Press Herald Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:16:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Colin Dexter dies at 86; created Inspector Morse Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:09:14 +0000 Colin Dexter, a British grammar school teacher turned author who created Inspector Morse, a curmudgeonly detective who adores real ale, poetry, Wagnerian opera and crossword puzzles and who became the hero of more than a dozen novels and a popular television series, died Tuesday at his home in Oxford, England. He was 86.

In announcing his death, Pan Macmillan publisher Jeremy Trevathan said that Dexter “represented the absolute epitome of British crime writing.” No cause was provided.

Adapted for public television and shown in 33 episodes in 200 countries between 1987 and 2000, the mysteries of murder most foul – in the academic serenity of Oxford – were no match for the brains and wit of Inspector Morse, who eventually solved the fatal and fiendishly complicated riddles, sometimes long after the fact.

The show’s producers once claimed to The Washington Post that 1 billion people around the world watched Inspector Morse and his sidekick Sgt. Lewis bring culprits to justice or at least to public exposure. In reruns, the audience has only swelled.

Inspector Morse was played by John Thaw, a British actor who died in 2002, and Kevin Whately portrayed Lewis; Dexter often made cameo appearances, playing variously a tourist, a doctor, a prisoner, a bishop and a bum.

A spinoff series based on Lewis and starring Whately ran on British TV from 2006 to 2015. In recent years, actor Shaun Evans played a young Morse in the prequel series “Endeavour.”

In a measure of Inspector Morse’s popularity, there were tours of Oxford with visits to real-life pubs he was said to have frequented and stops at fictional murder sites.

Dexter’s awards included two Golden Dagger prizes from the Crime Writers Association of Britain and its lifetime achievement award in 1997, a Diamond Dagger.

Norman Colin Dexter was born in Stamford, England, on Sept. 29, 1930, a birthday he shared with the fictional Endeavour Morse. He did not reveal Morse’s first name until late in the series.

In the final Inspector Morse book, “The Remorseful Day” (1999), the title character dies a natural death, although perhaps hastened by alcohol, tobacco and too little care of himself.

“I didn’t kill him off,” Dexter told The Post. “He just died.”

On the day the last Inspector Morse book was published, the lights in London’s Piccadilly Circus carried the message “R.I.P. Morse.”

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:16:26 +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
Celtics storm past Pacers, 109-100 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:58:47 +0000 BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points, Avery Bradley had 18 with eight rebounds and the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 109-100 on Wednesday night for their fifth win in six games.

Al Horford added 15 points with eight boards and eight assists, and Jae Crowder also scored 15 points for Boston, which won for the 12th time in 13 home games.

Paul George led the Pacers with 37 points and Jeff Teague had 25. Indiana has alternated by winning and losing in its last 15 games.

The Celtics turned a red-hot shooting third quarter into 39 points, pushing a seven-point halftime lead to 14 after three quarters.

Boston hit 17 of 25 shots from the field, with Marcus Smart’s last-second bank shot in the lane capping the shooting. He was fouled on the play and made the free throw, giving the Celtics an 88-74 lead entering the final quarter.

Thomas hit two 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the third.

George kept the Pacers in the game, though, scoring 14 in the quarter.

Trailing by 17 early in the fourth, the Pacers went on a 13-2 run to slice it to 95-89 on Teague’s 3-pointer.

Thomas then sandwiched a couple of breakaway layups around a turnaround by Horford to seal it.


Pacers: Gave up 100 or more points for just the third time in 14 games. They entered allowing just 98.8 points since the all-star break, second-best in the league. . Fell to 11-25 on the road.

Celtics: Coach Brad Stevens said before the game that he enjoyed having his team healthy and playing games with breaks in between. “It’s good to play a game, take a day off and play another game and still have the same amount of bodies,” he said. “It’s pretty unique.”


With the Pacers in the midst of a tight race for one of the East’s last few playoff spots for a while, coach Nate McMillan said facing playoff-type games the last couple of weeks will be nothing new.

“That mindset really started or should have started after the (all-star) break,” he said. “Being in a close race, as we are finishing this regular season, every game has to be played like that with the energy, effort and sense of urgency. The level of play goes up a lot after the break because teams understand the position that they’re in.”


Thomas scored in double figures for the 120th straight game, the longest streak by a Celtic since Antoine Walker went for 126 from March 2000-January 2002.


Pacers: Open a three-game home stand, beginning with Denver on Friday.

Celtics: Host Phoenix on Friday. They lost to the Suns when Tyler Ulis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer in Phoenix on March 5.

]]> 0 Thomas of the Boston Celtics, center, goes up to shoot against Indiana's Myles Turner (33) during the first quarter of Wednesday's game in Boston. (Associated Press/Michael Dwyer)Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:03:47 +0000
South states’ bird flu called nation’s worst since 2015 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:56:49 +0000 Likely sickened by waterfowl, over 200,000 farm birds are euthanized in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky

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 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:56:49 +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 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:44:39 +0000
NFL notebook: A Brady jersey is found – is it the real one? Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:31:01 +0000 BOSTON — Now that authorities believe they have recovered the jersey stolen from Tom Brady’s locker following the Patriots’ Super Bowl win last month, the next step will be determining whether it is in fact the MVP quarterback’s missing grass-stained garment.

So how exactly does that happen?

Old-fashioned detective work.

Experts in the sports memorabilia industry, including one that has worked directly with NFL teams, say it is a tedious process that involves comparing photos and videos that captured degradation to the jersey during the game. They also compare the jersey to team-issued serial numbers and other player-specific customizations that authentic jerseys typically have.

“Every jersey is like a fingerprint. No two jerseys are alike,” said Barry Meisel, president of the MeiGray Group, which has authenticated game-worn sports memorabilia since 1997. “They’re hand-stitched, full of dirt, mud, helmet stains, turf skids and burns. When you look at jersey after a game it’s unique.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined Wednesday to discuss the authentication process due to security reasons, writing in an email only “there are a number of procedures we have been using.” The FBI also has not commented on the methods it is using.

Brady’s jersey went missing from the Patriots’ locker room after their Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons Feb. 5, setting off an investigation that stretched from Boston to the Mexican border.

Working with U.S. investigators, Mexican authorities obtained a warrant to search the property of Martin Mauricio Ortega, a tabloid journalist who colleagues say went to the game with a media credential, but bragged he was there as a fan. Authorities recovered the jersey, along with another Brady jersey that disappeared after the 2015 Super Bowl. A helmet belonging to a Denver Broncos player – possibly Von Miller – was also discovered. Ortega quit his job two days after the search, but has not been charged in the case and has not been located for comment.

MeiGray Group has authenticated jerseys for the NBA, NHL, USA Hockey, as well for Washington and the Los Angeles Chargers of the NFL.

Most of the authentication Meisel’s company is asked to perform involves a jersey coming from the hands of a league official from a player in the locker room. But he said even in those cases, a process called photo matching is used.

In photo matching, an authenticator would utilize all the available photos and videos that captured images of the garment and compare stains, tears, and abrasions the garment undergoes over the course of a game.

His company was once asked by a collector to authenticate a jersey that an auction house was purporting to have been worn by Boston Bruins great Bobby Orr the night the Bruins captured the 1972 Stanley Cup.

Photos of him drinking from the Cup in the locker room after the game were used to prove it was real, based on comparisons of repair marks and stitching on the jersey.

BENGALS: Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones faces three misdemeanor charges, including assault, but no longer is being charged with a felony for a January confrontation with hotel security guards, police and a nurse.

A felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance, for allegedly spitting at a nurse, was dismissed at the prosecuting attorney’s request, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said in a statement Wednesday. The felony charge carries a potential sentence of six to 12 months in jail upon conviction.

Deters said the misdemeanors also include disorderly conduct and obstructing official business.

VIKINGS: New running back Latavius Murray had ankle surgery Wednesday.

Murray left the Raiders as a free agent and signed last week with Minnesota, getting $15 million over three years, with $8.55 million guaranteed.

The Vikings said in a statement that they were “aware of the required surgery prior to signing Latavius on March 16. Latavius is expected to fully recover and be available for training camp.”

Giants: New York signed veteran running back Shaun Draughn, who has played for six teams in six years, most recently the San Francisco 49ers. He has played in 57 career games with seven starts.

JETS: New York signed former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Mike Pennel to a one-year deal.

JAGUARS: Jacksonville signed free agent tight end Mychal Rivera to a two-year contract. Rivera spent the first four years of his NFL career in Oakland, where he caught 146 passes for 1,413 yards and 10 touchdowns in 61 games.

Browns: Former Pro Bowl return specialist and wide receiver Josh Cribbs officially announced his retirement Wednesday, ending a career he began as an undrafted free agent quarterback out of Kent State.

]]> 0 Brady's Super Bowl LI jersey was believed to be recovered by authorities in Mexico City. Brady's jersey went missing from the locker room after the game, and set off an investigation that stretched from Boston to the border.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:31:01 +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 21:13:47 +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
Airbnb doubling its investment in China Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:56:16 +0000 Airbnb Inc. is showing China some love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:56:16 +0000
Major advertisers boycott YouTube Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:24:02 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — AT&T, Verizon and several other major advertisers are suspending their marketing campaigns on Google’s YouTube site after discovering their brands have been appearing alongside videos promoting terrorism and other unsavory subjects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:24:02 +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
Changes brewing at Starbucks Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:17:09 +0000 Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz quite literally handed the keys to the company to his successor on Wednesday. Reaching into his pocket during the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, Schultz plucked the door key to Seattle’s Pike Place Market store, the company’s original location, and handed it to president and chief operating officer Kevin Johnson, who will officially succeed Schultz in early April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:17:09 +0000
Commentary: Why is anyone still listening to Bobby Knight? Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:14:02 +0000 Twelve days ago, shortly after his team pulled out a dramatic overtime win in the semifinals of the inaugural Ivy League basketball tournament, Princeton Coach Mitch Henderson was waiting to be called to the podium when he caught my eye.

I waved and mouthed, “Congratulations.” He nodded, then urgently waved me over. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted, but thought he might want to share something that would help my column. I walked over and we shook hands.

“So what’s the deal with your guy Knight?” he asked.

A little more than 24 hours earlier, Bob Knight had told Dan Patrick during a radio interview that he wished all the people who had been in charge at Indiana when he was fired had died or would die soon.

I’ve been asked the same question countless times.

The first person to tell me about Knight’s remarkably tasteless comment was Dan Dakich, who played for Knight, then coached under him for 16 years. That means he saw him in action for 20 years, which should make him just about impervious to even the most senseless of Knight’s outbursts.

And yet, when I walked toward the media seating for the Big Ten quarterfinals, Dakich almost tackled me.

“Did you hear what Knight said?” Dakich asked.

I rolled my eyes. Honestly, at this point, I’m not sure why anyone cares what Knight says about anything – whether it’s Donald Trump or Indiana basketball or that team from the SEC. He’s a bitter, angry 76-year-old man who has never really enjoyed anything in life other than getting the last word.

Dakich had the interview transcript in his phone. He showed me the relevant passage.

“I wish I could say it’s unbelievable,” I said finally, “but, knowing Knight, it’s not.”

I haven’t been around Knight on a regular basis since the long winter of 1985-86 I spent with him in Bloomington, reporting what would become “A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers.” He didn’t speak to me for eight years after that – remarkably because he was upset that I included a tiny fraction of his voluminous profanity.

I owe Knight a debt I can never repay. The access he gave me that season was complete and absolute. He never backed away. The book’s success is largely due to that access and to Knight being such a fascinating, dichotomous figure.

I knew when I sent Knight an advance copy that his response wasn’t going to be, “Hey John, great job.” That’s not who he is: He wants everyone in his life on the defensive, backpedaling, intimidated. As he once said to Steve Alford, “Steve, I’m never going to talk to you about your shooting because I know you can shoot. But your defense (stinks) and that’s what you’re going to hear about from me.”

What’s sad about Knight is he pushes away those close to him. He and Mike Krzyzewski didn’t talk for 10 years – until Krzyzewski called and said, “Coach, I wouldn’t be going into the Hall of Fame if I hadn’t played and coached for you. You’re the only person who should give my induction speech.”

