker, the process was slow and painful.  

“We saw a big need for an on-the-ground identification service,” said Hobart. “Even for identifying dead people.”

Hobart’s team built just that, a software able to scan and identify faces in real time. To use it, one logs onto the program on a computer and loads photos of individuals they're looking for, then a wearable body camera scans the faces of people it encounters and sends an alert whenever a match is made.

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John Hobart showing off his technology by capturing all the faces of audience members at the TEDxDirigo Rise event at the State Theatre last month. Photo by TEDxDirigo and Michael Eric Berube. 

Hobart wanted to put this technology in the hands of aid workers. Then, in theory, those living and working with refugees in Jordan and elsewhere could wear these smart cameras and accurately identify anyone they're looking for.

The implications of scanning faces in the Middle East

While impressive, it’s easy to see where this technology could go wrong. Many refugees and asylum seekers prefer to stay anonymous and it’s no surprise that face-scanning software doesn’t bode well with many of them, especially considering it could fall into the hands of hackers, or government agencies looking to deport or imprison them.

"Humanitarian principles should include an emphasis on human dignity," says Christy Delafield.

Delafield is a member of Mercy Corps a U.S.-based organization that has worked to resettle millions of Syrian refugees in and around Jordan, she says. Many of them have been separated from their families.

“From a protection standpoint, there are lots of reasons people might choose to protect their privacy,” said Delafield. “They are coming from a conflict zone where they may have seen forced recruitment or detention by various armed actors. They may not only be scared for themselves, but also for other members of their family. There are a lot of open questions about how data like this would be secured, who would have access to it, and for what purposes. The important thing to remember is it's not up to us to make choices for others, especially when it comes to risk and safety.”

In fact, no relief organization that Coria has pitched this tech has agreed to adopt it, citing, according to Hobart, these exact concerns.

Hobart said the International Committee of the Red Cross declined his pitch because they need to maintain amicable relations with the Jordanian government. Meddling with facial recognition software in regions where thousands of immigrants both documented and undocumented travel through and live in could jeopardize those relationships, they told him. According to Hobart, he heard worries that the software could be “co-opted by the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese, the Jordanian secret service, or the Americans” for purposes far different than Hobart intended.

“That’s the biggest problem we’re facing right now,” said Hobart. “All of the aid groups are highly sensitive to the security environment that they're in.”

Delafield said that conventional methods used to help reunite families includes outreach on television, radio, and social media. There’s also a mechanism in place for people to apply for professional help through local authorities and the U.N Refugee Agency. Her organization, Mercy Corps, also hosts a digital information hub specifically built for refugees and asylum seekers at Khabrona.Info.

Although Mercy Corps is always interested in finding technological solutions, Delafield was hesitant to endorse Coria's software because it’s unclear whether the individuals in front of the body camera could opt out of having their face scanned.

"While not all refugees are uncomfortable with the use of biometric data, many have concerns about safety issues that might result from improper use of that data," said Delafield. "It's essential that individuals have the opportunity to decide for themselves if they are comfortable before a scan takes place. If it's a body camera, I'd be concerned that there might not be an opportunity for truly informed consent."

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Young boys in Syria. Photo by Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps

Despite the ethical concerns, Hobart hasn’t given up on his software and is currently pitching use of it to Refugees International, an organization active in Syria and Somalia, as well as other advocacy groups he referred to as “smaller and more relaxed.”

Weighing the pros and cons of deploying Coria's software illustrates an important aspect of technology exploiting highly personal data: like any powerful tool it can be both helpful and harmful.

For the record, Hobart recognizes the ethical ambiguity of any technology utilizing intimate data. He holds out hope that as long as these emergent technologies aren’t controlled solely by the few, they can do more good than harm.

“Some ways are fantastic and some ways are really creepy,” said Hobart. “There are very little regulations on emergent technologies. We need to self-govern our use of emergent technology because our lawmakers can’t be trusted to do it for us. Emergent technologies have a tendency to be weaponized.”

Here are some more examples as to why he might say that.  

From potential injustices...

Back in April, President Trump expanded use of facial recognition tech in airports, as a means to identify which visa holders actually leave the U.S. before their visa expires. As the Verge reported earlier this year, Customs and Border Control Agents are newly allowed to share their cache of high-quality photos with FBI agents, who could cross-reference them to find people with outstanding warrants or inadequate documentation.

Alvaro Bedoya, who studies facial recognition at Georgetown University Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology told the Verge that “suddenly you’re moving from this world in which you’re just verifying identity to another world where the act of flying is cause for a law enforcement search.”

