Business – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:16:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 Early job woes, early death? Maybe http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/early-job-woes-early-death-maybe/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/early-job-woes-early-death-maybe/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:58:53 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/early-job-woes-early-death-maybe/ Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists.

Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlines in 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up.

The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

Offering what they call a tentative but “plausible” explanation, they write that less-educated white Americans who struggle in the job market in early adulthood are likely to experience a “cumulative disadvantage” over time, with health and personal problems that often lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease and suicide.

“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high-school-educated working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline,” they conclude.

The study comes as Congress debates how to dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act. Case and Deaton report that poor health is becoming more common for each new generation of middle-aged, less-educated white Americans. And they are going downhill faster.

In a teleconference with reporters this week, Case said the new research found a “sea of despair” across America. A striking feature is the rise in physical pain. The pattern does not follow short-term economic cycles but reflects a long-term disintegration of job prospects.

“You used to be able to get a really good job with a high school diploma. A job with on-the-job training, a job with benefits. You could expect to move up,” she said.

The nation’s obesity epidemic may be another sign of stress and physical pain, she continued: “People may want to soothe the beast. They may do that with alcohol, they may do that with drugs, they may do that with food.”

Similarly, Deaton cited suicide as an action that could be triggered not by a single event but by a cumulative series of disappointments: “Your family life has fallen apart, you don’t know your kids anymore, all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven’t happened at all.”

The economists say that there is no obvious solution but that a starting point would be limiting the overuse of opioids, which killed more than 30,000 Americans in 2015.

The two will present their study on Friday at the Brookings Institution.

“Their paper documents some facts. What is the story behind those facts is a matter of speculation,” said Adriana Lleras-Muney, a University of California at Los Angeles economics professor, who will also speak at Brookings.

She noted that less-educated white Americans tend to be strikingly pessimistic when interviewed about their prospects. “It’s just a background of continuous decline. You’re worse off than your parents,” Lleras-Muney said. “Whereas for Hispanics, or immigrants like myself” – she is from Colombia – “or blacks, yes, circumstances are bad, but they’ve been getting better.”

Whites continue to have longer life expectancy than African-Americans and lower death rates, but that gap has narrowed since the late 1990s. The picture may have shifted again around the Great Recession, however: Graphs accompanying the new paper suggest that death rates for blacks with only a high school education began rising around 2010 in many age groups, as if following the trend that began about a decade earlier among whites.

Case and Deaton play down geography’s role in the epidemic. Yet they note that white mortality rates fell in the biggest cities, were constant in big-city suburbs and rose in all other areas.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/early-job-woes-early-death-maybe/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1171785_white-fatalities-f041c312-0.jpgPrinceton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case continue to report on sickness and early death among white, middle-aged, working-class Americans. Yana Paskova for The Washington PostFri, 24 Mar 2017 08:16:47 +0000
Outdated computer system led Maine Labor Department to contractor that got hacked http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/antiquated-labor-department-computers-led-to-outsourcing/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/antiquated-labor-department-computers-led-to-outsourcing/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:00:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/antiquated-labor-department-computers-led-to-outsourcing/ The Maine Department of Labor’s antiquated computer system had an indirect role in exposing thousands of Mainers’ Social Security numbers to a computer hack.

While the department’s computer system was not breached, its age and lack of compatibility with modern systems made it incapable of performing certain federally mandated steps in the processing of new unemployment benefit claims, prompting the department to outsource the work to a firm that was hacked.

“It’s 40 years old and written in COBOL,” department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said, referring to the programming language developed in the late 1950s that is used by the agency’s computers.

The department contracted in July to have the work done by Kansas-based information technology consortium America’s JobLink. The consortium announced Wednesday that it had been hacked, and that up to 4.8 million user accounts were compromised.

America’s JobLink, which provides a variety of information technology services to state labor departments and employment offices, said the hackers stole the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of a still-unknown number of job-seekers in up to 10 states. The states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Maine.

Maine eliminated its Maine Job Bank service within the Department of Labor in July and outsourced the job-matching service to America’s JobLink, along with vetting and reporting of new unemployment benefits applications required by the recently amended federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. One of the requirements is to cross-check applicants against other databases containing information such as criminal history and immigration status, which requires the applicant’s Social Security number. The department’s outdated computer system isn’t capable of performing that required step.

Roughly 12,650 Maine residents have created JobLink accounts since July. Because cross-checking requires a Social Security number, those making initial claims for unemployment benefits were required to provide it to JobLink.

Because of the hacking incident, those account holders are now vulnerable to identity theft.

“Our own employees are affected by this, and we are very concerned about it,” Rabinowitz said.

Following the data breach, Mainers seeking unemployment benefits no longer will be required by the state to enter their Social Security number to receive unemployment benefits, she said, and those who already have done so can log in to their account and delete it.

Rabinowitz said emails would be sent no later than Friday to JobLink participants who were potentially impacted by the hacking incident. The email will advise recipients about the situation, explain how to put a freeze on their credit reports or take other credit report protection steps, and provide a telephone number for a national call center.

All available resources at the Department of Labor are focused on addressing the data incident, she said, adding that the department is working with the other nine states and the FBI.

“We collect a lot of personally identifying information in most of our programs,” Rabinowitz said. “The unemployment system is full of personally identifiable information and confidential tax information, and also the information that we have on clients in our programs and also in vocational rehabilitation has a lot of confidentiality around it, so we take this very seriously and we are very concerned to make sure we do the right thing for the people who are affected by this.”

Rabinowitz said America’s JobLink notified the state about the suspected hack late on March 15 or early on March 16, but there was no confirmation at that time that any Maine residents were affected. It wasn’t until late Tuesday night that the Department of Labor received confirmation that Maine participants might have been affected.

She said the state has temporarily deactivated the crosslink between Maine’s unemployment system databases and the Maine JobLink website that used Social Security numbers to link records in the two systems. Rabinowitz said the department’s internal unemployment systems were not compromised by the hacker.

“There will be no effect on unemployment benefits because of this,” she said.

The Department of Labor is working on a system upgrade that will solve the problem for the long term, but it isn’t expected to go live until October. In the meantime, the department hopes to come up with a way to meet the federal vetting and reporting requirements without requiring new applicants to enter their Social Security numbers into JobLink.

“All the options are on the table,” Rabinowitz said.

Rabinowitz said the 10 states are still negotiating with JobLink about what obligations the consortium has to the hack’s potential victims. One of the issues being discussed is whether affected JobLink users could be provided with the type of free credit monitoring offered by retailers following a data breach, she said. Under state law, Maine residents can receive annual credit reports and temporarily freeze their credit report at no cost.

In the meantime, job-seekers can continue to use JobLink to help them find jobs.

“The Maine JobLink is still active,” Rabinowitz said. “The security breach has been repaired and individuals can go in and remove their Social Security number from their account.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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Ruling: Washington hotel won’t benefit Trump while he’s president http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/ruling-washington-hotel-wont-benefit-trump-while-hes-president/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/ruling-washington-hotel-wont-benefit-trump-while-hes-president/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:23:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/ruling-washington-hotel-wont-benefit-trump-while-hes-president/ WASHINGTON — Government officials overseeing the Trump International Hotel’s lease with the federal government have determined the deal is in “full compliance” despite a clause in the agreement barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.”

In a Thursday letter to Eric Trump, the president’s son now overseeing the hotel, the project’s contracting officer found the company met the terms of the lease because the president had resigned from a formal position with the company and the organization had restructured an internal operating agreement so he received no direct proceeds from the Washington hotel business.

“In other words, during his term in office the president will not receive any distributions from the trust that would have been generated from the hotel,” said the contracting officer, Kevin Terry.

Terry also praised the project for turning a partly empty government office building into a hotel that had already generated $5.1 million for the government by the time it opened in the fall. “Thus the lease turned a building that had been costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year into a revenue-generating asset,” Terry wrote.

The announcement by the General Services Administration allows Trump’s company, which he still owns, to continue to benefit from a contract ultimately overseen by his administration, a situation that ethical experts have called unprecedented and a conflict of interest that puts the president’s personal financial situation ahead of taxpayers.

Trump signed a 60-year lease for the government-owned Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013, then spent more than $200 million turning the project into a luxury hotel.

The Trump Organization issued a statement thanking the GSA “for their diligent review of this matter.”

“We are immensely proud of this property and look forward to providing our guests with an unrivaled luxury experience for years to come,” the statement said.

Since the election, Democrats on Capitol Hill have constantly pressed the agency to address concerns raised by Trump’s profiting from the lease deal. Some members of Congress worry that Trump could appoint new leaders who will renegotiate the terms of the lease to eliminate any legal entanglements, especially after a civil servant overseeing public buildings for the agency, Norman Dong, announced his departure recently.

Trump has not yet appointed an administrator for the GSA. Agency veteran Timothy Horne is serving as acting administrator.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/ruling-washington-hotel-wont-benefit-trump-while-hes-president/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1171687_Trump_Hotel_18225.jpg-cbab0.jpgFILE - In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The federal agency overseeing Donald Trump's lease for a luxury hotel in Washington has ruled his election as president doesn't violate the terms of his agreement barring government officials from profiting from the property. (Associated Press file/Alex Brandon)Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:23:01 +0000
Report: Pot industry growth to stay robust no matter what position White House takes http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/report-pot-industry-growth-to-stay-robust-no-matter-what-position-white-house-takes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/report-pot-industry-growth-to-stay-robust-no-matter-what-position-white-house-takes/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:19:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/report-pot-industry-growth-to-stay-robust-no-matter-what-position-white-house-takes/ America’s cannabis industry will continue growing at double-digit rates over the next four years – even with ambiguity emanating from the White House – as the drug gains in popularity, according to a leading marijuana-research firm.

Legalized pot in North America will continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 27 percent through 2021, according to an Arcview Market Research report released Thursday. The momentum of the past few years won’t be stopped by the Trump administration, said Chief Executive Officer Troy Dayton.

While President Donald Trump has gone back and forth about his stance on marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a clear opponent and has vowed to enforce laws against drug use, including cannabis. But Dayton and others in the industry say a crackdown is unlikely because of the popularity of the movement and the funds it would take to renew the war on the drug.

“It’s just so politically unpopular it would be silly,” he said.

About 71 percent of voters say “the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use,” according to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University.

The federal government’s hands are also tied by legislation, Dayton said. Sessions has said he agrees with parts of the Obama administration’s Cole Memorandum, the document that allowed states to develop markets without federal interference. Even if Sessions were to rip up the memo, Congress passed an amendment to an appropriations bill in December 2014 that makes it impossible to use Justice Department funds to interfere with state implementation of medical marijuana.

In North America, consumers spent $6.7 billion on legalized weed in 2016, according to the Arcview report. That’s up 34 percent from the prior year. Growth may slow this year because states that voted in favor of legalization in November largely won’t begin sales until 2018, Dayton said.

The report also shows that illicit cannabis sales declined in states with legal programs.

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Planning for Trump hotel growth at ‘full steam ahead’ despite criticism http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/planning-for-trump-hotel-growth-at-full-steam-ahead-despite-criticism/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/planning-for-trump-hotel-growth-at-full-steam-ahead-despite-criticism/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:04:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/planning-for-trump-hotel-growth-at-full-steam-ahead-despite-criticism/ NEW YORK — You might have expected the Trump Organization to tap the brakes on expansion plans, given all the criticism over potential conflicts of interest while its owner sits in the Oval Office.

It’s hitting the accelerator instead.

The company owned by President Trump is launching a chain of new hotels with plans to open in cities large and small across the country. Called Scion, they will be the first Trump-run hotels not to bear the family’s gilded name. The hotels will feature modern, sleek interiors and communal areas, and offer rooms at $200 to $300 a night, about half what it costs at some hotels in Trump’s luxury chain.

The company has signed letters of intent with more than 20 developers to build the hotels, said Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger. The last three were signed in just one week this month.

“It’s full steam ahead. It’s in our DNA. It’s in the Trump boys’ DNA,” said Danziger. The “boys” are Eric and Donald Jr., who are running their father’s company while he is president.

The bold expansion plan raises some thorny ethical questions.

The Trump family won’t be putting up any money to build the hotels. Instead, it plans to get local real estate developers and their investors to foot the bill, as do most major hotel chains.

One of the first few hotels could be going up in Dallas. A development company there originally planned to raise money from unidentified investors in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Qatar, but recently told the Dallas Morning News that it now will tap only the company’s U.S. partners.

PROSPECT OF ‘PAY-TO-PLAY’ WITH TRUMP

Government ethics experts say turning to outside money, whether foreign or American, raises the specter of people trying to use their investment to gain favor with the new administration – like contributing to a political campaign, but with no dollar limits or public disclosure.

“This is the new version of pay-to-play – ‘Get in there and do business with the Trump Organization,’ ” said Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush.

The Trump family will have to overcome some political obstacles, too. Already, politicians in a few cities mentioned as possible sites have vowed to fight the first family, raising the prospect of a struggle to get zoning and other permits to start building.

The son of German and Polish refugees from World War II, CEO Danziger is no stranger to long odds. He never went to college, instead taking a job as a bellman at a San Francisco hotel at 17. He worked himself up over the decades to CEO spots at several major hospitality companies.

When Danziger led Starwood Hotels and Resorts in the 1990s, he expanded the number of hotels from 20 to nearly 600.

The 62-year-old executive has similar ambitions for the Trump family. He said he hopes to open 50 to 100 Scions in three years, and is planning to add to Trump’s existing line of luxury hotels.

Danziger took over Trump’s hotel business in August 2015 with hopes of adding to the company’s string of properties abroad. A review of trademark databases by The Associated Press shows the Trump family has applied for rights to use the Scion name in several countries, including China, Indonesia, Canada and 28 nations in Europe. An application for trademark rights in the Dominican Republic was approved as late as December.

Then President Trump held a news conference the next month and basically killed the international plans. A week before he took office, he pledged that his company would strike “no new foreign deals” while he was president to allay concerns that foreigners might try to influence U.S. policy by helping his business abroad.

RESISTANCE IN SOME LARGE CITIES

Critics note that hasn’t stopped his company from expanding one of its Scottish resorts, pursuing two Indonesian projects that are largely unbuilt and looking to revive an old deal for a beachfront Dominican Republic resort that appeared dead years ago. The company has said these were already in the works, so they don’t fall under the president’s pledge.

At a panel discussion at a recent hotel industry conference, Danziger said the U.S. offers plenty of opportunity for expansion. As possible cities for new hotels, he mentioned Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and Dallas.

That didn’t go down well with some local power brokers.

Mark Farrell, a San Francisco supervisor who heads the land use committee, scoffed at the idea of a Trump hotel getting permission to build in his city, telling a CBS affiliate “Good luck with that.”

In Seattle, council member Rob Johnson told the AP he’d be “shocked” if any Trump hotels got built, calling his city “ground zero” for Trump resisters. In January, thousands took to the streets there to protest the president’s first attempt at a travel ban and the City Council passed a unanimous resolution denouncing it.

St. Louis, another possible Scion target, may prove a tough sell, too. A few days after the presidential election, protesters marched in front of a building that had been rumored as the site of a new Trump hotel as they chanted “No to Trump Tower.”

The developer of the St. Louis project, Alterra Worldwide, is also the company behind the possible Scion hotel in Dallas. It announced soon after the St. Louis protest that it would use the building there to open a hotel under the Marriott name.

Despite the St. Louis trouble, Alterra President Mukemmel “Mike” Sarimsakci said he expects no trouble with his Dallas project.

For starters, he appears to have much of the local approval needed to move forward. Both Sarimsakci and a Dallas city hall spokeswoman said Alterra is not seeking rezoning or tax incentives, which will avoid any need for a vote of the City Council to approve the hotel.

Sarimsakci doesn’t think anti-Trump sentiment will hurt the Scion chain.

“I think it’s passed. I think people had really strong feelings prior to the election,” he said. “I don’t see that as being an issue moving forward.”

Sarimsakci spoke to the AP last month. He did not respond to requests to confirm that he no longer plans to use foreign investors.

THE LURE OF TAX REVENUE, JOBS

Danziger also shrugs off the danger from anti-Trump folks. Stopping a Scion from opening would hurt a city, he said, just as surely as it would hurt the Trumps.

“Why would a city, because of political views, a city councilman’s views, prohibit tax revenue from coming to the city and employment to the people?” Danziger said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

He also expressed confidence that Scion will avoid ethical trouble. He said any new investors in Scion go through an “exhaustive, thorough” review to make sure, for instance, they’re not offering sweetheart deals to the Trump family to curry favor with the president.

Before Trump took office, he hired an outside lawyer to vet his deals for conflicts. Critics say his company shouldn’t be striking any new deals at all and that he should follow the precedent of modern presidents by selling his interest in the company. He has refused to do so.

Politics aside, Trump’s new chain faces stiff business challenges.

The U.S. president is a tiny hotel operator, with just 14 properties that he either owns or licenses his name to or manages for others, according to his company’s website. This puts it at a disadvantage compared with, say, Marriott International, which has more than 6,000 hotels and can get deeper discounts when purchasing insurance and food and linens. The bigger companies have powerful loyalty programs to lure travelers, too.

“Why do people stay at Marriotts all the time?” said Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism management at New York University. “They’re earning points.”

Danziger won’t name the developers with whom he has letters of intent, or where they hope to build, noting that they’re tentative deals that could easily fall though. Pressed, though, he rattled off a long series of cities seemingly at random, including Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Louisville, Kentucky.

“The list of places Scion can go,” he said, “is virtually limitless.”

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Bill to help N.H. dairy farmers moves ahead http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/bill-to-help-n-h-dairy-farmers-moves-ahead/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/bill-to-help-n-h-dairy-farmers-moves-ahead/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:54:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/bill-to-help-n-h-dairy-farmers-moves-ahead/ CONCORD, N.H. — An effort to provide financial relief to New Hampshire’s dairy farmers strained by last year’s drought survived a challenge in the House on Thursday, with some opponents calling it a taxpayer funded bailout.

The drought forced many farmers to spend more on livestock feed, and some reduced their herds to save money. The state had 115 licensed cow-only dairies in October, down from 123 in January 2016.

