Business – Press Herald Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:00:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 On the Job: Alyssa Parker finds challenge in construction management Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Alyssa Parker has spent more than 20 years working in architecture and construction.

The director of commercial project management at Portland-based Wright-Ryan Construction Inc., says her favorite part of the job is the variety.

“It’s challenging, each project and the people involved are different, and I learn something new every day,” Parker said.

Originally from Winchester, Massachusetts, Parker, who is 47, says she got her master’s degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1995.

She needed professional experience in a variety of different areas, and when the Boston architecture firm she was working for could not find construction hours for her, she took a job with a construction company.

“I quickly gained those hours and it was clear that being a construction manager was truly what I wanted to do. Twenty-plus years later, I’m still learning, being challenged and meeting some great people along the way,” she said.

Parker says the hardest part of her job is dealing with information – retaining, processing and communicating all of it to various parties.

“You have to be thick-skinned,” Parker said.

Parker has worked on various construction projects, including conversion of the historic brick and stone Gannett Building to The Press Hotel, a 110-room boutique hotel in Portland.

]]> 0 Parker, director of commercial project management at Wright-Ryan Construction, goes over plans with superintendent Olin Williams at a construction site on Congress Street. The original house, designed by John Calvin Stevens and Francis Fassett, is being converted into a boutique hotel with a restaurant while preserving its historic character. Below, Parker looks over a stairwell with superintendent Williams at the site. "I'm still learning, being challenged and meeting some great people along the way," Parker says.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 20:09:17 +0000
Metro may close Falmouth and Yarmouth Breez stops Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Portland Metro will likely cancel two underperforming stops on its Breez shuttle as it fine-tunes the commuter shuttle between Portland and communities north of the city.

The agency intends to cancel stops at the Falmouth Shopping Center and a Yarmouth park-and-ride in August, to coincide with an expansion of the Breez service to Brunswick, said Metro general manager Greg Jordan. The agency will decide on the stops next month.

“They have not been generating nearly enough boardings to justify keeping the service,” Jordan said of the Falmouth and Yarmouth stops.

Breez has shown strong ridership otherwise and the service is expanding, Jordan added.

Metro and Freeport are discussing a new stop at the intersection of Route 1 and Desert Road and the Brunswick expansion will add three stops, he said.

Schedule and route changes are expected with a new service, Jordan added.

“You are always going to have to make course corrections based on what is working and what is not,” he said.

Breez launched as a three-year pilot service in June 2016 with federal and local funding. It makes 10 weekday trips and runs a limited service on weekends. It has more than a dozen stops between the Portland Transportation Center and Freeport village.

The first full year of service was successful, with 22,000 boardings, Jordan said. Metro is aiming for the service, including Brunswick, to have up to 40,000 boardings a year by the end of the pilot, he said.

The Breez shuttle makes only three midday stops in Falmouth, which requires it to deviate from its regular route on Interstate 295. That compromises speed and efficiency, which are key to the service, Jordan said.

“It makes it slower for people who are trying to get into and out of Portland,” he said.

Only 224 people got on the Breez bus at the Falmouth stop during the first year of service, about 1 percent of total boardings, and the park-and-ride stop on the town line between Yarmouth and Freeport produced “virtually no boardings,” Jordan said.

More than half the boardings on the service, 12,735, were in Portland. Freeport had the second-highest boardings, with 5,802 riders, and Yarmouth was third, with 3,240 riders.

Metro’s No. 7 bus runs into Falmouth with stops at the Falmouth Shopping Center, Oceanview housing development and the Town Landing Market on Route 88.

Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore, who also sits on the Metro board of directors, said canceling the Breez stop may be inconvenient for some people, but no residents have contacted him to complain.

“It’s just not working, ridershipwise,” Poore said. “Had I received a lot of comments on this, I would be listening and taking it very seriously.”

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Sarah Perkins rides the Metro Breez bus from Freeport to Portland on Monday. At top: No riders wait at the bus stop in Falmouth off of Route 1. Falmouth and Yarmouth stops are underperforming but ridership is strong elsewhere, the Metro manager says.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 22:08:54 +0000
Developers offer ideas for city-owned land in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood Tue, 27 Jun 2017 01:41:58 +0000 Ten stories of so-called micro-housing. Workforce condominiums. Affordable apartments. Modern industrial spaces for “beverage-makers,” artists, aspiring chefs and small business owners. And an office building with solar panels.

These are some of the ideas for redeveloping about 4 acres of city-owned land in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, which has long hoped for the development of additional housing and neighborhood businesses. The land used to house the city’s Public Works operation, which now is in transition to Canco Road.

On Friday afternoon, the city released details submitted by nine of the eleven developers who responded to the city’s request for development proposals. The applicants will present their proposals to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

Public comment also will be accepted at the meeting, scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. in room 24 at City Hall, said Councilor David Brenerman, who leads the committee. The breadth and diversity of the proposals is an exciting – yet difficult – opportunity for city leaders, Brenerman said.

“This is sort of creating a neighborhood and determining what the mix of uses should be,” Brenerman said. “I want to get sense of what people who live nearby, or anyone else who is interested in the future of that neighborhood, has to say.”

Brenerman said the committee chose withhold details of two of the proposals, because they either offered too little money for the parcels, or the proposed uses did not interest the committee. The nine proposals that will be presented Tuesday mostly represent the best ideas for each parcel.

“These are the ones that rose to the top,” he said.

Economic Development Direct Greg Mitchell said the city is still keeping financial information, including purchase offers from the developers, confidential in order to protect the city’s bargaining position.


Four proposals being considered for a roughly quarter-acre parking lot at 56 Parris St. are for housing.

Jack Soley, a co-founder of East Brown Cow, proposed building 20, one-bedroom condominiums in a four-story building, dubbed the “Periscope Lofts.”

In his letter to the city, Soley said the condos – at $200,000 or less – would be affordable to people earning up to 120 percent of the area median income – a threshold typically referred to as work-force housing. The units would average 400 square feet in size, but have tall ceilings and balconies.

There would one parking space provided on site for each unit, though Soley said, “Our anticipated demographic will likely include a higher percentage of pedestrian and bicycle transit due to the unit sizes.”

N. Nasir Shir and Community Housing of Maine are proposing 24 units of housing in a four-story building at the same site. They said the development “may incorporate affordable, rental apartments and/or for-sale units,” as well as a small retail space and on site parking.

The units would be a mix of studios and one-bedrooms, with condominiums ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet and apartments ranging from 400 to 600 square feet.

However, Shir would operate the property as parking lot for three to five years, while designing and securing financing and permitting for the project. The goal would be to create workforce housing, the group said.

“The precise mix of unit types and sizes, and the desired price point will be finally determined based on conversations with the city, the Bayside neighborhood, and on the results of a market study and feasibility analysis,” the group said.

A third housing proposal was submitted by the West Bayside Redevelopment Group, a collaboration between Atlantic Bayside, Renewal Housing, Avesta Housing and Northland Enterprises.

The group proposed 25-30 units of housing at 56 Parris St. built over two or three phases that would be targeted to first-time homebuyers. However, the group said that plan would require a $20,000 to $25,000 a unit subsidy from either the city’s housing trust fund or through the city’s affordable housing tax increment financing, or TIF, program, which is essential a discount on property taxes.

That proposal, however, is part of an all-or-nothing proposal, Brenerman said.

The fourth proposal comes from Tom Watson and Co. Watson is also an owner of Port Properties, which manages over 1,300 units of housing and commercial spaces, mostly on the peninsula.

Watson proposed building 23 apartments in a four-story building. The units would mostly have two bedrooms and two bathrooms targeting families or people with roommates. The sizes would range from 678 to 1,285 square feet and include 14 parking spaces.

Watson also proposed relocating the Port Property offices to the former general store at 82 Hanover St., which would free up the current site at 104 Grant St. for redevelopment a single-story building into a four-story building with 23 units of a housing. A rendering shows an addition built on the existing brick building.

Additionally, Watson proposed renovating an existing garage building at 44 Hanover St. into 16 commercial spaces, including one central space for a restaurant, pub or cafe. The commercial space could be spaces for artists to make and sell their wares. He also has proposed creating a courtyard between that building and the old General Store that could be used as a small concert venue or farmers market.


Harold Pachios, meanwhile, submitted five different proposals, which mostly focused on the current office building at 55 Portland St., the general store and old garage, or some combination. He did not bid on 56 Parris St.

The preferred option would be to purchase and renovate all three. The proposal for the garage includes adding mezzanines on the second floor to maximize space. The building could be used as start-up spaces for small businesses, as well as flexible spaces that could be used by artists, craftspeople, and “beverage making.”

Similar uses are proposed at the general store, “with more affordable parking options and complimentary businesses, such as restaurants, galleries and retail stores.”

Pachios proposed renovating the 55 Portland St., once the city’s Public Works staff vacates the building.

With 70 years experience in the Portland community, Pachios said in his letter that he has the connections and resources to execute his family’s vision.

“We have already had discussions with local businesses, and have interest from a physical therapy and strength and conditioning facility, an architecture firm, and a construction services firm for office and design studio space,” he said. “Not only do we have the financial and operational resources to acquire and develop the properties, but also to continue to operate them in a first-class manner for a long time.”


Meanwhile, the brick building that formerly housed the city’s traffic division generated interested from two business owners.

Rob Barrett, owner of Barrett Made, a building a design firm currently based on Union Wharf, proposed a multi-phase development that would include renovating the building for a new office space for his business. There also would be a makers-space, as well as 20 open-bench work spaces that could be rented by community members. He also proposed adding solar panels on the roof.

“We envision metal workers, potters, painters and others,” he said.

The second phase of development could include 25 units of housing on an adjacent parking lot for “lower- to middle-income people.”

“My goal is to make this a creative hub and an exciting addition to the city,” he said in his letter. “It will provide a space for a community of people to expand their interests, learn from their peers, and be exposed to opportunities all under the same roof.”

Rory Strunk, of O’Maine Studios, a media production studio for chefs on Danforth Street, proposed establishing a “world-class culinary media and event center that has a global draw.” In addition to having a “Kick Start Kitchen” for incubating aspiring chefs, the building could also host food festivals.

“Our current neighborhood by Rufus Deering is being rapidly absorbed by condos,” Strunk said. “Emerging in Bayside over the last 10 years are numerous food and hospitality businesses creating a dynamic food and beverage entrepreneur neighborhood. The city’s real estate assets that have been put up for bid in Bayside are a unique opportunity to add to the vibrancy of the sector growth.”


Additional housing is being proposed on nearly a quarter acre of land at 178 Kennebec St.

Thomas Toye, III, who owns several limited liability companies, has proposed building 140 so-called micro-apartments, ranging in size from 366 square feet to 627 square feet, in a 10-story building. Rents would range from $850 to $900. Renderings show a limited amount of parking being provided on the first floor, with the remaining parking being offered at surface lots near Preble and Elm streets.

Bayside landowner and businessman Ross Furman has teamed up with Nathan Szanton, a developer of affordable housing, to propose mixed-income housing. That proposal could launch a multi-phase development of the block bounded by Kennebec, Parris, Brattle and Lancaster streets, which Furman owns.

The first phase would be the development of 50 units of housing over ground level retail and/or artists space, according to the proposal. Thirty-five percent of the units would be market rate, while 65 percent would be affordable to people making 65 percent of area median income or less. Szanton has built buildings with a similar mix of tenants before, including Casco Terrace, Walker Terrace and 53 Danforth St. in Portland.

“The residents are intended to mirror the mix of people, incomes and occupations in Portland,” Szanton said in his letter. “We have seven other properties with similar unit mixes and we know that tenants in income-restricted units will include people with jobs at the lower end of the wage scale such as nurses aids, entry level workers in local businesses, clerks and artists. The market rate units are likely to have attorneys, doctors, or other urban professionals as tenants.”


Meanwhile, Brenerman said the committee also decided to make public a proposal from West Bayside Redevelopment Group.

Brenerman said the group, which submitted proposals for five of the parcels, presented its proposal as “take ’em, or don’t take any” proposition.

“We thought the public should hear that proposal as well,”he said.

In addition to the housing at 56 Parris St., the group proposed rental workforce housing at 65 Hanover St, but provided no details. The general store at 82 Hanover St. could be used for food-related commercial and retail, while the garage at 44 Hanover St. would be used for commercial space. The group also proposed using 178 Kennebec St. for parking for an existing office building at 1 Marginal Way, as opening up development potential at that location as well as the realignment of Kennebec Street.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: randybillings

]]> 0 Parris Street development proposed by developer Jack Soley is for 20 one-bedroom workforce condos, costing under $200,000 per unit. Rendering by Kaplan Thompson ArchitectsTue, 27 Jun 2017 00:29:59 +0000
Analysis: Many wouldn’t sign up for health coverage because of Senate bill’s high costs Tue, 27 Jun 2017 00:37:19 +0000 Most people are focused on how many people would lose insurance under the Senate bill compared to current law: an estimated 22 million, according to the new Congressional Budget Office analysis. But the report digs deeper into the kind of insurance that people, especially poor people, would be able to access – and finds that it would be so financially burdensome with high deductibles that many people would choose not to sign up.

Trump has criticized the insurance currently offered in the exchanges – not only for sky-high premiums, but also because “deductibles are so high that it is practically useless.”

Because of fundamental changes in how the Senate bill would provide support to people, those deductibles are virtually guaranteed to grow.

The Senate bill proposes providing federal assistance for premiums based on a benchmark plan that is fundamentally less generous than the status quo. What that means is that the assistance is calculated based on a plan shifts a greater portion of health care costs on to the person through deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs. The bill also winds down federal payments that had significantly brought down lower-income Americans’ share of their deductibles and co-pay.

Here’s how CBO explains it: A 40-year-old who makes $26,500 a year in the year 2026 would pay an annual premium of $1,700 under the current law, for a plan that covers 87 percent of their health care costs. That same person would pay an annual premium of $1,600 a year – slightly lower – but for a plan that picks up only 58 percent of their health care costs.

Another change the bill makes is to extend the premium assistance to people who make less than the federal poverty level, while effectively phasing out the Medicaid expansion that allowed adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible. Today, in states that expanded Medicaid, eligible people would typically pay no premiums and have few out-of-pocket costs. Since states are likely to curtail their Medicaid enrollment as they face budgetary pressure, this would leave a growing number of poor people the option to buy their own insurance with the tax credits.

But health policy experts have been skeptical about whether that insurance would be attractive to people.

Here’s how CBO described the conundrum for someone who makes $11,400 a year in 2026: they’d benefit from tax credits and pay only $300 a year in premiums for their insurance. But their deductible would be more than half their annual income. Buying a more generous plan – with a deductible that is a third of that person’s income – would cost $1,700 a year.

“Many people in that situation would not purchase any plan … although some people with assets to protect or who expect to have high use of health care would,” the Congressional Budget Office report states.

Translation: Healthy people who don’t think they’ll use health care much won’t bother signing up, seeing that they’d be on the hook for thousands of dollars of medical costs even if they had insurance. And that means mostly sick people will be motivated to sign up for insurance – a pattern that insurers have already complained makes the business of selling insurance untenable.

]]> 0 Mon, 26 Jun 2017 21:15:08 +0000
How secure are today’s ATMs? Mon, 26 Jun 2017 22:44:36 +0000 Automated teller machines, better known as ATMs, turn 50 on June 27. Computer science professor Pradeep Atrey, from the University at Albany, State University of New York, explains the security features and concerns of modern cash machines.

1. How does an ATM work?

In the broadest sense, an ATM works by accepting a cash request from a user, verifying the user’s authority to access a particular bank account, ensuring that account has enough money to fulfill the request and dispensing the money – all without the assistance of a bank clerk or teller.

From the very beginning, all the way back to the first ATM placed in use in London in 1967, the user’s identity was the main problem banks needed to solve. Rather than today’s plastic card with a magnetic strip and embedded microchip, the first machine accepted a slip of paper with a mildly radioactive substance – carbon-14 – printed on it in a particular pattern. The machine matched the pattern to a number code entered by the user. If it matched, and if the funds were available, the machine dispensed cash.

When using modern ATMs, a customer inserts a plastic card into the machine’s reader, which registers either the data encoded on the card’s magnetic strip or its embedded chip. It prompts the customer for a personal identification number, usually called a PIN, often four or six digits long.

If the card and PIN match, then the customer can deposit money, check an account balance or, most commonly, request a cash withdrawal. When the customer specifies an amount of money, the machine uses an internet connection or a phone line to connect to the customer’s bank, verifying the funds are available and dispensing the cash.

2. What security issues do ATMs have?

Because ATMs contain large amounts of cash, they are attractive targets for criminals. The most brazen thefts have involved physically stealing the ATM as a whole, though muggers have also accosted ATM users, who, unsurprisingly, are likely to be carrying cash.

As a result, most ATMs today have built-in cameras, to record evidence in case of a mugging or other crime, or to monitor people who might be tampering with the machine.

A more sophisticated theft involves covertly monitoring the device and its users. Thieves can install small cameras in different places on an ATM, sometimes hidden by plastic panels that look like normal parts of the machine. With those, they can capture the card number, its expiration date, the name on the card, and even the three-digit card verification value number on the back. That’s more than enough information to use the card to make unauthorized online purchases look legitimate. Fraudsters may also sell the data in online black markets.

By installing fake card slots, or even extra attachments (called “skimmers”) on top of the existing card slot, attackers can read the information on cards’ magnetic strips. That can help them make fake duplicate cards.

Hidden cameras also let thieves watch users enter their PINs. A recent study found that a thermal camera can also capture PINs, by identifying which number keys are slightly warmed, because they were pressed by the user.

3. Can ATMs be hacked?

Tech-savvy criminals have several options for hacking ATMs. The outer casings of ATMs often conceal hidden USB ports, used for software maintenance and update. If an attacker can locate the hidden port, he can insert a portable USB drive with a malicious program installed, taking control of the machine. That essentially allows the attacker to dispense cash without using a card.

A few years ago, a new attack became popular. Called by police a “black box” attack, the theft involves cutting holes in the ATM casing and disconnecting cables between the computer and the mechanism that actually dispenses the cash. Plugging another computer into the cash dispenser’s controls lets an attacker order it to release of cash.

The ATM’s telecommunications connection offers another means of attack. By intercepting communications between the machine and the bank, an attacker can collect useful card and account data. That may also offer a way to remotely install malicious software and take control of the machine itself: for instance, to issue commands to dispense cash.


ATM-related fraud and theft can’t be completely prevented. Banks are working to develop additional security measures. Individuals can also take preventive measures to protect themselves when using ATMs:

n If your bank issues them, use a chip-enabled card. They provide improved security by verifying the physical card is genuine, and not a fake duplicate.

n It is often safer to use an indoor ATM, rather than one directly on the street. The latter can be accessed more easily by criminals before or after your transaction.

n Check the ATM to see if it looks like it has been physically altered or damaged, if anything is attached to the built-in card reader or if there are any small cameras around the keypad. Avoid using it if anything looks suspicious.

n Be careful of your surroundings and people in the ATM area.

n Cover the key pad when entering your PIN so no observer or spy camera can see it.

n If you enter the correct PIN but the transaction fails, immediately contact the bank that issued the card.

5. How can new technology make ATMs more secure?

As the ever-escalating arms race between security professionals and criminals continues, customers will find themselves urged to use increasingly advanced security methods to identify themselves at ATMs.

