News – Press Herald Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:57:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Protesters in Skowhegan rally against Ku Klux Klan Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:57:55 +0000 Sam Sanborn remembers protesting war and flashing peace signs back when she was young, she said.

“And now, apparently, we have to do it all over again,” she said.

Sanborn, 69, of Canaan, was one of about 20 who rallied at the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges in Skowhegan at noon Saturday in response to Ku Klux Klan fliers recently found in central and southern Maine.

“This is a community response to the Klan trying to recruit in our state,” said Rob, who organized the rally with his wife, Bria, and declined to give his last name. “They’re not welcome here.”

In late January, residents of the Sand Hill neighborhood in Augusta awoke to find KKK fliers in their driveways purporting to be for a “neighborhood watch.”

Freeport residents also reported finding what appear to be the same fliers near their homes, and at least one flier was reportedly found in a mailbox in Gardiner.

Michael Moore of Veazie, who attended the rally in Skowhegan, said he was shocked by the fliers.

“I can’t believe people are passing out KKK literature in this day and age,” Moore, 73, said. He went to the March on Washington in 1963 and can’t believe that he’s still protesting the same things, he said.

Nearly everyone in the group had brought a sign – which included lines like “Destroy Fascism,” “No hate in this state” and “Love thy neighbor” – to hold up on the bitter, foggy day.

While passengers in one car at the beginning of the rally flipped off the group, dozens of others beeped in solidarity. One man in a pickup truck stopped to ask what the rally was about, giving a thumbs up when they said they were protesting the Ku Klux Klan.

A Portland Press Herald article in February detailed the history of the Klan in Maine. In the 1920s, membership reached 40,000 and while the Klan targeted small groups of minority communities in the state, it also focused on the large numbers of Irish Catholics and French-Canadian immigrants.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: madelinestamour

]]> 0 stand on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges in Skowhegan on Saturday to protest the Ku Klux Klan.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:57:55 +0000
Nerve agent danger may linger at Malaysia airport Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:43:33 +0000 In the hour before and after Kim Jong Nam was supposed to fly from Malaysia to Macau at 10 a.m. on Feb. 13, nearly 200 flights were scheduled to fly to or from Kuala Lumpur.

Flights from nearby Singapore, more than a dozen. Arrivals from airports all over Southeast Asia. Flights to Qatar, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. A flight from Alaska and two flights to London’s Heathrow Airport. Some 200 flights moving thousands of people across the globe.

Kim didn’t make his flight to Macau. Before his plane departed, a young woman approached him from behind and apparently swiped his face with a cloth. That cloth may have contained the nerve toxin VX, according to Malaysian authorities. Kim, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, died at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

But consider all of the people getting ready for some of those 199 flights. Each of them was possibly within 100 yards of a rare, deadly nerve agent that might have made its way through the airport until the moment that it was swiped on Kim’s face. Depending on how the VX got onto that cloth, and where, and how careful the two women assassins were in applying and transporting it, that danger could remain.


Cindy Vestergaard is senior associate at the Stimson Center, a national security think tank in Washington, D.C. She spoke by phone Friday from Australia, where she is a visiting fellow at the Center for International Studies at the University of Sydney.”VX is highly toxic. It just takes a drop, and that’s it,” she said. “Unless you have an antidote, you’re gone.”

Vestergaard pointed out the obvious risk posed by an assassin carrying a cloth with VX through an airport.

“We watched her walk across one of the terminals. She would have had to have carried this cloth with her. Even if she had gloves on, it would have dispersed somehow, somewhere,” she said. “Onto her, maybe onto someone else if she would have brushed against someone. Something would have dropped, onto a shoe, onto a suitcase.” Wherever she doused the cloth might be contaminated, Vestergaard said. “Even to open the vial and carry a vial” risks contaminating the environment.

The toxin “can remain on material, equipment and terrain for long periods,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says on its website. “All nerve agents in pure state are colorless liquids. Their volatility varies widely. The consistency of VX may be likened to an involatile oil and is therefore classified as belonging to the group of persistent CW agents.” A suitcase sitting on the tarmac in the rain could have a drop of VX washed off, for example, but in other places it could linger for some time.


It works quickly. “Its effect is mainly through direct contact with the skin,” the OPCW says. Poisoning using a gas leads to a more rapid effect than through contact with the skin, because in the latter case it can take 20 to 30 minutes for the agent to reach deeper blood vessels.

When it does, however, the effect is to essentially paralyze respiratory functions – the victim suffocates. Because persistent agents don’t evaporate, it requires a smaller amount to kill. In the case of VX, the OPCW says, the amount of the agent required to have a fatal effect in 50 percent of victims is 10 milligrams.

An amount the size of three snowflakes. One-ninth of a grain of sand.

“I think the investigation now – if this is confirmed to be nerve agent – is going to be massive because it is in an airport,” Vestergaard said.

“You’re going to have to track those people that were in that area. What planes were being checked in. You have to have a hotline, if anyone gets sick. All those people will have to be tested.”

On Friday, the authority in charge of the airport released a statement indicating that there were “no anomalies” among those who sought medical care in the airport’s clinic.

What’s more, Malaysia Airports said, the airport is cleaned six times a day and “the cleaning staff are in good health.” That said, the terminal where Kim was murdered – KLIA2 – was to be swept Saturday night for indicators of the presence of VX, according to Reuters.

]]> 0 scan departure information at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, on Friday. Police say that the banned VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned at the airport. Associated PressSat, 25 Feb 2017 17:56:47 +0000
Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro in Rangeley a family affair Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:40:45 +0000 RANGELEY — Food is a family obsession for Mike Kupstas.

Kupstas, 59, co-owner of the Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro in Rangeley, has worked in the industry since he landed his first job at McDonald’s at 16.

His wife and two adult children are foodies, as are their spouses. And every Sunday Mike and his brother Steve, his fellow Forks in the Air co-owner, hop on the phone to discuss the Sunday meals they are preparing for their families, bridging the 1,500-mile divide between Mike’s home in St. Louis, Missouri, and Steve’s in West Brookfield, Massachusetts.

Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro in Rangeley offers a menu that two brother-co-owners review every week. The bistro will participate in Maine Restaurant Week, which runs March 1-12. Courtesy photo

So when Kupstas and his family saw an opportunity to open up a restaurant on Main Street in Rangeley they knew they had to take it. They had fallen for Rangeley decades earlier. Kupstas started coming to the area when he was 6 years old and raised his two children on the region’s lakes and mountains.

“We had this vision that we could have chef-driven, very unique food with everything made from scratch that people would come for and respect even in a small tourist community like Rangeley,” he said.

Since the restaurant’s first year, Forks in the Air has been participating in Maine Restaurant Week presented by Maine Magazine, which runs March 1-12. The Rangeley restaurant is the only one from Franklin County participating in the promotion, which runs March 1-12, with most hailing from southern and coastal Maine.

The Kupstas’ opened Forks in the Air in July 2013 and unlike many local businesses, committed to keeping the restaurant open year-round to provide employment for staff and reliable, fresh fare for residents, second homeowners and visitors.

The restaurant boasts a rotating seasonal menu stocked with rustic comfort food like quail, duck or short ribs.

Head chef Payson Farrar said when it comes time to change the menu, he checks in with local farmers to see what they’re growing. As a rule, Farrar and Kupstas said Forks in the Air tries to source their meats, seafood and produce locally, bringing in eggs, carrots and other vegetables from local farms.

Kate McCormick can be contacted at 861-9218 or at:

Twitter: KateRMcCormick

]]> 0 to right are Steve Kupstas, co-owner; Karen Seaman, general manager; and Mike Kupstas, co-owner, of the Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro in Rangeley.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:53:17 +0000
Unity Raceway set to open under new ownership Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:26:15 +0000 UNITY — The first show of the year at Unity Raceway will open at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 5, under the new ownership of George and Sherry Fernald, who plan to make a few changes to the more than 150-year-old racetrack that they bought from Ralph Nason in 2016.

George Fernald

But while Fernald hopes to revive the raceway as a center of community for the town of Unity, some people say it is noisy and no longer matches the vision of what Unity is today.

One of those critics is Ken Copp, a local furniture maker who owns Locust Grove Woodworks and is formerly Amish but still lives an Amish-like lifestyle.

“It’s the antithesis to the vision and the majority of the town,” Copp said of the raceway.

But Mary Leaming, chairwoman of the Economic Development Committee, said she thinks the unique blend of interests and diverse generations in town is part of what makes Unity great.

“Some of the things that have put Unity on the map are organizations like (the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) and Unity College, and at the same time what used to put Unity on the map was the raceway,” Leaming said. “I think there’s something very neat about having a community that has a diverse drawing of attractions.”

Unity woodworker Ken Copp says he believes the community is defined historically by agriculture and farming and not by enterprises like car racing at Unity Raceway. Staff photo by David Leaming

The opening race on March 5 will feature a “new class” for racing in Maine, George Fernald said: Any two-wheel drive, American-made, four-door car is eligible to race.

“What we wanted was a cheap class to race,” he said. “There’s all kinds of these cars, and they’re cheap to get.”

To fix up a car like an Impala or a Buick for a race would cost around $1,000 if you did it yourself, he said. Each car will have to have a number and a theme so kids can pick their favorites.

This first race will also be on 5 to 6 inches of snow, he said, which he hopes to make an annual event.

“It’s just something different, something to break up the winter,” he said.

Fernald, 53, of Benton, started racing back in 1981, he said.

“I raced over 30 years myself there,” he said. “I just love the place.”

]]> 0 FernaldSat, 25 Feb 2017 17:56:40 +0000
Global warming shrinking Colorado River, scientists say Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:19:25 +0000 DENVER — Global warming is already shrinking the Colorado River, the most important waterway in the American Southwest, and it could reduce the flow by more than a third by the end of the century, two scientists say.

The river’s volume has dropped more than 19 percent during a drought gripping the region since 2000, and a shortage of rain and snow can account for only about two-thirds of that decline, according to hydrology researchers Brad Udall of Colorado State University and Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona.

In a study published last week in the journal Water Resources Research, they concluded that the rest of the decline is because of a warming atmosphere induced by climate change, which is drawing more moisture out of the Colorado River Basin’s waterways, snowbanks, plants and soil by evaporation and other means.

Their projections could signal big problems for cities and farmers across the 246,000-square-mile basin, which spans parts of seven states and Mexico. The river supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland.

“Fifteen years into the 21st century, the emerging reality is that climate change is already depleting the Colorado River water supplies at the upper end of the range suggested by previously published projections,” the researchers wrote. “Record-setting temperatures are an important and underappreciated component of the flow reductions now being observed.”

The Colorado River and its two major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are already overtaxed. Water storage at Mead was at 42 percent of capacity Wednesday, and Powell was at 46 percent.

Water managers have said that Mead could drop low enough to trigger cuts next year in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, which would be the first states affected by shortages under the multistate agreements and rules governing the system.

But heavy snow in the West this winter may keep the cuts at bay. Snowpack in the Wyoming and Colorado mountains that provide much of the Colorado River’s water ranged from 120 to 216 percent of normal Thursday.

For their study, Udall and Overpeck analyzed temperature, precipitation and water volume in the basin from 2000 to 2014 and compared it with historical data, including a 1953-1967 drought. Temperature and precipitation records date to 1896 and river flow records to 1906.

Temperatures in the 2000-2014 period were a record 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the historical average, while precipitation was about 4.6 percent below, they said.

Using existing climate models, the researchers said that much decline in precipitation should have produced a reduction of about 11.4 percent in the river flow, not the 19.3 percent that occurred.

They concluded that the rest was due to higher temperatures, which increased evaporation from water and soil, sucked more moisture from snow and sent more water from plant leaves into the atmosphere.

Udall said climate scientists can predict temperatures with more certainty than they can precipitation, so studying their individual effects on river flow can help water managers.

]]> 0 "bathtub ring" marks the high water mark as a recreational boat approaches Hoover Dam along Black Canyon on Lake Mead, the largest Colorado River reservoir, in 2013.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:44:30 +0000
New EPA chief delays mining site cleanup rule after industry objects Sat, 25 Feb 2017 21:40:30 +0000 BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration has delayed consideration of a proposal to require companies to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up polluted mining sites after a pushback from industry groups and Western-state Republicans.

Companies in the past have avoided cleanups of many mining sites by declaring bankruptcy. That prompted the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama to pursue changes that would prevent taxpayers from getting stuck with cleanup bills.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said “we are listening to miners, owners and operators” regarding a rule that would mandate proving that mine cleanup funds are available. Associated Press/Sue Ogrocki

But newly sworn-in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt directed his staff on Friday to delay consideration of the Obama-era proposal for four months, in order to gather more public comment. Pruitt was a frequent critic of the agency during his previous position as Oklahoma attorney general, suing the EPA numerous times.

Contaminated water from abandoned mine sites can flow into rivers and other waterways, harming aquatic life and threatening drinking water supplies.

Environmentalists who endorsed the Obama administration’s proposal as a way to make sure mining companies were held accountable said the delay signals Pruitt is aligning with mining companies when it comes to pollution.

“It appears the new EPA administrator is already favoring industry over public interest with this delay,” said Bonnie Gestring with the advocacy group Earthworks.

The delayed rule was unveiled late last year under a court order that requires it to be finalized in December 2017. The order came after environmental groups sued the government to enforce a long-ignored provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law.

Mining industry representatives contended the proposed changes were unnecessary and redundant because of other programs meant to prevent mines from becoming government cleanup liabilities.

“By extending this comment period, we are demonstrating that we are listening to miners, owners and operators all across America and to all parties interested in this important rule,” Pruitt said in a statement.

EPA officials said Friday they still intend to meet the court-ordered deadline.