“Many have slaughtered young calves along with milking cows, delayed repairs to farm tractors,” said bill supporter John O’Connor, a Republican from Derry. “Spouses have taken on second jobs to sustain them and have done all they can to get through the winter. The forage and hay they are purchasing comes from the Midwest or Saskatchewan, at an extremely high price.”

House members voted to adopt a committee recommendation that up to $2 million for dairy farmers be distributed through a formula. They also approved an amendment from Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, of Weare, allowing farmers to choose whether 2014 or 2015 was worse, and avoid “double-dipping” if they already receive crop insurance. Proposals to table the bill or replace it with a measure asking for donations for the farmers failed.

Kurk was part of a task force that worked on a plan to help the state’s dairy industry. He also chairs the House Finance Committee, which would normally take up the bill next. Kurk, instead, invoked a legislative rule allowing it to head back to the Senate, where it originated.

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Democrats grill nominee to head SEC on corporate ties http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/democrats-grill-nominee-to-head-sec-on-corporate-ties/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/democrats-grill-nominee-to-head-sec-on-corporate-ties/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:50:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/democrats-grill-nominee-to-head-sec-on-corporate-ties/ For years, Jay Clayton has helped Wall Street weather run-ins with its regulators. On Thursday, he told lawmakers that he should be the one to regulate them.

“I have zero tolerance for bad actors,” Clayton told the Senate Banking Committee during his nomination hearing to lead the Securities and Exhange Commission. If confirmed, Clayton said, he would make sure “our markets are fair, open, orderly, and efficient and … that investors are protected.”

But the New York lawyer’s deep connections to big banks, particularly Goldman Sachs, and inexperience in prosecuting corporate wrongdoing drew skepticism from Democrats who questioned whether he would protect investors, or Wall Street, in the powerful job.

“You’ve spent your career protecting some of the biggest names on Wall Street, and those relationships pose a host of conflicts for this position,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said at the hearing. “I’m concerned that you may need to recuse yourself too often at a time when we need a strong, independent SEC chair on the front line of enforcement, not watching from the sideline.”

As a partner at the prestigious New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, Clayton has helped online retailer Alibaba stage the largest initial public offering in history, assisted in the sale of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and worked closely with hedge fund tycoons.

Republicans said that type of experience will be valuable for the head of the SEC, which is charged with protecting investors, prosecuting financial crime and ensuring stock markets are run fairly.

But it’s Clayton’s 15-year relationship with Goldman Sachs that has drawn the most attention from critics. (He is also married to a Goldman Sachs wealth manager.)

In 2008, Goldman Sachs was facing a potential disaster: Its profits had started to wane and its stock price was tumbling. Facing doubts about whether it could survive the turmoil, Goldman launched a plan to turn itself into a traditional commercial bank.

Advising on the deal was Clayton. A year later, Clayton helped the bank again when it wanted to start paying back the $10 billion loan it had received from a taxpayer-funded bailout program.

Clayton, who made more than $7 million last year, was warmly received by Republicans on the committee, who praised his financial industry experience. It should be easier, and cheaper, for companies to sell stock on the public markets, Clayton told them.

Democrats repeatedly questioned whether Clayton would be tough on Wall Street. Clayton dodged questions about the best ways to hold corporate leaders responsible for wrongdoing whether they knew about the bad behavior conducted by lower level employees or not.

“I think individual prosecutions, particularly in the white collar area, has a significant affect on behavior,” Clayton said. “I want to be clear: Companies should be held responsible.”

In a heated exchange, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., noted that Clayton would be forced to recuse himself from cases involving former and current clients of his former law firm, Sullivan& Cromwell. In those cases, she said, if the rest of SEC’s four commissioners split along partisan lines, the investigations would stall and the firms could escape being held responsible.

“With you as SEC chair it looks like Wall Street can breathe a little easier,” Warren said.

If confirmed, Clayton would also play a key role in President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back regulations on the financial industry, particularly 2010’s Dodd Frank law. “I don’t have any specific plans for attacks,” on the law, Clayton told the panel. But “I do believe Dodd Frank should be looked at.”

sec

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Keywords: Jay Clayton, SEC, Donald Trump

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FCC proposes new rules to block robo-calls http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/fcc-proposes-new-rules-to-block-robo-calls/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/fcc-proposes-new-rules-to-block-robo-calls/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:32:51 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/fcc-proposes-new-rules-to-block-robo-calls/ The nation’s top telecom regulator is moving further to thwart illegal robo-calls that have annoyed countless consumers at dinnertime and scammed millions of Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed new rules that would allow phone companies to target and block robo-calls coming from what appear to be illegitimate or unassigned phone numbers.

The rules could help cut down on the roughly 2.4 billion automated calls that go out each month – many of them fraudulent, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Robo-calls are the No. 1 consumer complaint to the FCC from members of the American public,” he said, vowing to halt people who, in some cases, pretend to be tax officials demanding payments from consumers, or, in other cases, ask leading questions that prompt consumers to give up personal information as part of an identity theft scam.

More than 1 in 10 U.S. adults has been a victim to phone scams, said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, citing a December study by the call-blocking company CPR Call Blocker.

Even some major firms have faced a backlash for relying on robo-calls. In 2015, PayPal drew criticism when it effectively forced many of its users to agree to receive robo-calls from the company. Amid letters from lawmakers and complaints from the public, PayPal reversed its decision.

Still, what Pai has called a “scourge” of robo-calls has continued. Many robo-callers deliberately “spoof” their phone numbers, he said, to hide the true origins of their call. Phone companies are largely supportive of the FCC’s campaign; last year, AT&T helped form an industry group to devise ways to fight robo-calls and spoofing.

“Millions of Americans are harassed by … telemarketers and others who often disguise their caller identification information to circumvent ‘do not call’ lists and anti-robocall tools,” said Verizon in a statement. “It needs to stop.”

The public will now have an opportunity to submit feedback on the proposal, which could be finalized later this year.

“Americans have run out of patience with robo-calls that ring at all hours of the day,” said Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst with the advocacy group Consumers Union.

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Senate votes to block start of new protections for consumers’ internet data http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/senate-votes-to-block-start-of-new-protections-for-consumers-internet-data/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/senate-votes-to-block-start-of-new-protections-for-consumers-internet-data/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:24:28 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/senate-votes-to-block-start-of-new-protections-for-consumers-internet-data/ Senate lawmakers voted Thursday to repeal a historic set of rules aimed at protecting consumers’ online data from their own internet providers.

The rules, which prohibit providers from abusing the data they gather on their customers as they browse the web on cellphones and computers, had been approved last year over objections from Republicans who argued the regulations went too far.

Now a joint resolution from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., seeks to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy rules, preventing them from going into effect and barring the FCC from ever enacting similar consumer protections.

U.S. senators voted 50-48 to approve Flake’s resolution. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted for the bill and Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, voted against it. The bill now heads to the House.

Industry groups welcomed the vote.

“Our industry remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers,” said the Internet and Television Association, a trade group representing major cable providers. “We support this step towards reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.”

The FCC’s rules are being debated as internet providers – no longer satisfied with simply offering web access – race to become online advertising giants as large as Google and Facebook. To deliver consumers from one website to another, internet providers must see and understand which online destinations their customers wish to visit, whether that’s Netflix, WebMD or PornHub.

With that data, internet providers would like to sell targeted advertising or even share that information with third-party marketers. But the FCC’s regulations place certain limits on the type of data internet providers can share and under what circumstances. Under the rules, consumers may forbid their providers from sharing what the FCC deems “sensitive” information, such as app usage history and mobile location data.

Opponents of the regulation argue the FCC’s definition of sensitive information is far too broad and that it creates an imbalance between what’s expected of internet providers and what’s allowed for web companies such as Google. Separately from Congress, critics of the measure have petitioned the FCC to reconsider letting the rules go into effect, and the agency’s new Republican leadership has partly complied. In February, President Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, put a hold on a slice of the rules that would have forced internet providers to better safeguard their customer data from hackers.

The congressional resolution could make any further action by the FCC to review the rules unnecessary; Flake’s measure aims to nullify the FCC’s privacy rules altogether. Republicans argue that even if the FCC’s power to make rules on internet privacy is curtailed, state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission could still hold internet providers accountable for future privacy abuses.

But Democrats said Wednesday night that preemptive rules are necessary to protect consumers before their information gets out against their will.

“The Federal Trade Commission does not have the rulemaking authority in data security, even though commissioners at the FTC have asked Congress for such authority in the past,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Fla., the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.

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Maine recruiters hop bus to Boston to find new hires http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/recruiters-hop-bus-to-boston-to-find-new-hires/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/recruiters-hop-bus-to-boston-to-find-new-hires/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:05:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/recruiters-hop-bus-to-boston-to-find-new-hires/ A busload of Maine entrepreneurs and other businesspeople set off for Boston on Thursday afternoon, prospecting for new hires.

The group of 50 was scheduled to meet with about 150 Boston-area workers Thursday night to talk up business and Maine’s amenities over Maine-brewed beer and Maine-sourced food, said Nate Wildes, director of Live + Work in Maine, a group that promotes the state to job seekers.

It was the latest attempt by Maine employers frustrated by their inability to fill job vacancies, particularly for skilled workers, such as those with technical skills or college degrees.

With its workforce getting older and several key industries, such as papermaking, shrinking, Maine’s labor force is in decline. The number of people either working or looking for work in Maine has shrunk from nearly 710,000 in mid-2013 to just over 690,000 in 2016. With Maine’s unemployment rate at a low 3.9 percent last year, growing companies are finding it difficult to hire workers.

Wildes said large employers such as Bangor Savings Bank, Wex and Idexx were represented on the bus, and those companies teamed up with smaller companies to lure more skilled workers to Maine.

“Instead of fighting over slices of the pie” in looking for employees, “we’re going to grow that pie,” Wildes said.

Maine isn’t a hard sell, he said. In addition to a growing base of potential employers, the state offers a range of outdoor recreation opportunities, cultural activities and a nationally acclaimed restaurant scene.

But still, he said, it doesn’t hurt to remind Bostonians that all that Maine offers is less than two hours away from their current base.

“Employers are actively promoting the Maine quality of life as a recruiting advantage,” he said.

The event was organized by Live + Work in Maine, Maine Startup and Create Week, Red Thread, a company that designs and equips workspaces, and Knack Factory, a media company. Thursday’s gathering was held in Red Thread’s showroom in Boston.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at:

empurphy@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/recruiters-hop-bus-to-boston-to-find-new-hires/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1171652_683080-20170323_recruitme3.jpgRecruiters from Maine companies board a bus in Portland and head to Boston to search for new hires on Thursday. They planned to promote Maine's quality of life as a recruiting advantage and met with workers over beer and food sourced in Maine.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:13:23 +0000
Budget analysis finds latest health care bill would still leave millions uninsured http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/budget-analysis-finds-latest-health-care-bill-would-still-leave-millions-uninsured/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/budget-analysis-finds-latest-health-care-bill-would-still-leave-millions-uninsured/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:50:43 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/budget-analysis-finds-latest-health-care-bill-would-still-leave-millions-uninsured/ WASHINGTON — Changes that House Republicans have made to their health-care legislation would reduce savings in federal spending by half as much as their original plan and would still cause 24 million more Americans to be uninsured, according to congressional budget analysts.

The estimates by the Congressional Budget Office arrived late Thursday afternoon as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the Trump administration were scrambling to corral enough support to put the legislation that erases major parts of the Affordable Care Act to a vote.

According to the CBO’s projections, a set of amendments that House GOP leaders agreed to support Monday night would cut the federal deficit by $150 billion between 2017 and 2026. The original version of the American Health Care Act, as the bill is called, would have curbed the deficit by an estimated $337 billion in that period.

The changes would have less impact on savings because they would make it easier for Americans to deduct the cost of medical care from their income taxes and would accelerate by a year the repeal of several taxes that help pay for the ACA, including taxes on insurers, hospitals, high-income adults and tanning beds.

Other changes to the bill would increase federal spending for Medicaid, the estimate says, in part by altering payments states receive for their most expensive enrollees – people who are elderly or disabled.

The fresh analysis says the amendments would not affect the number of Americans who would be uninsured if the bill were to become law. Compared with the current law, the CBO projects that 14 million more people would be uninsured next year and 24 million more by 2026. Those were the same figures as in its first, much-anticipated report, issued last week, on the House GOP plans.

Nor would the amendments make much difference to the typical cost of health plans. For the next two years, insurance premiums for individuals buying coverage on their own would increase by 15 to 20 percent compared with the ACA – only marginally different than the 18 to 20 percent rise predicted for the bill’s original version. In 2026, both plan versions would lead to a 10 percent reduction in average premiums, the CBO said.

The new forecast does not take into account any of the ideas for tipping federal health-care policy even further in conservative directions – which are being advanced by members of the House Freedom Caucus. The caucus, the chamber’s faction on the hard right, is lobbying to eliminate a requirement that insurance plans include 10 basic health benefits in the policies sold to individuals and small businesses.

The updated analysis elicited no immediate response from Ryan or the GOP leaders of four House committees that have raced in recent weeks to assemble and approve the legislation.

Rep. Steve King, a conservative Republican from Iowa, put the deficit number in a broader context. “None of us that want to save money are happy about the direction that’s going,” King said, “but as a matter of principle, it’s more important that we eliminate mandates than it is that we [save] $200 billion over 10 years.”

Last week, Ryan talked up the portion of the first CBO analysis that predicted the large reduction in the federal deficit, while White House officials sought to tar the report’s accuracy. The Freedom Caucus has complained that the legislation would still devote too much federal money to health spending.

Caucus members had not commented Thursday evening on the updated analysis and its finding that adjustments to the bill would leave the deficit in worse condition than the original version.

The bill is intended as a first stage in fulfilling Republicans’ years-long pledge to unwind the 2010 law adopted by a Democratic Congress – and to replace all but its most popular parts with conservative policies. This stage focuses on the spending parts of the current law because congressional leaders are relying on a budget strategy called “reconciliation.” If the House passes the bill, the strategy would allow the Senate to adopt it with a simple majority.

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Wales man arrested – again – on charge of stealing electricity http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/wales-man-arrested-again-for-allegedly-stealing-electricity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/wales-man-arrested-again-for-allegedly-stealing-electricity/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:44:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/wales-man-arrested-again-for-allegedly-stealing-electricity/ A Wales man was arrested for the second time in just over two months and charged with stealing electricity from Central Maine Power by climbing a utility pole and connecting to a transformer with jumper-like cables attached to a line leading to his house.

Maine State Police put Nicholas Gagne, 36, under surveillance Thursday after receiving a tip that he was stealing electricity again just over two months after he was arrested and charged with the same crime.

Trooper Tyler Plourde watched as the alleged serial power thief climbed a CMP utility pole near his home at 237 Oak Hill Road “possibly to disconnect” the wires he had attached to the transformer at the top of the pole.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said that when Gagne saw the state trooper, he scrambled back down the pole and fled into an outbuilding. Gagne eventually emerged and surrendered peacefully.

He now faces charges of theft, criminal mischief and violation of his bail – the latter charge stemming from the alleged theft of electricity from the same utility pole that resulted in his arrest in January. Gagne was being held without bail at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn on Thursday night.

A jail supervisor said it was not possible to interview Gagne by telephone Thursday night. He is tentatively scheduled to make his initial court appearance Friday.

“I don’t know the reason why he did it,” McCausland said Thursday night. “To say it’s bizarre is an understatement.”

A CMP crew was called in Thursday and confirmed that Gagne had rigged an illegal connection using a piece of equipment that resembled a car jumper cable. The cable transmitted electricity from the transformer to a wire that ran from the utility pole to Gagne’s home.

The makeshift setup could have electrocuted him or started a fire, posing a danger to passers-by, CMP officials said.

“What he did was incredibly dangerous. He posed a danger not only to himself, but to the line workers who responded,” CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said. “The crew said the lines were extremely hot to the touch, which means they were overloaded and could have caused a fire. It was not a smart thing to do.”

In January, Gagne was arrested and charged with stealing large amounts of electricity from CMP by climbing up the power pole outside his home and using the jumper-cable setup to connect to the transformer and direct power to his house.

CMP went to his home twice to disconnect the power after the company became aware he was siphoning off electricity, but Gagne kept reconnecting it, the company said. Finally, CMP contacted police and asked for an escort to his house. State police said CMP estimated that Gagne stole power valued at more than $3,000.

“When someone steals something from any company, it only raises the cost of the product for all its honest customers,” Rice said.

Gagne has a criminal record that includes two misdemeanor charges in 2006, for refusing to submit to arrest and disorderly conduct in Lewiston, according to records obtained from the Maine State Bureau of Identification. The refusing to submit to arrest charge was dismissed after Gagne pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

After his arrest in January, Gagne was charged with theft of services, a Class C felony offense, and reckless conduct, a Class D misdemeanor.

Molly Hall is executive director for the Illinois-based Energy Education Council, which has the mission of saving lives by providing consumers and public utilities with information about electrical usage. Its educational outreach program, which can be accessed on SafeElectricity.org, was created to promote the safe use of electricity.

Although she was unable to provide specific data, Hall said people across the United States have been seriously injured or killed by tampering with meters and using jumper-cable connections to steal power – a practice known as tapping a power line.

“Unfortunately, theft of power is a widespread problem in the U.S. and other countries,” Hall said. “Thieves sometimes think of it as a crime that won’t hurt anybody, but it costs everyone in lots of ways … power outages, dangerous conditions on the electrical system, not to mention the costs to all consumers. Any attempt to tamper with an electric meter or connect to equipment to steal power is not only illegal, it can be deadly.”

Jim Miles, a former utility company lineman who serves as the manager of safety and loss control for the Illinois Electrical Cooperatives, speculated that Gagne might have some basic knowledge of electricity and power lines, but he said “he could easily have burned his own house down,” because of the huge amount of voltage flowing from the transformer into the makeshift cable.

“It’s a very deadly situation for those folks to be in,” Miles said. “Most people who steal power don’t understand the dangers they are creating.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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Unum donated $3.7 million in 2016 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/unum-donated-3-7-million-in-2016/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/unum-donated-3-7-million-in-2016/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 17:32:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/unum-donated-3-7-million-in-2016/ Insurance provider Unum contributed more than $3.7 million last year to nonprofit organizations in Maine.