Even Knight couldn’t resist.

But he could resist phone calls from members of his 1976 team, the last team to go undefeated in college basketball. Several called to plead with him to return last year for a 40th anniversary celebration at Indiana. No way, Knight said, was he ever returning. So he didn’t go. Guess who suffered the most? Robert M. Knight.

That was when Dakich decided he finally was done with him. The 1976 team “made him,” he said. “They put him in a unique place, and they put up with all his BS to do it. Forget any grudges against Indiana – which are silly at this point – he owed it to them to be there.”

Knight’s not going back to Indiana. He has gone to Purdue – to again make his point about Indiana – just as he made a point of letting the world know he spent time with Dean Smith in Chapel Hill in the summer of 1992 but never called Krzyzewski because Krzyzewski beat him in the Final Four that spring.

After Knight retired from Texas Tech in mid-season in 2008, he was hired with much fanfare by ESPN. The network wanted him to be a star. Knight wanted to be a star but didn’t want to do the things TV analysts are asked to do: show up for production meetings; go to shoot-arounds; talk to coaches about their teams. It was beneath him. Bob Knight asking a coach for a few minutes of his time?

No way.

And so, ESPN slowly moved him down the announcing ladder before finally giving up and firing him two years ago. Now Knight is back in Lubbock, hunting and fishing, virtually alone.

Every once in a while, someone gives him a chance to show up in public: Trump last summer, Patrick two weeks ago. Knight does it because he’s still trying to get in the last word.

The court at Indiana should have his name on it. He should return to the cheers of the multitudes. He should enjoy everything he accomplished in coaching and revel in the relationships he built.

Instead, he goes on the radio and wishes people dead. He can’t help himself. He’s still trying to have the last word when it came and went years ago.

All of which is almost unbearably sad for anyone whose life he touched – mine among them. Many will say, “It’s just Knight being Knight.”

That’s the saddest thing of all.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:54:57 +0000
LePage envisions merging Maine Turnpike Authority, Department of Transportation 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 toll booth, 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 MTA’s ability to borrow and eventually have the MDOT 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.

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 eliminates 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)Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:18:52 +0000
South Portland asks pipeline company for data to back up tax abatement request Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:56:14 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — City Assessor Jim Thomas has asked for sweeping documentation of Portland Pipe Line Corp. operations to support its request for a property tax abatement, a move that will delay his decision until mid-June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:59:00 +0000
Alligators make a splash, but invasive species pose greater risk in Maine Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:24:29 +0000 The discovery of five alligators in a taxi attracted a lot of attention in Augusta Tuesday, but such exotic animals pose relatively little risk in Maine compared with other invasive species.

Greater threats to Maine’s woods and waterways are species such as the green crab, the emerald ash borer and the northern pike. However diminutive those species might look next to an alligator, they actually can survive here. Alligators, on the other hand, naturally occur in the southeastern United States and could not survive the winters in Maine.

“It’s very unlikely (alligators) could become established in the wild in Maine, just because of the climate here, versus where they’re from naturally,” said Nate Webb, a biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, on Wednesday.

Police located the alligators in a taxi that had just arrived at the Concord Coach Lines bus station in Augusta. They were being kept in a plastic box, and their alleged owner, 20-year-old Yifan Sun, told police that he was taking a bus to Waterville to show them to his friend. Sun also said he was planning to ship the alligators to someone in Texas.

The officers seized the animals and charged Sun with importing or possessing wildlife without a permit. The young reptiles, each about a foot long, then were taken to a regional office of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife in Sidney.

A combination of state, federal and independent agencies works to contain damage from invasive species that are already here while also looking out for new ones. Such invasive species can harm some of Maine’s major industries.

Originally from Europe, green crabs reached American shores in the mid-1800s and have increased dramatically along Maine’s coast in recent years, feeding on blue mussels and soft-shell clams and threatening those fisheries, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Another species that has gained a foothold in Maine is the northern pike, which has been released in some lakes where they threaten other fish species, Webb said.

Northern pike have “completely restructured the fish community in those lakes,” Webb said. “They changed it from more of a cold-water, salmon-and-trout system to one that’s dominated by pike and some other warm-water species. It’s something people probably don’t often think about because it’s a sport fish as well, and people like to catch them, but they’re not actually native in a lot of the locations where they are in the state.”

Wildlife officials are also on the lookout for the emerald ash borer, an Asian insect that feeds on ash trees and has decimated forests in New Hampshire, Webb said. The threat to Maine forests is serious enough that the state prohibits importation of firewood from other states so larvae can’t be brought in.

“The stakes are pretty high, and for us it’s all about prevention,” Webb said. “Whether it’s a reptile or an amphibian or a bird or a fish, trying to prevent those species from becoming established either by preventing the importation in general or just being very careful about who’s allowed to import them.”

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

]]> 0 Maine Warden Service confiscated these five baby alligators Tuesday at the Concord Coach Lines bus station in Augusta and cited their apparent owner with importing or possessing wildlife without a permit.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:31:48 +0000
State urged to boost revenue sharing to ease pressure on property taxpayers Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:06:49 +0000 AUGUSTA — City and town officials from throughout Maine accused the state on Wednesday of breaking its contract with municipalities by siphoning off tax revenues intended to reduce pressure on local property taxes.

The comments came during legislative hearings on several bills that would once again require the state to return 5 percent of state tax revenues to municipalities – up from the current 2 percent – as part of the 44-year-old “revenue sharing” program. Although a perennial topic at the State House, this year’s debate coincides with LePage administration efforts to permanently freeze municipal revenue sharing at 2 percent while lowering income tax rates and eliminating a controversial 3 percent tax surcharge on wealthy Mainers.

Several speakers contrasted the economic situation faced by Mainers struggling to pay rising property taxes with those affected by the 3 percent tax surcharge on earnings above $200,000 to fund education. Earlier this week, opponents of the voter-approved tax surcharge said that it is already driving some professionals out of Maine and will discourage economic development.

“I listened all day Monday to the wealthy complain about taxes they can afford,” said Jim Betts, a retiree from Winthrop. “Now I want this committee to hear that working families, low-income citizens and seniors cannot afford the burden of higher property taxes. Our security and our very homes could be at risk without your help.”

Revenue sharing was established in 1972 as a way for the state to help localities pay the costs of mandatory services – such as schools, roads, fire and police departments – since state law prohibits municipalities from levying a local sales tax. The state is supposed to provide 5 percent of sales, income and corporate taxes to municipalities, but lawmakers haven’t hit that level in more than a decade.

As part of the current two-year budget, lawmakers reduced revenue sharing to 2 percent in order to funnel an additional $90 million into the state’s General Fund, but rejected Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to eliminate revenue sharing. At 2 percent, municipalities will receive roughly $65 million in fiscal year 2017 compared to $152 million that would have been shared at the 5 percent level.

Municipal officials argued such reductions merely force them to cut services or raise property taxes year after year. They testified in support of two bills – L.D. 133 by Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester and L.D. 492 sponsored by Democratic Rep. Denise Tepler of Topsham – that would restore revenue sharing at 5 percent.

“We need to mean what we say in this state,” said Joe Slocum, city manager of Belfast, which has lost $558,000 in anticipated revenue sharing since 2008. “If we say we are going to be at 5 percent, we have got to show good faith that we are going to be there.”

In Brewer, the loss of more than $900,000 representing the difference between 5 percent and 2 percent is equivalent to a 1.35 increase in the city’s mill rate, Mayor Beverly Uhlenhake said.

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli estimated that the city will lose $1.7 million in next year’s budget “due to the continued draining of the revenue sharing fund.” Morelli accused LePage and other “anti-municipal crusaders” of attempting to eliminate the program altogether. While the loss of so much money inevitably led to worse roads, higher taxes and service losses, tax hikes would have been even higher without that 2 percent.

“I am asking you to please begin the process of incrementally restoring revenue sharing to the full 5 percent so that Maine towns and cities can continue to maintain reasonable property tax rates while also investing in the things necessary to build better communities,” Morelli said.

Between fiscal years 2009 and 2018, the Legislature transferred (or is expected to transfer in the fiscal years 2017-18) $607 million in would-be revenue sharing dollars to the General Fund. By comparison, municipal tax assessments increased $625 million during those years, according to state financial data supplied to the Taxation Committee by Rep. John Madigan Jr., a Democrat who serves as the town manager of both Rumford and Madison.

Madigan said those losses of would-be tax revenues represent 97 percent of the increase in municipal tax assessments that had to be covered by property taxes.

As part of his proposed $6.8 billion, two-year budget, LePage has proposed freezing revenue sharing levels at 2 percent while simultaneously changing the education funding formula. He has said towns and school systems – particularly the latter – have failed to control spending, leading to higher property taxes. And he became personally involved in the case of an elderly Albion couple whose home was foreclosed on by the town.

But municipal officials blame recent property tax hikes on the loss of revenue-sharing dollars combined with rising education costs – particularly special education costs – and unfunded mandates. Several speakers described the relationship between municipalities and the state as increasingly “broken” on Wednesday.

“That relationship has been severely torn and harmed over the last few years,” said Kate Dufour with the Maine Municipal Association, which represents localities on policy issues at the State House. “Municipal levels of government provide services on behalf of the state and at the demand of the state because you know, and we know, that there are certain levels of services that we provide better, more efficiently and more effectively.”

But Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, a Turner Republican who sits on the budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, had cautionary words for his legislative colleagues as they contemplate how they will vote on the bills to return to 5 percent.

“The question is: how are you going to fund them?” asked Timberlake, a fiscal conservative. “You’re talking about raising an additional $100 million … where do you propose that this money comes from?”

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

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:50:22 +0000
Storied retailer Sears could see the end Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:51:47 +0000 NEW YORK — Sears, a back-to-school shopping destination for generations of kids, has said that after years of losing money that there is “substantial doubt” it will be able to keep its doors open. But it also insisted that its actions to turn around its business should help reduce that risk.

It was still a dramatic acknowledgment from the chain that owns Sears and Kmart stores, which has long held fast to its stance that a turnaround is possible, even as many of its shoppers have moved on to Wal-Mart, Target or Amazon.

Sears has survived of late mainly with millions in loans funneled through the hedge fund of Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert, but with sales fading it is burning through cash. Sears Holdings Corp. said late Tuesday it lost more than $2 billion last year, and its historical operating results indicated doubt about the future of the company that started in the 1880s as a mail-order catalog business.

In Maine, Sears operates regular department stores in Augusta, Bangor, Brunswick and South Portland and its smaller “Hometown” stores in Belfast, Biddeford, Caribou, Ellsworth, Farmington, Fort Kent, Houlton, Newport and Windham. The Augusta store is closing this month.

At a largely empty Sears store in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the available parking far outstripped the number of cars in the lot, 85-year-old Jack Walsh and his 82-year-old wife, Mary Ann, said they have shopped at Sears their entire lives, buying items from curtains and window treatments to tires and tools.

“I bought my tools from Sears and I’ve still got them,” Jack Walsh said.

The company known for DieHard batteries and Kenmore appliances has been selling assets, most recently its Craftsman tool brand. But it says pension agreements may prevent the sale of more businesses, potentially leading to a shortfall in funding.

“It’s a sad story. This is the place that created the first direct to consumer retail, the first modern department store. It stood like the Colossus over the American retail landscape,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm. “But it’s been underinvested and bled dry.”

Company shares, which hit an all-time low last month, tumbled more than 13 percent Wednesday. Sears tried to soothe investors’ fears, saying in a post on its site that it remains focused on “executing our transformation plan” and that news reports miss the full disclosure that it’s highlighting actions to reduce risks. It also said that the comments made in the filing were in line with “regulatory standards.”

Lampert combined Sears and Kmart in 2005, about two years after he helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy. He pledged to return Sears to greatness, leveraging its best-known brands and its vast holdings of land, and more recently planned to entice customers with its loyalty program. The company, which employs 140,000 people, announced in January said it would close 108 additional Kmart and 42 more Sears locations, and unveiled yet another restructuring plan in February aimed at cutting costs and reconfiguring debts to give itself more breathing room.