The sketchiness doesn’t end there. According to a 2016 study from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, facial recognition technologies tend to be less accurate when scanning non-white faces. Couple that with the fact that visa holders tend to be non-white, and there's a possibility for bias that could lead to serious civil rights problems against ordinary travelers.

And then there’s the fact that biometrics are not provided the same protections as passwords or PIN codes under the Fifth Amendment because they’re considered “attributes of the body.” This means that a police officer could theoretically compel a suspect to unlock a device like Apple's new iPhone X just by looking at it, whereas they couldn’t legally be able to demand somebody's password.

...to annoying ads

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Speaking of the iPhone X, which for the price of $999 offers consumers a full-screen interface that could be unlocked with a mere glance, its release last month reignited all these ongoing fears about the future of privacy.

Consumers online questioned how foolproof the protection actually is, despite Apple’s assurance that there’s a one in a million chance of a random face gaining access — so far the promise rings true because users tried to hack into the devices with photos and masks but were unsuccessful.

But facial recognition technology raises broad ethical concerns, the likes of which journalists, privacy experts, and consumers have been discussing for probably decades now. Each year we learn a little bit more about what big telecommunication companies plan to do with the immense amount of personal data they’ve compiled on their users. For example in October after a model in Cyprus fired off a viral tweet, we learned that Apple has been quietly categorizing women’s lingerie photos for some reason, storing them under the search terms of “bra” and “brassiere” while not organizing photos of men in the same way.

More recently, further dystopian anxieties were stoked when Reuters reported that Apple will make some facial recognition data available to third-party app developers. Imagine, for example, how valuable data on your facial expressions could be to advertisers looking to monitor how you respond (and when) to an app or product.

Apple is, of course, not the only tech company in the market of facial recognition, testing the limits of what consumers are comfortable with: Google can identify faces, as can Facebook, Samsung, and Snapchat, and unlike Apple, that data is stored “in the cloud” on private servers.

Considering all this, it’s no wonder that many are asking: should we be concerned about the sudden ubiquity of facial recognition technology?

Privacy In Peril


  • Published in Features

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/ 

"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

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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.

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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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The far-right paint 'antifa' as a threat — But they’re the ones calling for violence

If you were to believe certain corners right-wing Internet communities, Nov. 4th marked the start of civil war in America.

Last week, hundreds of people across the country took to the streets for a protest action called “The Nightmare Must End,” to demand the removal of President Trump and Vice President Pence from office. Organized by left-leaning group Refuse Fascism, the series of protests — which took place in over 20 American cities — condemned attacks on minorities, immigrants, access to healthcare, the environment, and even truth itself, all of which they believe are encouraged by the Trump administration.

“Our actions will reflect the values of respect for all of humanity and the world we want — in stark contrast to the hate and bigotry of the Trump/Pence fascist regime,” writes Refuse Fascism on their website. “Our determination to persist and not back down will compel the whole world to take note. As we draw more and more people forward to stand up, all of this could lead to a situation where this illegitimate regime is removed from power.”

It was not what both conspiratorial sites like the Daily Stormer and Breitbart, and mainstream outlets like Fox News, warned would be an “antifa apocalypse.”

Other websites like InfoWars promulgated lies for weeks that the protests were a unified attempt to overthrow the government and spark a communist revolution. On their YouTube channel, known nut Alex Jones ranted that “antifa super soldiers” would lead the charge in tandem with a coordinated attack on the nation’s electrical grid. They cautioned Americans to be on the lookout for “masked anarchists sparking violence to promote its agenda.”

But last week’s protests never reached numbers higher than a couple hundred or escalated farther than shouting matches between anti-fascists and Trumpians. The majority of anti-racist activists didn’t even don masks and black clothing, and only one got arrested — a woman in NYC for throwing her drink at a Trump supporter. All in all, the protests were certainly nonviolent and almost uneventful.

rightwingcritic

So why were so many people obsessed with an imaginary coup?

A sizable portion of the blame falls not just on fringe media, but mainstream media for exaggerating the threat antifa poses by focusing their coverage in recent months on the few protesters that smashed windows, set trash cans on fire, or got arrested, while largely ignoring the thousands of others that demonstrated peacefully. The FBI’s recent classification of antifa back in September as a “domestic terrorism group” not only confirmed the far-right’s already exaggerated fears, but it made many run-of-the-mill liberals and centrists uneasy about throwing their support behind the decentralized movement.

But as Inkoo Kang, a writer for Slate argued last week, “antifa is clickbait for conspiracy theorists,” and most people who critique them don’t have a clear handle on what the “group” actually is.