Employees of the Portland-based company also volunteered more than 32,000 hours with local charities, valued at more than $740,000, according to a press release from the company.

Unum primarily focuses its charitable efforts on supporting public education, as well as health and wellness initiatives and arts and culture. It also makes corporate donations to United Way.

The company, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, employs about 3,000 workers in Maine.

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Clark Insurance announces new hire, four promotions http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/clark-insurance-announces-new-hire-four-promotions/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/clark-insurance-announces-new-hire-four-promotions/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171240 NEW HIRES
Kelly Michaud joined Clark Insurance as an account manager in the business insurance department.
Michaud, of Falmouth, has been in the insurance business since 1994. She also volunteers for a local health care nonprofit.

PROMOTIONS
Clark Insurance announced four promotions.
Tricia Spencer was promoted to business insurance department coordinator.
Spencer, of South Hiram, joined the agency in 2012.

 

Sandy Trottier of Biddeford was promoted to coordinator of administrative support and facilities.

 

 

Deborah Wentworth was promoted to vice president of business and employee benefits services.
Wentworth, of Falmouth, joined the agency in 2011 and brings more than 20 years of experience.

 

 

Diana Miville was promoted to director of human resources and training.
Miville joined Clark Insurance in 2014 with more than 20 years of insurance experience.

 

MMG Insurance promoted Steve Morgan to casualty claims manager.
Morgan joined MMG in 2014 as the department’s assistant manager. He brings a diverse and extensive claims background that spans more than 30 years.

BOARD APPOINTMENTS
Lee Ramsdell, a senior vice president of Clark Insurance, was elected to the company’s board of directors.
Ramsdell, of Scarborough, joined the agency in 1986 and became a stockholder in 1989. He also has served as secretary of the corporation since 2011.

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Mortgage rates fall back as investors’ concerns mount http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/mortgage-rates-fall-back-as-investors-concerns-mount/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/mortgage-rates-fall-back-as-investors-concerns-mount/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:57:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/mortgage-rates-fall-back-as-investors-concerns-mount/ Mortgage rates retreated this week after a one-week spike following the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise its benchmark rate.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average fell to 4.23 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.30 percent a week ago and 3.71 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 3.44 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.50 percent a week ago and 2.96 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average slid to 3.24 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.28 percent a week ago and 2.89 percent a year ago.

“This marks the greatest week-over-week decline for the 30-year mortgage rate in over two months, a stark contrast from last week’s jump following the FOMC announcement,” Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac chief economist, said in a statement.

Financial markets had been betting on fiscal stimulus through tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Instead, President Donald Trump has been bogged down by the health care overhaul bill. Anxious investors worry that health care reform will tie up Congress and delay implementation of Trump’s other policies.

Because of these concerns, they have been moving from stocks to bonds, driving down yields. The yield on the 10-year Treasury has plummeted 22 basis points – a basis point is 0.01 percentage point – since March 13.

Mortgage rates tend to follow the movement of long-term bonds. When the yield on the 10-year Treasury falls typically so do home loan rates.

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Maine searches for opportunities in offshore wind power http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/maine-searches-for-opportunities-in-offshore-wind/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/maine-searches-for-opportunities-in-offshore-wind/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171141 Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to the cost of renewable energy has stalled Maine’s chances of developing an offshore wind power industry. But this month, his acting energy director went to England to learn about the economic development and government policies around offshore wind that are creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions of dollars in investment.

Angela Monroe said that while offshore wind would still be more expensive than other energy sources for Maine, wind farms planned off the coast of Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states could hold promise for Maine companies.

“This trip was a great opportunity to learn from those directly involved about the opportunities and challenges they have faced from this large deployment,” she told the Portland Press Herald.

Representatives of Maine’s construction sector had a mixed reaction to news of the trip. They were glad the LePage administration is exploring options, but lamented that the state gave up an earlier bid to become a staging area for a new manufacturing and service sector.

“To the extent our state government is getting educated about the business opportunities, that’s a good thing,” said Steve Von Vogt, managing director of the Maine Composites Alliance. “It may be ironic that we’re going to England to get it.”

Monroe was the second Maine official to take the trip in the past six months. Bruce Williamson, one of Maine’s three Public Utilities Commission members, went last fall after Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s former energy director, was unable to attend. Woodcock resigned in November.

Monroe was part of a nine-member American delegation that visited Hull, England, in early March. The city includes an area along the Humber River branded as the Humber Energy Estuary. The trip was paid for by the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and co-sponsored by the Team Humber Marine Alliance, a 200-member group of businesses that include shipping, manufacturing and ocean services.

Among the companies active in the area is the Norwegian energy conglomerate Statoil.

Statoil developed the world’s first floating wind turbine, off Norway in 2009. In 2012, it proposed a $120 million demonstration project off Boothbay Harbor.

PUT OFF BY POLITICS IN MAINE

But Statoil left Maine after LePage forced the PUC to revisit a power purchase agreement it had approved with the company. The deal would have increased typical home electric rates by 75 cents a month, and LePage said he wanted to promote a competing project based at the University of Maine. That project, Maine Aqua Ventus, plans to test two commercial-scale floating turbines off Monhegan Island in 2019.

Put off by the politics, Statoil took its floating technology to the United Kingdom. Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating wind park, is set to produce power this year.

Statoil also is a partner at the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm in England, which will have the capacity to power 410,000 homes. Blades for this project and others are being made in Hull, at a $382 million factory built by Siemens, the German diversified technology company. More than 700 people work there.

During her visit, Monroe’s delegation went to a city square to see a 246-foot wind rotor blade built by Siemens. It’s meant to symbolize the scale of Hull’s renewable energy industry. The visit received coverage in a local newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail, and Monroe and the others were photographed next to the blade.

The activity along the Humber River is part of the U.K.’s wider embrace of ocean wind power.

The country is on track to build enough offshore wind capacity to meet up to 10 percent of its electric needs in 2020, according to a briefing paper presented by Thomas Simchak, a British Embassy energy policy adviser.

The industry represents an investment of between $24 billion and $32 billion and will create an estimated 6,830 full-time jobs.

Simchak, who led Monroe’s tour, declined to be interviewed by the Press Herald. But a representative for the British Consulate General in Boston said New England states are looking to the UK to help develop offshore wind because of the experience gained since 2000.

“We want to share that expertise with partners like Maine because we can both benefit from cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy infrastructure,” British Consul General for New England Harriet Cross said in a statement.

After years of false starts, New England and the East Coast seem poised to develop an offshore wind industry.

The first offshore wind farm in the United States was built last year, in Rhode Island, with a second phase planned for 2019. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill requiring utilities to seek contracts for a massive amount of offshore wind, through a bidding process set to begin this spring. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced unsolicited lease requests from two developers for offshore wind sites in New York and Massachusetts. One of them was Statoil.

These projects are targeted for shallow water, where turbine towers are set in the seabed. That’s what was built in Rhode Island, using a conventional method pioneered in Europe. These wind farms wouldn’t involve the experimental, floating technology that was proposed in deepwater off Boothbay Harbor by Statoil, or being developed now by the Aqua Ventus team at UMaine.

But if Statoil had moved ahead in Maine and developed a supplier network in 2012, Von Vogt said, it might have given the state a leg up over our competitors to the south.

‘WE MISSED A GREAT OPPORTUNITY’

Von Vogt said Maine companies already are working on offshore wind planning and development in southern New England and New York, and getting prequalified to bid into the Massachusetts process. His company, Maine Marine Composites, did some work for the Rhode Island wind farm.

“I think we missed a great opportunity here,” he said. “My goal is not to miss them going forward.”

Matt Marks, chief executive officer for Associated General Contractors of Maine, wasn’t aware that state officials had been overseas to study offshore wind, but was happy they were exploring those options. He noted Cianbro Corp. is a partner in Aqua Ventus and that several members, including Reed & Reed, have years of experience with land-based wind projects.

But Marks also said he’d like to see more leadership from the governor’s office in helping companies participate in wind power development. LePage didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story sent through his spokeswoman.

STRONG IMPRESSIONS LINGER

Williamson said he hasn’t spoken to LePage about his experience in England, but he came back with some strong impressions.

One is that Maine should be realistic about what it can gain. In Hull, he said, he learned that Siemens changed earlier plans to build turbines in the city, in favor of Germany. Based on discussions, he suspected that Statoil would have kept turbine manufacturing in Norway, despite hopes in Maine that the expensive components could have been produced here.

Traveling with officials from Massachusetts and Maryland, he also came to understand how they were preparing for offshore wind in their backyards. It will be an uphill climb, he said, for Maine businesses.

“Maine has to compete with states that are just as eager to get these jobs,” he said. “So my lesson was, don’t be naive or uninformed. Look at what other states are doing.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

tturkel@pressherald.com

Twitter@TuxTurkel

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Former pharmacy owner convicted of racketeering http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/former-pharmacy-owner-convicted-of-racketeering/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/former-pharmacy-owner-convicted-of-racketeering/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:59:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/former-pharmacy-owner-convicted-of-racketeering/ BOSTON — The former head of a Massachusetts pharmacy was acquitted Wednesday of murder allegations but convicted of racketeering and other crimes in a meningitis outbreak that was traced to fungus-contaminated drugs and killed 64 people across the country.

Prosecutors said Barry Cadden, 50, ran the business in an “extraordinarily dangerous” way by disregarding unsanitary conditions to boost production and make more money.

Cadden, president and co-founder of the now-closed New England Compounding Center, was charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder, conspiracy and other offenses under federal racketeering law.

After five days of deliberations, the jury refused to hold Cadden responsible for the deaths and cleared him on the murder counts. He was found guilty of racketeering, conspiracy and fraud and could get a long prison term at sentencing June 21.

The 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections in 20 states was traced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contaminated injections of medical steroids, given mostly to people with back pain. In addition to those who died, 700 people fell ill. Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee were hit hardest.

Joan Peay, 76, of Nashville, Tennessee, suffered two bouts of meningitis after receiving a shot for back pain. She wept upon learning the verdict.

“He killed people and he’s getting away with murder. I am furious,” she said. She said that she got so sick from meningitis “I didn’t care if I died,” and that she still suffers from hearing loss, memory problems, a stiff neck and low energy.

Alfred Rye, 77, of Maybee, Michigan, said: “I wish I could give him the same shot he gave me. I think they should pay for their crime.”

Rye fell ill after getting an injection in his lower back 4½ years ago. He said he continues to suffer from a loss of balance and other ill effects.

“Life has been totally hell,” he said.

The racketeering charge and the 52 counts of fraud carry up to 20 years in prison each, but federal sentencing guidelines typically call for far less than the maximum.

Companies charged with selling contaminated drugs often reach settlements with the federal government and agree to pay large fines. The case against the New England Compounding Center stands apart because of the large number of deaths and serious illnesses and because of evidence that Cadden was aware of the unsanitary conditions, said Eric Christofferson, a former federal prosecutor in Boston.

The scandal threw a spotlight on compounding pharmacies, which differ from ordinary drugstores in that they custom-mix medications and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors. In 2013, in reaction to the outbreak, Congress increased federal oversight of such pharmacies.

Federal prosecutor Amanda Strachan told the jury during the two-month trial that the deaths and illnesses happened because Cadden “decided to put profits before patients.”

NECC used expired ingredients and falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected, prosecutors said. After the outbreak, regulators found multiple potential sources of contamination, including standing water and mold and bacteria in the air and on workers’ gloved fingertips.

Cadden’s lawyer, Bruce Singal, told the jury Cadden was not responsible for the deaths and pointed the finger at Glenn Chin, a supervisory pharmacist who ran the clean rooms where drugs were made. Chin has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

After the verdict, Singal said it was a “disgrace” that prosecutors brought murder allegations against Cadden.

“We’re very pleased that the jury acquitted Barry on all 25 of the murder charges and that he can now go home and tell his children that he’s not a murderer,” Singal said. “At the same time, it is Barry’s fervent wish … that people still remember the victims of this terrible public health outbreak.”

NECC filed for bankruptcy after getting hit with hundreds of lawsuits. NECC and several related companies reached a $200 million settlement with victims and their families.

The son of Kentucky Judge Eddie C. Lovelace, who died after receiving injections to treat neck and back pain, said the outcome had shaken his family’s faith in the medical and legal systems.

“Dad always ensured that the defendants were treated justly and fairly. He did that in life, and in death, I feel like he wasn’t afforded either justice or fairness,” Chris Lovelace said.

“As of today, criminally no one has been held responsible or held accountable for my father’s death,” he added. “The only mistake, if you want to call it a mistake, that my father made was he sought out relief from back pain from the medical profession and the consequence of that decision for him was death.”

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Airbnb doubling its investment in China http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/airbnb-doubling-its-investment-in-china/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/airbnb-doubling-its-investment-in-china/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:56:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/airbnb-doubling-its-investment-in-china/ Airbnb Inc. is showing China some love.

The U.S. home-sharing giant is adopting the name Aibiying in China, one that translates as “welcome each other with love,” as it doubles investment in the country and triples its local workforce to serve the world’s largest population of travelers.

The startup intends to ramp up its Chinese business after more than doubling listings in the country to about 80,000 in 2016, CEO Brian Chesky said. This year, it plans to offer customers in Shanghai its fledgling Airbnb Trips service – a menu of options that can include concert tickets and restaurant reservations.

It’ll begin to market “Experiences,” a feature that will let visitors to the eastern Chinese city book local-led excursions – including going behind the scenes of a traditional folk opera and learning about dough figurines.

“There’s a whole new generation of Chinese travelers who want to see the world in a different way,” Chesky told a news briefing in Shanghai. “We hope that Aibiying and our Trips product inspires them to want to travel in a way that opens doors to new people, communities and neighborhoods across the world.”

Airbnb, last valued at more than $30 billion, is accelerating its drive into Asia after recently turning profitable for the first time, according to people close to the company. Since its start in 2008, the company has raised more than $3 billion to pursue its goal of becoming a full-service travel company and expand its business around the world.

While Airbnb’s established in Asian markets such as Japan, it’s made slower gains in China. The country is dominated by local rivals almost two years after Chesky told Bloomberg News he was “getting really serious” about getting in. Still, it’s a market of 300 million millennials starting to explore solo travel that co-founder Joe Gebbia has described as “on fire.” On Wednesday, Chesky said Airbnb’s total Chinese guests jumped 146 percent in 2016.

“They don’t want tour buses. They don’t want tour packages. They don’t want tourist areas. Instead they want local experiences,” Gebbia said in an interview last week. “It couldn’t be more exciting to think about this wave of Chinese millennials that are starting to earn incomes now.”

Airbnb has taken its time building relationships with Chinese movers and shakers – it still hasn’t named a local CEO. A 2014 partnership with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. made it easy for Chinese users to pay for Airbnb rentals with Alipay, the local equivalent of PayPal.

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Major advertisers boycott YouTube http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/major-advertisers-boycott-youtube/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/major-advertisers-boycott-youtube/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:24:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/major-advertisers-boycott-youtube/ SAN FRANCISCO — AT&T, Verizon and several other major advertisers are suspending their marketing campaigns on Google’s YouTube site after discovering their brands have been appearing alongside videos promoting terrorism and other unsavory subjects.

The spreading boycott confronts Google with a challenge that threatens to cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

YouTube’s popularity stems from its massive and eclectic library of video, spanning everything from polished TV clips to raw diatribes posted by people bashing homosexuals.

But that diverse selection periodically allows ads to appear next to videos that marketers find distasteful, despite Google’s efforts to prevent it from happening.

Google depends largely on automated programs to place ads in YouTube videos because the job is too much for humans to handle on their own. About 400 hours of video is now posted on YouTube each minute.

Earlier this week, Google vowed to step up its efforts to block ads on “hateful, offensive and derogatory” videos.

“We know that this is unacceptable to the advertisers and agencies who put their trust in us,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.

As part of Google’s solution to the problem, Schindler promised to hire “significant numbers” of employees to review YouTube videos and flag them as inappropriate for ads. He also predicted YouTube would be able to address advertisers’ concerns through Google’s recent advancements in artificial intelligence – technology parlance for computers that learn to think like humans.

But that promise so far hasn’t appeased AT&T, Verizon Communications and an expanding global list of advertisers that includes Volkswagen, Audi, HSBC Holdings, the Royal Bank of Scotland and L’Oreal.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” AT&T said in a statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

By extending its ban to everything beyond Google’s search results, AT&T is also effectively pulling its ads from more than 2 million other websites that depend on Google to deliver ads to their pages.

Verizon said it decided to pull ads from YouTube to protect its website while it investigates the “weak links” among its digital advertising partners.

AT&T and Verizon are trying to sell more digital ads in their own networks.

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Changes brewing at Starbucks http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/changes-brewing-at-starbucks/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/changes-brewing-at-starbucks/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:17:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/changes-brewing-at-starbucks/ Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz quite literally handed the keys to the company to his successor on Wednesday. Reaching into his pocket during the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, Schultz plucked the door key to Seattle’s Pike Place Market store, the company’s original location, and handed it to president and chief operating officer Kevin Johnson, who will officially succeed Schultz in early April.

“That has been in my pocket for 35 years,” he said.

Schultz has never shied away from turning the usually drab annual investor meeting into a show of its own – a choreographed event that has long mixed emotional video, lofty commentary on the state of the nation and even pop star surprises for its shareholders. Wednesday was no different, with an appearance from Grammy nominee Leon Bridges, a flag presentation by the Seattle Recruiting Battalion Color Guard and the singing of the national anthem by a chorus of green-aproned Starbucks employees. Even the corporate secretary, announcing results of shareholder votes, made a joke about the Oscars.

Yet it was the passing of the torch from Schultz to Johnson that took center stage, the most visible handoff yet of the succession announced in December. The company unveiled a handful of initiatives, from the expansion of veteran and minority youth hiring programs to new food items in its stores. A question from a conservative shareholder think tank prompted Schultz to respond that boycotts over his pledge to hire refugees had “unequivocally” no impact on the company’s business – producing some of the loudest applause of the event.