The proposal would apply to hard-rock mining, which includes mines for precious metals, copper, iron, lead and other ores. It would cover thousands of mines and processing facilities in 38 states, requiring their owners to set aside sufficient money to pay for future clean ups.

From 2010 to 2014, the EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hard-rock mining and processing sites.

]]> 0, 25 Feb 2017 17:35:30 +0000
Advance of Iraqi forces slows in Mosul under stiff resistance from Islamic State group Sat, 25 Feb 2017 21:10:57 +0000 MOSUL, Iraq — The Iraqi advance into Mosul’s western half slowed Saturday as combat turned to urban warfare and Iraqi forces met stiff resistance from the Islamic State group. Hundreds of civilians poured out of Mosul on foot following the advances, but the vast majority of 750,000 estimated to still be in the city’s west remain trapped, and describe deteriorating humanitarian and security conditions.

Special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said that his troops are “moving very slowly” and that Islamic State fighters are responding with car bombs, snipers and dozens of armed drones.

The drones have caused relatively few deaths, but have inflicted dozens of light injuries that have disrupted the pace of ground operations.

Similar to the way operations inside eastern Mosul initially unfolded, in west Mosul, Islamic State fighters repeatedly brought Iraqi convoys to a halt Saturday with small teams of one or two men and a handful of car bombs.

Al-Saadi said the Mamun neighborhood was particularly difficult because its streets are not organized in a grid. “The roads are random,” he said.

The difficulty foreshadows obstacles Iraqi forces expect to face in the narrow alleyways of western Mosul’s historic district.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:11:39 +0000
Twin attacks on Syria security offices kill at least 32 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 21:09:52 +0000 BEIRUT — In synchronized attacks, insurgents stormed into heavily guarded security offices in Syria’s central Homs city, clashed with troops and then blew themselves up, killing a senior officer and at least 31 others, state media and officials reported.

The swift, high-profile attacks against the Military Intelligence and State Security offices, among Syria’s most powerful, were claimed by an al-Qaida-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee. A Syrian lawmaker on a state-affiliated TV station called it a “heavy blow” to Syria’s security apparatuses.

The attacks came as Syrian government and opposition delegates meet in Geneva in U.N.-mediated talks aimed at building momentum toward peace despite low expectations of a breakthrough. The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called the attacks “tragic.”

“Every time we had talks or a negotiation, there was always someone who was trying to spoil it. We were expecting that,” he said.

Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Ja’afari, who leads Damascus’ delegation to Geneva, said the attacks were a message from the “sponsors of terrorism” to the peace talks.

Al-Ja’afari said the attacks will not go unanswered.

No footage or pictures emerged from the typically tightly-secured scene of the attacks in the city center. Activists said the city was on high alert after the attacks, with government troops blocking roads and forcing shops to close.

The government responded with an intense airstrike campaign against the only neighborhood on the city’s outskirts still under opposition control and other parts of rural Homs.

The government regained control of the city of Homs – one of the first to rise against President Bashar Assad – in 2015. But al-Waer neighborhood remained in rebel hands. Settlement negotiations to evacuate it have repeatedly faltered.

The attack early Saturday was the most high-profile in a city that has been the scene of repeated suicide attacks since the government regained control. The head of Military Intelligence services Maj. Gen Hassan Daeboul, who was killed in Saturday’s attack, had been transferred from the capital to Homs last year to address security failures in the city, according to local media reports at the time.

Daeboul was killed by one of the suicide bombers, according to Syrian State News Agency SANA.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:09:52 +0000
Hailed as hero in Kansas bar shooting, victim says he just did the right thing Sat, 25 Feb 2017 20:08:08 +0000 In the video posted to YouTube, Ian Grillot has his neck in a brace and his surgically repaired hand bandaged and protected.

He has heard, he says in the footage, that some have called him a hero.

“No, it’s not like that,” Grillot says. “I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”

Grillot, 24, says he tried to intervene on Wednesday night when gunshots rang out at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas. In the aftermath, investigators were working to determine whether the fatal attack, which left one Indian man dead, was “bias motivated.” Authorities have not called the incident a hate crime and have not released many details of the attack.

The Kansas City Star reports that the shooting occurred shortly after halftime of the KU basketball game, when the bar was crowded. According to the newspaper, Adam W. Purinton, a 51-year-old man charged in the shooting, reportedly opened fire after telling two people, who were both Indian men, to “get out of my country.”

Srinivas Kuchibhotla, left, with Alok Madasani and Madasani’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kuchibhotla and Madasani were targeted in a bar by a gunman who yelled, “get out of my country,” according to witnesses, and then opened fire in Olathe, Kan. Kuchibhotla died. Photo courtesy of Kranti Shalia via Associated Press

One of those two men, 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla, later died from the wounds he suffered in the encounter. The second man, Alok Madasani, also 32, survived, as did Grillot, another patron at the bar.

Witnesses told the Star and The Washington Post that Purinton was thought to have been kicked out of Austins before the Wednesday night shooting occurred. Garret Bohnen, a bar regular who was there the night of the shooting, told The Post that Purinton “seemed kind of distraught.”

“He started drinking pretty fast,” he said.

Purinton reportedly hurled racial slurs at the two Indian men before he began shooting, according to the Star. His comments indicated he believed Kuchibhotla and Madasani were of Middle Eastern descent. Grillot in the YouTube video describes the shooting, saying he tried to step in after a few rounds were fired and was hit.

“Ian, You are an amazingly brave person,” read one comment on an online fundraiser page, which by Friday evening had raised more than $200,000 for Grillot. “You have personified the real America, we all know and love. I wish you a speedy recovery and thank you, your parents and family for the values you have.”

“A true hero you are,” said another. “Get well soon brother …”

“Thank you for not being a bystander,” read a third, which also called Grillot a “hero” for what he did.

In an update posted to the Go Fund Me page on Friday, a woman who said she was Grillot’s sister described her brother Ian as stubborn and hard-headed, passionate and determined. She wrote that he “knows anything and everything about fish and other small creatures,” and loves to spend time with friends and family members.

Adam Purinton Henry County, Missouri, Sheriff's Office via Associated Press

“My brother is caring,” she wrote. “He would give the shirt off his back or last $5 to a total stranger.”

Yes, she wrote, he was “the biggest pain in my butt at times.” But he would also always be one of the first to “come to my rescue” if she needed it.

“Ian is not a hero,” she wrote. “Ian was simply doing what he knew he had to do. What we were raised to do. Stand up for those who need it. Do the right thing no matter how difficult it is.”

In the video, which was posted on the University of Kansas Hospital’s YouTube page, Grillot recounted the shooting, saying that he had initially ducked under a table when the gunshots began. He tried to keep count and thought he heard nine shots. He expected the shooter’s magazine to be empty.

“I guess I miscounted, with everything going on,” Grillot said.

Grillot said he was shot after he got up and tried to chase down the gunman. The round went through his hand, he said, and through his chest.

“Barely missed my carotid artery, I guess,” he says.

According to Grillot, it fractured one of his vertebrae, too.

“That was about the gist of it,” Grillot said in the video. “Then I remember being here at the hospital. So, I wasn’t really thinking when I did that. It was just, that wasn’t right. And I didn’t want the gentleman to potentially go after somebody else. If he did it once, what would stop him from doing it again?”

]]> 0, 25 Feb 2017 15:14:25 +0000
Thorny skate misses out on endangered species list Sat, 25 Feb 2017 19:46:39 +0000 The thorny skate’s population may have declined, but not by enough to justify listing it under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has ruled.

Environmental groups had argued that the thorny skate’s population loss in the northwest Atlantic Ocean was considerable enough to afford it protections set aside for endangered animals. But the National Marine Fisheries Service disagrees.

Documents published in the Federal Register on Friday state that the fisheries service has concluded the thorny skate is “not currently in danger of extinction” in all or a significant piece of its range. The service said the fish is also not likely to become in danger of extinction soon.

The agency agreed with the petitioners that surveys of the skate have declined over time. Recent catch surveys show less than 5 percent of the peak they reached in the 1970s, the report stated.

However, the skates “remain numerous throughout the greater portion of their range, numbering in the hundreds of millions,” the report stated.

The thorny skate ranges from Greenland to South Carolina. Animal Welfare Institute and Defenders of Wildlife called on the federal government to offer the fish Endangered Species Act listing, which could have led to habitat protection or new fishing restrictions.

The skates live in the Gulf of Maine, a key commercial fishing area, and the call to protect them generated some resistance from fishing groups.

Tara Zuardo, an attorney for Animal Welfare Institute, said Saturday that the group is disappointed by the government’s ruling, and disagrees that the skate is not being subjected to overfishing.

“Climate change and other factors continue to impact this species,” Zuardo said.

Fishermen have been prohibited from harvesting the thorny skate commercially since 2003. The fish are sometimes taken as bycatch in other fisheries, including by vessels that seek cod and some that seek other skates.

Skates have commercial value as bait as well as food, with the meat frequently appearing as “skate wing” on menus. It tends to be a little less expensive to consumers than other kinds of fish.

]]> 0 thorny skate, a bottom-dwelling fish whose habitat in the north Atlantic Ocean ranges from Greenland to South Carolina, will not be listed as an endangered species.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:16:17 +0000
Maine task force says private investment could help students learn to read Sat, 25 Feb 2017 19:40:14 +0000 AUGUSTA – A state task force says that help from the private sector could help address Maine’s low third-grade literacy rates.

The task force’s recent report supports a pilot program addressing early childhood program supported by loans from private investors or performance-based contracts.

The idea is to expand early childhood and pre-kindergarten education programs that can help students improve literacy rates and prepare for kindergarten.

About 36 percent of Maine fourth-graders are proficient in reading, according to test scores, compared with 43 percent in New England and 35 percent nationally.

The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab is offering to help governments figure out what kind of public-private partnership would work best.

The task force wants legislators to apply for the Harvard program.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 14:40:14 +0000
Tom Perez elected as first Latino leader of Democratic Party Sat, 25 Feb 2017 18:24:19 +0000 ATLANTA — Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected as the first Latino chair of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, defeating Rep. Keith Ellison at a contentious party meeting in Atlanta.

“With hard work and a hell of a lot of organizing, we will turn this party around,” said Perez, his voice hoarse after a week that took him to 10 states, locking up the final votes he needed from the 447-member DNC.

“We’ve got to come out of here hand in hand, brothers and sisters, because Trump is right outside of that door,” said Ellison before the final vote, which came on a second ballot.

Ellison’s defeat was a blow to the party’s liberal wing, personified by activists, labor leaders, and organizers who had come to Atlanta to cheer him on. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who had lobbied hard for Ellison, worried that the party was alienating the growing “resistance” that has organized against President Trump.

“If you polled Democrats outside of this room, Keith would win,” said Jeff Weaver, “Keith’s support is from the people on the street.”

The vote itself was tense. On Friday night, Democrats gathered at a downtown Westin to meet, drink, and lobby for votes, and the Ellison campaign – along with allies of South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a third candidate – battled rumors that Perez might have locked up the needed votes.

But by Saturday morning, it was clear that the race was up for grabs. Buttigieg used his nomination speech to quit the race, endorsing no candidate. As the 439 present DNC members cast their votes – eight eligible members did not attend – several DNC members got a text from the Ellison camp, saying the congressman was “grateful to have the support of Mayor Buttigieg.”

After the mayor denied the text, Perez won 213.5 votes to 200 for Ellison, 12 for Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown, 0.5 for Democratic strategist Jehmu Greene and 1 for Buttigieg. Greene endorsed Perez, while two fringe candidates who had won no votes backed Ellison.

Perez’s victory did not represent a Democratic shift to right. On key issues, Perez’s platform mostly resembled Ellison’s. Perez promised to refocus on small donors and online fundraising; Ellison set a goal for “low-dollar contributions from everyday Americans (to) account for 33 percent of revenue.” Ellison called for an “Innovation Hub” in Silicon Valley; Perez promoted DNC fellowships to “encourage developers, programmers, data scientists, (and) engineers.”

While Perez and Ellison praised each other personally, the race was defined for outsiders by Ellison’s backing by Sanders. Ellison was one of very few members of Congress who had backed Sanders for president. He billed himself as the “unity candidate” who would keep Sanders’ restive supporters in the party while embracing supporters of Hillary Clinton.

In the first weeks after Ellison declared his candidacy, the strategy seemed to be working, despite hiccups. Labor unions that had endorsed Clinton, like the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, got behind Ellison.

Howard Dean, the most successful chair in modern party history, dropped his plans to run again when Ellison said he’d resign from Congress if elected to the full-time job. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who had frequently clashed with Dean over strategy and investments, endorsed Ellison and defended the first Muslim member of Congress against charges of anti-Semitism.

But veterans of the Obama administration, where Perez had been a popular, progressive force, encouraged him to run – and starting on Dec. 15, he did. In progressive media, the race was frequently covered as a clash between “the establishment” and the “revolution” that had been proven right by the 2016 election.

That wasn’t how most DNC members chose to see it. Over a series of public forums, the final one broadcast on CNN this week, Ellison and Perez declined to criticize each other. While progressive media accused Perez of protecting the party’s consultant class,

DNC members who broke for Perez said that he’d convinced them that he knew what state parties needed.

“Tom seemed to have a better handle on the job,” said Kathy Sullivan, the former chair of New Hampshire’s Democratic Party, who endorsed Perez after current state chair Ray Buckley quit the race.

Perez was also helped by a string of endorsements from Obama administration veterans – though, as Ellison backers noticed, he did not win any high-profile supporters of Sanders to compete with Ellison’s endorsements from Clintonites. The Feb. 1 endorsement of Perez by former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the party’s most beloved figures, prompted Sanders to criticize Perez for the first time.

“Do we stay with a failed status-quo approach or do we go forward with a fundamental restructuring of the Democratic Party?” Sanders said in a statement after Biden’s endorsement. “I say we go forward and create a grassroots party which speaks for working people and is prepared to stand up to the top one percent.”