But it has to get more people through the doors or shopping online for what it’s selling. Sears, like many department stores, has been thwarted by a new consumer that has ripped up the decades-old playbook that the industry has relied upon. A plethora of new online players have also revolutionized the market.

Sears has upped its presence online, but is having a hard time disguising its age. Its stores are in need of a major refresh as rivals like Wal-Mart and Target invest heavily to revitalize stores. Sales at established Sears and Kmart locations dropped 10.3 percent in the final quarter of 2016.

Industry analysts have placed the staggering sums of money that Sears is losing beside the limited number of assets it has left to sell, and believe the storied retailer may have reached the point of no return.

The company has lost $10.4 billion since 2011, the last year that it made a profit. Excluding charges that can be listed as one-time events, the loss is $4.57 billion, says Ken Perkins, who heads the research firm Retail Metrics LLC, but how the losses are stacked no longer seem to matter.

“They’re past the tipping point,” Perkins said. “This is a symbolic acknowledgement of the end of Sears of what we know it to be.”

For Sears to survive, Perkins believes it would need to do so as a company running maybe 200 stores. It now operates 1,430, a figure that has been vastly reduced in recent years. As for Kmart, Perkins does not see much of a future.

For decades, Sears was king of the American shopping landscape. Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s storied catalog featured items from bicycles to sewing machines to houses, and could generate excitement throughout a household when it arrived. The company began opening retail locations in 1925 and expanded swiftly in suburban malls from the 1950s to 1970s.

“When I first got married at 19 or 20, we bought our first set of kettles from Sears,” said Darla Klemmensen, who was shopping at the St. Paul store on Wednesday. “We still have some of those.”

Klemmensen says Sears has been part of her life since she was a child watching her grandmother order stockings and garters, and she remembers flipping through Sears catalogs as thick as her forearm, full of appliances, clothing and kitchen wares.

But the onset of discounters like Wal-Mart created challenges for Sears that have only grown. Sears faced even more competition from online sellers and appliance retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot. Its stores became its albatross, many of them looking shabby and outdated. The company, based northwest of Chicago in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, lost $607 million in the most recent quarter and revenue fell.

“They’ve been delusional about their ability to turn around the business,” said Perkins.

Johnson, though, believes one avenue for Sears could be returning to its roots as a direct-to-consumer company, only using the internet versus the old catalog. He believes the Sears name still stands for something for the 40-plus customer.

“It has a lot of good memories,” he said. “It stands for being dependable and reliable.”

]]> 0 Sears employee Cal Brown stands in front of the Augusta Sears that, like so many others of its kind, will soon close as modern shopping trends online and elsewhere.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:51:47 +0000
A ‘much happier’ Brad Pitt turns to sculpture Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:37:59 +0000 Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt have reportedly spoken to each other directly.

“He’s very relieved that things are not playing out in public anymore,” a source told People in an article out Wednesday, calling the estranged couple’s detente “a work in progress.”

The two are still negotiating their split, the source said, but Pitt is “much happier.”

The source would seem to be someone working on image rehab (no, not that kind of rehab) for Pitt, as the magazine also has a feature about how the “Moonlight” executive producer is totally into making sculpture these days. And who doesn’t like sculpture?

“People close to him are happy that he has found something new to be passionate about,” a source told People for the story about the new hobby.

The “Allied” actor, 53, had been taking it on the chin for a while in the wake of his September split from Jolie, his partner for more than a decade and wife since August 2014.

The two parted ways abruptly when Jolie, 41, filed for divorce – a Pitt source said at the time that it was a “complete shock” – after a family dust-up on a private plane. She accused Pitt of getting physical with their eldest son, Maddox, and involved the authorities. The “World War Z” star was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but a temporary custody agreement struck by the couple limited his visitation and involved a therapist.

Pitt showed his face in a surprise appearance during the 2017 Golden Globes broadcast in January. A day later, after aggressively going back and forth for weeks in public court filings about custody, the estranged couple struck a deal to resolve their split in private, enlisting the assistance of a private judge.

]]> 0 Pitt and Angelina Jolie Pitt are on speaking terms these days as they negotiate their divorce.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:37:59 +0000
Viral video shows Elmo getting fired after cuts to PBS Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:31:10 +0000 A viral online video imagines lovable “Sesame Street” character Elmo getting fired because of budget cuts to PBS.

Elmo doesn’t take the news well, complaining that he’s worked at “Sesame Street” for 32 years.

He also wonders what’s going to happen to his medical insurance, given that he has a pre-existing condition.

Elmo isn’t the only “Sesame Street” character laid off in the scenario; Cookie Monster and Telly have also been let go.

President Trump’s proposed budget seeks to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund PBS.

]]> 0, 22 Mar 2017 18:39:22 +0000
UMaine System capital improvements borrowing plan clears hurdle Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:24:44 +0000 A proposal in Gov. Paul LePage’s budget plan seeking $100 million in borrowing for capital improvements at the University of Maine System cleared another hurdle Wednesday.

The Legislature’s Education Committee unanimously endorsed the plan, including it in the biennial budget being sent to the Appropriations Committee.

The system has a five-year $275 million capital investment plan that calls for a mix of renovations, demolition and new construction, and significant upgrades to technology in the classrooms and labs.

LePage’s proposal asks for the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority to be given permission to issue as much as $100 million in bonds for the costs. The authority can issue bonding after a majority vote of the authority’s board and a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature. Voter approval is not needed.

LePage included the funding because the system has significant deferred maintenance, said Adrienne Bennett, his spokeswoman.

“Governor LePage supports efforts to reduce the footprint and make these investments which will save costs in the future,” she said.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:33:06 +0000
Republican health-care plan faces conservative revolt, lacks the votes for House passage Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:43:45 +0000 WASHINGTON — Their top legislative priority in peril, President Trump and Republican leaders cajoled recalcitrant Republican lawmakers Wednesday to back their health care overhaul. A day before a long-awaited House showdown roll call, conservatives insisted they had the votes to torpedo the measure and the number of lawmakers publicly expressing opposition snowballed.

Trump huddled at the White House with 18 lawmakers, a mix of supporters and opponents. Vice President Mike Pence saw about two dozen lawmakers, and House Republican leaders held countless talks with lawmakers at the Capitol. The sessions came as leaders rummaged for votes on a roll call they can ill afford to lose without wounding their clout for the rest of their agenda.

Asked by reporters if he will keep pushing a health care overhaul if the House rejects the measure, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”

In a count by The Associated Press, at least 25 Republicans said they opposed the bill, more than enough to narrowly defeat it. That number was in constant flux amid the flurry of eleventh-hour lobbying by the White House and party leaders.

Including vacancies and absentees, the measure will likely need 215 votes to prevail.

Most opponents were conservatives who said that the bill to demolish former President Barack Obama’s health care law doesn’t go far enough. They insisted it must repeal the law’s requirements that insurers pay for specified services like maternity care and cover all comers, including the sickest, which they say drives up premiums.

Moderates were daunted by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade, and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Late Wednesday, the White House and House leaders showed no sign of delaying their legislation, their initial attempt to deliver on a pledge they’ve repeated since the Affordable Care Act’s enactment in 2010.

“There is no plan B. There is plan A and plan A, we’re going to get this done,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

Underscoring the delicate pathway to victory, participants in the meeting with Pence said there were no visible signs of weakened opposition.

Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told them: “We’ve got to do this. I know you don’t like it, but you have to vote for this.”

Weber said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, bristled.

“When somebody tells me I have to do something, odds are really good that I will do exactly the opposite,” Barton said, according to Weber.

Some conservatives said that at the meeting, White House officials suggested having the Senate amend the bill by erasing the insurance regulations when — and if — it reaches the Senate. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said that had switched him to supporting the bill, but others were skeptical.

“We’re being asked to sign a blank check,” said Perry, who has opposed the bill. “In the past, that hasn’t worked out so well.”

“There’s not enough votes to pass it tomorrow,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., leader of the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line group that has led opposition to the bill. Most of the group’s roughly three dozen members seemed opposed to the legislation, more than enough to defeat it.

The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the statute expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than the aid Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.

Some Republicans were showing irritation at their party’s holdouts, all but accusing them of damaging the party.

“At some point we have to cowboy up and prove we can govern,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “Otherwise we’re just going to be the ‘no’ party and some people are OK with that, it appears.”

The Rules Committee, usually tightly controlled by party leadership, was expected to let the chamber vote on revisions that top Republicans concocted to win votes. These include adding federal aid for older people and protecting upstate New York counties — but not Democratic-run New York City — from repaying the state billions of dollars for Medicaid costs.

There were two other glimmers of hope for Republican leaders.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., said he had switched from “no” to “yes” after Trump endorsed his bill to use Social Security numbers to hinder people from fraudulently collecting tax credits. Barletta, an outspoken foe of illegal immigration, said he had been promised a vote next month on the measure by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Also, one or two House Democrats seemed likely to miss Thursday’s roll calls due to health and family problems. That would mean Republicans would need 215 votes to prevail, one fewer than if all Democrats appeared.

Democrats are uniformly against the repeal drive. They laud Obama’s statute for expanding health care coverage to 20 million more people and imposing coverage requirements on insurers.

Republicans face an even tougher fight in the Senate, which they control by just 52-48. Six Republican senators have already said they oppose the legislation, enough to sink it without changes.

]]> 0 eight hours of debate, House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the vice-chair, listen to arguments from committee chairs as the panel meets to shape the final version of the Republican health care bill before it goes to the floor for debate and a vote, Wednesday, March 22, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:59:38 +0000
Man charged with attempted murder in 2015 Old Port shooting pleads guilty Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:27:10 +0000 A man charged with attempted murder for a shooting in Portland’s Old Port in 2015 has agreed to plead guilty to a related federal charge.

Moses Okot, 28, was arrested in November 2015 near the site of a late-night shooting. A Portland police officer who was in the Old Port at the time of the shooting saw Okot driving fast out of the area, gave chase and arrested Okot after he ran from his car on Oxford Street. Authorities said they recovered a gun from the floor of Okot’s car and tests indicated that he had gunpowder residue on his hand.

Federal authorities charged Okot with being a felon in possession of a gun. He was barred from having a gun following his conviction for murder in 2011.

Okot was indicted by a Cumberland County grand jury last November on aggravated attempted murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and reckless conduct with a firearm charges. No trial date has been set for those charges.

According to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, Okot will change his plea on the federal charge to guilty at a hearing next week. He had been scheduled to stand trial in April on the federal charge.

According to the plea agreement filed in federal court, Okot will be sentenced to two years in prison, to run consecutively to time served in Cumberland County after his probation was revoked and also concurrent with the sentence he receives in the state case, if any. He could have faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the federal charge.

The two men allegedly shot by Okot recovered.

Okot pleaded guilty in July 2011 to a charge of felony murder after driving the getaway car from the scene of a fatal shooting in Parkside in 2010.

Okot pleaded as part of an agreement with prosecutors in the shooting death of 24-year-old Serge Mulongo. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but three years suspended, and four years of probation.

]]> 0 OkotWed, 22 Mar 2017 21:21:49 +0000
Republican Rep. Nunes: Trump communications may have been intercepted in surveillance of foreign nationals Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:18:39 +0000 WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes went to the White House on Wednesday afternoon to personally brief President Donald Trump about intelligence he says he has seen regarding surveillance of foreign nationals – including possibly the president – during the presidential transition.

“What I’ve read seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity, perhaps legal. I don’t know that it’s right,” Nunes said to reporters outside the White House. “I don’t know that the American people would be comfortable with what I’ve read.”

“The president needs to know these intelligence reports are out there,” Nunes added. “I think the president is concerned, and he should be.”

Trump was asked if he felt vindicated after Nunes’s visit in his claims that he was wiretapped during the campaign at his Trump Tower headquarters by President Obama’s administration. That claim has been roundly rejected by members of the intelligence community, including FBI Director James Comey and even Nunes himself, who again rejected the wiretapping allegation on Wednesday outside of the White House.