But the meeting – and in an interview two days before the shareholder event – Schultz sought to reflect on the culture he’d built at the coffee giant and reassure investors about the person who would soon take the reins. “I have so much faith in Kevin’s ability and leadership skills that he’s the right person at the right time,” Schultz said in an interview Monday, comments that he echoed in the meeting Wednesday. “I think he’s better prepared than me to lead the company into the future.”

Still, Johnson will be taking over a company whose sales in the U.S. have not been on a caffeinated high. This year marks the first time since the financial crisis that the stock has been down in the year preceding the annual meeting. As U.S. sales failed to meet analyst expectations five quarters in a row, investors have driven down shares in Starbucks 4 percent over the past year, compared with a 15 percent rise in the S&P 500 stock index. In January, it trimmed its full-year revenue forecast.

Both Johnson and Schultz said they are confident about the company’s growth in China, where it now operates more than 2,600 stores and is opening more than one store a day, as well as new digital efforts to enhance ordering and gift-card sharing and new food and coffee options. Schultz, who will step down from the CEO role but continue on as executive chairman, plans to lead the company’s new high-end Roastery and Reserve brands, as well as focus on the company’s social impact efforts.

He was one of the first non-tech CEOs to speak out against Trump’s first travel ban. He promised to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years in 75 countries.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/changes-brewing-at-starbucks/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1171158_650833-starbucks.jpgHoward Schultz, Starbucks chairman, left, gives incoming CEO Kevin Johnson the key to the original Pike Place Market store Wednesday during the shareholders meeting in Seattle.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:17:09 +0000
South Portland asks pipeline company for data to back up tax abatement request http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/south-portland-asks-pipeline-company-for-data-to-back-up-tax-abatement-request/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/south-portland-asks-pipeline-company-for-data-to-back-up-tax-abatement-request/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:56:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/south-portland-asks-pipeline-company-for-data-to-back-up-tax-abatement-request/ SOUTH PORTLAND — City Assessor Jim Thomas has asked for sweeping documentation of Portland Pipe Line Corp. operations to support its request for a property tax abatement, a move that will delay his decision until mid-June.

One of the largest taxpayers in South Portland, the pipeline company is seeking a 42 percent reduction in the $44.7 million assessed value of holdings stretching over 210 acres, from its oil tanker pier at Cushing Point on Casco Bay to a vacant 72-acre wooded parcel off Highland Avenue.

In its abatement application, the company blamed its reduced property values on shifting economic factors and the city’s Clear Skies ordinance, which the company is challenging in federal court. However, it provided no details to back up the request.

Passed by the City Council in 2014, the ordinance’s ban on crude oil exports has “significantly reduced the value” of the South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline, according to the abatement application. The company, a Canadian-owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, also “suffers from severe economic obsolescence that has not been taken into account in the assessment,” the application says.

In a letter to its lawyers, Thomas asked the company “to state the basis for (its assertion) that the property ‘is substantially overvalued’ and provide copies of any information that supports this assertion.”

Thomas asked specifically for more than 50 types of documents from the last several years, including recent property appraisals, inventories and records of capital improvements; company budgets, financial forecasts and capital plans; and engineering, feasibility and market studies on the potential of shutting down, cleaning up, redeveloping or selling pipeline properties.

Thomas initially was expected to respond to the company’s abatement application by March 14, but its lawyers requested a two-month extension to fulfill the assessor’s request for additional information.

“Given the breadth of your request, Portland Pipe Line’s current staffing levels and the importance of this matter to all parties, (the company) will need an additional 60 days to respond,” wrote attorney Jonathan Block of Pierce Atwood. The company asked for an extension to provide the documentation by May 14 and would give Thomas until June 13 to respond.

The 236-mile pipeline, which has carried foreign crude for 75 years, has largely shut down since refineries in Montreal started drawing oil from western Canada and North Dakota. The Clear Skies ordinance prevents the company from potentially reversing the pipeline’s flow to bring oil from Canada to tankers in South Portland.

If Thomas granted the abatement as requested, the city would lose $331,247 in property tax revenue, adding to the more than $1 million that taxpayers have spent so far defending the Clear Skies ordinance against the pipeline company’s lawsuit.

If Thomas refuses to change pipeline property values, the company could appeal his decision to the city’s Board of Assessment Review and proceed to court if the matter isn’t resolved at the municipal level.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

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Storied retailer Sears could see the end http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/storied-retailer-sears-could-see-the-end/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/storied-retailer-sears-could-see-the-end/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:51:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/storied-retailer-sears-could-see-the-end/ After years of mounting losses, the parent company of Sears and Kmart says there is “substantial doubt” about its financial viability.

“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Sears Holdings said Tuesday in its annual report.

The biggest question, the company said, is whether it can raise enough cash to stay afloat. It has $4.2 billion in debt, up from $3 billion a year ago.

Sears Holdings, the parent of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck, & Co., was formed after the March 2005 merger between the two American retail icons. For decades, Sears reigned as one of the country’s largest retailers, with roughly $40 billion in revenue and 2,500 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

But in recent years the company has struggled to keep its footing. The decline of suburban shopping malls and the rise of online retail have dealt a double-whammy to both Kmart and Sears. As a result, the parent company has shuttered dozens of stores and sold off some of its brands.

In Maine, Sears operates regular department stores in Augusta, Bangor, Brunswick and South Portland. The Augusta store is closing this month. Smaller, Sears-branded “Hometown” stores in Belfast, Biddeford, Caribou, Ellsworth, Farmington, Fort Kent, Houlton, Newport and Windham, are operated by a wholly separate company, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores Inc.

Kmart operates five stores in Maine, according to its website. They are in Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Madawaska and Waterville. It closed a store in Presque Isle in 2015.

Sears Holdings hasn’t turned an annual profit since 2010. Last year, it reported losses of $2.2 billion. Annual revenue, meanwhile, declined 12 percent to $22.1 billion.

Last month, the company said it was planning a “strategic transformation” by trimming $1 billion in annual costs. It also recently announced plans to close an additional 150 Kmart and Sears stores.

“We believe the actions outlined today will ensure that Sears Holdings becomes a more agile and competitive retailer with a clear path toward profitability,” Edward S. Lampert, the company’s chief executive, said in February.

But six weeks later, Sears executives warned that those efforts may not be successful. Even so, they said, executives will continue to try to raise cash by financing debt and selling off real estate.

“We acknowledge that we continue to face a challenging competitive environment,” the company said in its annual report. “We cannot predict, with certainty, the outcome of our actions to generate liquidity.”

The cautionary language marked the first time Sears has offered such warnings in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In a statement released Wednesday, Sears Holdings chief financial officer Jason Hollar, said that media reports about the warnings failed to include “the actions we are taking to mitigate those risks.”

“It is very important to reiterate that Sears Holdings remains focused on executing our transformation plan and will continue to take actions to help ensure our competitiveness and ability to continue to meet our financial obligations,” Hollar said in the statement.

Still, the warning is another setback for Lampert, 54, a Yale-educated billionaire once known for his savvy investments. His magic has not worked at the aging retailer, even after his ESL Investments hedge fund pumped $1 billion into the company. The company has lost $5 billion in the last three years, and has shuttered hundreds of stores.

The company now has about 1,430 Sears and Kmart stores in the United States, down from 3,500 in 2010.

All the while, the share prices have steadily fallen. They plunged more than 14 percent Wednesday after the announcement.

Analysts said the fact that the “going concern” language was contained in management discussion of Sears annual report and not in the letter from the company’s auditor was an important distinction.

“If an auditor puts ‘going concern’ language in its opinion of the company, then that can trigger a default and become more serious,” said Carla Casella, managing director and senior analyst at J.P.Morgan. “Sears lenders could actually be asked to be paid back” if the company is required to “cure” or fix the problem.

“The company saying there could be the event of default is important, but not as serious,” Casella said. “Sears can recover from this if they are able to make good on their restructuring plan, which is to cut costs, and to sell assets, real estate and businesses.”

This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. March 23 to reflect that a separate company owns and operates Sears Hometown and outlet stores.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/storied-retailer-sears-could-see-the-end/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1171115_650833-sears.jpgFormer employee Cal Brown stands in front of the Sears in Augusta that will close this month, leaving regular Sears stores only in Bangor, Brunswick and South Portland.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:36:12 +0000
Maine home sales down, values up in February http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/maine-home-sales-down-values-up-in-february/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/maine-home-sales-down-values-up-in-february/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:29:20 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/maine-home-sales-down-values-up-in-february/ The value of Maine real estate continued to increase in February despite a sharp decline in sales, according to the Maine Association of Realtors.

The association reported a 12.5 percent jump in the median sale price for existing, detached single-family homes in February compared with a year earlier, bringing the statewide median price to $180,000. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

However, homes sales volume declined by 12.9 percent statewide. Bad weather was a major factor,  association President Greg Gosselin said.

“The February 2017 data was impacted by a 10-day period of record-breaking snow and a comparison to a Leap Year in 2016, adding an extra day of sales back then,” said Gosselin, broker and owner of Gosselin Realty Group in York. “However, the rolling-quarter statistics indicate continuing strong real estate sales and value trends throughout Maine.”

The association tracks changes in home sales volume and median price on a rolling, three-month basis for Maine and its individual counties. Statewide, sales volume was up 3.1 percent from the previous year for the three-month period ending Feb. 28. The median price for the period was $185,000 – up 7.8 percent from a year earlier.

The biggest countywide increase in sales for the three-month period was in York County, where sales volume increased by 27.8 percent compared with a year earlier. The biggest decrease was in Sagadahoc County, where sales were down 22.1 percent.

Somerset County had the biggest increase in median price for the three-month period, up 57.1 percent from a year earlier to $110,000. The only decrease in median price was in Knox County, where the median fell 3.3 percent from a year earlier to $183,750.

According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of single-family homes nationwide rose 5.8 percent in February compared with the previous year. The national median sale price of $229,900 represented a 7.6 percent jump from February 2015.

Regionally, single-family home sales in the Northeast increased by 1.5 percent in February, while the median price rose 4.1 percent to $250,200.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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Federal regulators put an end to turbulent season in northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/feds-closing-maine-scallop-fishery-tonight-the-action-ends-a-season-fraught-with-controversy-between-small-boat-fishermen-and-bigger-commercial-trawlers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/feds-closing-maine-scallop-fishery-tonight-the-action-ends-a-season-fraught-with-controversy-between-small-boat-fishermen-and-bigger-commercial-trawlers/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:39:39 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/feds-closing-maine-scallop-fishery-tonight-the-action-ends-a-season-fraught-with-controversy-between-small-boat-fishermen-and-bigger-commercial-trawlers/ Federal authorities are closing the scallop fishery in the northern Gulf of Maine at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after a contentious three-week season that pitted the interests of part-time, small-boat fishermen from Maine against large, full-time scallop operators.

Fisheries regulators announced the closure Wednesday after small-boat fishermen – many of them Maine lobstermen operating 40- to 45-foot boats – met their annual quota of 70,000 pounds. The developments do not apply to the scallop fishery in state waters, which extend to 3 miles from shore.

This year’s federal harvest has been contentious because the large, full-time boats are believed to have caught more than 1 million pounds of scallops in the northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishing area, but owing to a quirk in federal rules the fishery could not be closed until the small vessels caught 70,000 pounds. This month’s storms and unseasonable weather had kept the small boats in port, delaying their ability to meet their annual quota and close the area to the larger vessels, who were permitted to continue harvesting large quantities of scallops under federal rules.

“We have a lot of fishermen who are very happy about it being closed,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, which represents many of the smaller boats. “We have boats that were fishing in bad weather they shouldn’t have been in, because they felt they had to meet the quota to close the fishery because they were concerned about the impact to the ecosystem and the sustainability of the larger resource.”

Small-boat fishermen have been protesting the regulatory situation for years, noting that the larger boats have no quota on how many scallops they can catch in the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop zone, a 40- to 50-mile-wide band of federal waters off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Instead, the larger boats operate with days-at-sea limits, and can use them wherever they wish, both inside and outside the northern gulf zone. The small-boat fleet’s advocates argue the arrangement jeopardizes the scallop stock in the area and with it the economic vitality of Maine’s fishing communities.

“This loophole needs to be closed once and for all,” said Togue Brawn, owner of Downeast Dayboat, a Portland scallop wholesaler and champion of the small-boat fishermen. “It is absolutely critical to the future of the Maine small-boat fleet. In Maine we solely depend on lobster, and we need diversity, to be able to go for other species.”

Last year, Maine’s scallop fishery – from both state and federal waters – was valued at about $7 million, while the lobster fishery exceeded $533 million.

Federal fisheries managers and full-time scallop fishermen say Brawn’s characterization is wrong, that the resource is thriving and that the part-timers in Maine are making a controversy where there isn’t one.

The scallop fleet in the Northeast tends to descend on one place with a high density of scallops on the bottom, dredge them hard and fast, and move on – a “pulse fishing” approach that was a disaster when employed against cod and other groundfish by factory-freezer trawlers in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the pulse approach actually works with scallops, which are thriving and well managed, said John Bullard, administrator of the northeastern regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

“People identify dense beds of scallops, the fleet moves in and fishes them very heavily, and then they’re closed and they move on,” Bullard said. Because they catch the scallops quickly, the dredges are dragged over a small area, reducing damage to the sea floor and collateral damage to other bottom life. “It’s a very efficient way to fish a lot of scallops, and it’s produced very good results over a long period of time.”

Drew Minkiewicz, a Washington, D.C., attorney for the Fisheries Survival Fund, a coalition of full-time scallopers, agrees. “That’s what we do with rotational access: We allocate troops there, we fish it hard, and when it goes away we close it and it comes back,” he said. “We stole it from agriculture, where they rotate crops or fields.”

“You can’t argue with success,” he says. “We are at abundances in the scallop fishery that were never seen before. This is a well-managed fishery.”

FISHING CONCENTRATED AT STELLWAGEN BANK

This season the action has been at Stellwagen Bank, which is off Massachusetts Bay and lies within the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop zone. The zone was created in 2008 as a concession to Maine’s part-time scallop fishermen who had not caught enough scallops in earlier years to earn a conventional federal license. They are allowed to fish within the zone using a small dredge with a day limit of 200 pounds. When they meet their annual quota – 70,000 pounds this year – the fishery in the area is closed.

That means both large and small vessels were fishing the same waters, and would continue to do so until the small boats met their quota. But bad weather in March presented an unusual problem: The small boats couldn’t get out while the big ones continued fishing, resulting in more scallops being taken than would otherwise have been the case.

Bullard and his colleagues at the fisheries service – part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – say the fleets probably took about 1 million pounds from Stellwagen Bank this year, about half of the total scallop stock thought to be there. “We don’t think the amount of scallops that will be taken out of Stellwagen threatens its sustainability,” Bullard said Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been a problem if the weather had kept the small boats in port for a longer period, Bullard said, but a proposed fix is on its way. Bullard said that Terry Stockwell, a Maine Department of Marine Resources employee who serves as vice chair of the New England Fisheries Management Council, is drafting a motion to put before the council that would put trip limits on the full-time vessels’ access to the zone. In a written statement to the Press Herald, Stockwell confirmed he was preparing a motion that would address “inconsistent management measures between the different scallop permit categories and the need for better science.”

That would be a relief to the small-boat fishermen, who note that if the northern Gulf of Maine scallops are depleted, the big, full-time scallopers can go elsewhere, while they aren’t allowed to fish outside the zone. “Small boats can thrive when they have a diverse fishery to move between, and we in Maine and New Hampshire need to increase and diversify the landings of our fleets of boats,” said Martens of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “Small boats can’t leave and go to other areas, so the incentive is for them to have sustainable, long-term and growing fisheries there.

“We can’t have booms and busts with this resource.”

Togue estimated there was a core group of about a dozen small-boat Maine fishermen who regularly participated in the federal scallop fishery in the northern gulf. Minkiewicz’s association represents some 200 full-time scallopers from North Carolina to Maine, including Rockland-based O’Hara Co., which operates several large boats.

KING, PINGREE, COMMISSIONER PLEASED WITH CLOSURE

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said he was “very pleased” that federal authorities were closing the fishery. “The current situation was not envisioned 10 years ago when the (northern gulf scallop zone) was established, and we plan to address the management inconsistencies between permit categories through the New England Fisheries Management Council process.”

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have been pressuring federal officials to address the situation. In a joint letter to Bullard on Friday, Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, expressed concern that overfishing might be taking place and requested further information on measures the fisheries agency was taking to protect the resource.

Both were pleased Wednesday that the fishery is being closed.

“I am glad NOAA has responded to our request for action,” Pingree said in a written statement. “This closure will not only allow the New England Fishery Management Council to consider changes to some of these loopholes, it will allow NOAA to accurately determine the amount of total catch that has been harvested this season.”

King said the closure “will at least result in a temporary respite to the problems caused by the flaws in the current management plan, but it also highlights the continued and critical need to develop a more vigorous strategy that meaningfully and fairly accounts for all harvests in the area and doesn’t pit fishermen against one another.”

Both said they would continue to follow the fishery management council’s deliberations to ensure the resource is properly managed.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/feds-closing-maine-scallop-fishery-tonight-the-action-ends-a-season-fraught-with-controversy-between-small-boat-fishermen-and-bigger-commercial-trawlers/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1170984_348580-ryan_scallops13_met.jpgLarge fishing boats drag for scallops last week in the Gulf of Maine. Maine's small boat fishermen scrambled in bad weather this season to reach their quota so the scallop grounds would be closed to the larger boats, which have no quotas under federal fishing rules.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:27:32 +0000
Hack of state’s job-matching vendor puts Mainers’ personal data at risk http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/hack-of-job-matching-vendor-puts-mainers-personal-data-at-risk/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/hack-of-job-matching-vendor-puts-mainers-personal-data-at-risk/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:03:47 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/hack-of-job-matching-vendor-puts-mainers-personal-data-at-risk/ Nine months after the Maine Department of Labor outsourced its federally mandated job-matching service to an out-of-state vendor, that vendor has suffered a data breach that resulted in the theft of an unknown number of Mainers’ sensitive personal information.

America’s JobLink of Topeka, Kansas, has become the victim of a hacking incident from an outside source in which the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of an unspecified number of job-seekers in up to 10 states were accessed, according to a news release. The states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Maine.