Most of the DNC’s membership – just 39 of whom had backed Sanders for president in 2016 – disagreed that the choice was that stark. Sanders supporters, including Ellison, had largely succeeded in moving the party’s platform left. In interviews, some acknowledged that there would be walk-outs by Sanders diehards in their states, but that the daily outrages around Trump might bring them back into the process.

That confidence was displayed before the vote on the chair, as DNC members debated whether to strike language from California’s Christine Pelosi that would have restored a ban on corporate donations to the DNC that was quietly rolled back under the controversial tenure of former DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

“This resolution has nothing to do with non-profit organizations,” said Larry Cohen, the former president of the Communication Workers of America who had backed Sanders in 2016. “This is to send a message, loud and clear, that the DNC itself – not candidates, not state parties – will restore the ban that President Obama put into effect.”

When the language was struck, a few of the activists who had come to cheer Ellison – from members of National Nursed United, to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, to Democratic Socialists of America – started a brief chant.

“Money out of politics! Money out of politics!”

]]> 0 - In this Sept. 29, 2014 file photo, then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez speaks in the South Court Auditorium in the White House compound in Washington. National Democrats will elect a new chair whose task is to steady a reeling party and capitalize on the widespread opposition to Republican President Donald Trump. Leading contenders in the Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, vote are Perez and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:59:28 +0000
Maine banks foreclosed on fewer homes in 2016 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:44:09 +0000 AUGUSTA – Foreclosure filings launched by state-chartered banks are continuing to drop below recession-era levels.

Maine’s financial institutions began reporting a noticeable increase in foreclosure filings in 2008.

A recent state report found Maine’s state-chartered banks and credit unions held 74,000 first-lien mortgages at the end of 2016. Of those, 183 were in the process of foreclosure.

That’s the lowest level in eight years.

The state Bureau of Financial Institutions says it’s been surveying the 31 state-chartered banks and credit unions about foreclosure activity since 2006. That doesn’t include federally-chartered banks and credit unions and licensed mortgage companies.

The number of completed foreclosures actually increased in 2016. But the state bureau said it’s not concerning and may have been a result of earlier confusion about the foreclosure activity process that caused delays.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 12:44:09 +0000
White House defends contact between chief of staff, FBI Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:25:56 +0000 WASHINGTON – The White House on Friday defended chief of staff Reince Priebus against accusations he breached a government firewall when he asked FBI Director James Comey to publicly dispute media reports that Trump campaign advisers had been frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents.

President Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, argued Priebus had little choice but to seek Comey’s assistance in rebutting what Spicer said were inaccurate reports about contacts during last year’s presidential campaign. The FBI did not issue the statement requested by Priebus and has given no sign one is forthcoming.

“I don’t know what else we were supposed to do,” Spicer said.

The Justice Department has policies in place to limit communications between the White House and the FBI about pending investigations. Trump officials on Friday not only confirmed contacts between Priebus and the FBI, but engaged in an extraordinary public airing of those private conversations.

Spicer said it was the FBI that first approached the White House about the veracity of a New York Times story asserting that Trump advisers had contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign. Spicer said Priebus then asked both FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe if they would condemn the story publicly, which they declined to do.

“The chief of staff said, well, you’ve put us in a very difficult situation,” Spicer said. “You’ve told us that a story that made some fairly significant accusations was not true. And now you want us to just sit out there.”


The FBI would not comment on the matter or verify the White House account. The CIA also declined to comment.

The White House also enlisted the help of Republicans on Capitol Hill to talk to reporters about the New York Times story. Jack Langer, a spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the White House asked Nunes to speak with one reporter. He said the chairman told the journalist the same thing that he has said publicly many times before – that he had asked but not received any information from intelligence officials that would warrant a committee investigation of any American citizens’ contacts with Russian intelligence officials.

Langer acknowledged that this could make it harder to convince people that the House investigation into the matter will be independent and free of political bias, but he said the White House did not tell Nunes what to tell the reporter, or give him “talking points.”

The ranking Democrat on the committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said if the White House indeed contrived to have intelligence officials contradict unfavorable news reports, it threatens the independence of the intelligence community.

“Intelligence professionals are not there to serve as the president’s PR firm,” Schiff said, adding, “For its part, the intelligence community must resist improper efforts like these by the administration to politicize its role.”


The Washington Post reported Friday that the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee also was enlisted by the White House. The newspaper quoted Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., saying he had conversations about Russia-related news reports with the White House and engaged with news organizations to dispute articles by The New York Times and CNN.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, said Friday night that he had called CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Burr to express his “grave concerns about what this means for the independence” of the congressional investigation already underway.

Warner said he emphasized to the two that he would “not accept any process that is undermined by political interference.” He said if the Senate intelligence committee cannot conduct a proper probe, he will support whomever can do it.

Friday’s revelations were the latest wrinkle in Trump’s already complicated relationship with the FBI and other intelligence agencies. He’s accused intelligence officials of releasing classified information about him to the media, declaring in a tweet Friday morning that the FBI was “totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Priebus of “an outrageous breach of the FBI’s independence” and called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into all conversations Priebus and other White House officials have held with the FBI on ongoing investigations.

“The rule of law depends on the FBI’s complete independence, free from political pressure from the targets of its investigations,” Pelosi said.


A 2009 memo from then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is to advise the White House on pending criminal or civil investigations “only when it is important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”

Ron Hosko, a retired FBI assistant director who oversaw criminal investigations, said the discussions between the FBI and the Trump White House were inadvisable.

“It is a very slippery slope,” Hosko said. “Do I get in the position of where I’m updating the White House on my priority criminal cases? The answer is no, I should not be doing that.”

Other FBI veterans said the interactions between Priebus and the FBI were not unprecedented. Robert Anderson, a retired executive assistant director who served under Comey and oversaw counterintelligence investigations, said contacts between the bureau and White House are “usually very-well documented” in order to avoid the perception of inappropriate contacts.

CNN first reported that Priebus had asked the FBI for help, and a White House official confirmed the matter to The Associated Press Thursday night. On Friday morning, two other senior White House officials summoned reporters to a briefing to expand on the timeline of events.

The White House officials would only discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity. Two hours later, Trump panned news stories that rely on anonymous sources, telling a conservative conference that reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”

Spicer later briefed some reporters on the record. The Associated Press declined to participate in that briefing because some major news organizations were not invited, but audio of the briefing was later circulated by reporters who attended.

Trump has been shadowed by questions about potential ties to Russia since winning the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the campaign in an effort to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

On Feb. 14, The New York Times reported that intelligence agencies had collected phone records and call intercepts showing frequent communication between Trump advisers and Russian intelligence agents during the campaign. Trump has said he is not aware of such contacts.

The White House says Priebus was holding a previously scheduled meeting with McCabe the morning after the Times story was published. According to Spicer, McCabe told Priebus in “very colorful terms” that the report was inaccurate, prompting the chief of staff to ask if the FBI would make its view known publicly.

Spicer said McCabe told the White House the bureau did not want to be in the practice of rebutting news stories. A similar message was conveyed to Priebus later in the day by Comey, according to the White House spokesman.

The White House said McCabe and Comey instead gave Priebus the go-ahead to discredit the story publicly, something the FBI has not confirmed.


Priebus alluded to his contacts with the FBI over the weekend, telling Fox News that “the top levels of the intelligence community” had assured him that the allegations of campaign contacts with Russia were “not only grossly overstated but also wrong.”

During the campaign, Trump and other Republicans strongly criticized a meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton, husband of Trump’s general election opponent. The meeting came as the FBI – which is overseen by the Justice Department – was investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and personal internet server.

Spicer said he was not aware of an FBI investigation into Trump campaign advisers’ contacts with Russia. Administration officials have acknowledged that the FBI interviewed ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the transition.

Flynn was fired after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about the content of those conversations.

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Eric Tucker, Vivian Salama, Jill Colvin and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Trump has been shadowed by questions about potential ties to Russia since winning the election.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 12:52:52 +0000
Power is mostly restored in Bangor area Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:14:21 +0000 A Maine utility says it has restored power to most customers affected by a problem with a transmission line on Saturday.

Emera Maine said the outage has affected 4,672 customers in Penobscot County. The utility said the problem began in the Old Town and Orono area, where the University of Maine is located.

The utility says customers were also affected in Alton, Argyle Township, Glenburn, Hudson and Stillwater.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 13:39:05 +0000
Jodie Foster, Michael J. Fox call for unity at rally for immigration rights Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:42:48 +0000 BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – As most of Hollywood gears up for the Oscars on Sunday and the whirlwind of events and parties this weekend, celebrities and top talent agents gathered in Beverly Hills to do something a little different: rally for immigration rights.

Jodie Foster, Michael J. Fox and Keegan-Michael Key were among the speakers at Friday’s rally, organized by the United Talent Agency outside their Beverly Hills headquarters. The talent agency, better known as UTA, planned the nearly two-hour United Voices rally in lieu of holding its annual Oscars party. Security officials estimated there were 1,200 people in attendance.

Key, who kicked things off, said the event was intended to “support the creative community’s growing concern with anti-immigration sentiment in the United States of America and its potential chilling effect on the global exchange of ideas, not to mention freedom of expression.”

Jodie Foster speaks at the “United Voices” Rally at United Talent Agency headquarters on Friday in Beverly Hills. As most of Hollywood gears up for the Oscars on Sunday and the whirlwind of events and parties this weekend, celebrities and top talent agents gathered in Beverly Hills Friday to do something to do something a little different: rally for immigration rights. Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/Associated Press

He welcomed all, including a handful of Trump supporters, because “this is America, where you get to believe what you want.”

One Trump supporter walked through the crowd in a Make America Great Again hat early on saying, “You’re not going to block me.”

For the most part, however, the crowd was subdued, civil and attentive to the celebrity speakers.

Michael J. Fox speaks at the “United Voices” Rally. Fox, who became a U.S. citizen 20 years ago, said turning immigrants away is an ‘assault on human dignity.’ Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/Associated Press

Michael J. Fox, who became a United States citizen some 20 years ago, remembered being annoyed at the eight-year process to citizenship and now wonders what he was complaining about.

Turning immigrants away, Fox said, is an “assault on human dignity.”

One of the best-received was Jodie Foster, who enthusiastically yelled, “This is a great idea! Why didn’t I think of this?”

Foster said she’s never been comfortable using her public face for activism and has always found the small ways to serve, but that this year is different.

“It’s time to show up,” she said. “It’s a singular time in history. It’s time to engage. And as the very, very dead Frederick Douglass once said, ‘Any time is a good time for illumination.”‘

The Oscar-nominated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi spoke via video from Tehran to praise the show of unity among the cinema community. Farhadi previously said he would boycott Sunday’s ceremony as a result of President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

“It is comforting to know that at a time when some politicians are trying to promote hate by creating divisions between cultures, religions and nationalities, the cinema community has joined the people in a common show of unity to announce its opposition,” Farhadi said. “I hope this unity will continue and spread to fight other injustices.”

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer and Reza Aslan were among the others who took the podium during the event, which also included a DJ set and live performances from the X Ambassadors and Ben Harper.

UTA previously announced that it was donating $250,000 to the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee and has set up a crowd funding page to solicit more donations. It has raised over $320,000.

]]> 0 Foster speaks at the UTA "United Voices" Rally at United Talent Agency headquarters on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. As most of Hollywood gears up for the Oscars on Sunday and the whirlwind of events and parties this weekend, celebrities and top talent agents gathered in Beverly Hills Friday to do something to do something a little different: rally for immigration rights. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)Sat, 25 Feb 2017 10:48:36 +0000
Maine’s smelts have bounced back in a big way Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:18:15 +0000 Ice fishing for smelts is a winter tradition in Maine, where the small fish are fried and eaten whole.

Fishermen and fish camp owners say this smelt-fishing season has been a robust one after the mild winter last year produced hardly any smelts. The ice has been thick enough for fishing and smelts have been abundant.

Jim McPherson, owner of Jim’s Camps in Bowdoinham, said the season has been the best for smelt fishing at his camp in at least five years.

The fish came back this year, more than I’ve seen in the last few years,” McPherson said. “A lot of people caught their quota. I think the cycle is coming around and they are on the increase again.”

Smelts are part of many culinary traditions – from the use of their eggs in sushi to the practice among Italian-American families of incorporating them into Christmas Eve dinners. Maine’s rainbow smelts are particularly sought after.

But the nationwide catch has plummeted in recent years. And the stock as a whole in Maine remains far below historical levels, said Michael Brown, a biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Maine bans smelt fishing from March 15 to June 30 along the coast from the New Hampshire border to Owls Head.

Maine also limits how many smelts can be fished along parts of the coast.

]]> 0 Cowper of Peabody, Massachusetts, walks from his ice fishing shack at Jim Worthing's Smelt Camp on the Kennebec River in Pittston while smelting in 2013. Fishermen and state regulators say the population of smelt appears to have made a comeback in 2017 after a down year in which few of them were caught.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:27:15 +0000
UMaine launches website to help with specialty food products Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:03:41 +0000 ORONO – The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is launching a website that it says will be helpful to food manufacturers looking to work in specialty products.

The website has information about Recipe to Market, which is an extension educational program that is designed for food industry professionals and aspirants who want to start specialty food businesses.

It also links to state licensing agencies, testing services and a commercially licensed kitchen that can be rented at UMaine.

Extension professor Louis Bassano created the website along with extension food science specialist and professor Beth Calder and extension economics professor James McConnon.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 10:03:41 +0000
Man rescued from Freeport clam flats Sat, 25 Feb 2017 14:34:05 +0000 A man digging for sea worms was rescued early Saturday from a clam flat as water was rising in Casco Bay near the Harrasseeket Yacht Club in Freeport.