“Epistemological chaos is a precondition for the conspiracy community,” writes Kang. “Add a dose of sneering superiority, the emotional register and quite possibly the attitudinal appeal of so many right-wing YouTubers, and it’s not surprising that conservatives with traditional values and wild imaginations can’t make up their minds about whether antifa activists are unmanly nuisances or a super-powered army ready to mow down everything decent about America.”

Whether right-wingers critical of antifa believe they're a whiny collection of leftist snowflakes, or an organized, apocalyptic threat to Western civilization is irrelevant; all in this camp are comfortable labeling anyone that marches under the movement as a violent enemy that must be fought.

This viewpoint falsely asserts that antifa is organized (indeed people and groups considered by others to be 'antifa' have popped up independently around the world for decades all with disparate political leanings, tactics, and even protest attire). It’s also dangerous because it breeds violence under the guise of fighting it; if a group is considered an enemy, violence is justified. According to the Combating Terrorism Center the U.S. sees an average of 300 attacks a year by far-right activists, and others forecast this number could rise under the current climate.  

americancivilwarstarts

The events of Charlottesville come to mind as a more recent example of how the villainization of left-wing protestors can lead to real-life tragedies. And this dangerous mentality is incubating online across every major social media platform. Spend a couple minutes searching and you'll find plenty of evidence of right-wing influencers who might not have assaulted an anti-fascist protester themselves but are actively calling for others to do so.  

Here are just but a few examples from the last week:

nramembers

Retweeting a tweet with the hashtag #LockandLoad, conservative actor James Woods imagined that an antifa protest in Phoenix would be a “catastrophe” because of the city’s open-carry laws.

The day before the nationwide protests, notorious agitator Milo Yiannopoulos — whose hateful rhetoric sparked a big antifa protest in Berkeley last year — changed his Facebook avatar to a photo of himself holding a shotgun above the phrase, “I choose war.”

Youtuber “Glock Fanboy” told his subscribers in a video last month to prepare for the revolution.

“Honestly, I’m happy,” the YouTuber said in the video that currently has more than 400,000 views. “Dude, we’ve been on the verge of the great war for what seems like forever and I’m just ready to get it going.”

gunincar

Hundreds of more examples that mirror this pro-violence sentiment exist online. Riled up by fake news, the far-right isn’t warning of a civil war, they’re trying to provoke one.

And as J.J. MacNab, an author, and researcher on anti-government extremism said last month, “fake news is going to get people killed.”

 

  • Published in News

8 Days: Electronic mayhem, ancient art-forms, and chances to be a better person

THURSDAY 2

 

PEOPLE NEED A PUSH | No matter how many of our Facebook friends complain about the latest political issue, voter turnout continues to be abysmal. Imagine if everyone that lamented about today’s current climate actually registered to vote and supported progressive causes. What would that world look like? Gather with supporters of Question 2 — a measure that would expand health insurance to 70,000 Mainers — for a rally that will hopefully inspire those on the fence to care, and perhaps more importantly, get out and vote this week. | 5:30 pm | Lincoln Park, Congress St., Portland | Free | http://mainersforhealthcare.org/

EYE CANDY | Regardless of whether you’ve ever taken up skiing or snowboarding there’s something immensely satisfying about seeing a pro kick up powder and zoom down a slope. If you agree, then check out REI’s new film Rogue Elements because the athletes featured in it are complete masters of their craft; it’s a real visual treat. These guys defy death (and gravity) with such finesse, you just can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy — why can’t I be that badass? Catch these exhilarating displays of total control and tricky stunts during this special screening of a well-received ski and snowboard film. | 6:30 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St., Portland | $15 | http://statetheatreportland.com/

8days nickofferman

Most people love Nick Offerman's character Ron Swanson in Parks & Rec, but not many know his stand-up act is equally hilarious. 

BE A MAN | Comedian Nick Offerman offers up a downright hilarious parody of the ultimate “man’s man” in today’s pop culture. With wit and the perfect amount of dry humor, he’ll try to convince you it’s time to grow out a beard, take up woodworking, or hunt for your next meal. Just don’t take his advice too seriously or you’ll miss the satire and go full libertarian like the government-hating, meat-idolizing character Ron Swanson he plays on Parks and Recreation. If you missed his highly lauded appearance in Portland last year, don’t miss this stopover on his Full Bush tour! | 7 pm | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland | $62 | https://boxoffice.por

8days blacktigersexmachine

Black Tiger Sex Machine continues the trend started by Daft Punk in the late '90s: wearing fantastical headgear to their electronic concerts. 