Maine eliminated its Maine Job Bank service within the Department of Labor in July and outsourced the work to America’s JobLink, citing cost savings and better technology. Roughly 12,650 Maine residents have used the service since July, although not all of them included their Social Security numbers in their account information, the department said.

The data breach was discovered Tuesday, and America’s JobLink technicians have since patched the security hole that allowed the hackers entry, the release said. New accounts created on or after March 16 were not affected, the state Department of Labor said.

The homepage of the JobLink website sponsored by the Maine Department of Labor.

Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Maine officials are awaiting the outcome of an investigation by a digital forensics firm and the FBI to determine how many Maine accounts were compromised.

In July, the department outsourced both its job-matching service and case management for Mainers enrolled in publicly funded training programs to America’s JobLink, which describes itself as “an alliance of workforce organizations partnering to produce high-quality information technology, while maximizing the return on investments for members.”

Rabinowitz said the in-house systems used by the department prior to outsourcing were antiquated and did not meet new federal standards.

“Maine is caught between a rock and a hard place in meeting federal requirements with limited funding, because the federal funding is based on population and unemployment rate,” she said.

Prior to outsourcing, the department paid $650,000 to the state Office of Information Technology to maintain the job bank and case management systems during the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2016. Under the outsourcing agreement with America’s JobLink, Maine pays an annual subscription rate of $465,000 a year, plus an additional $136,500 to the information technology office, Rabinowitz said. That’s an annual savings of $48,500.

The department issued a news release Wednesday about the breach and said it plans to post additional information on the job service website, joblink.maine.gov.

The department advised users of the service to log into their JobLink account to check whether their Social Security number was listed. It can be removed as long as the job-seeker is not actively filing for unemployment benefits, it said. The department did not explain how removing it now would benefit the user, since the hack already has occurred.

The department recommended that JobLink users put a freeze on their credit report if they had a valid Social Security number in their JobLink account. Maine law allows residents to freeze their credit report for free, which prevents thieves from accessing it. It also is possible to place a free, 90-day fraud alert on credit reports with the three major credit reporting organizations, it said.

Those with questions can call the department at (888) 457-8883.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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‘MaineLife’ enters partnership with MaineToday Media http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/mainelife-enters-partnership-with-mainetoday-media/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/mainelife-enters-partnership-with-mainetoday-media/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170725 A partnership between MaineToday Media and Erin Ovalle, host of “MaineLife,” will give the Maine lifestyle show greater distribution.

Ovalle’s show, now in its second season, will be produced at VSTV in Rockport, a studio owned by Reade Brower, owner of MaineToday and other media franchises.

The partnership means “MaineLife” can be viewed on pressherald.com and mainetoday.com websites, as well as on air Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on WCSH-TV in Portland. The show follows Ovalle as she explores Maine places and people.

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Lawmaker calls for oversight of Maine’s public advocate http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/lawmaker-calls-for-oversight-of-maines-public-advocate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/lawmaker-calls-for-oversight-of-maines-public-advocate/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:48:13 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/lawmaker-calls-for-oversight-of-maines-public-advocate/ AUGUSTA — The sponsor of a bill that calls for a board to oversee Maine’s public advocate says that it would take the politics out of the position, and that it’s not solely the product of conflicts between a utility led by his son and the advocate’s office.

But opponents, including Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s acting energy director and the Maine Public Utilities Commission, are urging a legislative committee to kill the bill, which they say would endanger the independence of the public advocate.

Republican Rep. Roger Sherman said he is sponsoring the bill because he’s not always “sure” of decisions made by Public Advocate Timothy Schneider, who represents ratepayers before state, regional and federal regulators. Sherman’s son is the general manager of a municipal water and electric utility that has clashed with the advocate’s office and helped shape Sherman’s bill.

Schneider was appointed by LePage and confirmed by the Maine Legislature in 2013 for a four-year term that expires in May.

LePage has clashed with Schneider on solar policy and has called his appointment “one of the worst, worst decisions ever in my life.”

Schneider’s predecessor, Richard Davies, who was appointed a decade ago, served at the pleasure of the governor and was considered part of the administration. But legislators changed the law in 2009 to make the public advocate form policy positions independent of the governor.

Schneider, a former lawyer who represented electricity and natural gas companies, told the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Tuesday that his office isn’t “totally immune” from political pressure because the governor and the Legislature approve his office’s budget requests.

Still, he said: “I’m reasonably confident that if I did something that upset the governor I would be able to carry out my term because of protections the statute affords me.”

Sherman said his bill would strengthen the independence of the public advocate by forming a three-person board that would appoint the next advocate and provide “policy guidance.” The governor, the Senate president and the House speaker each would appoint one of the board’s members. The public advocate would serve a six-year term, subject to legislative confirmation.

Opponents urged the committee Tuesday to kill the bill at an upcoming work session, and said that changing it to prevent the board from arbitrarily removing the public advocate wouldn’t satisfy their concerns with the bill’s intent.

“This structure intentionally, and transparently, makes the public advocate subject to the influence of the board – a board made up of members who are political appointees,” said Angela Monroe, LePage’s acting energy director.

The next public advocate’s term would begin Feb. 1, 2018.

“We can get someone in there with a little bit of a different view of things,” Sherman told The Associated Press before Tuesday’s hearing.

Sherman, who questioned the viability of wind power and noted that LePage has called for more hydropower and lower electricity costs, said the next advocate should listen to such calls.

“I think he or she really should listen to this: We need power, cheap as we can have it,” Sherman said.

Sherman’s son, Greg, is general manager of the Houlton Water Co., a municipal water and electric utility that recently won permission from the LePage-appointed PUC to leave Emera Maine and connect to the Canadian power grid.

The public advocate opposed the move, questioning the projections of savings and what would happen during a power outage.

In prepared testimony, Greg Sherman told the committee that his father’s bill would “take some politics out of the appointment.”

The younger Sherman said that over the past 15 years, the public advocate has three times reversed support of policies that the utility backed.

In 2014, the Public Advocate’s Office withdrew its opposition to a multimillion-dollar wind venture that the utility opposed.

“We do not know if the governor interfered with the policy change but having the (public advocate) report to a three-person board would allow for different opinions and balanced guidance,” Greg Sherman said.

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Judge rules that rockweed harvesters need landowners’ permission http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/judge-rules-that-rockweed-harvesters-need-to-obtain-landowners-permission/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/judge-rules-that-rockweed-harvesters-need-to-obtain-landowners-permission/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 23:02:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/judge-rules-that-rockweed-harvesters-need-to-obtain-landowners-permission/ A Superior Court judge has ruled against a Canadian rockweed harvesting company in a civil case, saying that harvesters need to obtain a landowner’s permission before they can remove the seaweed growing on private intertidal property.

The March 16 ruling by Justice Harold Stewart II, which could affect an growingexpanding industry in the state, applies to the entire coast of Maine and concludes that rockweed growing in the intertidal zone is privately owned property and is not owned by the state in trust for the public.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources and other opponents say the court’s decision will harm the $20 million rockweed harvesting industry and is almost certain to be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“I’m very disappointed in the decision. I plan to continue to manage it as a fishery and will be filing an amicus brief to ensure the court has all the relevant information during the appeal process,” said Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher.

“It is important to note that in making this decision, the court made clear that it does not apply to other fishing activities that take place in the intertidal zone, such as worming, clamming or digging mussels,” Keliher said in a statement.

He said those activities remain protected under Maine law, which establishes that public trust rights in intertidal land include the right to use it for fishing, fowling and navigation.

In his ruling on the lawsuit, Stewart sided with plaintiffs Kenneth W. Ross and Carl E. Ross, who own coastal property on Cobscook Bay and Chandler Bay in Washington County, and a third plaintiff, Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corp. The Ross brothers are Calais natives and still live in Maine, according to their attorney.

Acadian Seaplants Ltd. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was named as the defendant in the lawsuit.

On its website, Acadian Seaplants describes itself as a world leader in marine plant products, employing more than 350 people in eight countries.

The company says its processed rockweed is used in the manufacture of fertilizer, as well as food for people and animals. According to its website, products may include edible sea vegetables, brewing agents like Irish moss, ingredients for dietary supplements, along with cosmetics and personal care products.

Acadian Seaplants President J.P. Deveau could not be reached Tuesday, but he told Maine Public last week that the decision will be appealed to the state’s highest court.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Gordon Smith of Portland, praised the judge’s decision and agreed with the state that it will not affect clamming or worming.

“The rights to clam, to mussel, to worm, all those are well-settled rights that will be completely unaffected by the outcome of this case,” Smith said.

Smith said that during an appeal, rockweed harvesting will be allowed to continue.

“It was a pretty comprehensive opinion by the judge. He addressed all the legal arguments that the parties were making,” he said. “Judge Stewart did a great job digging into the issues and understanding what was going on, so it was a good decision for us.”

Smith said Acadian Seaplants Ltd. will have 21 days after Stewart enters his final judgment – which had not happened as of Tuesday – to appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Jeff Nichols, spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said there were 134 licensed seaweed harvesters in Maine in 2016. They landed 13,977,313 pounds of seaweed, of which rockweed represented about 97 percent.

Other seaweed species that are harvested along Maine’s coast include dulse, Irish moss, kelp, nori, sea lettuce and wormweed. The overall landed value of the product – the value paid to harvesters – was $468,105 on 2016, according to Nichols.

In a 2013 report – the most recent data available – the Department of Marine Resources and Maine Sea Grant, a University of Maine research program, estimated that the overall value of rockweed, after it has been processed into retail products, is in the vicinity of $20 million per year, Nichols said.

Staff Writer Mary Pols contributed to this report.

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Stocks tumble as Republican health care bill stalls in Congress http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/stocks-tumble-as-trump-health-bill-stalls-in-congress/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/stocks-tumble-as-trump-health-bill-stalls-in-congress/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:50:45 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/stocks-tumble-as-trump-health-bill-stalls-in-congress/ NEW YORK – U.S. stocks took their biggest loss in five months Tuesday as a health care bill backed by President Donald Trump ran into trouble in Congress, which raised some questions about his agenda of faster economic growth spurred on by lower taxes and cuts in regulations.

Banks plunged as bond yields continued to fall, which will mean lower interest rates on loans. Transportation companies including airlines, railroads and rental car companies dropped, and so did materials companies like steel and chemicals makers. The dollar weakened. Small-company stocks, which stand to benefit the most from Trump’s policy proposals of lower taxes and looser regulations, fell more than the rest of the market.

“President Trump promised that this health care bill would be signed, sealed, delivered within the first couple of weeks of him taking office,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer for BMO Capital Markets. “All this is doing is pushing the rest of the agenda out.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index tumbled 29.45 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,344.02. That was its biggest drop since Oct. 11. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 237.85 points, or 1.1 percent, to 20,668.01.

The Nasdaq composite surrendered 107.70 points, or 1.8 percent, to 5,793.83. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks plunged 37.55 points, or 2.7 percent, to 1,346.55. Four-fifths of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange fell.

Stocks have fallen for four days in a row, though the previous losses were small. Tuesday’s losses were a reversal of the patterns that have endured since Trump was elected in November, but overall stocks are still sharply higher since then.

On Thursday the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Republican-backed American Health Care Act, and despite support from the president on Tuesday, it’s not clear if the House or the Senate will approve the bill. The administration hopes to get a major tax reform package to Congress by August, and a big infrastructure spending proposal may follow next year.

Banks had their worst day in nine months as bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.42 percent from 2.46 percent. Bank of America fell $1.42, or 5.8 percent, to $23.02. KeyCorp sank $1.18, or 6.5 percent, to $16.90, the biggest loss in the S&P 500. JPMorgan Chase gave up $2.64, or 2.9 percent, to $87.39. Still, banks have done far better than the rest of the market since the election.

Among transportation companies, United Continental lost $2.21, or 3.3 percent, to $65.28 and railroad operator CSX declined $1.26, or 2.7 percent, to $45.62. Hertz Global skidded $1.86, or 8.7 percent, to $19.40. Companies that make steel, chemicals, and other basic materials also slid. AK Steel plunged 86 cents, or 10.4 percent, to $7.51 and U.S. Steel lost $3.34, or 9 percent, to $33.76.

The price of copper also dropped. The metal’s price tends to rise when investors are more optimistic about the economy, and copper has risen 14 percent over the last year. It sank 5 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $2.62 a pound on Tuesday.

Big-dividend companies, especially utilities, did well. Investors often buy those stocks when bond yields are falling. Dominion Resources rose $1.38, or 1.8 percent, to $78.21 and PPL gained 67 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $37.47. Some household goods makers also rose. Jack Daniel’s whisky maker Brown-Forman climbed 47 cents, or 1 percent, to $47.28.

Kate Warne, an investment strategist for Edward Jones, said investors are taking some profits after the market’s long post-election winning streak, but noted that Wall Street is especially eager for the administration’s tax reform proposals.

“I think investors see (corporate tax reform) as more important in terms of supporting the stock market even if it’s not as important in terms of its effect on the economy” as health care, she said.

Food companies fell after General Mills posted a better-than-expected profit but weaker sales. The Cheerios maker faces more competitive pricing and a market that has been shifting demand from processed foods. Its stock dipped 50 cents to $59.76.rose 0.4 percent.

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Las Vegas casino owner eyeing $1 million March Madness victory http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/battle-of-the-bets-vegas-casino-owner-eyes-1m-madness-victory/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/battle-of-the-bets-vegas-casino-owner-eyes-1m-madness-victory/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:37:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/battle-of-the-bets-vegas-casino-owner-eyes-1m-madness-victory/ ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – This is March Madness on a whole different level.

A bet between two Las Vegas casino owners will cost one of them $1 million if Michigan wins the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Derek Stevens, who owns The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate casinos, plunked down $12,500 on the Wolverines at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas, which was offering 80-to-1 odds before the tournament started.

“It’s a little scary, because they’re only putting up twelve-five, and you’re putting up a million,” said Tilman Fertitta, the Texas billionaire who owns the Golden Nugget. “But that’s the nature of the business we’re in. It’s OK, ’cause he’s a good customer.”

Stevens, a Michigan native and University of Michigan alumnus, bet $11,000 each on all 32 first-round games, but got off to a rocky start, down $109,000 after the opening round. But it’s his wager on the seventh-seeded Wolverines that could turn that tide.

Michigan has advanced to the Sweet 16, bringing Fertitta closer to making a payout 10 times larger than any his casino’s sports book has ever made. Michigan plays No 3 seed Oregon Thursday and still needs four wins to win the national championship.

“Michigan seems to be kind of a darling right now,” Fertitta said. “It’s giving us a good sweat.”

The Golden Nugget could have rejected the bet, but Fertitta personally approved it.

Stevens posted a copy of his betting slip from the Golden Nugget on Twitter.

Fertitta himself is tied for second place in a nationwide charity brackets pool, the Bloomberg Brackets for a Cause March Madness challenge. Picking his own alma mater North Carolina to win it all, he promises to give the $380,000 prize to the Houston Police Foundation if he wins.

Fertitta also owns Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget casino, which he bought from President Donald Trump’s former company, and Landry’s Inc., one of the nation’s largest restaurant companies. He also stars on the reality TV show “Billion Dollar Buyer” on CNBC.

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Group backing South Portland’s Clear Skies ordinance gives city $10,000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/group-backing-south-portlands-clear-skies-ordinance-gives-city-10000/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/group-backing-south-portlands-clear-skies-ordinance-gives-city-10000/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:26:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/group-backing-south-portlands-clear-skies-ordinance-gives-city-10000/ SOUTH PORTLAND — The advocacy group Protect South Portland has raised more than $11,000 through a crowd-funding website to support the city’s fight against a federal lawsuit by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. that has already cost more than $1 million in legal fees.

Group leaders presented a check for $10,000 to the City Council on Monday night, bringing the total for private contributions to the city’s Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund to $135,242.

The group’s fundraising campaign, posted on Fundrazr.com in December, had raised $11,825 toward its $25,000 goal by Tuesday afternoon.

Group spokeswoman Mary Jane Ferrier said the campaign has received donations ranging from $5 to $500 from people who support the city’s Clear Skies ordinance, which banned the loading of crude oil into tankers on South Portland’s waterfront.

“All of these donations speak loudly of the strong support of South Portland citizens for this ordinance,” Ferrier said in a prepared statement.

Passed by the council in July 2014, the ordinance effectively blocked the pipeline company from potentially reversing the flow of its 236-mile South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline.

It was approved after city voters narrowly defeated a similar proposal in 2013, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, which would have prevented any new, expanded or rebuilt petroleum facilities on the waterfront.

The company sued the city in February 2015, claiming that the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate commerce, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation.

The Clear Skies ordinance cites concerns about air pollution associated with the bulk loading of crude oil into tankers.

More recently, with Canada refining heavy crude from its western provinces and North Dakota, declining demand for foreign crude slowed tanker deliveries to South Portland’s waterfront to only 11 last year, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The company applied for a property tax abatement in December, blaming the Clear Skies ordinance for a 42 percent reduction in the $44.7 million assessed value of its holdings across the city.

If the city assessor grants the abatement as requested, the company’s annual tax bill will drop from $791,447 to $460,200.

Parties in the lawsuit are awaiting action by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. to determine whether the lawsuit will go to trial this spring in Portland.

Whatever the outcome, the case is expected to wind up in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and add to the legal costs.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/group-backing-south-portlands-clear-skies-ordinance-gives-city-10000/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/02/800437_20130311pipeline_8.jpgA lawsuit filed by Portland Pipe Line Corp. challenging South Portland’s oil export ban is being allowed to move forward.Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:45:06 +0000
LePage says U.S. should challenge EU plan to lift tariffs on Canadian lobster http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/lepage-says-u-s-should-challenge-eu-plan-to-lift-tariffs-on-canadian-lobster/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/lepage-says-u-s-should-challenge-eu-plan-to-lift-tariffs-on-canadian-lobster/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:19:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/lepage-says-u-s-should-challenge-eu-plan-to-lift-tariffs-on-canadian-lobster/ Maine Gov. Paul LePage says the United States should challenge a European Union plan to lift tariffs on Canadian lobster.