Cameron Blake, 27, was digging for sea worms in the clam flats off Dixon Road about 6 a.m. when the foggy predawn conditions caused him to become disoriented. He became trapped by the chilly waters rising around him, said Deputy Fire Chief Eric Sylvain. Blake is not a Freeport resident but Sylvain did not know what town he was from.

Neighbors heard Blake’s cries for help, dispatched a dinghy and were able to pull him to safety.

Blake was taken by Freeport ambulance to Maine Medical Center for treatment of a mild case of hypothermia, Sylvain said.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:57:52 +0000
Flare over Portland Harbor triggers second search Sat, 25 Feb 2017 14:16:05 +0000 A flare spotted in Portland Harbor by a bystander Friday night triggered a search by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The search was called off Saturday morning when a crew aboard a U.S. Coast Guard boat failed to find any problems or signs of someone in distress.

Chief Petty Officer Aaron Clendaniel said the bystander, standing on the Portland side of the harbor, reported spotting the flare near the Coast Guard station in South Portland at about 7:30 p.m.

A flare sighting was also reported Friday night from Rye Beach in New Hampshire.

The search crew in Portland was out for three-and-a-half hours Friday night and returned at first light on Saturday.

The search was called off when the team once again found no signs of a problem, Clendaniel said.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 09:24:45 +0000
Malaysia warns North Korea to cooperate with toxic chemical investigation Sat, 25 Feb 2017 12:53:36 +0000 KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysian police said Saturday that they would issue an arrest warrant for a North Korean diplomat if he refuses to cooperate with the investigation into the deadly attack on North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un’s exiled half brother.

The investigation has unleashed a serious diplomatic fight between Malaysia and North Korea, a prime suspect in the Feb. 13 killing of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Friday’s revelation by Malaysian police that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim raised the stakes significantly in a case that has broad geopolitical implications.

Police said Saturday that they would conduct a sweep of the airport terminal where Kim was killed to check for possible traces of VX.

Experts say the nerve agent used in the attack was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory and is banned under an international treaty. But North Korea never signed that treaty, and has spent decades developing a complex chemical weapons program.


Kim was not an obvious political threat to his estranged half brother, Kim Jong Un. But he may have been seen as a potential rival in North Korea’s dynastic dictatorship, even though he had lived in exile for years. North Korea has denied any role in the attack.

Malaysia said earlier in the week that Hyon Kwang Song, a second secretary at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, was wanted for questioning. But authorities acknowledged at the time that he has diplomatic immunity and that they couldn’t compel him to appear.

On Saturday, Malaysia’s tone changed.

Abdul Samah Mat, the police chief leading the investigation, said authorities would give the diplomat “reasonable” time to come forward. If he doesn’t, he said, police will issue a notice compelling him to do so.

“And if he failed to turn up … then we will go to the next step by getting a warrant of arrest from the court,” Abdul Samah told reporters.

Lawyer Sankara Nair, however, noted that diplomats have immunity privileges even in criminal cases.

“If he is a Korean diplomat with a diplomatic passport, then he has immunity no matter a criminal case or otherwise,” he said. “Police can apply for a warrant, but it can easily be set aside by the embassy.”


Malaysia hasn’t directly accused the North Korean government of being behind the attack, but officials have said four North Korean men provided two women with poison to carry it out.

The four men fled Malaysia shortly after the killing, while the women – one from Indonesia and the other Vietnamese – were arrested.

On Saturday, the Indonesian suspect, Siti Aisyah, met with her country’s deputy ambassador to Malaysia, saying she had been paid the equivalent of $90 for what she believed was a harmless prank.

Aisyah, 25, said she had been introduced to people who looked like Japanese or Koreans who asked her to play a prank for a reality show, Deputy Ambassador Andriano Erwin said.

Asked about whether she knew what was on her hands at the time of the attack, Erwin said: “She didn’t tell us about that. She only said that it’s a kind of oil, baby oil, something like that.”

The Vietnamese woman who was arrested, Doan Thi Huong, also thought she was taking part in a prank, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said Saturday, after a representative from the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia met with Huong.

An odorless chemical with the consistency of motor oil, VX is an extremely powerful poison, with an amount no larger than a few grains of salt enough to kill. It can be inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Then, in anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, it can cause a range of symptoms, from blurred vision to a headache. Enough exposure leads to convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.


The killing of Kim Jong Nam took place amid crowds of travelers at Kuala Lumpur’s airport and appeared to be a well-planned hit. Kim died on the way to a hospital, within hours of the attack.

In grainy surveillance footage, the women appear to smear something onto Kim’s face before walking away in separate directions. Malaysian police said the attackers had been trained to go immediately to the bathroom and clean their hands.

Aisyah has said previously that she was duped into the attack, but Malaysian police say the suspects knew what they were doing. Experts say the women must have taken precautions so the nerve agent wouldn’t kill them.

An antidote, atropine, can be injected after exposure and is carried by medics in war zones where weapons of mass destruction are suspected.

Tens of thousands of passengers have passed through Kuala Lumpur’s airport since the apparent assassination was carried out. No areas were cordoned off and protective measures were not taken.

Late Saturday, however, police said they would begin a sweep of the budget terminal where Kim was attacked to check for traces of VX.

The sweep was scheduled to start at 1 a.m. Sunday and was to involve officers from the police’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear teams, as well as the fire department’s hazardous materials unit and the government’s atomic energy board. Although VX is not radioactive, police said the radiological team and the atomic energy board would be involved as a precaution.

Also Saturday, police confirmed that a raid earlier in the week on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was part of the investigation. Abdul Samah, the police official, did not specify what authorities found there, but said the items were being tested for traces of any chemicals.

]]> 0 officers stay inside the guard post of the forensic department at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Saturday. According to police Friday, forensics stated that the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler's outcast half brother who was poisoned last week at the airport.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 13:11:04 +0000
With sap flowing early, it’s ‘full steam ahead’ for Maine’s maple syrup makers Sat, 25 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Working among rain showers in the morning and a warming sun in the afternoon, Michael Bryant spent most of Friday collecting sap from his free-flowing maple trees.

With 1,200 taps, he and his brother Mark, who own Hilltop Boilers in the York County town of Newfield, spend the daylight hours collecting sap and work through the night into early morning boiling it for syrup.

He’s confident that Maine maple producers are in for a good spring.

“The sap is running like it should be,” he said. “I’m very optimistic. It’s looking very nice.”

The story is much the same around Maine, where farmers have been tapping trees just a bit early this year. A mild spring means long workdays in the snow-covered woods for the men and women who collect the sap and turn it into liquid candy. These are critical days and weeks, because the window for making maple syrup closes quickly. Warm days and cool nights create ideal conditions – and a sense of urgency with temperatures touching 60 in some parts of York County on Friday.

Lyle Merrifield of Gorham, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said he expects a better-than-average season in yield and quality, if the weather conditions remain favorable statewide.

“Everything is in line for a very good season right now,” he said. “The sap is really taking off in the southern part of the state, and it’s started in central Maine as well. As far as I can assess it right now, the sap flows are good and sugar content is good.”

Bryant has been boiling sap for a few days, which is a little earlier than usual, but only by a few days. “The end of February or the first week of March is fairly common. The average start day is the last day of February over 30 years. So I’d say we’re right on schedule, or just a little ahead. I’m just amazed how much snow we got in two weeks and how fast it melted in the woods,” he said.

The fast-melting snow made his job easier, because he didn’t have to use snowshoes to get to each of his 1,200 taps.

Nate St. Saviour of Sap Hound Maple Co. in Brownfield, vice president of the Southern Maine Maple Sugarmakers Association, said he got off to an unusually early start this season. He started installing 1,400 taps on Jan. 20 and has already made about 100 gallons of the 700 gallons of maple syrup he hopes to produce this year.

“We’re running full steam ahead. Any time you’re doing anything in January, that’s considered early,” he said. “The middle of February is when people get ramped up.”

At an association meeting last week, about half of the members said they already started tapping and making syrup, while the other half planned to begin soon, St. Saviour said. Traditionally, producers didn’t start boiling syrup until March, but in recent years early thaws have created ideal conditions for a sap run in January and February. Last year, producers in southern Maine were tapping in January, the earliest many could remember doing so.

“Years ago, we were all driven by the calendar,” Merrifield said. “Even if we had warm days in January, we wouldn’t think of tapping trees (this early). But that’s all changed now.”

Perfect conditions for a sap run occur when temperatures drop into the 20s at night, then rise into the 40s during the day. St. Saviour said a heavy snow pack in some parts of the state likely will contribute to a long season because it keeps the ground cold and prevents trees from budding early.

“All indications are it’s going to be a good season,” St. Saviour said. “You never know until it’s all said and done.”

Frank Boucher of Giles Family Farm in Alfred said he started tapping trees Tuesday, which is about the time he starts every year. The farm will install about 3,000 taps and would like to produce around 1,000 gallons of syrup. But, he said, that all depends on the weather.

“These 40-degree days are nice. It’s the 60s that mess us up, because it gets too warm too quick,” he said. “It’s all up to Mother Nature.”

Trees store starch in their trunks during the freeze of winter. The starch changes to sugar, which rises in the sap as the winter days warm. After collecting the sap – some farmers use buckets, others collect it in tubes and pipes – processors boil it to evaporate the water. What’s left is the syrup, which is perfect on blueberry pancakes and French toast.

The frantic dance among the trees will continue as long as the sap flows, culminating with Maine Maple Sunday, a statewide celebration of all things maple, when processors opens up their operations to the public. This year’s event is March 26, although many farms create weekend-long events.

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

Twitter: grahamgillian

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Twitter: pphbkeyes

]]> 0, ME - FEBRUARY 24: Bruce Bryant watched as freshly made syrup drains from a tap in the sugar shack. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Sat, 25 Feb 2017 11:24:42 +0000
Muhammad Ali Jr. detained at airport, asked about name, religion Sat, 25 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Muhammad Ali’s son, who bears the boxing great’s name, was detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport and questioned about his ancestry and religion in what amounted to profiling, a family friend said Saturday.

Returning from a Black History Month event in Jamaica, Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, were pulled aside and separated from each other while going through the immigration checkpoint on Feb. 7 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said Chris Mancini, a family friend and attorney.

Camacho Ali was released a short time later after showing a photo of herself with her ex-husband, the former heavyweight boxing champion, Mancini said. But Ali Jr. was not carrying a photo of his world-famous father – a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ali Jr., 44, who confirmed his Muslim faith, was detained about two hours, despite telling officials that he’s Ali’s son and a native-born U.S. citizen, Mancini said. It was the first time Ali Jr. and his mother have ever been asked if they’re Muslim when re-entering the United States, he said.

“From the way they were treated, from what was said to them, they can come up with no other rational explanation except they fell into a profiling program run by customs, which is designed to obtain information from anyone who says they’re a Muslim,” Mancini said in a phone interview. “It’s quite clear that what triggered his detention was his Arabic name and his religion.”

Reached for comment Friday, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said in an email: “Due to the restrictions of the Privacy Act, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot discuss individual travelers; however, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection,” according to The Courier-Journal’s report about the detention.

An airport spokesman referred questions on Saturday to customs and border protection officials.

During his detention, Ali Jr. was asked repeatedly about his lineage and his name, “as if that was a pre-programmed question that was part of a profile,” Mancini said.

Ali Jr. and his mother have been frequent global travelers. The family connects their treatment to President Donald Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration after calling during his campaign for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

“This has never happened to them before,” Mancini said. “They’re asked specifically about their Arabic names. Where they got their names from and whether they’re Muslims. It doesn’t take much to connect those dots to what Trump is doing.”

Camacho Ali and Ali Jr. live in Florida. They have not traveled abroad since, and are considering filing a federal lawsuit, he said.

Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion and humanitarian, died last June at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. People lined the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, to say goodbye to the city’s most celebrated son before a star-studded memorial service watched worldwide.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:46:37 +0000
Group asks Waterville area residents to step up for 5 African refugees Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:57:44 +0000

Annick Munezero, a refugee from Burundi, listens to questions from residents during a gathering Thursday at the Waterville Public Library hosted by the Waterville Area New Mainers Project. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — On the fourth floor of the Waterville Public Library, five African refugees who just a few months ago came to the United States from Burundi were surrounded by a group of people interested in helping them out – and taking a stand.

The Munezero siblings – three sisters and two brothers ranging in age from 20 to 30 – originally fled the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo when they were younger and resettled in Burundi. They are now refugees living in Fairfield, in an area of rural Maine where jobs and housing were available. Four of the five siblings work at Backyard Farms in Madison.

The meeting at the library Thursday night – the first of the Waterville Area New Mainers Project – was organized to pool resources and provide help for the Munezero family.

Colby College professor Julie de Sherbinin met the family recently and has been helping them get the things they need, but she wants the community to step up and help as well.

The goal of the first meeting, she said, was for those in the room to begin brainstorming ways they could volunteer to help the African family.

A staggering number of refugees have fled from Burundi, in sub-Saharan Africa, because of political instability, which has resulted in increased violence. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the conflict in Burundi is worsening, with more than 300,000 people fleeing to other African countries and an estimated 400 people killed since April 2015.

After the library meeting, de Sherbinin said the anti-immigration atmosphere and racist rhetoric across the U.S. has motivated some in the group to “stand up in favor of newcomers.”

“I do believe the political circumstances are driving us to want to take action,” she told the group at the inaugural meeting.

She said that anyone interested in helping the group need not have any political affiliation and “could just be a warm and welcoming community.”

The areas of need, as outlined by the group’s agenda, fall into four categories. The first involves learning English. Each sibling speaks some English, but de Sherbinin said they could benefit from having access to computers and materials that would help them improve their English.