]]> 0 first ATM was put in service 50 years ago. Today's cash machines like this one are convenient. But they can be vulnerable to theft and fraud, an expert warns.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 19:28:09 +0000
As money circulates, so do viruses, bacteria and a whole lot more Mon, 26 Jun 2017 22:44:35 +0000 We live in a dirty world. Wherever we go, we are among microbes. Bacteria, fungi and viruses live on our phones, bus seats, door handles and park benches. We pass these tiny organisms to each other when we share a handshake or a seat on the plane.

Now, researchers are finding we also share our microbes through our money. From tip jars to vending machines to the meter maid – each dollar, passed person to person, samples a bit of the environment it comes from, and passes those bits to the next person, the next place it goes.

The list of things found on our dollars includes DNA from our pets, traces of drugs, and bacteria and viruses that cause disease.

The findings demonstrate how money can silently record human activities, leaving behind so-called “molecular echoes.”

What’s on a dollar bill?

In April, a new study identified over 100 strains of bacteria on dollar bills circulating in New York City. Some of the most common bugs on our bills included Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria known to cause acne, and Streptococcus oralis, a common bacteria found in our mouths.

The research team, led by biologist Jane Carlton at New York University, also discovered traces of DNA from domestic animals and from specific bacteria that are associated only with certain foods.

A similar study recovered traces of DNA on ATM keypads, reflecting the foods people ate in different neighborhoods. People in central Harlem ate more domestic chicken than those in Flushing and Chinatown, who ate more species of bony fish and mollusks. The foods people ate transferred from fingers to touchscreens, where scientists could recover a bit of their most recent meals.

We don’t leave only food behind. Traces of cocaine can be found on almost 80 percent of dollar bills. Other drugs, including morphine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamine, can also be found on bills, though less commonly than cocaine.

Identifying foods people eat or the drugs people use based on interactions with money might not seem all that useful, but scientists are also using these types of data to understand patterns of disease. Most of the microbes the researchers in New York identified do not cause disease. But other studies have suggested that disease-causing strains of bacteria or virus could be passed along with our currency.

Bacteria that cause food-borne illness – including Salmonella and a pathogenic strain of E.coli – have been shown to survive on pennies, nickels and dimes and can hide out on ATM machines. Other bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which causes skin infections, are found on bank notes in the U.S. and Canada, but the extent to which they could spread infections is unknown.

Try as we may to avoid exposure to germs, they travel with us and on us. Even if disease-causing microbes can survive in places like ATMs, the good news is that most exposures don’t make us sick.

Disease transmission linked to money is rare, and no major disease outbreaks have started from our ATMs. Although it doesn’t seem common for diseases to transmit through money, there are ways we could make our money cleaner.

Researchers are working on ways to clean money between transactions. Putting older bills through a machine that exposes them to carbon dioxide at a specific temperature and pressure can strip dollar bills of oils and dirt left behind by human fingers, while the heat kills microbes that would otherwise linger.

U.S. money is still made from a blend of cotton and linen, which has been shown to have higher bacterial growth than plastic polymers. Several countries are transitioning to plastic, which may be less friendly to bacteria. Canada has had plastic money since 2013, and the U.K. transitioned to a plastic-based bank note last year.

Even if our money is not directly responsible for spreading disease, we can still use the dollar’s travel history to track how we spread disease in other ways. The website, created in 1998, lets users track dollar bills by recording their serial numbers. In the almost 20 years since the site’s creation, WheresGeorge has tracked the geographic locations of bills totaling over $1 billion.

Now, physicists at the Max Planck Institute and University of California, Santa Barbara are using data from the WheresGeorge site to track epidemics. Information on human movement and contact rates from WheresGeorge was even used to predict the spread of the 2009 swine flu.

]]> 0 cash dollar bills STAFF PHOTO BY GORDON CHIBROSKI -- Friday, October 9, 1998 -- Vicky Dostie, Head Teller at the downtown Maine Bank and Trust, shows a fresh stack of twentys received recently from the Federal Reserve Bank.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 23:58:50 +0000
Minimum wage increase takes toll on workers, study in Seattle concludes Mon, 26 Jun 2017 22:14:45 +0000 When Seattle officials voted three years ago to incrementally boost the city’s minimum wage up to $15 an hour, they’d hoped to improve the lives of low-income workers. Yet according to a major new study that could force economists to reassess past research on the issue, the hike has had the opposite effect.

The city is gradually increasing the hourly minimum to $15 over several years. Already, though, some employers have not been able to afford the increased minimums. They’ve cut their payrolls, putting off new hiring, reducing hours or letting their workers go, the study found.

The costs to low-wage workers in Seattle outweighed the benefits by a ratio of three to one, according to the study, conducted by a group of economists at the University of Washington who were commissioned by the city. The study, published as a working paper Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, has not yet been peer reviewed.

On the whole, the study estimates, the average low-wage worker in the city lost $125 a month because of the hike in the minimum.

The paper’s conclusions contradict years of research on the minimum wage. Many past studies, by contrast, have found that the benefits of increases for low-wage workers exceed the costs in terms of reduced employment – often by a factor of four or five to one.

“This strikes me as a study that is likely to influence people,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved in the research. He called the work “very credible” and “sufficiently compelling in its design and statistical power that it can change minds.”

Yet the study will not put an end to the dispute. Experts cautioned that the effects of the minimum wage may vary according to the industries dominant in the cities where they are implemented along with overall economic conditions in the country as a whole.

Critics of the research pointed out what they saw as serious shortcomings. In particular, to avoid confusing establishments that were subject to the minimum with those that were not, the authors did not include large employers with locations both inside and outside of Seattle in their calculations.

“Like, whoa, what? Where did you get this?” asked Ben Zipperer, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

“My view of the research is that it seems to work,” he said. “The minimum wage in general seems to do exactly what it’s intended to do, and that’s to raise wages for low-wage workers, with little negative consequence in terms of job loss.”

]]> 0 waitress at a Seattle restaurant carries food to a table in 2014. A new study finds that low-wage workers may not benefit overall from an increase in the minimum wage, but the study does not include larger employers.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 21:46:53 +0000
Takata files for bankruptcy in Japan, U.S. Mon, 26 Jun 2017 21:48:08 +0000 Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

The company’s bankruptcy filings cleared the way for a $1.6 billion takeover of most of Takata’s assets by rival Key Safety Systems, which is based in Detroit but owned by a Chinese company.

Takata’s inflators can explode with too much force when they fill up an air bag, spewing out shrapnel. Apart from the fatalities, they’re responsible for at least 180 injuries worldwide.

So far, 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide, the largest automotive-related recall in U.S. history. That includes 69 million in the U.S., affecting 42 million vehicles.

Takata’s president Shigehisa Takada told reporters in Tokyo that with the company rapidly losing value, filing for bankruptcy protection was the only way it could carry on.

“We’re in a very difficult situation, and we had to find ways to keep supplying our products,” Takada said. “As a maker of safety parts for the automobile industry, our failure to maintain a stable supply would have a major impact across the industry.”

“There was no other way,” he said.

Takada said he intends to leave Takata’s management once it is handed over to Key Safety Systems and things are running smoothly.

“It would be a big nuisance for the new company if a person like me were to get involved in its management,” he said.

The bankruptcy filings by Takata, founded in 1933 as a textiles maker, led the Tokyo Stock Exchange to announce Monday it was delisting the company.

Under its agreement with Key, remnants of Takata’s operations will continue to make inflators to be used as replacement parts in the recalls, which are being handled by 19 affected automakers.

Takata will use part of the sale proceeds to reimburse the automakers, but experts say the companies still must fund a significant portion of the recalls themselves.

The process could take years. One of Takata’s lawyers, Nobuaki Kobayashi, said it was too early to estimate the total eventual cost of the recalls and would not confirm Japanese media reports that they exceeded $9 billion.

“It’s likely every automaker involved in this recall will have to subsidize the process because the value of Takata’s assets isn’t enough to cover the costs of this recall,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Monday it was setting up “advice windows” to help any affected small- and medium-sized suppliers that might face difficulties because of Takata’s troubles.

More than 70 percent of the airbags recalled in Japan have been replaced, and 36 percent in the U.S., said Hiroshi Shimizu, a Takata vice president. He said progress of the recalls in other countries was unknown.

Takata and the automakers were slow to address the problem with the inflators despite reports of deaths and injuries. Eventually they were forced to recall tens of millions of vehicles. The scope of the recalls means some car owners face lengthy waits for replacement parts, meanwhile driving cars with air bags that could malfunction in a crash.

The problems stem from use of the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate in the inflators used to deploy air bags in a crash. The chemical can deteriorate when exposed to hot and humid air and burn too fast, blowing apart a metal canister.

At least $1 billion from the sale to Key is expected to be used to satisfy Takata’s settlement of criminal charges in the U.S. for concealing problems with the inflators. Of that amount, $850 million goes to automakers to help cover their costs from the recalls. Takata already has paid $125 million into a fund for victims and a $25 million fine to the U.S. Justice Department.

Attorneys for those injured by the inflators worry that $125 million won’t be enough to fairly compensate victims, many of whom have serious facial injuries from metal shrapnel. One 26-year-old plaintiff will never be able to smile because of nerve damage, his attorney says.

The lead attorney for people suing the automakers said in a statement after the announcement that he doesn’t expect the bankruptcy to affect the pending claims against the companies. Settlement agreements with Toyota, Subaru, BMW and Mazda already have won preliminary court approvals, attorney Peter Prieto said.

That settlement will speed the removal of faulty inflators from 15.8 million vehicles and compensate consumers for economic losses, Prieto said. Claims are continuing against Honda, Ford, Nissan and Takata.

Key makes inflators, seat belts and crash sensors for the auto industry and is owned by China’s Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. Its global headquarters and U.S. technical center is in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Key said it won’t cut any Takata jobs or close any of Takata’s facilities.

The Takata corporate name may not live on after the bankruptcy. The company says on its website that its products have kept people safe, and it apologizes for problems caused by the faulty inflators.

“We hope the day will come when the word ‘Takata’ becomes synonymous with ‘safety,”‘ the website says.

]]> 0 air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows at the beginning of a news conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 17:48:08 +0000
LePage signs tip credit restoration bill Mon, 26 Jun 2017 15:35:09 +0000 AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has signed into law a bill that restores the tip credit to the state’s minimum wage law.

The law change, which allows employers to pay tipped employees half the state’s minimum wage, partially repeals a ballot measure passed by voters in November that boosted Maine’s minimum wage in steps to $12 an hour by 2020. The law also removed the tip credit, requiring employers to pay all workers the minimum wage.

The restoration of the tip credit still requires employers to make up the difference in tipped employee pay when their weekly tips are not equal to what they would earn under the minimum wage.

The bill, L.D. 673, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, when the state’s minimum wage under the new ballot law will increase from $9 to $10 an hour.

LePage urged lawmakers to restore the tip credit and asked the Legislature to repeal a portion of the ballot measure that requires the minimum wage after 2020 to be adjusted for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.

The tip credit is largely used by restaurants and bars where food servers and bartenders work mostly for tips from their customers.

While some servers testified against restoring the tip credit, dozens of waiters, waitresses and bartenders testified in favor of the change in April during a 12-hour public hearing on the bill. They told lawmakers they usually made far more in tips than the $12 per hour promised by the new minimum wage and that patrons generally were tipping less as they were confused by the law change.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

Twitter: thisdog

]]> 0, 26 Jun 2017 18:42:02 +0000
Air bag maker Takata expected to file bankruptcy in Japan, U.S. Mon, 26 Jun 2017 01:18:29 +0000 DETROIT — Drowning in a sea of lawsuits and recall costs, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. is expected to seek bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the United States early Monday.

Takata was done in by defective air bag inflators that can explode with too much force, spewing out shrapnel. They’re responsible for at least 16 deaths and 180 injuries and have touched off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. So far 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide including 69 million in the U.S., affecting 42 million vehicles.

Rival Key Safety Systems, based in suburban Detroit, will buy most of Takata’s assets for $1.6 billion and take over its manufacturing operations to make seat belts, air bags and other automotive safety devices, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Some remnants of Takata will be folded into an entity with a different name to keep manufacturing inflators used as replacement parts in recalls, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because the bankruptcy terms have not been made public.

The recalls, which are being handled by 19 affected automakers, will continue.

At the end of April, only 22 percent of the 69 million recalled inflators in the U.S. had been replaced under the recalls, leaving almost 54 million on the roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. This means more inflators will likely explode and more people will be hurt in the future, lawyers say.

At least $1 billion from the sale will be used to satisfy Takata’s settlement of criminal charges in the U.S. for concealing problems with the inflators. It was unclear what the rest of money paid by Key will be used for. Key is owned by Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. of China.

One of the people briefed on the filings said that Key would get Takata’s assets “free and clear” of past or future liabilities. That makes it unclear whether anyone injured by inflators in the future would have any legal recourse against either company.

Takata’s troubles stem from use of the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate in the inflators to deploy air bags in a crash. The chemical can deteriorate when exposed to hot and humid air and burn too fast, blowing apart a metal canister.

In February, Takata pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to the $1 billion settlement. Lawyers acknowledged in court that the company would have to be sold to fund the settlement. Automakers would get $850 million in restitution for recall costs and a $25 million fine would be paid to the government. Takata already has paid $125 million into a fund for victims.

Attorneys for those injured by the inflators worry that $125 million won’t be enough to fairly compensate victims, many of whom have serious facial injuries from metal shrapnel. One 26-year-old plaintiff will never be able to smile due to nerve damage, his attorney says.

Takata wouldn’t comment on a bankruptcy filing. As recently as last week it maintained the possibility of keeping the company in operation. A committee set up to explore restructuring has made a recommendation with Key as a suitor, but Takata’s board had not decided on that last week, Takata said in a statement.

Key, which makes inflators, seat belts and crash sensors for the auto industry, would not comment on reports that it would purchase the Takata assets.

The Takata corporate name may not live on after the bankruptcy. The company, founded in 1933, says on its website that its products have kept people safe, and it apologizes for problems caused by the faulty inflators. “We hope the day will come when the word ‘Takata’ becomes synonymous with ‘safety,”‘ the website says.

]]> 0 Sun, 25 Jun 2017 21:18:29 +0000
As warming sea devastates coral, Florida Keys economy will suffer Mon, 26 Jun 2017 00:15:29 +0000 PICKLES REEF, Fla. — Twenty feet under water, Nature Conservancy biologist Jennifer Stein swims over to several large corals and pulls several laminated cards from her dive belt.

“Disease,” reads one, as she gestures to a coral that exhibits white splotches. “Recent mortality,” reads another card. Along the miles of coral reef off the Florida Keys, Stein and her fellow divers have found countless examples of this essential form of ocean life facing sickness and death.

The pattern of decay is shaping up as one of the sharpest impacts of climate change in the continental United States – and a direct threat to economic activity in the Keys, a haven for diving, fishing and coastal tourism.

The debate over climate change is often framed as one that pits jobs against the need to protect the planet for future generations. In deciding to exit the Paris climate agreement and roll back domestic environmental regulations, the Trump administration said it was working to protect jobs.

But what is happening here – as the warming of the sea devastates the coral reef – is a stark example of how rising temperatures can threaten existing economies.

The 113-mile-long Overseas Highway between the mainland and Key West – linking islands that themselves emerged from an ancient coral archipelago – is lined with marinas, bait and tackle shops and an abundance of seafood restaurants.

From the visitors who fill dive charters out of Key Largo to the local fishing industry’s catches of spiny lobsters, grouper, snapper and other species, nearly everything in the Florida Keys is tied in some way to the reefs.

Beyond the diving, snorkeling, fishing and sightseeing, virtually every tourist activity will be harmed if the reefs continue to suffer damage.

Cece Roycraft and a partner own the Dive Key West shop, which sells scuba gear and runs boat charters. Their operation depends on a healthy reef system, because divers naturally are not as interested in exploring dead or damaged reefs, which do not attract as many fish and can be covered in algae. It is an economic reality accepted by residents of the Keys but not yet widely recognized by other Americans, she said.

“It’s equal to the Yellowstone Park, OK?” said Roycraft, who worked to help create a federal program that certifies vessels that train their crews in proper coral protection practices, including following proper mooring rules and ensuring that divers do not poke and prod the reefs.

Tourism “is the economic engine of the Florida Keys. There is no other way for people to make money,” Roycraft said.

Three and a half million people visit the Keys each year – nearly 47 for each of the area’s 75,000 full-time residents. Tourism supplies 54 percent of all island jobs and fuels a $2.7 billion economy, according to Monroe County, which includes the Keys and a significant portion of Everglades National Park.

The importance attached to the reef system defies the usual political divides. Here in the Keys, people voted 51 percent to 44 percent in favor of Donald Trump in the presidential election – but they seem to differ from the president in their support for government-funded programs to protect the environment.

In March, amid fears that the administration might try to defund Environmental Protection Agency programs that protect the reef system, Monroe County’s board of commissioners called for sustaining the EPA’s role and declared in a board resolution that “a healthy marine environment is essential and the most important contributor to the economy of the Florida Keys.”

The EPA’s South Florida program, which received $ 1.7 million in federal funds in fiscal 2017, conducts coral surveys, studies of the health of sea grasses and carries out more-general water- quality assessments. Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget seeks to eliminate the allocation.

In recent years, the islands have spent millions of dollars, including some federal money, to convert to central sewer systems, ending the damaging practice of allowing human waste to seep into the ocean from septic tanks.

But what is coming into focus is that the threats to the reef system cannot be countered locally.

Ecologists describe the 360-mile-long Florida Reef Tract as a global treasure. It is the world’s third-largest barrier reef, although much less famous than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

But less than 10 percent of the reef system is now covered with living coral. Scientists anticipate that as early as 2020, it could be in line for almost yearly bleaching events, in which heat stresses upend the metabolism of corals, in some cases killing them. The reefs experienced back-to-back major bleaching events in 2014 and 2015.

An influential 2016 study in the journal Scientific Reports found that coral declines were just as likely to occur in remote, pristine reefs, such as the northern sector of the Great Barrier Reef, as they were to occur in non-remote reefs, such as the Florida Reef Tract. That is despite the fact that reefs closer to human communities probably experience a lot more pollution, overfishing and poor water quality.

The researchers suggested that the main reason for a decline of coral was a uniform global cause – warming.

“It’s not only me feeling compassion for the actual coral, but for the entire ecosystem and how that’s going to affect it in the years to come, unforeseen things that we just don’t know are going to happen,” Stein said after the dive. “It’s frustrating and sad at the same time.”

In the Keys, longtime residents say there’s just no parallel between the reef of today – which still impresses inexperienced tourist divers – and what locals saw decades ago.

Mimi Stafford is a Key West-based master of all trades – commercial fishing, massage therapy, marine biology – who has lived here for decades. Over that time, the ocean has swallowed 25 feet of beach in front of her home, where iguanas thrash through the mangroves and military jets blast by regularly from nearby Naval Air Station Key West.

“When I was a child in the ’60s, the water was so clear I used to think of it as being Coke bottle blue,” said Stafford, citing the colored glass some Coke bottlers used. “And the reef was so healthy, all the coral was very alive. I don’t recall even thinking about bleaching or coral death or coral diseases back then.”

For most, those worries didn’t arrive until the late 1990s.

The threat of climate change to coral reefs first garnered major attention during the strong El Niño event of 1997-98, which triggered widespread bleaching and coral death around the world. The topic has become even more urgent amid an even-worse global bleaching event that began in 2014 and may be winding down only now.

The unrelenting ocean heat in 2014 and 2015 caused many of Florida’s corals to turn white and lose key metabolic functions from heat stress.