FUTURISTIC MAYHEM | This concert requires you to have some degree of mental stamina, for guests will be subjected to barrage of fierce beats, strange synths, and psychedelic sounds. Such is the nature of a Black Tiger Sex Machine show. The soundscape of their version of electronica is akin to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you’ll need a guide to ensure you’re not hallucinating. Thankfully these cat-masked performers are trained in most forms of the amorphous electronica genre — from straight dubstep and dark trap to orchestral stirrings and ambient loops. They’ll ease you through their otherworldly performance until you end up worshipping at their altar of Midnight Terrors alongside other pure bass music zealots. In other words, it’s a trippy good time. | 8 pm | Aura, 121 Center St., Portland | $17-32 | http://auramaine.com

 

ONE SLICE AT A TIME | If you’re shrewd and frugal like me, you never turn down an opportunity for free pizza. Get on my level and come hang out the Oxbow Brewery for some cheesy pie and a screening of Spot Pizza, a gorgeously shot documentary that showcases some urban snowboarders and their crazy antics. | 8 pm | Oxbow Blending and Bottling, 49 Washington Ave., Portland | Free | http://oxbowbeer.com/

 

FRIDAY 3

 

PUBLIC PARTY | The chilly bite of November wind is not enough to stop this hot showcase of music, art, and comedy at Congress Square Park popping off today, which comes by way of an effort by the Portland Culture Exchange. Swing by after work or during your First Friday shenanigans to warm up with the celebratory sounds of AFRiiCAN Dundada, Ben Shorr, Distant Brothers, Gold D, LOC DAB, and Kid Calvin. Life is short; go sing and dance. | 5 pm | Congress Square Park, Portland | Free | http://congresssquarepark.org

8days herenow

ASMR is typically audio only, but Alyssa Freitas is debuting a video component to the art form at her Here/Now exhibit at SPACE Gallery this week. 

EAR-GASM | If you’ve never heard of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), you should Google some examples right now to determine if you’re one of the special few that get pleasurable sensations from accentuated, textured sounds. It’s an odd sort of thing, but once you feel the hair stand up on your arms and a wave of euphoria wash over you, you’ll instantly become an ASMR enthusiast. Trust me. Let Maine-based artist Alyssa Freitas trigger these foreign feelings lurking inside you with her anxiety annihilating project Here/Now. Her sound therapy starts tonight. | 5 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | Free | http://www.space538.org/

BLEACH WEAR | Don’t be fooled into thinking that big clothing corporations and Hollywood stars have a monopoly on what is and isn’t fashion. In our postmodern world where essentially everything is a social construct, you’re free to wear literally anything and call it art. In the minds of Providence artist Nick Carter and Portland’s youth collective Kesho Wazo, bleach-stained streetwear punctuated by patches of screen printed imagery is totally in right now. Or maybe it isn't. The point is, it doesn’t matter. Decide for yourself and see their unique collection at this fashion show billed as featuring items somewhere between urban punk and flashy couture. | 6:30 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | Free | http://www.space538.org/

DARK RITUALS | Wanderers of the dark side of Portland’s music scene take heed, this show’s a legitimate assault on the senses. Don’t despair (or do, if that’s your thing) for these four ear-piercing bands plan on opening a portal to the doomscape at Geno’s tonight: Primitive Man (death-sludge out of Denver), Bellwitch (a minimal metal duo from Seattle), Shabti (Portland’s own purveyor of death sounds), and Scrotal Tear, local ritualists who, like their name suggests, aren’t afraid to dish out some sonic pain. Hosted by Last Mercy Emissions. | 9 pm | Geno’s Rock Club, 625 Congress St., Portland | $8 | https://primitivemandoom.bandcamp.com/

SATURDAY 4

 

SPIN IT | It’s always a delight to discover what kind of musical gems are hiding inside WMPG’s basement. Every year the community radio station drags a portion of their massive collection into the USM gymnasium for their Annual Record Sale, which is likely one of the biggest in town. Join dozens of music junkies as they peruse through both the oddities and mainstays of music history. Maybe you don’t collect and just want to support local radio and talk tunes with other music geeks; that’s cool too. But no matter your purpose or favorite genre — jazz, rock, hip-hop, funk, blues, pop — you’ll find something to appreciate on one of the 60 tables there. | 10 am to 3 pm | USM Sullivan Gym, 66 Falmouth St., Portland | $2 | https://www.wmpg.org/