Julie de Sherbinin, right, chats with Annick Munezero during Thursday’s gathering. De Sherbinin is working to help the Munezero siblings, and looking ahead to a time when more immigrant and refugee families come to central Maine. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The second need is transportation. The siblings – whose names are Annick, Salix, Dore, Lyse and Patience – don’t have licenses or a car. They have been relying on Catholic Charities, an organization that helps refugees and immigrants in Maine, for rides to work. But they have other transportation needs, such as getting to the grocery store or to medical appointments, which de Sherbinin said are ongoing. And their rides to and from work aren’t always the most timely.

She said the four siblings who work at Backyard Farms in Madison sometimes have to wait more than an hour before their ride home arrives.

The third need for the Munezero siblings involves social life and athletics. Living in Fairfield, the five are secluded from even the downtown Waterville area. They have their own interests. For instance, Dore likes playing soccer, while Salix likes basketball.

The fourth need involves services. At the end of March, assistance from Catholic Charities will end, but the siblings will still need to get to medical appointments. De Sherbinin was hoping to get businesses involved with one-time donations of services.

While the siblings didn’t say much during their introductions Thursday, they made it clear they were grateful for the idea behind the gathering.

“I’m happy to be here and to meet you,” Patience said to the group.

And the idea isn’t just to meet the needs of a single family just one time. Rather, de Sherbinin is looking toward the future, when more immigrant and refugee families come to central Maine.

“We’re helping them over the bridge,” she said.

The group is still organizing. For now, anyone interested in helping should contact de Sherbinin at

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

Twitter: colinoellis

]]> 0 Munezero, a refugee from Burundi, listens to questions from residents during a gathering Thursday at the Waterville Public Library hosted by the Waterville Area New Mainers Project.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:12:00 +0000
Flare reports prompt Coast Guard searches in Maine, New Hampshire Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:55:18 +0000 The U.S. Coast Guard responded to two separate reports of flares Friday night, but they appear to be false alarms.

One sighting came from Union Wharf in Portland. The other was reported from Rye Beach in New Hampshire.

Paul Conner, the search and rescue controller for the Coast Guard, said one motor life boat responded to each report.

“They’ve just completed their search and didn’t find anything,” Conner said around 10:30 p.m.

A second search will take place in each location Saturday morning.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:55:18 +0000
Democratic senators greeted by friendly audience in New Hampshire Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:05:11 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — Democratic U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen received mixed reactions Friday for their stance that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee deserves a hearing.

“It is not in our interest to deny a hearing to Neil Gorsuch,” Shaheen said during a public town hall, prompting boos from some members of the audience.

But others applauded when the senators said they didn’t want to mimic Republicans, who denied a hearing to President Barack Obama’s high court nominee last year.

“I’m not going to go out and say it was wrong for them but right for us,” Shaheen said.

The exchange marked one of the few challenges Shaheen or Hassan received from the crowd at the joint town hall event, where they spoke with a friendly audience of more than 400 people. Members of Congress have been holding town halls across the country during a break from Washington.

Republicans have faced throngs of constituents, including protesters, who want to talk about Trump’s policies. But the New Hampshire Democrats’ event drew no protesters and few tough questions.

Most audience members wanted advice on how to fight Trump on everything from health care to climate change to civil rights policies. Shaheen pushed back against one man who suggested the Democratic Party has lost its way.

“I actually don’t subscribe to the theory that Democrats don’t know what we believe anymore,” Shaheen said, adding she believes in making sure everyone has a good education, a good job and good health care.

Both she and Hassan were highly critical of Trump’s international agenda and views on Russia. And as former governors, they said it’s just as important to engage on state and local issues as it is on federal ones. Republicans now control the governorship and New Hampshire legislature.

They told the audience to urge Gov. Chris Sununu to stand up for the federal Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, not to tighten election laws and to hold true to his word that he supports abortion rights.

“It’s really important that people speak up about what’s happening here in the state as well as what’s happening nationally,” Hassan said.

Despite their pledge to fight for LGBTQ rights, preserve international institutions like NATO, and protect public schools, Shaheen offered a somewhat dark assessment of the political climate.

“I’m seeing our democracy challenged in a way I didn’t ever expect to be seeing,” she said.

The town hall came a day after Concord and other parts of New England saw record high temperatures for February, prompting an audience member to yell out a climate-related question as the event was wrapping up.

One audience member pointed out that the senators were using plastic, non-reusable water bottles despite their pledge to fight climate change.

But the audience largely applauded as both senators addressed the issue. Shaheen pointed out that New Hampshire’s moose population has been declining partly due to warmer temperatures.

“You know that this is a huge threat and that we need to act on it,” she said.

]]> 0 U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, left, listens as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen speaks to constituents during a town hall meeting Friday in Concord, N.H. Shaheen and Hassan took questions and talked about their efforts to fight against the policies President Trump.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:15:52 +0000
Republican health care bill would revamp ‘Obamacare’ Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:48:07 +0000 WASHINGTON — A draft Republican bill replacing President Obama’s health care law would end its Medicaid expansion, scrap fines on people not buying insurance and eliminate taxes on the medical industry and higher earners.

Instead, it would create tax credits worth up to $4,000, allow bigger contributions to personal health savings accounts and impose a new levy on expensive health coverage some employees get at work.

The 105-page measure largely tracks talking points that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled last summer and a similar outline that Republican leaders recently gave lawmakers. The document is 2 weeks old, and Republican aides said it is subject to change.

Still, it provides some new details of Republican thinking and reaffirms others, such as blocking federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year.

It also shows Republicans have begun translating their ideas into legislative language, even as they continue their seven-year struggle to unify their party behind a bill repealing Obama’s 2010 overhaul.

Though just a preliminary document, the package drew quick criticism from Democrats.

“This isn’t a replacement, it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He said it would “put insurance companies back in charge” while boosting health care costs for millions and kicking millions of others off their plans.

“The Republican bill raises families’ costs, weakens coverage and pushes millions of Americans off of health coverage of any kind,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Congressional leaders say they want committees to write legislation reshaping the nation’s health care system in March.

That represents slippage from earlier suggestions by President Trump and Republican leaders of quicker action, reflecting internal Republican disagreements about what to do about health care.

It is uncertain how their plans will be affected by this week’s town halls during Congress’ recess where Republican lawmakers were confronted by noisy defenders of Obama’s law.

According to the Republican draft, insurers could charge older customers five times more than what they charge younger ones, who are generally healthier and less costly to cover. That ratio is limited to 3-1 under Obama’s statute.

The Republican plan would end an expansion of Medicaid to people just over the poverty line that has been adopted by 31 states – many with Republican governors – and has led to coverage of 11 million low-income people.

Overall, Medicaid serves more than 70 million people who automatically receive coverage for much of their medical care. However, under the Republican proposal, Medicaid spending would be curbed by providing states fixed annual amounts per beneficiary.

The tax penalty on people who don’t purchase policies would be eliminated, as would federal subsidies for lower earners who buy insurance.

Instead, those who don’t get coverage at work or under government programs would get annual tax credits based on age, growing from $2,000 for people under age 30 to $4,000 for those age 60 and over.

The Republican proposal would also:

n Let insurers charge 30 percent higher premiums for people who have let their coverage lapse.

n Repeal taxes Obama’s law imposed to pay for its coverage expansions including on health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, investment income of higher earners and on many medical devices.

n Tax partial value of health coverage that people get at work if their plan ranks among the costliest 10 percent in the nation.

n Scrap Obama’s requirement that insurers cover 10 kinds of services like prescription drugs and maternity care, instead letting states decide.

n End the tax penalty on larger employers who don’t offer health coverage to workers.

n Provide $100 billion over 10 years for grants to states to restrain health costs.

]]> 0 105-page draft Republican health care bill largely tracks talking points that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin unveiled last summer.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:33:29 +0000
Mexico rejects U.S. plan for deportees Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:43:59 +0000 MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government made clear to visiting U.S. emissaries that it will not accept deportees from third countries under any circumstances, the interior secretary said Friday.

Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said in an interview with Radio Formula that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asked Mexican officials during their Thursday visit if they would host deportees from other countries while their immigration cases are processed in the U.S.

“They can’t leave them here on the border because we have to reject them. There is no chance they would be received by Mexico,” he said.

“They asked us that while their legal process is happening there if they could be here,” Osorio Chong said. “And we told them that there’s no way we can have them here during that process.”

The visit by the U.S. secretaries came at a tense moment in U.S.-Mexico relations. President Trump has carried his tough campaign talk about immigrants and factory jobs that moved to Mexico into the White House, ordering the building of a border wall, stepped up deportations and a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A memo published by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this week suggested that U.S. immigration officials could deport immigrants in the country illegally to the contiguous country they had entered from, which in the vast majority of cases would be Mexico. Most of the immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years have been Central Americans.

Osorio Chong also said Friday that if the U.S. government tries to pressure Mexico by threatening to withdraw funding from the nearly $2.5 billion Merida Initiative to fight organized crime, Mexico will let that money go.

]]> 0 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, shakes hands with Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray in Mexico City on Thursday, but it's a tense time for the U.S. and Mexico.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:43:59 +0000
Demonstrators again greet Sen. McConnell Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:28:24 +0000 LOUISVILLE, Ky.— Protesters who shadowed Mitch McConnell during his home state appearances this week are vowing to keep tracking the Senate majority leader whenever he returns to Kentucky.

More than 200 protesters chanted and held signs Friday evening across the street from a Louisville conference center where McConnell and other Republicans were celebrating their party’s sweeping fall victories.

Protesters chanted “Ditch Mitch, dump Trump” and “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter.”

Protesters raised questions about President Trump’s connections to Russia and called for an investigation. They also posed questions on issues ranging from health care and immigration to free speech rights that they said they would ask the longtime Republican senator if he would meet with them.

“We will continue to hunt for Mitch any time he’s in Kentucky until he agrees to a town hall,” said Kim Hibbard, who helped organize the protest.

Reena Paracha attended protests at events in Lawrenceburg, Louisville and Covington this week but never saw the senator.

“He is so afraid of the people … right now,” she said. “He doesn’t even have the guts to come out and speak to any of us.”

Hibbard said that McConnell chooses to attend public events where he speaks to friendly audiences and doesn’t face any pushback. She said protesters have been gathering outside McConnell’s office in downtown Louisville once a week and will continue doing so at least through 100 days of Trump’s presidency.

The senator said Wednesday that the protesters have a right to speak out, calling it “about as American as apple pie.” But he said they’re doing so because “they’re sorry they lost the election.”

And after attending a Chamber of Commerce event earlier in the week, McConnell was asked by a reporter why he doesn’t attend town hall events. McConnell replied: “I thought we had a lot of the general public here, plus a whole lot of others today. I’m perfectly open.”

McConnell fielded several questions from the audience during that event, including Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

]]> 0 crowd protests against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Jeffersontown, Ky., on Wednesday.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:28:24 +0000
Grappling with gender: Transgender wrestler sparks controversy Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:27:57 +0000 CYPRESS, Texas —Mack Beggs won two matches at the Texas state championships Friday. But the larger conflict – over whether a 17-year-old transgender boy should be wrestling girls – remained unsettled.

Beggs’ family has said he would rather be wrestling boys. Some girls and their advocates agree, arguing that the testosterone treatments Beggs has been taking while in transition from female to male have made him too strong to wrestle fairly against women. But under the state’s governing policy for athletics, students must wrestle against the gender listed on their birth certificates.

Beggs beat Taylor Latham in the 110-pound class Friday. The score was 18-7.

It was a match Latham’s mother didn’t want to happen. Her daughter, she said, was wrestling someone whose body was chemically toned for strength.

“I wanted her to forfeit as a protective mom,” Lisa Latham said. “She’s a fighter. She’s not a quitter. She’s a senior. She’s fought for the last three years to get here. She was going to see it through even though I wasn’t sharing the same opinion.”

At match’s end Beggs shook hands with Latham before pointing high in the stands to cheering fans wearing the colors of his school, Euless Trinity. He celebrated for a few seconds. Then Beggs and his grandmother, led by his coach, jogged across the mats and into an area restricted to athletes and coaches.

While many cheered Beggs, others said the match was unfair. Patti Overstreet, a self-described wrestling parent, left her seat shouting, “that’s cheating” and “big cheater!”

“Look at how beefed up she is,” Overstreet said, referring to Beggs. “It’s because she’s taking an enhancement. Whether she’s a boy, girl, wants to be purple or blue it doesn’t matter. When you’re using a drug and you’re 10 times stronger than the person you’re wrestling because of that drug that (shouldn’t be) allowed.”

Later Beggs beat Mya Engert 12-4 to push his record to 54-0 and leave him two victories away from a state title. Beggs got a bloody nose during that match and had to stuff gauze up his right nostril to stop the bleeding. It didn’t slow him down much as he added several points after that to capture another decisive win.

Beggs hugged Engert and pumped his fist in the air after the win before darting off the mat. Engert was weeping as she walked away, and her coach shooed reporters from the area with a stern: “No comment.”

Beggs will resume competition in the semifinals on Saturday morning.

The controversy over Beggs’ participation in the women’s sport comes at a crucial moment, as the public and politicians debate how they should react to the growing belief that gender is fluid. Just this week, the Trump administration announced an end to federal protections which allowed transgender students to use facilities based on their gender identity, leaving states and school districts to determine their own policies.

And in Texas, lawmakers are considering a bill similar to the controversial HB2, a law in North Carolina that prompted the NBA to move this year’s All-Star game out of that state. If passed, the Texas version, called SB6, would require transgender people to use the bathroom of their “biological sex.”

As Beggs arrived for weigh-in on Friday morning, several girls excitedly ran up and embraced him as he smiled and laughed. Soon after that he pulled a gray hoodie down so low that it all but obscured his shock of bright blond hair. Standing in line among a sea of girls, he gnawed the nails of his left hand aggressively, perhaps nervous about the match – or the controversy surrounding it.