The heat episodes in 1997-98 and in more recent years “have been the worst events on record for bleaching events and have had devastating effects and losses of coral cover,” said Rob Ruzicka, who heads the coral research program at Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Florida enjoyed a respite last year, but the reef system still suffered from a protracted outbreak of deadly diseases that often follow bleaching.

“This is different in that the extent and number of species of corals that have been affected have been dramatic,” said Esther Peters, a coral reef ecologist at George Mason University in Virginia. Twenty-one coral species in the Florida Reef Tract are suffering from multiple diseases, according to reef surveys by the Nature Conservancy. Seven of those species are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, among them staghorn and elkhorn corals.

A 2017 study led by the Nature Conservancy’s senior marine scientist, Mark Spalding, estimated that coral reefs are worth $36 billion annually to tourism industries in key tropical coastal regions such as Florida and Hawaii, the Queensland coast in Australia and the coast of Kenya on the Indian Ocean.

Research from the World Resources Institute has found that 94 countries rely on reefs for tourism and that in 23 of them, tourism related to reefs provides more than 15 percent of gross domestic product.

Back in the Keys, scientists are trying radical new approaches to restoring the reefs.

Twenty feet under water at Pickles Reef, the Coral Restoration Foundation, based in Key Largo, has implanted endangered staghorn corals across the reef.

The implants, raised in undersea nurseries, are small but are growing steadily.

“A little piece the size of your pinkie can grow to be a piece the size of the diameter of a grapefruit in just six months on one of those trees,” said Kayla Ripple, the foundation’s science program manager, referring to the submerged PVC frames from which coral fragments are suspended to grow. “And after six months, we can take them to the reef.”

The question now is whether these reefs will stand up to climate change – and whether experimental solutions such as the restoration approach or global strategies such as the Paris climate agreement can make enough of a dent in time.

“My children saw it right before it really started to decline,” said Mimi Stafford. “But you know, I don’t think their children will unless we can do something.”

]]> 0 waters and disease are killing coral.Sun, 25 Jun 2017 20:29:45 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Here’s the skinny on that new retirement-advice rule Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Despite a lot of pushback from some financial-services companies, a new rule should cut down on conflicts of interest in the advice given to investors about their retirement accounts.

But based on what I’m hearing from readers, people have a lot to learn about the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, which requires financial professionals to put their clients’ interest first. To help sort through some of the confusion that often comes when new rules go into effect, Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), has been helping me respond to reader queries. Here are some of her answers to questions she couldn’t get to during a recent online discussion.

Q: Financial services companies say they oppose the rule because they are looking out for small investors who, according to the firms, won’t be able to get adequate investment advice under the new rule. Since when does this industry care about the little guy?

A: Industry-rule opponents hit on this argument because it sounds a lot better than admitting that you just really don’t want to be legally accountable for acting in customers’ best interests. We (at the CFA) believe small investors, who are most likely to get investment advice from brokers and insurance agents who have not previously been held to a fiduciary standard, will be the biggest beneficiaries of the rule. They will no longer have to give up their right to best-interest advice.

And early experience since firms began announcing their implementation plans for the rule clearly shows that there are firms who are willing to serve even the smallest retirement accounts under a fiduciary standard.

Q: Does “in my best interest” always mean the least expensive option, or is there some other criteria that an adviser uses?

A: While minimizing costs is important, the lowest-cost option is not always the best option, and the (Labor Department) rule does not require advisers to recommend the least expensive investment. Instead, they are required to consider a wide range of factors – things like the investment’s risk profile, liquidity, performance history, compatibility with the investor’s risk tolerance and investment goals.

Q: In light of the new rule, should I be keeping all my previous commissioned-based products? Is it OK to ask my adviser to prove that these products are in my family’s best financial interest? If so, what do I ask?

A: The rule offers an excellent reason to initiate a conversation with your adviser about the advice you have received in the past, and will continue to receive in non-retirement accounts, that has not been governed by the fiduciary standard. That doesn’t mean you should run out and dump your commission products.

Some may, in fact, meet the best-interest standard. In other cases, costs associated with selling and replacing the investment wouldn’t be worth it. It is absolutely appropriate for you to ask your adviser to describe whether and how your current holdings meet a best-interest standard. Follow up by asking more specifically whether there are other options available that would be better for you – with lower costs, a better performance record, greater liquidity or other more investor-friendly features – and why they didn’t recommend those.

If you feel like you are getting the run-around, that’s a major red flag. You may want to start looking around for a different adviser – one who will act in your best interests for all your accounts, not just your retirement accounts.

Q: I was given information in preparation for the fiduciary rule for my retirement account. It would make the account I have at an investment company a “self-directed account” or I could receive “personalized investment guidance” if I switched to a portfolio with a much larger number of investments. Is this because of the new regulations?

A: It sounds as though you are being offered a choice between a plain vanilla self-directed account, with no advice and limited investment options, and a fee account, with advice and a broader array of investment options. What you haven’t mentioned, however, is how much each account would cost, how much you trade, how confident you are making your own investment decisions, or how much you rely on an adviser for recommendations. Those are all factors you would have to consider in making this choice. But it may be that you don’t find either option particularly attractive. If that’s the case, by all means shop around for a new firm that doesn’t offer such a limited array of choices.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Jun 2017 17:08:26 +0000
Business week in review: Home sales slow; winery’s pitch wins Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Cianbro lands $215 million federal contract

Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield has been awarded part of a $215 million federal contract to modernize and expand facilities at the U.S. Land Port of Entry in Alexandria Bay, New York. The contract was awarded to Cianbro and Northland Associates Inc. of Liverpool, New York, by the U.S. General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service. The first phase of the contract for Cianbro and Northland, Cianbro’s joint venture partner, is for $90.8 million and is expected to take two-and-a half years, according to a Cianbro spokesman. The U.S. General Services Administration website says construction of the project is expected to begin this month, and both phases are expected to be completed in July 2022. Read the story.

Home sales slowed in May

Fewer houses for sale was cited as the reason Maine home sales were down in May compared with the same month last year. The volume of single-family home sales was down 8.85 percent in May compared with a year earlier, according to information released by the Maine Association of Realtors. But prices did rise 5.12 percent to a median price of $200,000. The inventory of homes for sale is 20 percent lower this spring than last, said the president of the Realtors association. Nationally, the volume of single-family home sales increased 2.7 percent. The National Association of Realtors reported a nationwide media sale price of $254,600, a 6.0 percent jump from one year ago. Read the story.


Lobstermen win concession to fish in coral protection zone

A deep-sea coral protection plan adopted Thursday won’t keep Maine fishermen out of their traditional Gulf of Maine fishing spots. The New England Fisheries Management Council voted to ban all but lobstermen from fishing about 39 square miles of coral-rich area in two protection zones near Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge. About 50 Maine lobster boats from more than a dozen ports harvest more than $8 million worth of lobster from those areas, according to state estimates. Ground fishermen say the exclusion from the Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge coral protection zones doesn’t hurt them. Read the story.


Mainers’ income still lags nation

New estimates from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show Mainers’ personal income grew by 2.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, a sluggish growth rate compared to the rest of the nation. The inflation-adjusted data put Maine among the 10 slowest-growing states, according to the BEA. The agency estimates that the United States as a whole had a 4.1 percent inflation-adjusted increase in personal income. Thursday’s BEA estimates for 2014-2015 show Maine’s real per capita personal income growing from $38,856 in 2014 to $39,950 in 2015. New Hampshire’s income growth rate was 4.3 percent, and Massachusetts ranked among the fastest-growing states with a 5.3 percent growth rate. Read the story.

Expense software company bought by California investment group

Certify, a Portland company that develops expense management software, has been acquired by a California-based investment group. K1 Investment Management, an investment firm focused on global software companies, purchased Certify and three other expense software companies for $125 million. The deal creates one company with more than 7,500 customers that use the specialized software to reduce overhead associated with managing employee time, travel and expenses. Certify is expected to maintain its Portland operation where 90 people work. Read the story.


$50 million tech bond passes

The proposed $50 million technology and innovation bond that was the subject of Maine’s June 13 referendum passed easily, with 62 percent of voters supporting it and 38 percent opposed, according to certified results released Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s Office. Initial results from large communities around the state suggested an easy victory for the proposal despite a low voter turnout, but the statewide vote totals were not available until Wednesday. In total, voters approved the bond 63,468 to 39,549. The bond calls for the Maine Technology Institute to distribute $45 million in grants for upgrades in aquaculture, marine technology, forestry and agriculture. The Small Enterprise Growth Fund would direct the remaining $5 million to qualifying small businesses in fields including marine sciences, biotechnology and manufacturing. Read the story.

Wine maker wins $100,000 pitch contest

Season two of Maine’s entrepreneurial competition TV show “Greenlight Maine” ended June 17 with Michael Terrien and Eric Martin, founders of Bluet, taking home the $100,000 grand prize. Bluet, a Jefferson-based business that produces sparkling wine made from wild blueberries, was chosen based on its founders’ superior knowledge of how to operate and grow the business, the judges said. Bluet was one of 26 contestants participating in the 13-episode season. It competed against hydroelectric facilities developer Surge Hydro and herbal products maker Herbal Revolution in the season finale. Read the story.


Poliquin seeks protection for dam

A federal commission that regulates dams is being asked to exempt a dam in Washington County from licensing requirements that could be costly to the paper mill that controls the dam and the surrounding community that benefits from the management of river and lake levels. In a letter, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exempt the Forest City Dam on the St. Croix River from regulations that could force its manager to abandon it. If the dam is abandoned, its gates would be open permanently and water levels on the river and in East Grand Lake would drop by 6 feet and have a deleterious effect on housing and fisheries that contribute to the area’s economy. In late December, Woodland Pulp notified federal officials that it wanted to abandon ownership of the dams at Forest City and Sysladobsis Lake because it has been operating them at a significant loss. Poliquin’s letter states the increased operational costs forced the owners to begin the process to abandon the dams. Read the story.


Feds agree to offer more temporary visas

The Department of Homeland Security will offer extra visas for temporary seasonal workers, a move that could help the Maine hospitality industry find workers for jobs it is struggling to fill this summer. The department said it has yet to determine how many visas will be available. Visas will be offered only to seasonal businesses that “would be severely harmed if they do not receive temporary employment relief under the H2B program,” the department said in a statement Wednesday. It expects to begin offering visas in late July. Steve Hewins, director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said the news is positive, but its impact on Maine is unclear. Read the story.


Chip maker seeks change on TIF agreeement

ON Semiconductor, formerly Fairchild, wants to amend its tax increment financing agreement with the city for its 20-acre manufacturing facility on Western Avenue. City Manager Scott Morelli said ON’s request was the subject of a City Council executive session Monday, but he declined to discuss how the company wants to change the document. Morelli said ON’s request will be discussed publicly at a council meeting as early as next month. The Phoenix-based microchip maker purchased rival Fairchild Semiconductor last September in a $2.4 billion deal that had been in the works for nearly a year. The purchase included Fairchild’s plant and offices in South Portland, which employed about 650 people at the time of the sale. Read the story.

]]> 0 fishing boat unloads its herring catch in Rockland last year. Herring yields have been impressive in recent years, but federal regulators are pondering a slight reduction from 2015's 108,000 metric tons to slightly less than 105,000.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:02:09 +0000
Google says it will stop scanning your emails Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:27:04 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — Google is going to stop reading your Gmail in search of opportunities to sell ads.

The change announced Friday will end a practice that Google has embraced since the company introduced Gmail in 2004. The practice has raised concerns among privacy watchdogs and creeped out some users.

To help finance the free service, Google has been scanning through what Gmail users were discussing and then showing ads connected to some of the topics. Someone writing about running, for instance, might see ads for Nike or Asics shoes.

Google still plans to show ads within Gmail. But instead of scanning through email content, the company’s software will rely on other signals to determine which ads are most likely to appeal to each of its 1.2 billion Gmail users.

The Mountain View, California, company said it would stop the ad-driven scanning of Gmail later this year.

Google says it’s changing course so its free Gmail service operates more like the subscription version that it has sold to more than 3 million companies. The paid Gmail doesn’t include ads, so the company has never tried to scan the content of those users’ emails for marketing purposes.

Despite that, Google said some of its business customers incorrectly assumed the company was scanning those accounts as well. Google hopes to end the confusion and sell Gmail to even more businesses.

Gmail now ranks as the world’s largest email service, an indication that most people didn’t care about Google’s scanning methods. Both Microsoft and Apple have publicly skewered Google for having the audacity to mine users’ emails for ad sales.

]]> 0 headquarters in Brussels. Google is going to stop reading your Gmail in search of opportunities to sell ads.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:36:32 +0000
More Sears, Kmart stores to close doors Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:20:56 +0000 NEW YORK — Sears is closing another 20 stores as the ailing retailer tries to turn around its business.

Real estate investment trust Seritage, which owns the 20 real estate properties, confirmed the closings – 18 Sears stores and two Kmart stores – in a government filing Friday.

In 2015, Sears Holdings Corp. sold 235 Sears and Kmart store locations to Seritage as part of an agreement in which Sears leases the stores back from the real estate company. Under the agreement it has with Seritage, if a store is unprofitable, Sears Holdings has the option to exit the lease by making a payment equal to one year’s rent.

“We have been strategically and aggressively evaluating our store space and productivity, and have accelerated the closing of unprofitable stores as previously announced,” said Howard Riefs, in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

Riefs said the stores will close in mid-September; liquidation sales will begin by the end of June.

These closures come in addition to the closing of 226 stores – 164 Kmart stores and 62 Sears stores – already announced this year, according to the research firm Fung Global & Retail Technology, which tracks retailers’ closings.

On Thursday, Sears announced the opening of its first Sears Appliances & Mattresses concept store, located in Pharr, Texas. The company said the store builds on the success of the Sears Appliances store that opened in Fort Collins, Colorado, last year.

]]> 0 sales are expected to begin by the end of June at 18 struggling Sears stores and two Kmarts, according to real estate trust that owns the properties.Sat, 24 Jun 2017 10:33:42 +0000
Sales of new homes bounced back in May, but not evenly Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:20:10 +0000 WASHINGTON — Sales of new homes rebounded in May, helped by strong sales gains in the South and West.

Sales of new single-family homes rose 2.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That followed a 7.9 percent drop in sales in April which was the biggest monthly decline in eight months.

Sales gains of 6.2 percent in the South and 13.3 percent in the West overcame big declines of 25.7 percent in the Midwest and 10.8 percent in the Northeast. The Midwest drop was the largest in that region in nearly three years.

The median price of a home sold last month rose to a record $345,800, up 16.8 percent from a year ago. Prices have been increasing as demand has outstripped supply, in part because of a shortage of available building lots.

The rebound in May sales had been expected following the big April drop. Sales of previously owned homes also rose last month.

The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday existing home sales, a much larger market than new homes, increased 1.1 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 5.62 million.

Economists noted that the May level of sales was the highest since March and the government also revised up activity for the past three months.

“This report, along with the larger existing home sales … gives a much better tone” for the economy in the current quarter, Jennifer Lee, senior economist for BMO Capital Markets, said in a research note.

The strong demand for homes reflects a healthy labor market which has seen steady job gains that has sent the unemployment rate down to a 16-year low of 4.3 percent.

The number of homes for sale rose 1.5 percent in May to 268,000, which represented a 5.3 month’s supply at the May sales pace, the same as April but up from a supply of 4.9 months in March.

]]> 0 this month work on a home under construction at a project in Jackson Township, Butler County, Pa. The Commerce Department reported Friday that new home sales in the U.S. had climbed 2.9 percent in May.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:28:13 +0000
British proposal on citizens’ rights portends clashes Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:19:45 +0000 BRUSSELS — The European Union and Britain on Friday tripped over the first item in their Brexit talks – protecting the rights of each other’s citizens – highlighting the potential for trouble ahead in their marathon negotiations.

While British Prime Minister Theresa May declared that she had offered a “fair and serious” proposal on citizens’ rights, European Union chief Donald Tusk dismissed it as falling “below our expectations.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said “thousands of questions” remained on the key topic.

The 27 EU leaders demanded many more details on the U.K. proposal to guarantee the rights of the 3 million EU citizens who now live in Britain.

Since many of those citizens will want to stay even as Britain itself leaves the EU, it is an immediate issue where May has a lot of leverage. The British leader is insisting that the EU needs to give the 1.5 million Britons living on the continent equal respect. She will outline a more detailed proposal next Monday, when May addresses her parliament in London.

Alongside citizens’ rights, the Brexit negotiators will address the substantial bill that Britain will have to pay to quit the EU and the problems surrounding the border in Ireland.

“I want to reassure all those EU citizens who are in the U.K., who’ve made their lives and homes in the U.K., that no one will have to leave, we won’t be seeing families split apart. This is a fair and serious offer,” May said.

Yet many EU leaders were nonplussed by May’s offer, saying there was a clear deal to leave such Brexit issues to the top negotiators, Michel Barnier for the EU and David Davis for Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said May’s move was “not yet the breakthrough” that EU nations were looking for, adding “there is a long road in front of us.”

Tusk agreed.

“My first impression is that the U.K.’s offer is below our expectations, and that it risks worsening the situation of citizens,” Tusk said. “It will be for our negotiating team to analyze the offer line by line.”

Exactly one year after British voters chose to leave the EU and after months of political chaos at home, a weakened May sent her team into the Brexit negotiations that began Monday. The issue of citizens’ rights was seen as her strongest point to make an immediate impact.

Many said she missed the mark.

“We don’t want to buy a pig in a poke,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, calling May’s opening “an extremely vague proposal for something that is incredibly complicated.”

May promised that the fate of EU citizens would be a priority in Brexit negotiations. She laid out benchmarks for their rights and said they should be shielded from excessive harm because of the political divorce.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said preserving residency rights for EU citizens was such an indisputable goal that any stumbles over the issue showed how fraught the talks would be.

“The situation must be really tense if such an obvious thing is now considered as news. Of course people should at least have the right to stay, that is a minimum and personally I cannot imagine things differently,” Gabriel said in Paris.

Under May’s proposal, EU citizens with legal residence in the U.K. will not be asked to leave and will be offered a chance to regularize their situation after Brexit. May also promised to cut the burdensome bureaucracy such paperwork can involve. EU citizens now face an imposing 85-page form to tackle if they want to stay.

]]> 0 Prime Minister Theresa May offers her post-Brexit plan for citizens' rights at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday. Many said it missed the mark.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:21:02 +0000
The Brexit vote, one year later: ‘It’s all just a mess’ Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:18:38 +0000 TILBURY, England — On June 23, 2016, the port town of Tilbury in southeastern England sent a clear message to the world when more than 72 percent of voters here and in surrounding Thurrock voted for Britain to leave the European Union. Few other towns in the country voted more decisively in favor of what has become known as Brexit.

But one year on, the cautious hope for a more prosperous future has largely been displaced by confusion, anger and resignation. Whereas some here fear that Brexit will stall or could be watered down, others wonder whether the government’s focus on leaving the EU is suppressing other concerns and issues. Here, Brexit – a term which used to be the rallying cry for Britons’ anger at the European Union – has become a synonym for the increasingly chaotic state of British politics.

There still is significant support in Britain for leaving the EU, and few in Tilbury said they had regrets over their vote last year. But in a city which once seemed mostly united on the matter, there was a growing acknowledgment that at least some of the arguments which led to last year’s surprise decision might have been flawed.

“It’s all just a mess,” said 30-year old Kayleh who works in a local store. She and others did not want to provide their last names over fears that their comments could have a negative impact on future job applications. Half of Kayleh’s family voted to leave the EU last year, but doubts are mounting, she said.

