News – Press Herald Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:54:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 FairPoint merger given final OK in Vermont Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:50:24 +0000 MONTPELIER, Vt. — Customers of the telephone and broadband services provider FairPoint Communications in northern New England won’t notice much difference after it merges with an Illinois-based telecommunications provider, officials with the company merging with FairPoint said.

But Consolidated Communications will continue efforts begun by FairPoint to expand and improve broadband internet services to tens of thousands of customers across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Eventually, it will also offer a number of new services.

“In the near term, we will begin rolling out new consumer products,” said Consolidated Vice President Michael Shultz. The company is based in Mattoon, Illinois.

The new products that will be offered in the region include home automation, home security, new video products, as well as the commitment to broadband improvements. Commercial customers will also see new offerings, he said.

On Monday, Vermont utility regulators gave final approval to the deal that will allow it to go forward. Over the last several weeks, regulators in Maine and New Hampshire also approved the deal.

Consolidated spokeswoman Jennifer Spaude said Illinois regulators are expected to approve the deal on Wednesday, when additional details of the company’s plans are expected to be released. Once the deal is completed, Consolidated will be operating in a total of 24 states.

“We really are excited about the benefits that we will bring to customers,” Spaude said.

Regulators in northern New England hope to avoid a repeat of mistakes that followed FairPoint’s 2008 acquisition of Verizon’s landline assets. FairPoint struggled with debt, declining landline accounts and customer service problems before filing for bankruptcy, from which it emerged in 2011. Unionized workers led a four-month strike against FairPoint in late 2014 and early 2015.

Workers are taking a wait-and-see approach about Consolidated but have said they remain hopeful that things will be better than under FairPoint.

Maine regulators were first in the region to sign off on the deal on May 31, after Consolidated agreed to invest at least $52.2 million in its infrastructure in Maine. New Hampshire regulators have also approved the deal.

Vermont regulators approved the deal on Monday. In a statement announcing the approval, the Public Service Board said the combined company would be more financially stable than FairPoint with stronger credit ratings, more flexible access to capital, and greater revenue diversity.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:50:24 +0000
Chaffetz urges stipend to help lawmakers pay for D.C. housing Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:43:13 +0000 WASHINGTON — On his way out of Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz gave many District of Columbia residents another reason to gripe Tuesday when he called for members of Congress to receive a housing stipend of up to $30,000 a year.

Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chaired the committee that has oversight of the nation’s capital, said federal lawmakers have trouble stretching their $174,000 salaries to cover housing in Washington, which he called “one of the most expensive places in the world,” and homes in their congressional districts. “I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz told The Hill, which first reported his stipend proposal. “In today’s climate, nobody’s going to suggest or vote for a pay raise. But you shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest … to serve properly in Congress.”

The idea lit up Twitter as people who think members of Congress are paid plenty, thank you very much, recalled Chaffetz’s comment earlier this year that low-income people could afford their own health care if they would scale back spending on things such as “that new iPhone they just love.”

“Chaffetz makes $175K/yr, wants extra $2500 for housing stipend. But others need to evaluate if they can afford the luxury of an iPhone? Ok!” tweeted Adam Best of Austin.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz, who is retiring this week, tried to reverse the District’s assisted-suicide law, opposed its legalization of marijuana, suggested lopping off part of D.C. and folding it into Maryland.

]]> 0 CHAFFETZTue, 27 Jun 2017 21:43:13 +0000
Workers at Chinese factory that makes shoes for Ivanka Trump brand report abuse and threats Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:37:57 +0000 GANZHOU, China — A worker with blood dripping from his head marked a low point in the tense, grinding life at a southeastern China factory used by Ivanka Trump and other fashion brands. An angry manager had hit him with the sharp end of a high-heeled shoe.

Workers from the factory, including one current and two former employees who spoke to The Associated Press, reported overtime that stretched past midnight, steep production quotas and crude verbal abuse at Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co. They said beatings were not unheard of, but the shoe attack, which all three say they witnessed last year, was violent enough to stand out.

“He was bleeding right from the middle of the head,” the current worker said.

“There was a lot of blood. He went to the factory’s nurse station, passing by me,” said a second man, who said he quit his job at Huajian because of the long hours and low pay.

The three workers are the first people with direct knowledge of conditions at the Ganzhou factory to speak with the media. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution or arrest.

Last month, three men investigating conditions at the Huajian Group factory were detained, accused of illegally using secret recording devices to steal commercial secrets. They, like one of the three men AP spoke with, worked with China Labor Watch, a New York nonprofit that has been investigating Ivanka Trump’s Chinese suppliers for more than a year.

Li Qiang, founder of China Labor Watch, describes Huajian’s Ganzhou factory as among the worst he has seen in nearly two decades investigating labor abuses. His group says pay can be as low as a dollar an hour, in violation of China’s labor laws. According to China Labor Watch investigators, until recently, workers might get only two days off – or less – per month.

China Labor Watch said the company forced workers to sign fake pay stubs with inflated salary numbers and threatened to fire workers if they didn’t fill in questionnaires about working conditions with pre-approved answers. Workers also said the company pressured people not to speak with outsiders about conditions.

In comments to the AP, the Huajian Group declined to respond to specific questions, but broadly denied all allegations, calling them “completely not true to the facts, taken out of context, exaggerated.” The company said it operates lawfully and that China Labor Watch “invented so-called ‘facts’ by illegal means of buying undercover work, which has already affected the enterprise’s normal business seriously and affected the survival and employment of tens of thousands of staff.” The company noted its significant contribution to the economy and to society, particularly through its employment of disabled people.

Before taking on an official role as adviser to her father, Ivanka Trump stepped back from day-to-day management of her brand, but she has retained her ownership interest. She has not commented on the detentions or the reports of poor working conditions at one of her brand’s suppliers. Her spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand, said “the integrity of our supply chain is a top priority and we take all allegations very seriously.” The company says its products have not been made in the factory since March, but China Labor Watch said it had an April production schedule indicating that nearly 1,000 pairs of Ivanka Trump shoes were due in May.

In the past, some brands have used China Labor Watch’s reports as a tool to help keep their supply chains clean. Walt Disney Co., for example, investigated and ultimately decided to sever its relationship with at least one supplier following reports of poor conditions.

China Labor Watch outlined its findings in letters sent in June to Ivanka Trump at the White House and to other brands. So far, the group says it has gotten no response.

The group said it also sent Ivanka Trump a video taken inside the factory in May. That video included a clip in which a manager threatened to rough up a worker who had apparently arranged shoes in the wrong order.

“If I see them f—ing messed up again,” the manager yells, “I’ll beat you right here.”

The video has not been released to the public, but it was shown to AP at China Labor Watch’s office in New York.

]]> 0 security guard smokes near a main entrance gate of the Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co.'s factory, which has made shoes for the brand owned by Ivanka Trump, left. The firm, located in Ganzhou, has denied abuse allegations, and Trump has not replied to a letter from China Labor Watch..Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:37:57 +0000
Manafort firm’s papers show Ukraine money link Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:30:53 +0000 A consulting firm led by Paul Manafort, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for several months last year, retroactively filed forms Tuesday showing that his firm received $17.1 million over two years from a political party that dominated Ukraine before its leader fled to Russia in 2014.

Manafort disclosed the total payments his firm received between 2012 and 2014 in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing late Tuesday that was submitted to the U.S. Justice Department. The report makes Manafort the second former senior Trump adviser to acknowledge the need to disclose work for foreign interests.

Manafort is one of a number of Trump associates whose campaign activities are being scrutinized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s team has been consolidating inquiries into matters unrelated to the election.

Manafort and a former associate in his consulting business, Richard Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, disclosed their lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions in an 87-page document which described the gross receipts the firm received and some details of efforts undertaken to influence U.S. policy toward Ukraine. The filing shows the firm spent nearly $4 million to advance the party’s interests through polling and local salaries in Ukraine, activity that does not ordinarily require U.S. disclosure.

]]> 0 MANAFORTTue, 27 Jun 2017 21:30:53 +0000
Justices accept case that would legalize sports gaming Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:28:34 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up New Jersey’s bid to allow sports betting at its casinos and racetracks, a case that could lead other states to seek a share of the lucrative market.

The justices will review a lower court ruling against the state, which hopes to capture some of the estimated $150 billion illegally wagered on sports each year.

Gov. Chris Christie and supporters in the state Legislature tried for years to legalize sports gambling to bolster the casino and horse racing industries. The casino industry, after a period of job losses and closings, has lately been doing better.

Christie said he was encouraged by the court’s decision to take the case up.

“We’re not declaring victory but at least we’re in the game and that’s where we want to be,” Christie said.

New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who has led the state’s effort to legalize sports gambling, said a win for the state would give an additional boost to casinos.

“Atlantic City is going to be packed when we win this case,” said Lesniak, who introduced legislation to overturn the ban in 2009. “Sports betting will lead to people staying for several days, not just playing a few hours and going home. During football season, the NCAA tournament, the World Cup, people will be flocking to Atlantic City.”

The case will be argued in the fall. Daniel Wallach, a lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and expert in sports law, said the case could lead to a nationwide repeal of the federal ban.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the New Jersey law last year, ruling that the law violated the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that forbids state-authorized sports gambling.

“This is the day that New Jersey has been waiting for for years,” said Wallach, who has closely followed New Jersey’s legal efforts to overturn the ban.

The court jumped into the case even after the Trump administration urged the justices not to get involved, putting the governor and the president he campaigned for on opposite sides.

President Donald Trump once owned the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, which closed last October under the ownership of a fellow billionaire, Carl Icahn, who sold it in March to Hard Rock International. The company plans to reopen under its own brand next year.

Speaking on a sports radio show this month, Christie criticized the federal government for restricting sports betting while allowing states to legalize recreational marijuana even though it’s illegal under federal law.

The case has lasted nearly as long as Christie has been in office. New Jersey voters passed a nonbinding referendum to allow sports betting in 2011.

The four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state in 2012 after Christie signed a sports betting law.

Legal sports gambling is allowed in Nevada and three other states that approved some form of wagering before the federal law went into effect. Nevada is the only state to allow single-game wagering.

Congress gave New Jersey a one-time opportunity to become the fifth state before the ban was enacted, but the state failed to pass a sports betting law in time.

Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wisconsin joined New Jersey’s effort to have the case heard.

This month, the American Gaming Association announced the creation of a coalition involving organizations of attorneys general and police, policymakers and others to advocate for the repeal of the ban that the industry said has fueled the illegal sports betting market.

]]> 0 U.S. Supreme Court is hearing an appeal to a case involving a 2010 shooting of a Mexican boy by a U.S. Border Patrol agent.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:47:31 +0000
U.S. rearranges its human-trafficking offenders list Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:10:04 +0000 WASHINGTON — The United States asserted Tuesday that Myanmar is no longer one of the world’s worst offenders on human trafficking, while removing both Myanmar and Iraq from a list of countries that use child soldiers.

In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department also demoted China to the lowest ranking over its trafficking record, putting it in the same category as North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria. Afghanistan and Malaysia were recognized for taking steps to curb trafficking, while Iraq was seen as making insufficient progress on that issue.

Ivanka Trump, the senior White House adviser and daughter of President Trump, said ending human trafficking was in both the moral and strategic interests of the U.S., describing the effort as a “major foreign policy priority” for the administration:

“As a mother, this is much more than a policy priority,” she said at a ceremony to unveil the report. “It is a clarion call into action in defense of the vulnerable and the exploited.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the roughly 20 million victims of human trafficking globally illustrate how much more work must be done.

“Regrettably, our challenge is enormous,” Tillerson said. “Human trafficking is becoming more nuanced and more difficult to identify. Much of these activities are going underground, and they’re going online.”

Myanmar and Iraq were also taken off the blacklist of foreign governments identified of having child soldiers, a move that Human Rights Watch said was premature in the case of Myanmar and undermines U.S. credibility in ending the use of children in warfare. The group said the U.N. has documented child recruitment by Myanmar’s armed forces in 2016.

Also known as Burma, Myanmar was promoted for its efforts against recruitment of child soldiers and its first prosecution of government officials under a human trafficking law. The Southeast Asia nation had been demoted to the lowest tier last year.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:10:04 +0000
Trump’s call for corporate tax rate cut faces resistance Wed, 28 Jun 2017 01:00:04 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump’s call to slash the corporate income tax rate to 15 percent has faced resistance during private tax meetings, according to a senior White House official.

While Trump has been clear that he thinks cutting the rate, which is currently 35 percent, is essential for job creation, others have said that it’s impossible to cut it as much as he wants without adding to the federal deficit, said the official, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The official didn’t specify who had raised the objections, but said administration officials have met with over 200 members of Congress as part of the effort to craft the tax bill.

Offering a first glimpse into closed-door sessions on tax policy between Trump’s top economic advisers and congressional leaders, the White House official said the sides have yet to agree on whether tax legislation should be “deficit-neutral.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have both called for such neutrality — meaning that any tax cuts would be offset either by higher revenue from other sources or by spending cuts — though some of Trump’s advisers have questioned the need for it.

Trump has promised the largest tax cut in history, including the 15 percent corporate tax rate, which would be also be extended to partnerships, limited liability companies and other so-called “pass-through” entities. House Republican leaders, including Ryan, have proposed a 20 percent corporate tax rate and a 25 percent rate for pass-throughs.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:29:13 +0000
Fed chief Yellen: No repeat of financial crisis likely in near future Wed, 28 Jun 2017 00:58:49 +0000 LONDON — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Tuesday that she believes banking regulators have made enough improvements to the financial system that the world will not experience another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.”

Addressing an audience Tuesday at the British Academy in London, Yellen said the banking reforms put in place in recent years have made the financial system much safer. She said regulators are doing a better job of watching for the type of systemic risks that struck the global economy in 2008, bringing on the worst global downturn in seven decades.

“Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis?” asked Yellen, who is 70. “You know probably that would be going too far, but I do think we are much safer, and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.”

One growing concern among some in the financial markets is that some asset prices, such as stocks and housing, are beginning to look a bit overpriced – in the way that they did before the financial crisis struck.

But Yellen said the system is better able to handle any shocks that might occur if investors began dumping assets out of concerns about a future financial threat. “I think we have a strong banking sector that’s well-capitalized and has a lot of liquidity,” she said.

Yellen said the U.S. unemployment rate, which stands at a 16-year low of 4.3 percent, is “below the level that most of my colleagues believe is sustainable in the long run.”

Yellen said most policymakers believe that as unemployment falls it will begin pushing up wages, and that will result in higher levels of inflation. The Fed has increased its Fed funds rate by a quarter point on three occasions since December, most recently this month, to a range of 1.0 percent to 1.25 percent, partly because of this concern.

Yellen declined to comment on her relationship with President Trump, but noted that it has been a long tradition for the Fed to have a close working relationship with the administration in power. Trump had attacked her handling of Fed policies as “shameful” during last year’s campaign.

She said she was continuing the Fed tradition with current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with the two conferring often on various issues affecting the economy and financial regulation.

“I would say that I have got a good working relationship,” Yellen said.

]]> 0 Chairman Janet Yellen told a group in London that "we have a strong banking sector that's well-capitalized and has a lot of liquidity."Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:23:11 +0000
Chicago officers charged with conspiring to cover up police shooting Wed, 28 Jun 2017 00:48:41 +0000 Three current or former police officers in Chicago were indicted Tuesday on charges of conspiring to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was killed by an officer in 2014.

McDonald’s death, captured in a video released the following year that shows him being shot while moving away from officers, set off protests and continues to reverberate through the Chicago Police Department. The officer who opened fire was charged with murder, while investigators also have focused on the behavior of other officers after the shooting.

The indictment, announced by the special prosecutor investigating McDonald’s shooting, charges the three veteran officers with trying to “conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald.”