The University Interscholastic League, which oversees athletics in Texas public schools, enacted the birth certificate policy on Aug. 1.

Attorney Jim Baudhuin tried and failed to get injunctions before both the district and regional meets to prevent Beggs from competing while he transitions. He told The Associated Press earlier this week that he doesn’t blame Beggs for the situation, but faults the UIL.

“The more I learn about this, the more I realize that she’s just trying to live her life and her family is, too,” Baudhuin said of Beggs. “She’s being forced into that position. Who knows, through discovery we may find out that’s not the case. But every indication is, the way the winds are going now, the blame rests with the UIL and the superintendents.”

]]> 0 Mack Beggs, top, a transgender wrestler from Euless Trinity High School, competes in a quarterfinal match against Mya Engert during the State Wrestling Tournament on Friday in Cypress, Texas. At left: Mack Beggs talks with his coach Travis Clark. Beggs was born female and is transitioning to male. Some say the testosterone treatments Beggs has been taking make him too strong to wrestle fairly with girls.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:27:57 +0000
Philippine senator calls president a ‘serial killer’ Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:27:43 +0000 Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine senator and leading critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly crackdown on illegal drugs says she won’t be intimidated by a leader she called a “serial killer” after police arrested her on drug charges.

Leila De Lima said the accusations against her were part of an attempt by Duterte to muzzle critics of the clampdown that has left more than 7,000 suspected dealers and small-time users dead.

De Lima also questioned why the court suddenly issued the arrest order when it had been scheduled Friday to hear her petition to throw out the charges of receiving bribes from detained drug lords.

“If they think they can silence me, if they think I will no longer fight for my advocacies, especially on the truth on the daily killings and other intimidations of this Duterte regime. It’s my honor to be jailed for what I’ve been fighting for,” she said before police took her into custody at the Senate.

A police convoy, trailed by media vans, took de Lima to the main police camp, where officers took her mugshot and fingerprints before they locked her up in a detention center.

]]> 0 Senator Leila de Lima waits for her fellow senators prior to addressing the media after a warrant for her arrest was issued by a regional trial court Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. The Philippine court has issued an arrest warrant on drug charges for the senator and former top human rights official who is one of the most vocal critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs. De Lima has vehemently denied the charges, which she says are part of Duterte's attempt to intimidate critics of his crackdown, which has left more than 7,000 drug suspects dead. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:27:43 +0000
Suspicious package delivered to Yarmouth home found to be a hoax Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:21:36 +0000 A suspicious package delivered to a Yarmouth home Friday turned out to be a hoax similar to several other incidents in Maine.

Yarmouth fire Chief Michael Robitaille said a resident on Oakwood Drive received the package and contacted police around 7:15 p.m. Friday. The delivery contained a test tube of liquid inside a wooden box. An accompanying note made the resident believe the contents were dangerous.

First responders from the Yarmouth police and fire departments were joined by the hazardous materials team from the Brunswick Fire Department, Cumberland County Emergency Management and an inspector from the U.S. Postal Service.

“What we initially felt was a credible threat is probably more of a hoax,” Robitaille said. “The postal service has received similar mail from a similar address and determined them to be hoaxes.”

He could not disclose the return address due to the ongoing investigation. While similar hoaxes have been identified in Maine, Robitaille said this is the first in Yarmouth. The resident appeared to be randomly targeted, Robitaille said.

The package has been turned over to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 08:48:05 +0000
Mass. work crews dig out a genuine ‘beach buggy’ Sat, 25 Feb 2017 02:59:48 +0000 TRURO, Mass. — A Jeep buried in sand in Massachusetts 40 years ago has finally been dug out.

Work crews early Friday pulled out the rusted remnants of what John Munsnuff said was once his family’s “beach buggy” at the home they’ve long owned near Ballston Beach on Cape Cod.

The Jeep had once been painted white with a green interior. It had been stored in a garage that was long ago buried by shifting sand dunes.

Munsnuff said the family was unable to remove the Jeep or dismantle the now-collapsed garage all these years because of environmental regulations around the dunes, which also have swallowed up parts of a nearby town beach parking lot.

Munsnuff said he snagged a few souvenirs from the barely recognizable wreckage, including the Jeep’s hub caps and door handles.

]]> 0 Munsnuff looks through the remnants of the old family Jeep after it was pulled out of a collapsed storage shed Friday in Truro, Mass.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 21:59:48 +0000
At candlelight vigil, friends remember man killed by Portland police Sat, 25 Feb 2017 02:41:12 +0000 A homemade pizza. Money for a celebratory meal. A purple stuffed animal. A kind word.

Chance David Baker didn’t have much, but he gave whatever he could.

Armed with a rifle-style pellet gun, Baker, 22, was shot and killed by a Portland police officer Feb. 18 after a confrontation in the parking lot of Union Station Plaza on St. John Street. On Friday night, at least 70 people – friends, former co-workers and strangers – gathered in Monument Square in Portland for a candlelight vigil in his memory.

Baker’s death has fueled a debate about how soon police body cameras should be introduced in Portland, and the shooting is being investigated by the Maine Attorney General’s Office and by Portland police, as is standard practice.

But on Friday night, one person after another focused on Baker himself – and told stories of his unfailing generosity.

Zach Cunningham remembered his time working with Baker at Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland. Baker had described in detail his favorite pizza combination – a homemade concoction topped with buffalo chicken, cheese and Fritos.

“I think he could see my enthusiasm as he spoke about this pizza,” Cunningham, 24, said. “One day, I come into work and he hands me this ball of tinfoil.”

It was the pizza. Cunningham ate it right there outside the theater.

“He was so happy that I liked it,” he said. “That’s the kind of guy Chance was.”

Paula Dyar remembered the overnight shifts she worked with Baker at the Hampton Inn on Fore Street. She used to tease him by repeatedly singing the Toys R Us jingle – “I don’t want to grow up, I want to be a Toys R Us kid.” So for her birthday, he bought her a purple toy cat from Toys R Us.

“Just knowing he was going through so much and he stopped just to do that for my birthday, I think that probably will stay with me forever,” said Dyar, 40.

Tasha Horton, another co-worker from the Hampton Inn, remembered Baker’s gratitude as well. She would sometimes bring McDonald’s meals into work for him, and she said she has saved his text message orders for Chicken McNuggets.

“He acted like I was bringing him steak from Fore Street restaurant,” she said.

Jillian – a friend of Baker who declined to give her last name – remembered when he heard that a co-worker at Nickelodeon Cinemas got accepted into college. He gave the co-worker money for a celebratory meal at a favorite nearby restaurant.

“The money that he gave him was a lot more than the cost of the meal, and we all know that Chance didn’t have a lot of material goods or money in his life,” she said. “But he asked that person to put (the extra) money in the tip jar of the restaurant.”

Amanda Nobbe, a former general manager at the movie theater, remembered the day Baker applied for his job. She hired him because his charisma outweighed his lack of customer service experience. At the time, Baker was staying at the teen center on Preble Street.

“He worked so hard every day to make his life better,” said Nobbe, 26. “I watched him secure housing, get a second job and work 40 hours or more every single week. He had so much passion for life, for making his life better, and everyone who knew him was a witness to that. Life didn’t give Chance a lot of opportunities, so he made his own.”

An aunt of Baker reached out to Maine news media after Baker’s death. She said his family had not heard from him for six or seven years, since he left his home in Iowa. His mother shared a letter with his friends, which Cunningham read aloud at the vigil.

“Chance was an amazing person with the biggest heart,” she wrote. “He would take the time to lend an ear, to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ to complete strangers, or just share a smile from ear to ear. So often in this day and time, we forget just how … something so simple can make a huge difference to someone. Please remember this and continue Chance’s kindness throughout your lives.”


]]> 0 70 people attended a vigil Friday night in Monument Square held in memory of Chance David Baker.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:24:46 +0000
Waterville shelter helps youth navigate life Sat, 25 Feb 2017 02:36:33 +0000 WATERVILLE — For 20-year-old Nicholas Turano, the possibility of moving upstairs is a really big deal.

That’s because the room he would have upstairs is one of the newly constructed units in the new Youth Empowerment Supports program at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

Unveiled on Friday, the 12 affordable housing units at the 19 Colby St. location are designed for homeless youth ages 18 to 24. In addition to housing, the new program provides a number of other services to the young people who will live there, such as career development, financial independence training, pre-vocational skill building, education navigation and others.

The units, which are single occupancy, consist of two one-bedroom units, four efficiency apartments, and a suite with six single bedrooms and a shared kitchen and common area. The units all have new appliances and furniture and cost a total of $1.7 million covered by grants and fundraising.

The cost for the tenants of these new units is 30 percent of their income, shelter officials said.

“Here is amazing,” Turano said, standing Friday in the shared kitchen of the apartment he’s hoping to move into.

Brian Watson, who is on the shelter’s board of directors, said this type of housing is critical, since there aren’t many landlords who want to lease to a person in that age bracket. Applicants must meet requirements set by the Maine Housing Authority, he said, and there is no time limit for staying in the apartments other than an individual aging out.

He said the hope is to start filling the apartments in the coming weeks. Plans for the expansion began three years ago, and it wasn’t until this past October that construction began.

“This was just empty space,” he said Friday afternoon during an open house for the expansion.

The main part of the shelter accommodates about 50 adult beds and an assortment of cribs and toddler beds.

David Sovetsky, program director, said that as part of the youth program, people living there receive navigation services. That means just living there is training them to manage rent payments, sign a lease, work with landlords and coexist with roommates and neighbors. He said while the target is those between 18 and 24, there will likely be some people a few years older living there.

Sovetsky said individuals have to meet United States Department of Housing and Urban Development definitions for homelessness as well as have some level of disability. He said one problem with the HUD definition for homelessness is that if a person is staying with someone else in any capacity, they are not technically homeless.

Sovetsky said a lot of people stay on someone else’s couch or find places to stay temporarily, so the definition needs to change. “That’s a concern,” he said.

Turano helped Sovetsky and others prepare for the grand opening by cleaning up and helping set up furniture. He pointed out that in the six-room unit, each bedroom has the basics, such as a bed and a dresser, and also accessible bathrooms for the disabled. They also are equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave.

Originally from Lewiston, Turano said he became homeless about two weeks ago. After bouncing around some, he settled on the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter because of the youth options they were building.

Turano said he’s waiting for his application to be approved by the Maine State Housing Authority. While 12 beds might not sound like a lot, he sees it as a huge benefit for homeless youth.

“That’s a lot for youth who need a second shot at life,” he said.

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

Twitter: @colinoellis

]]> 0, 24 Feb 2017 22:00:42 +0000
Agency to begin awarding Mexico wall contracts in April Sat, 25 Feb 2017 01:59:15 +0000 SAN DIEGO — U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to Fed-, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

It’s unclear how soon Congress would provide funding and how much. The Government Accountability Office estimates it would cost on average $6.5 million a mile for a fence to keep out people who try to enter on foot and $1.8 million a mile for vehicle barriers. There are currently 354 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers, much of it built during President George W. Bush’s second term.

Republican leaders in Congress have said Trump’s wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Trump has suggested $12 billion.

An internal Homeland Security Department report prepared for Kelly estimates the cost of extending the wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border at about $21 billion, according to a U.S. government official who is involved in border issues. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been made public.

The price tag will depend largely on the height, materials and other specifications that have not yet been defined.

]]> 0 Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. U.S. President Donald Trump will direct the Homeland Security Department to start building a wall at the Mexican border. (AP PhotoFri, 24 Feb 2017 20:59:15 +0000
Chinese company buys a stake in film studio Sat, 25 Feb 2017 01:44:22 +0000 HONG KONG — China’s footprint in Hollywood is expanding following a wire and cable maker’s purchase of a controlling stake in independent studio Millennium Films, which produced “Rambo” and “The Expendables.”

Recon Holding said Thursday it is taking a 51 percent stake in Millennium for $100 million.

The company, based in Yixing near Shanghai, is controlled by Tony Xia, who was a little-known businessman until last year, when he bought struggling English soccer club Aston Villa with ambitious plans to turn it around.

The terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the second quarter, give Recon majority ownership of Millennium and its library of 300 films.

The studio is known for its action titles, which include 2008’s “Rambo,” the fourth installment of the Sylvester Stallone action franchise, “The Expendables” series, and “London Has Fallen.”

Chinese investors and Hollywood studios have been in a frenzy of deal-making in recent years as both sides seek to expand in each other’s movie industries.

Chinese companies are hoping to gain filmmaking expertise as well as beef up the country’s global cultural influence, also known as “soft power.” Hollywood, meanwhile, covets China’s strong box office revenue growth as domestic earnings stagnate.

In the past year, Chinese companies have sealed deals with entertainment companies including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Amblin Partners and Dick Cook Studios.

Xia owns Recon Holding through his conglomerate Recon Group. One of its companies, Lotus Health Group, is the world’s second biggest maker of food additive monosodium glutamate. Another subsidiary makes digital hardware for urban infrastructure.

Xia’s made a splash with his $87 million purchase of Aston Villa because the businessman, who studied at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had no soccer credentials.

]]> 0 Holding CEO Tony Xia says his company has acquired a 51 percent stake in Millennium Films for $100 million. Chinese companies are hoping to beef up the country's global cultural influence, or "soft power."Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:34:40 +0000
VW makes $5.4 billion profit in 2016, limits executive pay Sat, 25 Feb 2017 01:43:53 +0000 BERLIN — Volkswagen bounced back into the black in 2016 after suffering a loss the previous year due to the diesel emissions scandal, according to figures released by the German automaker Friday.

The company reported a net profit attributable to Volkswagen AG shareholders of 5.1 billion euros, or $5.4 billion, last year compared with a net loss of almost 1.6 billion euros in 2015.