“Of course, we don’t want to kick the Europeans out of our country. All I want is better schools,” she added, while standing next to her German relative, 33-year old Caroline Thompson who was visiting her husband’s family in Tilbury.

“They now realize that they made a mistake when they voted to leave last year,” said Thompson, referring to her husband’s family.

Instead of being able to focus on improving schools or the country’s strained health care system, the British government is almost completely occupied with the two-year long Brexit negotiations which could still turn into a political and economic nightmare, and have only just begun.

“It’s as if we voted for a black hole,” said 25-year old Aisha Joozooph, who sat in the office of a community trust which supports locals with concerns ranging from citizenship applications to job search. As a volunteer with the initiative, Joozooph also discusses Brexit concerns with community members.

Like her entire family and many of those she now advises, Joozooph herself voted to leave the EU last year. “We thought there was a plan in place – but there wasn’t. There are so many other issues that would require attention, but now everyone is just focused on Brexit,” said Joozooph.


For some time following the referendum, Theresa May attempted to avoid such a scenario. In her first speech as prime minister last July, she said she would prioritize “not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged,” but rather fight the “burning inequality” in the country. May wanted to tackle the underlying concerns which led to the E.U. exit vote, rather than simply deal with its symptoms, it appeared.

Now 11 months and one devastating general election later, May is facing a backlash for her policies which some say represent the opposite of what she had initially promised.

The criticism of May has also realigned British politics. One year ago, the country was mostly divided between those in favor of staying in the EU and those who wanted to leave. But there is now a third group somewhere in the middle which wants to find a compromise. After 12 months of mostly bad news on the state of Brexit, Britain may not be ready to abandon the project – but is it ready to move on and try to find common ground?

Many younger voters now believe that if they cannot stop Brexit, they should at least attempt to soften it. Despite a record youth voter turnout in the general elections earlier in June, few supported the only party willing to stop the exit from the EU, the Liberal Democrats. Instead, many former Remain-voters opted for the Labour Party which has stated that it wants to pursue a less radical departure from the continent.


On the other side of the political spectrum, there are also indications that support for the harsh Brexit May has so far pursued is in decline. Having focused almost entirely on her vision for a clear cut exit from the EU, her Conservative Party surprisingly lost the parliamentary majority in June and now relies on the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. Under pressure from the Brexit supporters in her own party, May has so far refused to give into demands by her opponents to soften her approach.

But it is a strategy which could easily go wrong, as Tilbury indicates. In the general elections, the party which gained most votes here was Labour, even though the Conservatives narrowly defended their lead.

Despite a relatively high density of college graduates and skilled workers in the area, the town of 12,000 remains one of England’s poorest places. Little here has changed since last June. A former guesthouse in the town’s center is still plastered with advertisements for instant cash loans, and many stores on the main street remain shuttered.


In the distance, the sound of containers being loaded onto ships could be heard. Many here in Tilbury work in professions such as car manufacturers which rely on trade deals with Europe – deals that are now at stake. It is the irony of Brexit that it found most supporters in areas which depend most heavily on continental trade and EU subsidies.

“The vote will affect many jobs in Tilbury, given that we trade so much with the EU from our port here,” said one woman working with a Tilbury-based shipping company.

Others remained staunchly in favor of leaving the EU but said they had little hope that their vision would be fully implemented. “I hope it happens, but the government will end up softening Brexit, anyway,” said 53-year old health care worker Cheryl.

Despite continued support for Brexit among parts of the town, the EU has lost much of the ugliness in which it was being portrayed here during the referendum campaign. Some former Brexit sympathizers now even feel comfortable viewing other member states as role models.

“In Germany, you can get a doctor’s appointment almost instantly,” said 32-year old Louise Thompson. “Here, it takes three weeks to see someone. You’re dead by the time it’s your turn.”

And there is a growing sense in Tilbury that leaving the EU alone won’t change that.

]]> 0 than 72 percent of voters in Tilbury, England, a town on the outskirts of London, embraced Brexit, but many now realize that at least some of the arguments that led to last year's surprise decision might have been flawed.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:24:36 +0000
Maine airports get $2.3 million for improvements Fri, 23 Jun 2017 21:14:56 +0000 Three Maine airports will receive $2.3 million in federal funding for safety improvements.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, announced the award from the Federal Aviation Administration in a news release Friday. The funding will go to the Portland Jetport, Brunswick Executive Airport and Augusta State Airport.

“Maine’s airports perform an essential service by connecting our state to the rest of the country,” Pingree said in a statement.

“The responsibility of maintaining them shouldn’t fall on local municipalities alone, so I’m glad these Maine airports are receiving federal funding to make needed improvements to ensure their safe operation.”

Portland will get most of the funding, $2.1 million, to install a runway lighting system, construct taxiway shoulders and reconstruct aging apron pavement. The Brunswick airport will get almost $118,000 to rehabilitate its terminal apron and Augusta will receive about $82,600 for a perimeter fence, crack sealing and to remove vegetable obstructions.

Peter McGuire can be reached at: 791-6325 or

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Delta jet takes off from the Portland International Jetport, where the passenger count has bumped up in 2015 after a rough winter.Sat, 24 Jun 2017 10:58:37 +0000
Cianbro lands $215 million port contract in New York Fri, 23 Jun 2017 00:24:42 +0000 Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield has been awarded part of a $215 million federal contract to modernize and expand facilities at the U.S. Land Port of Entry in Alexandria Bay, New York.

The contract was awarded to Cianbro and Northland Associates Inc. of Liverpool, New York, by the U.S. General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service.

“Obviously, the project is very good for Cianbro,” Alan Grover, the company’s communications manager, said in a phone interview. “It’s a large, two-phase project at this point.”

Cianbro President Andy Vigue was traveling and Grover relayed his comments on the project.

“This will certainly help Cianbro to grow when you get a job of this size,” Grover said. “It’s great for the company and helps us to continue to grow, and the feeling is, growth of a Maine business like Cianbro is an indirect benefit for Maine.”

The first phase of the contract for Cianbro and Northland, Cianbro’s joint venture partner, is for $90.8 million and is expected to take 2½ years, Grover said.

The U.S. General Services Administration website says construction of the project is expected to begin this month, and both phases are expected to be completed in July 2022.

“Phase I includes construction of a commercial inspection warehouse with inspection bays, commercial inspection lanes (with split-level booths for either commercial or non-commercial), impound lot, and a portion of the elevated parking over the commercial side,” the website says. “Phase I also includes acquisition of the two remaining necessary parcels of land.”

Phase II would include “construction of a new main administration building, a new outbound inspection facility, a new veterinary services building, non-commercial inspection lanes, a new non-commercial secondary inspection plaza, new non-intrusive inspection buildings, and employee and visitor parking areas.”

Cianbro, founded in 1949 by the Cianchette brothers, is one of the largest employee-owned construction and construction services companies in the U.S., the company website says.

Cianbro’s corporate headquarters is at Cianbro Square in Pittsfield, and the company also has offices in Portland and Brewer, as well as in Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Cianbro operates in more than 40 states and five markets and employs more than 4,000 “team members,” the website says. The company manages and performs civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, fabrication and coating projects.

It also says that “Cianbro has safely and efficiently planned, managed, and constructed many technically complex, historic, and environmentally sensitive projects for a wide variety of public and private clients.

“… Cianbro’s number one priority is the safety of its team members – every team member should go home in better condition than in which they arrived.”

Likewise, the Northland Associates website says that safety is its primary concern. The general contracting company was established in 1982.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

]]> 0 artist's rendering of the view from the north of the planned land port of entry at Alexandria Bay, N.Y., a project that Pittsfield-based Cianbro has been chosen to complete under a $215 million federal contract.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 06:21:57 +0000
Qatar Airways seeks to buy 10 percent of American Airlines Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:43:30 +0000 DALLAS — State-owned Qatar Airways is attempting to buy 10 percent of American Airlines, a surprising move that would trigger an antitrust review by the U.S. government and carry political and trade-policy implications.

American said in a regulatory filing Thursday that the bid was unsolicited.

“We aren’t particularly excited about Qatar’s outreach,” CEO Doug Parker said in a memo to employees. He said the move was “puzzling” given American’s ongoing fight with Qatar and other Middle Eastern airlines over government subsidies, which he vowed to keep pursuing.

Qatar Airways, however, said it sees a “strong investment opportunity” in American and plans to be only a passive investor with no role in management or operations.

Qatar said it plans to buy an initial stake of up to 4.75 percent of American’s shares. American, the world’s biggest airline, said that Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker told Parker that he wanted to acquire about 10 percent of American’s stock in all, which would cost $2.4 billion at American’s midday stock price.

The CEOs met earlier this month during an airline-industry event in Mexico, according to an American spokesman.

Federal law prohibits foreigners from owning 25 percent or more of the voting shares in a U.S. airline. American said Qatar Airways submitted a filing under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, which is subject to review by the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

American Airlines said its policies require approval by its board before anyone can buy 4.75 percent or more of its shares. The company said Thursday that it had not yet received a formal request from Qatar Airways.

American’s shares were up 53 cents, or about 1 percent, to $48.96 in afternoon trading after surging more than 4 percent Thursday morning.

Al Baker is known for brash moves and declarations. His company has bought its way into other airlines, including the parent of British Airways, a close partner of American. Still, the timing of the announcement about American caught everyone off guard.

American, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are in a nasty dispute with the three major airlines operating out of the Middle East, which have cut into lucrative international routes for the U.S. and European carriers.


The U.S. airlines accuse Qatar, Emirates and Etihad Airways of receiving massive subsidies from the governments that own them, in violation of so-called open-skies aviation treaties. The U.S. carriers are trying to block the three Gulf airlines from expanding service to the U.S.

Parker said that Qatar’s solicitation will not change American’s stance on the issue.

“If anything, this development strengthens our resolve to ensure the U.S. government enforces its trade agreements regarding fair competition with Gulf carriers,” he said in his memo to employees.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways also is getting squeezed in a dispute between its national government and neighboring countries led by Saudi Arabia, which accuse Qatar of supporting Islamic extremists. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have barred Qatar Airways flights.

President Trump has tweeted criticism of Qatar, despite the presence of a massive and strategic U.S. military base within its borders. This week, however, the State Department asked Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to detail their complaints about the small Persian Gulf monarchy and urged a speedy end to the diplomatic crisis.

A tie-up with American Airlines Group Inc. could help Qatar Airways – Qatar’s most recognized global brand – gain influence with both Wall Street and decision-makers in Washington.

U.S. airlines and their labor unions were unable to get the Obama administration to accept their accusations that the Middle East airlines receive illegal subsidies. American and the others are now pressing their case with Trump.

American said its views on the so-called open-skies argument would not change even if Qatar Airways does become a major shareholder, but Qatar’s Al Baker might believe differently.

“Part of this is an attempt to squelch American’s voice as part of that fair and open skies group and to have American stop talking about the effect of the Middle East airlines,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst.


American’s unions, who fear job losses if Middle East carriers expand service to the U.S., reacted with apprehension to the news of Qatar’s interest in their company. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, called it “asymmetric financial warfare.”

“This is an adversary of ours, and suddenly it has come to the front door with cash that it got from its rich uncle, the country that runs them, and says ‘We’re here to buy some property,”‘ Tajer said.

American, based in Fort Worth, Texas, said in its regulatory filing that Qatar’s proposed investment wouldn’t change its board makeup, governance, management or strategic direction. The airline declined a request to interview Parker or other executives.

American and Qatar are already members of the oneworld alliance of global airlines, which lets passengers earn and redeem points on each other’s flights. Doha-based Qatar said it has long considered American to be a good partner “and looks forward to continuing this relationship.”

Qatar has been on a global buying spree of late, mirroring a strategy followed by a smaller Gulf rival, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways.

Last year, Qatar set up a revenue-sharing partnership with British Airways parent International Airlines Group, deepening its partnership with that company. It owns just over 20 percent of IAG, which also controls European carriers Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling.

In July, Qatar Airways announced a deal to buy a 49 percent stake in Meridiana, Italy’s second-biggest carrier. And in December it announced a 10 percent stake in Chile’s Latam Airlines Group for $608 million.

]]> 0 A Qatar Airways Airbus A350 taxis at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Below: An American Airlines passenger jet takes off from Miami earlier this month. CEOs from both companies have reportedly been talking.Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:43:30 +0000
It’s not just you: Your iPhone is filling up much faster Thu, 22 Jun 2017 21:55:35 +0000 Nearly every iPhone owner’s been there: you’re snapping pictures or getting ready to download a new game, and you get that dreaded message warning you that your storage is almost full.

So much for watching that movie on the plane.

If you feel like your storage is filling up faster than it used to, you may be on to something. An examination of the most-installed apps for iOS from mobile analysis firm Sensor Tower has found that the size of those apps is, on average, 11 times bigger than they were in 2013.

And some apps have grown far more than that, said Randy Nelson, Sensor Tower’s head of mobile insights. Take Snapchat, for example, which now takes up 51 times more space than it did in May 2013. Facebook is the largest of the apps Nelson looked at, now clocking in at 388 MB – up from just 32 MB at the start of Nelson’s analysis period.

Nelson said that there are multiple reasons for the upward creep in app size. For one, apps – particularly social media apps – have been adding new features regularly, to keep up with each other. Snapchat is an excellent example of this, Nelson said. At first, the features of Snapchat were pretty streamlined with its close focus on ephemeral messages. But now it’s locked in a feature war with Instagram and Facebook, and has added things such as the Discover tab, or an ever-expanding array of filters. Games grow for a similar reason; new levels or features in Candy Crush take up extra space, as do prettier graphics that want to take full advantage of the iPhone’s screen technology.

There are also some technical reasons that app size is ballooning, Nelson said. The iPhone and iPad have more screen sizes than they used to, for example, which means that developers often design their apps to adapt to all those different sizes. Supporting a broader range of devices automatically means an app’s size will go up, even though the person downloading the app only sees one version. As developers drop support for older devices, app sizes may go down again, Nelson said – but it may not be by very much.

The upshot for consumers is that, yes, your phone’s storage isn’t going as far as it used to. And there’s not a clear solution for consumers about how to solve this issue. We can, of course, rely more on the mobile web or simply use fewer apps. But app creep is particularly hard to deal with, because it means that even if you aren’t downloading new apps, the old ones you have are still taking up progressively more space.

Apple has announced some features that may be able to help with this problem down the line. In iOS 11, due out in the fall, there is a feature that lets you “offload” apps you use less often – deleting the apps themselves from your phone, but retaining enough data so that you don’t have to set them up again.

Nelson has not run a similar analysis for Android, though growth causes such as additional features would logically apply there as well.

With app sizes only poised to keep growing, Nelson said the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. Mobile apps are generally becoming more complex and more graphically advanced, not less. So, if you keep running up against your storage limits, it may be a hint to think bigger for your next phone purchase.

“It is more ammunition for that decision to pull the trigger on buying a phone with more capacity,” Nelson said. “If you know that you’re going to have an eighth of your storage taken up by the top 10 apps, you’ll probably push to pick up a larger phone.”

]]> 0 app sizes ballooning, app creep is a challenge, experts say. Even if you don't download any new apps, the old ones already in your phone are growing in size.Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:54:13 +0000
Maine lobstermen win concession to fish in coral protection zone Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:48:14 +0000 A deep-sea coral protection plan adopted Thursday won’t keep Maine fishermen out of their traditional Gulf of Maine fishing spots.

The New England Fisheries Management Council voted to ban all but lobstermen from fishing about 39 square miles of coral-rich area in two protection zones near Mt. Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge. About 50 Maine lobster boats from more than a dozen ports harvest more than $8 million worth of lobster from those areas, according to state estimates.

Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher called the coral protection plan a good compromise.

“The Gulf of Maine coral motion is one I helped perfect,” Keliher said. “It gives adequate protection to the corals in certain areas of the Gulf of Maine and it exempts lobster gear, which has a lot of landed value and really a very low impact to the corals. We think it’s a good balance. … I would rather take a bite of the apple here one bite at a time instead of trying to do it all.”

Keliher noted that most fishermen avoid corals “like the plague” because it destroys their gear and costs them money.

Lobstermen turned out in big numbers at some of the public hearings on these proposed coral zones, but their anxiety faded once the council decided to choose a proposal that would allow lobster fishing in these areas as the preferred option. The council could have reversed course, but such a turnaround is rare for a board that works so closely with the fishing industry.

Ground fishermen say the exclusion from the Mt. Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge coral protection zones doesn’t hurt them.

“We haven’t been able to fish there in so long because it’s completely plugged up with lobster traps,” said Maggie Raymond, the head of the Associated Fisheries of Maine. “It’s one of the reasons we didn’t want to lose the offshore area, because once you close it to groundfishing it immediately gets usurped by lobster traps. Getting back in there is very difficult to do.”

The eight captains that Raymond represents – who live in Maine but land fish in Massachusetts – did not mind giving up those waters because the council scuttled its plan to establish offshore coral zones in about 67 square miles of Jordan Basin, a popular groundfishing area that sits on the international boundary line, and Lindenkohl Knoll, a 44-square-mile area about 25 miles northwest of Georges Bank.

Offshore lobstermen drop their traps in these deep waters, but Maine fishing boats also use gillnets and trawls to fish for pollock, redfish and white hake in these scattered zones that had been under consideration for protection. Council staff value the fisheries here at about $500,000. Divers have found some lush coral gardens here, but much of it remains unmapped.

The council voted to allow scientists to study the impact of fishing gear on corals in a 103-mile zone in Jordan Basin, but at this time, there is no research funding set aside to even map out this area of the ocean floor, much less provide documentation of whether it is covered in coral, or what fishing gear might be doing to it, council staffers said.

The council wants to protect the rare, slow-growing gardens of deep-sea sea whips, fans and pens as essential habitat for cod, silver hake, pollock and larval redfish. Although it adopted the Gulf of Maine zones Thursday, it postponed a vote on broad coral zones in southern New England until it could study a proposal from environmental groups to expand the zone in to shallower waters.

There also could be deep-water corals in other parts of the gulf that scientists do not know about yet. The council could always add areas, or change the protection measures, in the future if researchers find more corals as they continue mapping out these relatively unexplored areas, or find conclusive evidence that lobster pots or other allowed gear is harming the coral.

University of Connecticut marine science professor Peter Auster has led two expeditions that used remotely operated underwater vehicles to photograph and sample these Gulf of Maine coral zones. Researchers have found evidence of the damage that fishing has inflicted on these habitats, including scarring on the ocean bottom from nets dragged along the basins, Auster said.

While trawling may cause the most damage, lobster pots can get in the rocky crevices where coral thrives and crush the coral or rip it right off the rock, Auster said.

But many fishermen who work in these areas say they have never found coral in their lobster traps. They note that coral appears to be thriving in these areas despite centuries of heavy fishing.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]> 0 dense, multi-species deep-sea coral garden was found 200 meters below sea level in a federally funded survey of the Gulf of Maine in 2014.Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:36:06 +0000
Poliquin seeks exemptions for Maine dam in danger of abandonment Thu, 22 Jun 2017 15:54:02 +0000 A federal commission that regulates dams is being asked to exempt a dam in Washington County from licensing requirements that could be costly to the paper mill that controls the dam and the surrounding community that benefits from the management of river and lake levels.

In a letter, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to exempt the Forest City Dam on the St. Croix River from regulations that could force its manager to abandon it. If the dam is abandoned, its gates would be open permanently and water levels on the river and in East Grand Lake would drop by 6 feet and have a deleterious effect on housing and fisheries that contribute to the area’s economy.

The commission regulates the interstate transmission and sale of electricity and natural gas and the transportation of oil by pipeline.

Poliquin argues that FERC licensing requirements and associated costs could upset the balance between protecting natural resources and creating good jobs in the Baileyville area Down East. He points out that in the past three years, the owner of Woodland Pulp, Hong Kong-based International Grand Investment Corp., which manages the dam, has invested over $150 million in new equipment and facilities to create St. Croix Tissue next to the pulp mill, adding nearly 80 new career jobs “in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in America.”

“In 2015, FERC issued a new 30-year license that imposed enormous new costs to the mill,” Poliquin says in the letter, arguing that because of those costly regulations, the mill has begun the process of abandoning the dam.

“The millions of dollars in additional cost per year over the 30-year FERC license period could prevent further investment, growth, and jobs at the mill,” Poliquin wrote.

In late December, Woodland Pulp notified federal officials that it wanted to abandon ownership of the dams at Forest City and Sysladobsis Lake — both of which are in the St. Croix River watershed — because it has been operating them at a significant loss. Poliquin’s letter states the increased operational costs forced the owners to begin the process to abandon the dams.

“These abandonments could result in breeching the dams which, in turn, would lower the lake and river water levels by seven feet, thereby severely damaging the prized fisheries, fragile wildlife habitat, and valuable waterfront homes — killing hundreds of jobs in rural downeast Maine,” Poliquin wrote.

The Forest City dam controls water levels in East Grand Lake, which is Maine’s eighth-largest lake, at 16,000 acres, and straddles the border with New Brunswick. The other dam, a much smaller earthen dam at 250 feet wide and 9 feet tall, impounds the 5,400-acre Sysladobsis Lake.

The dams were built to regulate water levels feeding two hydroelectric dams farther downstream that power the Baileyville paper mill.

Poliquin is drafting legislation to exempt the Forest City Dam, along with two other dams, from FERC’s regulations. His letter also states that the agency has the discretion to exempt small, hydroelectric power projects with an installed capacity of 10,000 kilowatts or less on a case-by-case basis .

“I ask FERC to act as expeditiously as possible to exempt the Woodland mill from its licensing requirement,” Poliquin wrote.

Exempting the dam would protect thousands of sustainable jobs, Poliquin says, and “one of the most productive fisheries and wildlife habitats in America” will be preserved.

“In the end, our local families, untold generations of appreciative vacationers, and Maine’s pristine natural environment will all benefit for many years to come by FERC doing what is right — exempting the Woodland mill from the unnecessary, costly, and harmful licensing requirements,” Poliquin said.

Dozens of residents and camp owners have protested the permanent opening of the Forest City dam’s gates in filings with FERC. The Passamaquoddy Tribe, the province of New Brunswick and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service all have expressed concerns, the latter over how the opening of the gates would effect spawning fish runs. Local residents say the Thoroughfare, a passage connecting East Grand Lake and North Lake, could become impassable.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said in its letter to FERC that it was concerned about the likely effect on recreation, navigation, fish passage and aquatic habitat.

Even Canada has become involved, as the Forest City dam straddles the border and water levels on the St. Croix River are subject to international treaty requirements dating to 1909.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

Twitter: @colinoellis


]]> 0 Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, makes a point about fair trade Aug. 30 at Auburn Manufacturing.Thu, 22 Jun 2017 20:26:44 +0000
Maine’s personal income growth lags the rest of the nation Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:15:22 +0000

INTERACTIVE: Christian MilNeil | @c_milneil

New estimates from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show Mainers’ personal income grew by 2.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, a sluggish growth rate compared to the rest of the nation.

The inflation-adjusted data put Maine among the 10 slowest-growing states, according to the BEA. The agency estimates that the United States as a whole had a 4.1 percent inflation-adjusted increase in personal income. Maine’s rate of 2.7 percent put it at No. 41 in the nation.

Maine’s personal income growth has historically ranked in the bottom tier of states. For 2011-2012, the state ranked 49th in personal income growth, and rose to No. 40 in 2012-2013. There were some impressive gains in personal income at the start of 2013-2014, buoyed by lower heating costs because of a mild winter.

Data: Bureau of Economic Analysis | Chart: Christian MilNeil

Mainers’ personal income growth by year’s end was 3.7 percent, slightly above the national 3.6 percent rate.

Thursday’s BEA estimates for 2014-2015 show Maine’s real per capita personal income growing from $38,856 in 2014 to $39,950 in 2015.

New Hampshire’s income growth rate was 4.3 percent, and Massachusetts ranked among the fastest-growing states with a 5.3 percent growth rate.

Maine’s metropolitan areas performed better than the state as a whole. Inflation-adjusted income growth in the Portland metro area, which includes York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties, was 3.9 percent. Income grew by 3.3 percent in Penobscot County (Greater Bangor) and 4.0 percent in Androscoggin County.

Maine’s rate of personal income growth might have been stronger if not for a surge in rents between 2014 and 2015, which spurred local inflation and decreased Mainers’ purchasing power.

The BEA estimated that Mainers’ rent costs increased by 3.3 percent over that period.

]]> 0 of BEA personal income growth rates, 2014-2015Fri, 23 Jun 2017 00:29:49 +0000
Bill to outlaw drivers’ use of hand-held devices has few opponents Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough, an Uber driver, says roads will be safer if drivers aren’t allowed to use hand-held devices, but pulling over to answer a text message “can cause a hazard of its own.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Even those potentially inconvenienced by the law say they see the value of curbing distracted drivers.

The growing use of hands-free technology in cars may mute widespread opposition to pending legislation that would add Maine to the list of states that prohibit the use of any hand-held device while driving.

A measure to widen the state law that already bans texting while driving will be headed to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk soon after it clears some procedural hurdles in the Legislature. Both the state House and Senate already have backed the bill. LePage’s office hasn’t said whether he will sign it, but he did sign a bill in 2011 that outlawed texting and driving.

Fifteen other states have laws that ban drivers from using hand-held devices, including Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire in New England. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are considering joining that group.

Drivers around Portland said the measure may help decrease some of the distracted driving they say other motorists seem to practice.

Josh DuPaul said he’s a witness to many cases of driving while texting, despite the existing law, when he makes deliveries for RSVP, the Portland beverage company.

“Honestly, I see it a lot,” he said Wednesday. “I’m high up in this (delivery truck) and I see them constantly up and down” with cellphones, he says of other drivers.

If people followed the proposed law, which calls for fines starting at $75 for a first offense and a possible license suspension for a repeat offender, DuPaul said it would probably make the roads safer.

Lindsay Carter of Otisfield works in paint sales and is on the road almost all the time. She said a full ban on cellphone use while driving would probably put her out of a job, but she uses a hands-free device – which Maine’s law would allow. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough agrees, but said he has to assess how the law will affect him as an Uber driver. He normally gets text messages alerting him to a paying customer, DiBiase said, and having to pull over to answer a message might cause those fares to go to other drivers who are able to respond quicker.

“It would be more inconvenient,” he said, noting that pulling off to the side of the road can cause a hazard of its own.

“It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” DiBiase said.

The decision to broaden the law to ban any use of a hand-held device, whether to text, make a call, get directions from a GPS device or check email, comes as ticketing for texting while driving has jumped.

According to state officials, police wrote 48 tickets for texting and driving the first year the law went into effect and 866 last year. But even at that increased enforcement level, police believe the law is underreported and difficult to address, in part because drivers spotted by patrol officers can say they were doing something else with their cellphones other than texting. Cellphone records that would prove texting while driving are usually only subpoenaed when there’s a serious or fatal crash and police suspect a driver was texting instead of paying attention to the road.

Lindsay Carter of Otisfield said a full ban on cellphone use while driving would probably put her out of a job, but she uses a hands-free device that allows her to take and make calls while keeping both hands on the wheel.

Carter said about 90 percent of her job in paint sales involves either phone calls or emails and, since she’s on the road almost all the time, not being able to contact people that way would make her work impossible.

Carter said her employer supplies her and other salespeople with their phones and with hands-free devices to make and take calls while driving. She pulls off to the side of the road or waits until she makes a stop to see a customer before checking and responding to emails, she said.

Her company, which she declined to identify, is clear that safety takes precedence, Carter said.

“This is something we talk about every day,” she said.

Louis Shulman of Portland, another Uber driver, said he has his phone set up to route calls through his stereo system, freeing him from having to pick it up.

He said a law outlawing hand-held devices “may do me a favor because a lot of people drive distracted.”

Being on the road all the time has taught him that trying to juggle a cellphone or GPS device while driving is too much.

“I know how dangerous it is and how quickly things can change when you’re driving,” he said.

Lauren Thomas of South Portland said the law might have a side benefit of helping people draw some boundaries around how much technology intrudes on their lives.

“I think I’m OK with it,” she said of the proposed law. “I get a lot of calls when I drive. It would be nice to tell my boss, ‘I can’t take the call right now.’ ”

Edward Murphy can be contacted at:

]]> 0 representative Lindsay Carter, top, of Otisfield relies on a hands-free device when she's on the road. Uber driver Anthony DiBiase of Scarborough says roads will be safer if hand-helds are outlawed, but pulling over to answer a text message "can cause a hazard of its own."Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:08:42 +0000
Maine delegation wants permits forfeited by ‘The Codfather’ redistributed Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:27:22 +0000 Maine’s congressional delegation says fishing permits forfeited by a fishing magnate dubbed “The Codfather” should be redistributed through the Northeastern states.

Carlos Rafael was indicted on more than two dozen counts, including tax evasion and falsifying fishing quotas last year. He’s due for sentencing on June 27.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking that 13 groundfish permits forfeited by the New Bedford, Massachusetts, fisherman be redistributed beyond the city. Groundfish are commercially valuable species and include cod, haddock and sole.

The bipartisan group of legislators says groundfish permits are a “shared resource” and should be returned to groundfish fishermen throughout the fishery. They say fishermen throughout the Northeast suffered from Rafael’s actions.

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Jun 2017 20:27:22 +0000
Talk of Nike sales on Amazon wallops sports chains shares Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:15:04 +0000 NEW YORK — Shares in several major sports chains hit 52-week lows on word that Nike may soon be selling its gear directly on

Goldman Sachs said Wednesday it believed the deal would give Nike better exposure to Amazon’s huge retail channel and customer base, especially millennials.

Nike goods can already be found on Amazon subsidiary and its shoes and gear can be found through third-party sellers on Goldman believes the deal would give Nike better control of its brand’s presentation on the site.

But investors saw mostly the gravitational pull of Amazon, sending shares of Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., Hibbett Sports Inc., Big 5 Sporting Goods Corp., Finish Line Inc., and Foot Locker Inc. plummeting between 5 percent and 7 percent Wednesday.

It’s the third sector in less than a week that has been ravaged over fears of Amazon as a disrupting force.

Amazon said Friday that it would buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, pummeling shares of grocers. Retail clothing companies took a dive Tuesday as Amazon announced its Wardrobe program for Prime members.

]]> 0 Nike products on Amazon will boost reach to millennials, investors say. The sporting goods sector is the third in a week to fear incursion by the online giant.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 20:15:04 +0000
Extra visas could ease Maine tourism industry’s labor shortage Thu, 22 Jun 2017 00:08:27 +0000 The Department of Homeland Security will offer extra visas for temporary seasonal workers, a move that could help the Maine hospitality industry find workers for jobs it is struggling to fill this summer.

The department said it has yet to determine how many visas will be available. Visas will be offered only to seasonal businesses that “would be severely harmed if they do not receive temporary employment relief under the H2B program,” the department said in a statement Wednesday. It expects to begin offering visas in late July.

Steve Hewins, director of the Maine Innkeepers Association said the news is positive, but its impact on Maine is unclear.

“The only thing we don’t know is what this really does mean for Maine,” Hewins said in an interview Wednesday night. Maine businesses are waiting on roughly 2,000 visas to be approved, and those workers are still needed especially during the busy fall season, Hewins said.

“My hope is that they are all going to get processed, but we don’t know that yet,” he added.

The H-2B visas are used for temporary, non-agriculture workers at a number of businesses, especially hotels and resorts in Maine. In other states, they provide a vital workforce for landscaping and fish processing, among other industries.

The government offers 66,000 such visas a year, but that cap was reached in March, leaving many businesses without the workers they expected. Some Maine hotels and restaurants have limited their hours or closed off blocks of rooms because they don’t have enough workers.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was given authority to offer more than 60,000 extra visas this year as part of a government spending bill Congress passed in May. In the statement, the department said Kelly was concerned Congress was “passing the buck” by not designating a specific number of visas and hoped the one-time occurrence was an anomaly.

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:32:38 +0000
Wall Street Journal fires correspondent over ethics conflict involving arms sales Wed, 21 Jun 2017 23:20:54 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals – including one involving arms sales to foreign governments – with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.

The reporter, Jay Solomon, was offered a 10 percent stake in a fledgling company, Denx LLC, by Farhad Azima, an Iranian-born aviation magnate who has ferried weapons for the CIA. It was not clear whether Solomon ever received money or formally accepted a stake in the company.

“We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgment of Jay Solomon,” Wall Street Journal spokesman Steve Severinghaus wrote in a statement. “While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards.”

Azima was the subject of an investigative article published Tuesday. During the course of its investigation, the Associated Press obtained emails and text messages between Azima and Solomon, as well as an operating agreement for Denx dated March 2015, which listed an apparent stake for Solomon.

As part of its reporting, the AP had asked the Journal about the documents appearing to link Solomon and Azima. The relationship was uncovered in interviews and in internal documents that Azima’s lawyer said were stolen by hackers.

“I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn’t understand.” Solomon said Wednesday. “I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and the conversations I had with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal, who were nothing but great to me.”

Two other Denx partners – ex-CIA employees Gary Bernsten and Scott Modell – said that Solomon was involved in discussing proposed deals with Azima at the same time he continued to cultivate the businessman as a source for his stories for the Journal. Bernsten and Modell said Solomon withdrew from the venture shortly after business efforts began and that the venture never added up to much. They provided no evidence as to when Solomon withdrew.

The emails and texts reviewed by the AP – tens of thousands of pages covering more than eight years – included more than 18 months of communications involving the apparent business effort. Some messages described a need for Solomon’s Social Security number to file the company’s taxes, but there was no evidence Solomon provided it.

Denx was shuttered last year, according to Florida business registration records.

In an April 2015 email, Azima wrote to Solomon about a proposal for a $725 million air-operations, surveillance and reconnaissance support contract with the United Arab Emirates that would allow planes to spy on activity inside nearby Iran. Solomon was supposed to ferry the proposal to UAE government representatives at a lunch the following day, the email said.

“We all wish best of luck to Jay on his first defense sale,” Azima wrote to Solomon, Bernsten and Modell.

Under the proposed UAE deal, Azima’s firms were to manage specially equipped surveillance planes to monitor activity in Iran, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In October 2014, Solomon wrote to Azima in a text message: “Our business opportunities are so promising.”

In another message that same month, Solomon asked Azima whether he had told a mutual friend about their business plans.

“Hell no!” Azima replied.

The emails show Solomon’s relationship with Azima began professionally, as the reporter cultivated the businessman as a source of information about Iranian money in a Georgian hotel deal and other matters. A review of Solomon’s published work over the past four years indicated Azima never appeared by name in the newspaper.

The hacked materials also demonstrate that Azima cultivated close relationships with fellow Western and American journalists, including those at the AP, and frequently communicated with them by phone, text and email. None appeared to involve the same level of personal involvement or referenced potential business deals.

Veteran journalists at prominent outlets such as the Journal have contacts, expertise and influence that can be valuable in the business world, said Kelly McBride, a vice president for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism education center based in St. Petersburg, Florida. But seeking to exploit those assets while a journalist would betray readers’ trust in a reporter’s impartiality.

“You can’t have conversations about business deals outside your employment,” she said.

Over decades, Azima has glided among different worlds, flying weapons to the Balkans, selling spy gear to Persian Gulf nations, dealing with a small Midwest bank and navigating Washington’s power circles.

]]> 0 Street Journal chief foreign affairs correspondent Jay Solomon is shown in 2004. He was fired Tuesday after evidence emerged about his involvement in prospective business deals with an international businessman who was one of his key sources.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:20:54 +0000
CEO of Uber falls victim to the culture he created Wed, 21 Jun 2017 23:08:50 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — The plot to oust Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick began almost the moment he announced last week that he was taking a temporary break from the celebrated technology company caught up in scandals.

The audacious effort to end Kalanick’s run atop one of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups was led by one of the company’s own board members, Bill Gurley, a major investor, according to two people familiar with the board’s thinking.

Even as Uber’s board of directors publicly appeared to support him last week, Gurley, a venture capitalist and early Kalanick backer, rounded up other Uber investors who also said that Kalanick simply could not return to the ride-hailing company he co-founded and grew from small startup to a company worth about $69 billion, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the discussions. Gurley did not respond to a request for comment.

Uber had been rocked by an unrelenting parade of controversies, including allegations of widespread sexual harassment and executive departures that culminated in the board last Tuesday announcing 47 measures aimed at overhauling Uber’s workplace. That was when Kalanick, 40, said he would be taking an indefinite leave, in part to allow him to grieve for his mother, who had died just weeks earlier.

But it was clear almost from the start that Kalanick’s return to Uber was going to be contested, according to several people knowledgeable about what happened at Uber over the past week. From the moment his leave was announced, some people who knew the famously hard-charging Kalanick were skeptical that – based on how he had managed the company over eight years – he could change in the ways needed to allow him to return.

“Talking to other shareholders, most of us don’t see how Travis can ever come back to Uber as CEO,” one large Uber investor said the day after Kalanick began his leave, speaking on the condition of anonymity so he could discuss matters candidly. “A vacation doesn’t fix what he suffers from.”

Gurley’s renegade band of investors lacked the power to force Kalanick to step down. They needed to persuade Kalanick to make the move on his own. He and his allies retained enough voting power to reject the shareholders’ request.

So the investors began talking daily over email, in texts and meeting in person for coffee, according to one source. By the weekend, Gurley’s venture capital firm, Silicon Valley-based Benchmark, began to pass around a draft of a letter urging Kalanick to voluntarily step down.

The letter – signed by five major Uber shareholders, including Gurley’s Benchmark and other top names such as Menlo Ventures, Chris Sacca’s Lowercase Capital and mutual fund firm Fidelity Investments – demanded Kalanick’s resignation. The shareholders began circulating a short list of who could replace him.

The investors’ letter was sent to Uber’s full board of directors, including Kalanick, on Tuesday – one week after Kalanick had announced his leave from the company. No other member of the board, aside from Gurley, had signed it. Many at Uber, which declined to comment for this article, remained fiercely loyal to Kalanick. And even before Kalanick announced his leave, Gurley had unsuccessfully tried to persuade other board members to push him out, according to a person familiar with the board’s thinking.

After receiving the letter, Kalanick immediately called a member of Uber’s board to ask what he should do, a person knowledgeable about what transpired said. The board member advised Kalanick not to fight. The person described Kalanick as still grieving from his mother’s death and not in the right emotional place for a drawn-out fight – even one he could win. He needed to do what was best for the company.

The board member urged him to resign from his chief executive’s role, although he would remain on Uber’s board, according to one source, who would not name the board member Kalanick talked to.

That was what led to Kalanick sending an email just before midnight Tuesday in Silicon Valley to all 13,000 Uber employees that began, “I never thought I would be writing this.”

The email continued: “As you all know, I love Uber more than anything in the world, but at this difficult moment in my personal life, I have accepted a group of investors’ request to step aside, so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight. I will continue to serve on the board, and will be available in any and all ways to help Uber become everything we’ve dreamed it would be.”

And with that, Kalanick was out at Uber.

Less than two hours later, the man who initiated the push took to Twitter. Gurley did not gloat or acknowledge his role in Kalanick’s fate. Instead he wrote, “There will be many pages in the history books devoted to Kalanick – very few entrepreneurs have had such a lasting impact on the world.”


One moment three months ago, when Kalanick was still firmly in charge at Uber, crystallized how Kalanick was struggling to remake himself and the corporate culture. Kalanick appeared before a group of Uber’s female engineers in Palo Alto, Calif., for what was supposed to be an informal question-and-answer session.

It was a Friday afternoon in early March, and he looked drained.

For the moment, Kalanick did not know the meeting was being recorded, and he appeared to talk with unusual candor, displaying little of the bravado he used from CNBC to Davos to describe how Uber was going to change the world.

Now, he was just trying to head off some of the damage from a recent series of scandals.

Kalanick admitted to the group he did not know exactly what to say about his company’s challenges. He had only jotted some ideas down on the SUV ride over. The last few weeks had been rough, the criticism intense. He had even stopped going on the internet.

He said he had met with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to discuss Facebook’s unconscious bias training. But Kalanick did not propose a plan to replicate that kind of training or any other concrete ideas. He only conveyed a vague notion that something needed to change.

“I’ve just been thinking a lot because of the cultural change that we’ve got to go through,” he said, in a little-noticed recording that Uber put on YouTube.

In Uber’s culture troubles, critics saw echoes of Kalanick’s own excesses. The board of directors investigation revealed a cut-throat workplace that often turned a blind eye to problems. Among the recommendations the board adopted were more management training and a rethinking of Uber’s 14 cultural values, items that Kalanick himself was instrumental in creating.


The idea for Uber was born in 2008, when Kalanick and tech entrepreneur Garrett Camp were attending a computer conference in Paris and tossing out ideas late one night. It is an origin story often shared by the two men. Camp noted how hard it was to get a taxi, especially in San Francisco, where Uber would eventually be based. He floated the idea of hiring some limos and some drivers and connecting them to an iPhone app that allowed for an on-demand taxi service. Kalanick loved it.

The duo brought different qualities to the company, Kalanick said in a 2011 interview on Jason Calacanis’s web show about startups.

“Uber is very classy, and it’s very efficient,” Kalanick said.

Camp brought the classiness, he said, and “I bring the gnarly math efficiency to the business.”

Ubercab, as it was called, was launched in early 2009 with “90 percent of the original vision there,” Camp recalled last year in an interview at a tech conference. Kalanick was involved only on a part-time basis, until he took control the following year as he recognized the company’s potential.

Camp, who in recent years has stepped back into an advisory role, credited Kalanick with leading Uber to some of its greatest innovations, including Uber Pool, which offers lower rates for shared rides, and the push into driverless vehicles.

In recent years, Kalanick had hinted at even greater ambitions, saying he considers Uber to be in the early days of becoming a robotics company.

On Tuesday, hours before Kalanick’s resignation, Camp published a post on the website Medium arguing that Uber’s problems were “growing pains.”

“Over the years we have neglected parts of our culture as we have focused on growth,” Camp wrote. He noted that Uber had a new executive team in place, appointed in Kalanick’s absence, but his post failed to mention what would happen to his co-founder.


Kalanick knew how to grow a company.

He had displayed a fierce entrepreneurial streak since he was a teenager. The summer after graduating high school, he sold knife sets door-to-door in Los Angeles, where he grew up in an upper middle-class home, and tutored students for the SAT. (Kalanick had told Calacanis he scored an impressive 1580 out of 1600 on his SAT.)

As a freshman at UCLA, he launched his first company – an SAT prep course. He then started his first tech company, a file-sharing service called Scour, which brought him the attention of both curious investors and the entertainment companies whose movies and songs his service allowed to be traded among computer users. Scour was sued for billions of dollars and forced into bankruptcy protection.

That led to his next venture, Red Swoosh, a networking company, which was acquired by Akamai for $23 million in 2007. It also introduced Kalanick to one of his earliest mentors, tech investor and sports team owner Mark Cuban.

“He was driven. Smart. Relentless. He was willing to do any job, and he did,” Cuban recalled.

But Cuban, like a couple of other people contacted for this article who knew Kalanick in the early days of his tech career, said he has not spoken to Kalanick in years. Some Uber investors said Kalanick has become difficult to reach, too.

The same sharp-elbowed, aggressive tactics that allowed Uber to expand rapidly worldwide also earned Kalanick a fair number of enemies.

Sarah Lacy, a veteran journalist who founded the Silicon Valley news site PandoDaily, recalled how she and Kalanick started out as friends before Uber took off.

At a dinner party in San Francisco, she heard Kalanick describe this new service he was launching. She loved the idea. Getting a cab was impossible. She said the taxi industry was ripe for disruption.

“He was talking this big game about destroying the world – disrupting cabs – but I thought he was harmless,” Lacy said. “I underestimated his skills.”

As Uber grew, Lacy and her writers repeatedly clashed with Kalanick and the company. They wrote articles critical of how Uber treated its drivers and how female riders, in particular, faced harassment. The tension boiled over in 2014 when a BuzzFeed journalist heard Uber executives float a plan to research the private lives of writers whose coverage they did not like, particularly Lacy.

“They wanted to go after my family,” Lacy said. “I’ve been in the valley for 20 years. This is not normal.”

The backlash against Uber was immediate. Kalanick and other Uber leaders apologized.

But the company’s aggressive, no-holds-barred culture seemed to continue at the company, leading to a fresh wave of crises this year.


In mid-February, as Uber was still dealing with a “Delete Uber” social-media campaign that took off when it appeared the company was profiting from an airport protest over President Trump’s first immigration ban, a former Uber engineer published a blog post titled “Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber.”

Susan Fowler described being hit on by her supervisor on her first day on the job, a human resources department uninterested in her complaints and a workplace where back-stabbing and ruthless competition were the norm.

The post might have been dismissed as the wild musings of a disgruntled worker. But it bulleted across Silicon Valley and beyond, illustrating how fragile Uber’s reputation was in the tech world. Within days, Kalanick was publicly apologizing and said a law firm would delve into Uber’s culture.

The next month, Kalanick was standing in front of that group of female engineers. And Fowler’s allegations were just one of the problems his company faced.

In the preceding weeks, Google’s Waymo had sued Uber claiming it used stolen technology in its driverless cars, and Uber executive Amit Singhal had been forced to leave after it was learned he had failed to disclose sexual-harassment allegations at his former job at Google.

Days earlier, Kalanick had to apologize for a video of him arguing with an Uber driver in San Francisco over whether the company had cut pay for drivers.

]]> 0 sign marks a pick-up point at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Uber has been rocked by an unrelenting parade of controversies, including allegations of widespread sexual harassment and executive departures that culminated last week in the board announcing 47 measures aimed at overhauling the workplace.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:08:50 +0000
Group sets goal of doubling number of students in vocational high schools Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:54:48 +0000 A group of education and business leaders wants to double the number of students who attend vocational high schools, saying it will benefit students and businesses alike.

Educate Maine, an educational advocacy group, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, along with several businesses and school officials set out strategies Wednesday to bring the number of students who attend career and technical education, or vocational high schools, from 14 percent to 28 percent by 2020.

Currently, about 8,500 of Maine’s roughly 61,000 high school students are in vocational schools, said Ed Cervone, executive director of Educate Maine. He was among a group at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center calling for increased emphasis on the benefits of vocational educations that lead directly to good-paying jobs, or college admission.

“These resources are going underutilized,” said Cervone of the state’s 27 vocational high schools.

He said that’s especially worrisome when companies such as Cianbro Corp. and others are having difficulty finding skilled workers for available openings. Vocational schools offer training in culinary arts, building trades, health care, advanced manufacturing and pre-enegineering, auto mechanics and many other fields.

But they suffer from an image problem. Cervone, who attended a vocational high school, said the vocational schools of today are nothing like their predecessors.

Today’s schools offer integrated curricula that prepare students for jobs as soon as they graduate, or for college. They have updated, state-of-the-art facilities so students can keep step with changes in industry.

Margaret Harvey, director for career and technical education for Maine, agrees.

“CTE has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” she said in a statement. “It is the perception that CTE is not a viable option for any student that is the biggest roadblock.

“The CTE programs are now using mandated industry standards and assessments which allow students to enter the workforce ready and trained. Students are choosing their own pathways to careers that are sustaining and fulfilling for both them and Maine.”

Among the strategies the group embraces are:

n Updating the public perception of vocational schools through a public-private partnership;

n Exposing more parents and younger children to career and technical education;

n Requiring guidance counselors to get CTE experience;

n Expanding pre-apprenticeships offerings, the “earn while you learn” backbone of vocational education;

n Reinforcing the strength of college and vocational partnerships.

Cervone said the group has established a goal and strategies and now will work on a plan to implement those strategies.

“We’ll figure out the action steps and price tags and get to work,” he said.

For more information, go to

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Jun 2017 18:54:48 +0000
ON Semiconductor asks South Portland for change in tax break deal Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:53:02 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — ON Semiconductor, formerly Fairchild, wants to amend its tax increment financing agreement with the city for its 20-acre manufacturing facility on Western Avenue.

City Manager Scott Morelli said ON’s request was the subject of a City Council executive session Monday, but he declined to discuss how the company wants to change the document. ON Managing Director Joshua Madore didn’t respond to a call for comment.

Morelli said ON’s request will be discussed publicly at a council meeting as early as next month.

The Phoenix-based microchip maker purchased rival Fairchild Semiconductor last September in a $2.4 billion deal that had been in the works for nearly a year. The purchase included Fairchild’s plant and offices in South Portland, which employed about 650 people at the time of the sale. ON’s statement about the acquisition didn’t say how Fairchild’s existing plants would be affected, but it did promise aggressive cost savings in the future.

Fairchild, the seventh-largest taxpayer in the city, is still listed as the property owner on municipal tax and assessment records. The company’s holdings, including land, several buildings and equipment, are valued at $39.8 million, with a yearly tax bill of $703,685 in the fiscal year ending June 30.

In place since 1994, Fairchild’s TIF agreement was renegotiated and extended in 2011, before it would have expired in 2014. The extended agreement, which runs through 2024, requires the company to invest $12 million annually, averaged every three years, in the plant at 333 Western Ave.

In return, the city shaves off a portion of the company’s property taxes each year, returning half to the company and placing the other half in a TIF fund used for sewerage improvements and economic development projects.

The amount that Fairchild invests in its properties varies from year to year, said city Finance Director Greg L’Heureux. The company invested $13.7 million in 2015, $7.5 million in 2016 and $8.8 million last year, when Fairchild received a $45,826 tax reimbursement and $45,826 of its tax payment went into the TIF fund.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0 Semiconductor on Western Avenue in South Portland is being sold to an Arizona company.Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:52:31 +0000
Solar bill gets initial approval in House, but it lacks votes to survive veto Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:38:45 +0000 AUGUSTA — House lawmakers gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that delays new solar energy “net metering” rules and directs utility regulators to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the controversial policy.

But supporters failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to overcome an all-but-guaranteed veto from Gov. Paul LePage, once again casting doubt over solar policy in Maine. The bill faces additional votes in both legislative chambers.

The 90-54 vote in the Maine House followed roughly an hour of debate on a bill that springs from the failure of more sweeping solar energy policy changes proposed during the last legislative session. One year later, it is clear that the political parties and interest groups remain deeply divided on a type of renewable energy that has been growing in Maine, but at a slower pace than in many other states.

“One year ago, everyone said the sky would fall on solar and now I am seeing more installations, more solar than ever before,” said Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram, an opponent of the compromise endorsed by the House on Wednesday.


The bill, L.D. 1504, would direct the Public Utilities Commission to perform a cost-benefit analysis on net-energy billing – or net metering – in which electric companies compensate homeowners and small businesses at the full retail rate for the power they generate from solar arrays. The bill would effectively put on hold a controversial decision the PUC rendered this year to gradually phase out net metering for owners of solar energy installations in the state.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said the bill will benefit utility customers over the long term because it represents a compromise among solar installers, large and small electric users, municipalities and other groups.

“This compromise amendment will put Maine ratepayers ahead of international (utility) investors in controlling our energy destiny,” said Berry, co-chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, which spent weeks working on the solar bill. “It will provide a path forward that can encourage competition and a new smart grid and lower energy rates for all of us. Of all of the options before us, only this compromise amendment would provide this pathway forward.”

Opponents, meanwhile, repeated their arguments that net metering is merely a way for wealthier homeowners who can afford to install solar panels to pass those costs along to all ratepayers. They predicted that the long-term impact will be higher electricity rates and, therefore, fewer jobs at energy-intensive industries in Maine.

“The solar industry may produce some jobs that benefit them, but the burden is how many jobs will be lost when a false market is created,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick. “It would be very irresponsible to adopt policy that will hurt our remaining businesses and ratepayers to benefit a few.”

But supporters pointed out that many of Maine’s large, industrial electricity users support the compromise bill, despite opponents’ portrayal of the bill as a job-killer in Maine’s industrial sector.

Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, read from an email from an executive at Geiger Inc., a speciality products manufacturer in Lewiston with 500 employees that will soon begin construction on a 300-kilowatt solar array that will provide 100 percent of the company’s electricity needs. Geiger supports the bill because “it is the right thing to do for our state,” according to the email from CEO Gene Geiger.

The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate, which adopted a different version this week without debate. And supporters will need to pick up more supporters if they want to override a veto from LePage, a vocal critic of net metering. LePage’s successful veto of a more sweeping re-write of Maine’s solar policy last year set the stage for the PUC rules phasing out net metering, although the governor subsequently blasted the commissioners for not going far enough and predicted the rules will increase electricity rates.

Environmental organizations were declaring a partial victory Wednesday while acknowledging the issue was far from resolved and that failure will result in the PUC rules taking effect next year.

“That rule increases near-term costs for all electricity consumers in Maine – residents, businesses, and farms – by millions of dollars, and threatens good solar jobs, too,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “A vote in favor of L.D. 1504, which would overturn the PUC’s terrible anti-solar rule, should be a no-brainer for lawmakers looking out for their constituents. Republicans, especially in the House, will need to decide whether to side with Gov. LePage or to side with Maine electricity users and progress on solar power for Maine.”

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

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0 energy, such as solar power, is what consumers want, say energy policy experts who gathered Thursday at the University of Southern Maine. The cost of renewables has been falling steadily, which won't change under a Trump administration. "Yes, we're going to see changes," said Nathan Smith, head of a Massachusetts consulting firm. "But progress moves forward."Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:40:33 +0000
Innovators look to technology for ways to tackle opioid crisis Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:24:00 +0000 A group of innovators seeking to reduce the escalating death toll from highly addictive opioids such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers has turned to technology for solutions.

Entrepreneurs and addiction specialists met in Portland Wednesday for a panel discussion on the ways innovation can be used in the fight against opioid-related deaths. Among the panelists were representatives from two tech companies that are tackling the issue in completely different ways.

One analyzes human waste to determine where drugs are being abused most in a particular city or town, while the other uses predictive data to help patients cope with their addiction and work toward sobriety goals.

Opioids were the cause of 313 overdose deaths in Maine last year. Overall, drug overdose deaths in Maine reached a record 376 in 2016, and the national death toll was about 59,000.

Opioid addiction has such a powerful effect on the brain that attempts at treatment and recovery often fail. In addition, the political will just isn’t there in many parts of the country to commit to the methods of treatment that have proven most effective in clinical studies.

But companies such as Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biobot Labs and Chicago-based Triggr Health are trying to help reduce the opioid crisis through technology. Representatives of both companies participated in Wednesday’s panel at the Maine College of Art in Portland as part of the fourth annual Maine Startup and Create Week conference.

Biobot Labs was founded by a team of scientists and designers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, growing out of a research collaboration between the departments of biological engineering and urban studies and planning. Its goal is to transform municipal wastewater systems into cutting-edge public health observatories, using robotics and chemistry to generate geographic data on health-related behavior.

So what does that have to do with the opioid crisis?

Imagine a group of public health officials attempting to improve drug treatment and prevention efforts in their city or town. How do they figure out where to deploy those resources? Which areas have the highest concentration of drug users, and what types of drug are they using? In many cases, the only real data they have are about drug-related deaths.

In steps Biobot Labs. Its technology analyzes human waste flowing through the sewers at various points throughout the system, testing for metabolized traces of various substances to pinpoint where the highest concentrations of opioid users – or cocaine users, or alcohol consumers – are located.

“The innovative tools available to cities and municipalities are quite limited,” said panelist Newsha Ghaeli, co-founder and CEO of Biobot Labs. “What we’re hoping to do is to understand consumption in the city.”

The goal is to shift data collection and response away from overdose and death, and move it in the direction of early detection and overdose prevention, she said.


The opioid crisis affects people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is as big a problem in the suburbs as it is in urban centers.

Addiction specialist Dr. Andy Mendenhall, regional medical director for CleanSlate Addiction Treatment Centers in Massachusetts, said opioid addiction often starts with the legitimate use of prescription opioids for treating pain. In fact, the highest risk category for fatal opioid overdose is women in their mid-40s who have prescriptions for both opioid painkillers and sleeping pills, he said.

U.S. residents make up about 5 percent of the world’s population, but they consume over 85 percent of all opioid drugs prescribed across the globe, Mendenhall said.

The addiction problem traces back decades to poorly conducted early opioid studies that incorrectly determined the drugs were not addictive, he said. Of the roughly 15 million Americans who take prescription opioids, an estimated 40 to 50 percent abuse the drugs by not taking them as directed.

One way to help reduce opioid-related deaths is to break down the negative stigma associated with addiction and treatment, the panelists said.

“We have this stigmatized chronic disease state that began with the over-prescriptioon of opioids,” Mendenhall said. “It’s a devastating epidemic that’s causing lives to be lost.”

That stigma works against efforts to encourage drug abusers to seek treatment and receive needed emotional support, said John Haskell, co-founder and CEO of Triggr Health. His company has developed a data-driven, personalized system that helps recovering addicts in part by predicting when they are most likely to suffer a relapse. The company uses a combination of digital tools – including a mobile app – and human interaction to help its patients overcome addiction.

Haskell said Triggr Health purposefully avoids using the terms “addict” and “recovery,” which make some drug abusers uncomfortable. Instead, its tools encourage patients to set and meet goals for curtailing their drug use.

“If you can engage people, just around terminology even, you can make significant progress,” he said. “It reduces the stigma and gets more people to participate in reducing their drug or alcohol intake.”

Haskell noted that more than 90 percent of drug abusers never seek treatment, and that traditional 28-day drug rehabilitation programs don’t have a good track record of achieving long-term results.

Portland is in dire need of better solutions for its addicted population, said Margo Walsh, founder of Portland-based employment agency MaineWorks. Founded in 2011, MaineWorks helps recovering substance abusers rebuild their lives through working. Construction companies hire MaineWorks to provide workers for projects across the state.

In Portland, 85 percent of all crime is drug- or alcohol-related, Walsh said. The typical cost for an opioid abuser to maintain their habit by purchasing drugs on the street is $200 to $400 a day, she said.

“You have a lot of people committing crazy crimes … that’s why,” Walsh said.

The panelists said they have seen some positive signs recently. Innovators are putting their minds to work on tackling the crisis, the medical community is starting to pull back on issuing new opioid prescriptions, and people in general are talking more about the problem.

“It’s because people are dying that it has taken on this urgency,” Walsh said. “And dying in yuppie neighborhoods – not just in the ghetto.”

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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 linked to misuse and abuse of prescription opioids climbed to 19,000 in 2014, the highest figure on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 18:31:19 +0000
Meal-kit competion heating up Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:19:52 +0000 When you shell out $60 for a box of Blue Apron, you’re paying for a few things: food, of course – much of it organic, non-GMO and humanely raised; and those cool, glossy recipe cards, which lay out what you’re about to make.

But the real reason meal kits are so expensive has little to do with what’s in the box. Industry analysts estimate that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the price of a meal kit is spent just getting it to your house.

Those boxes are heavy, after all – and many travel long distances. They must always arrive on time and in pristine condition.

All of those considerations add up. And they’re responsible, in large part, for the high price of meal kits: $10 per serving, according to market research firm NPD, versus $4 for the same meal when the shopper buys ingredients at the grocery store.

That mark-up will become especially important, given that Amazon – which is known for its sophisticated shipping and logistics network – agreed last week to a deal to buy Whole Foods.

“You see a lot of companies leaving the market because they can’t handle the costs,” said Erik Thoresen, a principal at the food-industry consulting firm Technomic. “This is definitely one of the biggest headaches for them.”

Thoresen and other analysts cautioned that it’s not easy to generalize between companies because all have different agreements with third-party couriers and each uses different materials for insulation and packaging. The top national brands – Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh, among them – are all able to use their volume to negotiate special rates, Thoresen said.

Even with those special rates, however, shipping is expensive. When you place an order for a box of Blue Apron, it’s shipping from one of three facilities in New Jersey, California and Texas.

Blue Apron opened the Texas facility in late 2015 to help bring down the cost of shipping to customers in the Midwest. And the company continues to tweak both the exact packaging of its boxes, and the company that delivers them, on a Zip code by Zip code basis. In other words, even if you and a friend down the street both order from Blue Apron, two completely different trucks might deliver your (differently insulated) boxes.

Blue Apron reported in its recent IPO filings that efforts like these brought its shipping costs down in 2016. But the joint cost of both food and shipping and handling – the only hint Blue Apron gives as to its delivery costs – totaled more than half a billion dollars.

“There’s a reason all of these companies focus only on premium ingredients and ‘date night’ meals,” said Lawrence Chen, the co-founder of the meal-delivery startup Sooma. “They have to, just to justify the high shipping costs.”

Sooma has attempted an alternate model, though it’s not quite off the ground yet. Chen said he and his co-founders are trying to build a meal kit whose cost closely mirrors the price of its ingredients – and is accessible to middle-income patrons. To do that, Sooma only delivers simple, conventional meals, such as pork tacos and baked ziti. And it doesn’t ship anything: The service is focused on high-density urban areas, where delivery drivers can pick up kits at commercial kitchens and drop them off directly to consumers.

It works far more like ordering a pizza than ordering a package – which has allowed Sooma to charge as little as $4.30 per serving in its pilots.

Whether alternate models like this one catch on with larger companies remains to be seen. (Critically, the Sooma model can’t operate outside of large cities.) But Thoresen, of Technomic, is optimistic: Long-term, he said, meal-kit services face the stiffest competition from companies such as Uber, which operate vast on-demand delivery networks.

Amazon will also be a factor, he said: Even before the Whole Foods acquisition, the online behemoth was dabbling in meal delivery, and building out its own in-house shipping operations to compete with the likes of FedEx and UPS. Analysts are already speculating about how the acquisition may threaten both traditional grocers and meal kits, which don’t have Amazon’s edge in logistics.

Any shipping competition is good for consumers. “It’s exciting,” Thoresen said. “There will be new ways for people to acquire ingredients and prepared meals that we don’t even have a category for yet.”

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Jun 2017 18:19:52 +0000
Oil prices drop to 7-month low with ‘disappointing’ U.S. demand Wed, 21 Jun 2017 21:51:10 +0000 LONDON — Oil prices fell further to a new seven-month low on Wednesday, with the international benchmark for crude sliding below $46 a barrel.

That is just above the price seen in November, when OPEC and 10 other oil-producing countries agreed to cut their production to combat a growing supply glut and push the market up.

While Russia, Saudi Arabia and other nations involved in the deal have met their targeted cuts, an unforeseen increase in U.S. supply has countered these efforts. With the glut persisting, the outlook for oil prices has been dampened.

“As we see it, it is not the events that are putting pressure on prices, but above all the shift in sentiment, the previous optimism appearing to have virtually evaporated,” analysts at Commerzbank wrote in a note to clients. They predict persistent negative sentiment could push the international benchmark, Brent, below $45 per barrel.

By late Wednesday in London, it was down 21 cents at $45.81 a barrel after touching a daily low of $45.43.

Weak prices mean that, all other things being equal, consumers can expect cheaper energy and car fuel.

The increased supply has been met with a “disappointing” demand for oil within the U.S., analysts said. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s weekly petroleum data for the week ended June 16 showed a 2.5 million decrease in American crude oil inventories from the previous week, close to the “not insignificant” decrease of 2.7 million estimated by analysts at Commerzbank.

A recent report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicted next year’s increase in output by non-OPEC countries will be slightly higher than the increase in global demand.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s appointment of new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a man famous for his combative political and economic policies against fellow OPEC member Iran, has placed the future of the supply-cutting plan under increased uncertainty.

“His aggressive stance against Iran makes it unlikely to see greater Saudi participation in supply cuts without Iran cutting production as well,” Petromatrix analysts wrote in a daily market report. Currently, Iran is one of three OPEC countries that has not been asked to cut oil production.

Last week, OPEC countries and a group of other oil-producing nations, led by Russia, agreed to extend their overall cuts by nine months until next March.

]]> 0 oil field pump jack operates near Lost Hills, Calif. While Russia, Saudi Arabia and others have met targeted cuts, an unforeseen increase in U.S. supply has countered their efforts. Thus, consumers can expect cheaper energy and car fuel.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:51:10 +0000
Final vote totals show easy passage of $50 million tech bond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:29:38 +0000 The proposed $50 million technology and innovation bond that was the subject of Maine’s June 13 referendum passed easily, with 62 percent of voters supporting it and 38 percent opposed, according to certified results released Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Initial results from large communities around the state suggested an easy victory for the proposal despite a low voter turnout, but the statewide vote totals were not available until Wednesday. In total, voters approved the bond 63,468 to 39,549.

The bond calls for the Maine Technology Institute to distribute $45 million in grants for upgrades in aquaculture, marine technology, forestry and agriculture. The Small Enterprise Growth Fund would direct the remaining $5 million to qualifying small businesses in fields including marine sciences, biotechnology and manufacturing.

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Jun 2017 13:46:22 +0000
Fewer houses on the market drove Maine home sales down in May Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:00:53 +0000 Fewer houses for sale was cited as the reason Maine home sales were down in May compared with the same month last year.

The volume of single-family home sales was down 8.85 percent in May compared with a year earlier, according to information released by the Maine Association of Realtors.

But prices did rise 5.12 percent to a median price of $200,000.

The inventory of homes for sale is 20 percent lower this spring than last, said Greg Gosselin, president of the Realtors association.

“2016 was a record year for real estate in Maine,” he said in the release, “and while these current numbers show a decline from last year’s highs, the (data show) the second highest numbers during this time period, since we began keeping records in 2003.”

Nationally, the volume of single-family home sales increased 2.7 percent. The National Association of Realtors reported a nationwide media sale price of $254,600, a 6.0 percent jump from one year ago. The Northeast saw a sales increase of 2.6 percent and the regional price rose 4.7 percent to $281,300.

In Maine, Cumberland County homes commanded the highest median price of $285,000, followed by York with $247,500 and Sagadahoc with $223,000.

This story was updated June 23 at 11:15 a.m. to correct the spelling of the Maine Association of Realtors.

]]> 0 - This Jan. 26, 2016 file photo shows a "For Sale" sign hanging in front of an existing home in Atlanta. Short of savings and burdened by debt, America's millennials are struggling to afford their first homes in the face of sharply higher prices in many of the most desirable cities. Surveys show that most Americans under 35 lack adequate savings for down payments. The result is that many will likely be forced to delay home ownership and to absorb significant debt loads if they do eventually buy. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)Fri, 23 Jun 2017 11:16:05 +0000
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigns under investor pressure Wed, 21 Jun 2017 09:34:09 +0000 DETROIT — Travis Kalanick, the combative and troubled CEO of ride-hailing giant Uber, has resigned under pressure from investors at a pivotal time for the company.

Uber’s board confirmed the move early Wednesday, saying in a statement that Kalanick is taking time to heal from the death of his mother in a boating accident “while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber’s history.” He will remain on the Uber Technologies Inc. board.

Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said in a statement to The New York Times that he has accepted a request from investors to step aside. Kalanick says the move will allow the ride-sharing company to go back to building itself rather than become distracted by another fight. Associated Press/Paul Sakuma

The move comes as Uber, the world’s largest ride-hailing company, was having trouble morphing from a free-wheeling startup into a mature company that can stanch losses and post consistent profits. After eight years of phenomenal growth by upending the taxi business, Uber had reached a point where the culture that created the company had become an albatross that threatened to kill it.

In a statement, the 40-year-old co-founder said his resignation would help Uber go back to building “rather than be distracted with another fight,” an apparent reference to efforts on the board to oust him.

It was unclear who would replace Kalanick.

The resignation came after a series of costly missteps under Kalanick that damaged Uber’s reputation including revelations of sexual harassment in its offices, allegations of trade secrets theft and a federal investigation into efforts to mislead local government regulators.

On Tuesday, the company embarked on a 180-day program to change its image by allowing riders to give drivers tips through the Uber app, something Kalanick had resisted. Drivers have said that Kalanick didn’t value their labor even though it was the heart of the San Francisco-based company.

Uber’s board said in a statement that Kalanick had “always put Uber first.”

But under Kalanick, the company developed a reputation for ruthless tactics that have occasionally outraged government regulators, drivers, riders and employees. The company often flouted city regulations for taxi companies with a culture that encouraged “Principled Confrontation.”

The company’s hard-charging style has led to legal trouble. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Uber’s past usage of phony software designed to thwart local government regulators who wanted to check on whether Uber was carrying passengers without permission.

A key step toward Kalanick’s downfall came in February, when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler posted a personal essay about the year she spent at Uber, writing that she was propositioned by her manager on her first day with an engineering team. She reported him to human resources, but was told he would get a lecture and no further punishment because he was a “high performer,” she wrote.

That caught the board’s attention and brought outside investigations that led to the firing of 20 people including some managers. Former Attorney General Eric Holder conducted one of the probes, finding that the male-dominated Uber didn’t have the most basic policies to protect workers from harassment. Holder’s report suggested procedures that most companies have had for years such as using performance reviews to hold leaders accountable.

Also, Kalanick lost his temper in an argument with an Uber driver who was complaining about pay. The profanity-laced confrontation was caught on a video that surfaced in February. Afterward, Kalanick said he needed management help and had to grow up. The company began searching for a chief operating officer.

In March, board member Arianna Huffington expressed confidence that Kalanick would evolve into a better leader. But Huffington, a founder of Huffington Post, suggested time might be running out.

He’s a “scrappy entrepreneur,” she said during the call, but one who needed to bring “changes in himself and in the way he leads.”

During the past year, several senior managers left the company including the president and chief financial officer.

Outside experts said the only way to change Uber’s culture was for Kalanick to step aside. But Uber’s ownership and voting structure made it difficult to oust him.

Kalanick took an indefinite leave of absence earlier this month, in part to deal with a personal tragedy. In May, his mother was killed and his father hurt in a boating accident on a California lake.

Uber was having trouble dealing with its success. It posted a $708 million first-quarter loss, unable to turn $3.4 billion in revenue into a profit. The loss narrowed from the $991 million it posted in the previous quarter.

Investors have talked about selling stock in Uber to the public. The company was valued at near $70 billion the last time it sought capital.

]]> 0, 21 Jun 2017 05:51:54 +0000
Five projects you can tackle in a weekend Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:24 +0000  

This time of year was made for DIY projects. The weather is perfect, the projects have mounted, you’ve got the time and the motivation. Now if only you had the budget.

Not to worry, DIY doesn’t have to be synonymous with expensive. There are plenty of DIY projects that can be tackled quickly and affordably in just a single weekend.

Below is a list of five projects that you can use to scratch that project itch without putting a noticeable dent in your wallet.

Seal the gaps. Hidden gaps and cracks in your home could be allowing air to escape, making the temperature in the house more difficult to regulate and your energy bill more expensive than it needs to be.

Seal these gaps with an innovative air-sealing insulating foam to help protect against air and moisture infiltration. It will create a tighter building envelope that helps to reduce your energy waste and your monthly bill.

A fresh coat of paint. How many times have you walked by that wall, those cabinets or that wooden chair and thought, “I need to repaint that”?

Well, now’s the time. Painting small spaces and furniture yourself is a small, inexpensive project that can be finished in a single weekend. So start picking colors today.

Once you’re done, you can feel proud knowing that you put in the hard work to give your home a fresh look.

Ward off vermin. You’re not the only one who’s happy to see that warmer weather has arrived. Vermin of the mammal, reptile or insect variety will also be more active during the warmer months, and they may set their sights on your home.

GREAT STUFF Pestblock Insulating Foam Sealant helps block vermin from entering your home through gaps, cracks and holes.

Spray the foam to block these points of entry and the only guests you’ll greet this season are those you actually invited.

Update your window treatments. If “treatment” is a generous word when describing the accent pieces around your windows, it’s time for an upgrade. Whether curtains, blinds or drapes, window treatments can be as cost effective as you want them to be, so don’t be afraid to be picky.

And once you find treatments that appeal to you, use them to block the sun on the hottest days to reduce your energy expenses.

Expand your DIY. Your DIY projects don’t have to be confined to your home; they can also involve your boat, your RV or your other vehicles. GREAT STUFF Multipurpose Black Foam Sealant can be used to fill unwanted gaps and cracks in vehicles, allowing you to cruise into vacation with no worries.

You can scratch that DIY itch without a month-long commitment or completely draining your bank account. All you have to do is pick the projects that match your budget, your time frame and your goals, and get to work.

And when they’re done, you’ll have the rest of the season to enjoy your new and improved home.

]]> 0 Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:52:22 +0000
Fresh from the farm: Maine takes lead in ‘food sovereignty’ movement Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill into law that affirms the rights of cities and towns to regulate local food production, making Maine the second state in the nation to allow consumers to buy directly from farmers and food producers regardless of the state and federal licensing and inspections that would otherwise apply.

With the passage of the law last week, Maine becomes a leader in the so-called food sovereignty movement that promotes freedom of food choice for consumers who are willing to forgo some food safety regulations.

Food sovereignty revolves around a sort of “handshake integrity,” said Heather Retberg, a Blue Hill farmer who has been a leader in the movement. It means that a neighbor can pop by Quills End, the farm that Retberg runs with her husband, Phil, and pick up raw milk even if the Retbergs do not have that milk inspected and licensed by the state. If that neighbor trusts the Retbergs, the neighbor can buy directly from them.

If the Retbergs have veal calves and want to sell the meat directly to a consumer, they can do that too as long as the neighbor knows the story behind that milk or veal, and understands the risks involved in buying products that have not been vetted by state inspectors.

Blue Hill in Hancock County, where the movement first gained steam, is among the 20 towns across Maine that already have approved local food sovereignty ordinances. The bill that passed last week, L.D. 725, will essentially recognize the right of those towns to enforce their own food regulations, and the decisions of any other municipalities to do the same.

In 2015, Wyoming passed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, which allows transactions among producers of what the state calls “homemade food” – produced in a kitchen that is not licensed, inspected or regulated – and “the informed end consumer.” The Maine and Wyoming laws are far from identical, but they speak to a desire for a more old-fashioned – some would say libertarian – approach to buying food.

LePage’s signature on the law proposed by Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, came as a welcome surprise to advocates for food sovereignty.

“I ran for office because of food sovereignty,” said Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. “Food sovereignty means that the state of Maine will recognize, at last, the right of municipalities to regulate local food systems as they see fit.”

Hickman, who also is a farmer and owner of a small bed-and-breakfast, had proposed similar legislation four times before handing the baton over to Jackson.

“Timing is everything,” Hickman said. “It seems that everything was aligned for this to happen.”

The Department of Conservation, Agriculture and Forestry, which oversees many of the inspection programs, including those for meat and dairy, said it is reviewing the legislation to determine the implementation issues that need to be addressed.

Things are unlikely to change, or change much, at farmers markets throughout the state because farmers markets are heavily insured and licensed independently from the municipalities where they are held.

“Most markets will be unaffected,” said Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.

But the Maine communities that have approved local food sovereignty ordinances can function almost as islands where a farmer can drop off a gallon of raw milk and a consumer can ask for a chunk of that delicious cheese made in an unlicensed facility.

Since 2011, when Sedgewick, population 1,200, declared itself food sovereign, the number of Maine towns passing local ordinances to take back regulatory control over locally produced food has steadily increased. And with it, so has the interest in getting affirmation from the state that there would be no interference with newly established local laws. The bill signed by the governor had the support of the Maine Municipal Association.

“Let the local people decide,” said Garrett Corbin, legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association. “That is kind of our mantra.”

That perturbs some in the Maine food community, who see this as a dangerous path that could put consumers at risk. The Maine Cheese Guild opposed the bill, and former president Eric Rector was one of the people who testified against it. He called the signing of the law a “big win for the deregulation crowd.”

It’s too early to say what the actual impact will be, Rector said. But he sees increased risk to both consumers and to the Maine cheese industry as a result of dairy products being “produced and sold to the public without any testing whatsoever.” That increases the risk that someone will get sick from “Maine cheese” and that this thriving food industry will be tainted by something that happens outside the regulated sector, he said.

Rector believes it will be hard for consumers to grasp the concept that there is state-regulated cheese and also municipally approved cheese.

The movement is not about dodging food safety issues, advocates say. It’s more about keeping small farms alive. Retberg was disheartened by a visit from a state inspector in 2009. He told her that although the Retbergs were using a licensed facility to butcher meat birds, since it was licensed to a friend and not them, their birds weren’t legal for sale. The Retbers were deflated; they’d recently made the transition to full-time farming and no longer had a supplemental income that might have helped them pay for their own licensed facility.

“The department just moved the goalposts,” Retberg said. “And when that happens, you either stop or the rules have to change.”

Rather than stop, she began working on changing the rules. And she found that quickly, she had support in the community, starting with a neighbor who very much wanted to be able to buy those meat birds, regardless of where they were slaughtered.

Retberg also had a powerful advocate in Hickman, whom she called “a champion for our cause.”

He says he ran on this cause, prompted by his own experience with state regulators, who told him, starting in 2009, that the business practices he’d been engaged in at his B&B, including making cheese and yogurt for his bed-and-breakfast customers, and letting customers at the farmstand know they could buy it from the house, were no longer acceptable unless he added a specific facility for those products, separate from the area where he prepared, say, breakfast.

“The department came around and said, ‘You can no longer serve your own yogurt,’ ” Hickman said. “If all of this sounds surreal, it is all true.”

The other towns that have declared themselves in control of their local food systems include Alexander, Appleton, Bingham, Brooklin, Brooksville, Canton, Freedom, Greenwood, Hope, Isle Au Haut, Liberty, Livermore, Madison, Moscow, Penobscot, Plymouth, Solon and Trenton. The city council in Rockland considered a food sovereignty ordinance this winter and opted instead for a resolution endorsing growth, sale and consumption of local foods.

One place that hasn’t declared food sovereignty? Winthrop. Which means Hickman still has to keep that yogurt to himself.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Charles Eichacker contributed to this report.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

Correction: This story was revised at 7:20 a.m., June 21, 2017, to correct the spelling of Heather Retberg’s name.

]]> 0 Robbins finishes up work Tuesday evening at River Valley Farm in Canton, which he owns with Carole Robbins, his wife. Carole Robbins said she has heard about the new food sovereignty law, but they plan to keep selling their beef the way they have been, after inspection.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 07:22:32 +0000
Oil’s slide pulls stocks lower Wed, 21 Jun 2017 00:31:07 +0000 NEW YORK – U.S. stock indexes retreated from their record heights Tuesday after a slump in the price of oil weighed on energy companies.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 16.43 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,437.03, and the Dow Jones industrial average lost 61.85 points, or 0.3 percent, to 21,467.14. Both the S&P 500 and Dow set records on Monday thanks to big gains from technology stocks.

The Nasdaq composite lost 50.98 points, or 0.8 percent, to 6,188.03, and the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 15.11, or 1.1 percent, to 1,402.97.

Losses were widespread across the market, with five stocks dropping on the New York Stock Exchange for every two that rose. Many of the sharpest declines were concentrated in the energy sector, as the price of oil touched its lowest price since mid-November.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost 97 cents, or 2.2 percent, to settle at $43.23 per barrel, and Brent crude, the international standard, fell 89 cents to $46.02 per barrel.

The price of oil has been sloshing between $40 and $55 per barrel for much of the last year, down from a peak of more than $110 in the summer of 2013. Drillers have gotten much better at pulling oil from the ground, which has helped supplies to balloon and correspondingly weighed on prices. Many oil-producing countries have banded together to cut production in hopes of limiting supplies, but analysts are skeptical about how much they can influence prices.

One of the main reasons for the stock market’s climbing to record after record this year has been the resurgence in profit growth for big companies, and the energy sector is expected to play a leading role in that. Analysts forecast energy companies in the S&P 500 will report better than 300 percent growth in their earnings per share this year. But if the price of oil keeps dropping, that’s at risk.

John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management, is still optimistic that expectations for earnings across the market can keep rising. Lower oil prices would undercut profits for energy stocks, but they should also help other industries that will be paying lower fuel bills. And as long as profits continue to rise, Manley says stocks can too.

“Earnings are starting to re-accelerate,” he said. “It may stop tomorrow, and if it does, well, I’ll change my mind tomorrow. But right now, earnings are growing.”

Tuesday’s slump for oil led shares of Transocean to drop 36 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $8.20 and Marathon Oil to lose 43 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $12.06.

The worst-performing stock in the S&P 500 was Chipotle Mexican Grill, which lost $33.31, or 7.3 percent, to $425.60 after analysts cut their profit estimates for the restaurant chain. Chipotle said marketing costs will eat up a slightly bigger percentage of revenue this quarter than in the first three months of the year.

Homebuilder Lennar rose $1.13, or 2.1 percent, to $53.87 after reporting stronger revenue and earnings for the latest quarter than analysts forecast.

Parexel International, a biopharmaceutical services provider, jumped $3.12, or 3.7 percent, to $87.04 after it said it will go private following a buyout by Pamplona Capital Management.

In the Treasury market, bond prices rose, which caused yields to fall. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note sank to 2.15 percent from 2.19 percent late Monday. The two-year yield dropped to 1.34 percent from 1.36 percent, and the 30-year yield fell to 2.73 percent from 2.79 percent.

The British pound fell to $1.2629 from $1.2729 after the Bank of England cooled market expectations that it may soon raise interest rates.

The euro dipped to $1.1128 from $1.1147, and the dollar slipped to 111.41 Japanese yen from 111.54 yen.

In the commodities markets, gold dipped $3.20 to settle at $1,243.50 per ounce, silver lost 9 cents to $16.42 per ounce and copper dropped 4 cents to $2.55 per pound.

Natural gas rose a penny to $2.91 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.39 per gallon and wholesale gasoline lost 3 cents to $1.42 per gallon.

In overseas markets, the French CAC 40 slipped 0.3 percent, the German DAX lost 0.6 percent and the FTSE 100 fell 0.7 percent.

The Japanese Nikkei 225 rose 0.8 percent, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.3 percent and South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent.

]]> 0 were widespread across the stock market on Tuesday, with the sharpest declines in the energy sector, just a day after big gains from technology firms pushed indexes to their latest record highs.Tue, 20 Jun 2017 22:01:52 +0000
Student loan servicer lobbying against Maine lawmaker’s bill to boost state oversight Tue, 20 Jun 2017 23:59:07 +0000 AUGUSTA — The nation’s largest servicer of federal student loans has lobbied against states’ efforts to license student loan servicers in Maine and elsewhere this year as it seeks to become the nation’s single servicer of student loans under a plan backed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

State records reviewed by The Associated Press show Navient Corp. has reported spending at least $44,000 since January on lobbyists in Maine, New York and Washington, states where lawmakers are considering licensing requirements.

Lawmakers this year have considered such licensing and oversight bills in at least 10 states, including Illinois and Washington, whose state attorneys general have joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by filing lawsuits accusing Navient of unfair and deceptive practices with lending and debt collection.

Navient calls such allegations false and politically motivated. Spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie said Navient has supported student loan policy reform to simplify repayment and better educate borrowers.

“We have engaged local representation in some states to make sure that policymakers have the facts on student loan servicing before they attempt to set servicing standards on federal student loans, which is likely to result in more complex, difficult and competing state-by-state processes for borrowers to navigate,” Lavoie said.

Critics say the Wilmington, Delaware-based company is only worried about profits and not the rights of the millions of Americans who carry student loan debt.

“I wish Navient would put more effort into training borrowers about repayment plans to keep borrowers out of default than lobbying to protect their bottom line,” said Natalia Abrams, executive director of advocacy group Student Debt Crisis.

Scrutiny is growing as Navient seeks to become the nation’s only servicer of student loans under a proposal backed by DeVos.

Nationwide, more than 44 million people collectively owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, with millions in default and high delinquency rates among minority borrowers. Seth Frotman, of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, praised state efforts to increase oversight over student loan servicers as smaller, private loan servicers and refinancers increasingly enter the market.

A move to streamline federal loan servicing started under President Barack Obama’s administration, and Navient is one of three entities still in the running for a contract to service an estimated 32 million federal direct student loans. DeVos tweaked the plan to allow one vendor to service all federal student loans, a move she said would improve customer service, limit costs and improve federal oversight of servicers.

That change and Navient’s lobbying against state licensing efforts are drawing concern from consumer advocacy groups, who point to federal scrutiny over Navient and President Donald Trump’s administration’s moves to change regulations protecting borrowers.

“From our perspective, that’s going to require more state oversight,” said Whitney Barkley-Denney, from the Center for Responsible Lending. “One servicer creates a too-big-to-fail environment where it’s a state-created monopoly for student loan servicing.”

The Department of Education didn’t immediately comment Tuesday.

Navient’s arguments are echoed by Student Loan Servicing Alliance, an industry group that represents Navient and two other companies, Great Lakes Educational Loan Services Inc. and Nelnet Inc., that formed a joint venture to become the nation’s single student loan servicer.

“A patchwork of different state requirements on federal student loan servicing can only harm and confuse borrowers, fueling the proliferation of student loan scam organizations that prey on struggling borrowers,” said Executive Director Winfield Crigler, who recently testified against Illinois’s student loan bill.

The National Council of Higher Education Resources, which represents the third contender for the single-servicer contract, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, is also critical of state licensing requirements that are “burdensome” and “duplicative.”

Recent laws in Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C., would require servicers to obtain licenses to operate. This year, Illinois’ similar bill, which also would create a state student loan ombudsman, has passed both houses. In New York, loan servicers are opposed to a Democrat’s bill that mirrors a deleted initiative in Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget that Navient lobbied against.

In Maine, Navient registered to lobby against Democratic Sen. Eloise Vitelli’s bill less than two weeks after the amended legislation received unanimous committee support.

“With one company servicing $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, states will need to be a partner to make sure the service is accountable to borrowers,” Vitelli said Monday on the state Senate floor, where lawmakers voted to send her bill back to committee on a party-line 18-17 vote.

Associated Press writer David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.

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Uber gives passengers the ability to tip drivers through app Tue, 20 Jun 2017 23:50:33 +0000 Uber has introduced in-app tipping for drivers, a feature sought by the ride-hailing giant’s workforce and long offered by chief competitor Lyft.

The feature was launched Tuesday in Minneapolis, Seattle and Houston, and the company said it will add more cities in the coming weeks. Uber said it expects tipping to be available to all U.S. drivers by the end of July.

“Why now? Because it’s the right thing to do, it’s long overdue, and there’s no time like the present,” Uber said in a news release.

Lyft has offered tipping in its app since 2012, and said in March that drivers have netted more than $200 million in tips since then. TechCrunch reported this week that the figure has surpassed $250 million.

Uber touted its in-app tipping announcement as part of an initiative called “180 Days of Change,” where it introduced a series of features aimed at improving the driver experience. The changes include: shorter cancellation windows for riders – down to two minutes from five – compensation during wait times, and a $2 “teen fare” for trips on teen accounts. The teen fare will initially be available in Seattle, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, Uber said.

Uber says it won’t take a cut of driver tips. Meanwhile, riders will fork over costs for extended wait times, beginning two minutes after the driver arrives, according to an Uber spokesman. The rider will see a separate “Wait Time” fee on their receipt once the trip ends.

Uber and its workforce have been engaged in an extended labor struggle as drivers have pushed for better labor protections and higher earnings.

]]> 0 smartphone displays Uber car availability in New York. Uber is catching up to its rival Lyft by enabling riders to tip its U.S. drivers with a tap on its ride-hailing app.Tue, 20 Jun 2017 22:25:27 +0000
California group buys expense software company Certify Tue, 20 Jun 2017 21:22:55 +0000 Certify, a Portland company that develops expense management software, has been acquired by a California-based investment group.

K1 Investment Management, an investment firm focused on global software companies, purchased Certify and three other expense software companies for $125 million. The deal creates one company with more than 7,500 customers that use the specialized software to reduce overhead associated with managing employee time, travel and expenses. The combined company is positioned just behind SAP Concur, the largest expense management software company, according to a release announcing the acquisition.

“This deal is all about bringing the best expense management products to the most users everywhere in the world,” said Robert Neveu in a statement. He founded Certify in 2008 and is the company’s CEO. “We’re now in a much stronger position to develop products and serve customers in the U.S., Canada and internationally. I would expect us to continue growing organically and through acquisition as we move to overtake Concur as the world’s largest expense management software vendor.”

Neveu said Certify will maintain its Portland operation and the 90 people working for it.

The other companies acquired in the transaction are Nexonia, ExpenseWatch and Tallie.

The market for expense management software is expected to grow to $2.46 billion by 2020, according to K1. Neveu said Certify has been growing at a rate of 50 percent annually. It is part of Portland’s large payment processing cluster, which includes Wex, CashStar, Blue Tarp Financial and others.

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Downsizing at Maine job placement centers spurred by strong economy Tue, 20 Jun 2017 19:26:40 +0000 The current strength of Maine’s economy is taking a few casualties within the agency that helps unemployed residents find jobs.

Unemployment is so low in Maine that the state Department of Labor is laying off up to 10 CareerCenter counselors whose salaries are grant-funded based on the number of job seekers they assist.

Demand for job-placement services in Maine has plummeted, the department said. With Maine’s unemployment rate at 3.2 percent as of May, unemployment claims are at a 32-year low and participation in the federally funded Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program is down significantly, it said.

“The state is reimbursed for the number of people who participate in the program,” said Labor Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz. The state projects that the current amount of funding would not support the counselors’ salaries for the upcoming fiscal year, she said.

As a result, the program is being suspended and the counselors whose salaries it funds will be let go or reassigned to other government positions in July, Rabinowitz said. She said the state reserves the right to reactivate the program if and when Maine’s unemployment rate increases in the future.

“We are countercyclical – when the economy is really good, we shrink our workforce,” Rabinowitz said.

The department has about 140 employees in its Bureau of Employment Services, she said, most of whom work in the agency’s CareerCenters, which help unemployed residents find new jobs. Rabinowitz said all of Maine’s CareerCenters will continue to serve those in need of employment.

But in the current job market, a specific category of people usually prone to long-term unemployment has all but disappeared, she said. That was the group participating in the Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program.

“The pool of people who are eligible has shrunk greatly,” Rabinowitz said. “People are getting jobs before they even show up at the workshop.”

Rabinowitz said the department will try to place the counselors in other government jobs or help them find work in the private sector. She noted that the counselors are all experts in the field of job placement, which should give them a head start.

]]> 0, 20 Jun 2017 22:25:47 +0000
Ford moving all production of Focus small car to China Tue, 20 Jun 2017 16:26:50 +0000 DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. will import vehicles from China to the U.S. for the first time starting in 2019.

Ford said Tuesday it plans to move production of its Ford Focus small car from the U.S. to China, where it already makes the Focus for Chinese buyers.

Sales of small cars have dropped sharply in the U.S. and companies are seeking to cut costs making them. Ford’s president of global operations Joe Hinrichs said the move to China will save the company $1 billion, including $500 million for canceling plans to build the Focus in Mexico.

Wary of the response from President Trump, who has criticized Ford for making vehicles outside the U.S., Ford said the move won’t cost U.S. jobs. The suburban Detroit plant that currently makes the Focus will be converted late next year to produce the Ford Ranger pickup and Ford Bronco SUV.

Hinrichs said Ford’s research shows that customers – who are used to phones and other gadgets from China – care more about product quality than where their vehicles are made.

A 2018 Ford Focus is on display at the Belgrade International Motor Show in Serbia on March 23. U.S. Focus sales were down 20 percent through May, hurt by low gas prices and consumer preference for SUVs.  Shutterstock photo

Ford also said Tuesday that it plans to invest $900 million in its Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville to make the new, aluminum-sided Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs. Those vehicles will go on sale this fall and will be exported to more than 55 markets globally, the company said. The investment will secure 1,000 jobs at the Kentucky plant.

Plans for Focus production have bounced around over the last few months as Ford tries to squeeze some profits from the ailing small car segment. U.S. Focus sales were down 20 percent through May, hurt by low gas prices and consumer preference for SUVs.

In January, the company announced it would cancel a new plant in Mexico and instead use capacity at another plant in Mexico to build the Focus. But over the last few months, Hinrichs said, Ford decided it could save another $500 million in tooling and other manufacturing costs if it moved production to China.

Hinrichs said last month’s departure of former CEO Mark Fields had no bearing on the decision, which was in the works for some time.

Hinrichs said Chinese wages are lower than wages in Mexico, although the cost to ship the vehicles erases some of that advantage. It’s still cheaper to make cars for the U.S. in Mexico, he said, but Ford has extra capacity in China and the move frees up capital for the company immediately.

Ford isn’t the first car company to export vehicles to the U.S. from China. Volvo Cars made the move in 2015. General Motors Co. started importing the low-volume Buick Envision midsize SUV from China in 2016. GM also imports small numbers of a plug-in hybrid-electric Cadillac CT6 sedans from China.

]]> 0, 20 Jun 2017 12:42:52 +0000
On the Job: Bowdoinham farmer having a field day Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Ian Jerolmack didn’t grow up on a farm, so instead he grew up and started his own.

Jerolmack owns and operates Stonecipher Farm in Bowdoinham.

He bought the land in 2009 and grows organic vegetables on about 10 acres while also collecting eggs from free-range chickens.

Jerolmack sells his food to about 40 Portland restaurants, including Eventide, Central Provisions and Drifters Wife.

The farm is more than just a source of income, it’s a life. He lives on the farm with his wife, Emily, and their children – four in their blended family with one more on the way.

“I’m not from here. I didn’t grow up doing this,” Jerolmack said. “I’m not a farmer by blood, I’m a farmer by choice.”

The work is hard and the hours are long. The ever-changing weather is the hardest part, Jerolmack said, noting that last year’s drought was especially rough. Despite the uncertainty, he loves his job.

“The best thing is that I’m home,” he said. “The kids are here, they come they go and I’m available.”

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 15: Ian Jerolmack works on his farm on a sunny morning. He has owned Stonecipher Farm for 8 years and has built up the entire property on his own. He sells produce to a number of well-known Portland restaurants such as Eventide, Drifter's Wife and Central Provisions. He says the hardest part about his job is have to rely on the ever unpredictable weather. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Mon, 19 Jun 2017 20:01:00 +0000
Fantasy site merger challenged Tue, 20 Jun 2017 00:31:40 +0000 Associated Press

BOSTON — Federal regulators are challenging the planned merger of FanDuel and DraftKings, saying the combination of the two largest daily fantasy sports sites would create a company controlling more than 90 percent of the market.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Monday it will file a complaint – along with the attorneys general of California and the District of Columbia – seeking to temporarily stop the deal, pending an administrative trial scheduled for Nov. 21.

Combining the onetime rivals would “deprive customers of the substantial benefits of direct competition,” said Tad Lipsky, acting director of the commission’s Bureau of Competition.

DraftKing’s Jason Robins and FanDuel’s Nigel Eccles, the CEOs of the two companies, said they’re disappointed by the FTC’s decision and are weighing their options. That includes filing their own legal maneuver to block the FTC’s efforts, Robins and other DraftKings founders said in a message to employees.

“Please don’t let this regulatory setback distract you. DraftKings is poised for growth, whether or not we merge with FanDuel,” the company executives said. “In the days ahead, it will be business as usual as we prepare for the start of the NFL season.”

Daily fantasy sports contests are online games in which players build rosters of real-life athletes and vie for cash and other prizes based on how those athletes do in actual games. They grew in large part from a 2006 federal law that banned online gambling but created a specific niche for fantasy sports.

DraftKings and FanDuel argue their merger doesn’t violate antitrust laws because the companies represent a niche within the larger, multibillion dollar fantasy sports market in which ESPN, Yahoo and other corporations have long dominated.

But the FTC concluded the two companies are “each other’s most significant competitor.”

“It all comes down to how you define the relative market, and that’s where they fell short,” Daniel Wallach, a Floridia attorney who specializes in gambling and sports law said of the two companies. “And I’m not convinced they’ll do any better in a federal court.”

The FTC said it also isn’t convinced that other fantasy sports companies could provide sufficient competition if the merger went through and that consumers are unlikely to view other products – including the traditional, season-long fantasy sports competitions played by millions of Americans each year – as a meaningful substitute for the contests offered by the two companies.

Boston-based DraftKings and New York-based FanDuel agreed to merge in November as the industry they helped pioneer fell under intense regulatory scrutiny.

With the two companies engaged in a costly advertising war, state attorneys general, lawmakers and gambling regulators across the country began to question whether the online contests amounted to illegal sports-betting operations.

At the time the merger was announced, the companies said it would help them reduce costs as they lobbied for state laws recognizing their legality and fought off legal challenges in court, as well as help them improve their contests.

Both had raised millions of dollars through investors and sponsorships with prominent teams and sports leagues in a few short years but still weren’t profitable.

But the daily fantasy sports industry has sharply contracted in the past year, despite roughly a dozen states adopting new laws and regulations.

More than two-thirds of daily fantasy sports companies have shuttered, changed focus or joined with competitors, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association has said. That’s left DraftKings and FanDuel as the largest remaining operators.

DraftKings, which was founded in 2012, is the currently the largest in terms of entry fees and revenues. FanDuel, which was founded in Scotland in 2009, is the second largest.

]]> 0 Mon, 19 Jun 2017 20:31:40 +0000