“The indictment makes clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ‘code of silence,’ rather it alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” Patricia Brown Holmes, the special prosecutor, said in a statement.

McDonald’s death in October 2014 has continued to rock the Chicago Police Department, leading to a sprawling federal investigation and the ouster of the department’s superintendent. More than a year after McDonald was killed, authorities released video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 rounds at the teenager. Van Dyke was charged with murder the day the video was publicly released.

While the police union had said McDonald was holding a knife and approaching officers when he was killed, graphic video showed that the 17-year-old was veering away from officers when he was shot. An attorney for Van Dyke has said he feared for his life at the time.

The video recording spurred outrage in Chicago, during which Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismissed Garry McCarthy, the police superintendent. Not long after, the Justice Department began a probe into the Chicago police, concluding this year that the department has a pattern of routinely using excessive force and violating the rights of minority residents. The Justice Department and Chicago officials pledged to seek a court-enforceable order imposing reforms, but that plan was thrown into question after the Trump administration took office.

Chicago officials, who have been confronting a spike in homicides, have also reckoned with the fallout from the McDonald video. The city announced a series of policing reforms in the wake of the outcry over McDonald’s death, while the Chicago Police Department last year also recommended firing several officers for lying about McDonald’s killing, including Van Dyke.

The three-count indictment filed Tuesday says that Detective David March, 58, and patrol officers Joseph Walsh, 48, and Thomas Gaffney, 43, filed false police reports in the hours and days after the shooting “in an attempt to prevent or shape any criminal investigation.”

The three officers were charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

In a statement, Holmes’ office said that March has been a police officer for more than three decades, while both Walsh and Gaffney are each described as having about two decades on the Chicago police force. A Chicago police spokesman said only Gaffney was still with the department as of Tuesday, adding that he would be suspended without pay due to the indictment.

“The shooting of Laquan McDonald forever changed the Chicago Police Department and I am committed to implementing policies and training to prevent an incident like this from happening again,” Eddie Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent, said in a statement. “Throughout this investigation, CPD has fully cooperated with prosecutors and will continue to do so. We will also continue to implement meaningful reforms that build community trust, provide greater training and resources to our dedicated officers, and make Chicago safer.”

The president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the indictment.

According to the indictment, police reports filed after the shooting falsely stated that McDonald “committed aggravated assaults against” some of the officers, forcing Van Dyke to fatally shoot the teenager.

The indictment, only identifying Van Dyke as “Individual A,” says that he, Walsh and Gaffney “prepared and submitted virtually identical … reports which contained critical information which they knew to be false.” These reports said three officers were battered and injured during the encounter, the indictment continues, and described Van Dyke as fearing for his life when he fired at a knife-wielding, approaching McDonald.

The indictment also suggested that more people were involved in the plot, saying that “others known and unknown” to the grand jury failed to properly find witnesses and physical evidence, coordinated their actions and then sought to cover up these activities. Several unidentified people are also described in the indictment as giving false statements.

After announcing the charges against the three officers on Tuesday, Holmes said the grand jury investigation into the shooting will continue.

The indictment was voted on Monday by a Cook County special grand jury, officials said, and filed in circuit court Tuesday. The three men are expected to appear in court July 10 for arraignment, Holmes’ office said.

]]> 0 prosecutor Patricia Brown-Holmes speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Chicago, announcing that three police officers have been indicted on felony charges that they conspired to cover up the actions of a white officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The indictment alleges that one current and two former officers lied about the events of Oct. 20, 2014, when Officer Jason Van Dyke shot the black teenager 16 times.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:51:49 +0000
FDA works to expand generic drug brands, boost competition Wed, 28 Jun 2017 00:32:28 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to boost the number of generic prescription drugs in an effort to make medicines more affordable and to prevent price gouging.

Copycat pills normally are much cheaper than original brand-name drugs. But in some cases, when a generic has no competition, companies have drastically increased prices.

New commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday that the FDA will now give priority reviews to new generic drugs until there are at least three on the market.

That’s the level at which prices tend to drop sharply, up to 85 percent off the brand-name price.

The agency also published its first list of brand-name drugs that no longer have a patent’s protection but don’t yet have generic competition.

]]> 0 pharmacist fills a Suboxone prescription at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program in Boston in this 2013 photo. Suboxone is an opiate replacement therapy drug that treats cravings and withdrawal symptoms.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:53:00 +0000
Shoppers wary as giant companies gobble up their favorite brands Wed, 28 Jun 2017 00:03:25 +0000 NEW YORK — Some shoppers are fretting about big companies they don’t like taking over their favorite brands.

The latest: Amazon’s move to purchase Whole Foods has spurred worries about a decline in quality and ethical standards, or that the store will become like other supermarkets. Wal-Mart’s purchase of clothing labels ModCloth and Bonobos has some shoppers anxious that the world’s largest retailer will cheapen the quality of the clothes, or they’re vowing not to buy the brand again because they don’t want to support Wal-Mart.

For big companies, the challenge is always expanding the reach of a beloved niche brand without alienating its core customers. Of the recent deals, that’s a bigger job for Wal-Mart, since its reputation is more about low prices than trendy fashion – and shoppers might not view the world’s largest retailer very positively.

“Bye bye Bonobos,” T.D. Arkenberg wrote on Twitter. “I’ll miss you. You were a great brand. But as Sears destroyed Lands’ End, Wal-Mart will destroy Bonobos!”

Arkenberg, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, has five pairs of Bonobos pants and loves the way they fit. He planned to buy more, but now says he’ll shop more at Nordstrom and other small boutiques. Arkenberg believes Wal-Mart puts cost-cutting ahead of workers.

“In my mind, Wal-Mart’s participation of the brand will cheapen it,” he said in an interview.

Retail history is full of big companies taking over smaller labels, with mixed results. Cosmetic giant Estee Lauder kept the irreverent spirit of MAC Cosmetics when it bought the remaining stake of the upstart makeup brand in 1998. And when Marriott International purchased the swank Ritz-Carlton chain that same year, it found success because it took a hands-off approach, said Allen Adamson, founder of the firm BrandSimpleConsulting.

But plenty of cases didn’t turn out so well, as Arkenberg noted. Sears Holdings Corp. purchased sporty outdoor chain Lands’ End in 2002, but sales deteriorated before Sears spun it back off in 2014. Cereal giant Kellogg Co. bought Kashi in 2000 as it sought to get into the organic food market. But sales of Kashi tumbled after Kellogg stopped letting Kashi run its business independently.

“There is a level of distrust among big institutions,” said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. “So there’s a very delicate balance for big companies to continue to support (the label) and let it grow, and taking costs out of it to make it more efficient.”

Joan Walsh, a Whole Foods customer from Seattle, is concerned that Amazon could ruin the shopping experience at her favorite store.

“I really like Whole Foods for its quality, customer service, and also its proximity to my home and the fact they have all-natural ingredients, non-GMO products,” said Walsh. “I just worry that Amazon will really degrade the kind of customer service and quality I’m accustomed to.”

Neither Amazon nor Whole Foods has said much about what they plan. They have said, though, that they don’t intend to change Whole Foods’ standards, which include a ban on artificial ingredients. And Wal-Mart says it’s keeping the stable of online brands it’s bought up, including ModCloth and Bonobos, independent. It says they won’t be sold in Wal-Mart stores – only through, which Wal-Mart acquired last year.

Andy Dunn, co-founder and CEO of Bonobos, said that when news of the possible deal leaked two months ago, it gave him a chance to test the reaction. And he found that customer growth actually accelerated.

But Dunn concedes there’s work to be done in appeasing what he calls a dissatisfied minority who are loud on social media. He says some shoppers don’t understand that Wal-Mart is a different company than it was in the past, and he plans to be a “mouthpiece” to trumpet the company’s moves to increase pay for workers and its environmental efforts.

Whole Foods’ most loyal shoppers were fairly negative about the Amazon deal, with almost 43 percent saying they thought it was a bad idea, according to a survey of more than 2,000 shoppers conducted by research firm GlobalData Retail after the purchase was announced. Most of the concerns centered around a possible change in food quality or the company’s ethical standards, the report said, and just over half fear the deal might mean Whole Foods becomes like “any other grocer.”

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 20:38:58 +0000
A lot to like for Zuckerberg as Facebook surpasses 2 billion users Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:23:26 +0000 MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook is reaching another milestone, announcing that it now has more than 2 billion users.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new marker was reached early Tuesday. In a Facebook post, he said he’s proud of the role his company is playing in connecting people around the world.

Facebook said that more than 175 million people declare they “love” something on the site daily, and an average of more than 800 million people hit Facebook’s like button.

Facebook users will likely see a personalized video celebrating the milestone in the next few days.

The company, based in Menlo Park, California, is putting more emphasis on creating virtual communities within the site while it also works to reduce violent, hateful and misleading content on the service.

]]> 0 demonstration booth is set up at Facebook's F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif. The company is about to release a video to celebrate topping 2 billion users.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:52:33 +0000
November trial scheduled for sheriff’s deputy charged with abusing girls Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:19:08 +0000 AUGUSTA — A Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy who faces 22 charges involving sexual abuse of three girls and supplying marijuana to one of them is scheduled to go on trial in November.

Kenneth L. Hatch III of Whitefield, who turns 47 on Wednesday, was in a courtroom briefly Tuesday at the Capital Judicial Center to hear Superior Court Justice William Stokes indicate the anticipated trial date.

Hatch, who was deputy of the year in 2015 and worked in law enforcement for 17 years, has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He remains free on bail with conditions that prohibit him from contact with minor children except under special, preapproved circumstances with authorized supervisors.

According to court documents, some of the alleged sexual abuse occurred on ride-alongs in Hatch’s cruiser.

Seventeen of the charges list one girl as the victim, three counts of sexual abuse of a minor involve a second girl, and a third is identified in connection with two charges of unlawful sexual contact.

While Hatch was indicted in Knox County in August 2016, and all 22 offenses are alleged to have occurred in the period from September 1999 to January 2014 in Lincoln County, Stokes ordered the case transferred to Kennebec County in October. Hatch objected to the change of venue.

Jury selection in the case is scheduled for Nov. 7-8.

Hatch’s attorney, Richard Elliott, and the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General John Risler, indicated the trial will take about a week.

It was unclear Tuesday whether Hatch remains on unpaid administrative leave from Lincoln County. The county administrator and the sheriff are out of the office for several days. The prosecutor said he was unaware of any change in Hatch’s status with the county.


]]> 0 Hatch IIITue, 27 Jun 2017 20:01:00 +0000
A day in a Maine village: From below zero to summer thunder Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:04:45 +0000 The National Weather Service reports that the temperature dipped below freezing to 31 degrees in Escourt Station, on the Canadian border, early Tuesday morning.

Meteorologist Mark Bloomer from the National Weather Service said Tuesday that such a cold reading in the summer is “pretty unusual but not unheard of.”

By Tuesday afternoon, however, the cold temperatures were forgotten as powerful thunderstorms moved across the state. On Thursday and Friday, the high temperatures there are expected to be in the low 70s.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:04:45 +0000
Facebook deleting 66,000 posts a week in crackdown on hate speech Tue, 27 Jun 2017 22:52:46 +0000 NEW YORK — Facebook said Tuesday that it has deleted about 66,000 posts a week in the past two months as the social media giant cracks down on what it deems to be hate speech.

The company said in a blog post that deleting posts can “feel like censorship,” but that it is working on explaining its process better and improving its enforcement of hate speech.

Facebook defines hate speech as attacks on people based on their race, sexual orientation and other “protected characteristics.” The Menlo Park, California, company said it mostly relies on its 2 billion users to report any hateful posts they see. Workers then review the posts and decide whether to delete them.

Facebook Inc. said it plans to hire an additional 3,000 people in the next year to review posts. That’s on top of the 4,500 people it currently has reviewing posts.

It has made mistakes, the company said. Last year it deleted the post of a black activist who had posted hate mail he received that included slurs. Facebook said it restored the post and apologized.

“We know that these kinds of mistakes are deeply upsetting for the people involved and cut against the grain of everything we are trying to achieve at Facebook,” Vice President Richard Allan said in the blog post.

Last week, Google said it was cracking down on terrorist propaganda and other extremist videos on its YouTube site amid intensifying criticism about the internet’s role in mass violence. It also said it was hiring more people to monitor hate and extremism online, and to prevent its dissemination through YouTube.

]]> 0 Facebook page launches on an iPhone. The company defines hate speech as attacks based on race, sexual orientation and other "protected characteristics."Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:59:09 +0000
Lewiston man sentenced to 15 years for infant son’s death Tue, 27 Jun 2017 22:52:45 +0000 AUBURN — A judge sentenced a Lewiston man Tuesday to 15 years in prison for manslaughter in the suffocation death of his 14-week-old son.

Danny Adams, 26, apologized to the mother of their son before he was sentenced in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

The Sun Journal reported that in December 2014, Adams forced the baby’s pacifier into his mouth, then put the infant in his crib and held his head down so he couldn’t spit it out.

A murder charge was dropped after Adams pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Justice MaryGay Kennedy sentenced Adams to 20 years in prison but suspended a portion of the sentence. She also ordered him to six years of probation when he’s released.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:19:20 +0000
Court rejects convicted murderer’s bid for release from Riverview Tue, 27 Jun 2017 22:28:24 +0000 The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower-court ruling Tuesday that a convicted murderer should not be released into the community from the Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Mark I. Gessner petitioned the courts to be released from Riverview, where he was committed after being found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity for aggravated assault and trafficking in prison contraband in 2011, while in prison.

Gessner, 53, originally of Waldoboro, was serving a 30-year term for the murder of Melvin Henderson, a florist in Bath, in May 1994. He completed that sentence in 2016, after serving 22 years and getting credit for “good time” under rules in effect at the time of his sentencing.

Because he had been committed for the other charges in 2011 while in prison, he was transferred to Riverview in February 2016, instead of being released.

He filed a petition for release one month after he arrived, first seeking to be released into the community unsupervised, then amending his request to seek a modified release allowing him to participate in community activities, under state supervision.

The Superior Court denied his petition for release, with state officials saying that they did not support any level of release into the community, and that they didn’t know what he would do in an environment different from prison.

Gessner has been diagnosed, according to court records, with multiple mental illnesses since 1993, including reactive psychosis, depression with psychotic features, schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations and delusional ideation. State officials said he had a history of refusing medication, both in prison and at Riverview. Documents indicate he did not consider himself to be mentally ill, and in his short stay at Riverview, he had not participated in counseling recommended by his primary provider.

Gessner appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, claiming the statute governing his opportunity for release from institutional inpatient residency was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him.

The court, in a decision issued Tuesday, denied his appeal and upheld the lower court’s decision to deny his petition to be released from Riverview.

“We are not persuaded, on this record, that the statutory language is unconstitutionally vague,” the justices wrote in their decision. “The trial court’s judgment provided Gessner with an explanation of how he failed to satisfy the statutory requirements – specifically, the court found Gessner had not acknowledged his mental illness or participated meaningfully in treatment, as advised by his primary care provider, to address his explosiveness and adjust to life outside of prison. Considering Gessner’s history of mental illness and violence, and his refusal to acknowledge his mental illness or participate in treatment, the statute’s terms are not vague for purposes of addressing the individual circumstances at issue here. Gessner has not met his burden of demonstrating that the court committed obvious error.”

Keith Edwards can be contact at 621-5647 or at:

Twitter: @kedwardskj

]]> 0 I. GessnerTue, 27 Jun 2017 20:01:06 +0000
Opinion podcast: Is a shutdown inevitable; millennial bristles at avocado toast Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:45:17 +0000 Is the state shutdown the inevitability that the governor assumes it to be? Editorial page editor Greg Kesich and columnist Bill Nemitz forecast the financial and political fallout from the closure of state services and halting of payroll. They also examine the purpose of the American Health Care Act and how U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ public opposition could affect negotiations.  (Since we recorded, Collins announced her dissatisfaction with the bill and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the vote until after the July 4 recess.)