Volkswagen acknowledged in September 2015 that it had been installing engine control software in diesel vehicles to detect when cars were being tested. The software turned the emission controls off during normal driving to improve performance, but also resulted in releasing emissions more than 40 times the U.S. limit for the pollutant nitrogen oxide.

The Wolfsburg-based company paid a heavy price for its deceit, agreeing to shoulder more than $16 billion in buybacks and compensations to owners of VW cars in the U.S. alone. Lawsuits and legal investigations in several other countries are also ongoing.

CEO Matthias Mueller suggested the company had turned a corner.

“While the past fiscal year posed major challenges for us, despite the crisis, the group’s operating business gave its best-ever performance,” Mueller said. VW group sales rose 4 billion euros to 217.3 billion euros in 2016.

The company said it expects moderate growth in 2017 despite challenges from uncertain global economic conditions, intense competition, volatile currency rates and “the consequences of the diesel issue.”

Separately, Volkswagen announced a clampdown on executive bonuses, an issue that has aroused political passions in Germany during an election year. The company said annual pay for its CEO will in future be capped at 10 million euros, or $10.6 million, while other executive board members will receive a maximum of 5.5 million euros, or $5.8 million, in one year.

Former VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn, who stepped down in the wake of the diesel scandal, had earned 17.5 million euros in 2011, thanks to large bonus payments.

The new limits could reduce VW’s maximum outlay on executive pay by up to 40 percent, the company said.

]]> 0 the diesel emissions scandal, Volkswagen's "operating business gave its best-ever performance" last year, said VW's CEO Matthias Mueller on Friday.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:02:52 +0000
Climb in sales of new homes signals housing market health Sat, 25 Feb 2017 01:42:04 +0000 WASHINGTON — Americans bought more new homes in January after a steep falloff the previous month, a sign the housing market is healthy despite higher mortgage rates.

New home sales rose 3.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted 555,000, the Commerce Department said Friday. That is 5.5 percent higher than a year ago.

Solid job gains and some signs of rising wages have driven up consumer confidence, which has also risen since the presidential election. More confident consumers are more likely to buy homes. Sales of existing homes jumped to their highest level in a decade, according to data released earlier this week.

The solid sales have occurred despite, or perhaps because of, a jump in mortgage rates since the fall. Many buyers could be accelerating purchases to get ahead of any further rate increases.

Financial markets expect faster growth and higher inflation will flow from President Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation initiatives. That has pushed up interest rates on both the 10-year Treasury note and mortgages.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.16 percent this week, little changed from the previous week. Still, that is up sharply from an average of 3.65 percent all last year.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:29:23 +0000
Lucille Conlin Horn, former sideshow incubator baby, dies at age 96 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 01:09:21 +0000 MINEOLA, N.Y. — Lucille Conlin Horn weighed barely 2 pounds when she was born, a perilous size for any infant, especially in 1920. Doctors told her parents to hold off on a funeral for her twin sister who had died at birth, expecting she too would soon be gone.

But her life spanned nearly a century after her parents put their faith in a sideshow doctor at Coney Island who put babies on display in incubators to fund his research to keep them alive.

The Brooklyn-born woman, who later moved to Long Island, died Feb. 11 at age 96, according to the Hungerford & Clark Funeral Home. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Horn was among thousands of premature babies who were treated in the early 20th century by Dr. Martin Couney. He was a pioneer in the use of incubators who sought acceptance for the technology by showing it off on carnival midways, fairs and other public venues. He never accepted money from the tiny babies’ parents but instead charged oglers admission to see the babies struggling for life.

Horn and her twin were born prematurely. She said in 2015 that when her sister died, doctors told her father to hold off on a funeral because she wouldn’t survive the day.

“He said, ‘Well, that’s impossible. She’s alive now. We have to do something for her,”‘ Horn said. “My father wrapped me in a towel and took me in a cab to the incubator. I went to Dr. Couney. I stayed with him quite a few days, almost five months.”

Couney, who died in 1950 and is viewed today as a pioneer in neonatology, estimated that he successfully kept alive about 7,500 of the 8,500 children who were taken to his “baby farm” at the Coney Island boardwalk. They remained there until the early 1940s, when incubators became widely used in hospitals.

He also put infants on display at the World’s Fair and other public venues during his career. There’s no estimate on how many still are alive today.

Horn worked as a crossing guard and then as a legal secretary for her husband. She is survived by three daughters and two sons.

She said she met Couney when she was about 19 and thanked him for what he had done.

“I’ve had a good life,” she said in 2015.

After a funeral Tuesday, she was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, next to her twin sister.

]]> 0 Conlin Horn stands on the boardwalk in Long Beach, N.Y., in July 2015. Born prematurely in 1920, she was not expected to survive before her parents entrusted her to a Coney Island doctor now seen as a pioneer in neonatology.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:09:21 +0000
Press Herald sports writer earns national honors Sat, 25 Feb 2017 01:05:08 +0000 Portland Press Herald sports writer Steve Craig earned national honors Friday in the 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors contest.

Craig placed in the top 10 of the explanatory writing category among papers sized 30,000 to 75,000 for his story on the difficulty school administrators face in finding qualified applicants for coaching positions.

It’s the second consecutive year Craig has won APSE honors. Last year he placed in the top 10 for beat writing.

The Press Herald also won honorable mention honors from APSE for its daily sports section. The award category includes more than 100 daily newspapers from across the nation.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:22:16 +0000
Jupiter-circling spacecraft stuck doing long laps Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:58:48 +0000 CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Jupiter-circling spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves.

It currently takes Juno 53 days to fly around the solar system’s biggest planet. That’s almost four times longer than the intended 14-day orbit.

After repeated delays, NASA decided late last week to scrap an engine firing that would have shortened the orbit. Officials said the maneuver is too risky because of the valve problem.

Only the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, Juno has been circling the planet since July.

NASA said the quality of science won’t be affected and stressed that stunning pictures of Jupiter will keep coming this way. But it will take more time to gather the data, given Juno’s longer loops. The mission will have to be extended at tens of millions of extra dollars if scientists are to collect everything under the original plan. It’s already a billion-dollar mission.

On the plus side, according to scientists, Juno now will spend less time in Jupiter’s abrasive radiation belts.

Juno is able to peer through Jupiter’s clouds to see what’s going on in the atmosphere. Scientists want to better understand how the planet – the fifth from our sun, with at least 67 moons – originated and evolved.

Every orbit, Juno swoops within 2,600 miles of Jupiter’s cloud tops. The most recently completed orbit was three weeks ago; the next close flyby will come at the end of March.

]]> 0 artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making a close pass over the planet Jupiter.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 19:58:48 +0000
Intelligence report disputes that citizens of 7 targeted nations pose threat Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:45:30 +0000 WASHINGTON – Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011.

Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month. Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report’s authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government’s intelligence.

“While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you’re referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing,” Christensen said. “The … report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete.”


The Homeland Security report is based on unclassified information from Justice Department news releases on terrorism-related convictions and attackers killed in the act, State Department visa statistics, the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the U.S. intelligence community and the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2015.

The three-page report challenges Trump’s core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.

Of the other five nations, one person each from Iran, Sudan and Yemen was also involved in those terrorism cases, but none from Syria. It did not say if any were Libyan.

The report also found that terrorist organizations in Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan are regionally focused, while groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen do pose a threat to the U.S.

The seven countries were included in a law President Obama signed in 2015 that updated visa requirements for foreigners who had traveled to those countries.

Christensen said the countries were also selected in part because they lacked the ability to properly vet their citizens and don’t cooperate with U.S. efforts to screen people hoping to come to the U.S.


The report was prepared as part of an internal review Trump requested after his executive order was blocked by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was drafted by staff of the Homeland Security Department’s Intelligence and Analysis branch at the direction of its acting leader, David Glawe.

White House spokesman Michael Short said this was not the full report that Trump had requested. He said he believes “the intel community is combining resources to put together a comprehensive report using all available sources, not just open sources, and which is driven by data, not politics.”

The intelligence document was circulated beyond Homeland Security.

The draft document reflects the tensions between the president’s political appointees and the civil servants tasked with carrying out Trump’s ambitious and aggressive agenda. Trump has repeatedly complained about leaks meant to undercut his policies and suggested he does not trust holdovers from the Obama administration.

Trump originally said the ban was necessary to overhaul the vetting system for both refugees and would-be foreign visitors, saying that terrorists may try to exploit weaknesses to gain access to the United States. The order sparked chaos, outrage and widespread protests, with travelers detained at airports and panicked families searching for relatives.

But several courts quickly intervened and the 9th Circuit ultimately upheld a ruling blocking the ban and challenged the administration’s claim that it was motivated by terrorism fears.

Trump’s ban temporarily barred citizens from the seven countries from coming to the United States for three months. The order also temporarily shut down the U.S. refugee program for four months and indefinitely banned anyone from Syria.

A senior administration official told the AP on Sunday that a draft of the revised order will target those same seven countries. The official would not be named discussing the document before it is made public.

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee Friday, Trump reiterated his claims on terrorism.

“We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump said.

He said he singled out the seven countries because they had already been deemed a security concern by the Obama administration.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 19:50:36 +0000
Temperature in Boston tops record for February Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:44:26 +0000 BOSTON — A new record for warmest temperature in February has been set in Boston.

The National Weather Service says the city reached 71 degrees just after noon on Friday. February’s previous record high of 70 degrees was set in 1985.

The highest temperature recorded in Massachusetts for the month was 73 degrees in 1985.

Other parts of southern New England are also enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures.

The region enjoyed warm weather Thursday and is expected to enjoy another mild day Saturday.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 19:44:26 +0000
Maine’s $2 million drug treatment plan for uninsured would help, but more is needed, experts say Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:31:54 +0000 A proposal to provide an additional $2 million for medication-assisted addiction treatment for the uninsured is helpful but wouldn’t come close to meeting demand for such programs in Maine, specialists said Friday.

“It’s a nice start, but we shouldn’t be congratulating ourselves,” said Dr. Mark Publicker, a leading addiction expert in Maine. “In proportion to the severity of the problem, it’s lacking by a magnitude of an order of at least 10 times what’s needed.”

The $2 million in state money was announced Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of a $4.8 million initiative – funded by federal and state dollars – to address the opioid crisis. The other $2.8 million would help ensure access to treatment for those covered by Medicaid.

Steve Cotreau, program manager for Portland Community Recovery Center, a support group for recovering addicts, said he’s happy to see more attention and resources to combat the opioid crisis, but the proposal rolled out Thursday is “not going to move the needle.”

Maine reported a record 378 drug overdose deaths in 2016, up from 272 in 2015. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids accounted for 313 of the 378 deaths last year, according to statistics from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

The $2 million will help about 250 to 300 additional people without insurance get medication-assisted treatment. Most would be prescribed Suboxone.

While the number of uninsured Mainers addicted to opioids isn’t known, about 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers say they are seeking drug treatment but don’t have access to it, according to a survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. How many truly lack access and how many have an opioid addiction versus other drug problems is unknown.

The $2 million for medication-assisted treatment for the uninsured would build on $2.4 million DHHS set aside in December for that use.

“It will only help the tip of the iceberg, but any help is welcome and should be encouraged,” said Dr. Mary Dowd, who treats those with opioid addictions at the Milestone Foundation’s detox center in Portland and through Catholic Charities. “We have so many patients who don’t have insurance.”

Several organizations that offer medication-assisted treatment, which helps curb drug cravings, have said at least 40 percent of people who seek treatment are uninsured, often because they’ve lost jobs and emptied bank accounts because of their addiction.

Because Suboxone combined with counseling – considered the gold standard to treat opioid disorders – can cost $6,000 to more than $10,000 per year, most who lack insurance can’t afford treatment.

A bill submitted by Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, and backed by MaineHealth would spend $6.7 million on the uninsured, more than three times the amount announced by the DHHS on Thursday. About 1,000 additional uninsured patients would have access to medication-assisted treatment under Vachon’s bill.

Katie Fullam Harris, senior vice president of government relations for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center, said MaineHealth concluded 1,000 patients was a realistic number. It would have an impact on the problem, but wouldn’t provide funding for more people than existing Suboxone treatment capacity could handle.

The federal government caps the number of Suboxone prescriptions that each doctor can write at 275, to discourage “pill mills,” but recent efforts should increase the number of medical professionals trained to prescribe Suboxone.

Doctors’ groups in Maine are trying to persuade more physicians to be trained to become Suboxone providers. Also, starting this year, nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be able to prescribe Suboxone.

Fullam Harris said MaineHealth is “very encouraged” by DHHS’ plan but will keep pushing for more financial help for the uninsured.

“This is an important first step,” she said. “Will it address the full scope of the epidemic? No.”

Medicaid expansion is expected to be on the Maine ballot this fall. That would increase access to medication-assisted treatment for thousands of additional Mainers who might be added to Medicaid rolls.

At the same time, congressional Republicans are threatening to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides funding for Medicaid expansion.

Under the ACA, health plans must include substance abuse treatment coverage. If the ACA is repealed, it’s unclear whether a Republican-written replacement would mandate such coverage.

Dr. Elisabeth Fowlie Mock, a Suboxone prescriber from Holden, said recent moves by the DHHS are a “good start.”

“Anything we can do to increase affordability and access is good,” Mock said. “This is something to build on.”

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

Twitter: joelawlorph

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:17:45 +0000
White House enlisted spy agencies, lawmakers to counter story on Russia contacts Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:31:35 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

The White House on Friday acknowledged those interactions with the FBI but did not disclose that it then turned to other officials who agreed to do what the FBI would not – participate in White House-arranged calls with news organizations, including The Washington Post.

The White House insisted the officials speak on the condition of anonymity – a practice President Trump has condemned.