“I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do,” Trump said following Nunes’s visit. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found. I somewhat do.”

Before heading to the White House, Nunes said he briefed House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on what he learned, and he also spoke with reporters. He stated that U.S. intelligence agencies may have picked up communications involving President Trump as part of court-approved surveillance of foreign intelligence targets in the period between Trump’s election and his inauguration.

Nunes, R-Calif., told reporters that Trump was one of various members of the Trump team whose communications probably were intercepted through “incidental collection,” or surveillance of the communications of foreign nationals who may be in contact with or talking about U.S. citizens.

Nunes said the situation will be clarified after he receives a full list of American citizens who were “unmasked” during the surveillance. He said he expects to receive such information by Friday from the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA.

The House Intelligence Committee chairman made the statements two days after a public hearing of his panel on Monday where Comey publicly rejected Trump’s allegations that he had been wiretapped by Obama during the campaign.

Outside of the White House on Wednesday, Nunes confirmed his opinion that Trump was not wiretapped in the sense the president meant with his March 4 tweet.

But he did suggest Trump could have been caught up in incidental collection – or legal surveillance of the communications of foreign nationals who may be in contact with U.S. citizens. He signaled that the intelligence community may have, in his mind, included certain names in their reports that did not belong there.

“The reason that we do this and that we have all these procedures in place is to protect American citizens” Nunes said, adding that there is a “certain threshold met to make it into intelligence products.”

“Maybe they didn’t meet the minimum qualifications. There are things to me that don’t reach the level of intelligence value. You have to ask yourself why did they end up in intelligence reports.”

Nunes said the situation will be clarified after he receives a full list of American citizens who were “unmasked” during the surveillance. He said he expects to receive such information by Friday from the National Security Agency, the FBI and the CIA.

Nunes would not disclose his source, but said that he is confident that the information he received is official and from the intelligence community.

“From what I know right now, it looks like incidental collection,” Nunes said. “We don’t know exactly how that was picked up, but we’re trying to get to the bottom of it.”

He added that “it’s possible” that Trump’s personal communications were captured that way by the U.S. intelligence community.

Nunes stressed that he has no information that Russia had anything to do with the surveillance. The Intelligence panel – along with the FBI – is investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and the suspected ties of Trump’s associates to the Kremlin.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that Nunes was headed to the White House on Wednesday afternoon to brief the president. Spicer said he did not know anything more about the matter than what Nunes had just said on Capitol Hill.

“He briefed the media before he briefed us,” Spicer said at his daily news briefing, adding, “Hopefully, we can share more” after the meeting.

It is not unusual for U.S. citizens to be caught up in the surveillance of foreign nationals by the intelligence community, and it does not mean that anything untoward occurred. Trump has alleged that President Barack Obama’s administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. That charge was denied by FBI Director James Comey when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

Comey also stated that the FBI was investigating Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and the suspected links of Trump’s associates to the Kremlin.

The intelligence chairman is the first high-ranking lawmaker to assert that intelligence agencies may have picked up conversations between Trump and foreign nationals. Nunes, who served on the Trump transition team, has focused more squarely in his rhetoric on leaks to the intelligence community about Russia’s alleged intent during the presidential campaign and communications between Trump aides and Russian officials. He has said the only “major crimes” he is aware of are the leaks to the news media on those topics.

At least one Trump adviser was caught up in the incidental collection. Michael T. Flynn was ousted as national security adviser after U.S. intelligence officials intercepted his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The president dismissed him because Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about the content of those calls.

]]> 0, 22 Mar 2017 19:29:28 +0000
Supreme Court: School districts must help disabled students progress Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:06:27 +0000 WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court on Wednesday bolstered the rights of millions of learning-disabled students in a ruling that requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards. The court struck down a lower standard endorsed by President Donald Trump’s nominee to the high court.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is not enough for school districts to get by with minimal instruction for special needs children. The school programs must be designed to let students make progress in light of their disabilities.

The ruling quickly led to tough questions at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the high court had just tossed out a standard that Gorsuch himself had used in a similar case that lowered the bar for educational achievement.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court sided with parents of an autistic teen in Colorado who said their public school did not do enough to help their son make progress. They sought reimbursement for the cost of sending him to private school.

The case helps clarify the scope of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that requires a “free and appropriate public education” for disabled students. Lower courts said even programs with minimal benefits can satisfy the law.

Roberts said the law requires an educational program “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” He did not elaborate on what that progress should look like, saying it depends on the “unique circumstances” of each child. He added that there should also be deference to school officials.

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts said. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.”

At Gorsuch’s hearing, Durbin said the nominee had gone beyond the standards of his own appeals court by adding the word “merely” in his 2008 opinion approving the “de minimis” — or minimum — standard for special needs education. Durbin suggested that Gorsuch had lowered the bar even more.

Gorsuch, handed a copy of the ruling during a break on the third day of his hearings, noted that his panel reached its decision unanimously based on a 10-year-old precedent.

Durbin also said Gorsuch had ruled against disabled students in eight out of 10 cases dealing with the IDEA.

“To suggest I have some animus against children, senator, would be a mistake,” Gorsuch said.

Later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed Gorsuch again, saying he added the word “merely” to the standard “to make it even more narrow.”

Gorsuch responded: “I disagree.”

Disability advocacy groups argued that schools must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs.

The ruling does not go as far as the parents wanted. They had argued that educational programs for disabled students should meet goals “substantially equal” to those for children without disabilities. Roberts rejected that standard, saying it was “entirely unworkable.”

The court’s decision to require a more demanding test for progress has major implications for about 6.4 million disabled students who want to advance in school and rely on special programs to make that happen. School officials had cautioned that imposing higher standards could be too costly for some cash-strapped districts. They warned that it could also lead parents to make unrealistic demands.

The case involved a boy known only as Endrew F. who attended public school outside Denver from kindergarten through fourth grades. He was given specialized instruction to deal with his learning and behavioral issues.

But Endrew’s parents decided to send him to private school in 2010 after complaining about his lack of progress. They asked the school district to reimburse them for his tuition — about $70,000 a year — on the basis that public school officials weren’t doing enough to meet their son’s needs.

The Colorado Department of Education denied their claim, saying the school district had met the minimum standards required under the law. The federal appeals court in Denver upheld that decision, ruling that the school district satisfied its duty to offer more than a “de minimis” effort.

Disability advocacy groups cheered the ruling, saying it raises the expectations for learning-disabled students.

“It is now clear that schools must provide students with disabilities the supports they need to help them achieve meaningful and substantive educational goals,” said Ira Burnim, legal director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said the court had issued a “measured” decision “that isn’t really upsetting the apple cart.” He said it would lead to schools more carefully tracking the progress of special needs students. But he praised the court for saying it would defer to the judgment of educational officials.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:06:27 +0000
Maine home sales down, values up in February Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:29:20 +0000 The value of Maine real estate continued to increase in February despite a sharp decline in sales, according to the Maine Association of Realtors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:07:28 +0000
Federal regulators set to end turbulent season in Northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:39:39 +0000 Federal authorities are closing the scallop fishery in the northern Gulf of Maine at one minute after midnight Thursday after a contentious three-week season that pitted the interests of part-time, small-boat fishermen from Maine against large, full-time scallop operators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Both were pleased Wednesday that the fishery is being closed.

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

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

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

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

]]> 0 scallop dragger heads out into Casco Bay in January 2015. Regulators have given some Down East scallop fishermen a bonus day of fishing per week because of bad weather earlier in the season. Catch volumes and prices for scallops are strong this year, according to Department of Marine Resources. (File photo/Tom Bell)Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:17:50 +0000
Bill would create statewide system to track rape testing kits Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:23:21 +0000 A system that would track the location and status of rape testing kits would help law enforcement agencies cooperate on investigations of sexual assaults, the sponsor of a bill requiring a system in Maine said.

The tracking system would provide information on the location of test kits that aren’t processed by the state’s crime lab, said Rep. John J. Picchiotti, R-Fairfield, who sponsored a bill to set up the tracking plan.

He said kits in which the victim knows the assailant, cases where the assailant is going to plead guilty or investigations where other evidence is overwhelming are often not processed. Those kits are usually retained by local police, he said, but could be of use in investigations of other sexual assaults in other jurisdictions.

The kits are used to collect evidence following a rape or sexual assault. Often, material with the assailant’s DNA can provide a positive identification of the attacker.

Four other states have taken steps similar to what Picchiotti is proposing and only in Idaho is the system up and running, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Picchiotti said local police currently have few ways to share information on rapes and sexual assaults. He likens it to the situation before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when, experts said, intelligence agencies failed to share information that might have alerted them to the plot before it happened.

“It’s just everyone talking to each other,” he said of his proposal for a tracking system.

Software for a computerized tracking system would probably cost about $40,000, according to state estimates, and the system would cost about $120,000 a year to operate.

Picchiotti said federal grants might be available to offset part or all of the cost.

But Destie Hohman Sprague, the associate director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the state doesn’t seem to have a major problem processing rape kits that are needed in prosecutions, so she’s not sure if the law is needed for kits that aren’t used.

Sprague testified before Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee’s public hearing on Picchiotti’s bill Wednesday, but didn’t take a position for or against the proposal.

She said the state is doing a better job of protecting the rights of victims of sexual violence, but she doesn’t think the issue of how to handle rape kits that aren’t tested has come up often, if at all. Sprague said rape kits that are processed seem to be handled fairly quickly.

In cases where the kit isn’t processed, she said, state law mandates they be held at least 90 days.

But in reality, “they’re being stored essentially until departments run out of room,” so they are often accessible for long after the criminal is prosecuted.

The only opposition to the bill came from the Maine Trial Lawyers Association, which objected to a minor provision that dealt with immunity for law enforcement officers involved in operating the tracking system. Richard Thompson said immunity would be redundant, but the association was not opposed to the overall premise of the bill.

State police Lt. William Harwood, director of the state’s crime lab, also pointed out the cost of the measure to the committee and said that State Police could conduct a review of the process for handling untested kits if lawmakers preferred. But he, too, took no position either for or against the measure.

The committee will discuss the bill and vote at a future meeting.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 17:29:29 +0000
Cumberland County jail inmate attempts suicide Wed, 22 Mar 2017 17:58:50 +0000 A 26-year-old inmate at Cumberland County Jail attempted suicide Tuesday night, the sheriff’s office has said.

Correction offices and medical staff responded about 10:30 p.m. to the cell of Dante Majeroni, 26, who was found unresponsive with a sheet around his neck.

He was transported to Maine Medical Center for treatment. The sheriff’s office gave no indication of Majeroni’s current condition.

This story will be updated.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:58:50 +0000
Pingree on House floor tells story of Mainer who says he’d die under Republican health bill Wed, 22 Mar 2017 17:51:19 +0000 Rep. Chellie Pingree took to the House floor Wednesday to tell the story of a Cape Elizabeth man who said he will die if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st-District, spoke as a showdown over an ACA replacement loomed in the House of Representatives. A full House vote to undo former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation is slated for Thursday evening.

But the replacement bill – House Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act – has been attacked by liberals, moderates and conservatives, and it’s uncertain whether it will pass the House. Even if it does, the bill could fail in a closely divided Senate, where Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, has said she won’t support it in its current form. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, has remained steadfastly opposed.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, has refused to say how he’d vote, although he touted his efforts to include more funds for older, rural Mainers who would be socked with premium increases under the Ryan bill. In early March, Poliquin had praised the House bill for repealing Obamacare and said it would provide “much-needed health insurance relief.”

Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley said that the congressman was “continuing to carefully study and push for changes in this health care relief proposal.”

The Ryan bill, supported by President Trump, would result in 24 million fewer Americans being insured over the next decade while at the same time cutting taxes for the wealthy, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis. The CBO projected that the number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year of the House bill.

About 80,000 Mainers and 20 million Americans have insurance through the ACA, either through the expansion of Medicaid or through the ACA marketplace, where individuals can purchase subsidized insurance.

Pingree highlighted Cape Elizabeth’s Ed Saxby, who says he relies on the ACA to stay alive.