Also in this episode, reader Victoria Hugo-Vidal joins Kesich to talk about her letter explaining millennial economics and personal finance. Her frank and funny personal writing earned her the May Letter Writer of the Month crown, which now comes with the offer of a podcast appearance.

Related Stories:

LePage says he believes the government will shut down Friday

Maine Voices: Senate health care bill will put older Mainers, cancer patients at risk

Letter to the editor: Forget avocado toast—many millennials barely surviving

Podcast links:

Press Herald Podcast RSS Feed

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe on Android

Stream on Stitcher

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 19:56:52 +0000
Kennebunk man sentenced to 2½ years for illegally possessing firearms Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:16:13 +0000 A Kennebunk man was sentenced Tuesday to 2½ years in federal prison for illegal possession of firearms.

Justin Riggall, 37, who pleaded guilty in February, was also ordered to undergo three years of supervised release after completing his prison term.

He was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Portland by Judge D. Brock Hornby.

Court records show that Riggall handled two pistols his girlfriend purchased at the Kittery Trading Post in February 2016, Acting U.S. Attorney Richard W. Murphy said in a statement.

A couple of weeks after the gun purchase, Riggall was arrested in Biddeford after police officers encountered him driving his truck in a residential neighborhood at about 30 mph as his girlfriend was leaning out of the open passenger side door. Officers recovered two pistols – one of which was loaded – and several shell casings from Riggall’s truck, Murphy said.

Riggall was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a 2012 conviction in Maine for the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence involving his former spouse.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 17:31:23 +0000
Sanford officials to seek state and federal funds to help clean up burned-out mill Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:10:22 +0000 Sanford officials are seeking state and federal funds to help assess and clean up environmental contamination at the Stenton Trust Mill building that was gutted by a fire last week.

The Sanford City Council on Tuesday asked City Manager Steven Buck to continue to explore options to pay for what could be a costly and time-consuming cleanup of the site that contains two long-vacant mill buildings. Councilors said the ultimate goal should be the removal of both mill buildings on the property to prepare it to be sold for redevelopment.

The meeting comes as city officials are working to untangle who owns the property and determine who will pay to secure and demolish the hulking structures.

It took 155 firefighters from 26 communities 7 million gallons of water and several days to completely extinguish the massive fire that engulfed one of the Stenton Trust Mill buildings Friday night. Three boys – two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old – have been charged with felony arson in connection with the blaze.

“We are told that this is a career fire, that it just does not happen ever,” Buck said while showing drone footage of the fire engulfing the vacant mill.

Buck’s update to the council during an emergency meeting was the first time councilors and the public have been updated on both the response to extinguish and investigate the fire, as well as the complicated matter of figuring out who owns the property and who is going to pay for the cleanup.

According to city tax records, Gateway Properties LLC, operated by Jonathan Morse, is the current registered owner of the mill, but Morse has denied that he owns the property, Buck said.

Gateway and Morse purchased the property in 1999, but fell behind on its mortgage payments and property taxes within a decade.

The Savings Bank of Maine was the last entity that paid property taxes for the buildings in 2009, according to the Sanford treasury office, when it cut a check for $15,109.31 to cover the 2006 tax year.

An auction in 2009 yielded a high bidder, Boston Commons Investments LLC, which agreed to pay $210,000 for the property, but the deal fell apart before it could be closed, Buck said.

The York County registry of deeds shows the last entry for the property was at the same time of the auction, when Gardiner Savings Institution moved to foreclose on Nov. 10, 2009, and entered Boston Commons Investments as the high bidder.

But the deed to the property was never transferred, leading to the ongoing confusion over who will be responsible for the property and the cleanup.

The city of Sanford also passed multiple times on foreclosing on the property, which would have made the city its legal owner. Every year since 2010, Sanford has waived its right to foreclose, according to city documents.

The taxes remain unpaid today.

At last tally, the owner of the building owes Sanford $157,521.72 in unpaid property taxes, not accounting for fees and interest.

There are numerous other liens on the property for water and sewerage fees, as well as liens filed by contractors who claim they were never paid by Gateway Properties for services rendered at the building over the years.

The complex includes two five-story brick and concrete buildings and a one-story connecting structure. The front building, which faces River Street, sustained minor damage from the fire.


Within two days of the fire, Buck was contacting the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about options to apply for state and federal funds to help pay for clean up at the property.

While the mill building was known to contain asbestos, Buck said initial assessments from the DEP indicate there are no signs of water or air contamination associated with the fire. Buck said that monitoring is ongoing and will include a visit to the city this week by a representative of the DEP’s asbestos and lead paint division.

The state’s Brownfield coordinator has sent a recommendation to the EPA for assessment under the EPA Removal Program and the city should get a response by the end of the week, Buck said.

If the city does not receive any federal or state assistance, it will have to pay for the remediation and removal of the buildings through a bond or use of the undesignated fund balance, Buck said. He did not have an estimate Tuesday for how much that could cost the city, but earlier said just the removal of debris could top $500,000.

“Let’s hope we get some assistance,” he said.

The City Council unanimously authorized spending $4,600 to rent more than 1,000 feet of construction fencing for six months to secure the mill buildings, which are no longer considered a crime scene.

Assistant Fire Chief Steve Cutter said the immediate concern about the building is the stability of the structure, which was built in the 1920s using steel and concrete. During the fire, one wall appears to have twisted outward. The steel has lost strength because of the exposure to intense heat from the fire.

City councilors cited the safety hazard at the building as one of the primary factors for taking down the buildings, but they also discussed the opportunity to sell the property to a developer.

“I feel we should take both buildings down, both from a public safety and economic development standpoint,” Councilor Lucas Lanigan said. “It’s in the heart of our downtown and could be a good opportunity to create a new face for our community.”


Investigators have not released details of how they believe the fire started, but the three boys each have been charged with one count of felony arson in connection with the blaze. According to the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the flames are believed to have originated on the mill’s third floor and rapidly spread to engulf the entire building.

The boys were ordered detained by a judge on Monday, and are being held at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. All three boys are due back in court July 27.

There is no bail for juveniles, who must go before a judge to determine whether they will be incarcerated, released temporarily pending the outcome of their cases or admitted to alternative accommodations, such as a treatment program.

All boys denied responsibility for the charge, the equivalent in the juvenile justice system of entering a not guilty plea.

No one answered the door at the homes of two of the boys. A woman who answered the door at the third home ordered a reporter off the property and would not comment further.

During the City Council meeting, several councilors mentioned how often city youths entered the building, including to use a “skate park” on an upper floor of one building. Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy implored other children to stay out of the buildings.

“These (boys) are three of hundreds who have been in those mills and done something stupid,” she said.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

]]> 0 Fire Chief Steve Benotti and firefighter Todd Levesque survey the still smoldering abandoned mill in Sanford on Sunday.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:47:40 +0000
State wants to replace, not renovate, aging Brunswick-Topsham bridge Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:45:45 +0000 An aging bridge between Brunswick and Topsham should be demolished and replaced, not renovated, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.

The department and the Federal Highway Administration have considered options to fix or replace the Frank J. Wood Bridge over the Androscoggin River for years. Local activists have pushed to repair the 86-year-old truss bridge and preserve it as a historic structure. A preservationist group said Tuesday it intends to continue opposing bridge replacement, and may challenge the project in court.

In a statement Tuesday, the MDOT said replacing the bridge with a new span slightly upstream was the preferred alternative. The project is expected to cost $15 million and will take at least 2½ years to complete.

The substantial determining factors for choosing to replace the bridge included the long-term costs of rehabilitation – approximately double the cost of replacement – and the improved safety and accommodation of bicycle travel, the department said.

Choosing a course of action is a “major formal step” but the project still needs to undergo environmental analysis, according to the department.

“This is how we are leaning, but we have to get through the environmental process to be sure,” said MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot.

The heavily traveled bridge is the main thoroughfare between downtown Brunswick and Topsham, and carries approximately 19,000 vehicles a day. With its advanced age, however, the bridge has begun to show structural problems, identified in multiple engineering reports. Last year heavy trucks were prohibited from using the bridge after an inspection showed “ongoing and fast” deterioration of structural steel.

Four options were considered by the department, including building a new bridge at the same location, estimated to cost $18 million, and two renovation options costing between $17.5 million and $19.5 million.

The MDOT proposed replacing the bridge more than a year ago but ran into opposition from local activists who wanted to restore and preserve the span. Some worried removing the bridge would affect historic mills and neighborhoods on either side of the river and wanted the bridge itself to be given historic designation.

In a statement, John Graham, president of Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, said the group was “very disappointed to say the least” with the department’s decision.

“MDOT has never seriously considered the rehabilitation option for this bridge and continues to use unverified assumptions on the rehabilitation cost and future maintenance to skew the service life costs in favor of their ‘chosen’ alternative,” Graham said.

The group believes the MDOT has not correctly followed a historic review process, Graham added. It will continue to advocate for the bridge in additional historic and environmental reviews, and is prepared to pursue a legal challenge if necessary, Graham said.

The department has undertaken a federal review to ensure the historic nature of the bridge is considered and is now determining “how best to mitigate any adverse effects the preferred alternative has on historic properties,” Talbot said.

The proposed two-lane bridge would be sited slightly upriver from the existing span. Preliminary designs include two travel lanes and sidewalks on either side of the bridge. The project could go out to bid in late 2018 and construction could start the next year, Talbot said.


]]> 0 Frank Woods Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham, showing its age in August 2016, should be replaced rather than renovated, says the Maine Department of Transportation.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:33:08 +0000
Saddleback reaches ‘historic deal’ for ski resort’s future Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:04:46 +0000 After not operating for the past two winters, the Saddleback ski area outside Rangeley is expected to finally be sold, but not to the local group that has been working for more than a year to buy Maine’s third-largest ski resort.

The buyer will be announced Wednesday at a news conference held by the ski area’s owners, Bill and Irene Berry, who called the prospective sale a “historic deal.”

The Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a consortium of local business owners, nonprofits, and season-pass holders that has been working to raise money to buy the resort, will be at the news conference to learn about the new buyer, said Wolfe Tone, the foundation’s acting executive director.

“We are going to assemble tomorrow as a group. We want to listen to their plan and learn more about it,” Tone said after confirming that the foundation is not the potential buyer.

The Berrys plan a news conference at the Saddleback ski lodge at 10 a.m. Wednesday to introduce the new owners along with representatives from the offices of Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

The Berry family announced the ski area would go up for sale on July 20, 2015, unless they could secure $3 million in financing for a new chairlift. When they failed to raise the money, the mountain stayed closed for the past two ski seasons while the family pursued a buyer.

The ski area drew between 80,000 and 100,000 skiers in the seasons before it closed and employed 350 people, making it the third-largest employer in Franklin County, the Berrys reported in 2016.

The Berrys have owned Saddleback since 2003 and in the past 15 years have invested $40 million in improvements, including a new base lodge, two quad chairlifts, new trails and improved snowmaking.

Three times in the past two years, the ski area announced on Facebook a possible buyer, but none of the deals ever materialized.

In October, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation announced at a Portland news conference that a verbal agreement had been reached with Irene and Bill Berry to buy the core ski area for $6 million. At the same news conference, Tone said the Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation had reached an agreement with the Berrys to purchase another 3,249 acres around the ski area for an undetermined sale price to preserve as conservation land.

Stephen Philbrick, a member of the foundation and the owner of Bald Mountain Camps in Oquossoc, then reported that the Rangeley region lost as much as $17 to $20 million in revenue because Saddleback sat idle the winter of 2015-2016.

Many season-pass holders were thrilled to learn Tuesday that someone is buying the resort. Even some who have worked with the Saddleback Mountain Foundation said they are happy with any buyer – long as Saddleback opens this winter.

Jamie Wright, owner of Gorham Bike and Ski, held an event for the foundation at his store to help get the word out about the foundation’s effort to buy the ski area. When 50 people showed up, Wright was delighted.

But now he’s delighted there is an announcement of any buyer.

“I”m very excited about a new owner even if it means it’s not the Saddleback Mountain Foundation. I also bought into the foundation and hope I get my money back,” said Wright, who owns a condo on the mountain.

Saddleback skier Gary Small of Freeport said he helped the foundation in its effort, but is thrilled at the news that the mountain might open.

“There are so many rumors. Really, nobody knows anything until we know (Wednesday),” Small said. “I’m happy to have the mountain open under any condition. I think most people who are part (of the foundation) are. The main thing we want is a sustainable owner who is not just going to parcel out the property.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: FlemingPph

]]> 0 Chibroski / Staff Photographer: On Friday, December 28, 2012, skiers on the South Branch Quad Chair lift at Saddleback ski resort pass by the modest looking Base Lodge filled with other skiers getting ready to enjoy the day at the Rangeley resort.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:54:32 +0000
Threatening letter sent to Portland mosque likely came from UK, police say Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:42:56 +0000 The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has issued a statement of support for a local Islamic center that received a threatening letter last week.

The letter arrived at the Islamic Society of Portland on June 20. Its contents have prompted the Portland Police Department to launch a hate crime investigation.

Titled “Muslim,” the note said: “I will enjoy the sight of the blood of you and your fellow vermin running into the streets. It will be a great experience come August. Life will never be the same again.”

In a statement Tuesday, Bishop Robert Deeley offered his support to the Islamic center, Imam El Harith Mohamed and all those affected by the threat in the letter.

“A threat against one faith is a threat against all who value religious freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution,” the statement reads. “It is foundational to who we are as Americans. As Catholics, our faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his message compels us to stand up in support of that freedom, especially when the threat to its existence also challenges human dignity and the rights supporting and celebrating that dignity.”

Portland police Lt. Robert Martin said the stamps and postmark on the letter have led investigators to believe it was mailed from the United Kingdom. The note is being examined to determine whether it has links to similar threats against Islamic centers or mosques around the country. No further information was available Tuesday about the case.

“We’re still working with federal authorities to see if it matches up with anything they have,” Martin said.

Police consider the threat a hate crime because it targeted a group of people based on their religion. The designation means a perpetrator can face additional punishment if convicted.

Portland police increased patrols around the mosque and other Muslim gathering places in response to the note. Last week, Mohamed said Muslims who worship at the mosque at the edge of the city’s downtown would not let the letter make them fearful. The Islamic Center of Portland has 500 or so members.

“We have been here a long time and we don’t have a problem,” the imam said. “Portland is secure and safe.”

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 18:22:38 +0000
Famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey files again for bankruptcy Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:17:15 +0000 Famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey has filed for bankruptcy again to tie up loose ends following his bankruptcy filing last year.

The attorney, whose high-profile clients have included O.J. Simpson, discharged more than $4 million in debt to the Internal Revenue Service in the previous case.

The new Chapter 13 filing aims to resolve liens on Bailey’s home in Yarmouth, personal property, pensions and book royalties and to set up a payment plan, his bankruptcy attorney, John Molleur, said Tuesday.

“He’d finally like to be left alone and move on with his life. He’s been fighting with the IRS for many years,” Molleur said.

The filing says he has assets totaling between $100,000 and $500,000 and liabilities totaling between $1 million and $10 million.

Bailey was one of Simpson’s attorneys during the former NFL star’s 1995 murder trial, which ended in his acquittal in the killings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

Bailey first rose to national prominence in the 1960s, successfully defending Dr. Sam Sheppard of Ohio, who was charged with murdering his pregnant wife. He also represented Albert DeSalvo, who claimed to be the Boston Strangler.

Bailey was disbarred in Florida in 2001 over his handling of shares of stock owned by a client who pleaded guilty to drug smuggling and money laundering. That stock also led to the dispute with the IRS, which said Bailey owed $1.9 million because of his failure to report some of the stock proceeds as income. With interest and penalties, the IRS filed liens against Bailey totaling $4.5 million.

]]> 0 defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, shown in his office in Yarmouth in 2014, has filed for bankruptcy again to tie up loose ends following his bankruptcy filing in 2016.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:11:23 +0000
Cyberattack hits Europe, U.S., with widespread ransom demands Tue, 27 Jun 2017 17:26:31 +0000 PARIS — A new and highly virulent outbreak of data-scrambling software – apparently sown in Ukraine – caused disruption across the world Tuesday. Following a similar attack in May, the fresh cyber-assault paralyzed some hospitals, government offices and major multinational corporations in a dramatic demonstration of how easily malicious programs can bring daily life to a halt.

Ukraine and Russia appeared hardest hit by the new strain of ransomware – malicious software that locks up computer files with all-but-unbreakable encryption and then demands ransom for their release. In the United States, the malware affected companies such as the drugmaker Merck and Mondelez International, the owner of food brands such as Oreo and Nabisco.

Its pace appeared to slow as the day wore on, in part because the malware appeared to require direct contact between computer networks, a factor that may have limited its spread in regions with fewer connections to Ukraine.

The malware’s origins remain unclear. Researchers picking the program apart found evidence that its creators had borrowed from leaked National Security Agency code, raising the possibility that the digital havoc had spread with U.S. taxpayer-funded tools.

“The virus is spreading all over Europe and I’m afraid it can harm the whole world,” said Victor Zhora, chief executive of Infosafe IT in Kiev, where reports of the malicious software first emerged early Tuesday afternoon.

In Ukraine, victims included top-level government offices, where officials posted photos of darkened computer screens, as well as energy companies, banks, cash machines, gas stations and supermarkets. Ukrainian Railways and the communications company Ukrtelecom were among the major enterprises hit, said Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Omelyan in a Facebook post.

The virus hit the radiation monitoring at Ukraine’s closed Chernobyl power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, forcing it into manual operation.

Multinational companies including the global law firm DLA Piper and Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk were also affected, although the firms didn’t specify the extent of the damage.

Ukraine bore the brunt with more than 60 percent of the attacks, followed by Russia with more than 30 percent, according to initial findings by researchers at the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. It listed Poland, Italy and Germany, in that order, as the next-worst affected.

In the U.S., two hospitals in western Pennsylvania were hit; patients reported on social media that some surgeries had to be rescheduled. A spokeswoman for Heritage Valley Health System would say only that operational changes had to be made. A Wellsville, Ohio, woman who was at one of its hospitals to have her gallbladder removed said she noticed computer monitors off and nurses scurrying around with stacks of paperwork.

Security experts said Tuesday’s global cyberattack shares something with last month’s outbreak of ransomware, dubbed WannaCry . Both spread using digital lock picks originally created by the NSA and later published to the web by a still-mysterious group known as the Shadowbrokers.

Security vendors including Bitdefender and Kaspersky said the NSA exploit, known as EternalBlue, lets malware spread rapidly across internal networks at companies and other large organizations. Microsoft issued a security fix in March, but Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer at the security firm Veracode, said it would be effective only if every single computer on a network were patched – otherwise, a single infected machine could infect all others.

“Once activated, the virus can automatically and freely distribute itself on your network,” Ukraine’s cyberpolice tweeted.

Bogdan Botezatu, an analyst with Bitdefender, compared such self-spreading software to a contagious disease. “It’s like somebody sneezing into a train full of people,” he said.

Ryan Kalember, a security expert at Proofpoint, said one reason the attacks appeared to be slowing down was that the ransomware appears to spread only when a direct contact exists between two networks – such as when a global company’s Ukraine office interacts with headquarters.

But once it hits a computer on a network, it spreads quickly, even among computers that have applied the fix for the NSA exploit.

“It’s more harmful to the organization that it affects, but because it’s not randomly spreading over the internet like WannaCry, it’s somewhat contained to the organizations that were connected to each other,” Kalember said.

Botezatu said the new program appeared nearly identical to GoldenEye, a variant of a known family of hostage-taking programs known as “Petya.” It demanded $300 in Bitcoin.

Unlike typical ransomware, which merely scrambles personal data files, the program wreaking havoc Tuesday overwrites a computer’s master boot record, making it tougher to restore even a machine that has been backed up, said Kalember.

It may have first spread through a rogue update to a piece of Ukrainian accounting software called MEDoc, according to tweets by the country’s cyberpolice unit. It said a rogue update seeded the infection across Ukraine. In a lengthy statement posted to Facebook, MEDoc acknowledged having been hacked.

The motives of those behind the malware remain unknown. Ukraine has been a persistent target of pro-Russian hackers, who are blamed for twice shutting down large swaths of its power grid in the dead of winter and sabotaging its elections system in a bid to disrupt May 2014 national elections.

Emails sent Tuesday to an address posted to the bottom of ransom demands went unreturned. That might be because the email provider hosting that address, Berlin-based Posteo, pulled the plug on the account before the infection became widely known.

In an email, a Posteo representative said it had blocked the email address “immediately” after learning that it was associated with ransomware. The company added that it was in contact with German authorities “to make sure that we react properly.”

]]> 0 - In this Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, file photo, Merck scientist Meizhen Feng conducts research to discover new HIV drugs in West Point, Pa. According to reports, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, Merck will buy fellow drugmaker Cubist Pharmaceuticals for $8.4 billion, illustrating a new emphasis on combating so-called “superbugs” that have drawn dire warnings from global health organizations. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)Tue, 27 Jun 2017 20:36:54 +0000
Five years ago, another trooper stopped a wrong-way driver, and recorded it Tue, 27 Jun 2017 17:02:09 +0000 This is the dashcam video of the trooper racing to stop a wrong-way driver in 2012.

Maine State Police Trooper Douglas Cropper stopped a wrong-way driver on Interstate 295 by deliberately crashing into him on June 29, 2012.

Cropper and the wrong-way driver emerged unscathed from the crash in Portland, which was captured on the trooper’s dashboard cam.


]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 20:57:51 +0000
Maine tops 30 states in first-quarter growth of personal incomes Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:59:47 +0000 Personal income in Maine rose 1.1 percent in the first quarter, on par with national income growth.

Maine’s personal income increased to $59.8 billion in the first three months of 2017, compared with about $59.1 billion in the last quarter of 2016, according to statistics released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Maine’s personal income growth was ranked 20th out of the 50 states for the first quarter.

Nationwide, personal income grew 1 percent, compared with 0.3 percent in the last quarter of 2016, according to the bureau.

Maine’s income growth was driven by a 2.2 percent increase in transfer receipts – income from programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans benefits. Net earnings, including salaries, wages, bonuses and business owner income, rose 0.9 percent, while investment income rose 0.6 percent.

Construction earnings led the way in the first quarter, with a 0.18 percent increase, while earnings from health care and social assistance rose by 0.10 percent.

Forestry and fishing earnings were the biggest drag on state income, dipping 0.03 percent from the previous quarter.

Maine tied with New Hampshire for quarterly income growth among the six New England states. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont rose by 1 percent, and Connecticut grew 0.9 percent.

Idaho had the fastest-growing personal income, at 1.6 percent, and Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and Texas grew by 1.3 percent. Income growth was slowest in Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa, and income contracted by 0.1 percent in Nebraska.

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Arsenault, left, and Alan Nielsen of B.H. Milliken work on a construction site at the Hiawatha building in Portland on Friday. Construction was one of the sectors that showed strong employment gains in Maine during March.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:39:12 +0000
Ying Quartet opens Bowdoin music festival with clearer mission Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:55:00 +0000 Now in their third year as artistic directors of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Phillip and David Ying are beginning to find directions that will help them put their own stamp on the festival. The challenge they have faced should not be underestimated. When they took over, in 2015, the festival had been run for half a century by its founder, the estimable Lewis Kaplan (who has gone on to establish the Portland Bach Festival), and it had a format and programming traditions that had evolved successfully over that time.

No director will simply jettison those, so it wasn’t surprising that in their first season, the Yings programmed cautiously, but experimented with mixing students and faculty in the festival concerts, a charming idea that did not always yield top flight performances. Last year, the Yings programmed more adventurously, with a focus on guest string quartets and unusual contemporary works, as well as an overall theme – Reinvention – that didn’t always work, program to program, but which conveyed the Yings’ overall intentions for the festival.

At this year’s festival, which opened Monday evening at Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus with a performance by the Ying Quartet, the shape of this reinvention is becoming clearer, with the addition of a series of composer talks, an expansion into non-traditional spaces in Brunswick and other cities – among them Portland, Yarmouth and Topsham – and the live internet streaming of several concerts. The festival’s educational mission has expanded slightly as well: This year 270 students have come to study with the festival’s players and composers, up from 255 last summer.

To open the festival’s 53rd year, the Ying Quartet played a program of Russian music, with works by Prokofiev and Stravinsky, from the outskirts of the standard canon, plus a Tchaikovsky favorite, the “Souvenir of Florence” Sextet (Op. 70), for which they were joined by violist Dimitri Murrath and cellist David Requiro.

Prokofiev composed his String Quartet No. 2 in F major (Op. 92) in 1941, when the Soviet government sent him to Nalchik, a remote town in the Caucasus, to keep him out of harm’s way while the Nazis were bombing Moscow. Taken with folk music of his temporary home in the Kabardino-Balkar region, Prokofiev transformed some of the melodies he heard – and, to some extent, the timbres of the rough-hewn instruments the locals played – into the raw materials for his quartet.

They suited Prokofiev’s style, sometimes tempering the composer’s acerbic edge, sometimes magnifying it. You can hear some of the simple, sometimes brash melodies, and squared-off rhythms weaving through the quartet’s three movements; but you also hear Prokofiev’s carefully considered refinements, in passages where he harmonizes those elements and expands upon them. There is also plenty of pure Prokofiev, more melancholy than dour here, but still full of anxiety.

The Ying Quartet, which in addition to David and Phillip, includes violinists Robin Scott and Janet Ying, highlighted the work’s contrasting folksiness and sophistication – and tapped into its wartime anxieties – with a compelling flexibility. Their sense of color was vivid, but natural; at times you could almost hear the folk ensembles that inspired Prokofiev, peeking through the quartet textures.

An equally variegated account of Stravinsky’s Concertino (1920) closed the first half of the program. Mostly, Stravinsky’s astringent harmonies and involved rhythms make his piece sound more adventurously modern than Prokofiev’s, despite its having been composed 21 years earlier. But this compact piece (it runs just over six and half minutes) also offers glimpses of the neo-Classical style to which Stravinsky was beginning to gravitate.

After the intermission, the quartet set aside the angularities and dissonances of the first half, and dove into Tchaikovsky’s picturesque, melody-rich sextet, as lush and steamy a work as you’ll find in the Romantic repertory.

It was a fiery performance, brisk, hard-driven, but with opportunities for all six players to let their instruments sing, particularly in the slow movement, the heart of which is an almost operatic duet between the violin (Scott) and cello (David Ying), set against a pizzicato accompaniment. Striking, too, was the rhythmic accenting of the Allegro vivace finale, which sounded, in the context of the full program, like a precursor to Prokofiev’s rhythmic adventures.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: kozinn

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 17:50:01 +0000
First Maine case of measles in 20 years confirmed in Farmington area Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:46:28 +0000 The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a travel-associated case of measles in Franklin County, the first confirmed instance of the highly contagious respiratory disease in Maine in two decades.

The case was confirmed Monday at the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory, said Dr. Siiri Bennett, the state epidemiologist. The last reported measles case in Maine was diagnosed in 1997.

State officials refused to identify the person associated with the Franklin County case, but said the person contracted the virus overseas. Farmington hospital officials said a female was involved, but neither they nor Bennett would say if the case involved a child or an adult. They also would not say whether the person had been vaccinated.

No other measles cases have been reported or are under investigation in Maine, but officials are concerned enough about the potential exposure to urge people to watch for symptoms. Anyone potentially exposed who experiences symptoms should call a primary care provider before going to an office or hospital so preparations can be made to prevent spread of the virus, Bennett said.

“If it is, in fact, measles, we don’t want (patients) in any waiting room,” Bennett said. “We don’t want them to expose others.”

Bennett urged anyone eligible for a measles vaccination to get one. The virus is highly infectious and unvaccinated people have up to a 90 percent chance of contracting the disease if exposed. Last year there were about 70 cases of measles in the U.S., down from 188 in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There already were 100 suspected cases by May this year.

Though Maine consistently has one of the highest immunization opt-out rates in the country – usually ranking in the top 10 for unvaccinated students, according to the federal CDC – the state has made progress in improving its immunization rate for measles.

Measles, which is spread by coughing or sneezing, is a viral disease characterized by high fever, rash, cough, runny nose, and red eyes caused by the measles virus. The rash typically starts at the head before moving down the body, and presents as flat or raised red spots. The infection can cause severe health complications including pneumonia, encephalitis and death. An infected person is contagious from four days before the rash starts through four days afterward.

The virus remains alive for as long as two hours on surfaces and in the air after an infected person leaves an area. The incubation period for the disease is typically 10 to 14 days, but can be as long as 21 days.

State officials said the public may have been exposed to measles at these times and locations: on June 15 from 4-9 p.m. at the Narrow Gauge Cinema in Farmington, on June 15 from 7-11 p.m. at Grantlee’s Tavern and Grill in Farmington, on June 17 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Farmington Farmers Market, on June 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kingfield Woodsman, on June 18 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Restaurant la Chocolateria in Quebec City, on June 18 from 8-10:30 p.m. in the Franklin Memorial Hospital emergency room in Farmington, and on June 19 from noon to 12:30 p.m. in the Franklin Memorial Hospital laboratory in Farmington.

Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, where the patient arrived Sunday for care, was checking immunization records for any personnel who might have been exposed, said Becky Wood, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services.

Typically, Wood said, when a patient arrives with coughing symptoms, staff members will put a mask on the patient and isolate the person for treatment, using dedicated equipment to ensure no further transmission. Wood said anyone who might have symptoms should contact his or her primary care provider. If symptoms are consistent with the disease, testing may be done to determine whether a person is infected.

The measles vaccine – which treats measles, mumps and rubella – is highly effective and is widely used around the world, state officials said. Typically, the vaccine is administered to children before they’re a year old and a second dose is usually administered from age 4 to age 6.

Officials said any suspected cases of measles should be reported immediately to (800) 821-5821.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 21:34:28 +0000
Ruling in travel ban leaves many questions unanswered Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:01:52 +0000 Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court’s decision to partially reinstate President Trump’s temporary travel ban has left the effort to keep some foreigners out of the United States in a murky middle ground, with unanswered questions and possibly more litigation ahead.

The justices ruled Monday in an unsigned opinion they would hold a full hearing on the case in October. In the meantime, the administration can bar travelers from six majority-Muslim countries from the U.S. if they don’t have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship” with someone or some entity in the country.

It’s unclear what will ultimately constitute a “bona fide relationship,” though the ruling suggested that an American job, school enrollment or a close relative could meet that threshold. Equally unclear is how many foreigners will be affected from the six countries: Syria, Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

The ruling was seen as at least a partial victory for Trump in the biggest court case of his presidency. Trump claims the temporary ban is needed to prevent terrorist attacks. Opponents reject that and argue it’s a backdoor way to bar Muslims from entering the United States, as Trump promised in his campaign.

The early indications are that the administration will use the decision to take a tough line on travelers from those countries. A senior U.S. official familiar with the situation said the Trump administration has plans in place to relaunch the stalled ban and tourists will be among those kept out.

Under these plans, largely orchestrated by White House adviser Stephen Miller, tourists from those countries and any academics, lecturers or others invited to speak or make presentations in the U.S. will be barred. Those groups are regarded as unable to show a substantial and pre-existing tie to a person or institution in the United States. The official who described the plans was not authorized to discuss them publicly by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

But barring a lecturer already set to speak could cause legal trouble for the government. The Supreme Court opinion specifically said people who accepted a job offer with an American company or “a lecturer invited to address an American audience” could prove a “bona fide relationship.”

But some immigration lawyers and advocates said relatively few people would fall under the ban because these travelers tend to have sufficient relationships with people or institutions in the United States.

Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council, said most Iranians who visit the United States have relatives here or are coming to work or study. He said his group has no idea how the administration plans to judge family relationships and a hard line could mean a significant number of Iranians will be kept out the country for the time being.

It could also mean more lawsuits if advocates for immigrants believe the administration is going beyond the Supreme Court’s guidelines in barring visitors to the United States.

Like the fate of would-be tourists and scholars, the immediate future for refugees is murky.

In its opinion, the court partially reinstated Trump’s temporary prohibition on refugees from any country, using criteria similar to that used in the travel ban. The effect on refugees could be greater because they are less likely to have family, school or business relationships in the United States.

Lavinia Limon, CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said she was dismayed by the ruling, but insisted that her agency has “an existing relationship with incoming refugees, certified and arranged through the Department of State.”

“Travel plans are in process, beds have been made and staff around the country plan to meet new Americans at the airports today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks and months,” Limon said.

Trump’s initial travel ban caused panic and chaos at airports around the world in late January as it took effect immediately after being signed. Refugees, legal U.S. residents and visa holders were turned back at airports or barred from boarding U.S.-bound planes. A federal court blocked it about a week later.

There may be less confusion as the ban is partially reinstated. The administration has revised its travel ban to exclude legal residents and visa holders. Also, the government said last week the ban would go into effect 72 hours after the Supreme Court ruling – which would be Thursday morning in Washington.

Associated Press reporters Ted Bridis and Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

]]> 0 wave signs and chant during a May demonstration against President Trump's revised travel ban, outside a federal courthouse in Seattle. The Supreme Court is letting the Trump administration enforce its 90-day ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries, overturning lower court orders that blocked it.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:01:52 +0000
State trooper injured while stopping wrong-way driver on turnpike Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:00:27 +0000 A Maine State Trooper was slightly injured Monday night when he drove his cruiser into a car that was driving the wrong way on the Maine Turnpike in Sabattus.

Trooper Lee Vanadestine encountered the car around 10 p.m. as it was driving in a construction area in the southbound lane, according to state police.

Vanadestine pulled his cruiser alongside the car and forced it into the median guardrail after state police received a number of calls reporting the wrong-way driver.

The driver, 67-year-old Steven Burns of Augusta, told troopers he got confused after entering the turnpike at the Sabattus exit. He drove four miles in the wrong direction, according to police.

Vanadestine had bumps and bruises but did not require hospitalization. Burns was not injured.

Troopers did not file any immediate charges against Burns, but the incident will be reviewed, police said.

Troopers also plan to notified the Secretary of State’s Office to have Burns’ driver’s license status reviewed.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 13:03:30 +0000
Legislature divided over ranked-choice voting Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:55:59 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Maine House and Senate passed conflicting versions of ranked-choice voting legislation Tuesday, making the future of the first-in-the-nation, voter-approved measure uncertain.

The Senate voted Tuesday morning to repeal the ranked-choice law. The 21-13 vote comes after the state’s high court gave an advisory opinion that electing members of the Legislature and the governor by ranked choice did not comply with the Maine Constitution, which calls for those offices to be selected by a plurality of voters.

But just moments after the Senate action, and with no debate, the House of Representatives voted 79-66 to leave parts of the law intact for primary voting and congressional elections. The House bill also leaves open the door to ranked-choice voting for governor and the Legislature if a constitutional amendment is passed in the future.

The House bill should please supporters of the new law, who said lawmakers should implement the parts that were not found unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in May.

The court issued its unanimous advisory opinion after the Maine Senate asked it for guidance in February.

“The object must always be to ‘ascertain the will of the people,’ ” the court wrote of the ranked-choice initiative approved by voters. “Nonetheless, when a statute – including one enacted by citizen initiative – conflicts with a constitutional provision, the constitution prevails.”

The advisory opinion itself didn’t negate ranked-choice voting. Only a legal challenge in the courts could do that. But the justices did spell out the Legislature’s options, noting that lawmakers could vote to repeal the measure or to initiate the process that leads to a constitutional amendment to support ranked-choice voting.

But an effort to send the law back out for a constitutional amendment – which would have to be approved by voters in a statewide referendum and then supported by a two-thirds vote of lawmakers – failed in the Legislature last week.

Opponents of the law have argued that implementing two different types of voting systems in Maine will be costly and confusing for the state and municipal voting officials and volunteers.

Others have said voters were misled when they were told by the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which backed the ballot measure, that the new law was fully constitutional, when it turned out it wasn’t.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate had more than 50 percent of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidate, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, said his city has used ranked-choice voting for its mayoral elections for six years and neither voters nor election officials have had any problems using two different voting systems.

“We thought it was going to be very complicated and very difficult when we tried to implement this system to have ranked-choice voting on one side of the ballot and non-ranked-choice voting races on the other side of the ballot,” Chipman said. “Turns out that didn’t happen.”

But Sen. Bill Diamond, D- Windham, a former Maine secretary of state who was responsible for statewide elections, said two systems would be too complicated and costly to implement statewide.

“To try to do two fundamentally different election systems at the same time, not only is that not practical, it’s totally unfair to everybody back home that works so hard to make our elections work,” Diamond said. “It just does not make sense that we try to run two elections at the same time.”

Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, said he supported ranked-choice voting, but as a lawmaker he had sworn an oath to uphold the constitution.

“I’m not willing to support us going into a constitutional crisis nor into an electoral process crisis,” Brakey said, asserting that the only option now is to repeal the new law.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, said Brakey was only partially right.

“Our role is twofold,” she said. “We need to uphold and defend the constitution and I do think there is a path forward that will allow us to do that – and second and very important is to uphold the will of the people. We are elected to represent the people, not ourselves.”

More than 388,000 voters, or 52 percent of those who cast ballots on the question last fall, supported ranked-choice voting.

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 1: Former state representative Diane Russell speaks during a Rally To Defend Ranked Choice Voting on Thursday June 1, 2017 between the Cross State Office Building and the State House in Augusta. There are a pair of bills about ranked choice voting going before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. Friday. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:07:24 +0000
Facing opposition, Senate Republican leaders delay vote on health care bill Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:29:40 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their own ranks Tuesday and postponed a vote to overhaul the Affordable Care Act until after the July 4 recess, raising doubts about their ability to fulfill one of their party’s core political promises.

The delay, which now exposes lawmakers to a barrage of lobbying as they face their constituents over the holiday, has left a measure orchestrated to pass swiftly this week now teetering in the balance. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had little choice after five Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said they could not support a move to bring up the bill this week in the wake of a new budget analysis of the bill’s impacts.

Conservatives are blasting the plan for leaving too much of the existing law in place, while a coalition of patient advocates, doctors and senior citizens’ groups have joined Democrats in decrying its proposed cuts to the Medicaid program and rollback of taxes imposed on the wealthy.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, McConnell said leaders were “still working to get 50 people in a more comfortable place” on what he described as “a very complicated subject.”

“But we’re going to press on,” he said. “We think the status quo is unsustainable.”

Republican leaders, who had sought to pass legislation they just released Thursday within a few days so the House could take it up and send it to President Trump before the Fourth of July break, are now bracing for attacks from both ends of the political spectrum.

On Tuesday, Club for Growth President David McIntosh, who has clashed with Republican Party leaders in the past, issued a statement saying the proposal “restores Obamacare.”

“Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore,” McIntosh said. “And while it’s hard to imagine, in some ways the Senate’s legislation would make our nation’s failing health-care system worse.”

Meanwhile, progressive groups began laying the groundwork to attend senators’ public events, while medical providers and groups representing Americans with chronic illnesses predicted that the bill could leave millions without access to adequate medical care. The Congressional Budget Office concluded Monday that the measure would cause an estimated 22 million more Americans to be uninsured by the end of the coming decade while reducing federal spending by $321 billion.

Atul Grover, executive vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, told reporters that he and other doctors “take it personally” that the bill would lock people out of insurance for six months if they go for 63 days without a health plan and try to sign up for one the next year.

“We’re there at the bedside,” Grover said, adding that none of his members would be willing to tell a patient: “I’m sorry about your stage-four cancer. Come back in six months, when your insurance kicks in.”

In the wake of the setback, Trump invited Republican senators to meet with him in the White House’s East Room to discuss next steps. With Vice President Mike Pence ready to cast a tiebreaking vote on the measure, Republican leaders can lose only two of their 52 members to pass the bill, which no Democrat is willing to support.

Sitting between two of the bill’s holdouts – Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine’s Collins – the president said Republicans are “getting very close” to securing the votes they need even as he acknowledged that they might fail.

“This will be great if we get it done,” Trump said. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like – and that’s OK. I understand that very well.”

Members who publicly opposed the bill had faced a full-court lobbying press from party leaders, but resisted it anyway. Within the past two and a half days, Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, has spoken with Trump, Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke by phone with Trump on Monday and was scheduled to meet with him Tuesday before the vote was scuttled.

Johnson said he was “grateful” that the vote was postponed, adding that the “real deadline” would arrive when the ACA insurance markets collapse.

But other Republicans, such as Sen. Patrick Toomey, of Pennsylvania, acknowledged that the delay could just as easily jeopardize the bill’s prospects. More time, Toomey said, “could be good and it could be bad.”

Organizers at numerous “Resistance” groups, chastened by their premature celebrations after the House’s repeal push seemed to stall, said that they’d use the recess to ramp up public pressure on Republicans. CREDO Action, which had organized 45,000 phone calls to Senate offices, planned to increase that number when senators went home. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn and Daily Action were organizing their own phone banks, while Indivisible groups were organizing visits – and perhaps sit-ins – at local offices.

All of that would supplement under-the-radar but attention-grabbing TV ad campaigns from AARP, Protect Our Care and other progressive and industry groups. The goal, said activists, is to educate voters and break through to local media, which had not often put the development of the Senate bill on front pages or newscasts.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that while “the fight is not over,” he was confident that Republicans would not succeed because their proposals remain unpopular with the public.

“The Republican bill is rotten at the core,” Schumer said. “We have a darn good chance of defeating it, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now.”

Senate leaders had been working with undecided senators to determine whether any skeptics could be won over with additional spending on priorities such as expanding incentives for health-savings accounts favored by conservatives or a fund to help battle opioid addiction favored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Leaders can spend about $188 billion on increased spending without running afoul of Senate budget rules.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, the leaders had not earned the votes of the two members, who put out a joint statement in opposition to the current proposal.

“As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers,” Capito said.

In a sign of how pervasive opposition to McConnell’s plan was, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., usually a reliable Republican vote, tweeted after the bill was delayed: “The Senate health care bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support.”

Senate leaders had hoped to salvage the effort by using the CBO’s estimates of deficit savings to allocate additional funds to try to ease some members’ concerns.

But the release of the 49-page CBO report late Monday afternoon provided a formidable hurdle for the bill. No new senators immediately said they would back the legislation, and Sens. Johnson, Paul, Collins, and Mike Lee, of Utah, signaled that they would vote against starting debate on the bill in its current form. A fifth senator, Dean Heller, R-Nev., had expressed his opposition last week and has not shown subsequent signs of changing his mind.

Collins, a moderate Republican, tweeted that the measure would “hurt the most vulnerable Americans” and failed to solve the problems of access to care in rural Maine, where, she wrote, “hospitals are already struggling.”

Several Republican senators said they devoted the bulk of Tuesday’s lunch to questioning representatives from the CBO on their methods and estimates. Senators complained that the estimates provided in Monday’s reports used old data about how many people were covered through Obamacare and how much their coverage cost. Others asked that CBO analysts begin the process over with fresh numbers.

“They’re using the March 2016 insurance market,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “A lot of what they do is just guessing.”

The CBO estimated that two-thirds of the drop in health coverage a decade from now would fall on low-income people who rely on Medicaid. And among the millions now buying private health plans through ACA marketplaces, the biggest losers would roughly parallel those under legislation passed recently by the House: The sharpest spike in insurance premiums would fall on middle-age and somewhat older Americans.

According to the latest report, the Senate bill would mean that an estimated 15 million fewer Americans would have coverage next year, compared with the number if the ACA, commonly called Obamacare, remained in place. At the end of the decade, the 22 million increase in the ranks of the uninsured would include 15 million low-income Americans who would otherwise be on Medicaid and 7 million with private insurance.

That figure, about 1 million less than the House bill, would be equivalent to all the residents in 16 states – Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming – losing health coverage.

The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis, Amy Goldstein, Ed O’Keefe and David Weigel contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Donald Trump, center, speaks as he meets with Republican senators on health care in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, right, listen (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:23:25 +0000
‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shkreli goes on trial, finds another kind of limelight Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:23:32 +0000 NEW YORK — Martin Shkreli got his first taste of Wall Street as an intern for a hedge fund firm started by CNBC personality Jim Cramer. After striking out on his own, he developed a reputation for aggressive tactics, including betting a company’s stock price would fall and then berating its executives on social media.

His battles earned him a spot on Forbes list of “30 under 30” after, the magazine said, Shkreli torpedoed a health care industry merger and “antagonized” pharmaceutical giant Pfizer into removing its former chief executive from the company’s board of directors. Shkreli, now 34, is a “boy genius,” his attorney has said.

But one of Shkreli’s most aggressive moves changed that narrative, when as chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals he raised the price of Daraprim – a 62-year-old drug primarily used for newborns and HIV patients – from $13.50 to $750 a pill. When critics pounced, the live-out-loud Shkreli did not do his reputation any favors by calling a journalist a “moron,” quoting defiant rap lyrics on Twitter and defending the price increase as a “great business decision.”

“Our shareholders expect us to make as much money as possible,” he said during a health-industry summit in 2015, dressed nonchalantly in a hooded sweatshirt and sneakers. “That’s the ugly, dirty truth.”

These two narratives of the Brooklyn native are playing out in federal court this week as Shkreli faces eight charges that could land him in prison for years.

Packed into the second-floor courtroom in Brooklyn, several potential jurors said they had already formed strong opinions of Shkreli. One potential juror told U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto that Shkreli is “the price gouger of drugs. My kids are on some of these drugs.” “I know he’s the most hated man in America,” another said, while another asserted that “From everything I’ve read, I believe the defendant is the face of corporate greed in America.” All were excused from the jury.

Shkreli sat a few feet away by himself, intermittently appearing to write on a yellow pad or staring up at the ceiling. Dressed in a gray suit and no tie, he yawned and leaned his head against his arm to stay alert. The trial is slated to last four to six weeks, and Matsumoto told potential jurors it “promises to be interesting and educational.”

Federal prosecutors alleged that for five years, Shkreli lied to investors in two hedge funds and biopharmaceutical company Retrophin, all of which he founded. After losing money on stock bets he made through one hedge fund, Shkreli allegedly started another and used his new investors’ money to pay off those who had lost money on the first fund. Then, as pressure was building, Shkreli started Retrophin, which was publicly traded, and used cash and stock from that company to settle with other disgruntled investors, prosecutors contend.

Shkreli’s attorneys are preparing to argue he was following the advice of his attorney, who is also facing criminal charges. His investors didn’t lose money and were not defrauded, they have argued.

“Shkreli did not defraud the investors and then make it up to them later with a different investment. This may be the Government’s view, but it’s not ours,” his attorney Benjamin Brafman said in a court filing earlier this month. “At trial, the defendant will show that Mr. Shkreli never, at any time, intended for a single investor to lose a dime. Not in the short term; not in the long term; not ever.”

Shkreli’s emergence on the national stage coincided with a larger debate about rising drug prices and Shkreli appeared to relish the attention, or at least not shrink from it. Even after he was arrested in December 2015, he spent hours on YouTube chronicling his life for fans and was eventually kicked off Twitter for harassing a freelance journalist. When he appeared before a congressional committee last year, he smirked and grinned while refusing to answer questions. Afterward on Twitter, he called the lawmakers “imbeciles.”

Even after his attorneys urged him to stay quiet, Shkreli repeatedly took to social media. In April, he offered $40,000 to a Princeton University student who solved a mathematical proof. In May, he pledged on Facebook to pay $100,000 for tips leading to the arrest of the person who killed former Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich.

Shkreli is “traveling to the beat of his own very unique drummer,” Brafman has said.

When Shkreli asked this month for his $5 million bail to be reduced to $2 million, his loquaciousness worked against him. Brafman told the court that Shkreli didn’t have any cash and needed to pay taxes and legal fees.

But skeptical prosecutors noted that Shkreli had bragged about his wealth, including flaunting that he had paid millions for a Picasso painting, a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album, and a World War II-era Enigma code-breaking machine used against Nazi Germany.

Those statements should not be taken seriously, his attorney responded. “Tweeting has become, unfortunately, so fashionable, and when people tweet, they don’t always mean what they say,” Brafman said.

The judge denied the request.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 11:57:13 +0000
Garrison Keillor: Midsummer party, the Norwegian way Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:33:35 +0000 A splendid week in Norway and now it’s good to be back home, driving around town in my old beat-up Volvo and listening to The Drifters.

Norway is a land of bicycles and public transit, lean healthy long-legged people striding up into the hills, but I love my car where I can add a bass vocal to “At night the stars they put on a show for free, and, darling, you can share it all with me.”

It was Midsummer Day in Oslo. I went to my friends’ house for dinner. The tables were set out on the lawn under the linden trees, the best china, crystal, linen, no paper napkins, though my friend is an engineer, not a tycoon. The wine was opened, shrimp and olives and salad came out at 8 and lamb and potatoes around 10 and the custardy cakes just before midnight and then coffee and cognac and the teetotalled American sat among happy Norwegians under a glowing sky at 2 a.m., nobody wanting to leave.

I like Norwegians. They’re dignified, self-effacing, endlessly kind, they talk slow so you can butt in, and they’re funny in a dry way. They like Mark Twain. I tried to steal a line of his at dinner: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” And they recognized it was his. I said it when they asked about Trump, not that they are in the dark about him: They see him as a lunatic, all the more dangerous for being indifferent. They are pragmatists and believe there is a time to orate and debate, and then you settle down and try to make things work. A candidate for the Folketing who promised to make Norway great again would be an object of ridicule. Let God be the judge of greatness, your job is to educate children, do business, feed and doctor people, deal with the real world, look for the least worst outcome.

A fancy dinner party under the summer sky, two young men across from me, engineers, talking about sustainable fish farming. Recycling automobile windshields. Wind power. A woman next to me who knew about wind power and the cost-benefit of energy-efficient architecture. It’s good for an old English major to hear this, all these young people excited about solving problems.

Back in college days, my cohorts and I looked down on engineers. They wore plaid shirts with plastic pocket protectors and combed their hair with hair oil. We dressed like vagabonds and wrote unintelligible stories and exhaled cigarette smoke very stylishly and were cool, which they were not. And now, decades later, we look around at a digital world that they designed, laptops, Google, Facebook, and a gizmo the size of a skinny sandwich that is telephone, video camera, compass, encyclopedia, weather monitor, newspaper, calendar, pinball machine, flashlight, and hundreds of apps. And what did we do with our lives? We created little blips and blats of sensibility, like hanging wind chimes out in the woods.

Too late I learn that people who dress up as radicals turn out to be showmen. The real radicals are the ones who love to work puzzles and solve problems and that includes a lot of short-haired people in Sears Roebuck outfits.

Someone had made songsheets and we sang in the twilight, Norwegian songs, plus “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Forever Young,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Summertime.”

A man said wistfully, “We used to build a big bonfire at Midsummer and then we thought it set a bad example for the children, what with air quality and all.”

I caught a ride downtown and walked down to the harbor around 3:30. Some cafes were still bustling, people out walking, an accordion in the distance, houses with lit windows on the slopes over the city. I had come to Oslo on a ship and there it was, lights burning bright. I went up the gangplank and sailed to Rotterdam in the morning, took a fast train to Brussels, and a very fast one – 180 mph – to London and flew home. My car started right up and I drove to the office as The Drifters sang, “Baby, don’t you know I love you so? Can’t you feel it when we touch?”

I’m sorry we are mesmerized by a mere showman but glad there are problem-solvers at work out there, and meanwhile we certainly have given the world some fine songs. Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good-looking and if the mountains should tumble into the sea, I won’t shed a tear, darling, if you save the last dance for me.

]]> 0 KeillorTue, 27 Jun 2017 10:37:32 +0000
The future of U.S. swimming is 6 feet 9, 17 years old . . . and African-American Tue, 27 Jun 2017 13:37:57 +0000 The question comes up whenever someone meets Reece Whitley for the first time. Whitley is too polite to respond with the classic teenage show of disdain: the eye roll. But inside? Inside, his eyeballs are on the other side of their sockets.

“How big are your shoes? I hear that all the time,” Whitley said with an exasperated chuckle. “I mean, I’m a swimmer. I don’t wear shoes. It’s not a relevant question.”

What remains relevant, however, is Whitley’s skin color. He’d love for it to be otherwise, for the notion of an African American swimmer to be a norm instead of a novelty. The sport simply isn’t there yet. Elite-level swimming success for blacks in the United States essentially begins with Cullen Jones and ends with Simone Manuel, and that stretch started in 2008.

Certainly there has been progress. Jones, who became the first African-American to hold a world record, is no longer swimming solo upstream. Manuel’s history-making gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics came on the heels of she and Lia Neal (both swimming for Stanford) joining Florida’s Natalie Hinds in becoming the first African Americans to sweep an NCAA championship event.

Still, advances have been painstakingly slow, the sport inching along one athlete at a time.

Enter Whitley, who arrives at this week’s U.S. nationals seeded eighth in the 200 breaststroke, ninth in the 50 and 11th in the 100. Semi-famous since he began shattering age-group records at age 13, the 17-year-old is emerging from the kiddie pool just as Michael Phelps exits. Whitley, who two weeks ago committed to the University of California, has all the tools to fill the void: charisma, smarts and talent.

Now for the hard part: Realizing it.

“If he was just another white, 6-7 breaststroker we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said. “That’s why Reece is so important: What he can do for this sport, how he can promote it in a way no one has. The only stumbling block? He has to win. I know that’s obvious, but it’s the most important step, the biggest next step he has to take. He has to win.”

The combination of his competitive potential and his skin color makes Whitley perhaps the most important male swimmer to come along since Phelps, Gaines argues. Whitley has spent his entire high school career at Penn Charter, a prestigious Quaker school in Philadelphia known far more for its academic rigor than its swimming success. Crystal Keelan, Whitley’s longtime coach, has built a more than respectable program at the school but Whitley remains the only swimmer competing at a national – let alone international – level.

Even without elite training partners, Whitley reigns as the national age group record holder for 15- and 16-year-olds in the 200-meter breaststroke by nearly a full second, and he owns the short-course record in the same event by an astounding 2.5 seconds. In 2015, Sports Illustrated tapped him as its “Sports Kid of the Year.”

This week he will have a good shot at making the A final in both the 100 and 200 breast, and though he’s more likely headed for a spot at the World Junior Nationals, it’s not out of the question that he could break through to a spot in the top-level meet.

At Cal, Whitley will find out just how far he can go. The Cal Bears have won three national titles since 2011, and in Rio, current or previous Cal swimmers accounted for 11 medals, including eight gold. Unlike basketball, collegiate swimming isn’t a drive-through relationship. Graduates often stay in the program and train long after their eligibility expires. That means Whitley will go from training essentially against himself to competing with some of the best swimmers in the world.

The challenge is in the balancing act. Whitley already has experienced the burden of living up to outside expectations.

In a handful of meets last summer Whitley didn’t meet his own standards and saw the cause wasn’t lack of effort but attempting to clear an impossibly high bar.

“I was driven to prove to myself and to others that I was good – really, really good – and it took me away from what I’d already accomplished,” he said. “I had to remind myself that just because you’re labeled a certain way – I’m supposedly the number one recruit for 2018 – it doesn’t mean I have to swim that way every single day. That’s not really human. That’s not possible. This week I want to swim as fast as I can but if I walk away and I’m not on a team this summer but I swam my best times, yeah I’ll be disappointed I won’t be able to wear the American flag on my cap, but I want best times. That’s what matters.”

Whitley long has been accustomed to being what he calls “the only one.” Up until the fourth grade, Whitley could name the black students in his grade – Reece Whitley and Nigel George – and his parents had long talks with him from an early age, making sure their son was comfortable in his own skin.

He separated himself even further when he opted to swim, those flipper feet (for the record, he’s a size 15) and a frame that currently stands at 6 feet 9 leading to presumptions that he was yet another Philly hoops prodigy in the making.

Whitley instead jumped in the pool and let the water – and the outside comments – roll off his back.

It is a different thing altogether to go from being “the only one” to “the one.” The burden here is even more than merely diversifying a sport. The comparisons likening Whitley, Manuel, Neal and Jones to Tiger Woods in golf or the Williams sisters in tennis address only a fraction of the significance.

According to a recent study spearheaded by the USA Swimming Foundation, 64 percent of African American children have low to no swimming ability. That’s a 5 percent improvement since 2010 but still a dangerously high number.

Whitley has yet to experience an a-ha moment – no child has stopped him to say he or she is swimming because of him – but he knows every time he steps on the blocks he could be opening a kid’s eyes to a whole new world, not to mention a safer one.

Whitley also knows, though, that to change a sport he has to step higher than the blocks. He has to stand atop the podium.

That’s why, when Whitley is invariably asked about his potential impact on swimming because of his skin color, he has a lot more patience than when peppered with questions about his shoe size.

“Right now it’s a relevant question, so I don’t take any shame in answering it,” he said. “At the end of my career, if I look back on it and that question is irrelevant, then that means I would have fulfilled my goals.”

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 09:48:08 +0000
Laser-equipped helicopter zaps its first target, to defense contractor’s delight Tue, 27 Jun 2017 13:01:12 +0000 During World War II, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,” he probably had no idea that his allies on the other side of the Atlantic would one day be mounting high-powered lasers onto attack helicopters and frying targets in the blink of an eye.

But the U.S. military and a leading defense contractor have apparently pulled off such a feat.

On Monday, Raytheon said that it had bolted a laser to a U.S. Army Apache AH-64 helicopter and zapped an unmanned target at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The weapons test marked the first time a “fully integrated laser system” had successfully located and shot a target from a rotary-wing aircraft “over a wide variety of flight regimes, altitudes and air speeds,” the company said in a statement.

Raytheon didn’t specify what the target was but said the helicopter’s laser “directed energy” on it from nearly a mile away. Unlike the computer rendering of the weapon provided by the company, the laser’s beam is invisible in real life.

Video from the missile range shows the Apache flying over the New Mexico desert with the laser – a gray, torpedo-like tube with a ball on the front – attached to the vehicle’s right side. Orange cables run from the back of the laser into the interior of the helicopter. At one point the video shows black and white images of a rectangular object with a bright flash in the center of it, captioned “LASER ON TARGET.” Dramatic drum music plays in the background. The laser’s shots were not shown in the footage.

The goal of the experiment, conducted in collaboration with U.S. Special Operations Command, was to see how well the Apache could fire the weapon given the vibration of the helicopter, the dust kicked up by the rotating blades and the vehicle’s “downwash,” or downward airflow. The information the team gleaned will be used to further develop the weapon, known simply as a High Energy Laser, or HEL.

“This data collection shows we’re right on track,” a Raytheon executive said in a statement.

The initiative has been underway for more than a year, according to National Defense Magazine, which reported last May that the military was eyeing a “feasibility test” for the weapon. The magazine quoted an Army official at the time saying that the technology was still in its early stages – not quite science fiction, but a long way from the battlefield.

“The lens we are looking at this through right now is: ‘Is it feasible to do this?’ We’re not at the point where we’ve laid out a business case to advance it,” said Col. John Vannoy, one of the program managers. “I wouldn’t say that we’re at the tipping point and you’re going to see a Star Wars like effect or a Death Star laser hanging off the side of a rotary wing aircraft.”

The military is excited about the prospect of weaponized lasers for a number of reasons. For one, they fire in an almost perfectly straight line, making them far more accurate than artillery rounds. They can also be adjusted to destroy or disable different materials with greater precision, which could help reduce civilian casualties in warfare, especially when fired from attack helicopters. Tyler Rogoway, who writes about the military for The Drive, explained how that might work:

Unless you want a fairly large explosion that will obliterate a small building or a few vehicles, the best weapons available to Apache crews are the helicopter’s 30mm cannon and the recent addition of laser-guided rockets. Yet even these surgical weapons, with their highly-localized effects on the battlefield, still use high-explosives to make a big bang; if you want to be extremely precise with almost no chance of collateral damage, lasers are the way to go.

If you want a tactical aircraft fighting in a combat zone to destroy a piece of equipment, like a power generator, but without destroying the structure it’s attached to, or to disable a vehicle without killing anyone standing around it, you’re out of luck unless you have a laser.

On a slightly less gruesome note, laser rounds are a lot cheaper than artillery rounds, which cost tens of thousands of dollars each, as Matthew Ketner, branch chief of the High Energy Laser Controls and Integration Directorate in Virginia, noted last month.

“Unlike a traditional gun,” he said, “lasers don’t run out of bullets.”

Of course, such weapons are designed to destroy structures and take lives, and human rights organizations have raised alarms about their deployment in the battlefield (imagine the unspeakable pain of being burned by a high-energy light beam from miles away). In 1995, the United Nations banned “blinding” laser weapons, which to date have never been used in armed conflict.

Raytheon’s claimed success in New Mexico was the latest in a series of highly-publicized tests of laser weapons systems by the U.S. military and defense contractors. In 2014, the U.S. Navy mounted a 30-kilowatt laser gun on the deck of the USS Ponce and blasted some small targets, including a moving speed boat. Video from the demonstration showed a burst of fire and smoke aboard the deck of the boat as the weapon hit its target.

Also in 2014, Boeing published a video claiming to show a 10-kilowatt laser destroying a mortar in mid-flight. The military has also had success this year beaming drones out of the sky using 5- and 10-kilowatt lasers mounted atop armored vehicles. After one exercise, an Army staff sergeant told reporters he lost count of how many he shot down. “It was extremely effective,” he said.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 09:10:56 +0000
Iran official says U.S. travel ban violates nuke deal Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:45:53 +0000 A prominent Iranian lawmaker has denounced the Supreme Court’s partial reinstatement of President Trump’s travel ban, claiming that it’s an “obvious breach” of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, including the United States.

Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesman of the parliament’s committee on national security and foreign policy, says the ban’s reinstatement is “a new restriction in the post-nuclear-deal era that is considered an obvious breach of the deal.”

Hosseini claimed that under the nuclear deal, countries that signed it are prohibited from imposing new restrictions or sanctions on Iranians. But he did not explain how that is connected or relevant to the travel ban.

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will allow Trump to forge ahead with a limited version of his ban on travel from six mostly Muslim countries to the U.S. Trump hailed the decision as a “victory for national security,” but it’s likely to set off a new round of court disputes over anti-terror efforts and religious discrimination.

The justices will hear full arguments in October in the case, which has stirred heated emotions across the nation and pointed rebukes from lower courts saying the administration is targeting Muslims. Until then, the court said Monday, Trump’s ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced if those visitors lack a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

The ban is to be implemented 72 hours after being cleared by courts, which means it will take effect Thursday morning.

Hosseini’s remarks were carried by the official IRNA news agency on Tuesday.

]]> 0 woman pushes a stroller near a sign for international arrivals Monday at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that President Trump's travel ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced if those visitors lack a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:45:53 +0000
LePage says he believes state government will shut down Friday Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:43:25 +0000 AUGUSTA — Lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage continued a high-stakes political dispute over the state budget on Tuesday, trading blame for stalled negotiations as Maine inched toward the first government shutdown in a quarter-century.

The day began with LePage publicly doubting whether the Legislature will reach a deal on the state’s next two-year budget by month’s end, thereby triggering a partial shutdown of state government.

“I’m making plans,” LePage told a Bangor radio station. “I believe we are going to shut down Friday night.”

Ninety minutes later, members of the special committee charged with negotiating a deal expressed their frustrations even as they pledged to continue discussions to avoid shuttering state offices starting Saturday.

“It feels embarrassing and unconscionable to me, as the Speaker of the House, to be in that position and to put the people of Maine and state employees in that position,” House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said during a grim-faced meeting of the six-member committee.

The mood inside the State House was decidedly gloomy among lawmakers and the sizable crowd of unionized state workers rallying to avoid the first shutdown since 1991.

House Republican lawmakers balked Tuesday at Gideon’s offer to hold an up-or-down vote on their proposal that would repeal the 3 percent tax surcharge on wealthy Mainers, create a voluntary statewide teacher contract program and eliminate hundreds of unfilled positions in state government. The proposal faced certain defeat because the $125 million in additional education funding is nearly $200 million less than the amount anticipated by the 3 percent surcharge and $75 million less than the most recent Democratic counter-offer.

“I just do not understand why would we move a (bill) out from this committee that doesn’t have buy-in from all four caucuses and the chief executive’s office,” said Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, explaining why House Republicans had stopped pushing for a vote on their bill.

Meanwhile, LePage cast a large shadow over the negotiations, despite the fact that lawmakers could enact a budget without his support by once again overriding his veto. Gideon said the governor told her on two separate occasions last week that he would exercise his right to hold the budget for 10 days – thereby triggering a government shutdown – unless Democrats send him a budget he supports. And LePage hinted again Tuesday that he has no plans of backing down from the political fight as his administration prepares for a potential shutdown.

“They are playing chicken with me, and I’m the worst guy to play chicken with,” LePage told the George Hale-Ric Tyler radio show on Bangor’s WVOM-FM. “I don’t veer on either way, I go straight ahead, so if there is a collision to be had it’s coming Friday night.”

Budget conferees ended their public meeting all pledging to work together but with clearly frayed nerves – after weeks of unsuccessful, closed-door negotiations – and no clear path forward.

“This is not a game,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, whose district includes large numbers of state employees. “This is having a real impact on human beings, and that includes thousands of state employees.”

The voter-approved 3 percent tax surcharge on earnings above $200,000 remains the largest sticking point in the budget, although the parties also disagree on the estate tax, welfare for immigrants and other issues.

Under the Maine constitution, state government shuts down if the Legislature and governor don’t pass and sign a budget by June 30. If a shutdown occurs, LePage said he would use his executive powers to keep some operations going to protect state properties and allow the state to continue to collect tax revenues. He said state parks would remain open because he was concerned about vandalism. He also said public safety would be a priority and state law enforcement officers likely would be deemed essential.

Speaking during his weekly call-in to WVOM, LePage said he has asked lawmakers since January to do no harm to the state’s economy. But Republicans and Democrats are at an impasse over how to increase funding to public schools and address a tax surcharge opponents say is harming businesses and driving wealthier Mainers out of state.

The governor said he’s moved his top line on spending for the budget from $6.8 billion to $7.05 billion, but Democratic negotiators want spending in the range of $7.2 billion. LePage also said he wants the next budget to include substantial education reforms, including a policy moving Maine toward a statewide contract for all public school teachers and encouraging school districts to save money by sharing administrative and management functions.

“I’ve tried, I’ve worked very, very hard, but what they want is impossible to deliver, without hurting our state for a decade,” LePage said. “They just want to break the backs of the Maine people and I can’t let it happen under my watch.”

He said legislative leaders have asked him about the cost of a shutdown and he said his answer is simple: “The future of Maine, the future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, estimated the parties are only $40 million apart, adding it would be “a travesty” to allow a shutdown over such a small difference in a $7 billion budget.

“I know that we are all passionate about our positions and there is nothing wrong with that,” Thibodeau said. “But we should not allow our passion about our positions to keep us from coming together to solve this problem over the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Despite his role in the high-stakes budget negotiations, LePage left Tuesday afternoon for Washington, D.C., to meet Wednesday with President Trump and other Republican governors on energy issues and the opioid crisis.

As part of the budget negotiations, LePage appears to be reviving his demands to allow towns to collect property taxes from land trusts and other nonprofits that hold large tracts of property. He also revealed some of the other sticking points between negotiators and said while he agreed to a sales tax increase of 0.25 percent, he would do that only if the Legislature eliminated Maine’s estate tax and allowed state government to at least study how much property had been removed from the tax rolls for nonprofits such as land trusts.

He said Maine’s Democratic Party was “a wholly owned subsidiary” of several advocacy groups, including the liberal Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine Education Association teachers’ union, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Municipal Association.

“They just don’t care about the Maine taxpayer,” LePage said. The governor later used Facebook, his weekly radio address and his press office to accuse Democrats of holding the budget “hostage” and urge Mainers to contact their lawmakers.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Gideon said lawmakers have no choice but to deliver a budget bill to LePage by Friday. The Freeport Democrat added that it was “unconscionable” to her that LePage would even consider shutting down government if lawmakers send him a budget.

“I am going to choose to believe that he will do the right thing when he has a budget on his desk,” Gideon said. “If he cannot sign it into law, I hope that he will veto it immediately and give legislators the opportunity to make sure that government continues to function in the state of Maine.”

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

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 27: A scurry of activity in the lobby below the capitol rotunda at the state house where a protest took place to prevent a state shutdown Tuesday, June 27, 2017. (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Tue, 27 Jun 2017 17:58:39 +0000
Syria denies U.S. allegations of coming chemical attack Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:28:11 +0000 BEIRUT – The Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed White House allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 15 militants were also killed in the airstrike that happened on Monday in the Deir El-Zour province. The activist-run Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet said at least 60 civilians were killed.

The two groups said the U.S.-led coalition was behind the strike. Russia and Syria also carry out airstrikes in Deir el-Zour, and it was not clear how the activists identified the aircraft responsible. The coalition could not immediately be reached for comment.

President Bashar Assad and the Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed White House allegations that Syria was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners. Syrian Presidency via Associated Press, File

Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, meanwhile dismissed a White House statement Monday that warned Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government against carrying out another chemical attack. Haidar told The Associated Press the charges foreshadowed a new diplomatic campaign against Syria at the U.N.

The Kremlin also dismissed the White House statement, which had warned that Assad and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it goes ahead with the attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.”

Russia is Assad’s key backer and sided with him when he denied responsibility for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Idlib province on April 4. Days later, President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.

Peskov criticized the Trump administration for using the phrase “another chemical weapons attack,” arguing that an independent investigation into the April attack was never conducted despite Russia’s calls for one.

The statement by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before the attack in April, but provided no evidence or further explanation.

Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.

The officials weren’t authorized to discuss national security planning publicly and requested anonymity.

A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and allied forces have faced recent setbacks.

A senior Russian lawmaker dismissed the U.S. warning as “provocation.”

Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense and security committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, accused the United States of “preparing a new attack on the positions of Syrian forces.”

The U.S. strike in April was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president.

Trump said at the time that the chemical attack crossed “many, many lines,” and called on “all civilized nations” to join the U.S. in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.

Syria denied using chemical weapons. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.

The U.S. is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Washington would continue to provide weapons after the Raqqa battle is over. His comments were likely to anger Turkey, which views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the insurgency raging in its southeast.

On Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.

Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked earlier Monday about the need to secure a cease-fire in Syria, fight extremist groups and prevent the use of chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, followed up Spicer’s statement with a Twitter warning: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Less than an hour after Spicer issued the statement, Trump was back to tweeting about the 2016 campaign, denouncing investigations into potential collusion between Moscow and his campaign aides as a “Witch Hunt!”

]]> 0 Bashar Assad and the Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed White House allegations that Syria was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:34:14 +0000
Google considers appeal of record $2.7 billion fine issued by EU regulator Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:26:06 +0000 BRUSSELS — The European Union’s antitrust chief hit Google with a record $2.7 billion fine Tuesday while warning that other parts of Google’s business were in the cross hairs.

The European Commission, led by a former deputy prime minister of Denmark, said Google had illegally taken advantage of its juggernaut standing in the world of search engines, pushing users toward its comparison shopping service and advertisers over those of rivals.

The fine is the largest the European Union has levied against a company for abusing its dominant position, and marked the latest confrontation over business practices among EU regulators and American tech giants. Google could face dizzying additional penalties if it loses an expected appeal and fails to comply.

If the ruling stands, it could reshape the company’s behavior in one of its most lucrative markets. And the way Google presents its search results could shift worldwide.

The landmark EU decision also sets up a wider clash – touching on whether government regulators hold power over one of the world’s most dominant companies, and testing the limits of competition-regulating rules in an age of borderless commerce and online interactions.

“Google has abused its market dominance in its search engine by promoting its own shopping comparison service in its search results and demoting its competitors,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager told reporters in Brussels. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It has denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition.”

The decision reinforced Vestager’s emerging role as the world’s most aggressive antitrust regulator, following on a $14.6 billion back-tax judgment against Apple last year.

Google – which is considering an appeal – issued a statement minutes after the EU announcement, claiming the company’s shopping site helps both consumers and advertisers.

“When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily. And advertisers want to promote those same products,” Google senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker said in a written statement.

“That’s why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both. We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today,” Walker said. “We will review the commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal.”

Under European rules, it is up to Google to find a way to comply with the judgment, and Vestager offered no specific guidance about how it must modify its services.

If it does not abide by the ruling within 90 days, however, Google could face penalties of up to 5 percent of the daily turnover of Alphabet Inc., its corporate parent, which could be backdated for years.

“This is really sending a message to Google: change or we’ll come after you,” said Thomas Tindemans, chairman of the Brussels office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a consultancy, who has worked on previous technology antitrust cases.

Europe’s vast unified market gives regulators extra clout as they take on international business titans. With more than 500 million residents, the 28-nation bloc has more consumers than the United States. And its regulations about fair business practices tend to be stricter than Washington’s, meaning U.S. tech companies are often a focus.

The holder of the previous record fine was Intel, the chip manufacturer, which was hit with a $1.2 billion penalty in 2009.

The European Commission directed Google to open up its shopping search results to the tech company’s competitors.

“They’re going to have to change their conduct,” said Thomas Vinje, legal counsel to FairSearch, a lobbying group that has helped organize the legal challenge to Google in Europe.

And as President Trump advocates a fierce America-first policy of trade protectionism, the ruling also raised questions about how his administration would respond to the broadside hit against one of the richest companies in the United States. The answer was not immediately clear.

Trump’s own relationship to the tech industry has become strained amid decisions to impose travel restrictions on some Muslim majority countries and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, two issues that clash with Silicon Valley’s socially liberal culture. But several U.S. companies, including Yelp and Expedia, were official complainants in the European case against Google, dampening the Europe vs. America dynamic.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the EU case against Google, saying the administration would take no position on pending litigation.

Yelp said Tuesday that it had not decided whether to press its case against Google before U.S. regulators. “We are going to leave all options on the table,” said Luther Lowe, Yelp’s vice president of public policy.

]]> 0's decision by the European Union's competition arm, led by Margrethe Vestager, above, reinforced her emerging role as the world's most aggressive antitrust regulator.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:37:34 +0000
Rabid bobcat attacks 80-year-old woman in her garden Tue, 27 Jun 2017 11:07:16 +0000 SUNAPEE, N.H. — An 80-year-old New Hampshire woman fought off a rabid bobcat with the help of her two dogs and her gardening sickle.

Elsie Dabrowski says she was gardening Sunday at her Sunapee home when the animal attacked, biting her face, arm and back. She says her only thoughts at the moment were “why is this stupid cat attacking me?”

Dabrowski tried to fight off the bobcat with a sickle, but it was ultimately fended off by her dogs. Her adult son heard the commotion and rushed outside with a shotgun, which he used to kill the bobcat. The animal carcass tested positive for rabies.

Dabrowski needed over 50 stiches to close her wounds, but she says she feels thankful it wasn’t worse.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 07:43:25 +0000
Little boat built by students in Kennebunk completes Atlantic crossing Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Students from the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program built “The Little Boat That Could” and launched it on Dec. 29 near Georges Bank. It washed up and was found in Scotland on Friday by John and Angelika Dawson while they were walking their dog. Courtesy of John and Angelika Dawson

“The Little Boat That Could” has lived up to its name.

After 168 days and 12 hours at sea, a small sailboat built by high school students in Kennebunk washed ashore in Scotland after traveling thousands of miles. The boat had sailed across the Atlantic, then up and down the coasts of Portugal, Spain and Ireland before it was discovered Friday by a pair of Canadian tourists exploring a beach on a remote Scottish island.

“It really was a crazy journey,” said Leia Lowery, the director of education for the Kennebunk Conservation Trust who worked with the students who built the boat and documented its journey on Twitter.

The 5-foot boat washed up on Balivanich Airport Beach on the island of Benbecula, where it was found Friday by John and Angelika Dawson of British Columbia as they were walking their dog. The couple notified local police, who called the Scottish coast guard.

At first, no one quite knew what to make of the boat, which is covered with stickers from Maine groups and businesses. The blue and white sail is a bit tattered and the underside of the boat is covered in mussels, but the solar panel, camera and sensors appear to be undamaged. Even the tiny Lego pirate that had been the students’ mascot while they built the boat survived the journey intact.

“Everyone was really excited to hear it was in pretty good shape,” said Ed Sharood, a teacher who worked with the students to build the boat and who informed them of its discovery via text message and email. Some students who had doubted the boat could make it were a bit surprised, he said.

After determining the boat was not hazardous, the Scottish coast guard moved it to a secure location while officials tried to contact the owner, according to a Facebook post from the HM Coastguard Benbecula. In an update, the HM Coastguard Benbecula said the boat has been handed over to Mari Morrison, a primary school teacher from North Uist. Morrison had previously been involved with the rescue and repair of a similar mini boat that landed in Scotland in 2016.

The boat project is part of an ongoing partnership between the students in the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. The trust bought the kit to make the boat from Belfast-based Educational Passages using an $1,800 grant from San Francisco-based RSF Social Finance.

Even the Lego pirate on the boat launched by high school students in Kennebunk survived the transatlantic journey to Scotland. Photo courtesy of John and Angelika Dawson

Seven students from the high school program teamed up with the trust and The Landing School in Arundel to construct the 5-foot self-steering boat that is powered solely by wind and currents. Inside the boat – named “The Little Boat That Could” by students – is a waterproof pod that includes a chip that should have collected data from the sensors, along with information about the alternative education program, Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and items that tell about life in Maine.

Kristen Cofferen, one of the students working on the project, suggested the boat’s name after a classmate expressed skepticism that it would make it across an ocean.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity to engage ourselves,” Cofferen said in December when the students were finishing up the project.

Students in the alternative education program take classes for the first couple of hours each day, then spend the rest of the school day in the community working on projects and learning about career opportunities. There are seven students in the program, which launched in 2012 to serve kids who weren’t finding success in traditional classrooms.

Students handed the boat over to Educational Passages on Dec. 29 and it was launched near Georges Bank on Jan. 2 by a fishing vessel from the Portland Fish Exchange.

The students and their teacher tracked the boat on the Educational Passages website, following its progress as it initially made a beeline for Spain before veering south toward Morocco. It came within 100 miles of Portugal, then headed back out to sea.

“We laughed and said we’re the only ones who would send out a boat that would boomerang right back home,” Lowery said.

Senior David Patoine, a student in the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program, applies a sticker from a local business on the boat in December. Students hoped it would reach Ireland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The Maine students had hoped their boat would make it to across the Atlantic and that they’d be able to connect with students in another country via Skype. Now that Sharood and Jacqui Holmes, the other teacher working with the students, are in touch with the Scottish teacher, they’re planning to make that happen.

Sharood said Morrison’s students have been studying the ocean. During an assembly celebrating the last day of school Friday, Morrison plans to bring out “The Little Boat That Could” to show students. Sharood and Holmes plan to coordinate with Morrison to start a conversation between students in Maine and Scotland.

Sharood thinks his students will have lots of questions about Scottish culture and life on Benbecula, an island off the west coast of Scotland with about 1,300 people. He said they’ll work with the Scottish teacher and students to retrieve the data and make repairs so “The Little Boat That Could” can be relaunched. Sharood and Lowery also are dreaming of finding a way to get the Kennebunk students to Scotland for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to learn about the island where their boat made landfall.

“So many of (our students) thought the boat wasn’t going anywhere. They ironically named it ‘The Little Boat That Could,'” Lowery said. “I wish we could get these kids over there to teach those kids how to fix the boat and relaunch it.”

More information about the path the boat traveled is available on the Educational Passages website.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

]]> 0 students from the Kennebunk High School Alternative Education program constructed "The Little Boat That Could."Tue, 27 Jun 2017 11:17:41 +0000
Metro may close Falmouth and Yarmouth Breez stops Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Portland Metro will likely cancel two underperforming stops on its Breez shuttle as it fine-tunes the commuter shuttle between Portland and communities north of the city.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Sarah Perkins rides the Metro Breez bus from Freeport to Portland on Monday. At top: No riders wait at the bus stop in Falmouth off of Route 1. Falmouth and Yarmouth stops are underperforming but ridership is strong elsewhere, the Metro manager says.Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:12:05 +0000
White House says Syria preparing another chemical attack Tue, 27 Jun 2017 05:13:32 +0000 The White House issued an ominous warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday night, pledging that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it carried out another chemical attack this year.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the United States had detected evidence of preparations for a chemical attack, similar to the preparations that occurred before an attack in April.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said in a statement. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” he continued. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

Following the April attack, President Donald Trump ordered an air strike against the Assad-controlled air field where the attack was believed to have been carried out.

At the time, Trump said that Assad’s use of chemical weapons against innocent women and children made action inevitable.

“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was,” Trump said after the attack. “That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”

The U.S. military maintains a variety of weapons in the region that could be used in the event of another strike, including manned and unmanned aircraft in several Middle Eastern countries. But the most likely scenario is probably a strike using naval assets, which can be launched with fewer diplomatic issues than using bases in allied countries like Turkey or the United Arab Emirates.

The Navy launched Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military airfield April 6 in response to a previous alleged chemical weapons attack, using two guided-missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the USS Ross and USS Porter, to do so.

Presently, the Pentagon has several ships nearby, including the George H.W. Bush Strike Group. Anchored by the aircraft carrier by the same name, it includes dozens of fighter jets and several smaller vessels, including the guided-missile destroyers USS Laboon and USS Truxtun and the guided-missile cruisers USS Philippine Sea and USS Hue City.

A point of contention for the Pentagon after the last strike was the Syrian regime’s alleged use of a nerve agent, like sarin. It is far deadlier than some other chemical weapons that U.S. military and intelligence officials say that the regime has used, such as chlorine.

]]> 0 Tue, 27 Jun 2017 01:16:41 +0000
South Portland councilors favor housing, open space for public works site Tue, 27 Jun 2017 02:40:07 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The current public works site on O’Neil Street would be sold and redeveloped into a mix of housing and open space under broad guidelines given by city councilors Monday evening.

Councilors responded to an update from a reuse committee that is considering a wide variety of redevelopment options for the 6-acre site off Cottage Road, which will be vacated when a new public services facility is completed later this year off outer Highland Avenue.

The 10-member committee held a site walk and brainstorming session last week that drew about 60 neighbors and other city residents. Ideas gathered by the committee ranged from converting the entire parcel into a public park to redeveloping the site into housing with open space, facilitator Laura Moorehead told councilors.

Councilor Linda Cohen noted that when voters decided in 2013 to finance the new public services facility, city officials said the current public works site would be sold to offset the $15.7 million cost.

“There’s no question that I don’t want to keep this property,” Cohen said. “I think we have a possibility up there of doing something unique.”

Cohen said she expects the city to seek proposals and sell the site to a developer who agrees to fulfill criteria that will be recommended by the reuse committee and voted on by the council.

The city has yet to have the property appraised. The land is valued at $788,300 by the city assessor. It’s expected to cost about $250,000 to clear and clean up the site, which contains several large garages, a salt shed, a fueling station and other buildings.

Reflecting on the ideas gathered by the reuse committee, Cohen said she’s open to including a combination of townhouses and single-family homes that are environmentally friendly but affordable. She also favors including shared open space such as walking paths and community gardens, and connecting O’Neil Street to Pitt Street with traffic-calming measures.

Councilor Susan Henderson also favors a combination of housing and open space, with the possibility of including some rental units, she said. The project should promote social interaction and walkable connections to the surrounding neighborhoods, she said, including the Mill Creek shopping area.

Henderson said she especially likes the idea of “universal” housing and communities that are built for young and old alike, noting that a sidewalk or doorway that’s accessible to a person in a wheelchair is accessible to a parent with a stroller.

Councilor Maxine Beecher said she also would favor an age-friendly residential development with open space, because it would mesh with the mostly small, single-family homes in the surrounding neighborhood, which is bounded by Cottage Road and Sawyer and Walnut streets.

“I’m not really for multi-family housing in there,” Beecher said. “I don’t think it fits.”

Councilors Brad Fox, Claude Morgan and Eben Rose were absent from Monday’s workshop.

Mayor Patti Smith, who represents the council on the reuse committee, said she agreed with the other councilors present that the reuse committee should develop three to four recommendations to submit to the council in October.

Moorehead, the facilitator, said the committee will seek professional guidance from community members knowledgeable about housing, traffic and other development issues to inform its recommendations.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 06:43:17 +0000
Bangor woman arrested after car chase through Scarborough, South Portland Tue, 27 Jun 2017 02:30:55 +0000

Crystal Wells Photo courtesy Scarborough Police Department

Scarborough police said they arrested a Bangor woman Monday after she led officers on a car chase through Scarborough and South Portland.

Crystal Wells, 35, was charged with violation of bail conditions, eluding an officer, domestic violence reckless conduct, and refusing to submit to arrest or detention. Wells was also summonsed for failure to wear a seat belt.

Scarborough officers stopped Wells near the intersection of Payne Road and Southborough Drive for a seat belt violation around 2:30 p.m., according to a statement posted on the Scarborough Police Department’s Facebook page. The officers determined that Wells’ bail conditions prohibited her from having contact with her female passenger.

When the officers approached her after checking records, Wells accelerated and sped away, leading officers on a vehicle pursuit into South Portland before she returned to Scarborough, police said.

Officers disabled Wells’ 2010 Nissan Altima on Mussey Road in the vicinity of Eight Corners. Scarborough police did not explain how they disabled Wells’ vehicle.

]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 06:20:21 +0000
Waterville strives for health with EPA Tue, 27 Jun 2017 02:03:13 +0000 WATERVILLE — Many people in this city work together to help ensure that children and adults have healthy food to eat, parks and trails for improving physical and mental health, hospitals and other health care facilities to help them stay well, and school, college and city officials who promote wellness.

The city has a farmers market, summer food program for children, and community gardens available to the public.

But the poverty rate in Waterville is high. The median household annual income is about $33,000 a year – lower than the state median of $49,000 – with 13 percent of families living in poverty and 25 percent of children living in poverty.

Across the U.S., adolescent obesity quadrupled from 1980 to 2012 and 35 percent of adults are obese.

At the Albert S. Hall elementary school in Waterville, 75 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch and 79 percent at the George J. Mitchell School qualify.

Those were statistics Alana Brasier, community planner for Renaissance Planning, based in Orlando, Florida, pointed to Monday night as part of an event called Healthy Places for Healthy People, hosted by Healthy Northern Kennebec and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at Senior Spectrum’s Muskie Center.

More than 100 people, including residents, officials from the city, local health organizations, the EPA, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture turned out for the program, which was designed to identify issues, help improve the health of its residents and the environment and increase economic growth. Ben Tucker, regional representative for U.S. Sen. Angus King, also attended.

Healthy Places for Healthy People is a new, two-day EPA program in which a visiting EPA team helps the community and health care facilities develop strategies and an action plan to address ways to improve health, public safety, basic infrastructure and jobs.

In many communities, health care facilities can be catalysts for economic development and investment in neighborhoods can help improve walk-ability, protect air and water quality, conserve open spaces and natural resources and encourage cleanup and reuse of contaminated properties, according to the EPA.

Waterville is one of only 10 communities nationwide selected this year for the planning assistance program, for which 50 communities applied. Bangor also was chosen.

In Waterville, Healthy Northern Kennebec applied and Waterville was chosen because of its commitment to advancing health efforts linked to community livability and economic diversification.

“Waterville is a community that’s just so full of so many great assets,” Stephanie Bertaina, senior policy analyst for the EPA, said just before the event started Monday.

Bertaina, who works in Washington, D.C., said Waterville was selected because there is a lot of good momentum in the city. But the city needs some assistance, she said, and organizers are bringing everyone to the table to help create a vision around creating a healthy Waterville.

Fran Mullin, director of Healthy Northern Kennebec, introduced City Manager Michael Roy, who spoke about being of French-Canadian descent. His grandfather, he said, walked from Quebec to the city’s South End in 1902 to settle because Waterville was where the jobs were.

“Waterville’s very, very thrilled to have this opportunity to show what we can do and I think we can do it, for sure, with people like Fran …” Roy said.

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

Twitter: AmyCalder17

]]> 0 Dawson explains how the Greater Waterville Area Food Bank serves area clients to members of the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies on Monday who are touring Waterville facilities that contribute to a healthy environment.Mon, 26 Jun 2017 23:31:15 +0000
Developers have some imaginative ideas for city-owned land in Bayside Tue, 27 Jun 2017 01:41:58 +0000 Ten stories of so-called micro-housing. Workforce condominiums. Affordable apartments. Modern industrial spaces for “beverage-makers,” artists, aspiring chefs and small business owners. And an office building with solar panels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: randybillings

]]> 0 of 23-unit apartment building proposed by developer Tom Watson at 56 Parris Street, east elevation. (Rendering courtesy of Ryan Senatore Architecture)Tue, 27 Jun 2017 15:49:52 +0000
Newport-area schools urge state to kick in its share Tue, 27 Jun 2017 01:28:06 +0000 Newport-area school board directors have issued a resolution urging the state to fund Maine public education at 55 percent, a fact that state Democrats seized on Monday to point out that the region is represented by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, a Republican.

The resolution comes as the two parties wrangle over state budget negotiations – and education funding is a top point of disagreement – while the threat of a state government shutdown looms if a budget isn’t signed by Gov. Paul LePage before Saturday.

School board directors in Regional School Unit 19, the home district of Fredette, of Newport, issued a resolution urging the state to fund public education at the level approved by Maine voters in 2003.

The state’s “failure to pay 55 percent of school funding forces towns comprising RSU 19 to make up the difference, often by raising property taxes, cutting essential services, or both,” the resolution, dated June 20, states. The lack of state funding for education is resulting in additional losses of $715,000 from an already strained budget, “causing our children and our communities to suffer,” the resolution adds.

RSU 19 serves the towns of Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra and St. Albans.

Christopher Easton, chairman of the RSU 19 board, said Monday that the vote on the resolution was unanimous. He said it was the right thing to do.

Funding for education in the current proposed state budget comes in at 47 percent, he said.

Rob Poindexter, communications director for House Republicans and a resident of RSU 19, said he was surprised by the resolution, noting that the district already receives 62.3 percent of its funding from the state, a fact acknowledged by Easton. Poindexter asked rhetorically whether the board would like to see that drop to 55 percent.

“They’re free to pass whatever resolution they want, but RSU 19 is funded at greater than 62 percent,” he said.


While Easton said it is true that RSU 19 receives that much in state aid to education, his board is concerned about the mandate issued by voters to fund education at 55 percent all across the state, for all school districts.

“The vote, by referendum, which was many years ago, called for the 55 percent for all of the districts in the state combined,” Easton said.

He said the Maine Department of Education accepts the funding and breaks it up for distribution based on economic need. If that was funding at 55 percent, RSU 19 would get funding in “the high 60s,” he said.

“We talked about it many other meetings before,” Easton said. “The governor’s budget slashed us $715,000, and we’re already cutting close to the bone. It’s a plea to advocate that the state should live up to a vote calling for the state to live up to the promise of public education.”

Maine Democrats on Monday targeted Fredette and his House Republicans.

“What is it going to take for Rep. Fredette to realize that Mainers want fair funding for their schools?” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement. “It is time for Rep. Fredette and his GOP caucus to do the right thing, to support Maine people and fully fund the state’s share of K-12 public education.”

House Republicans last week offered to put more money into education but insisted on eliminating an income tax surcharge of 3 percent on affluent households, as negotiations on a new state budget continued in the face of a state government shutdown. Maine’s constitution requires the Legislature to enact a balanced budget or the government shuts down.

Fredette increased his House Republican offer on funding for public education from $30 million to $125 million, but also said Republicans remained firm in their stance on repealing the surcharge on household income over $200,000 that voters passed in November.

Easton, at RSU 19, said Fredette “orchestrated the Republican budget proposal” and it may help if the money is distributed appropriately.

RSU 19 Superintendent Mike Hammer was in conferences all day Monday and unavailable for comment on the resolution, according to the district office. Evelyn Curtis, an administrative assistant in the superintendent’s office, said the school board vote of the resolution was unanimous and a letter has been sent to the area’s state representatives.

The school board’s resolution also makes clear, Democrats said Monday, that the failure to fund education at 55 percent is “preventing RSU 19 from recruiting highly trained and qualified teachers and retaining the excellent teachers already employed by the district.”


“Rep. Fredette’s school board said it loud and clear and even put it in writing – enact a budget that funds public schools at 55 percent as mandated by Maine voters to provide vital educational resources and relief to local taxpayers,” Bartlett said. “On behalf of his own constituents, I’d encourage Rep. Fredette to heed their advice and support a budget that finally provides the resources necessary for kids and teachers to succeed.”

Messages left for Fredette on Monday were not immediately returned.

After Fredette made the offer to increase state aid to $125 million, LePage issued a statement saying that if the Legislature passes a budget similar to the latest Republican offer, he would sign it into law. That would avert a government shutdown after June 30, the constitutional deadline for getting a budget approved.

“We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between education reforms and education funds in a way that allows the policy to drive the dollars,” Fredette said in a statement last week.

“We believe with this budget, we can close out the budget process before June 30.”

The House Republican offer is about $75 million less than what Democrats say is needed for the state to fund 55 percent of public school costs – a level set in state law that has not been achieved.

Democrats have said they are open to alternatives to the 3 percent surcharge, which was enacted to funnel more money into public schools.

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

Twitter: Doug_Harlow

]]> 0 minority leaderMon, 26 Jun 2017 23:28:23 +0000