LePage, a Republican, says the tariff deal would put Maine lobster at a “significant disadvantage” to Canada. He made the comments during an appearance on WVOM-FM radio in Bangor Tuesday.

American lobster wholesalers and retailers are concerned about the possibility of a tariff change, in part because the exchange rate already favors Canada. The EU, the second biggest consumer of American lobster, imported $152 million in lobster from the U.S. last year, most of it from Maine.

LePage says it’s time to go to Washington and “instill in them how serious this is.” He says he intends to use his connections with the Trump administration to push the issue.

Maine lobstermen made a record haul of more than 130 million pounds last year, valued at $533.1 million.

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Loggers say state-subsidized biomass company not paying bills http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/loggers-say-state-subsidized-biomass-plant-not-paying-bills/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/loggers-say-state-subsidized-biomass-plant-not-paying-bills/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:33:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/loggers-say-state-subsidized-biomass-plant-not-paying-bills/ Loggers have cut off deliveries to a Maine biomass electricity generator because the company has stopped paying its bills, the head of an industry association said Tuesday.

Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said loggers who provide wood chips and other biomass fuel haven’t been paid by the company, Stored Solar, since mid-February. Generally, he said, the loggers are paid within seven to 10 days of making a delivery.

He said the loggers, in response, are no longer delivering to the company, which has two generating sites in the state.

A spokesman for Central Maine Power, which has a contract to buy electricity from Stored Solar, said he hadn’t heard about the payment issue and couldn’t immediately comment on whether the utility is still getting electricity from Stored Solar, which is based in West Enfield.

William J. Harrington, one of the partners in Stored Solar, refused to comment when contacted by phone.

“I’m not the press person, but thank you,” he said, and then hung up. A message left with Harrington after that initial contact wasn’t returned Tuesday afternoon.

Stored Solar and another biomass electricity producer, ReEnergy, share in a $13 million state subsidy that is supposed to help support the wood products industry in Maine by providing another buyer for wood grown in the state. Most of the rest is sold to the state’s dwindling number of paper plants or sawmills, Doran said, and the subsidy is supposed to keep the balance of buyers intact.

Doran said loggers tell him that ReEnergy, which supplies electricity to the state’s other major utility, Emera Maine, in eastern and northern Maine, has been paying its suppliers.

The state subsidy is intended to help the biomass electricity producers bridge the gap between the higher production costs they face compared to companies that produce electricity in plants that use fuel such as natural gas.

Stored Solar has been involved with other business interests in exploring the possibility of building bioenergy parks in Maine, where all parts of a tree are used to make electricity, fuel, food, material and other things, eventually replacing similar products made from petroleum. Members of that development group, under the name Stored Solar J&WE, took their first step last fall by buying two idled wood-fired plants in West Enfield and Jonesboro. The plants were brought back on line, restoring jobs for 84 employees and 200 or so loggers and truckers.

Doran said about a dozen logging companies had been supplying Stored Solar. He declined to say how much they get paid for their wood chips, but said most of the companies are family-owned and employ between 10 and 20 people.

Without regular payments from customers like Stored Solar, he said, those firms might have trouble meeting their payrolls and their payments for equipment.

“There’s a great concern that these obligations will not be met and our members will be left standing at the altar,” he said.

Doran said he’s been in contact with Stored Solar, but neither he nor the loggers who have supplied the companies are getting any answers for why the payments have stopped and if and when the company will start paying the bills. So the loggers have reluctantly stopped making deliveries to Stored Solar, he said.

“We want companies like Stored Solar to succeed,” he said. “It benefits all of us.”

An attachment to the contract between CMP and Stored Solar, signed in late December last year, said Stored Solar is required to create 42 jobs, buy 500,000 tons of biomass a year and make $2.5 million in capital expenditures during its first year of operation. The requirement for the jobs and biomass purchases remains in effect for the second year of the contract, but not the capital expenditure requirement.

Those stipulations appear to reflect Stored Solar’s obligations to the state because of the subsidy.

Doran said he’s been in contact with Gov. Paul LePage’s office about the issue. There was no immediate reply to an email to the governor’s office seeking comment Tuesday.

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After 40 years, Wiscasset mourns the loss of landmark restaurant http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/after-40-years-wiscasset-mourns-the-loss-of-a-local-restaurant/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/after-40-years-wiscasset-mourns-the-loss-of-a-local-restaurant/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 18:46:49 +0000 The owner of Le Garage, a Wiscasset restaurant that has been a fixture of the little village since 1977, has announced she is closing the business at the end of April.

Cheryl Lee Rust posted a notice on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page Sunday evening, quoting Robert Frost and saying that it is “with strong and mixed emotions that I am announcing the closing of Le Garage Restaurant in Wiscasset on Sunday, April 30, 2017.”

The restaurant was founded by Rust’s mother and stepfather, Charlotte and Crosby Hodgman, in 1974 as an ice cream parlor and sandwich and chowder house. They soon expanded the menu to include crepes. The restaurant got its name because in the early 20th century it was an auto and engine repair shop.

Rust bought the business from her parents in 1977. It was open year-round, except for the month of January, and over four decades became a local institution – the place to go for a good meal, a visit with friends, and a stunning view of the Sheepscot River. The restaurant serves an eclectic menu that spans seafood, salads and classics such as pot roast with gravy and chicken pie.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Rust, who is 68, said that working 60-70 hours a week for 40 years has simply taken its toll, and she wants to retire – although she’ll remain active in the volunteer work she has become known for in the community. She’s hoping to sell the business to another restaurateur, one who has more energy for running it day to day.

“I really feel like someone younger and more on track with contemporary expectations can take this to its next step,” Rust said.

Sue Varney, a retired town office employee, ate at Le Garage several times a year and called it “a wonderful place.” Varney said she is “pretty devastated” by the news the restaurant is closing.

“I’m glad for Shep,” she said, calling Rust by her nickname. “She’s well earned retirement. I’m very happy for her, but I’m sad for the rest of us.”

Rust said she informed her staff of her plans Sunday afternoon. The restaurant has 25 year-round employees, and the staff grows to 35 to 40 during the busy summer months. One employee, according to Rust, has worked there for 36 years.

Rust said she timed the closing so the staff will be “launched into the height of the hiring season.”

“They’re all terrific,” Rust said, “and I imagine they’ll have five job offers apiece within moments of our doors closing.”

Joan Bickford, who works at the Wiscasset Community Center, and her husband, Bob, spent every anniversary at Le Garage. Bickford said Rust hired lots of local teenagers, including her own children and relatives.

“I think she was probably a pretty good first boss for a lot of them to have,” Bickford said. “She was fair, but yet she expected what she needed to expect from them, and I think that’s huge in a first job.”

Coincidentally, Rust will receive the 2017 Bill Zoidis Lifetime Achievement Award from the Maine Restaurant Association at its annual meeting March 28 in Portland. Greg Dugal, director of governmental affairs for the organization and the person who informed Rust of the honor, said the association didn’t know Rust was retiring it they chose her for the award.

Dugal said the award typically goes to a restaurateur who has been a longtime member of the association, someone who has participated in the group and given back to the community. Most restaurants donate time and food to good causes, he said, but “Cheryl just took it to the next level.”

He noted she has been active in mental health causes, including as part of the task force that helped restructure the behavioral health division of the state Health and Human Services Department, and has been a longtime volunteer for the midcoast United Way.

Rust said her volunteer work has also included working with the Maine Community Foundation, the Maine Council on Aging, and other organizations dedicated to improving the health of seniors.

But her heart has always been with the restaurant, where, she notes, three or four generations of families have come to dine.

“It’s a lot like family there, it really is,” she said. “The staff is very bonded and cares about each other a lot. So it’s a big disruption in a lot of lives, and that’s made me reluctant to pull the plug, so to speak. But I’m not doing anyone any favors by extending this beyond my capacity to lead it with the kind of energy and attention it demands and deserves.”

But Bickford says even if someone buys the restaurant, it will never be the same because Rust’s personality “was so much a part of it.”

“It’s huge,” Bickford said of the closing, and then added, echoing Varney’s comments, “I’m really happy for Shep because she’s going to take this next chapter in her life, but it’s a sad day for Wiscasset.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/after-40-years-wiscasset-mourns-the-loss-of-a-local-restaurant/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1170489_891477-20170321LeGarage_1-e1490151215990.jpgThe Le Garage restaurant on Water Street in Wiscasset. Open since 1977, the restaurant has announced it will close at the end of April.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:34:49 +0000
Solar energy advocates call on PUC to reconsider decision to reduce incentive http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/solar-advocates-petition-puc-to-reconsider-net-metering-decision/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/solar-advocates-petition-puc-to-reconsider-net-metering-decision/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 17:48:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/solar-advocates-petition-puc-to-reconsider-net-metering-decision/ AUGUSTA — A coalition of organizations and businesses is petitioning the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider a recent decision on solar energy billing even as they gear up for a potential court challenge.

In a formal request filed Tuesday with the PUC, the petitioners argued the commissioners failed to take into account the broader interests of electricity ratepayers when they voted in January to change the compensation system for solar energy users. Instead, the petitioners said the PUC decision to gradually reduce the financial incentives offered to homeowners who install solar energy systems “are more likely to raise unnecessarily electricity costs for Maine ratepayers without any countervailing benefits.”

“We are giving them one last chance to get this right and to avoid taking us in a backward direction,” said Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Given the track record that we have had so far with this commission on solar energy and clean energy, unfortunately we are not overly optimistic.”

Opponents of the PUC decision on net energy billing – or “net metering” – are pursuing a three-pronged approach to overturn a rule that they say will hurt Maine’s small but growing solar industry.

Although unlikely, the three-member commission could agree to revisit the rule. Solar energy advocates and industry representatives are also lobbying hard for a legislative fix one year after Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a solar policy bill left the issue in the hands of the PUC. Lastly, the organizations could appeal the PUC rules to the Maine Superior Court.

“At this point, all options are certainly on the table,” said Emily Green, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

NRCM and the Conservation Law Foundation were joined in the petition by two solar companies – ReVision Energy and Insource Renewables – as well as the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, which represents manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries in Maine. Additionally, the petition was signed by roughly two dozen businesses or organizations and more than 2,150 individuals.

Net metering provides homeowners or businesses with credits on their electricity bills for excess solar energy they feed back into the grid. Supporters argue the policy is critical to the expansion of solar technology – and local growth of an industry that is booming nationally – because it provides a financial incentive to customers to install solar energy systems. But Le- Page and other critics contend the policy is essentially forcing all ratepayers to subsidize solar installations.

Under the PUC rules approved in January, homeowners who already have solar panels can continue to receive credit at the full retail rate for the power they produce for 15 years. Those who install solar energy systems in 2018 or later would see the credits gradually reduced over time.

During a State House press conference, Green argued that the PUC runs counter to actions by the Legislature committing the state to increase the number of businesses and residences installing solar as part of a broad, renewable energy strategy.

“In contrast, it will directly diminish returns on investments on installations of solar,” Green said. “As such, the new rule will decrease the number of businesses and residents using solar, it will decrease jobs in the solar field and it will undermine efforts to increase private investment in solar in Maine. The commission does not have legal authority to make its own policy decisions in direct contradiction to the findings and determinations of our state Legislature.”

Petitioners accused the PUC of failing to consider its own study that suggested solar energy would have greater total monetary value – when considering environmental and social benefits – than conventional power generation if the technology were widely adopted. That is because solar energy systems reduce the costs of building or maintaining transmission and distribution infrastructure, natural gas pipelines, voltage regulation and environmental impacts involved in traditional electricity generation.

LePage, meanwhile, has also denounced the PUC’s net metering changes but from an entirely different perspective. Contrary to the dire predictions of solar advocates, LePage has predicted the PUC rules will lead to a massive expansion in the solar industry in Maine. The governor further argues such a shift would increase electricity rates in Maine, thereby making the state even less competitive for businesses despite the state’s status as New England’s cheapest market for electricity.

Although LePage has repeatedly blamed Maine’s solar policy for higher prices, solar constitutes a tiny percentage of Maine’s energy mix and has not been a major factor in recent electricity price increases.

“The fact is that the biggest driver of high electricity rates in Maine is the expensive construction of new transmission and distribution grid infrastructure,” Voorhees said. Solar systems on homes or businesses, he said, are a partial solution because they reduce the need for grid-scale infrastructure.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/solar-advocates-petition-puc-to-reconsider-net-metering-decision/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1170460_686715_solar2-e1490141992632.jpgArundel-based Solar Market installed 144 solar panels in 2011 to power its business and provide heat in the winter. Solar use can reduce a need for costly transmission and distribution grid infrastructure, say advocates.Tue, 21 Mar 2017 23:38:54 +0000
Gorham manufacturer Mega Industries lands $7 million in new contracts http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/gorham-manufacturer-mega-industries-lands-7-million-in-new-contracts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/gorham-manufacturer-mega-industries-lands-7-million-in-new-contracts/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:23:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/gorham-manufacturer-mega-industries-lands-7-million-in-new-contracts/ Microwave components maker Mega Industries LLC in Gorham has received two new lucrative contracts and is expanding its workforce, the company said Tuesday.

The company recently expanded its staff by 20 percent and is looking to increase by another 20 percent, it said. Mega Industries just received a $5 million contract from Sweden-based European Spallation Source and a $2 million contract from Menlo Park, California-based Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory.

The company manufactures high-power microwave transmission equipment for research and commercial uses. It achieved record revenue in 2016, up more than 32 percent from the previous year, according to a news release.

Mega’s bookings reached a record high of roughly $12 million in 2016 thanks to several new contracts with various national laboratories from around the world, it said. Those bookings are expected generate record revenues again in 2017 and continue to generate significant revenue growth for the company over the next three to five years.

As a result of the growth, Mega recently added a second shift to its production line and is seeking a variety of engineers and craftsmen. The company has 60 employees and is seeking a dozen more, Mega President Peter Anania said.

Most of Mega’s products are used by scientists at national laboratories to do research in areas such as particle physics, cosmology, chemistry and medicine, according to the release.

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Fox suspends Napolitano for claiming Brits helped spy on Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/fox-suspends-napolitano-for-claiming-brits-helped-spy-on-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/fox-suspends-napolitano-for-claiming-brits-helped-spy-on-trump/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:58:02 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/fox-suspends-napolitano-for-claiming-brits-helped-spy-on-trump/ NEW YORK — Fox News Channel has pulled legal analyst Andrew Napolitano from the air after disavowing his on-air claim that British intelligence officials had helped former President Obama spy on Donald Trump.

A person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a personnel matter said Napolitano has been benched and won’t be appearing on the air in the near future. Fox had no immediate comment Monday.

Napolitano’s report last week on “Fox & Friends,” saying he had three intelligence sources who said Obama went “outside the chain of command” to watch Trump, provoked an international incident. Britain dismissed the report as “nonsense” after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer quoted it in a briefing, part of the administration’s continued defense of Trump’s unproven contention that Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Andrew Napolitano, who has served as a legal analyst for Fox News Channel. Associated Press/Richard Drew

FBI Director James Comey, testifying before Congress on Monday, became the latest official to state that no evidence has been found to support Trump’s charge.

The president, when asked about the incident, said that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it. You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Fox’s Shepard Smith, on the air Friday afternoon, quickly stepped the network away from Napolitano’s claim.

“Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way,” Smith said.

Napolitano is a senior judicial analyst who has worked at Fox News Channel since 1998, and frequently comments on the Fox Business Network. He was a New Jersey Superior Court judge from 1987 to 1995.

Napolitano’s removal from the air was first reported in the Los Angeles Times.

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On the Job: Bike mechanic keeps 2-wheeled commuters moving http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/job-bike-mechanic-keeps-2-wheeled-commuters-moving/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/job-bike-mechanic-keeps-2-wheeled-commuters-moving/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:31 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170037 It’s a place so unassuming, so easy to overlook, that a small sign on the door offers reassurance to timid customers: “Yes, we are open.”

For seven years, Port City Bikes has sold and repaired bicycles from a tiny, but high-ceilinged, brick-walled space within a former industrial-scale laundry facility at the bottom of Portland’s Parris Street.

Inside, owner and bike mechanic Peter Wool, 56, can be tinkering on vintage bicycles listening to rocksteady music.

Originally from New York, Wool and life partner Karyn Jenkins moved to Portland in 1988. He left his IT career in 2010 because he wanted to work with his hands. Jenkins, who previously worked in graphic design, signed on as co-owner of the shop four years later.

Port City Bikes caters to commuter cyclists who want to ride something sturdy and practical, Wool said. The shop offers an assortment of new and used commuter-friendly bikes, plus parts and accessories. Wool said he tries to accommodate same-day repairs for commuters, so they can drop off their bikes in the morning and pick them up after work.

Wool believes commuter cycling is gaining in popularity in Portland, especially as parking in the city gets tighter.

The best part of the job is matching a customer with the perfect bike or “fixing something and sending someone home happy,” he said.

The East Deering resident is also well-attuned to his customer base. Weather permitting, he rides two miles to work each day on his prized 1971 Schwin Sports Tourer — a fixie (no freewheel, so no coasting) with a front brake and a front basket.

Correction: This story was updated at 10 a.m. on March 21 to correct Peter Wool’s name. 

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House Republicans reveal revised proposal for health care overhaul http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/house-republicans-overcome-a-key-obstacle-to-passage-of-health-care-overhaul/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/house-republicans-overcome-a-key-obstacle-to-passage-of-health-care-overhaul/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 02:14:23 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/house-republicans-overcome-a-key-obstacle-to-passage-of-health-care-overhaul/ WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders, racing toward a planned vote Thursday on their proposed health-care overhaul, unveiled changes to the legislation late Monday that they think will win over enough members to secure its passage.

The tweaks addressed numerous Republicans’ concerns about the legislation, ranging from the flexibility it would give states to administer their Medicaid programs to the amount of aid it would offer older Americans to buy insurance. They are the product of two weeks of negotiations that stretched from the Capitol to the White House to President Trump’s Florida resort.

The bill’s proponents also appeared to overcome a major obstacle Monday after a key group of hard-line conservatives declined to take a formal position against the bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

The House Freedom Caucus has threatened for weeks to tank the legislation drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arguing that it does not do enough to undo the seven-year-old Affordable Care Act. Their neutrality gives the legislation a better chance of passage: If the group of about three dozen hard-right Republican members uniformly opposed the bill, it could block its passage.