Pingree pointed to a giant photo of Saxby speaking at a health care town hall Pingree hosted Sunday in Portland.

Saxby is quoted as saying, “If the ACA is repealed without an adequate replacement, I will lose access to my health care … and I will die. I will die. I have Stage 4 cancer.”

Pingree, in her remarks on the House floor Wednesday, said people like Saxby could be in grave danger if the Republican bill becomes law.

“Ed’s wife, Jill, asked me if those who are championing Trumpcare would be willing to trade places with those whom it will harm,” Pingree said. “I pose that question to all my Republican colleagues today. If you can’t answer it in the affirmative, you should not be voting for this terrible bill.”

Saxby, 60, said he was “flabbergasted” to be included in Pingree’s House speech, but he’s glad to weigh in on the future of the ACA.

“It’s important and personal to me, but it’s relevant to lots of people,” he said Wednesday night. “There’s millions of people in my situation.”

Saxby, an attorney, said he and his wife started an independent practice in 2013 in part because they could purchase affordable insurance through the ACA. Before the ACA, the self-employed would often have to pay more for insurance or buy insurance with poor benefits. In 2015, he found out he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and he has since had to give up his practice due to his illness.

Saxby said after initial treatments didn’t work as well as his doctors had hoped, he enrolled in a clinical trial in Boston for cancer treatment. He said if he didn’t have insurance, he wouldn’t have been allowed to participate. He said having ACA insurance at the time of his illness has literally saved his life.

According to a Press Herald analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a 60-year-old with a $30,000 income who currently has ACA insurance would see premiums go up by as much as seven times under the House Republican bill compared to what they would pay if the ACA remains.

In a last-minute change, the House bill included $85 billion spread out over seven years to help defray health care costs for Americans in the 50-64 age bracket with ACA insurance.

An analysis released Wednesday afternoon by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank, estimates that even with the $85 billion infusion, health care costs for the average person in the 50-64 age bracket purchasing insurance under the Ryan bill would be $8,510 per year higher than if the ACA remained in place. About 25,000 Mainers with ACA insurance fall into the 55-64 age bracket.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the $85 billion would make premiums under the Ryan bill slightly less expensive for older Americans, but still would be much more pricey compared to the ACA. For instance, a 60-year-old in Aroostook County earning $30,000, instead of paying $1,300 in monthly premiums, would pay about $1,150 once the $85 billion is added to the House Republican plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In comparison, ACA premiums for that same 60-year-old would be about $200.

Collins, a key moderate vote in the Senate, has objected to the soaring health care costs for older Mainers under the Ryan bill, as well as a provision in the bill that would defund Planned Parenthood.

Other amendments to the Ryan bill would further cut Medicaid and add work requirements to Medicaid.

Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, an Augusta-based health advocacy group, said the amendments to the Ryan bill would not meaningfully change the affordability of premiums. Under the Ryan bill, in many cases premiums would still eat up 30 percent or more of total income.

“The amendments don’t do anything to address our concerns about the negative impact this would have on older Mainers,” Brostek said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

Twitter: @joelawlorph

]]> 0, ME - OCTOBER 25: Chellie Pingree in the Maine Public Radio studio before a segment to talk about her campaign for the first congressional district seat in Congress. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:40:13 +0000
Hack of state’s job-matching vendor puts Mainers’ personal data at risk Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:03:47 +0000 Nine months after the Maine Department of Labor outsourced its federally mandated job-matching service to an out-of-state vendor, that vendor has suffered a data breach that resulted in the theft of an unknown number of Mainers’ sensitive personal information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


]]> 0 with the release of emails from the Democratic National Committe through this week's embarrassing leaks of Colin Powell's private emails, foreign agents are trying to influence our election.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:24:59 +0000
Man kills 4, injures 40 in ‘depraved terrorist attack’ near British Parliament Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:15:36 +0000 LONDON — A knife-wielding man went on a deadly rampage in the heart of Britain’s seat of power Wednesday, plowing a car into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death inside the gates of Parliament. Five people were killed, including the assailant, and 40 others were injured in what Prime Minister Theresa May condemned as a “sick and depraved terrorist attack.”

Lawmakers, lords, staff and visitors were locked down after the man was shot by police within the perimeter of Parliament, just yards (meters) from entrances to the building itself and in the shadow of the iconic Big Ben clock tower. He died, as did three pedestrians on the bridge, and the police officer.

A doctor who treated the wounded from the bridge said some had “catastrophic” injuries. Three police officers, several French teenagers on a school trip, two Romanian tourists and five South Korean visitors were among the injured.

Police said they were treating the attack as terrorism. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Metropolitan Police counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley said police believed there was only one attacker, “but it would be foolish to be overconfident early on.” He said an unarmed policeman, three civilians and the attacker died. Forty others, including three police officers, were injured.

Islamic extremism was suspected in the attack, Rowley said, adding that authorities believe they know the assailant’s identity but would not reveal it while the investigation was ongoing.

The threat level for international terrorism in the U.K. was already listed at severe, meaning an attack was “highly likely.”

Speaking outside 10 Downing St. after chairing a meeting of government’s emergency committee, COBRA, May said that level would not change. She said attempts to defeat British values of democracy and freedom through terrorism would fail.

“Tomorrow morning, Parliament will meet as normal,” she said. Londoners and visitors “will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

U.S. President Donald Trump was among world leaders offering condolences, and in Paris, the lights of the Eiffel Tower were to be dimmed in solidarity with London.

London has been a target for terrorism many times over past decades. Just this weekend, hundreds of armed police took part in an exercise simulating a “marauding” terrorist attack on the River Thames.

Wednesday was the anniversary of suicide bombings in the Brussels airport and subway that killed 32 people last year, and the latest events echoed recent vehicle attacks in Berlin and Nice, France.

Four dead in Westminster attack Associated Press

In the House of Commons, legislators were holding a series of votes on pensions when deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle announced that the sitting was being suspended and told lawmakers not to leave.

Parliament was locked down for several hours, and the adjoining Westminster subway station was shuttered.

Conservative lawmaker Tobias Ellwood, whose brother was killed in the Bali terror attack in 2002, performed first aid on the wounded police officer, who later died. About 10 yards away lay the assailant.

“I tried to stem the flow of blood and give mouth to mouth while waiting for the medics to arrive but I think he had lost too much blood,” Ellwood said. “He had multiple wounds, under the arm and in the back.”

The attack began early Wednesday afternoon as a driver in a gray SUV slammed into pedestrians on the bridge linking Parliament to the south bank of the River Thames.

Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski was in a car crossing the bridge when he heard “something like a car hitting metal sheet” and then saw people lying on the pavement.

“I saw one person who gave no signs of life. One man was bleeding from his head. I saw five people who were at least seriously injured,” Sikorski told Poland’s TVN24.

Ambulances arrived within minutes to treat people who lay scattered along the length of the bridge. One bloodied woman lay surrounded by a scattering of postcards.

Police said one injured woman was pulled from the river.

The car crashed into railings on the north side of the bridge, less than 200 yards (meters) from the entrance to Parliament. As people scattered in panic, witnesses saw a man holding a knife run toward the building.

“The whole crowd just surged around the corner by the gates just opposite Big Ben,” said witness Rick Longley. “A guy came past my right shoulder with a big knife and just started plunging it into the policeman. I have never seen anything like that. I just can’t believe what I just saw.”

The attacker managed to get past a gate into Parliament’s fenced-in New Palace Yard, a cobbled courtyard in the shadow of the Big Ben clock tower.

Daily Mail journalist Quentin Letts said a man in black attacked the police officer before being shot two or three times as he tried to storm into the building.

“As this attacker was running towards the entrance two plain-clothed guys with guns shouted at him what sounded like a warning, he ignored it and they shot two or three times and he fell,” Letts told the BBC.

The attacker fell to the cobbles just yards from the entrance to 1,000-year-old Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the parliamentary complex, busy with visitors and school groups. Beyond that, a corridor leads to the building’s Central Lobby, flanked by House of Commons and House of Lords chambers.

The prime minister was among lawmakers near the Commons at the time of the attack, and was quickly ushered away by security officers and driven back to Downing Street.

To get that far, the attacker would have had to evade the armed officers who patrol the Parliament complex in pairs, as well as Parliament’s own security staff, who don’t carry guns.

The attack unfolded near some of the city’s most famous tourist sites, including the London Eye, a large Ferris wheel with pods that overlook the capital. It was halted after the attack, stranding visitors in the pods, with an aerial view of the attack scene.

London Ambulance Service said medics treated 12 people for serious injuries and eight who were less seriously hurt.

Dr. Colleen Anderson of St. Thomas’ Hospital said some of the wounded had “catastrophic” injuries.

The French Foreign Ministry said that three students on a school trip from Saint-Joseph in the Brittany town of Concarneau were among the injured. Two Romanians were also among the injured, the country’s Foreign Ministry said.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with May by telephone and applauded “the quick response of British police and first responders,” spokesman Sean Spicer said.

London has often been the target of terrorist attacks, from IRA campaigns in the 1970s and 80s to more recent Islamist plots.

On July 7, 2005, four al-Qaida-inspired British bombers blew themselves up on three subway trains and a bus in London, killing 52 people.

British security forces say they have thwarted some 13 terror plots over the past four years, but in recent years the U.K. has largely been spared major international terror attacks such as the ones seen in Belgium and France.

Last year, a far-right supporter shot and killed British lawmaker Jo Cox, who had campaigned for the U.K. to remain in the European Union. Prior to that, an attacker claiming to be motivated by Syria stabbed three people at a London subway station.

The most gruesome recent attack occurred in 2013 when two Muslim converts of Nigerian descent attacked Lee Rigby, a British soldier who was walking down the street. The men ran Rigby down with their vehicle and then used a cleaver to hack him to death as bystanders watched in horror.

]]> 0, 22 Mar 2017 20:55:58 +0000
U.S. edges Japan 2-1, advances to WBC championship game Wed, 22 Mar 2017 13:43:14 +0000 LOS ANGELES – Brandon Crawford scored the tiebreaking run when Nobuhiro Matsuda bobbled Adam Jones’ grounder to third in the eighth inning, and the United States reached the championship game of the World Baseball Classic for the first time by beating Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night at rainy Dodger Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen drove in an early run for the U.S., which will play Puerto Rico for the title Wednesday night. Puerto Rico beat the Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings Monday.

The World Baseball Classic final has been played in the United States in each of its four editions, but the home team had never made it.

The Americans only reached the semifinals once before, in 2009. But this All-Star-laden roster has won two straight elimination games to earn the chance for its first crown.

Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a tying homer off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth inning for Japan, but the two-time WBC champions were twice let down by their normally sturdy defense on a rain-soaked night at Chavez Ravine, where an intermittent downpour kept fans in ponchos.

McCutchen opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth inning moments after Kikuchi’s two-base error at second. In the eighth, Crawford likely would have been out at the plate on Jones’ innocent grounder, but Matsuda didn’t field it cleanly and had to throw to first.

Japan, unbeaten coming into the game, won the first two WBC tournaments before losing in the semifinals in 2013.

Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before U.S. manager Jim Leyland went to his bullpen early and liberally. His sixth reliever, Luke Gregerson, pitched a perfect ninth inning after Pat Neshek escaped a two-on jam in the eighth.

Although the crowd of 33,462 strongly favored the team with five California natives in the starting lineup, thousands of Japanese fans showed up early and chanted throughout the game, accompanied by the brass band in the left-field bleachers.

A light, misting rain started falling several hours before game time, forcing the teams to take batting practice indoors while a tarp covered the infield. The wet weather, unusual for Los Angeles, eventually soaked the playing field and forced grounds crews to tend to the infield dirt between innings.

But the WBC couldn’t really afford a rainout day, given its tight schedule in the final weeks of big league spring training.

Leyland kept a lineup with eight All-Stars, making only one change from the team that beat the Dominican Republic on Saturday to avoid elimination. Buster Posey was behind the plate, continuing his alternation with Jonathan Lucroy, apparently in accordance with their major league teams’ wishes.

Tomoyuki Sugano, the Yomiuri Giants ace with a seven-pitch repertoire, tossed six innings of three-hit ball for Japan, striking out six and yielding only one unearned run.