TREAT YO SELF | Voting a single person or company in as Maine’s “Best Baker” is no easy feat, but there’s a lot of lip-smacking pleasure to be had deciding. The Hemophilia Alliance of Maine invites Portland to what’s essentially the state’s biggest bake sale — dozens of vendors will be offering free mouthfuls of sugar and flour in all its perfected forms. (For reference, Standard Bakery won Best Bakery in our very own ‘Best Of Portland’ contest earlier this year; I wonder how they’ll fare at this event). Skip lunch today and make room for a week’s worth of donuts, brownies, cookies, and cupcakes. You know you want to. | 10 am to 3 pm | Ocean Gateway, 12 Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland | https://www.mainesbestbakers.com/

RUMOURS ABOUND | Musical tastes evolve and change but a love for Fleetwood Mac seldom dies. Join city vocalist Susanne Gerry and her group of faithful re-creators for a nostalgic tribute show that reminds us that heartbreak isn’t such a bad thing. | 9 pm | Portland House of Music and Events, 25 Temple St., Portland | https://www.portlandhouseofmusic.com/

SUNDAY 5

 8days insearch

This film will certainly make you hungry. Thankfully, it's followed by a tasting of Israeli food.

KOSHER NOMS | Hummus and falafel are often regarded as Jewish foods, but technically they’re not. Although these delicious foods are staples of Jewish cuisine, they were actually invented by Arabs in Egypt centuries before Israel was even a state. Learning this fact last week got me thinking about how much of Jewish cuisine was actually reappropriated from the diverse cultures surrounding Israel. A screening of In Search of Israeli Cuisine hosted by the Maine Jewish Film Festival and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine will provide me with answers. Indeed, as the film and follow up food tasting from Portland chefs Daniel Heinrich and Haggai Bernstein will show, Israel has its own rich culinary landscape. So just because Israel can’t claim unique credit for the two most popular Middle Eastern foods, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their own fair share of mouth-watering dishes. | 4 pm | Jewish Community Alliance, 1342 Congress St., Portland | $25 | http://mjff.org

 

8days bronxgothic

A screenshot from Okwui Okpokwasili’s electrifying film Bronx Gothic. 

TOUR DE FORCE | Tonight’s screening of Okwui Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic might make those ill-equipped (or unwilling) to confront the realities of race relations uncomfortable. Or to put it bluntly, readers should be prepared for a night that isn’t centered around whiteness (for once). Because Okpokwasili’s acclaimed one-woman show that tours through SPACE today challenges audiences with artistic responses to an important question: What is like for black and brown bodies to move through a world that privileges white ones? Mesmerizing song and viscerally physical dance illuminate this line of inquiry that many have tried to keep in the shadows. Stick around after the screening for a Q&A with the Brooklyn-based Okpokwasili herself, who’ll offer fascinating insight on melding social issues into the creative process. | 7 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $8 | http://www.space538.org/

MONDAY 6

 

MINI BEER FEST | Does Portland produce the best craft beer in America? Because of the insular, self-congratulatory nature of this city, it’s certainly easy to think so. But we must recognize the wonderful chemistry brewers are enabling elsewhere in New England. Branch out from your usual go-tos and sample some beers that traveled 250 miles to be featured in the Thirsty Pig’s Vermont Beer Fest. Folks there are going to have a selection featuring, but not limited to, Lawson's Finest Liquids, Stowe Cider, von Trapp Brewing, and Foley Brothers Brewing. And yeah, you better pair these fine creations with a sausage or two. | 5 pm | The Thirsty Pig, 37 Exchange St., Portland | http://www.thirstypigportland.com/

LAUGHING > CRYING | Because of the way humans organize themselves around the concept of “work,” Mondays will forever be the Worst Day of the Week. But at least Portland has a coalition of very funny people dedicated to curing people of those bouts of alienation with one of life’s best anti-depressants: laughter. You don’t need to talk to your doctor to see if stand up comedy from Justin P. Drew, Mark Turcotte, Lee Newton, Micaela Tepler, Jed Bloom, Dawn Hartill, and Keith Hebert will work for you. This edition is hosted by Anders J. Nielsen. Be there and cheer up. | 8 pm | Blue, 650 Congress St., Portland | $5 | http://portcityblue.com/

 

TUESDAY 7

 

INCONVENIENT TRUTHS | According to many prominent racial justice writers/activists like DeRay Mckesson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Munroe Bergdorf, racism is woven into the fabric of American society. They say that white people born into a society that allegedly prioritizes their experiences can unknowingly slip into racist modes of thinking and communication. While that certainly isn’t a nice thing to hear (speaking as a white person), it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for white folks to be good-natured and supportive of anti-racism work. Social justice activists recommend starting with recognizing an insidious little neurobiological phenomenon called implicit bias. Don’t know what that is? Learn more about the psychological foundations of racist thinking during a free lecture happening today at USM. It could be a great way to dismantle that nasty “us vs. them” mentality. | 5 pm | USM Wishcamper Center, 34 Bedford St., Portland | Free | https://usm.maine.edu/

TINY ACTION | You should make tonight's dinner at OTTO Pizza, because a big portion of the dine in and take out sales will go to Limitless Children, a local nonprofit that provides essential services to children living in slums and orphanages in India. It’s literally the least you could do. | 5 pm to 9 pm | OTTO Pizza, 225 Congress St., Portland |  207.358.7870 | http://www.limitlesschildinternational.org/

8days thorandfriends

This trio of multi-instrumentalists will evoke some dreamy, mysterious moods at SPACE Gallery this Tuesday.

MELODIC MEDITATIONS | Big props to bands like Thor & Friends that embrace idiosyncrasy and ignite imagination with non-traditional instruments like the marimba, xylophone, gongs, duduk, and oboe. The three musicians of this Austin-based group attribute their polyrhythmic wizardry to influences from classic minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich as well as ambient music giants like Brian Eno and Aphex Twin. Step into their highly suggestive, percussion-driven world when they perform tracks from their sophomore album Subversive Nature of Kindness at SPACE tonight. | 8 pm | SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $12 | www.space538.org/

WEDNESDAY 8

START SMALL | Mechanisms for progressive changes in society almost always start locally in city government. If you’re interested in getting into politics, (or just becoming an informed citizen) attend this Annual District Meeting where you can shake hands with Councilor Belinda Ray, City Manager Jon Jennings, and Mayor Ethan Strimling, and learn about what’s going on in City Hall. If you’ve already met them and want to just air some neighborhood grievances, this is the time and place to have your voice heard. Take note, this meeting’s geared toward District 1, which covers the peninsula; meetings focused on other districts are scheduled throughout the month of November. | 6:30 pm | East End Community School, 195 North St., Portland | Free | http://www.portlandmaine.gov/

TIMELESS MEDIUMS | Because oral storytelling predates writing — which itself was invented around 3200 B.C. — it may very well be the oldest form of entertainment. In the beginning, people gathered to hear tales straight from the mouths of their creators, and thousands of years later, we’re still doing it. Tonight the Portland Public Library inadvertently honors this ancient and intimate tradition by hosting Tellabration, an event from the Maine Organization of Storytelling Enthusiasts. Storytellers slated include: Jean Armstrong, Vernon Cox, Debb Freedman, Fred Kilfoil, Audrey Mason, Michael Parent, Katy Rydell, and Don Spears. | 6:45 pm | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Sq., Portland | Free | https://www.portlandlibrary.com/

 

THURSDAY 9

STAY ACTIVE | November’s easily the second dreariest month of the year so it’s crucial to have tools to fight those beasts we call boredom and apathy that seem so ubiquitous to the season. Fortunately, Portland will continue to do what no other Maine town does better: consistently offer stimulating, intellectually rich, cosmopolitan events. And here at the Phoenix we’ll faithfully provide the deets. Check in these pages next week for more on these great antidotes against the doldrums, including an unflinching exploration of America’s prison system, a screening of Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully oil painted feature film, a blind tasting contest of Portland’s most popular beers, and an ornate concert featuring psych pop juggernaut Madaila, and Portland’s Spencer Albee. Pick us up again in 8 days.

Will Maine's adult-use marijuana bill survive?

LR 2395 – An Act To Amend The Marijuana Legalization Act passed in the Maine House and Senate last Monday but it still faces an uncertain future. Supporters and opponents suspect that Gov. LePage will veto it, despite his pledge last year not to overturn the will of the voters. 

Opinions around the legislative rewrite — which has been worked on by a special committee for 7 months — remain contentious. 

Some, oppose it simply from an implicit conservative reaction that labels anything to do with cannabis policy as something good people wouldn’t meddle in. (Although they should really realize that this bill doesn’t repeal what voters passed last November, and in fact sets up necessary regulations and third-party testing requirements that actually discourages criminal activity and unsafe product.)

Others, like Ken Fredette the House Republican Leader, Minority Office. (R-Newport), want to kill the bill from a slightly more pragmatic stance, voicing that it calls for too much soon and that the Legislature needs more time to debate such a controversial proposal that was passed by such a thin margin. Spurred by Gov. LePage, last week Fredette called for a moratorium on the commercial aspects of the bill for the second year in a row — delaying recreational marijuana sales in Maine to January 2019 at the earliest. House members killed that measure last Monday. 

The 76-page bill is certainly ambitious and hashes out aspects like licensing requirements, tax rates, proper labeling, age restrictions, testing, and pathways for revenue. It’s a lot to sift through and Fredette's pushing for a moratorium so they can make sure Maine's carefully drafting good policy and closing any potential loopholes.

Supporters of the amendment just want it passed already so they can apply for licenses, plus they don’t really have a plan B; if LePage does veto as expected, the recreational market wouldn't be set up until 2019 at the earliest.

"Now we all wait and see what the governor does or does not do," said Christopher O'Neil, a Portland-based cannabis policy consultant. "Some things in politics just don’t make sense. Show me any nascent industry being hamstrung by legislative action — or inaction — and I’ll show you a governor with his hair on fire." 

O'Neil said that these delays are affecting entrepreneurs and growers like the folks at the Westbrook cannabis company Grass Monkey, who have a "nuanced and costly business plan that is sensitive to lots of risks, including time."
 
"For years they’ve invested staggering amounts in R&D, cloning methodologies, facilities, and advanced technologies, resulting in a product line that is ready to light up the market," said O'Neil. "Now we just need the easy part of that plan: the market." 

Those anxious to launch into this lucrative market — the sales of which could be valued at $220 million by 2020 in Maine — are content with passing a less-than-perfect bill to get there. 

But there’s one portion of the amendment that was allegedly added last minute and would make it harder for recreational market hopefuls to do business in certain towns. A revision of the adult use marijuana bill states the towns and have to “opt-in” to Maine’s marijuana law take proactive steps to enact their own policies on a municipal level. Originally the ballot measure allowed municipalities to “opt out,” and “prohibit the operation of some or all types of marijuana establishments within the municipality.”

Republican Sen. Roger Katz (Augusta) who co-chairs the special committee that drafted the amendment said that the slight change in language still adheres to the original bill, which stated that marijuana was to be regulated like alcohol. (Towns in Maine do have to vote to opt-in to allow bars and breweries within their borders.)

“Every community is going to have to look at this one way or another,” said Katz, in a radio interview with WGAN. “The local control, every town and city in Maine can make their own decisions about how much commercial activity they want in their town; that’s been absolutely non-controversial right from the beginning.”  

But the president of Legalize Maine, Paul McCarrier said on the same WGAN news radio show that because of the change in language, he no longer supports Katz’s rewrite. According to Carrier, it’s harder to convince towns to opt-in instead of not support an all-out ban. The result, McCarrier says, would encourage the black market and slow down the implementation of the legal recreational market even further.

“This bill is going to cause chaos,” said McCarrier. “It’s not ready for primetime. Right now what voters approved, municipalities can vote to prohibit. But what this new bill proposes is de facto prohibition across the state. Every Maine municipality is going to have a revote whether marijuana is legal or not.”

If the rewrite of the Marijuana Legalization Act does manage to get signed into law with its current opt-in language, cannabis entrepreneurs will flock and set up shop in the towns they know won’t be hostile to their business. Those folks probably already know which city councils are for and against storefronts and commercial grow operations in their municipalities.

One just has to look at which ones are already being proactive and drafting marijuana ordinances, like Hallowell for example.

“This is a mutually beneficial industry to everybody,” said Jared Dinsmore one of the owners of Grass Monkey. “We would expect that municipalities that would like to have earnings in this industry would be willing to put some time and energy now before the legislation to help out these industry members.”

Other towns like Monmouth, Windham, Yarmouth, and York are considering their own moratorium until they can either take the state’s lead on a regulatory framework that works for them or prohibit marijuana sales there altogether.

“They’re using their two timeouts before they even get the rules,” said Dinsmore. “So once they get the rules they’re going to be expected have an ordinance in no time. We spend a lot of time consulting for municipalities, touring our gardens, answering questions and then find out they are moving for a ban. We are confused about where the allegiances of some municipalities lie.”

 

The Big Bad Budget: Trump's plan will help the rich and hurt the poor

President Trump and the GOP's trillion dollar budget resolution that aims to set the stage for the biggest tax reform in U.S. history passed the Senate last week, 51 to 49. 

But here's the thing, although many folks across the political aisle agree that the U.S. tax code needs reform and simplification in some way, this plan — which is far from becoming law — does not affect Americans equally. It has clear winners and losers and is basically a clandestine Obamacare repeal. 