Their decision not to act as a bloc frees House leaders and White House officials to persuade individual Freedom Caucus members to support the measure – a process that the Freedom Caucus’s chairman said was underway.

“They’re already whipping with a whip that’s about 10 feet long and five feet wide,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “I’m trying to let my members vote the way that their constituents would want them to vote. … I think they’re all very aware of the political advantages and disadvantages.”

House leaders hope to pass the bill Thursday and then send it to the Senate. Trump is expected to press for the bill’s passage in a Tuesday morning meeting with Republican lawmakers.

Some of the changes unveiled Monday were made to placate conservatives, such as accelerating the expiration of the ACA’s taxes and further restricting the federal Medicaid program. But a major push was made to win moderate votes, including a maneuver that House leaders said would allow the Senate to beef up tax credits for older Americans who could see major increases in premiums under the Republican plan.

There were signs Monday that the bill had growing support among the moderate wing of the House. Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who had voted against the leadership in an early procedural vote on the health-care legislation, said that he was “satisfied enough that I will support the bill.”

MacArthur said he was assured that the bill would do more for older and disabled Americans covered under Medicaid and that an additional $85 billion in aid would be directed to those between ages 50 and 65.

“That’s a $150 billion change in this bill to help the poor and those who are up in years,” he said.

Several House Republicans from Upstate New York won an amendment that would allow counties in their state to keep hundreds of millions of dollars of local tax revenue that they forward to the state government to fund its Medicaid program. One member, Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., told the Syracuse Post-Standard on Monday that her support of the bill was conditioned on the amendment’s inclusion.

Opponents of the bill – Republicans and Democrats alike – called the deal a sordid giveaway on social media networks Monday night. Many compared it to the state-specific deals that were cut to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 and panned by Republicans – such as the Medicaid reimbursement boost that then-Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., secured for his home state that Republicans mocked as the “Cornhusker Kickback.”

The Freedom Caucus had pushed for a variety of alterations, from an earlier phaseout of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion to a more thorough rollback of the insurance mandates established under the law. But for political and procedural reasons, few of the group’s major demands stand to be incorporated into the bill.

“It’s very clear that the negotiations are over,” said Meadows, who met with White House officials at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday.

Many Freedom Caucus members who left the group’s Capitol Hill meeting Monday night said they remained sharply opposed to the legislation.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a co-founder of the caucus. “We’ve still got lots of problems with this bill. … The president’s a good man, and the White House has been great to work with, but opposition is still strong with our group.”

Under the group’s rules, it can take a formal position to oppose the bill if 80 percent of its members agree. No Democrats are expected to support the bill, meaning Republican leaders can afford to lose no more than 21 of their own members.

Meadows said after Monday night’s meeting that taking a hard position against the bill “creates some dynamics within the group that perhaps we don’t want to create,” hinting at tensions in the group’s ranks. One of its members, Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., decided to support the bill last week when he met with Trump in the Oval Office, emboldening House leaders who think that even hard-liners will be hard-pressed to oppose Trump.

“This is a defining moment for our nation, but it’s also a defining moment for the Freedom Caucus,” Meadows said. “There are core things within this bill as it currently stands that would violate some of the principles of the Freedom Caucus.”

Attending the Freedom Caucus meeting Monday were three senators opposed to the House bill – Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., – who hold leverage to block the bill in their own chamber, where Republicans hold a two-seat majority. Cruz said he told the House members that the leadership strategy of pursuing distinct “phases” of legislation was a dead end and that they needed to push for changes in the present bill.

“The Senate Democrats are engaging in absolute opposition and obstruction, and it is difficult to see that changing anytime soon,” Cruz told reporters after leaving the meeting.

Trump’s visit to the Hill on Tuesday signals that GOP leaders and the president consider larger-scale talks with key blocs of House members to be essentially complete. The effort now turns toward persuading individual members to vote for the package.

Ryan credited Trump’s backing in a statement Monday: “With the president’s leadership and support for this historic legislation, we are now one step closer to keeping our promise to the American people and ending the Obamacare nightmare.”

Trump’s visit Tuesday will be his first appearance at the weekly House Republican Conference meeting since becoming president. He last privately addressed Republican lawmakers as a group at the party’s policy retreat in Philadelphia in late January and has met with small groups of members on several occasions since.

Trump won the backing of Palmer and several other conservative House members Friday when he agreed to make changes to the Medicaid portion of the bill, including giving states the option of instituting a work requirement for childless, able-bodied adults who receive the benefit. Those changes were included in the leadership-backed amendments that will be incorporated into the bill before it comes to a final vote.

To address concerns expressed by a broader swath of Republican lawmakers – conservatives and moderates alike – leaders said they hoped to change the bill to give older Americans more assistance to buy insurance.

In an extreme case laid out in a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 a year would see yearly premiums rise from $1,700 under the ACA to $14,600 under the Republican plan.

House leaders said they intended to provide another $85 billion of aid to those between ages 50 and 64, but the amendment unveiled late Monday did not do so directly. Instead, the leaders said, it “provides the Senate flexibility to potentially enhance the tax credit” for the older cohort by adjusting an unrelated tax deduction.

That workaround, aides said, was done to ensure that the House bill would comply with Senate budget rules and to ensure that the CBO could release an updated analysis of the legislation before the Thursday vote.

But it also means that the House members who pushed for the new aid will have to trust the Senate to carry out their wishes.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/house-republicans-overcome-a-key-obstacle-to-passage-of-health-care-overhaul/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1144731_shutterstock_260055152.jpgReforms called for by Sens. Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy would maintain the Affordable Care Act's consumer protections and could increase the number of Americans who have health insurance – but it's less clear how well the senators' proposal would work for people with chronic conditions.Tue, 21 Mar 2017 09:19:27 +0000
Google turns buses into rolling study hall http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/google-turns-buses-into-rolling-study-hall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/google-turns-buses-into-rolling-study-hall/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:36:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/google-turns-buses-into-rolling-study-hall/ ST. STEPHEN, S.C. — Eighth-grader Lakaysha Governor spends two hours on the bus getting back and forth to school each day. Thanks to a grant from Google, she can now use that time more productively and get her homework done.

The aspiring forensic anthropologist is one of nearly 2,000 students in South Carolina’s rural Berkeley County who will ride to school on one of 28 Google-funded, Wi-Fi-equipped school buses unveiled Monday. The tech giant also has given the school district 1,700 Chromebooks, the stripped-down laptops on which many schoolchildren now do their class and homework.

As more class assignments and homework migrate online, such long bus rides have generally counted as lost time in preparing for the next school day. But Google said it hopes to help expand the use of Wi-Fi on school buses in other rural areas elsewhere around the country.

Google has at least a decade-long relationship with Berkeley County, where it’s invested more than $1 billion in data center complexes since 2007, bringing more than 100 jobs. Google says it also has awarded nearly $2 billion in grants to local schools and nonprofits.

Google hopes to see the Wi-Fi program extended into other rural areas of the U.S., including locations where it already has data centers that process search queries and other information, said Lilyn Hester, a Google spokeswoman. The first such effort was launched last year in Caldwell County, North Carolina, where a data center already exists.

The expansions are also needs-based, Hester said, and Google is focusing on rural places where broadband internet access has been slow to spread.

Google is also looking for ways to make the high-tech buses useful outside of school hours, working with the school district and community on places the buses can go once the school day is done to bring connectivity elsewhere, such as a community center or fellowship hall.

Lakaysha, the eight-grader who has her eye on Harvard, has internet access at home like most of her friends. But thanks to the Wi-Fi buses, she can get ahead on her work. Teachers are happy, she said, because “more students are doing their homework.”

And she said even rambunctious preschoolers aboard the bus are quieter in the mornings while older students are doing homework.

“Now that we have the Chromebooks and the Wi-Fi, they’re kind of quiet; so it’s good for everybody.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/google-turns-buses-into-rolling-study-hall/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1170153_Google_Rural_School_Bus_W2.jpgMiddle school student Lakaysha Governor works Monday on her Chromebook while riding a school bus outfitted with Wi-Fi by Google. The tech giant hopes to help expand the use of Wi-Fi on school buses in other rural areas of the country.Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:36:17 +0000
Momentous talks on Britain’s exit from European Union to begin March 29 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/momentous-talks-on-britains-exit-from-european-union-to-begin-march-29/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/momentous-talks-on-britains-exit-from-european-union-to-begin-march-29/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:06:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/momentous-talks-on-britains-exit-from-european-union-to-begin-march-29/ LONDON — Britain will begin divorce proceedings from the European Union on March 29, starting the clock on two years of intense political and economic negotiations that will fundamentally change both the nation and its European neighbors.

Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, informed European Council President Donald Tusk of the exact start date Monday morning.

“We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation,” said Brexit Secretary David Davis. “The government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the U.K. and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the U.K. and our friends and allies in the European Union.”

The trigger for all this tumult is the innocuous-sounding Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, a never-before-used mechanism for withdrawing from the bloc. British Prime Minister Theresa May, under the Article, will notify Tusk of her nation’s intentions to leave the 28-nation bloc.

The article stipulates that the two sides will have until March 2019 to agree on a divorce settlement and – if possible – establish a new relationship between Britain, the world’s No. 5 economy, and the EU, a vast single market containing 500 million people.

The European Commission – the bloc’s legislative arm – said it stood ready to help launch the negotiations.

“Everything is ready on this side,” commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said. Leaders of the 27 other EU nations will meet by the month of May to finalize their negotiating guidelines.

May’s 10 Downing Street office said the prime minister will make a statement in the House of Commons on the day Article 50 is triggered.

Britons voted in a June referendum to leave the EU after more than 40 years of membership. But May was not able to trigger the talks until last week, when the British Parliament approved a bill authorizing the start of Brexit negotiations.

But like any divorce, things may not go as planned.

The letter that May sends next week will plunge Britain into a period of intense uncertainty. The country doesn’t know what its future relationship with the bloc will look like – whether its businesses will freely be able to trade with the rest of Europe, its students can study abroad or its pensioners will be allowed to retire easily in other EU states. Those things have become part of life in the U.K. since it joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1973.

It’s also not clear what rights the estimated 3 million EU citizens already working and living in Britain will retain. And it’s not even certain that the United Kingdom – made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will survive the EU exit intact.

Scotland’s nationalist first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is seeking a referendum on independence within two years. In the same Brexit vote in which most Britons chose to leave the EU, Scottish voters mostly wanted to stay. Sturgeon says Scotland mustn’t be “taken down a path that we do not want to go down without a choice.”

May has rejected that suggestion, saying “now is not the time” for another referendum on Scottish independence.

Pro-EU Labour Party Lawmaker Pat McFadden said Monday it is now up to May to deliver the good deal for Britain that she has promised. “The phony period is nearly over, and the real work of negotiations are about to begin,” McFadden said.

Conflicts are likely to arise soon. The EU wants Britain to pay a hefty divorce bill – estimates have ranged up to 60 billion euros , or about $64 billion – to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments the U.K. has agreed to.

British negotiators are sure to quibble over the size of that tab. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said a “vast” bill is unreasonable and suggested that May should follow the “illustrious precedent” of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who successfully sought a rebate from the bloc in 1984.

Negotiations also will soon hit a fundamental topic: Britain wants “frictionless” free trade, but says it will restore controls over immigration, ending the right of EU citizens to live and work in Britain. The EU, however, says Britain can’t have full access to the single market if it doesn’t accept the free movement of its people, one of the bloc’s key principles.

May has suggested that if talks stall she could walk away, saying that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

That prospect alarms many British businesses. If Britain crashed out of the EU without a trade deal it would fall back onto World Trade Organization rules, leading to tariffs and other barriers to trade.

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has warned that the British government has not done enough to prepare for the “real prospect” that talks with the EU may break down, ending in no deal and “mutually assured damage” to both Britain and the EU.

Even if the talks go well, EU leaders say there is little chance that a final agreement on relations between the two parties will be reached by 2019. Some experts say the process could take a decade.

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Trump Winery seeks more foreign workers this season http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/trump-winery-seeks-more-foreign-workers-this-season/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/trump-winery-seeks-more-foreign-workers-this-season/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 23:15:21 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/trump-winery-seeks-more-foreign-workers-this-season/ CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A Virginia winery owned by President Trump’s son has applied to hire foreign workers to pick grapes after the company was unable to find U.S. citizens who want the job.

Trump Vineyard Estates, better known as Trump Winery, has asked to bring in 29 workers this season through the federal H-2A visa program, The Daily Progress reported.

The Charlottesville-area winery is owned by Eric Trump, whose father has called on businesses to hire Americans.

The H-2A program enables agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or other temporary or seasonal services. To apply, employers say they’ve been unable to find American citizens to fill the jobs. At least three other local vineyards also applied to hire foreign workers.

“It’s difficult to find people,” said Libby Whitley, an attorney who has worked with employers, including Trump Winery.

In 2016, 27 Maine farms requested 635 workers through the visa program for a wide range of agricultural work, from picking apples to harvesting broccoli. Several farmers told the Press Herald that they were concerned President Trump’s anti-immigration stance would affect their ability to hire foreign workers this year.

Trump Vineyard Estates initially applied for six foreign workers in December. Two months later, the company applied for 23 more. Both job orders for Trump Vineyard Estates say the primary tasks include planting and cultivating vines, adding grow tubes and pruning grape vines.

H-2A workers and U.S. workers in corresponding employment must be paid a certain rate – $10.72 an hour for vineyard farm workers in Virginia this year.

Whitley said she assumed her company would be flooded with people applying for the jobs because of all the media coverage Trump Winery has received for using the H-2A program.

“Guess how many applicants we had? … 13,” she said. “And they were all from places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria. We did not have one American worker apply on (the first job order).”

Several people have sent emails to show they are outraged that Trump winery is hiring foreigners, Whitley said.

“I qualify every one of those responses and I say, `Are you interested in the job? If you are, please get in touch with us immediately,”‘ Whitley said.

Trump Winery didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Amazon to begin collecting Maine sales tax April 1 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/amazon-to-begin-collecting-maine-sales-tax-april-1/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/amazon-to-begin-collecting-maine-sales-tax-april-1/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 22:30:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/amazon-to-begin-collecting-maine-sales-tax-april-1/ Online retail giant Amazon.com will begin collecting state sales tax on all orders shipped to customers in Maine beginning April 1.

The decision to start collecting Maine’s 5.5 percent state sales tax is part of a nationwide policy reversal by the Seattle-based company, which has previously resisted collecting sales tax in many states.

Amazon has begun collecting state sales taxes in at least 10 other states since Jan 1. Tax collection began Jan. 1 in Louisiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Utah; Feb. 1 in Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont; and March 1 in Wyoming.

In addition to Maine, Amazon will start collecting sales tax in New Mexico on April 1. That will leave only a handful of remaining states in which the company does not collect state sales tax.

Commissioner George Gervais of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development issued a statement Monday applauding Amazon’s decision to begin collecting and remitting sales tax in Maine.

“Today’s decision by Amazon is welcome news to Maine retailers and consumers,” he said. “Maine businesses can go toe-to-toe with the very best out-of-state companies, provided they are competing on an equal playing field. Amazon’s decision to collect and remit sales tax to the state of Maine is an important first step in leveling the playing field.”

The increased tax revenue could help lawmakers reduce the state’s income tax burden, Gervais said.

Prior to 2017, the e-commerce giant had dragged its feet for years on collecting sales taxes in small and sparsely populated states where it doesn’t have any distribution centers or corporate offices, according to The Associated Press.

To avoid collecting taxes, Amazon has historically relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that predates the era of online shopping. That 1992 decision bans states from forcing out-of-state retailers to collect taxes if they don’t have a physical presence in the state.

However, Amazon’s policy reversal followed another Supreme Court ruling in December that rejected a challenge to a Colorado law requiring online sellers to notify customers about how much they owe in taxes. Colorado officials had estimated they were missing out on as much as $172.7 million a year.

Maine officials did not respond Monday to requests for an estimate of the increase to Maine state coffers from the additional sales tax. Rhode Island, which has long fought for Amazon to remit sales taxes, has said it is now counting on nearly $35 million in tax revenue next year from the company and other online retailers that follow its lead.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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Maine woman sues California security firm, alleging violation of whistleblower protection law http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/former-employee-sues-california-security-firm-alleging-violation-of-whistleblower-protection-law/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/former-employee-sues-california-security-firm-alleging-violation-of-whistleblower-protection-law/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 21:31:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/former-employee-sues-california-security-firm-alleging-violation-of-whistleblower-protection-law/ A Maine woman has filed suit in federal court against a California security services firm, saying the company retaliated against her when she complained about allegedly illegal acts being committed by one of its executives.

In her lawsuit, Pamela Treadwell of Sidney also said the firm violated Maine’s equal pay act by compensating her less than men who did the same work, even after she took over the duties of a male employee at Vescom Corp.

Vescom is a part of Worldwide Sourcing Group, or WWSG, which also owns the security firms Vets Securing America, American Guard Service and Professional Building Maintenance, a property management company. The company says it is one of the largest privately owned security firms in the country.

Treadwell, who worked for Vescom from 1988 until she resigned in March 2014, said in court documents that many of the problems began when the company hired a man named Ousama Karawia to help with management of the firm. Karawia was convicted in 2012 of grand theft, insurance fraud and possession of an assault weapon for offenses committed at a separate security service he co-owned that had provided security for sites in California and the Statue of Liberty in New York. He was found guilty of setting up a shell company to hide the true number of his employees as a way to avoid paying higher workers’ compensation premiums.

Vescom had an office in Hampden that has since been closed, and the company is now based in California. Treadwell’s lawsuit was filed in Maine state court and subsequently moved to the U.S. District Court in Portland because Vescom is located out of state.

According to the lawsuit, Karawia committed insurance fraud while at Vescom by getting a policy that covered employees of WWSG’s other companies at a low rate, but using Vescom’s claims history rather than the higher claims rate of the other companies. Treadwell said in the lawsuit that she told the company’s owners that Karawia was getting kickbacks from the insurer and that having him involved in the company ran afoul of state licensing regulations that bar felons from having management positions in a security firm. Karawia had been convicted before he was hired at Vescom, and his appeal of his sentence – which included home confinement and probation – was turned down by a California court in 2014.