“He’s a big league pitcher,” Leyland said before the game.

But Sugano was matched by Roark, who had given up three runs over 1 1/3 innings in his only previous WBC appearance. The Washington Nationals right-hander was largely outstanding against Japan, giving up just two singles and a walk and hitting a batter with a pitch. After Christian Yelich reached second in the fourth inning when his hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Kikuchi, the standout defensive second baseman, Eric Hosmer worked out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk.

McCutchen had just two hits in his first 14 at-bats in the WBC, but he drove in Yelich with a sharp single to left.

Kikuchi atoned for his mistake in the sixth, driving Jones’ fastball barely over the reach of McCutchen in right field for his first homer of the tournament.

Japan reliever Kodai Senga struck out the first four batters he faced with a 96 mph fastball and exceptional off-speed stuff, but Crawford then delivered a sharp single before Ian Kinsler doubled to deep left-center.

Neshek got cleanup hitter Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh on a fly to right to end the eighth.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:59:14 +0000
I-295 crash cleared Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:11:09 +0000 A single-vehicle crash in Cumberland caused delays on both sides of I-295 during the Wednesday morning commute.

The crash was reported on the northbound side of the road near Tuttle Road, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority. State police and emergency crews responded to the area before 8 a.m. and cleared the scene shortly after 9 a.m.

No other details were immediately available from police.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:58:59 +0000
Horoscopes for March 22, 2017 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:58:55 +0000 0, 22 Mar 2017 07:58:55 +0000 Former Trump aide Manafort had secret plan to help Putin Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:30:56 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned.

The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort’s ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.

In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”

“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.”

Deripaska became one of Russia’s wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin’s interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.” In response to questions about Manafort’s consulting firm, a spokesman for Deripaska in 2008 — at least three years after they began working together — said Deripaska had never hired the firm. Another Deripaska spokesman in Moscow last week declined to answer AP’s questions.

Manafort worked as Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party.

The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin’s interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort’s work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of Manafort’s work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there. The Moscow office never opened.

Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have ever been filed in the case.

FBI Director James Comey, in confirming to Congress the federal intelligence investigation this week, declined to say whether Manafort was a target. Manafort’s name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine. No one mentioned Deripaska.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign, even though as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman he led it during the crucial run-up to the Republican National Convention.

Manafort and his associates remain in Trump’s orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump’s inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.

Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort’s firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska, but he was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort’s firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump’s presidential campaign.

Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 that he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department,” according to the documents. He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” but he did not identify the firm. Manafort also said he was employing unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.

Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.

Deripaska owns Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide in the agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing industries, and he runs one of the world’s largest aluminum companies. Forbes estimated his net worth at $5.2 billion. How much Deripaska paid Manafort in total is not clear, but people familiar with the relationship said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars and continued through at least 2009. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly.

In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building “long term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.

Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.

For the $10 million contract, Manafort did not use his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort. Instead, he used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address of his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV’s address was listed as Manafort’s home, also in Alexandria. Manafort sold the home in July 2015 for $1.4 million. He now owns an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, as well as other properties in Florida and New York.

One strategy memo to Deripaska was written by Manafort and Rick Davis, his business partner at the time. In written responses to the AP, Davis said he did not know that his firm had proposed a plan to covertly promote the interests of the Russian government.

Davis said he believes Manafort used his name without his permission on the strategy memo. “My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described,” Davis said. He took a leave of absence from the firm in late 2006 to work on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Manafort’s work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.

Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.

Associated Press writers Jack Gillum, Eric Tucker, Julie Pace, Ted Bridis, Stephen Braun and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report in Washington; Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed from Moscow and Kiev, Ukraine; and Jake Pearson contributed from New York.


]]> 0, 22 Mar 2017 13:50:53 +0000
Thanks to Comey, Trump may finally have to face the music named truth Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:00:00 +0000 On Monday, accountability finally arrived for Donald Trump. After 70 years spent largely skating free of consequences for his puerile misbehaviors and diarrheal mouth, he likely found it something of a shock. Seven decades is a long time, after all, and if the so-called president has learned nothing else in those years, he has learned this: Accountability is for other people.

Received a bill? Stiff the vendor.

Get caught in a lie? Tell another.

Say something stupid? Blame somebody else.

To watch him over the 21 months of his political career has been to suffer a kind of nauseated awe as he repeatedly brazened and bluffed his way through scandals, lies and acts of bungling incompetence that would have sunk … well, anybody normal. You had to wonder if the chickens had forgotten how to come home to roost. You had to wonder if gravity still works.

But accountability arrived this week in an extraordinary open session of the House Intelligence Committee. There, FBI Director James Comey laid waste to Trump’s contention that he was “wiretapped” by then-President Barack Obama during last year’s campaign.

The bizarre claim has already been roundly shredded in the two and a half weeks since Trump first made it in a series of early morning tweets. But the so-called president has clung to it with a stubborn insistence. He discomfited German Chancellor Angela Merkel when he tried to joke about it during their joint news conference. And he outraged the British when they were forced to refute a – pardon the tautology – baseless Trump claim that they had participated in the alleged bugging.

So it was gratifying to hear the head of federal law enforcement say definitively that there is zero evidence to support Trump’s contention. That, however, was just the hors d’oeuvre. The main course was Comey’s confirmation of media reports about an FBI investigation. Yes, he said, the FBI is looking into whether Trump’s people colluded with Russia as that country was meddling in last year’s election with the express aim of electing Trump. The probe could dog the White House for many months.

Cornered, Trump and his apologists tried familiar dodges. They cried, “Fake news!” They misrepresented Comey’s words. They tried to change the subject. Surrogate Jeffrey Lord even insisted the problem is that Trump has been “misinterpreted.”

It all felt even more threadbare than usual. It was hard not to imagine Trump drenched in the flop sweat of a birthday party magician who just realized he left the rabbit in his other top hat.

Small wonder. The tactics that have always served him will not work here. You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But good luck fooling the feds any of the time.

Heaven only knows where this will end up. Maybe the campaign will be exonerated. Maybe we’ll discover the Russian meddling was plotted by Trump and Vladimir Putin over drinks in a hot tub at Mar-a-Lago.

Either way, there is something to be said for the simple fact that the investigation is underway, that Trump and his team will finally be forced to answer serious questions from serious people who will not be impressed by alternative facts and brazen deflections. It’s the kind of knowledge that renews your faith in the system. And in karma.

Turns out the chickens know their way after all, and gravity still works just fine. Accountability has arrived. She’s seven decades late, so she and Donald Trump have a lot of catching up to do.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Columnist Leonard Pitts. (Olivier Douliery/TNS)Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:30:57 +0000
Chuck Barris, creator of ‘Gong Show,’ TV game empire, dies at 87 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:59:40 +0000 NEW YORK — Chuck Barris, whose game show empire included “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and that infamous factory of cheese, “The Gong Show,” died at 87.

Barris died of natural causes Tuesday afternoon at his home in Palisades, New York, according to publicist Paul Shefrin, who announced the death on behalf of Barris’ family.

Barris made game show history right off the bat, in 1966, with “The Dating Game,” hosted by Jim Lange. The gimmick: A young female questions three males, hidden from her view, to determine which would be the best date. Sometimes the process was switched, with a male questioning three females. But in all cases the questions were designed by the show’s writers to elicit sexy answers.

Celebrities and future celebrities who appeared as contestants included Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Martin and a pre-“Charlie’s Angels” Farrah Fawcett, introduced as “an accomplished artist and sculptress” with a dream to open her own gallery.

After the show became a hit on both daytime and nighttime TV, the Barris machine accelerated. New products included “The Newlywed Game,” “The Parent Game,” “The Family Game” and even “The Game Game.”

At one point Barris was supplying the television networks with 27 hours of entertainment a week, mostly in five-days-a-week daytime game shows.

The grinning, curly-haired Barris became a familiar face as creator and host of “The Gong Show,” which aired from 1976 to 1980.

Patterned after the Major Bowes Amateur Hour show that was a radio hit in the 1930s, the program featured performers who had peculiar talents and, often, no talent at all. When the latter appeared on the show, Barris would strike an oversize gong, the show’s equivalent of vaudeville’s hook. The victims would then be mercilessly berated by the manic Barris, with a hat often yanked down over his eyes and ears, and a crew of second-tier celebrities.

Occasionally, someone would actually launch a successful career through the show. One example was the late country musician BoxCar Willie, who was a 1977 “Gong Show” winner.

He called himself “The King of Daytime Television,” but to critics he was “The King of Schlock” or “The Baron of Bad Taste.”

As “The Gong Show” and Barris’ other series were slipping, he sold his company for a reported $100 million in 1980 and decided to go into films.

He directed and starred in “The Gong Show Movie,” a thundering failure that stayed in theaters only a week.

Afterward, a distraught Barris checked into a New York hotel and wrote his autobiography, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” in two months. In it, he claimed to have been a CIA assassin.

The book (and the 2002 film based on it, directed by George Clooney) were widely dismissed by disbelievers who said the creator of some of television’s most lowbrow game shows had allowed his imagination to run wild when he claimed to have spent his spare time traveling the world, quietly rubbing out enemies of the United States.

“It sounds like he has been standing too close to the gong all those years,” quipped CIA spokesman Tom Crispell. “Chuck Barris has never been employed by the CIA and the allegation that he was a hired assassin is absurd,” Crispell added.

Barris, who offered no corroboration of his claims, was unmoved.

“Have you ever heard the CIA acknowledge someone was an assassin?” he once asked.

Seeking escape from the Hollywood rat race, he moved to a villa in the south of France in the 1980s with his girlfriend and future second wife, Robin Altman, and made only infrequent returns to his old haunts over the next two decades.

Back in the news in 2002 to help publicize “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” Barris said his shows were a forerunner to today’s popular reality TV series.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Charles Barris was left destitute, along with his sister and their mother, when his dentist father died of a stroke.

After graduating from the Drexel Institute of Technology in 1953, he took a series of jobs, including book salesman and fight promoter.

After being dropped from a low-level job at NBC, he found work at ABC, where he persuaded his bosses to let him open a Hollywood office, from which he launched his game-show empire. He also had success in the music world. He wrote the 1962 hit record “Palisades Park,” which was recorded by Freddy Cannon.

Barris’s first marriage, to Lynn Levy, ended in divorce. Their daughter, Della, died of a drug overdose in 1998. He married his third wife, Mary, in 2000.

The AP’s Bob Thomas contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

]]> 0, 22 Mar 2017 17:53:40 +0000
Wood pallets being transformed into beautiful home decor Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:42 +0000

The saying, “what’s old is new again” has been around for years, but most recently represents a popular trend in interior design – upcycling old items with a new purpose.

Everyone from high-end designers to DIYers is enjoying and incorporating this trend into everyday life. From five-star restaurants to suburban living rooms, people are seeking out weathered pieces of wood, discarded metal and unlikely antiques to create a unique, down to earth, and comfortable design aesthetic in their living spaces.

An unusual hero of this new design trend is the wooden pallet, which can easily be purchased at any hardware store. With some creativity and know-how, these inexpensive items can be re-purposed to create a personalized statement in your home that you’ll love.

Re-imagine your wall.

Today, walls are for paint and pictures, but even if you’ve fallen in love with a certain color for your living room, don’t you think your walls can have more personality?

They absolutely can, and one way people are adding new life to their walls is by paneling them with reclaimed wood. To achieve this look, purchase a number of pallets, cut them into various sizes and arrange them on your wall.

To enhance the natural beauty of the wood and to show off your own personal style, pick a few of your favorite stain colors and apply them to the wood.

If you are looking for bright and bold colors or subtle cottage inspired tones, check out Minwax® Water Based Wood Stains. For traditional, rich wood tones, try Minwax® Wood Finish.

It’s a deep penetrating stain that offers an array of colors, so you can create a display of contrast and patterns on your walls that can be truly stunning. After staining your wood pallet, don’t forget to protect it with a clear protective finish.

Create a fun and functional piece.

