Monthly Archives: November 2017

Mainers to be thankful for | Portland Press Herald

As Mainers gather around loaded tables and greet family members who come from afar, we also take a moment to give thanks to those among us who give their time and their energy to the larger community, sharing their humanity and enriching the world around us. Here are 10 people who have worked diligently, often without recognition, to comfort, protect, nurture and inspire others who need a helping hand.

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Farmers who gain from tax bill wary of losing subsidies later | Bangor Daily News

Farm lobbyists are warily watching the tax-overhaul legislation moving through Congress, which comes with some favorable terms for them now but may have a big catch later: less money for farm programs crucial to producers dealing with lower commodity prices.

The farm groups are looking beyond the tax debate to a new farm law due in 2018 that could get squeezed if a bigger deficit caused by tax cuts makes less money available for farmers.

Multiple independent analyses of the Republican tax plan anticipate it would boost the federal budget deficit by as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years. A Congressional Budget Office report released last week concluded that it would trigger automatic spending cuts of as much as $136 billion in the current fiscal year. One of the programs at risk in that scenario is $9.5 billion in farm subsidies, according to the National Farmers Union, the second-biggest U.S. farmer group.

“By far our biggest concern is what does this do to the deficit, and how does that impact upcoming farm bills,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union in Washington. “If we blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit, will people be saying a month later, ‘We need to scale back the farm bill’?”

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Hiking a section of the Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail

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Had a great time hiking a section of the Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail west of Pardee Reservoir outside of Valley Springs. Beautiful day for it – clear blue skies with hardly a cloud in the sky. I took off from the Rich Gulch Trail Access Point. From there a hiker can try out a couple of different sections of the trail. (A bit of caution for anyone driving the three miles down to the access point, the one-lane county road is in horrible shape with some of it claimed by the stream below the road. Drive with caution and reduce speeds or you might end up in the stream.) Former co-worker Alex Breitler suggested these trails and for that I thank him.

It was a little crisp at first and I hiked in shade most of the day, but I saw no one – no one – the entire time. Saw a couple of boot and dog prints, a couple of cow plops, but that was it, except for a few small birds. Very scenic and very remote for not being all that remote. Some sections of the trail were strenuous, that’s for sure, but overall enjoyable. Several steep sections – probably too few for this guy – featured stone stairs. I appreciated them.

This was the first time on an East Bay MUD trail and am sure I will return often. Ran into one of the EBMUD rangers on the way out – Ranger Greg. Nice guy with knowledge and willingness to chat. The trip was well worth the $10 annual permit fee.

This was the second hike with my Vasque Mantra 2.0 GTX shoes. I love ’em. They did great and my feet never tired. Already planning to hike the heck out of them and get another pair. Or maybe I’ll just get another pair. Also, first time with a new pack – Camelbak Francone LR 24 with 3-liter water bladder. As I normally do for a first-time hike on a new trail, I overpacked and my shoulders began to feel it by the end of the day. I think with a few adjustments to the suspension system, it will work out very nicely. All in all, very pleased.

Learn more about the trail at the EBMUD recreation site for its Sierra Foothills Trails.

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As Mainers endorse expanding MaineCare, feds back LePage methods to shrink it | Bangor Daily News

On Tuesday, as thousands of Mainers supportedexpanding health care to an estimated 70,000 residents through Medicaid, the federal government signaled support for conservative measures that would likely constrict that access and give states greater control over the program.

The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, or CMS, now aims to make it easier for states to customize their Medicaid plans, including changes such as monthly premiums and work requirements that some analysts say could drive down enrollments. Coming against a backdrop of conservative opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the provision that supports and funds the Medicaid expansion, the CMS announcement lends further uncertainty to the future of the voter-approved expansion in Maine.

In a speech Tuesday morning to state Medicaid directors gathered in Arlington, Virginia, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced the agency’s commitment to working closely with states that seek to require more from “working-age, able-bodied Medicaid enrollees.” The change comes in response to the program’s growth in recent years, she said, and the need to “reset the federal-state relationship.”

Medicaid, known in Maine as MaineCare, is jointly run and funded by the state and the federal governments, providing health insurance to low-income residents.

Verma also said CMS would streamline the processing of state waiver applications designed to give states more flexibility in designing their Medicaid programs.

That’s good news for the LePage administration, which in August submitted its application proposing a monthly MaineCare premium of up to $40, $10 copays for some medical services, a 20-hour-per-week work requirement, and other measures. The application now awaits approval from CMS.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that it was “encouraged” by Verma’s announcement.