After forwarding those concerns to the company’s owners, the lawsuit claims, Treadwell was shunned by the top management in the company and told she had to pay for insurance coverage for her husband on her employer-provided health care policy at a cost of $7,800 a year.

Finally, Karawia moved money out of the company’s payroll account, meaning that employees’ checks would bounce, according to the lawsuit. Treadwell said Karawia reminded her that as the company vice president, her name was on the checks, suggesting she might be liable if they bounced.

At that point, Treadwell said she resigned so as not to be implicated in the check-bouncing and accused of submitting false documents to state regulators.

“She thought she had to leave,” Rebecca Webber, Treadwell’s lawyer at the firm Skelton Taintor and Abbott, said in an interview Monday.

Treadwell filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which did not find reasonable grounds for her whistleblower protection and discrimination claims. But Webber said the commission held only a brief telephone conference on the allegations, which led her to decide to file the lawsuit asking for damages. The amount of damages being sought was not disclosed in the lawsuit.

Melissa A. Hewey, a lawyer at Drummond Woodsum who represents Vescom and the other companies, along with Karawia, said the Maine Human Rights Commission finding suggests the case is weak.

“The Human Rights Commission is certainly employee-friendly, and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe the courts will find any differently,” she said.

Both Webber and Hewey said the case would likely go to trial in late fall, although Hewey said she would seek to have a judge issue a summary judgment in her clients’ favor.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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Westbrook-based Idexx joins Nasdaq-100 Index http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/westbrook-based-idexx-joins-nasdaq-100-index/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/westbrook-based-idexx-joins-nasdaq-100-index/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 17:12:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/westbrook-based-idexx-joins-nasdaq-100-index/ Westbrook-based Idexx Laboratories Inc. is being added to the Nasdaq-100 Index, months after being added to the Standard and Poor’s 500.

Idexx has more than 7,000 workers and is a major producer of pet diagnostic tests and other products for veterinarians. Its products are sold in 175 countries.

CEO Jonathan Ayers said Monday that he’s pleased Idexx is on the Nasdaq list alongside growth-oriented companies that are “innovators of the modern economy.”

Idexx was added to the S&P 500 stock index in January. The announcement that it’s joining the Nasdaq-100 index and two other Nasdaq indexes was made before the market opened Monday.

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Craft breweries added $228 million to Maine’s economy last year http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/craft-breweries-add-228-million-to-maines-economy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/craft-breweries-add-228-million-to-maines-economy/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:07:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/craft-breweries-add-228-million-to-maines-economy/ Brewing is on a tear in Maine, with 16 new breweries added in 2016 and production forecast to grow by 41 percent in the next three years.

The growth isn’t confined to the Portland area, a mecca for beer lovers. Piscataquis is now the only Maine county that doesn’t have a brewery, and the industry is heating up in areas like Penobscot County, where 11 breweries opened in the last decade, according to a report from the Maine Brewer’s Guild and the University of Maine School of Economics that was released Monday.

“If you consider the number of breweries in the state, it might seem like the growth is unsustainable, but not all these breweries are trying to be large-scale,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the guild. “Some want to sell their beer super-locally, and more and more people are realizing there is a local product that tastes better, is produced in their community, and they are making the switch.”

Maine breweries added a total of $228 million to Maine’s economy last year, and employed more than 1,600 workers, according to estimates based on survey responses from guild members. The estimated total revenue of Maine brewers was more than $150 million in 2016, a 17 percent increase from 2013, according to the report.

The growth of breweries in Maine outpaced the growth rate of breweries nationwide five out of the last six years. Before 2007, there were 14 breweries in the guild. Now there are 82. The guild website says there were 93 breweries in the state as of Jan. 10, noting that numerous brewers hold multiple licenses. And Sullivan said he knows of at least three breweries opening soon.

“I wasn’t expecting to see the level of economic impact we found,” said Andrew Crawley, a University of Maine economist who co-authored the report. “If it continues at this pace, it will start to overtake some more established industries. We are going to see craft brewing right up there as a major part of the state’s industrial make-up.”

The growth of craft breweries is already being felt in tourism circles. According to state tourism analysts, 35 percent of tourists in 2015 stopped by a local brew pub or craft brewery, according to a survey in the latest annual report from the Maine Office of Tourism. Another survey in the report estimated that 18 million people visited the state in 2015, meaning roughly 6.3 million of them made a stop at a brewpub or craft brewery.

Crawley said a big surprise for him was the geographic reach of craft breweries, which employed 1,632 full- and part-time workers who were paid a total of $50.4 million in 2016. The average yearly pay of a brewery employee is $34,726.

“The north and central Maine is where people are talking about significant expansions, and that is a positive economic sign of the industry growing across the state,” Crawley said. The impact is especially noticeable in places that have dealt with significant economic hardships.

“It is really good to see the impact it is having in places where there have been declines,” he said.

The average small brewery employs six people, while the average large brewery employs 61 workers, the report said. The report defines a small brewery as one that produces fewer than 50,001 gallons of beer a year.

Penobscot County is expected to see the highest increase in production, 92 percent, followed by Cumberland, York, Waldo and Hancock counties.

LARGE VERSUS SMALL

Although the report’s authors said they expect to see sustained growth in craft beer, there have been signs that the market could be becoming saturated in Portland, the industry’s epicenter. Geary’s, the first of Maine’s craft breweries, saw its production drop by a third from 2011 to 2015 as customers wandered to other brands. On the verge of bankruptcy, it is being sold to new owners.

Bart Watson, chief economist at the National Brewers Association, said established brewers across the country are losing market share as consumers gravitate to new breweries.

“They’re facing a lot more competition, with over 5,000 breweries now in the United States, but also those regional breweries are being pursued by the large brewers and being bought out. It’s a very competitive market now,” Watson said.

Maine brewers produced almost 300,000 barrels of beer last year, a 25 percent increase from 2013. More than three-quarters of guild members are small breweries that produce 520 barrels a year on average. They distribute 96 percent of their beer inside Maine, while large breweries distribute 27 percent of their product outside of the state.

Two of those large breweries – Shipyard and Allagash – are among the top 50 U.S. craft brewing companies, the Brewers Association said. A number of breweries have expanded production in recent years to keep up with demand for their products. Brewery tap rooms, where customers can buy beer and drink samples, have proliferated since they were allowed under a 2011 state law.

Sullivan, from the Maine Brewers Guild, said tap rooms are just the tip of the iceberg. Approximately 40 percent of breweries already serve food, and others host live music, bar game tournaments and other events to draw customers. Some are experimenting with lodging and other ways to become destination breweries and attract visitors, Sullivan said. In other cases, brewers want to introduce members of their community to craft beer and develop a local market for their product.

The production from small breweries is forecast to grow 61 percent by 2020, compared with 16 percent growth by large breweries.

“What I don’t think we will see is an enormous number of Maine breweries grow to large-scale in the near future,” Sullivan said. “Growth looks different depending on who you speak to.

“These destination breweries will increase as a part of what is making the whole industry grow and tick.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

mcguire@pressherald.com

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

 

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Technology being blamed for driving up Mass. car insurance rates http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/technology-being-blamed-for-driving-up-mass-car-insurance-rates/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/technology-being-blamed-for-driving-up-mass-car-insurance-rates/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 15:16:38 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/technology-being-blamed-for-driving-up-mass-car-insurance-rates/ BOSTON — Auto insurance rates in Massachusetts are on the rise and technology is to blame.

Industry experts tell The Boston Globe that drivers distracted by smartphones are crashing more often and those cars are now more expensive to repair because they’re loaded with on-board sensors and other gadgets.

Some of the largest auto insurers in Massachusetts have received approval from state regulators to raise rates on average by between 3 and 6 percent this year.

Mapfre USA Corp., with more than a million policy holders in Massachusetts, plans to raise premiums by an average of nearly 4 percent. Liberty Mutual Insurance Cos., with nearly 300,000 customers, plans average rate increases of more than 5 percent.

Massachusetts drivers paid an average premium of $1,108 in 2014, the most recent data available.

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Uber’s president leaves after only 6 months on job http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/ubers-president-leaves-after-only-6-months-on-job/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/ubers-president-leaves-after-only-6-months-on-job/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 13:46:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/ubers-president-leaves-after-only-6-months-on-job/ Two prominent executives, including the president who joined Uber just six months ago, are leaving the company, another sign of tumult as the ride-hailing service continues to grapple with months of scandal.

Jeff Jones was courted away from Target last September to serve as president of Uber’s ride-sharing business. His departure comes just weeks after CEO Travis Kalanick said he would seek “leadership help” and announced plans to hire a chief operating officer.

Jones told tech news site Recode: “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.”

Recode first reported the departures and they were later confirmed by a spokeswoman.

“We want to thank Jeff for his six months at the company and wish him all the best,” the company said in a statement.

Also departing this month is Brian McClendon, the vice president of maps and business platform. He plans to return to his native Kansas and explore a career in politics, he said in a statement provided by the company. “This fall’s election and the current fiscal crisis in Kansas is driving me to more fully participate in our democracy – and I want to do that in the place I call home,” he said.

They join a larger exodus of executives since Uber’s troubles began in January. Others to depart the company in recent months include Ed Baker, the vice president for product and growth, Raffi Krikorian, a senior engineering director, and Gary Marcus, whose company Uber acquired in December.

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Exotic saffron getting attention in New England as potential cash crop http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/exotic-saffron-starting-to-get-attention-as-new-england-cash-crop/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/exotic-saffron-starting-to-get-attention-as-new-england-cash-crop/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 13:17:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/exotic-saffron-starting-to-get-attention-as-new-england-cash-crop/ BURLINGTON, Vt. — As spring crocus blooms approach, some growers have visions of a fall-flowering crocus that produces saffron, the world’s most valuable spice.

University of Vermont researchers have been raising the exotic spice now grown primarily in Iran and are encouraging growers to tap into what they hope will be a cash crop.

It’s not a hard sell, particularly in the short growing season of the Northeast. A crop harvested in the late fall, when other crops have died off, that tolerates extreme climates and yields an average of $19 per gram.

“Is this the red gold we’ve been looking for?” said Patricia Fontaine, of Palmer Farm in Little Compton, Rhode Island. She, her mother and brother attended a sold-out workshop this month on growing saffron hosted by the University of Vermont that drew growers from New England and as far away as Indiana and California.

Saffron seasoning comes from the dried red threads, or stigmas, of the plant’s purple flower. It’s also prized as a natural dye, for medicinal purposes. Shutterstock/Daniel Fung

The family had been searching for a crop to grow in their high tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure without heat like one UVM also used to raise the spice.

“We were like looking into everything and then all of a sudden this came up, and we were like, ‘This can’t be real,’ ” said Fontaine’s brother Ryan Golembeske.

UVM researchers said the yields amounted to $4.03 a square foot, compared to $3.51 a square foot for tomatoes, and $1.81 a square foot for winter leafy greens.

They estimate an acre of saffron grown in high tunnels could bring in $100,000 a season.

The seasoning comes from the dried red threads, or stigmas, of the plant’s purple flower, enhancing dishes like paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. It’s also prized as a natural dye, for medicinal purposes and was used by Cleopatra in warm baths.

Saffron threads and corms (bulbs) are displayed in containers at the UVM workshop in Burlington.

UVM is not the first in the U.S. to raise saffron. There are other small growers around the country, including Mennonite and Amish farmers, who have been raising it outside in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maine. The Mennonite church had been looking for a way to preserve its small farms, said Peter Johnson, of the Amish-Mennonite Center of Sustainable Agriculture, in Wenham, Massachusetts.

“We are convinced that this is the crop that will keep our young kids on the farms,” he said at the workshop.

Ara Lynn, of Amazing Flower Farm in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, has already planted some saffron to supplement her business of raising annuals and perennials.

“It gives a potential income stream at a time when we’re doing nothing, or if we are, we’re just paying workers and all the money’s going out and nothing’s coming in, so it makes a lot of sense,” she said at the workshop.

But she worries about marketing.

“If we can’t find a way to market it and get that kind of money that they’re talking about then it’s just another endeavor that doesn’t work,” she said.

UVM researchers believe the more growers, the better. “How can you start encouraging a market for saffron if you only have a few growers growing it?” said Margaret Skinner.

Containers of saffron rice pudding sit together during a University of Vermont workshop, in Burlington. Associated Press/Lisa Rathke

One of the biggest questions for the American Spice Trade Association is whether labor costs would have a significant effect on the cost of the product, said Cheryl Deem, executive director.

The process of picking the flowers, gathering the delicate stigmas and drying them is labor intensive, but only for about a month – a very short period of time – and in the off season, not dissimilar from maple syrup, said UVM researcher Margaret Skinner.

“It’s the simplest crop you’ll ever grow,” Johnson said. “It works. It really does work. It’s unbelievable.”

University of Vermont graduate student Agrin Davari displays saffron plants during a university workshop in Burlington. Associated Press/Lisa Rathke

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Maine entrepreneur brings digital efficiency to producers of food and its retail buyers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/maine-entrepreneur-brings-digital-efficiency-to-producers-of-food-and-its-retail-buyers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/maine-entrepreneur-brings-digital-efficiency-to-producers-of-food-and-its-retail-buyers/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1169773 One of Maine’s most successful serial entrepreneurs has launched a new business with the goal of advancing the local food economy into the digital age.

David Stone, who previously co-founded digital gift-card provider CashStar Inc. in Portland, has started a new Portland-based company called Forager1 LLC to develop a digital procurement platform for local food producers and the retailers who sell their products.

The service, known as Forager, has been up and running on a trial basis for several months. Stone said he already has about 100 Maine food producers and 10 retailers using it.

As of Monday, Forager is being rolled out in New England and New York state, with the eventual goal of expanding nationwide.

“We believe that local food can change the world by reducing our dependency on big industrial agriculture, improving our environmental impact, creating more local jobs, making us healthier and bringing people together,” said Stone, Forager’s founder and CEO. “Yet only 3 percent of the food we consume is local, and eight large companies control 80 percent of our food supply. By breaking down barriers to local sourcing, we hope to fan the flames of a local food revolution.”

Forager is a Web-based application that creates an online and mobile digital marketplace for local farmers and other food producers to sell their products wholesale to retailers. It’s kind of like an Amazon.com for wholesalers of locally sourced foods.

INEFFICIENT PROCESS STREAMLINED

Stone said that for retailers of locally sourced foods, the traditional process of finding and doing business with multiple local farmers and other producers has been expensive, inefficient and error-prone. As a result, the retailers can spend up to 60 hours a week communicating with farmers, managing orders and making payments, which can reduce their margins by 33 percent or more.

Local food producers also struggle with inefficient processes such as updating product availability, invoicing and depositing payments, 99 percent of which are paper checks, Stone said. Forager lets them keep potential buyers apprised of their full range of available products in real time from a computer, tablet or smartphone, thus increasing sales opportunities, while speeding up billing and payments.

Rosemont Market and Bakery is one of the retailers that have been using Forager. Rosemont co-owner John Naylor said it streamlines the process of ordering, tracking inventory, receiving delivery and paying for locally produced foods.

Naylor said doing business with 60 to 70 local farms can be a labor-intensive process, and that before the launch of Forager most of those food producers were still relying on pen and paper to track sales and inventory.

“When you’re dealing with local food, it’s a more complicated process,” he said. “Forager helps slim all that down.”

Naylor said consumers want locally grown and produced foods, and that independent retailers such as Rosemont can provide much greater variety because they aren’t buying all of their products from a single, large distributor.

However, all of the labor involved adds to the retail price. Ultimately, consumers will benefit from a system like Forager that makes the buying and selling process more efficient, he said.

“It will help push down the cost a little bit,” Naylor said. “It’s a big deal.”

Meg Mitchell, owner of South Paw Farm in Freedom, also participated in the Forager pilot project. South Paw cultivates about 20 acres of fresh fruits and vegetables each year, including apples, elderberries, plums, leafy greens, root crops, onions, tomatoes, peppers and herbs. About 80 percent of that produce is sold directly to consumers at farmers markets, Mitchell said, and the other 20 percent is sold wholesale to retailers such as Rosemont.

The first step in using Forager was to create an online product list that includes every variety of fruit and vegetable South Paw grows, she said. It now exists as a live Web page that can be accessed directly by customers via the internet.

Mitchell, who admits she is not technologically savvy, said Forager makes it easy to keep the Web page updated with current availability of each product.

“It’s pretty much just clicking a green button when it’s available, and clicking a red button when it’s not available,” she said.

Purchase orders arrive via email, and Mitchell is able to update her online inventory list after the products are sent out for delivery.

“We get an email from Forager when the customer has paid,” she said. “The money shows up in our bank account a couple days later.”

Stone said Forager is his sixth startup. He self-funded the company’s initial development and has since raised about $1 million in outside investment capital. So far, Forager has four employees and it outsources the software development to a third party.

The company makes money by taking a small percentage of sale transaction volume, similar to Amazon, eBay and other e-commerce platforms.

IDEA WITH ‘LASTING SOCIAL VALUE’

Stone said he has a knack for examining market trends and coming up with ways to solve problems that previously hadn’t been addressed through technology. He said Forager was a particularly appealing idea because it is not only a viable business, but also something that will benefit communities.

“I really wanted to do something with a bit more lasting social value this time,” he said.

John Crane, general manager, of Portland Food Co-op, said Forager is already helping the cooperative save money.

“Forager has made a big difference to our local sourcing process,” Crane said. “As a result, we estimate we save at least 6 to 8 percent in labor costs. We have been waiting for a service like this for a long time.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: jcraiganderson

This story was updated March 20 at 10:40 a.m. to correct David Stone’s title with CashStar.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/maine-entrepreneur-brings-digital-efficiency-to-producers-of-food-and-its-retail-buyers/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1169773_546018-20170317_Forager0044.jpgRosemont Market and Bakery in Portland has been using the Forager digital platform, which streamlines the process of ordering, tracking inventory and paying for locally produced foods.Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:41:40 +0000