If you’re always looking to free up cabinet or counter space, use a wooden pallet to create a rustic mug holder. For this project, all you need to do is add hooks to a few of the wood slats for the mugs to hang from.

Get creative with this pallet by painting a design or phrase such as “But First, Coffee” on the top wooden slat.

You can add some dimension to wood by staining it with Minwax® Wood Finishing Cloths. These convenient one-step cloths are pre-moistened with stain and finish allowing for easy application and clean up. They’re available in five beautiful colors from Natural Oak to Dark Mahogany, allowing you to achieve that rustic feel.

Update your headboard.

If you are looking to give your bedroom a makeover, consider building a headboard for your bed out of pallet wood.

The idea here isn’t to make an even, straight-edged piece; rather it’s to embrace a more rustic style.

Start by gathering your wood pallets and applying Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to prepare the bare wood surface for staining. It will help to prevent streaks and blotches by allowing for even stain absorption.

Once the wood has been prepared, apply your favorite stain color. With over 100 colors to choose from, you are sure to find a color that will showcase your personal style.

Using different lengths and widths, arrange the boards so they span the width of your bed. Attach a few long pieces across the back to serve as crossbeams that hold it together. The variation in sizes will create a jagged top and make a big statement.

These are just a few of the many possibilities you can create with pallet wood. From wall décor to nightstands and tables, all you need is some wooden pallets, stain, clear protective finish and a little creativity, and you’ll be able to integrate this design trend into your home.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:10:06 +0000
Is a beaten-up vehicle with a rap sheet worth saving? Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:12 +0000 DEAR CAR TALK: My 2007 Silverado was stolen and used in some robberies. I was in Ohio, and upon learning that the police were looking for me, I contacted them and found out that my truck had been stolen and now has a rap sheet.

My camper shell was removed and the mud flaps cut off. They must have done some rough riding in the truck, as it is now slightly twisted.

The insurance company says the frame is cracked, and they want to total the truck. I have taken it to my mechanic, and he put it up on the lift and had three mechanics looking under it, and none of them found a crack.

There are a lot of other things wrong with it, though: steering rack and pinion; replace intermediate shaft; oil-pan gasket rear main seal; replace clutch kit; lube oil and filter repeat; alignment.

Total cost: $3,184.20 But my mechanic says other things could pop up later. The outside of the truck has minimal damage; most damage is internal.

My question to you is: Should I take the dismantle fee ($3,400) for the truck and use that to fix the internal stuff, or just take the total loss and find a newer-model vehicle?

The truck was well maintained before this happened, and got great mileage on the freeway, and I travel a lot. Sincerely – B.J.

RAY: I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I think the biggest question mark is the frame. Rather than ask your regular mechanic if the frame is cracked, take the car to a collision shop that does frame and alignment work, and ask those guys to evaluate it.

You could even can ask your insurance company which shop it used for its appraisal, and ask that shop to show you the crack.

If the frame really is cracked or bent, I’d be tempted to take the money and let the truck go. If the frame can’t be straightened out, you’ll never be able to align the truck properly, and you’ll end up joining the Tire-of-the-Month Club.

Not to mention the stiff neck you’ll get from always having to look over your shoulder as the truck drives sideways.

So, you want someone with some real expertise in frames to give you a professional opinion on that – not the guys who do oil changes and brake jobs. The frame is the make-or-break issue.

If the insurance company is wrong, and the frame turns out to be OK, then you can take your chances if you want to. It sure sounds like they beat the heck out of the truck, so your mechanic is right that it’s possible more damage will crop up.

But on the other hand, you’ll also be getting a bunch of brand-new parts plus a great story to tell. I mean, who else’s truck has its own mug shot? That’s cool.

Got a question about cars? E-mail Car Talk’s Ray Maggliozzi by visiting the Car Talk website,



]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 09:57:59 +0000
‘MaineLife’ enters partnership with MaineToday Media Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 A partnership between MaineToday Media and Erin Ovalle, host of “MaineLife,” will give the Maine lifestyle show greater distribution.

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

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

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:04:44 +0000
Another View: There’s little to celebrate in outcome of Dutch elections Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It says something about European politics that the Dutch election results are widely seen as cause for celebration. Geert Wilders – a far-right populist who makes Donald Trump look like a cautious centrist – did worse than expected. But he was by no means crushed, and the anger Wilders and his ilk are channeling is still there.

In due course Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be able to form a new coalition government. (These things take time in the Netherlands.) But his center-right party has lost seats and had to tack to the populist right to avoid a worse result. Wilders’ PVV party increased its tally of seats from 15 to 20.

It won’t be hard to exclude the PVV from the new coalition government, but this was no shattering defeat for the far right.

And consider what it took to contain the threat. Rutte had to toughen his language (if not his policy) on immigration – “behave normally or leave,” he told migrants in a letter published in January in Dutch newspapers. Rutte’s standing up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late in the campaign probably also helped his cause.

More encouraging is that the Netherlands, unlike the U.K., shows little interest in quitting the European Union. On the whole, strongly pro-EU parties did well in the election, and Wilders’ fervid opposition to the EU may actually have held him back.

Immigration remains the most troublesome issue. The Netherlands used to stand as a model for multiculturalism, but no longer. Like many other EU countries, the Netherlands has failed to assimilate its immigrants.

It can be argued that this is what multiculturalism means. If the sentiments driving far-right populism are to be defeated, however, assimilation will have to take precedence. Education, language training and housing policy must be recruited to the cause. Making it easier for migrants to find work – the Dutch record on this is especially poor – is crucial.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:55:15 +0000
Our View: Grants for drug treatment in Maine’s jails could break cycle of relapsing, reoffending Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 About two of every three of the nation’s jail and prison inmates have substance use disorders, but only 11 percent of those who are addicted receive treatment while incarcerated, according to a 2010 study.

Though these are national figures, it’s likely that Maine – which had a record 378 overdose deaths last year – fits the same pattern. But new legislation offers cause for hope by making it possible for jail inmates to access addiction treatment while behind bars.

Sponsored by state Sen. Justin Chenette, a Saco Democrat, L.D. 377 would establish a Corrections Department grant program that would be designed with mandatory input from Maine’s sheriffs and county commissioners and pay up to half the cost of county jail-based drug treatment programs.

Grants would be awarded based on need, local buy-in and county financial support. Applicants also must present evidence-based proposals – a category that covers everything from detoxification services and medication-assisted treatment to recovery coaching and faith-based treatment.

Given how many inmates in Maine are struggling to overcome addiction, it’s clear that L.D. 377 could do a great deal of good. But Jenna Mehnert, head of the mental health advocacy group NAMI Maine, made an important point during the public hearing on the bill, when she told the lawmakers who are weighing the measure that it’s important to distinguish between people facing felony charges who “simultaneously struggle with addiction,” and low-level offenders whose crimes are directly related to their substance use.

The serious offenders, she said, would benefit from Corrections Department-approved inmate rehabilitation services, which would “allow for recovery to begin before inmates are released” – but those accused of drug-related misdemeanors would be better served by being diverted to a program that offers services such as housing, job training and health care in lieu of arrest. And the evidence backs up her recommendation: Diversion programs like those being piloted in Portland, Bangor and several other Maine communities have been shown to prevent relapse and recidivism.

Maine’s cash-strapped county jails – which have become what Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce recently called “the state’s largest mental hospital and detox center” – are feeling the impact as the addiction epidemic continues to escalate. L.D. 377 is based on a sound concept; with some revisions, the bill could cut off a frustrating and often tragic cycle of release, relapsing and reoffending that rarely, if ever, results in recovery for Mainers suffering from addiction.

]]> 0 two-thirds of the people behind bars in the U.S. have a substance use disorder, but only 11 percent of the inmates who need addiction treatment receive it in jail or prison.Tue, 21 Mar 2017 23:03:24 +0000
For UMaine football, filling out the schedule requires a little help Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 ORONO — Dave Brown worked at ESPN for three decades as one of the network’s college football programming executives.

Unknown to many, he was the guy who helped set up many of the early-season games between national powers. When he decided to get out a couple of years ago, he wasn’t about to let all that experience go to waste. So Brown wrote a software package called Gridiron, which is now used by colleges to help fill out their schedules.

Among his clients is the University of Maine. Will Biberstein, the senior associate athletic director for internal operations at Maine, said Brown’s help is invaluable.

“He’s kind of like a subcontractor,” said Biberstein, who works on Maine’s football schedule. “What Dave does is keep a database of upcoming schedules for every game contract … Someone who does the scheduling can go in and look and say, ‘Hey Dave, I need a game on Week 3 of 2019.’

“You do a search and it will tell you who is available, if it’s an FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) or FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), and you try to figure out who fits in my scheduling. It really streamlines the process.”

And Maine uses it as much as anyone. Next fall, for the third consecutive year, Maine will play two FBS teams – Central Florida on Sept. 30 and UMass on Nov. 11 at Fenway Park.

FBS schools provide more scholarships (85 full scholarships to 63 for FCS schools), have larger rosters and often larger players than FCS teams. Their willingness to provide guaranteed paydays to FCS schools to fill out their schedules is a boon to schools like Maine. While challenging, Coach Joe Harasymiak knows it’s essential financially.

“We’re at a point in time where we need to do things financially,” he said. “People know why we do it.”

Maine will receive $350,000 to play Central Florida and $250,000 from Massachusetts. The Black Bears also recently announced a game with Georgia Southern in 2019 and will receive $325,000 to play it.

Brown said his program makes the matchmaking process easier.

“What could have taken hours now takes seconds,” he said. But, he added, dates have to line up and in the end the schools have to sign the contracts.

Maine pays $5,000 for the service, which is used currently just for football. Brown, who said 120 FBS and 92 FCS schools use his program, hopes to add basketball.

“I’m really just trying to help (schools) find what they’re looking for and give them options to chose from,” said Brown.

Biberstein said Brown is more than that.

“He’s the man behind the curtain, making the magic happen,” he said. “It’s a crazy business right now.”

Brown helped Maine secure its game with Central Florida.

“I knew from talking to (Biberstein) that they were looking for an FBS game,” said Brown. “There were not a ton of options so I honed in on Central Florida quickly. They liked it and they got it done. I’m glad they got it done.”

He added that it’s more of a challenge to find games for Maine. While the Black Bears are looking for two FBS opponents, they would like one to be within a bus ride.

That limits options to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Boston College. Maybe Syracuse and maybe Buffalo. “But those are a long way from Maine,” said Brown.

And with power conferences such as the Big Ten saying they’re going to stop playing FCS schools, the options will be limited even more.

Harasymiak said the Black Bears will look to play more teams in the America Athletic Conference (of which Connecticut and Central Florida are members) and the Mid-American Conference (which includes last year’s opponent Toledo and schools such as Central Michigan and Buffalo).

“It’s not like there’s a menu of 25 teams out there looking for games,” said Harasymiak.

Maine was the only Colonial Athletic Association team to play two FBS games last year. The Black Bears lost both and finished 6-5.

Harasymiak said he realizes that playing two FBS teams puts Maine at a disadvantage with other CAA teams. But, he added it also has benefits.

“It helps me evaluate where we are at,” he said. “When we play well in the FBS games, we usually have a good year.”

]]> 0 Coach Joe Harasymiak knows it's not ideal to play schools with larger players and more scholarships, but accepts that financially it's a fact of life for teams like the Black Bears.Tue, 21 Mar 2017 23:35:39 +0000
Rep. Chellie Pingree: Passing ‘Trumpcare’ would take us backward Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Last weekend, hundreds of Mainers turned out for a town hall I held on the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Trumpcare. People who attended shared their battles with cancer, disease and poverty and described how the Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, had opened a door for them to access care and prevent bankruptcy.

I’d be the first to say the Affordable Care Act has room for improvement. I was disappointed that we did not accomplish single-payer health care or a public option and that the ACA did not go far enough to hold down costs and keep insurers from unreasonably raising deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. However, nothing in Trumpcare will address rising health care costs. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office said the first draft of Trumpcare will increase out-of-pocket costs for older Americans by as much as 750 percent and immediately drop 14 million people from their coverage.

Trumpcare not only undoes the gains of the Affordable Care Act, but will actually lead to higher numbers of uninsured than before the ACA was passed in 2010.

Trumpcare is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes health care dollars away from poor, rural, and older Americans in order to give tax breaks to insurance companies, drug companies and the wealthiest Americans. The numbers are simply staggering. Trumpcare will give insurance companies a $145 billion tax break and require individuals who have a gap in their coverage to pay a 30 percent premium surcharge to the insurance company for a year. It will reduce taxes on drug companies by $15 billion and give top earners a $158 billion windfall.

At the same time, the CBO estimates that a 64-year-old man earning $26,500 a year who previously paid $1,700 for his coverage will pay $14,600 under Trumpcare — that’s more than half his income. Inexplicably, Trumpcare also strips federal funding for Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide basic health care services to thousands of low-income Mainers and millions of Americans nationwide. President Trump recently asked, “Who knew health care could be so complicated?”

Obviously, he’s never had to navigate the health care system alone and cannot imagine what it’s like to lose his health insurance or have his coverage denied. Most Americans know health care is very complicated. Just take Ed Saxby of South Portland, who attended my town hall on Sunday.

Ed stood beside his wife, both military veterans, and their granddaughter as he bravely told hundreds of strangers about his battle with cancer. He said that the odds of survival are against him because Trumpcare will take away the tax subsidies he needs to afford health coverage as a retiree living on a fixed income. Ed told the room, “We cannot repeal and not replace — that will be an American genocide.”

If there were a quick fix to reform our health care system it would have happened 50 years ago, but there’s a reason the Affordable Care Act took two years to pass – we allowed the public to be a part of the process.

As a member of Congress when the ACA was passed, I remember hundreds of hearings were held and thousands of amendments were considered before President Obama signed the law.

In stark contrast, Republicans have fast-tracked Trumpcare without holding a single public hearing. Some Republican members will not even face their constituents back home who rightfully want to know how Trumpcare will impact their daily lives.

No one can avoid illness or aging — that’s why health care policy is deeply personal and important to us all. It is unlike any other issue we work on in Congress.

At my town hall, Ed Saxby’s wife, Jill, asked if those who are championing Trumpcare would be willing to trade places with those who it will harm. It’s a question I’ve posed to my colleagues in Congress and hope they will consider when they vote on Trumpcare on Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

— Special to the Press Herald

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:45:22 +0000
Scheduling games is a challenging process for UMaine Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 ORONO — Mike Coutts wanted to do something different than just go down to Florida for the opening games of the University of Maine’s softball season this year.

The Black Bears’ senior class was the first that Coutts and his wife Lynn, now a senior associate director of athletes at the university, had recruited. “We wanted to do something special,” he said.

So the Black Bears went west instead of south. Maine’s opening 20-game trip started in Arizona on March 3, then moved on to Colorado, Utah and Montana before ending Sunday.

“This was a lot of work compared to the ones we’ve had in the past,” said Mike Coutts, in his second year as head coach of the Black Bears. “Because in order to make it work, we had to get guarantees.”

For football and basketball teams, that usually involves a cash guarantee. For Coutts and the softball team, it involved hotel rooms.

“Of the 18 days we will be gone, we’ve got 13 nights in a hotel paid for,” he said before the trip, estimating a savings of $15,000. “So even though we’re going through four states, it’s costing us less money than if we were to go to Florida and stay there for two weeks.”

That’s because Florida schools won’t provide guarantees, he said. He added it took a lot of phone calls and emails to pull the schedule together. But that’s typical of most college athletic schedules.

“It’s ongoing,” said Red Gendron, the Maine men’s hockey coach, of putting together his team’s schedule. “Hours and hours. Always.”

“It’s like recruiting,” said Richard Barron, the Black Bears’ women’s basketball coach, before he took a medical leave of absence in early January. “You’re always doing it. You look at it every day.”

Maine’s schedule-makers have a challenge that many others don’t. As the northernmost NCAA Division I school on the East Coast, it’s not easy to find teams willing to travel to Orono or Bangor (where the men’s and women’s basketball teams play home games).

“It’s obviously a challenge for us here to schedule certain teams nonleague,” said Gendron, whose team recently finished an 11-24-4 season. “They’re happy if you’re willing to come to them but less enthralled for them to come back. If they don’t want to come back, then the conversation ends.”

Gendron said he tries to work on his schedule at least two seasons out. And it’s not easy. Sometimes teams pull out of contracts. Sometimes Hockey East changes the number of games it plays, such as the next two seasons when conference games will expand from 22 to 24.

“Building a schedule is a great challenge,” said Gendron.

Bob Walsh, the men’s basketball coach at UMaine, discovered that almost as soon as he was named head coach in 2014. He came from Rhode Island College and immediately reached out to a friend, Mike Martin at Brown. “Mike said he’d think about it,” Walsh said of playing at Maine. “But he said, ‘To tell you the truth, I’m closer to Rider in New Jersey than I am to you.’ ”

The schools agreed on a home-and-home series, and Brown played in Bangor during the 2015-16 season. But that’s how UMaine’s location can impact a school’s decision to go there. “When you look at a school like Brown, or Bryant, or Sacred Heart or teams in central Connecticut, or a Holy Cross, they have a number of options to pick from of teams within an hour-and-a-half of them,” said Walsh.

Most coaches consider many factors when looking for nonleague teams to add to their schedule – including whether they can win. As Walsh said, “You want to find some games where you can be successful … You don’t build a championship culture through losing games.”

For smaller Division I programs like Maine, there’s also a financial component. As Coutts looked for ways to cut his budget on the softball team’s opening trip, basketball and football coaches look to bring in money to supplement their budgets.

The men’s basketball team, which recently ended a 7-25 season, received $325,000 in guaranteed money from four opponents: Duke, Buffalo and Virginia Tech (each $85,000) and Providence ($70,000). Buffalo and Providence also provided hotel rooms.

The women’s basketball team, which played in the America East championship game, received $48,000 for five games/tournaments, including the Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge (which also included 15 hotel rooms for two nights).

Maine’s baseball team received $5,000 from Miami for a two-game series March 14-15, concluding its annual Florida trip.

Football is the big winner in guaranteed money. The Black Bears fill their non-Colonial Athletic Association schedule with at least two road games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the larger Division I schools that provide more scholarships and have larger budgets.

Last fall, Maine received $325,000 to play Connecticut and $375,000 to play Toledo. This year Maine will receive $350,000 to play at Central Florida on Sept. 30 and $250,000 to play Massachusetts on Nov. 11 at Fenway Park.

Barron said the biggest part of scheduling is simply “finding people who will play you. And that’s a struggle. There’s always excuses – you’re too far, you’re not good enough, you’re too good … We just want to play the best teams we can and get as many home games as we can and we have to do it within a restricted budget. So you just try to make all the pieces fit as best you can. It’s a very inexact science.”

Some of it is luck.

Coutts put together his spring trip because he knew he wanted to play in Arizona. In talking to the coach at Grand Canyon University, he discovered the coach at Arizona State was looking for a game. When he contacted Brigham Young to play there, the coach there said Utah Valley was looking for games. “The power of email,” said Coutts. “And it’s about connections and people knowing people.”

Walsh said the same thing. “The coaches in New England, we all know each other,” he said. “We’re always talking.”

Assistant coach Matt O’Brien actually handles most of the men’s basketball scheduling. He uses a couple of websites, including, to search for games. It’s a message board where coaches can note what openings they have. But even then, dates have to line up, arenas have to be available and travel costs have to be kept at a minimum.

The women’s basketball team has done a good job drawing good teams to Maine. This year Barron convinced Villanova, Mississippi State and Purdue to travel to Bangor for Maine’s Tip-Off Tournament.

How? “A lot of it is just being friends with people,” said Barron.

Then there’s lobsters. After Mississippi State agreed to come, Barron sent Coach Vic Schaefer six live Maine lobsters.

“He called me and asked what to do with them,” said Barron. “I told him to cook them and eat them.”

]]> 0 Mike Coutts took his softball team west this spring, relying more on accommodations than cash guarantees. Opponents paid for 13 of the 18 overnights.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:58:54 +0000
Increased screening for colorectal cancer could save thousands of Mainers’ lives Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 There are far too many cancers where the opportunity for either prevention or early detection simply does not exist. In these instances, we often find the cancer only when it becomes symptomatic in an advanced stage. But this is not the case for all cancers. In fact, for some cancers, such as colo- rectal cancer, we have highly effective methods to prevent the cancer or to catch it at an early and highly treatable stage.

This March, we celebrate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Given the fact that colorectal cancer remains a leading cause of cancer deaths and that almost 50 percent of colorectal cancer cases can be prevented through screening, the public health significance of screening and early detection is clearly evident. Right now, with approximately $51 million in grant money, the American Cancer Society is supporting 92 cutting-edge research projects focused on ending colorectal cancer. However, it is still imperative that we do all we can to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of screening. Research has already shown us that screening works.

A collaboration of more than 1,300 organizations nationwide have come together in an effort called 80% by 2018, with a commitment of educating about the importance of screening and improving access to those screenings so that by 2018, 80 percent of adults aged 50 and older will be regularly screened for colorectal cancer.

Maine has achieved a 73 percent screening rate of those 50 and older. If Maine achieves that 80 percent goal by the end of 2018, then by 2030, we will have helped 1,046 Mainers avoid ever getting cancer and saved 767 more lives from cancer death. While Maine’s screening rate is one of the top in the nation, to reach our goal means that we still need to make sure that 92,000 more people 50 and older get the colorectal cancer screenings that they should.

If the entire country meets its 80 percent screening rate by 2018, the results would be phenomenal. By 2030, 277,000 people would never get cancer. It could be completely prevented. And an additional 203,000 more people would live. They would not die from a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Getting screened doesn’t need to be as invasive or as difficult as some people may believe. There are now several effective options available for colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy, fecal immunochemical tests and virtual colonoscopy.

Despite the availability of highly effective screening tests, a significant percentage of individuals over the age of 50 are not screened as recommended. Statistics show that nationally almost 40 percent of individuals over the age of 50 have not received the recommended colorectal cancer screening; within certain populations, this percentage is even higher.

More public education to raise awareness about the risk associated with colorectal cancer and the importance of screening is a clear first step to improve screening rates. But we must go beyond that; we must ensure that awareness campaigns reach every corner of our community and screenings are made widely available to those who need it.

We must also address the barriers patients face when trying to get a colonoscopy or other screening test. Some screening tests require significant preparation and time off from work, and they also require patients to have someone available to take them home following the procedure. Addressing these challenges can be a vital bridge to a successful screening test.

We can all play a role in increasing colorectal cancer screening rates. Do you know someone who is over 50 and hasn’t been screened yet? Help them learn more about the importance of screening (the valuable information posted at is a great first step) or encourage them to speak with their doctor about screening. Providing a ride for a neighbor, colleague or relative who has a scheduled colonoscopy can be the critical difference between a screening that is completed and one that is not.

This March, let’s all work together to get more people screened, reduce rates of colorectal cancer and save lives.

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Letter to the editor: Ranked-choice voting delays will weaken or repeal much-needed Maine law Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I have just read the editorial in the March 15 Portland Press Herald regarding ranked-choice voting (“Our View: Maine election officials shouldn’t delay ranked-choice planning”).

Some 400,000 Mainers (Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens and Libertarians) voted to approve ranked-choice voting last November. The law took effect in January of this year, ideally to be implemented by the Secretary of State’s Office in time for the 2018 elections. Ranked-choice voting means that the majority (not just a plurality) of voters will elect a candidate, thereby making each vote truly count.

However, rather than simply respecting the will of the people, the Maine Legislature has opted to delay implementation. In February, they passed the buck to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, taking the first step in what is almost certainly an effort to weaken or repeal the law. The Legislature should implement ranked-choice voting and dispense with this unnecessary fiddling with and delay of a much-needed and welcome change to our voting laws.

I also urge readers to go to the League of Women Voters of Maine website to review their nonpartisan, well-reasoned statement in support of the ranked-choice voting law.

Deborah Schneider


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