Earlier this year, a New York man admitted to having transported women from Maine to New York so they could engage in prostitution. The man, Akeem Cruz, was dating a Scarborough woman who was found dead in Long Island, New York, in 2011, along with several other female escorts.

The Polaris Project, a national anti-human-trafficking organization based in Washington DC, notes that sex trafficking can involve elements of fraud, force, or coercion, and often targets economically disadvantaged or otherwise vulnerable young women. Some controversy exists about whether sex trafficking encompasses all forms of commercial sex work (including stripping or pornography). "Beginning with the Bush administration, anti-trafficking policy has largely been driven by interest groups on the far right and left, lobbyists whose mission is the elimination of all types of commercial sex activity," George Washington University sociology professor Ronald Weitzer wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed in 2011, arguing that the issue of sex trafficking was being overblown by media hungry for sensational stories.

Still, as staffers at the Preble Street Teen Center and Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine continue to see indicators of an exploitative system, it seems that Maine will do more in the coming year to provide and expand safe spaces for abused women and girls.

CARING FOR VETERANS

October marked a sad milestone of our ongoing military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan: as of that month, more than 50,000 Americans had been combat-wounded in those theaters — and that's just physical injuries. Tens of thousands more suffer from emotional and mental problems brought on by war. (An additional 6618 have died.)

But this year, we did see increased acknowledgement of those so-called hidden wounds. Military veterans may see their benefits expanded to include certain after-effects of traumatic brain injuries, thanks to a new regulation proposed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Traumatic brain injury, a/k/a TBI, involves dizziness and a loss of consciousness or memory, and is often the result of a blow or jolt to the head.

The proposed rule would make official the link between TBI and Parkinson's Syndrome, unprovoked seizures, certain dementias, depression, and hormone deficiency diseases related to certain glands. Whereas veterans formerly had to prove such a link before receiving health care and compensation for those TBI-induced illnesses, this eases the bureaucratic barriers to getting the care they need.

US Representative Mike Michaud, the Democrat representing Maine's 2nd Congressional District, was named ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee this month. In a statement, he expressed support for the rule change. But he warned of logistical complications on the horizon. "While this announcement is a positive step forward, the VA needs to be prepared for the new claims, which could stress an already backlogged and overwhelmed claims process," he said.

LEVELING THE SUBSIDY FIELD

Did you know that we are witnessing the waning days of an important tax credit, the federal renewable-energy-production tax credit, which has been instrumental in spurring alt-energy projects, especially wind farms? The credit extends a per-kilowatt-hour tax credit to commercial and industrial energy producers. Essentially, it is a federal subsidy, similar to the ones from which big oil has benefited for decades. Supporters, like US Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) — who took to the Senate floor this month to highlight how important wind-power development is for America in general and for Maine in particular — believe the wind industry can provide manufacturing jobs while increasing our energy independence. Opponents say the industry no longer needs financial assistance, and should prove that it can stand on its own.

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