Trump referred to the budget on Twitter last Saturday as a “really big deal” and said later in a press conference that it would help the middle class hold onto more of their hard-earned money. Its critics say that it would instead benefit the country’s richest individuals and biggest corporations.  

Which makes the fact that Maine Senator Susan Collins voted in favor of the budget framework all the more puzzling — two years ago she was the only Republican senator to vote against a plan to repeal the estate tax, and just recently she was a crucial no vote in the Obamacare repeal effort that had massive tax cuts for the rich attached to it.

Despite Collins's "good conscience" (words she used to describe why she voted against last month's Graham-Cassidy Bill) and reputation of moderate rationalism, last week she supported a measure that's been described by critics as "good for the GOP and a disaster for the rest of us."  

Other progressives were quick to rebuke the Republican budget proposal. 

Senator Bernie Sanders penned an op-ed in the Guardian last week blasting the resolution as a “gift to the billionaires.”

"The Republican budget, which will likely be debated on the floor of the Senate this week, is the Robin Hood principle in reverse," Sanders writes. "It takes from those in need and gives to those who are already living in incredible opulence."

According to the Tax Policy Center, 80 percent of the tax cuts proposed will benefit the nation’s top 1 percent of earners while 30 percent of Americans making between $50,000 and $150,000 a year would see their taxes go up by an average of more than $1,000 a year.

In Maine, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the top 1 percent whose average income is $1.2 million, would receive an average tax cut of $43,130. The poorest 20 percent, whose average income is $13,000, would get an average cut of $90.

“The budget set in motion by Thursday’s vote is a net loss for the vast majority of Mainers who are little more than an afterthought in the GOP tax proposal," said Sarah Austin, policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. "The budget the GOP aims to pass  through the resolution process is designed to benefit the wealthiest 1% with enormous tax cuts and places in harms way the tens of thousands of Maine seniors and families that depend on responsible federal budgets for affordable health care, quality education, and basic food assistance.”

Maine’s Senator Angus King said in remarks on the Senate floor that you don’t have to be an economist to understand that “these aren’t tax cuts, they’re shift and shaft — shift the costs from us, and shaft our kids.” King also highlighted how the proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid would impact senior citizens the most.

“The biggest losers in this whole process would be seniors,” said King. “They will take the most serious hit. If you’re cutting Medicare, you’re hitting seniors. And what people don’t realize about Medicaid is that 70 percent of the nursing home beds in America are paid for by Medicaid. By definition who’s in those beds? Seniors.”

King voted no, as did every Democrat in the Senate, but the resolution still passed 51 to 49. In order to be labeled “deficit neutral” and free up $1 trillion in tax relief, the budget calls for cutting over $5 trillion in social safety net programs, including $473 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid over 10 years. Experts say this could boot 15 million Americans off their health insurance.

“The budget that passed the Senate yesterday hurts our nation’s most vulnerable — which is why I voted against it,” tweeted California's Senator Kamala Harris last week.

  • Other aspects the budget framework include:
  • * A legislative mechanism called a budget reconciliation that allows Republicans to bypass a Democratic filibuster and pass the bill with 50 votes.

  • * A pathway for oil drilling in the pristine wilderness (and sacred Indigenous land) of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by instructing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to find 1 billion dollars in new revenue.

  • * An increase in the federal deficit by $1.5 over the next decade which will likely be addressed by cuts to social security.

  • * A $37 billion cut to affordable housing and the Section 8 rental assistance program which could impact more than 1 million families.

  • * A $6.5 billion cut to the WIC program over the next decade which would eliminate nutrition assistance 1.25 million women and children.

  • * A $100 billion cut in Pell Grant funding which would make college much less affordable for millions.

  • * An increase of $91 billion in Pentagon defense spending for the fiscal year 2018 alone.

Republicans hope to sign this budget into law by the end of this year, but it will take a lot of political wrangling to get there. For starters, it can only afford to lose two GOP votes in the Senate to pass the final product along party lines and still needs to be approved by the Congressional Budget Office.

It’s also uncertain whether the resolution will pass in the House in its current state, but what is clear is that Republicans in both chambers are aligned with Trump in achieving the same goals (albeit with slightly different strategies): an increase defense spending, and an erosion of social safety nets to pave the way for tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest. 

At a time when income inequality in America is at its most profound level since the 1920s, this Republican budget aims to make those gaps between the poor, rich, and middle class even wider.

  • Published in News
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