“Through this waiver, it was the department’s intention to prioritize our limited resources for the Mainers who need them most, while promoting responsibility for one’s individual health and the cost of healthcare,” the statement read, in part. “We look forward to working with the administration to fulfill our shared objective of creating a sustainable Medicaid program through the promotion of individual accountability.”

But Mitchell Stein, an independent health policy consultant who advocates for policies expanding access to health care, said Wednesday that efforts to encumber MaineCare enrollees with work requirements, monthly premiums and other disincentives are intended to discourage enrollment and limit the provision of health services to vulnerable, low-income people.

“Most people on Medicaid who are able to work are already working,” he said. Nationwide, only 13 percent of adults included in the expansion population are able-bodied and not working, in school, or seeking work, Stein said, and of those, three-quarters are either actively looking for work or caring for family members.

“So, the idea that all these people are just sitting around not working is simply not true,” he said.

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Returning to my roots – the great outdoors

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Hiking a low mountain in Maine to California redwoods

 

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir, 1901

Growing up in rural Northern Maine, I was outdoors more than in. It was the thing to do. Camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, sailing and more in the summer.

During the winters I was still outdoors – snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing – but spent a bit more time indoors. After all, it was winter in the deep, dark North Woods of Maine and being inside was about survival. I’m not completely crazy.

Behind my childhood home on the hill overlooking Portage Lake and the small town of Portage was a now-feral hay field and beyond that was a mountain. Not much more than a hill, really, especially by the standards of the Sierra Nevada or Rocky Mountains. It was no Mount Shasta or Mount Whiney. Just a plain, low mountain, ancient and worn, and covered with soft and hardwoods. More ancient than the Sierra or even the Rockies, I seem to recall. Just worn down over time. But in my youth it was a place for adventure and play and escape, with no limits to childhood imagination.

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From that field and mountain, I imagined exploring African jungles and Australian outback. I survived and thrived on countless imaginary deserted islands and roamed the American West ridding it of outlaws. From that spot in Northern Maine, my imagination allowed me to explore the world, rescue heroines and the underdog, and rid the world of the Nazi scourge. In my imagination, at least.

But there are times to imagine and there are times to simply do. I climbed all over that mountain in my backyard and countless others over the years. After a period of aimlessness at University of Southern Maine, I went to Chico State on National Student Exchange. I went for a semester … years ago. And I simply stayed.

Chico was nicely located for outdoor activity – close to hiking, camping and water sports, big on the bicycle culture. The only thing Chico is missing is the ocean. Sea and surf and salt air would have been wonderful there. It was also close to the Sierra Nevada.

But during the first holiday weekend I was in Chico, a group of NSE students and I took a road trip in the opposite direction as the Sierra. Instead we went to Crescent City along the North Coast, stopping to hike among the towering redwoods and along stony beaches. Later I worked as a wildlife firefighter for three summers, putting me deep into the outdoors, sometimes hiking and working in protected wilderness few people get to see ever.

Landing in Vacaville after working at a series of small newspapers, Lagoon Valley Regional Park and Rockville Regional Park were good places to stretch my hiking legs. Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley was another favorite place to lace up my boots and simply walk among the trees.

Being outside and hiking have been my life.

Until a couple of years ago, that is. I combination of a knee injury and series of girlfriends who did not share my love for the outdoors limited my exploration. Even limited my adult imagination, I suppose. I did not go to the forest and mountains for far too long. I should have visited the doctor sooner to work to mend the knee and left those disinterested girlfriends behind to go to the forest and mountains. I did neither.

But time passes and knees mend. Thought of disinterested girlfriends fade quickly. I’m back to hiking. And I’m loving it again, just like I always did.

The latest hike last weekend took me to Calaveras Big Trees State Park for the South Grove Trail. And, yes, there are very big trees in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park – giant sequoias, ponderosa pines, sugar pines, incense cedars and white fir, with Pacific dogwoods, leopard lily, Hartweg’s iris, crimson columbine and more. The foliage was passed peak when I hiked the South Grove Trail and the Bradley Grove Trail, about 10 miles of hiking. But I will go back to hike a few other trails.

I plan to hike for decades to come. On the Bradley trail, I ran into two couples and they all must have been in their 80s and there they were hiking. A lifetime of activity means a life worth living.

I’m glad I’m back to hiking. It has been a part of my life since I was a small child climbing that low mountain. It’s part of me. It always was. It always will be.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir