News – Press Herald Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:18:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee shares secret intercepts with Trump Fri, 24 Mar 2017 02:37:41 +0000 WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday defended the House intelligence committee chairman’s extraordinary decision to openly discuss and brief President Trump on typically secret intelligence intercepts, even as Rep. Devin Nunes privately apologized to his congressional colleagues.

The decision to disclose the information before talking to committee members outraged Democrats and raised questions about the independence of the panel’s probe of Russian interference in the election.

“It was a judgment call on my part,” Nunes told reporters shortly after the closed-door committee meeting. “Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong decision.”

Frustrated Democrats questioned whether Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, was working in coordination with the White House, which the White House disputed.

Still, White House spokesman Sean Spicer claimed, inaccurately, that Nunes was “vindicating” the president’s unproven assertion that President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the election. Nunes specifically stated that the new information he received did not support the president’s explosive allegations.

Nunes told reporters he had seen new information showing that the communications of Trump transition officials were scooped up through monitoring of other targets and improperly spread through intelligence agencies during the final days of the Obama administration. But he shot down Trump’s claims about a wiretap at Trump Tower specifically ordered by his predecessor.

Still, Republican groups moved quickly to raise money off Nunes’ revelations. The National Republican Campaign Committee blasted out an email with the subject “Confirmed: Obama spied on Trump.” The Republican National Committee made a pitch with the subject line “Vindicated” and went on to say, “President Trump has fought back and been vindicated time and time again.”

On Wednesday, Nunes spoke to reporters and the president without sharing the new information with Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat. On Thursday morning, Nunes apologized to Schiff and other Democrats during a 20-minute meeting on Capitol Hill.

“It was a somber discussion,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a committee member.

Speaking to reporters after his apology, Nunes ducked questions about whether he was parroting information given to him by the White House, saying only that he was “not going to ever reveal sources.”

It’s common for Americans to get caught up in U.S. surveillance of foreigners, such as foreign diplomats in the U.S. talking to an American. Typically, the American’s name would not be revealed in a report about the intercepted communications. However, if there is foreign intelligence value to revealing the American’s name, it is “unmasked” and shared with other intelligence analysts who are working on related foreign intelligence surveillance.

The material picked up by intelligence agencies is typically classified. But Nunes’ office disputed that he had released classified information, saying the chairman “did not identify the targets of the surveillance and only spoke in general terms about the content.”

Obama administration officials disputed the suggestion that the outgoing administration had improperly monitored its successors. Former Vice President Joe Biden weighed in on Twitter, saying the chairman of a committee investigating the White House can’t share information with that White House.

“Need select committee!” Biden wrote, echoing calls from other Democrats and a small handful of Republicans for an independent investigation.

Nunes’ disclosure came two days after FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed the bureau’s own investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia. Comey testified during the intelligence committee’s first public hearing on Russia’s election interference, an investigation being overseen by Nunes.

Nunes said the intercepted communications appeared to be legally obtained and were not related to the FBI’s Russia investigation. He said his concern was that the identities of the Trump officials were improperly revealed and the contents of their communications were “widely disseminated” in reports.

Schiff disputed Nunes’ suggestions that there was improper “unmasking.” He said that after speaking with Nunes, it appeared that the names of Americans were still guarded in the intercepts though their identities could be gleaned.

Nunes said the information on the Trump team was collected in November, December and January, the period after the election when Trump was holding calls with foreign leaders, interviewing potential Cabinet secretaries and beginning to sketch out administration policy.

]]> 0 Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., arrives to update reporters about the Russian election interference probe in Washington on Thursday.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:37:41 +0000
ACLU attacks
Kentucky law requiring 
pre-abortion ultrasound exam Fri, 24 Mar 2017 02:16:19 +0000 LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky’s new law requiring doctors to conduct an ultrasound exam before an abortion, and then try to show fetal images to the pregnant women, came under withering attack Thursday in federal court.

An American Civil Liberties Union attorney referred to the 2-month-old law championed by Republican lawmakers as a “gross deviation” from medical ethics, bidding to block its enforcement. One abortion provider said it hasn’t changed the minds of any of her patients but caused some of them to cry.

Steve Pitt, an attorney representing Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the law reflects the state’s legitimate interests to protect the well-being of pregnant women and their fetuses. He said the information could sway some women to opt against terminating their pregnancies.

“Saving one life is enough if that’s what it does,” said Pitt, chief attorney for Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

U.S. District Judge David J. Hale heard more than six hours of arguments and testimony on the ACLU’s request to temporarily block the law. Passed by Kentucky’s GOP-led Legislature in January, the law took effect after the Republican governor signed it.

Hale did not immediately rule on the ACLU’s request and said he would accept more written arguments from both sides in the first federal court challenge of the law. The ACLU is seeking the temporary restraining order while it pushes its lawsuit asking that the law be struck down.

The law requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound exam before an abortion and to display and describe ultrasound images to pregnant women, though women can avert their eyes. The procedure also seeks to detect the fetal heartbeat, but women can ask that the volume of the heartbeat be reduced or turned off.

Besides Kentucky, three other states have laws requiring pre-abortion ultrasounds and a doctor then showing the women the image and describing it, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Another 10 states require doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion, and in nine of those states, pregnant women must be offered the option to view the image, it said.

The ACLU claims the Kentucky law violates First Amendment rights. It sued on behalf of the state’s lone remaining abortion provider.

The law requires abortion providers to describe what the ultrasound shows, including the location of the fetus in the uterus and the presence of internal organs.

ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said the law seeks to force information on women while they’re on an examination table, half naked, and undergoing a mandated ultrasound.

The ACLU called Dr. Tanya Franklin, who provides abortions in Louisville, as one of three witnesses. She said some patients try to cover their eyes when she attempts to describe their fetus and show the images.

“Some of them are crying, some of them are sobbing, some of them are defeated and desperate,” she said.

Pitt said any concern for the unborn was “missing in action” from the ACLU’s arguments and their witnesses.

He said there was “nothing ideological” in the law’s requirements, saying it seeks to ensure women are fully informed before undergoing an abortion. The lack of complete information risks inflicting emotional harm on women long after they have abortions, he said. Kentucky law already requires counseling 24 hours in advance of an abortion.

Pitt said it takes only a few extra minutes for abortion doctors to attempt to show and explain the images, adding that’s not “much of a burden” in the interests of protecting the woman and fetus.

Currently, any doctors or medical imaging technicians violating the law would be fined up to $100,000 for a first offense and up to $250,000 for subsequent offenses. Any physician violation would be reported to the state’s medical licensure board for possible disciplinary action.

For years, abortion bills died when Kentucky’s Legislature was politically divided and Democrats ran the House, where such measures were stopped. Republicans already commanding the Senate took full control of the Legislature after last year’s election, seizing the House for the first time in nearly a century. Republicans now have big majorities in both chambers.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:16:19 +0000
Twin offensives in Syria put pressure on Islamic State Fri, 24 Mar 2017 02:00:46 +0000 BEIRUT — Syrian government forces are besieging the last Islamic State stronghold in the northern province of Aleppo, weeks after launching an offensive to retake the entire province, state media and an opposition monitoring group reported Thursday.

The push on Deir Hafer comes as U.S. aircraft ferried Syrian Kurdish fighters and allies behind Islamic State lines to spearhead a major ground assault on the strategic town of Tabqa in Raqqa province, which borders Aleppo.

That airlift marked a deepening U.S. involvement in Syria’s conflict ahead of a looming battle for the extremist group’s de facto capital, the city of Raqqa.

The airlift was part of what Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon described as a large, high-priority offensive to secure the area around Tabqa and the associated Tabqa Dam.

The twin offensives follow weeks of mounting pressure on the opposition to surrender in pockets outside Damascus. That campaign has been underway despite a nominal cease-fire signed last December.

A spokesman for the powerful Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction described the twin offensives as a message to negotiators in Geneva that “the revolutionaries are able to overturn the scales and return to a military solution.”

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:00:46 +0000
Early job woes, early death? Maybe Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:58:53 +0000 Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case continue to report on sickness and early death among white, middle-aged, working-class Americans. Yana Paskova for The Washington PostThu, 23 Mar 2017 22:03:54 +0000
Gunman kills Putin critic who fled to Ukraine in fear Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:55:26 +0000 KIEV — A former Russian member of parliament who defected to Ukraine and began sharply criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin was gunned down Thursday in Kiev in an apparent contract killing.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the murder of Denis Voronenkov, a former member of Russia’s Communist Party who fled to Kiev in October 2016, “an act of state terrorism by Russia.”

A suspected assailant was arrested after Voronenkov was shot twice in the head, dying on the spot.

The suspect’s identity or other details were not immediately made public.

In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman denied Russian involvement in the killing.

But Russia’s critics were likely to draw parallels between the slaying and the deaths of other Putin foes. It also raises further alarm in Washington, D.C., where Russia has come under scrutiny for allegedly trying to influence the presidential election to aid Donald Trump.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday evening – less than 72 hours before his death – Voronenkov complained about anonymous threats against him and his wife, Maria Maksakova, a former member of the United Russia party founded by Putin, with whom he fled to Kiev last year.

After receiving Ukrainian citizenship in December, he testified in the case against Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian leader who was toppled in 2014 revolution after dozens of protesters were killed in shootings in downtown Kiev.

Before fleeing Russia, Voronenkov was the target of a fraud investigation. He was formally charged in February after a high-profile interview where he compared the patriotic fervor in Russia to Nazi Germany.

Voronenkov said the charges against him over a corporate raiding case had been fabricated by his political enemies.

On Tuesday, he called the Russian state under Putin “totalitarian,” and said he had always opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea despite having voted for it in 2014 in parliament.

]]> 0 Voronenkov was a critic of Moscow.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:55:26 +0000
Boston Latin names new headmaster Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:47:11 +0000 BOSTON — A former student and teacher at Boston Latin School has been named its new headmaster – the first person of color to lead the prominent high school.

The selection of Rachel Skerritt was announced Thursday.

Skerritt graduated from Boston Latin in 1995 and taught English there. She currently works as deputy chief of leadership development for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Founded in 1635, Boston Latin is the first public school in the U.S. Skerritt is only the third woman to lead the school.

Boston Latin has struggled recently over allegations of racial discrimination. In 2016, two students posted a YouTube video describing racial incidents at the school.

Investigators later found administrators had mishandled several complaints about “bias-based conduct.”

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:47:11 +0000
Rhode Island man charged with assault in Sidney home invasion Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:42:09 +0000 Dreaquan Foster, the Rhode Island man who was shot in the chest after allegedly forcing his way into a Sidney home March 12, has been released from the hospital and arrested on a charge of elevated aggravated assault.

Foster, 21, was taken to the Kennebec County jail Wednesday afternoon. He is being held in lieu of $100,000 cash bail, according to a jail employee.

According to Maine’s criminal code, elevated aggravated assault is a class A crime punishable by up to 30 years of incarceration and a $50,000 fine.

Late last week, Foster was still under 24-hour guard in the intensive care unit at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta.

Police said last week that Foster forced his way into the Lyons Road home of 84-year-old Audrey Hewett on March 12. Hewett took cover in her bedroom and called her son, Eric Hewett, 47, who lives next door.

During an interview with the Kennebec Journal last week, Eric Hewett said he ran into his mother’s home and Foster struck him in the head with a hammer, knocking him to the ground.

Eric Hewett then managed to fire one shot at Foster with his semiautomatic handgun.

“He was coming at me again with (the hammer), and that’s when I managed to get the gun pointed up at him and I fired at him,” Eric Hewett said.

“I didn’t know if I hit him or not, but evidently I did, because his interest became immediately the firearm at that point. He dropped the hammer, or I assume he dropped it. All of a sudden there was a fight for the gun.”

After wrestling with Foster, Eric Hewett said he managed to hold the man at gunpoint until police arrived. Eric Hewett, who suffered a concussion, a skull fracture and other injuries, was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland and released several days later. His mother was not injured.

Foster, who is from Providence, Rhode Island, was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:;

]]> 0 FosterThu, 23 Mar 2017 22:01:31 +0000
Majority leader elected R.I. Senate president Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:35:28 +0000 PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Senate on Thursday chose Dominick Ruggerio as a successor to Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, who is stepping down to work for a hospital industry group.

The Senate unanimously elected Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat and the chamber’s majority leader, to replace Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat who was the first woman to lead the chamber. She is leaving to become president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island.

Ruggerio, a self-described moderate, told reporters Thursday that his managerial style has been as a facilitator and he is less of a “policy person” than Paiva Weed, who became known for her devotion to protecting social services and education. Ruggerio praised Paiva Weed as irreplaceable, but said he aimed to continue her inclusive approach to governing.

Paiva Weed formally resigned her leadership role Thursday, but will remain a senator for a short time. Her new job starts May 1. An election will be held in her district later this year to fill her open Senate seat.

Ruggerio won bipartisan support Thursday from the 38-member body, which has 33 Democrats and five Republicans.

He was accompanied by his young granddaughter as he was sworn in.

The vote happened just minutes after a caucus meeting where Democrats endorsed Ruggerio as their pick for Senate president. One Democrat was absent from both the caucus and floor vote.

The Democrats also chose Warwick Sen. Michael McCaffrey to replace Ruggerio as the next majority leader. McCaffrey has been chairman of the Senate’s judiciary committee.

Ruggerio was first elected to the House in 1980 and to the Senate in 1984, representing parts of Providence’s North End and the town of North Providence, where he lives. His first political job was as an aide to a Democratic lieutenant governor in the late 1970s.

In contrast to Paiva Weed, who has been praised for her scandal-free tenure since taking office in 1993, Ruggerio has run into some legal troubles as a senator.

His 1990 arrest for allegedly stealing condoms from a CVS store has lingered as a punchline for local and national talk show hosts, though the charges were dropped. He was charged in 2012 with drunken driving, but the charge was also dropped when Ruggerio admitted refusing an alcohol test and agreed to perform community service. His license was temporarily suspended.

“Everyone makes mistakes in life,” he said Thursday. “I want to move forward. I want to move the Senate forward.”

He said the “tremendous time commitment” required to lead the Senate is making him consider retiring soon from his longtime job as an administrator for the New England Laborers Labor Management Cooperation Trust, a group representing construction contractors and union officials.

Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a Providence Democrat, described Ruggerio as “a little more moderate than Sen. Paiva Weed” but said she doesn’t think the changeover signals a policy shift. Goodwin said she expects Ruggerio to carry on Paiva Weed’s “open-door policy” of listening to colleagues and the public.

]]> 0 Island Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, D- North Providence, listens Thursday as the Democratic caucus nominates him to run for Senate president. He was unanimously elected.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:11:50 +0000
Utah governor to sign strictest drunk driving law in nation Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:25:35 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor announced Thursday that he will sign legislation giving the predominantly Mormon state the strictest DUI threshold in the country, a change that restaurant groups and representatives of the ski and snowboard industry say will hurt tourism.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said he plans to approve the measure lowering the blood alcohol limit for most drivers to 0.05 percent from 0.08 percent and that it will save lives.

Opponents had urged him to veto the bill , saying it would punish responsible drinkers and burnish Utah’s reputation as a state that’s unfriendly for those who drink alcohol.

“People are going to try to say this is a religious issue. And that is just absolutely false. This is a public safety issue,” Herbert, who is Mormon, said.

Proponents say it will send a resounding message that people should not drink and drive – no matter how little somebody has had to drink.

Restaurant groups said they don’t support drunken driving, but a 0.05 limit won’t catch drivers who are actually impaired.

The American Beverage Institute, a national restaurant group, took out full-page advertisements Thursday in Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers and USA Today, featuring a fake mugshot under a large headline reading, “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation.” The group said that Herbert’s decision to sign it “will not only harm the people of Utah, but cripple their restaurant and tourism industries.”

Utah’s Tourism Office said it’s not concerned about the measure discouraging visitors, noting that a number of foreign countries such as France, Australia and Italy have similar laws and don’t have a problem attracting tourists.

“There’s not many Mormons in Rome and they’re doing it there,” Herbert quipped.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:25:35 +0000
Chandler Robbins, ornithology ‘giant,’ dies at 98 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:12:32 +0000 There were many days when Chandler Robbins rose before the sun to partake of the dawn chorus – the coo of the mourning dove, the dulcet strain of the American robin, the fluting of the wood thrush.

Among fellow birdwatchers, Robbins, who died March 20 at 98, was revered as a father of modern ornithology. He was the principal author of “Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification,” a bible for millions of birding enthusiasts.

Robbins documented avian life around the world, including on the Pacific island of Midway, where in 1956 he tagged a young Laysan albatross who came to be known as Wisdom. She is the oldest known wild bird, a matriarch who laid an egg as recently as December.

But for more than six decades, he worked primarily in the environs of Washington, D.C., as an ornithologist at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. In the 1950s, he documented the damage wrought by the pesticide DDT, including its thinning effect on osprey and eagle eggshells. Rachel Carson, a colleague at the time, relied on his research for her 1962 environmental manifesto “Silent Spring.”

An early champion of citizen science, Robbins founded the North American Breeding Bird Survey, an initiative that has grown since its founding in 1965 to involve thousands of volunteer birders in an annual effort of exacting rigor to measure the continental bird population. It is one of the two most significant avian monitoring programs of its kind. Robbins participated in the other, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, for more than 80 years, said its director, Geoff LeBaron.

“It is not an exaggeration at all to call him one of the giants of 20th-century ornithology and bird conservation,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, said.

Robbins said that his first conscious memory was of a display of mounted birds at the library in Belmont, Massachusetts, where he was born Chandler Seymour Robbins on July 17, 1918. His father was a birder, and Chandler’s brother Samuel also grew up to be a noted ornithologist.

He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1940 and a master’s degree in zoology from George Washington University a decade later.

He declared himself a conscientious objector during World War II and joined the Civilian Public Service, work that brought him to the Patuxent Research Refuge. He retired in 2005 but continued field research until recently.


]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:12:32 +0000
Handler’s error led to bite by untrained Fairfield police dog, company says Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:10:46 +0000 FAIRFIELD — The untrained police dog that bit an officer’s infant daughter at home should not have been living near the family, and specific instructions to that effect were given to the officer, according to the company that provided the dog.

Matt Betts, owner of the Rhode Island-based International Canine Exchange, said that the dog’s handler, Officer Jordan Brooks, was advised not to try to integrate the dog, a nearly 2-year-old male Belgian Malinois named Rex, into his household. Instead, the dog should have been staying elsewhere, such as at a kennel, Betts said.

“Unfortunately, the handler didn’t really follow instructions at all,” Betts said.

Fairfield Police Chief Tom Gould said Thursday that the department was investigating.

The town bought the dog in January from International Canine Exchange for $7,500.

Rex was originally from Croatia and was returned to the company after the biting incident, which ended the department’s short-lived canine program.

On Feb. 24, the dog bit Brooks’ infant daughter around 10 p.m. in their Winslow home. The dog, which was not fully trained, was taken to the Humane Society Waterville Area and put into quarantine while the town decided what to do. The infant suffered puncture wounds and bruised ribs, police said.

Typically, Betts said, police dogs stay in a kennel at the police department. He said the dog is a police tool and is trained as such.

Deborah Palman, owner of Maine K-9 Services, which specializes in working dog training and certification for search and rescue and law enforcement, said it’s not unusual for a police dog to be kept by an officer, though the dog might not necessarily live with the family.

“Often when these dogs are bought, you as a buyer might not know if they’ve been socialized with kids or brought up around kids or what the situation is,” said Palman, a certified police dog trainer at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy who retired in 2008.

Betts said the dog is not mean or aggressive, and that it would be sold to another agency. He said this had never happened in the past with their dogs.

He said it was perplexing that the officer – especially a first-time handler – would not follow the instructions given by the company. “We give these instructions to keep these problems from happening,” Betts said.

Colin Ellis can be contated at 861-9253 or at:

Twitter: @colinoellis

]]> 0 Fairfield Police Department posted this photo in January on its Facebook page showing the new police dog named Rex.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:09:55 +0000
Outdated computer system led Maine labor department to contractor that got hacked Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:00:57 +0000 The Maine Department of Labor’s antiquated computer system had an indirect role in exposing thousands of Mainers’ Social Security numbers to a computer hack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0, 23 Mar 2017 23:53:39 +0000
Cardinal William Keeler dies at 86 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:52:25 +0000 CATONSVILLE, Md. — Cardinal William Keeler, who helped ease tensions between Catholics and Jews and headed the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in the U.S. for 18 years, died Thursday. He was 86.

Archbishop William Lori announced in a statement that Keeler died at St. Martin’s Home for the Aged in Catonsville. No cause of death was released.

Keeler retired in 2007 as the head of the archdiocese of Baltimore.

He devoted much of his clerical life to improving ties with other denominations, especially Jews. From 1992 to 1995, he was president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He also served as moderator for Catholic/Jewish Relations and was a member of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

In a 1993 interview, Keeler said he developed his strong ecumenical bent while attending summer camp as a boy with Protestants and Jews. The experience, Keeler said, offered him “many opportunities to work with people from other churches and to engage in a kind of informal dialogue with them, to see their goodness and their interest in things that were good.”

Keeler was a priest for 37 years and served as an expert adviser to Pope John XXIII at the reforming Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

He took over the Baltimore Archdiocese in 1989 after serving as bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was elevated to cardinal on Nov. 26, 1994.

Keeler said he chose the priesthood as a way to thank God.

“I thought, ‘The Lord has blessed me, and how can I say thanks and what would be the best way?’ And it got clearer and clearer that this is what I should do,” he said.

Keeler was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He attended St. Charles Seminary at Overbrook in Philadelphia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1952. He received a degree in sacred theology from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1956 and a doctorate in canon law in 1961. He was ordained on July 17, 1955.

As president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, it was Keeler’s job to keep conference business moving but also to mediate potentially divisive issues, such as the role of women in the church and the celibacy of priests.

Perhaps the high point of Keeler’s career was Oct. 8, 1995, when Pope John Paul II visited Baltimore. The pope led a Mass for 50,000 people at the Baltimore Orioles’ stadium.

]]> 0 William KeelerThu, 23 Mar 2017 20:52:25 +0000
Random typos in DNA play role in cancer, study suggests Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:45:38 +0000 WASHINGTON — Cancer patients often wonder “why me?” Does their tumor run in the family? Did they try hard enough to avoid risks such as smoking, too much sun or a bad diet?

Lifestyle and heredity get the most blame, but new research suggests random chance plays a bigger role than people realize: Healthy cells naturally make mistakes when they multiply, unavoidable typos in DNA that can leave new cells carrying cancer-prone genetic mutations.

How big? About two-thirds of the mutations that occur in various forms of cancer stem from those random copying errors, researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported Thursday in the journal Science.

That doesn’t mean most cases of cancer are caused solely by “bad luck.” It takes multiple mutations to turn cells into tumors – and a lot of cancer is preventable, the Hopkins team stressed, if people take proven protective steps.

Thursday’s report is an estimate, based on a math model, that is sure to be hotly debated by scientists who say those unavoidable mistakes of nature play a much smaller role.

But whatever the ultimate number, the research offers a peek at how cancer may begin.

And it should help with the “why me” question from people who have “done everything we know can be done to prevent cancer but they still get it,” said Hopkins’ Dr. Bert Vogelstein, a pioneer in cancer genetics who co-authored the study. “They need to understand that these cancers would have occurred no matter what they did.”

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:45:38 +0000
JFK diary expected to fetch $200,000 at auction Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:21:34 +0000 BOSTON — A diary kept by a young John F. Kennedy during his brief stint as a journalist after World War II, in which he reflected on Hitler, the ambitions of the Soviet Union and the weakness of the United Nations, is up for auction.

The diary was written in 1945 when the 28-year-old Kennedy was a correspondent for Hearst newspapers, rubbing shoulders with world leaders and traveling through a devastated Europe.

Boston-based RR Auction says the diary is expected to fetch about $200,000 at auction April 26.

The 61-page diary, mostly typed but including 12 handwritten pages, was given by Kennedy to Deirdre Henderson, a research assistant in his campaign office in the late 1950s.

“What’s remarkable is what he foresaw about the future of a world he would lead 16 years later,” said Henderson, who lives in the Boston area.

The experiences and reflections in the diary undoubtedly influenced Kennedy’s presidency, auction house officials said.

“This exceptional diary sheds light on a side of John F. Kennedy seldom explored and confirms America’s enduring sense that he was one of the most qualified, intelligent and insightful commanders in chief in American history,” said Bobby Livingston, RR’s executive vice president.

In the diary, Kennedy reflects on his time in a gutted Berlin.

“On some of the streets the stench – sweet and sickish from dead bodies – is overwhelming,” he wrote.

He even saw Hitler’s bunker, speculating that he was not killed.

“There is no complete evidence, however, that the body that was found was Hitler’s body,” he wrote. “The Russians doubt that he is dead.”

He wrote that Hitler “had in him the stuff of which legends are made.” But Henderson said that should not be misinterpreted as sympathy for the German dictator.

“He said that in reference to the mystery surrounding him and not the evil he represented,” Henderson said.

Kennedy witnessed the territorial ambitions of the Soviet Union in negotiations to rebuild a postwar Germany and the role the U.S. should play.

“Yet, if we pull out, we may leave a political vacuum that the Russians will be only too glad to fill,” he wrote.

Kennedy also expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the fledgling United Nations.

“In practice, I doubt that it will prove effective in the sense of its elaborate mechanics being frequently employed or vitally decisive in deterring war or peace,” he wrote.

Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, served from January 1961 until he was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

The information in his diary has been published before. Henderson said she is selling it in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Kennedy’s birth this year and so it can be properly preserved.

“This diary is a great testament to what he could have been as president had he not been killed so young,” she said.

]]> 0 released Thursday by RR Auction shows a portion of a diary written in 1945 by a young John F. Kennedy during his brief stint as a journalist after World War II.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:21:34 +0000
Report: Pot industry growth to stay robust no matter what position White House takes Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:19:33 +0000 America’s cannabis industry will continue growing at double-digit rates over the next four years – even with ambiguity emanating from the White House – as the drug gains in popularity, according to a leading marijuana-research firm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 researchers say the Trump administration's non-embrace of legalized marijuana won't curb its double-digit sales growth of the last few years.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:50:43 +0000
Bill to help N.H. dairy farmers moves ahead Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:54:14 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — An effort to provide financial relief to New Hampshire’s dairy farmers strained by last year’s drought survived a challenge in the House on Thursday, with some opponents calling it a taxpayer funded bailout.

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:54:14 +0000
Maine artist using his work to start dialogue on addiction Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:36:36 +0000 WATERVILLE — On a bright but cold Thursday morning, Michael Libby stood in Thomas College’s Ayotte Auditorium, where a week earlier his artwork had brought the community together for a discussion on drug addiction.

Libby, 57, a Waterville native who lives in Lewiston, is an artist as well as a certified alcohol and drug counselor, and this spring he expects to graduate from the University of Southern Maine with a master’s degree in psychiatric rehabilitation counseling.

In Ayotte Auditorium, he stood before a section of an exhibit he has shown a handful of times in Portland and Lewiston. The exhibit at Thomas – which was taken down Thursday – is about addiction; but as Libby describes it, it is also about personal loss.

“Art has a way of objectifying ideas,” he said.

And art can provoke strong public response. Libby plans to take his art to an even higher level, literally, with a 30-foot-tall hot air balloon shaped like the chemical compound of heroin.

Over the course of 20 years, Libby lost three of his four siblings to drug- or alcohol-related deaths. His brother Reno died of a heroin overdose in 1992. It was after that when Libby began walking in Portland parking lots. Eventually he began sketching them. Later, he put the lots onto canvas, painting abstract images of bird’s-eye views of the areas he walked.

“Part of my motivation is to learn about myself,” Libby said, “but the show is also about saying goodbye and welcoming grief.”

The Thomas display contained about a third of his entire exhibit, Libby said, with two parking lot images and a quilt he had made in 2013. In describing the quilt, Libby addressed what he saw as the real issue with addiction. Especially with the opioid epidemic in the state, he said, the real issue is a desire on the part of the user to solve an issue of alienation.

“Heroin isn’t killing people; loneliness is,” Libby said.

Libby’s quilt is titled “Opium: A Comforter” – comfort is one of the things someone is looking for when they turn to opioids, he said. He said heroin creates a chemical sensation of love.

Part of the work in creating the art was a desire to understand those feelings of alienation better and to try to find an answer for it. He said some kind of support needs to be provided to replace the chemical feelings of love and comfort created by heroin.

“We can all relate to loneliness,” he said.


Libby said he wants to continue exhibiting his work, and hopes to do a five-mill-town tour, with stops between Biddeford and Bangor.

Libby said he wants to bring the exhibit to mill towns both because he’s from Waterville – where several manufacturing businesses have closed in recent decades – and because it seems like mill towns are hit harder by heroin addiction.

Mainers are dying in record numbers because of drug overdoses, with 378 fatalities in 2016, a 40 percent increase over the 272 in 2015.

Libby said he has spoken with Waterville’s arts commission about a public display, but any future plans would depend on securing funding.

Libby said he wouldn’t want to set up a permanent location for his art, and he wouldn’t consider selling it. That’s because he considers the art more of a backdrop, a way to get people into a room and begin a community dialogue about the issues behind the art.

“Connecting with an audience and the public is really the motivation for the art,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

Twitter: @colinoellis

]]> 0 Michael Libby discusses his art and project "On Getting High: Mapping Addiction at Home," displayed Thursday at Thomas College in Waterville. The artwork is his response to the opiate crisis and its impact on families, including his own.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:17:27 +0000
Senate votes to block start of new protections for consumers’ internet data Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:24:28 +0000 Senate lawmakers voted Thursday to repeal a historic set of rules aimed at protecting consumers’ online data from their own internet providers.

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

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

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

Industry groups welcomed the vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:24:28 +0000
Budget analysis finds latest health care bill would still leave millions uninsured Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:50:43 +0000 WASHINGTON — Changes that House Republicans have made to their health-care legislation would reduce savings in federal spending by half as much as their original plan and would still cause 24 million more Americans to be uninsured, according to congressional budget analysts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:03:52 +0000
Spike in drug deaths drives request to boost funding for Medical Examiner’s Office Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:12:48 +0000 The Maine Attorney General’s Office is looking for an increase in the state medical examiner’s budget to cover extra expenses driven mainly by a sharp spike in drug overdose deaths.

Attorney General Janet Mills, whose office oversees the Medical Examiner’s Office, said drug-related deaths are more expensive for the medical examiner to handle, usually because the toxicology reports used to determine what drug caused a death are more complex and time-consuming. Her office is seeking a budget increase of $230,000 for the examiner’s office.

The request comes as the number of drug-related deaths in Maine hit a record high of 378 in 2016, up from 272 in 2015. It was the state’s fifth straight year of increasing drug-related deaths. Most of the deaths resulted from opioid drugs, especially fentanyl and heroin.

The heroin crisis contributed to an overall increase in deaths in Maine in 2016, from 13,968 in 2015 to 14,459 last year, a jump of 3.5 percent, even as Maine’s population decreased slightly, Mills said.

Deaths reported to the Medical Examiner’s Office increased by 7.8 percent and cases in which the office took jurisdiction rose by 8.7 percent in 2016 over the year before, according to numbers provided by the Attorney General’s Office. That meant more work for the three pathologists who contract with the examiner’s office, Mills said.

She said the state will be increasing its compensation rate for pathologists from $750 per autopsy to $1,000 per autopsy because of the increased workload. That accounts for $69,000 of the $230,000 budget increase she’s seeking for next year, Mills said.

Even with that increase, she said, Maine’s compensation rate for autopsies lags behind the national average. A private autopsy can run from $2,000 to $5,000, state officials said.

Mills said other factors are also driving the medical examiner’s budget up from the current year’s figure of $1.94 million.

The lion’s share of the increase she’s seeking is $150,000 more for toxicology reports, Mills said. The office already received a $150,000 increase for those tests for the current budget year, which closes at the end of June, in the state’s supplemental budget, and she’s seeking to maintain that funding next year. The supplemental budget also included more funding for opioid treatment.

The blood work involved in overdose deaths is often complicated, she said, as officials try to identify the exact drug responsible.

“Sometimes it’s drugs we don’t know about,” Mills said, or a variant of a drug with some different ingredients added.

Mills said those toxicology reports are important because officials need to warn the public if there’s a particularly dangerous version of a drug circulating.

She said she’s also seeking an increase in funding of $11,000 for field examinations, cases where the medical examiner is called to the scene of a death to assist in the investigation. Often that doesn’t lead to an autopsy, but the examiner’s office is needed on site to confirm that a death stemmed from natural causes.


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

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:24:12 +0000
Wales man arrested – again – on charge of stealing electricity Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:44:03 +0000 A Wales man was arrested for the second time in just over two months and charged with stealing electricity from Central Maine Power by climbing a utility pole and connecting to a transformer with jumper-like cables attached to a line leading to his house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0, 23 Mar 2017 23:21:55 +0000
Trump threatens to keep Obamacare if House Republicans don’t pass health care bill Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:43:48 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump delivered an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Vote to overhaul the nation’s health-care system on the House floor Friday, or reject it and the president will move on to his other legislative priorities.

The president signaled that the time for negotiations is over with rank-and-file Republicans, who met late Thursday night on Capitol Hill to try to find common ground on the embattled package crafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The move is a high-risk gamble for the president and speaker, who have both invested significant political capital in passing legislation to rewrite the 2010 Affordable Care Act. For Trump, who campaigned as a skilled dealmaker capable of forging a good deal on behalf of Americans, it could vindicate or undercut one of his signature claims. If the measure fails, Obamacare – something that congressional Republicans have railed against for seven years – would remain in effect.

“Disastrous #Obamacare has led to higher costs & fewer options. It will only continue to get worse! We must #RepealANDReplace. #PassTheBill,” Trump tweeted from his official White House account as the meeting was wrapping up Thursday night.

It was far from clear, however, whether Ryan and Trump had the votes to muscle the package through the House, after several members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus refused to back the package after a marathon session of negotiations Thursday with Trump and other top aides.

“We have been promising the American people that we are going to repeal and replace this broken law,” Ryan said. “Tomorrow we’re proceeding.”

But the speaker refused to answer shouted questions from reporters after the meeting about whether he had the votes to pass the health-care measure.

In a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, according to Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told his former colleagues “the president needs this, the president has said he wants a vote tomorrow up or down.”

“If for any reason it’s down, we’re just going to move forward with additional parts of his agenda,” Collins described Mulvaney as saying. “This is our moment in time.”

Ryan had intended to bring up his plan for a vote on Thursday. But criticism mainly from conservatives caused that strategy to unravel after Freedom Caucus members rejected Trump’s offer to strip a key set of mandates from the nation’s current health-care law.

“They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

By evening, leaders accepted the proposed change that conservatives had rebuffed earlier, to eliminate the law’s “essential benefits” that insurers must offer under the ACA. Those include covering mental-health treatment, wellness visits, and maternity and newborn care.

They also added one sweetener for moderates, a six-year extension of a 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on high-income Americans who earn above $200,000 if filing individually, or $250,00 if married and filing jointly. By keeping the tax, Republican leaders could provide another $15 billion to help some older Americans obtain health-care coverage.


The negotiations over the legislation continued all day, even after leaders announced they would postpone a vote originally scheduled for Thursday. As evening came, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus filed into the office of Ryan, as did White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon.

Meanwhile, a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office released Thursday evening showed that changes House leaders made to the bill on Monday do not alter a projection that 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 under the bill. In addition, the updated bill would cut the deficit by $150 billion over the next decade – nearly $200 billion less than the earlier version of the legislation.

The changes include a couple of conservative overhauls to the Medicaid program and language directing that $85 billion be used to help Americans ages 50 to 64 obtain coverage.

It was unclear how the new Congressional Budget Office score would affect legislative support for the bill, although Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., who is undecided, said it is “one of the things I’m considering as we read the bill.”

“When we look at the CBO score, we remember the discrepancy between what they said about Obamacare and what took place,” he said, noting that the office had overestimated the number of Americans who would gain coverage as a result of the law. “But it should be a spoke in the wheel.”

The new score was not the leadership’s biggest problem. Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, the Freedom Caucus chairman, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said House leaders were still seeking another 30 to 40 votes to pass the bill.

“I’m desperately trying to get to yes,” Meadows said. “I think we need to make sure that it lowers health-care costs.”

House leaders confirmed that they still lacked sufficient support. And while conservatives posed the biggest challenge for House leaders, some key moderates are also against the bill.

Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., who has known Trump for decades and whose Staten Island district swung heavily toward the Republican candidate, left the meeting committed to voting no.

“I’ve got to think about the 744,000 people I represent,” he said. Asked about the White House’s message that killing the bill would leave no more chances for repeal, he shook his head. “I don’t believe that.”


White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during an appearance Thursday night on Fox News that the president remained confident the bill would pass.

“At the end of the day, this is the only train leaving the station that’s going to repeal Obamacare,” he said, adding that Trump always knew winning a majority would be tough.

“I think we’re going to see the same level of success” as in last year’s campaign, Spicer said. “He’s left nothing in the field.”

Trump devoted much of his day to personally lobbying members, meeting with conservatives Thursday morning and offering to remove the essential benefits package from the proposal. Lawmakers who support that proposal say it would reduce premium costs for Americans.

But Freedom Caucus members have asked to eliminate more – including language that bars companies from setting insurance rates based on a person’s sex, medical condition, genetic condition or other factors. Their proposal would reverse the ban on lifetime or annual dollar limits on coverage, allow insurers to separate healthy and sick consumers into different risk pools, and undo the law’s requirement that large insurers spend at least 85 percent of what they collect in premiums on claims, and refund the rest.

The only existing mandates Freedom Caucus members are open to preserving are ones that bar insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions and allow children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

At least 80 percent of the group voted Thursday afternoon to reject the latest offer from Republican leadership and the White House.

“The ball is in their court,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md. “Our position has not changed.”

The president continued to work on cajoling lawmakers throughout the day, meeting at 5 p.m. with members of the moderate Tuesday Group. Meanwhile, Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., huddled with about a half-dozen conservatives in the speaker’s office in an effort to win them over.

Trump, who spoke to a group of trucking executives and employees at a White House event aimed at showing how the ACA had driven up the industry’s costs, joked that he did not have much time to mingle.

“I’m not going to make it too long, because I have to get votes,” Trump said, sparking laughter. “I don’t want to spend too much time with you. I’m going to lose by one vote, and then I’m going to blame the truckers.”


As of Thursday afternoon, 37 House Republicans – mainly conservatives – had announced their opposition to the bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

But several Republican moderates are also balking at the bill. Members of the Tuesday Group and Freedom Caucus agreed to meet Thursday night to try to bridge their differences.

The ongoing effort to whip the vote, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said, has involved “back-patting and butt-kicking.”

“Democracy’s messy,” he added.

This high-wire balancing act, in which Republicans are catering to conservatives in the House with the knowledge that they still must woo moderates to get legislation to Trump’s desk, could not only reshape the nation’s health-care system but could also have uncertain electoral repercussions for the new majority.

But with failure not a viable option, Ryan and Trump have been working furiously to win over the large voting bloc of conservatives who control the House bill’s fate.

Passage of the bill would represent a major political victory for both the White House and House leaders, although the ultimate fate of the legislation hinges on the Senate. There are at least a dozen skeptics of the bill among Senate Republicans, who maintain a slim 52-to-48 advantage, and many of them want to maintain some of the current law’s more generous spending components.

If Republicans fail this initial test of their ability to govern, Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans may face a harder time advancing high-priority initiatives on infrastructure, tax reform and immigration. They might also find themselves navigating strained relationships among themselves.

Party leaders can afford only 22 defections, given that one Democrat was expected to be absent Thursday. A Freedom Caucus spokeswoman said that “more than 25” members of the group oppose the bill.

Democrats relished the Republicans’ current predicament. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who had scheduled a 4 p.m. rally against the bill, turned it into a short-term declaration of victory.

“Remember, they wanted to have their repeal and replace ready when Trump was inaugurated,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “Now, here we are – they don’t have it, again. They’re looking for a sweet spot, and they won’t find one.”

Former President Barack Obama issued a statement noting that more than 20 million Americans have gained coverage since he signed the law in 2010, while the rise in health-care costs has slowed. The statement came on the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act – a day that Republicans had hoped to mark by dismantling it.

“So the reality is clear: America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said, adding that Republicans are welcome to work with Democrats to improve the law. “But we should start from the baseline that any changes will make our health-care system better, not worse, for hard-working Americans. That should always be our priority.”

Republicans’ current strategy is based on a new interpretation of Senate rules that raised the possibility that acceding to the Freedom Caucus’s request might not threaten Senate consideration of the whole bill. But aides said the provision could still be stripped out once the bill reaches the Senate.

Republicans can afford to lose the votes of only two senators, assuming Pence would step in to cast a vote for the health-care rewrite in the case of a tie.

In another example of last-minute tweaks, Illinois’ Republican delegation announced late Wednesday night that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Seema Verma had assured them that “Illinois will have the opportunity to accurately report its 2016 Medicaid payment information to CMS.” The state “has long been disadvantaged by below- average Medicaid reimbursements,” the lawmakers said, and this adjustment will ensure that the state would receive more federal funds when the government shifts to allocating Medicaid dollars on a per capita basis under the bill.

]]> 0 Speaker Paul Ryan walks to his office on Capitol Hill on Thursday as he and other Republican leaders scramble for votes on their health care overhaul.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:18:32 +0000
Don McLean’s ex-wife says tweet constituted contempt Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:32:55 +0000 CAMDEN — The ex-wife of Don McLean wants the American Pie singer found in contempt of court for tweeting about her shortly after she was granted a protection order.

A Maine court granted the order for Patrisha McLean this month. Don McLean pleaded guilty last year to domestic violence assault.

Patrisha McLean filed papers seeking a contempt order Tuesday in court in Ellsworth, Maine.

She says she was disparaged by Don McLean less than 48 hours after the protection order was issued. His verified Twitter account posted a message saying he was “delighted” to give his ex-wife a protection order “since it protects me from her for two wonderful years.”

Don McLean’s attorney says the allegation is “unfortunate” and that McLean will keep their ongoing disagreements in court.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 15:32:55 +0000
U.S. Dept. of Interior considers allowing employees to bring dogs to work Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:57:12 +0000 WASHINGTON – The Cabinet secretary who rode a horse to work on his first day is letting his employees bring their dogs to the office.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will announce in an email to employees Thursday morning the start of “Doggy Days at Interior,” a program that will launch with test runs at the agency’s Washington headquarters on two Fridays in May and September.

The new policy will make Interior the first federal agency to go dog-friendly – and cement Zinke’s status as the Trump administration’s most visible animal fan. Zinke earlier this month arrived at his new workplace astride Tonto, a bay roan gelding who belongs to the U.S. Park Police and resides in stables on the Mall.

President Trump, meanwhile, remains pet-less, a status that makes him the first U.S. leader in 150 years without a companion animal and leaves the White House without a first dog or cat. Vice President Pence and his family keep two cats and a rabbit at their Naval Observatory home, though those critters keep a relatively low profile.

Zinke, a fifth-generation Montanan, former Navy SEAL and congressman, said his dog policy’s primary goal is to boost morale at the far-flung Interior agency, which includes the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and six other departments. Interior ranked 11th in employee morale of the 18th largest federal agencies in last year’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey, with just 61 percent of its 70,000 employees saying they’re happy in their jobs.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, right, with his wife, Lolita, and their Havanese dog, Ragnar. Photo courtesy of the Department of Interior

“I’m taking action to establish a pilot program for Doggy Days at Interior!” Zinke will say in his 9 a.m. missive to Washington-area employees, which shows two photographs of him with his wife, Lolita, and their 18-month-old black and white Havanese dog, Ragnar.

“Opening the door each evening and seeing him running at me is one of the highlights of my day,” Zinke’s e-mail says. “I can’t even count how many miles I’ve driven across Montana with riding shotgun, or how many hikes and river floats Lola and I went on with the little guy. But I can tell you it was always better to have him.”

The new policy, which has never been tried in the risk-averse federal government, puts the Trump administration in the vanguard of public institutions with dog-friendly policies. Members of Congress have been bringing their dogs to the U.S. capitol since the 19th century, but few other taxpayer-funded workplaces have gone to the dogs.

Private companies, on the other hand, are increasingly touting their dog-friendliness as an employee perk. Among the most prominent are Kimpton hotels, the biotech firm Genentech and Google, which says in its code of conduct that “affection for our canine friends is an integral facet of our corporate culture.”

In a survey conducted last year by Banfield Pet Hospital, the nation’s largest chain of veterinary clinics the vast majority of U.S. employees and human resources managers at pet-friendly companies said the policies improved morale, lowered stress and decreased guilt about leaving pets at home.

Zinke, an avid hunter and fisherman, promised on his first day as secretary earlier this month to bring a dog-friendly office policy to Interior, which has 70,000 employees across the country. The pledge, along with his promise to preserve public lands, drew loud applause as he addressed employees in the headquarters cafeteria.

“It’s a very exciting initiative that’s close to his heart,” said Heather Swift, a Zinke spokeswoman. “Every day he visits a different hallway in the building to introduce himself and somebody asks him when we’re going to have puppy days.”

But there are obvious concerns about having dogs at the office, which is why the policy is launching slowly as a pilot, officials said. Zinke’s staff has been consulting with agency attorneys in recent weeks to work out parameters for the dogs, including whether they’ll need to be leashed or will be limited to a certain size. It’s likely they’ll be to be fully housebroken, be vaccinated, and have no history of aggression, Zinke will tell employees Thursday.

Other possible complications when Fido reports to Interior: Fleas, bites, people with allergies, and pets who may, in a new environment, relieve themselves indoors.

“I understand some of you may have concerns about this policy,” Zinke’s e-mail says. Employees who “would rather not interact with dogs at the workplace” will be allowed to telework when dogs are around or have “other flexibilities.”

Ragnar was a frequent visitor to Zinke’s Capitol Hill office and rode on his campaign bus in when Zinke was running for Congress. Ragnar is also the secretary’s fishing companion, though he does not join him on hunting trips.

]]> 0, 23 Mar 2017 15:46:36 +0000
Keystone XL pipeline on its way to government approval Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:01:48 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. officials say the State Department will recommend approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, clearing the way for the White House to formally approve it.

Two officials say Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon will issue the recommendation Friday. A 60-day deadline to complete a Trump administration review is set to expire next Monday.

The pipeline requires a presidential permit. The officials say the White House would announce the permit’s issuance after the State Department recommendation. The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly ahead of the announcement and requested anonymity.

Shannon is making the recommendation because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recused himself from the matter. Tillerson is the former CEO of Exxon Mobil.

The Obama administration had rejected the pipeline.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:01:48 +0000
Maine medical examiner seeks more money to handle overdose deaths Thu, 23 Mar 2017 17:14:22 +0000 AUGUSTA — Maine is dealing with so many drug overdose deaths that the state medical examiner is asking for more money to handle the workload.

The epidemic of heroin, fentanyl and other opioids is behind a record number of overdose deaths – 378 last year in Maine.

The Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the state medical examiner, says delays in processing autopsies are straining Maine’s two full-time pathologists and hampering families in filing needed insurance paperwork.

The office wants to waive the competitive bid process to use $15,000 for an additional pathologist through June.

The office also has received $150,000 in additional funding for toxicology screenings.

Maine isn’t alone in dealing with rising overdose deaths. Several Ohio counties are using mobile cooling units to store bodies following a surge in deaths.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:14:22 +0000
Utah man killed, wife injured in London attack Thu, 23 Mar 2017 15:12:23 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY — A statement from the Mormon church issued on behalf of relatives says a Utah man was among those killed in a London attack and his wife was seriously injured.

Kurt W. Cochran and his wife, Melissa, were on the last day of a special European trip celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary when the deadly attack played out in the heart of London.

The woman remains hospitalized.

An attacker plowed an SUV into pedestrians Wednesday on London’s Westminster Bridge, killing two and wounding dozens, and then stabbed police officer Keith Palmer inside the gates of Parliament. The assailant was shot dead by armed officers.

The church says the Utah couple were also visiting the woman’s parents, who are serving as Mormon missionaries in London.

Her family in a statement made by her brother, Clint Payne, said they were heartbroken.

“Kurt was a good man and a loving husband to our sister and daughter, Melissa,” the statement said.

The family said he would be greatly missed and thanked emergency and medical crews.

They also asked for prayers and privacy.

The couple were initially scheduled to return on Thursday to the U.S. from their vacation.

]]> 0 undated photo provided by Clint Payne shows his sister, Melissa, and her husband, Kurt Cochran. A statement from the Mormon church issued Thursday, March 23, 2017, on behalf of relatives said Kurt Cochran was among those killed in the London attack Wednesday and Melissa was seriously injured. (Courtesy of Clint Payne via AP)Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:09:53 +0000
Some Democrats promise filibuster of Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination Thu, 23 Mar 2017 15:08:16 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ended Thursday on a confrontational note, with the body’s top Democrat vowing a filibuster that could complicate Gorsuch’s expected confirmation and ultimately upend the traditional approach to approving justices.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he will vote against President Trump’s nominee and asked other Democrats to join him in blocking an up-or-down vote on Gorsuch.

Under Senate rules, it requires 60 votes to overcome such an obstacle. Republicans, eager to confirm Gorsuch before their Easter recess – and before the court concludes hearing the current term of cases next month – have only 52 senators.

Republicans have vowed that Gorsuch will be confirmed even if it means overhauling the way justices have long been approved. Traditionally, senators can force the Senate to muster a supermajority just to bring up the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. If that is reached, the confirmation requires a simple majority.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said: “If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes – a bar met by each of President Obama’s nominees and George Bush’s last two nominees – the answer isn’t to change the rules. It’s to change the nominee.”

The Democrats’ liberal base has been pressuring senators to block Trump’s nominees across the government. But Schumer stopped short of saying that his entire Democratic caucus would join him in opposition to Gorsuch, leaving political space for some Democrats to find ways to work with Republicans.

Democrats may not have the votes to block Gorsuch, 49, who has been on the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the last decade and was nominated to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February 2016.

Several Democrats, especially those facing upcoming re-election battles in states that Trump won, are facing opposition from conservative organizations bankrolling a multimillion-dollar ad campaign designed to bolster Gorsuch.

There are also competing views among Democrats about whether to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination – which could provoke the Republican majority to rewrite the rules – or avoid confrontation and preserve the filibuster threat for the future. Retaining the filibuster could force Trump to select a relatively moderate nominee if in the coming years he gets a chance to replace a second Supreme Court justice.

Among recent Supreme Court nominees, the 60-vote threshold has not caused a problem. President Obama’s choices of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan each received more than 60 votes. Samuel Alito Jr., chosen by President George W. Bush, was confirmed 58-42 in 2006, but 72 senators voted to defeat a possible filibuster and allow his confirmation vote to go forward. Indeed, only Alito – among the last 16 Supreme Court nominees – was forced to clear the supermajority hurdle to break a filibuster.

In announcing his confrontational approach, Schumer said that Gorsuch “was unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check” on Trump. Schumer said later that the judge is “not a neutral legal mind but someone with a deep-seated conservative ideology,” hand-picked for Trump by conservative legal groups.

Thomas Goldstein, a Supreme Court practitioner and co-founder of SCOTUSblog, said that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not present a compelling case that Gorsuch is either an illegitimate nominee or that he is outside the conservative mainstream.

“None of the Democrats set the table” for a filibuster, Goldstein said. He speculated that one option for some Democrats would be to allow an up-or-down vote, then to vote against confirmation.

In addition to Schumer, Sens. Thomas Carper, D-Del., Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Thursday that they would filibuster Gorsuch. Casey is one of 10 Democratic senators running next year in a state that Trump won.

The Judicial Crisis Network, which is spending at least $10 million on television ads to persuade Democratic senators to support Gorsuch, called Casey and other Democrats opposing Gorsuch “totally unreasonable” because “they will obstruct anyone who does not promise to rubber stamp their political agenda from the bench.”

Senior Republicans have vowed that Gorsuch will be confirmed no matter what – a veiled threat to Democrats that they might use the so-called nuclear option to change the way senators confirm Supreme Court justices.

“If Judge Gorsuch can’t achieve 60 votes in the Senate, could any judge appointed by a Republican president be approved with 60 or more votes in the Senate?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this week.

Much of the Democratic resistance to Gorsuch centers on Republicans’ decision last year to block consideration of Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s choice to replace Scalia.

But moderate Democrats have said they are hoping that the two parties can come to an agreement that leads to Gorsuch’s confirmation and the preservation of current Senate traditions.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., seen as the Democrat most likely to support Gorsuch, said he needs to hear more from the nominee but warned Democrats against risking the deployment of the nuclear option.

“I haven’t completely made up my mind. I’m going to go talk to him next week; then I’ll make my decision,” Manchin said. “But I just think the Senate is on a slippery slope.”

After two days of answering senators’ questions, Gorsuch was not present on Thursday as civil rights leaders, conservative activists, professors, judges and former clerks debated whether he belongs on the high court.

On the final day, there were many empty seats in the hearing room, including on the dais as senators dropped in and out to cast votes.

Opponents expressed concern about Gorsuch’s record on civil liberties, election laws and reproductive rights. Gorsuch’s approach “reflects a narrow view of civil rights and a deep skepticism of protecting those rights in the courtroom,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Gorsuch’s former law clerks and other attorneys countered criticism that as an appellate judge he has favored corporations and employers over individuals. They cited his sympathy and respect for litigants and rulings to protect the rights of religious minorities and prisoners.

Senior U.S. District John Kane, also from Colorado, assured the committee that Gorsuch knows that his social, political and religious views have no place on the bench.

“Gorsuch is not a monk, but neither is he a missionary or an ideologue,” Kane said.

Human rights advocates raised concerns about Gorsuch’s tenure in the Justice Department during Bush’s presidency, when he worked on cases related to the detention of terrorism suspects. Gorsuch helped draft language designed to support Bush’s claims of executive authority on matters of torture and the treatment of detainees.

Gorsuch told the committee this week that he was merely acting as an attorney for his then-client.

But Jameel Jaffer, head of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said Gorsuch volunteered for the duty. “It is not the case . . . that Judge Gorsuch happened to be a government lawyer at a time when the government – his client – endorsed torture and a sweeping view of presidential power. The government endorsed those things first, very publicly, and then Judge Gorsuch chose his client.”

The committee also heard a highly personal account directly from Jeff Perkins, the father of a child with autism whom Gorsuch ruled against in 2008. Perkins called the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit “devastating,” requiring one parent to move to another school district to get his son, Luke, the education he needed.

Gorsuch’s 2008 decision came under scrutiny on Wednesday after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in another case that the standard Gorsuch applied for assessing the educational benefit for students with disabilities was too low.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:19:59 +0000
Weekend weather looks unsettled, but no major storms Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:45:11 +0000 The past several years have seen dry early springs.  After the big snow of 2015 melted, the ground had very little moisture and there wasn’t any mud season to speak of in spite of all that snow.  Typically, spring in Maine is unsettled, cloudy, wet, somewhat snowy and cold.  March is our wettest month and April is notorious for frustration. We can have snowstorms, sunshine and plenty of rain.   The pattern setting up over the next week is going to bring lots of clouds, multiple chances of precipitation and temperatures on the cooler side.  I don’t see any big snowstorms, but there is the chance for accumulating snow during period, especially away from the coast.

While this weather won’t be great for getting outside for early season field practice, rounds of golf or even a run, the precipitation is an important part of bringing us out of the drought and ensuring we don’t have even bigger problems later this spring and summer.  This isn’t to say it’s going to be wet for the next three weeks, but you’ll need some psychological fortitude to make it through a rather dreary period of weather ahead.

Saturday highs will reach into the mid-40s along the coastline and near 40 degrees even in the mountains. On Sunday you can expect readings about 10 degrees colder, in the lower to middle 30s in much of New Hampshire and Maine.

If you’re hitting the roads this weekend…

Highly variable conditions are in the forecast this weekend.  Some snow Friday and again Sunday may bring slick spots to your area.  Briefly milder air on Saturday means some melting, but Sunday morning will find readings back into the 20 to 28 degree range, so any moisture that falls would be frozen.

If you’re heading to Logan airport…

I don’t expect any weather issues in the northeast this weekend.  Some rain in the middle of the country, including Chicago could cause brief delays, but generally the weather won’t be a player in air travel this weekend.  There might be severe weather across the south, but this shouldn’t affect many airports.

If you’re going skiing…

Ski areas have a lot of snow left and we will be skiing into April.  Temperatures will be in the 30s this weekend and there will be a chance of some snow or mixed rain and snow.  Bring along a second jacket in case one gets wet or use a good shell.

Total precipitation will be relatively light this weekend.  A coating to as much as 2 inches of snow in isolated areas is all that will fall.  Most of this will occur Friday.

If you’re going hiking or running…

I can’t rule out rain showers Saturday afternoon or Sunday.  However any precipitation will be light and still allow for outdoor activity.  Just be sure to have proper gear.   Temperatures Saturday will be comfortable with highs in the 40 but, you should plan on colder air for Sunday with highs only near 35.

I will be updating the forecast on Twitter @growingwisdom throughout the weekend.

]]> 0, 23 Mar 2017 11:14:37 +0000
Fire kills 2 German shepherds at Saco farm that boards dogs Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:59:36 +0000 A Saco dog breeder lost two pregnant German shepherds when fire swept through a large barn at her farm Thursday.

Robert Martin, deputy chief of the Saco Fire Department, said the fire was discovered by the owner of Timber Ridge Farm, Doreen Metcalf, when she opened a door to the barn at 221 Simpson Road shortly after 9 a.m.

Metcalf boards, trains and breeds dogs at the farm, and also boards horses there. The barn that caught fire was used exclusively for dogs, Martin said.

Metcalf managed to get all the dogs out of one end of the barn after discovering the fire, Martin said, and also freed dogs from an outside enclosure attached to the barn, but the smoke and flames at the other end of the barn were too thick for her to get through. He said that’s where the two dogs, one of them in the process of giving birth, died.

The loss of the dogs comes four months after another of Metcalf’s dogs, a 5-year-old female German shepherd named Uhdelle, was hit and killed by a car.

Uhdelle had wandered away while Metcalf was horseback riding on a trail with several of her dogs, and police believe someone picked up the dog and set her loose in Gray, where she was struck by a car.

Metcalf offered a reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever took Uhdelle, and police in Saco and neighboring Buxton asked for the public’s help, but there have been no arrests in the case, police said.

Martin said firefighters from seven neighboring towns helped Saco firefighters try to put out the flames Thursday, but the barn’s roof collapsed and the structure was destroyed. He said firefighters had to shuttle water from sources about a mile away to try to douse the flames. Crews were on the scene until after 2 p.m., he said.

Metcalf told him that she has insurance and should be able to rebuild, Martin said.

He said fire officials believe they know the source of the fire, but are withholding that information until they complete an investigation, a process expected to take only a couple of days. The fire is not considered suspicious, he said.

No one was injured, Martin said.

]]> 0 from several communities work at the scene of a fire at a barn at Timber Ridge Farm on Simpson Road in Saco on Thursday. Two dogs died in the fire at the farm, which breeds, raises and trains dogs as well as boarding horses.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:33:57 +0000
Israeli Jewish man arrested as suspect in threats against U.S. Jewish centers Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:50:51 +0000 JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Thursday arrested a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man as the primary suspect in a string of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and other institutions in the U.S., marking a potential breakthrough in a case that stoked fears across the United States.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the suspect as a hacker, but said his motives were still unclear. Israeli media identified him as an American-Israeli dual citizen and said he had been found unfit for compulsory service in the Israeli military.

The unidentified 19-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen covers his face as he is brought to court in Rishon Lezion, Israel.

“He’s the guy who was behind the JCC threats,” Rosenfeld said, referring to the dozens of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the U.S. over the past two months.

The Anti-Defamation League says there have been more than 120 bomb threats against U.S. Jewish community centers and day schools in the U.S. since Jan. 9. Those threats led to evacuations of the buildings, upset Jewish communities and raised fears of rising anti-Semitism. The threats were accompanied by acts of vandalism on several Jewish cemeteries.

Among the Jewish centers threatened was the Jewish Community Alliance in Portland, which received a bomb threat in mid-January, one of more than a dozen such calls phoned into Jewish organizations the same day. The organization at 57 Ashmont St. runs a preschool and food pantry. The caller, who also made anti-Semitic remarks, said that a bomb would be detonated in the preschool.

The threats led to criticism of the White House for not speaking out fast enough. Last month, the White House denounced the threats and rejected “anti-Semitic and hateful threats in the strongest terms.”

Rosenfeld said the suspect allegedly placed dozens of threatening phone calls to public venues, synagogues and community buildings in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. He also placed a threat to Delta Airlines, causing a flight in February 2015 to make an emergency landing.

Rosenfeld said the man, from the south of Israel, used advanced technologies to mask the origin of his calls and communications to synagogues, community buildings and public venues. He said police searched his house Thursday morning and discovered antennas and satellite equipment.

“He didn’t use regular phone lines. He used different computer systems so he couldn’t be backtracked,” Rosenfeld said.

After an intensive investigation in cooperation with FBI representatives who arrived in Israel, as well as other police organizations from various countries, technology was used to track down the suspect who had made the threats around the world, Rosenfeld said.

In Washington, the FBI confirmed the arrest but had no other comment.

]]> 0 19-year-old dual U.S.-Israeli citizen covers his face as he is brought to court in Rishon Lezion, Israel, Thursday, March 23, 2017. Israeli police said they have arrested a Jewish Israeli man who is the prime suspect behind a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and other institutions in the United States. The police withheld his identity. (AP Photo/Nir Keidar) ***ISRAEL OUT***Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:15:23 +0000
Stinky spill of something fishy makes mess in Kennebunk Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:34:36 +0000 A truck spilled three inches of fish product on a Kennebunk highway overpass Thursday morning, creating a stinky situation for town crews that had to scrape the frozen mess off the street during the morning commute.

Sometime around 6 a.m., a truck that got off the northbound Maine Turnpike exit in Kennebunk turned onto Alfred Road and, while crossing the overpass, spilled some type of fish product on the road. With temperatures in the single digits, the fish product quickly froze, according to the town’s fire chief.

“A lot of the contents they were carrying slopped out onto the street and caused three inches of frozen mess,” Fire Chief Jeff Rowe said. “The neighborhood has a definite fish odor.”

Kennebunk Public Services crews scraped the fish product off the road, then put down sand and salt to alleviate slipping. They managed to get the area cleaned up within a couple hours without causing delays during the morning commute, Rowe said.

Rowe said the town is investigating how the fish product was spilled and by what truck. They are reviewing turnpike video footage to try to identify the truck, which did not stop or notify emergency officials of the spill.

Deputy Police Chief Micheal Nugent said his department has been in contact with Maine State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement as part of the investigation. The person responsible for the vehicle that spilled the load could face charges, he said.

“I think we’ll be able to identify the folks who are responsible,” Nugent said.

The town notified the Department of Environmental Protection of the spill.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:37:58 +0000
Maine’s low temperatures for March 23, 2017: ColdTrac Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:59:00 +0000 0, 23 Mar 2017 09:08:23 +0000 LePage throws support behind health-care overhaul but warns Congress shouldn’t rush Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:32:26 +0000 AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that the rush to bring an Affordable Care Act replacement bill to a vote could doom the effort by President Trump and conservatives in Washington.

LePage suggested Thursday that negotiations on the bill moved too quickly and there was not enough compromise.

“It was fairly fast and that’s why I had to go to Washington, two or three times, it was fairly intense and that may be its downfall,” LePage said while speaking with WGAN radio hosts Matt Gagnon and Ken Altshuler during his weekly call-in appearance.

The Republican governor said that Congress must approve a workable replacement for the ACA, known as Obamacare, before it can move on to work on federal tax reform.

“If you don’t fix health care, it’s like education in Maine, until we fix education in Maine we are always going to be a high-tax state,” LePage said. “I believe until you fix health care in America we are always going to be a high-tax country, because it just consumes so much of the budget. You fail to do this, there is very little you can do on the other side.”

The American Health Care Act, the bill some Republicans hope will replace Obamacare, was headed for its first vote Thursday, but the vote was postponed until Friday when it appeared to lack sufficient support to clear even the Republican-controlled House.

In recent weeks LePage has visited Washington to lobby lawmakers and the Trump administration on changes he believes are needed in the bill, including requiring low-income workers who receive Medicaid benefits to pay some of their health costs.

“I’m not suggesting that they have to buy their own but they have to have skin in the game,” LePage said. “Poverty is not a handicap.”

LePage on Wednesday joined a group of Republican governors in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, saying they support the replacement bill following changes made this week.

“The move to a more flexible Medicaid program that empowers states with options to utilize per-capita caps or block grants; providing a workable timeframe for transition out of Obamacare; advancing work requirements to encourage able-bodied Americans to find jobs; and providing states with funds to help stabilize our insurance markets and provide assistance to low-income Americans, are all positive improvements to the bill,” read the letter signed by LePage and the governors of Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri.

LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett said Thursday that the governor views the AHCA as a starting point. “I am not insinuating that the governor is saying that this is the one-size-fits-all solution,” Bennett said in an email to the Press Herald. “This is a start. To neglect to do anything is more damaging.”

LePage also wrote U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, Wednesday to urge them to oppose any expansion of federal Medicaid programs for “able-bodied adults without dependents.”

LePage argued that Maine’s 2002 expansion of Medicaid was a financial disaster for the state because it prompted low-income Mainers to drop their employer-based health insurance for free health care under Medicaid. LePage and Republican lawmakers have since tightened Medicaid eligibility for adults without dependent children, removing some 86,000 from state-sponsored health insurance programs.

In his letter, LePage writes that an estimated 100,000 Mainers who now have private insurance would drop it if Medicaid were again expanded to cover them.

“If (able-bodied adults without dependents) around the country are allowed to drop their private insurance and get ‘free’ health care on Medicaid, it will considerably compound the cost of Medicaid expansion and ruin the commercial market,” LePage wrote in his letter to King and Collins.

LePage also reiterated his support for provisions in the ACA that provide subsidies to low-income workers to purchase private health insurance. He noted that while Maine cut Medicaid enrollment for non-disabled adults from 2011 to 2015, the state’s uninsured rate actually decreased as well. Maine’s uninsured rate dropped from 10.7 percent in 2011 to 8.4 percent in 2015, LePage notes.

“That is why I have no objection to continuing a system of private insurance premium assistance for low-income workers,” LePage wrote. In his letter, LePage doesn’t ask Collins and King to support the Republican health bill, but does urge them to support repealing and replacing the ACA.

Meanwhile, Mainers opposed to the repeal urged Congress to reject the House bill Thursday.

During a State House news conference, state Rep. Anne Perry, a Calais Democrat and a family nurse practitioner, said the ACA has provided more Mainers with health coverage, especially for preventative care. Perry said the House bill would once again make health care coverage largely unaffordable for many Mainers, especially older residents who don’t qualify for Medicare.

“If the repeal of this bill passes into law, a 60-year-old resident living in Washington County making $40,000 a year would see premiums rise while their taxes go up,” Perry said. She urged Maine’s 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, to vote against the bill. Collins, King and Maine’s 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, have all indicated they oppose the current version of the measure.

Ed Saxby, a Cape Elizabeth resident battling cancer, said he would lose his health coverage if the ACA is repealed.

“I can afford the treatment I need, as a retiree, living on a fixed income, because of the tax subsidies provided under Obamacare,” Saxby said. Were those subsidies removed, he would no longer be able to afford the treatments that are keeping him alive, he said.

“There are millions of people in my situation,” he said. “Some of the studies that have been done on this have said if we take away health insurance and that coverage and access to care for 14 million people in the first year, about 45,000 people will die prematurely. I’ll be one of them.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett also issued a statement Thursday criticizing LePage’s letters to Congress. Bartlett said LePage’s apparent support for the House bill as a starting point for ACA reform ignores that the replacement bill could leave more than 100,000 Mainers without coverage.

“The GOP health care bill would be catastrophic for elderly, rural and low-income Mainers,” Bartlett said in a prepared statement. “It is not only laughable that LePage suggests passing the AHCA would be beneficial to Mainers’ ‘economic well-being,’ it is dangerous. The AHCA is bad for Mainers, and to suggest otherwise after weeks of publicly criticizing the bill frankly reeks of kowtowing to White House pressure.”

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

Twitter: thisdog

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:47:23 +0000
Republican health-care plan hangs in balance as House leaders push for floor vote Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:51:55 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Republican health-care overhaul faces its greatest test ever Thursday as President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., work feverishly to persuade enough Republican lawmakers to back the measure and push it to a floor vote.

Late Wednesday, the White House and House leaders were still scrambling to boost support, and signaled at the 11th hour a willingness to rework the measure to mollify conservatives. On Thursday morning, House leaders postponed a 9 a.m. meeting of the entire GOP Conference, signaling that negotiations were still underway.

As of late Thursday morning, 36 House Republicans – mainly conservatives – had announced their opposition to the bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

After insisting for weeks that the changes sought by hard-right members would render the bill unable to pass the Senate, White House officials and GOP House leaders appeared to shift their thinking – and opponents agreed to keep working on a deal with the goal of holding a floor vote in the House by Thursday night.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he had taken personal calls Wednesday from Trump seeking a resolution, although he said no formal offer had been extended by the White House.

“We are working very diligently tonight to try and get there,” Meadows said Wednesday.

“The president has been profoundly engaged,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. “I think things are going in a very good direction right now.”

Trump is scheduled to meet with Freedom Caucus members at 11:30 a.m. at the White House, and will then host a “listening session” on health care with truckers there Thursday afternoon.

Thursday marks the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, and Republican leaders are eager to mark it with a historic vote demonstrating its evisceration has begun. In a sign of how high the stakes are for both parties, former President Barack Obama issued a statement noting that more than 20 million Americans have gained coverage since he signed the law, while the rise in health costs has slowed.

“So the reality is clear: America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said, adding that Republicans are welcome to work with Democrats to improve the law. “But we should start from the baseline that any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hard-working Americans. That should always be our priority.”

Both the president and vice president made personal appeals throughout the day Wednesday to secure the votes needed to pass the House. While most of their lobbying is focused on the roughly two dozen House conservatives skeptical of the measure, a handful of moderates have also decried the current proposal as harming the elderly and poor.

Vice President Mike Pence huddled with members of the Freedom Caucus in his Eisenhower Executive Office Building office early Wednesday, while Trump met with 18 House Republicans at the White House, but these efforts appeared to produce just one definitive aye vote from the conservative camp: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

GOP leaders can afford only 22 defections, given that one Democrat is expected to be absent Thursday. A Freedom Caucus spokeswoman said that “more than 25” members of the group oppose the bill.

Wednesday’s events laid bare party leaders’ struggle to muster enough votes for one of their defining goals: to roll back the 2010 health-care law that helped galvanize conservatives in the years since to wrest control of both the legislative and executive branches from Democrats.

If Republicans fail this initial test of their ability to govern, Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans may face a harder time advancing high-priority initiatives on infrastructure, tax reform and immigration. They might also find themselves navigating strained relationships among themselves.

For much of Wednesday, the Freedom Caucus’s message, spokeswoman Alyssa Farah tweeted, was: “Start over.”

At the same time, four more Republican moderates – Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (N.J.), Daniel Donovan (N.Y.) and David Young (Iowa) – announced their opposition Wednesday, increasing pressure on leaders to win over the conservatives.

Ryan summoned more than a dozen members of the moderate Tuesday Group to his office late Wednesday in an apparent bid to curb further defections. One participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting, said Ryan and other House leaders described the potential deal with the Freedom Caucus, which would strip essential health benefits but leave other ACA mandates, such as those dealing with preexisting conditions and coverage of adult dependents, in place.

“People got to say their piece and react to the proposal. It’s safe to say people had concerns about stripping out essential health benefits, especially at this late hour,” the Tuesday Group member said. “I think they’re short [of votes], and I think they’re considerably short . . . I’m not sure where all this goes tomorrow.”

Conservatives are seeking to eliminate more of the ACA’s insurance mandates, known as “essential benefits,” which require plans to cover specific medical benefits, such as mental health care, prescription drugs and preventive care. That, conservatives argue, is the only reliable way to force down premiums.

Ryan warned in an interview Wednesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that fulfilling those GOP demands would violate Senate budget rules and leave the bill vulnerable to a blockade by Democrats.

“Our whole thing is we don’t want to load up our bill in such a way that it doesn’t even get considered in the Senate,” the speaker said. “Then we’ve lost our one chance with this one tool we have.”

That stance appeared to shift late Wednesday, when separate aides in the White House and the House GOP leadership said a new interpretation of Senate rules had raised the possibility that acceding to the Freedom Caucus’s request might not threaten Senate consideration of the whole bill. But both aides said the provision could still be stripped out once the bill reaches the Senate.

Democratic Senate aides insisted that would be the case. “What the proponents aren’t telling conservative House Republicans is that the plan to repeal essential health benefits will almost certainly not be permissible under Senate reconciliation rules,” said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

In fact, the new negotiations late Wednesday raised the possibility that the challenge would only grow at the other end of the Capitol. There are at least a dozen skeptics of the bill among Senate Republicans, who maintain a slim 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate, and many of them want to maintain some of the current law’s more generous spending components. Republicans can afford to lose the votes of only two senators, assuming Pence would step in to cast a vote for the health-care rewrite in the case of a tie.

In addition to conservatives, who do not think the proposal does nearly enough to undo the ACA, some moderates fear it will harm their constituents as well as their party’s prospects at the ballot box.

“We’re not there yet,” Meadows said Wednesday, “but we’re very optimistic that if we work around the clock between now and noon tomorrow that we’re going to be able to find some common ground. Tonight is an encouraging night, and yet I don’t want to be so optimistic to say that the deal is done, but I do think that there is a framework to work with our leadership and the leadership in the Senate and certainly the administration to find some common ground.”

He continued: “The overall impression of the Freedom Caucus is we’re willing to jump through unbelievable hurdles to hopefully get to a point where this bill is better for the American people.”

An additional potential hurdle facing the bill is the updated analysis still to come from the Congressional Budget Office, which will reflect changes to the measure that were issued Monday. That analysis could be rendered inaccurate if further changes are made before the vote.

Earlier Wednesday, even as opposition appeared to persist, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the measure would pass the House, adding that there is no Plan B if the proposal goes down.

“There is Plan A and Plan A,” said Spicer, who described Trump as “the closer” for the deal. “We’re going to get this done.”

Complications stemming from the bill’s last-minute tweaks appeared to add yet another political headache Wednesday, as veterans groups discovered that the latest draft might make them ineligible for a tax credit. A change made to ensure the measure would comply with Senate rules created a separate consequence – that individuals would qualify for the bill’s tax credits only if they “are not eligible” for other types of coverage, including those provided by Veterans Health Administration.

In an email, House Ways and Means Committee spokeswoman Lauren Aronson said the issue would be fixed in subsequent legislation. “This amendment makes no change to veterans’ health care. In working with the administration and the Veteran Affairs Committee, we will continue to ensure that America’s veterans have access to the best care available.”

Carlos Fuentes, legislative director for the Veterans for Foreign Wars, said veterans want the issue resolved before any bill becomes law. “It would be a huge impact on veterans if this were not corrected,” he said.

Abby Phillip, Lisa Rein and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., vice chair, listen to arguments as the panel meets to shape the final version of the Republican health care bill Wednesday in Washington.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:50:41 +0000
‘We are not afraid,’ says British leader after attack claimed by Islamic State Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:55:08 +0000 LONDON — Authorities identified a 52-year-old Briton on Thursday as the man who mowed down pedestrians and stabbed a policeman to death outside Parliament, saying he had a long criminal record and once was investigated for extremism – but was not on a terrorism watch list at the time of the attack.

As millions of Londoners returned to work a day after a rampage that killed four victims and injured at least 30, British Prime Minister Theresa May had a message for other attackers: “We are not afraid.”

“Today we meet as normal – as generations have done before us, and as future generations will continue to do,” she said, to cheers in the House of Commons.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, which police said was carried out by Khalid Masood, a U.K.-born resident of the West Midlands in central England. Masood plowed a rented SUV into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge, killing an American man and a British woman and injuring more than 30 people of almost a dozen nationalities. He then fatally stabbed a policeman inside the gates of Parliament before being shot to death by an officer.

A 75-year-old victim on the bridge died late Thursday of his wounds, police said.

Vincenzo Mangiacarpe, an Italian boxer visiting Parliament, said he saw the attacker get out of the car wielding two knives.

“You can imagine if someone was playing a drum on your back with two knives – he gave (the policeman) around 10 stabs in the back,” Mangiacarpe said.

The dead were identified as Kurt Cochran, 54, of Utah and British school administrator Aysha Frade, 43 – both struck on the bridge – and 48-year-old Constable Keith Palmer, a 15-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police. The 75-year-old victim was not identified.

Police arrested eight people – three women and five men – on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts as authorities sought Masood’s motive and possible support network. One arrest was made in London, while the others were in Birmingham. Police said they were searching properties in Birmingham, London and Wales.

Masood’s convictions between 1983 and 2003 included assault, weapons possession and public order offenses, London police said.

But he “was not the subject of any current investigations and there was no prior intelligence about his intent to mount a terrorist attack,” police added.

Many suspects in British terrorist attacks and plots have had roots in Birmingham, England’s second-largest city, and several mosques there have been linked to extremist clerics.

A home raided in Birmingham was one where Masood lived until late last year, a neighbor said. Shown a photo of him, Iwona Romek said “that is 100 percent” the man who lived next door to her for about five months.

Romek said he had a wife and child about 6 years old who he would walk to school. He rarely left home in the evening.

“He seemed like a normal family man who liked to take care of his garden,” she said. But one day she saw him packing their belongings in a black van and they were gone.


As police investigated, Parliament got back to business, opening the day with a minute’s silence for the victims. May saluted the heroism of police and the bravery of ordinary Londoners.

“As I speak, millions will be boarding trains and airplanes to travel to London and to see for themselves the greatest city on Earth,” she said. “It is in these actions – millions of acts of normality – that we find the best response to terrorism. A response that denies our enemies their victory, that refuses to let them win.”

In 1,000-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament’s buildings, politicians, journalists and parliamentary staff lined up to sign a book of condolences. One uniformed policeman wrote: “Keith, my friend, will miss you.”

Some parliamentarians said they were shaken by Wednesday’s attack, and all were somber. But they also were determined.

“There is no such thing as 100 percent security,” said Menzies Campbell, a member of the House of Lords. “We have to learn to live with that.”

The attack echoed deadly vehicle rampages in Nice, France, and Berlin last year that were claimed by the Islamic State.


The group said through its Aamaq News Agency that the London attacker – whom it did not name – was “a soldier of the Islamic State” who “carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting citizens of the coalition” fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The group has been responsible for violence around the globe, although it has also claimed events later found to have no clear links to it.

Police believe the attacker acted alone, May told lawmakers, with no reason to believe “imminent further attacks” are planned. Britain’s threat level from terrorism stands at “severe,” the second-highest on a five-point scale, meaning an attack is highly likely.

Years ago, Khalid was “investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” she said, but called him “a peripheral figure.”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd denied there had been an intelligence failure because the attacker had been known to police.

“I think that would be absolutely the wrong judgment to make,” Rudd told the BBC. “I’m confident that as we get more information … that we will learn more and take comfort from the information that we have and the work that the intelligence services do.”

British security forces say they have foiled 13 plots in the past four years.


London has been a terrorism target many times. Last weekend, hundreds of police simulated a attack on a tourist boat on the River Thames, which winds through London.

The victims were from 11 countries. They included 12 Britons, four South Koreans, three French, two Romanians, two Greeks, two Irish, two Americans and one person each from Germany, Poland, China and Italy.

Cochran, who was visiting London with his wife, Melissa, for their 25th anniversary, was listed among the dead by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His wife was seriously injured and hospitalized.

Nigel Farage, former leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, blamed the attack on “multiculturalism.”

But most politicians said the violence should not divide Britain, and May called the rampage “a perversion of a great faith.”

As dusk fell, a silent vigil was held by several thousand people in London’s Trafalgar Square, where the bells of Big Ben could be heard in the distance.

“Those evil and tortured individuals who try to destroy our shared way of life will never succeed,” Mayor Sadiq Khan told the crowd.

Sughra Ahmed, a Muslim woman who traveled from northwest England for the vigil, said she’d been reduced to tears on the square by a woman who embraced her.

“Britain is one,” she said. “An attack on one is an attack on us all.”

]]> 0 crowd gathers Thursday at a vigil at Trafalgar Square in London for the victims of Wednesday's attack. Mayor Sadiq Khan called for Londoners to attend the vigil in solidarity with the victims and their families, and to show that London remains united.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:12:06 +0000
Idaho man who didn’t match victim’s DNA free after 20 years Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:57:28 +0000 BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho man who experts say was coerced into a false murder confession was freed Wednesday after spending half of his life behind bars.

A judge released Christopher Tapp after vacating his rape conviction and resentencing him to time served for the 1996 killing of Angie Dodd.

The release came after years of work by Tapp’s attorney, public defender John Thomas, and advocates, including Judges for Justice, the Idaho Innocence Project and the victim’s mother, Carol Dodge.

Angie Dodge was 18 and living in an Idaho Falls apartment on June 13, 1996, when she was sexually assaulted and killed at her home.

Tapp was a 20-year-old high school dropout at the time. He was interrogated for hours and subjected to multiple lie detector tests by police before confessing, but DNA evidence taken from the scene didn’t match Tapp or any of other suspects in the case.

The release doesn’t exonerate Tapp – his murder conviction still stands under the plea agreement that transformed his 30-years-to-life sentence to time served. But the agreement allowed Tapp to leave the courtroom as a free man after 20 years in prison. He otherwise wouldn’t have been able to seek parole until 2027.

“Chris Tapp is innocent,” his attorney, Thomas, said. Still, Thomas said, the plea deal was the right decision because it came with the certainty of freedom.

In court Wednesday, Carol Dodge said she was overwhelmed and felt great sadness that Tapp had lost 20 years of his life to prison.

The Idaho Falls Police Department announced Wednesday that it has a sketch of a suspect, but didn’t release it.

Most of the recent developments in the case have focused on DNA at the scene.

Dodge’s body was found by co-workers. She had been raped and stabbed. Investigators were able to obtain DNA at the scene.

The initial investigation spanned months, and by the start of 1997, detectives began to suspect that Benjamin Hobbs and Tapp may have been involved. Hobbs was arrested in Ely, Nevada, in connection with a rape and accused of using a knife during the crime. Tapp, who was friends with Hobbs, was arrested in January and questioned about Hobbs’ suspected involvement in Dodge’s killing.

Over the next few weeks, Tapp was interrogated nine times and subjected to seven polygraph tests. At various times, police suggested he could face the death penalty, told him that he was failing the lie detector tests, suggested he may have repressed memories of the killing and offered him immunity if he implicated Hobbs and another suspect. He eventually confessed to being involved in the death.

But none of the DNA matched any suspect..

Under the deal, Tapp can’t continue efforts to get his conviction overturned and must pay into Idaho’s victim compensation fund.

]]> 0 Tapp, right, and public defender John Thomas smile during Tapp's post conviction relief hearing at Bonneville Courthouse in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Wednesday.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:57:28 +0000
Report says repeal of Obamacare would hurt poor families and give richest a tax break Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:51:40 +0000 The Republican health care bill could cost the average poor family benefits worth a third of their income while giving the most affluent families a $5,000 tax break, according to the first detailed report on the income distribution effects of President Trump and Republican lawmakers’ plan to undo the Affordable Care Act.

The law expanded health insurance to millions of Americans, in part, by reducing income inequality – levying taxes on the richest Americans to help the poorest gain coverage.

Through changes to taxes and health benefits, the Republican bill would reverse that: In 2022, an average family making less than $50,000 a year would stand to lose federal benefits, while those that made more would gain – with the biggest winners and the biggest losers at the extremes, according to the report by the Urban Institute and the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. The average family making less than $10,000 a year could expect to lose $1,420 under the plan; the average family making more than $200,000 could gain $5,640.

“The ACA was designed to make coverage more affordable for individuals who were of low- and middle- income, who did not have access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage. And it did so largely, if not completely, by raising revenue on higher income families,” said Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who led the report. The Republican bill “is basically a reverse of that.”

The effects of the Republican plan on particular households’ finances could vary widely depending on age and geography, and the new report does not include detailed projections based on these factors. It also does not include the impact of an additional $85 billion that House lawmakers have said will be steered to people between 50 and 64 years old, because there were not enough details available on who would be eligible or how the funds would be distributed.

Avik Roy, a former adviser to Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, argued that the analysis did not take into account the potential benefits from an improved economy if Obamacare were repealed. “If you have a lot more economic growth, that can help everybody,” Roy said. “It’s important to recognize that there are other factors at play here, and economic growth being one very significant factor.”

The proposed changes that would help or hurt different interest groups vary widely.

Poor families would lose benefits because of cuts to Medicaid. Those in the lower middle class would lose subsidies that cover out-of-pocket costs, and, depending on their ages and where they live, they would receive less generous subsidies to help pay premiums. Among more affluent people, some who currently make too much money to be eligible for subsidies would receive help in paying their premiums. At the highest income bracket, the biggest gains would come from tax repeals.

“The fundamental thing is this bill is not meant to expand health care coverage. As many people have said, it’s basically a tax cut to the wealthy,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist and architect of the Affordable Care Act. “They don’t need it. That’s not a good use of resources in this country. None of them have gone without a meal or even without a coffee because of the ACA.”

The Affordable Care Act was designed to fix a broken insurance market, where companies made money in part by discriminating against sick people by charging them more or refusing to insure them at all. To make it viable for insurers to sell insurance to all people, regardless of their pre-existing conditions, the law’s architects needed everyone to sign up, so that healthy people’s premiums would balance the care for sick people. But in order to get all those people to sign up – particularly the poorest – the government needed to provide financial assistance, which was funded in part by taxes on rich households.

Those included a 0.9 percent tax on wages and salaries above certain limits – $250,000 a year for a married couple. Another provision was a 3.8 percent surcharge on gains from a range of investments, such as rents, royalties, dividends and capital gains, for similarly wealthy households.

The Republican plan repeals the taxes – a boon to the wealthy. At the same time, it cuts Medicaid by hundreds of billions. It restructures and, overall, cuts premium subsidies that help people afford coverage. It eliminates cost-sharing reductions that defray the out-of-pocket costs for low income families.

“You’re just going backwards,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an architect of the Affordable Care Act. “This is an explicit redistribution, from poor to rich.”

Joseph Antos, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that Democrats had hoped to use Obamacare as “an excuse for redistribution.” He argued that the poor and the working class would have been better off, however, if Democrats had used the money they raised through taxing the rich to meet needs other than health care.

“What I’m talking about it is putting foods in the bellies of kids, getting families to have decent housing conditions,” Antos said. “They don’t want more health care. They’d be better off and their health would be better off.”

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:38:35 +0000
Democratic senators want details on Flynn’s vetting Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:40:07 +0000 WASHINGTON — Democratic members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee have asked the Trump administration to explain how it vetted retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn before he was offered the job of national security adviser.

In a March 1 letter, the four senators asked specifically whether Flynn had been subjected to a lie detector test, which is a routine feature of government security clearance, and whether he had acknowledged receiving money from a Russian television outlet that is owned by the Russian government.

The letter gave the Trump administration until March 17 to respond. The White House has yet to answer, and the senators are expected to renew their request in a second letter this week.

“Now that we know the FBI is investigating Russia’s possible ties to President Trump’s team, we need detailed answers about the vetting of General Flynn and other White House advisers because it’s critical to our national security,” one of the signers, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement. “The administration must address these concerns thoroughly in order to prevent future attacks and to keep our nation safe.”

President Trump fired Flynn in February just 24 days into his administration after The Washington Post revealed that Flynn had been recorded conversing with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The firing came two weeks after the Justice Department had told the White House that the transcript of that conversation conflicted with what Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence about his talks with Kislyak.

Since Flynn’s firing, it’s also been learned that he accepted more than $50,000 from entities with links to the Russian government and that he also was paid $530,000 by a Turkish company to do work that likely benefited the Turkish government.

Flynn’s Russia contacts are especially sensitive because his last role in government was as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, one of the 16 agencies that along with the CIA and the National Security Agency make up the nation’s intelligence community.

“Russia’s attack on our democracy was a deliberate attempt to undermine the trust Americans have in our government,” Tester said in his statement.

]]> 0 Gen. Michael Flynn accepted over $50,000 from entities with links to the Russian government.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:35:37 +0000
Nevada OKs ERA in move that may just be symbolic Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:18:43 +0000 CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada on Wednesday became the first state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment decades after the deadline to enshrine in the U.S. Constitution that women and men are equal under the law.

Lawmakers who backed the amendment say it is a profound and overdue gesture for women who continue to experience discrimination 45 years after Congress first submitted it to the states. Though the move is only symbolic, supporters say it would be pivotal if Congress ever extends the 1982 deadline.

It brought the nation two states shy of ratifying the amendment. Four Democratic members of the Republican-controlled Congress introduced legislation this year that would restart the clock on its approval.

Activists rallied around Nevada’s action in part to unite the millions who marched for women’s rights a day after President Trump’s inauguration.

“Nevada today reminded us of the bittersweet progress when it comes to gender equality – how far women have come and still how far we have to go in the fight for equal rights,” said Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who was elected Nevada’s first female U.S. senator in November.

The amendment required approval from 38 states to take effect, and 35 states ratified it by 1977.

No others joined by the 1982 cutoff.

If the amendment is reopened for consideration, the previous ratifications would stand and just two more states would need to approve it.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:18:43 +0000
Former pharmacy owner convicted of racketeering Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:59:11 +0000 BOSTON — The former head of a Massachusetts pharmacy was acquitted Wednesday of murder allegations but convicted of racketeering and other crimes in a meningitis outbreak that was traced to fungus-contaminated drugs and killed 64 people across the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Life has been totally hell,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 CADDENWed, 22 Mar 2017 21:59:11 +0000
South’s bird flu called nation’s worst since 2015 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:56:49 +0000 BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A bird flu outbreak that has led officials to euthanize more than 200,000 animals in three Southern states already is the nation’s worst since 2015 and new cases are still popping up, an expert said Wednesday.

Agriculture officials are trying to limit the damage, but it’s unclear whether quarantines, transportation bans and mass killings will stop the spread, said Joseph Hess, a poultry science professor at Auburn University.

The disease was first confirmed in southern Tennessee earlier this month and has since been detected in northern Alabama and western Kentucky.

“We’re at the point where it’s a little here and a little there. It could fade away, but it could blow up into something bigger,” said Hess.

State officials say no infected birds have entered the nation’s poultry supply, and the U.S. food chain isn’t at risk.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it was temporarily banning the transportation of poultry after a low-pathogenic form of the disease was found in a commercial flock of 22,000 hens in western Kentucky. The farm was placed under quarantine and the birds were killed.

The announcement came as Alabama confirmed the presence of low-pathogenic bird flu in two flocks there, where more than 42,000 animals have been euthanized. High-pathogenic bird flu, a deadlier form of the illness, was previously detected in Tennessee, where 145,000 birds were killed.

Hess said the illness is carried by waterfowl, which don’t get ill but can pass it to poultry.

The current outbreak has affected large commercial poultry houses, where at-risk birds often are put to death by the thousands with foam that smothers them, and smaller, backyard operations.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:25:59 +0000
U.S. moves forces near militant stronghold in Syria Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:42:30 +0000 BEIRUT — U.S. aircraft ferried Syrian Kurdish fighters and allied forces behind Islamic State lines on Wednesday to spearhead a major ground assault on a strategic town held by the extremist group outside its self-declared capital, Raqqa, the Pentagon said, marking the first time U.S. forces have provided airlift for local forces on a combat operation in Syria.

The airlift was part of what Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon described as a large, high-priority offensive to secure the area around Tabqa and the associated Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River which supplies electric power to the area.

“This is a significant strategic target,” said Pahon. If successful, the operation would “basically cut ISIS off” from the western approaches to Raqqa.

The U.S. has significantly widened its footprint in northern Syria as it prepares for the operation to push the militants from Raqqa, deploying a Marine artillery unit and a few dozen Army Rangers in addition to special operation troops and advisers to assist the local forces.

Wednesday’s airlift, which Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, described as a first, displayed a new level of commitment to Syria’s Kurds, whose partnership with the U.S. in fighting IS has prompted difficult discussions with Turkey, which sees the militants as a national security threat.

Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition that is overseeing the counter-IS campaign in Syria and Iraq, said multiple U.S. aircraft were used to land the Syrian fighters south of Tabqa. The U.S. also provided artillery fire from a Marine contingent, as well as close air support by U.S. Army Apache helicopters, he said.

“This is pretty major,” he said, adding the fight for the dam, the town and the airfield is expected to last at least a couple of weeks.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:42:30 +0000
Komen foundation closing Maine operation, ending Race for the Cure Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:40:19 +0000 The Maine affiliate of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer research foundation will cease operations at the end of this month, marking the end of a two-decade era in which race participants raised millions of dollars for breast health programs across the state.

Cathy Dow, president of the board for Susan G. Komen Maine, made it official Wednesday in an email to last year’s Race for the Cure participants, an event in Bangor that attracted just under 2,000 people.

The directors voted in late December to shut the Maine program down and is now making final payments and closing its Brewer offices. The organization will be shut down by March 31, the close of its fiscal year.

“Despite our longstanding presence in the community, there were not enough funds raised and a consistent participation decline in the annual Race for the Cure led to the tough decision to responsibly close the affiliate,” Dow wrote in her email. “Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Komen Maine has invested more than $3 million in local breast health programs across the state, and contributed more than $900,000 to Komen’s national research program.”

Dow said Komen Maine is “extremely proud” of the work it has done since 1997 to provide breast health education and access to screening and treatment programs to uninsured and underinsured women and men statewide.

Dow said the organization hopes to restore a local presence in the near future, but she did not offer a timetable.

Komen Maine’s former executive director, Victoria Abbott, said the decision to shut the program down was heartbreaking.

“This was not a decision taken lightly. It was gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.

Abbott blamed the closure on saturation in the fundraising market, a steep decline in race participants and decreases in individual donation amounts. Last year, 80 percent of participants in the race paid the $30 entry fee but made no further donations, Abbott said.

Abbott said Komen Maine has also seen the number of race participants decrease by about 1,000 a year since 2010, when participation peaked at 5,600. Powers said just under 2,000 people signed up for the September 2016 Race for the Cure in Bangor, compared with 3,000 in 2015 and 3,500 in 2014.

Falling number of racers and donations forced the directors to make what Abbott called a “responsible” fiscal decision.

Abbott, whose mother is breast cancer survivor, recognizes that the Race for the Cure event will be sorely missed. At each race, the organizers held a cancer survivor ceremony – a time to remember people lost to cancer and recognize those who survived.

“People would say that the race gave them hope and empowered them to get through their rounds of chemotherapy,” Abbott said.

Since 1982, the national foundation has funded more than $920 million in research and more than $2 billion in medical care, and has served millions of people in over 60 countries.

While fundraisers for various causes are good in concept, they have hurt the Race for the Cure, a 5-kilometer event for runners and walkers.

Abbott said she was approached recently by someone at the Bangor Mall who confused the Race for the Cure with actor Patrick Dempsey’s bike and run challenge, the Dempsey Challenge. That event drew nearly 4,000 participants last year and raised $1.2 million for the Dempsey Center in Lewiston, which provides medical support for people with cancer.

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

]]> 0, 23 Mar 2017 09:10:11 +0000
Africa’s water crisis said to be worsened by climate change, human influence Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:30:34 +0000 KAMPALA, Uganda — Nearly a third of people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to safe drinking water, the World Water Council said Wednesday, urging governments to contribute adequate amounts of their budgets toward projects aimed at making safe water widely available.

“There is an absolute necessity to increase water security in order to overcome the challenges brought on by climate change and human influence … We need commitment at the highest levels,” the organization’s president, Benedito Braga, said in a statement marking World Water Day.

Africa and Asia are the most affected by scarcity of safe water, with Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Angola reporting that clean water is available to less than half of their people, the statement said.

Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with feces, and half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025, according to the World Health Organization.

The water problem is particularly serious in sub-Saharan Africa, where 32 percent of people lack access to clean water and where some of the world’s poorest live. Water-borne diseases are common. Africa’s population is also growing quickly, putting even more pressure on available sources of safe water.

In Africa’s largest city, activists protested for better access to clean water. Community leaders in Lagos, Nigeria, said residents of the sprawling city of 21 million are suffering.

“When we fetch the water, it foams and smells like petrol and detergent was poured into it,” Barakatu Elegbede said. Residents blamed unmaintained petroleum pipes.

Han Seung-soo, the U.N. special envoy for disaster risk reduction and water,

He said over 90 percent of human loss caused by disasters has been water-related.

]]> 0 family has to walk several miles to bring clean water to their home in South Sudan, one of multiple African countries dealing with sparse supplies of safe drinking water for a population that's growing quickly.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:51:01 +0000
Dip in temps may mean sap won’t just go with the flow Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:13:47 +0000 Warmer days, freezing nights. The sap is running – sporadically – just in time for Maine Maple Sunday, following a topsy-turvy stretch of winter weather that’s enabled sap to flow a little earlier than usual, only to be halted at times by late-season chills.

This weekend Maine will celebrate the 34th annual Maine Maple Sunday, held every year on the fourth Sunday of March.

Sugarhouses will be open for visitors to enjoy freshly made maple syrup and candy, demonstrations of syrup production, sugarbush tours and other family activities.

Some central Maine producers got an early jump on tapping their trees this year after a prolonged thaw in January and February.

Skowhegan’s Maple Fest, which celebrates Somerset County’s status as the top maple-producing county in the United States, kicks off at 4:30 p.m. Friday with sap collecting at Chez Londorf on Burrill Hill Road, off Bigelow Hill Road. The public is invited to join Skowhegan Area High School art teacher Iver Lofving in collecting maple sap.

The Londorf sugarhouse, with its wood-fired evaporator in the woods, was built in 2002 by vocational and technical students at the school.

Lofving, like many other maple producers, said he started tapping his 325 maple tree at the end of February. But the sap flow has slowed and stopped a couple of times since then, when the temperature dipped into the teens and single numbers during the day.

“It’s been running very sporadically and it’s been sort of cold, so we haven’t gotten very much yet, but we have had a couple boils,” Lofving said on Monday.

“The temperatures have been below freezing and when there’s no liquid water, there’s no sap flowing.”

Sap tends to flow when daytime temperature is above 32 degrees and when nighttime temperature dips back below freezing.

Mike Meagher, at the Maine-iac Maple Farm and specialty store on Mitchell Road in Richmond, said he uses 250 taps.

He also started tapping at the end of February and started boiling three or four days after that.

“It ran good for awhile at the beginning,” Meagher said. “Then we had about 10 days a week ago when it was below freezing night and day.

It was really cold and it didn’t run at all. We didn’t boil for about 10 days.”

Some sugarhouses will hold events on both Saturday and Sunday. For a list and map of participating sugar houses, visit the Maine Maple Producers website.

Weather forecasts in central Maine call for partly sunny skies Saturday and Sunday, with high temperature reaching the lower 40s and upper 30s.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:;

]]> 0 steam rises from a wood-fired evaporator, John Ackley loads more wood while boiling maple syrup Monday at the Chez Lonndorf sap house on Burrill Hill Road in Skowhegan in preparation for the Maine Maple Sunday event this weekend.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:34:27 +0000
Gorsuch tells Democrats he’ll make up his own mind Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:59:59 +0000 WASHINGTON — Democratic senators pressed Judge Neil Gorsuch Wednesday to explain his views on issues such as the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” and the notion of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” questions designed to more aggressively probe his independence from President Trump.

Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, declined to answer several questions from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on legal concepts Trump’s critics have accused the president of violating.

Leahy also noted Gorsuch has strong support from Trump senior counselor Stephen Bannon, who he accused of “giving a platform to extremists and misogynists and racists.” Another senior Trump aide, Reince Priebus, had said Gorsuch could change potentially 40 years of law, Leahy said.


“What vision do you share with President Trump?” the senator asked.

“Respectfully, none of you speaks for me,” Gorsuch said. “I am a judge. I am independent. I make up my own mind.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized Gorsuch’s testimony as “pitifully short on substance” in a series of tweets.

“The qualifications for Senate confirmation shouldn’t be skillful evasion of questions, it’s not how the process is supposed to work,” Schumer wrote Wednesday.

Wednesday’s hearing marked what is likely the last day of testimony for Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he has made a particular effort to stress his independence from Trump.

At one point, Gorsuch seemed to reject a Feb. 13 comment from senior White House adviser Stephen Miller that Trump’s actions on national security “will not be questioned,” which some interpreted as a signal that Trump could ignore judicial orders.

“You better believe I expect judicial decrees to be obeyed,” Gorsuch said. He quoted an unnamed judge he called “one of his heroes”: “The real test of the rule of law is [whether] the government could lose in its own courts and accept those judgments.”

Still, some senators remained less than satisfied with his answers.

Under questioning from Leahy, Gorsuch dodged questions on the emoluments clause, which states the president cannot accept gifts from foreign agents without approval from Congress.


Gorsuch also declined to give his view on Scalia’s characterization of the Voting Rights Act as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

“Senator, I don’t speak for Justice Scalia. I speak for myself,” he said.

“You have been very hesitant to even talk about various Supreme Court precedents,” Leahy told Gorsuch, noting that Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito took positions on specific cases during their confirmation hearings.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas, the Republican whip, rejected Leahy’s characterization.

“I don’t know what they’ve been listening to, what they’ve been paying to, if that’s their conclusion,” he said.

Gorsuch has refused to be pinned down on most of the issues that Democrats raised: Roe v. Wade, money in politics, and the Second Amendment.

]]> 0 GORSUCHWed, 22 Mar 2017 21:05:03 +0000
Gun violence has impact on U.S. taxpayers Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:23:36 +0000 Americans paid more than $6.6 billion over eight years to care for victims of gun violence, according to a new tally of hospital bills. And U.S. taxpayers picked up at least 41 percent of that tab.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, say the authors of a study published this week in the American Journal of Public Health. Their sum does not include the initial – and very costly – bill for gunshot victims’ care in emergency rooms. Nor does it include hospital readmissions to treat complications or provide follow-up care. The cost of rehabilitation, or of ongoing disability, is not included either.

“These are big numbers, and this is the lowest bound of these costs,” said Sarabeth A. Spitzer, a Stanford University medical student who co-wrote the study. “We were surprised” at the scale.”

That, arguably, makes gun-injury prevention a public health priority, Spitzer said.

The Repulicans’ health care reform measure would reduce federal contributions toward Medicaid, which foots roughly 35 percent of the hospital bills for gunshot victims. The Republican plan would also cut payments to the hospitals that absorb much of the cost of caring for uninsured patients, whose hospital bills accounted for about 24 percent of the $730 million-per-year tab.

“These are expensive injuries,” Spitzer said.

The new research underscores many grim facts of gun violence in the United States: In 2014, for instance, 33,700 people died of gunshot wounds, but an additional 81,000 were treated for nonfatal firearms injuries.

Close to two-thirds of the gun deaths were self-inflicted, and those who commit suicide with a gun rarely survive long enough to be admitted to a hospital.

To come up with their tally, Spitzer and her colleagues scoured the hospital bills of 267,265 patients across the country who were injured by guns between 2006 and 2014.

These patients were overwhelmingly male, and most of them were admitted to large, urban teaching hospitals.

About 43 percent of the victims were treated in the South, where the proportion of uninsured patients was highest.

And nationally, 30 percent of gunshot victims treated in hospitals during the study period were insured by Medicaid.

Spitzer’s work was underwritten by a Stanford fund for “medical scholars.”

As a medical student interested in trauma surgery, she said she hopes that more research will prompt public policies to reduce such injuries.

]]> 0 at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center operate on a gunshot victim who's likely to lack private insurance.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:09:44 +0000
LePage envisions eliminating most highway tolls with merger of transportation agencies Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:04:51 +0000 GORHAM — Gov. Paul LePage suggested Wednesday night that he would like to see the Maine Turnpike Authority merge with the Maine Department of Transportation, believing it would lead to the elimination of most tolls.

LePage made the remarks during a town hall meeting in Gorham before a largely friendly audience of about 150 people.

The governor said the idea could take as long as a decade to come to fruition, but ultimately the state would have just one tollbooth, in Kittery.

“The only toll we should have is for the visitors coming in and out of the state in the summer months,” he said, adding that Mainers who commute to New Hampshire for work would be offered a tax credit for their tolls.

Currently, the southernmost tollbooth is in York.

LePage said to make the plan work he would to suspend the turnpike authority’s ability to borrow and eventually have the transportation department maintain the 108 miles of turnpike highway.

He didn’t offer many details on the idea, but said he remembers when the turnpike was built under the promise tolls would be eliminated once the highway was paid for.

Hans Hansen of Gorham Staff photo by Derek Davis

LePage was responding to a question from Gorham resident Hans Hansen, who asked LePage to support a turnpike bypass plan that would connect Gorham to the Maine Mall area.

LePage did so, saying, “I have no problem with it.”

After the meeting, Hansen said he appreciated LePage’s idea to eliminate the tolls, but didn’t sound completely convinced the governor would be able to pull it off. “Everybody wants a free ride but we all got to pay somewhere,” Hansen said.

LePage received compliments from several members in the audience for his efforts to boost the economy and cut taxes. He also touched on the handful of themes he has championed at previous town meetings, including lowering energy costs, reducing taxes, and reforming welfare and education.

On education, the governor elaborated on a pilot project his administration has embarked on that’s aimed at building collaboration and finding efficiencies for public school administration. LePage said he was offering to help school districts that work together to find savings with $3 million he has carved out of the budget.

He noted his current budget proposal would eliminate state funding for local school superintendents. The governor long has argued that funding isn’t reaching the classrooms, saying that’s where it is needed, because the state’s schools are top heavy with superintendents.

LePage detailed several examples of school districts in Bangor and in southern Maine that had come up with proposals he said were “phenomenal.” LePage’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett told the crowd that 21 districts had offered ideas that would cost about $7 million to implement but would save about $20 million. They include ideas to consolidate special education programs and many administrative functions, including purchasing, human resources and others.

“All that money saved will go back into the classroom,” LePage said. He then pointed to a graph that showed steady increases for state spending on schools while student enrollment has steadily declined. “That’s the issue folks, and we are getting to the point where something has to give and the best place to do it is not in the teacher ranks but in the superintendents’ ranks.”

LePage has been to Washington, D.C., several times in the last few weeks and said he would be returning again in April or May to lobby officials on reversing former President Barack Obama’s creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

LePage also said he had not decided if he would run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Angus King, an independent, in 2018. LePage said he had not convinced his wife, Ann LePage, that a run against King would be a good idea.

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

Twitter: thisdog

]]> 0, ME - MARCH 22: Gov. Paul LePage holds town hall in Gorham. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:45:21 +0000