The officials broadly dismissed Trump associates’ contacts with Russia as infrequent and inconsequential. But the officials would not answer substantive questions about the issue, and their comments were not published by The Post and do not appear to have been reported elsewhere.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The decision to involve those officials could be perceived as threatening the independence of U.S. spy agencies that are supposed to remain insulated from partisan issues, as well as undercutting the credibility of ongoing congressional probes. Those officials saw their involvement as an attempt to correct coverage they believed to be erroneous.

The effort also involved senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. Through a spokesman, Nunes confirmed that he had spoken to at least one reporter “at the request of a White House communications aide.”

In an interview, Burr acknowledged that he “had conversations about” Russia-related news reports with the White House and engaged with news organizations to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged “repeated” or “constant” contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives.

“I’ve had those conversations,” Burr said, adding that he regarded the contacts as appropriate provided that “I felt I had something to share that didn’t breach my responsibilities to the committee in an ongoing investigation.”

The administration’s push against the Russia coverage intensified Sunday when White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said in television interviews that he had been authorized “by the top levels of the intelligence community” to denounce reports on Trump campaign contacts with Russia as false.

Priebus’s denunciations ranged from calling the articles “overstated” to saying they were “complete garbage.”

Administration officials said that Priebus’s comments had been cleared by FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In doing so, the FBI’s leadership would appear to have been drawing a distinction between authorizing comments by a White House official and addressing the matter themselves.

Former intelligence officials expressed concern over the blurring of lines between intelligence and politics, with some recalling Republican accusations that the Obama administration had twisted intelligence in its accounts of the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

“I doubt that there was any enthusiasm from the intelligence leadership to get involved in this in the first place,” former CIA director Michael Hayden said, noting that it seemed unlikely that Priebus’s bluntly worded denials were consistent with the “precise language” favored by intelligence analysts.

“Think Benghazi here,” Hayden said in an interview by email. “This is what happens when the intel guys are leaned on for the narrative of the political speakers. The latter have different rules, words, purposes. Getting intel into that mix always ends unhappily, (and) it looks like we just did.”

The Trump administration’s actions reflect its level of concern about coverage of its relationship with Russia. Trump has continued to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, even after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the U.S. presidential race to help Trump win.

Trump has also repeatedly disparaged the intelligence agencies that his administration last week turned to for support. Shortly before taking office, Trump accused U.S. spy agencies of a Nazi-style leaks campaign to smear him.

The White House statements on the issue Friday came after CNN reported that the FBI had refused administration requests to publicly “knock down” media reports about ties between Trump associates and Russian intelligence.

Administration officials disputed the account, saying that rather than soliciting FBI feedback, Priebus had been pulled aside by McCabe on the morning of Feb. 15 and told, “I want you to know” that the New York Times story “is BS.”

The FBI declined to discuss the matter.

White House officials declined to comment on the administration’s subsequent effort to enlist other government officials and would not agree to allow the identification of the intelligence officials who had spoken to The Post last week. In separate calls, those individuals insisted on being identified only as “a senior intelligence official in the Trump administration” and “a senior member of the intelligence community.”

In a brief interview on the night of Feb. 15, the senior intelligence official said that the suggestion that there was frequent contact between Russians and Trump associates was false, describing any conversations as sporadic, limited and based on Russia’s interest in building a relationship with the future Trump administration rather than shaping the 2016 presidential race.

The senior intelligence official appeared to be referring to contacts between Trump’s designated national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump was sworn in as president. Flynn was forced out of his job earlier this month after The Post reported that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak and then misled Trump administration officials about the nature of his contacts.

Officials at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on whether senior officials at those agencies had discussed Russia coverage with the White House or been involved in efforts to refute stories on that subject.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the senior-most intelligence official in the administration, with former senator Dan Coats, R-Ind., still awaiting confirmation as director of national intelligence.

As a Republican member of Congress, Pompeo was among the most fiercely partisan figures in the House investigation of Benghazi, which centered on accusations that the Obama administration had twisted intelligence about the attacks for political purposes.

It is not unusual for CIA leaders to have contact with news organizations, particularly about global issues such as terrorism or to contest news accounts of CIA operations. But involving the agency on alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia could be problematic.

The CIA is not in charge of the investigation. Given the history of domestic espionage abuses in the United States, CIA officials are typically averse to being drawn into matters that involve U.S. citizens or might make the agency vulnerable to charges that it is politicizing intelligence.

A U.S. intelligence official declined to discuss any Pompeo involvement except to say that he was “not involved in drafting or approving statements for public use by the White House this past weekend on alleged Russian contacts.”

Whether there were such contacts remains a major point of contention. Beyond Flynn, the investigation has focused on other figures including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who had previously served as a paid political adviser to the Putin-backed president of Ukraine.

U.S. intelligence reports cite multiple contacts between members of Trump’s team and Russians with links to the Kremlin, during the campaign and afterward, according to officials who have seen them. Such reports were based on intercepted Russian communications and other sources, the officials said.

Nunes, who served as a member of Trump’s transition team, has resisted calls for his House committee to investigate alleged contacts between Trump associates and Russia. He said in an interview that after months of investigations, U.S. authorities have turned up no evidence of such contacts.

“They’ve looked, and it’s all a dead trail that leads me to believe no contact, not even pizza-delivery-guy contact,” Nunes said, appearing to rule out even unwitting contact between Trump officials and Russian agents. Investigators, Nunes said, “don’t even have a lead.”

]]> 0, 25 Feb 2017 11:09:55 +0000
Here is what’s replacing Joe’s Boathouse in South Portland Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:19:59 +0000 The new restaurant going into Spring Point Marina in South Portland, former home of Joe’s Boathouse, will be called 43North and will open in late May or early June, according to one of the partners developing the business.

Laura Argitis, owner of the Old Port Sea Grill, said the dockside, two-level 43North is named after the location’s latitude. The chef will be Stephanie Brown, who is now executive chef at the Woodlands Club in Falmouth. Brown previously owned Sea Grass Bistro, a small restaurant in Yarmouth that is now closed.

Argitis said Brown’s menu will change often and focus on American cuisine with French and Italian influences. Seafood will be a fixture on the menu.

Argitis is partnering with the owner of Port Harbor Marine, which operates Spring Point Marina, to develop the new restaurant, next to the Breakwater condominiums.

Joe’s Boathouse closed in late 2015 after 23 years in business, and the 35-year-old, one story building that housed it has been torn down.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Feb 2017 08:43:59 +0000
New Jersey agrees to run pipeline through forest preserve Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:44:03 +0000 CHERRY HILL, N.J. – New Jersey environmental regulators on Friday approved a hotly contested plan to run a natural gas pipeline through a federally protected forest preserve amid raucous protests that included drums, tambourines and choruses of “This Land Is Your Land.”

The 15-member New Jersey Pinelands Commission voted to approve a plan by South Jersey Gas to run the pipeline through the federally protected Pinelands preserve, where development is drastically restricted. The protesters’ loud ruckus drowned out the members, even as they voted nine in favor and five against, with one abstention.

It was the most emotionally charged jobs-vs-environment clash in recent New Jersey history, and was closely watched by environmental and energy groups around the nation, particularly with a new presidential administration seen as more supportive of the energy industry.

“As a priest, I will pray for you when you stand before the throne of God and you are asked to give an accounting of your stewardship of this special ecological area,” said the Rev. David Stump, a Catholic priest from Jersey City. “May God have mercy on your souls.”

“Your legacy is disgraceful!” added Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The company said the vote “recognizes the energy reliability challenges facing southern New Jersey and the balanced solution this project offers. The careful construction of this pipeline will address the energy demands of 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties, protect and create jobs, and provide a meaningful opportunity to significantly reduce air emissions.”

Protesters repeatedly disrupted the meeting, chanting “No! No! No!” for nearly 10 minutes when the commission was about to vote. They burst into song when a commissioner voted in favor of the plan.

After the plan was approved, they chanted, “Shame on you!” and “See you in court!” Pipeline supporters including construction workers, though greatly outnumbered, chanted “USA! USA!”

Tittel said his and other environmental groups plan to challenge the approval in court on numerous procedural and factual grounds, hoping to delay it long enough for New Jersey’s next governor to appoint Pinelands commissioners that will reverse the decision. Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s successor will be elected in November.

Supporters say the 22-mile pipeline will increase energy reliability, while environmentalists fear damage to the pristine Pinelands region.

The plan was narrowly defeated in 2014. But since then, Christie has replaced several Pinelands commissioners with supporters of the pipeline.

Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, called the vote “a symptom of what’s going on nationally” regarding pipeline projects.

South Jersey Gas plans to run the pipeline mostly under or alongside existing roads from Maurice River Township in Cumberland County to the B.L. England power plant in Upper Township.

The company says it already operates over 1,400 miles of gas mains and 133 miles of elevated pressure lines within the Pinelands without harming the environment.

After the proposal was defeated in 2014, the executive director of the Pinelands Commission unilaterally decided that it met the agency’s criteria and was therefore approved. Environmentalists sued, and a court ordered the commission to take a new vote.

Environmental groups fear the pipeline will harm the fragile Pinelands and set a bad precedent for future development. They say it will cause a loss of some habitat and increase runoff and erosion in an area that is home to an aquifer that is estimated to hold 17 trillion gallons of some of the nation’s purest water.

Four former state governors – two Republicans and two Democrats – also have opposed the pipeline, citing their desire to protect a vulnerable natural resource.

South Jersey Gas maintains that in addition to providing a cleaner fuel source to the power plant, the new pipeline would provide a second transmission vehicle for natural gas to thousands of customers in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Currently, there is only one pipeline that takes gas to nearly 29,000 homes and businesses, which could be left out in the cold without a second way of getting gas to their homes if the existing pipeline fails.

]]> 0 of a proposed natural gas line that would run through New Jersey's federally protected Pinelands reserve gather inside a hotel in Cherry Hill, N.J., on Friday before a Pinelands Commission meeting at which the proposal was approved.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 15:44:03 +0000
Flood watch in effect for Kennebec River, other parts of Maine, through Sunday Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:36:44 +0000 A recent stretch of mild weather has local officials keeping a close eye on the Kennebec River, which is currently covered by flat sheets of ice that could break up after the above-freezing days.

With warm temperatures expected to continue through the weekend and rain showers forecast for late Saturday, the National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for much of Maine from 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday evening.

The combination of warm temperatures and rain could lead ice on the Kennebec River and other waterways to break up and flow downstream, potentially damming up the river, according to Sean Goodwin, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency.

“Any time you have a lot of broken ice, ice jams are our biggest concern,” Goodwin said. “For the towns of Hallowell, Gardiner, Augusta, Pittston and Randolph, the level of the river can come up 4, 5, 6 feet easily because of the ice jam. Those things concern us.”

The National Weather Service issued the flood watch for Kennebec, Somerset, Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and more northern counties of Maine. It also extended the watch to parts of New Hampshire, where the flood risk is greater because of warmer temperatures.

Last month, the ice on the Kennebec River was up to a foot thick in places, but the recent warm temperatures “could have changed that very significantly,” said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s station in Gray. A current measure of the ice’s depth was not available.

A flood watch is in effect for the area through the weekend, including the Kennebec River in Hallowell, shown here on Friday. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

A half-inch of rain is forecast to fall in the Augusta area over the weekend while three-quarters of an inch could fall farther north, Curtis said. With that rain draining into rivers and raising their water levels, Curtis warned that upward pressure could be placed on the river ice, breaking it apart.

“Our main concern here would be the potential for ice jams,” Curtis said. “All those chunks of ice can get hung up in a curve of the river or at a bridge or maybe in a shallower section… People should be very cautious around waterways, as the ice will be getting thinner.”

Goodwin recalled a flood that formed in downtown Augusta several years ago after ice broke up on the Kennebec River and water levels rose above the banks in about eight minutes. On that occasion, Goodwin said, members of the Augusta Fire Department had to pull a man off the river ice to prevent him from being swept downstream.

An ice jam also caused flooding in the Front Street parking lot of downtown Augusta a year ago.

During the current flood watch, Goodwin said, he has asked emergency responders in area towns and cities to keep an eye on the weather and the state of the river.

This photo taken on Friday shows the Kennebec River in Hallowell, which sometimes floods following snow melt and rain. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

To help lower the risk of flooding from ice jams, the U.S. Coast Guard sends ice breaker ships up several Maine rivers. On the Kennebec River, they go upriver as far as Gardiner, but the U.S. Coast Guard is not currently planning to begin those missions until the middle of March, according to Goodwin, who spoke with its members on Friday morning.

An official from the U.S. Coast Guard could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Temperatures in central Maine will dip slightly on Sunday night to around 25 degrees, but they will continue to rise into the 30s and 40s during the day next week, Goodwin said. He hopes those weather patterns will continue, he said, because that would allow the large piles of snow that have accumulated around Maine after recent storms to melt a little each day before refreezing each night.

In terms of flood prevention, the large banks of relatively fresh snow do carry one advantage, Goodwin said: They are capable of absorbing rainfall, preventing it from flowing into local streams and rivers.

Goodwin also mentioned several other inconveniences that can accompany the recent spell of warmer weather. Because many storm drains are covered in ice, lots of snow melt can puddle on the roads, making travel more difficult and causing potholes to become larger.

As snow melts, it can also lead to the creation of ice dams on top of buildings, which can then slide, fall and potentially damage the roof. That recently happened at the Lithgow Public Library, when a large chunk of snow that had frozen solid after the warm weather slid off the roof, ripping out pre-cast concrete pieces and other parts.

Goodwin recommended homeowners either use a rake to remove ice dams from their roofs or hire professionals to safely do the work.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

]]> 0 flood watch is in effect through Sunday for the Kennebec River in Augusta and other parts of Maine.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 08:36:55 +0000
White House bars major news outlets from press briefing Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:17:21 +0000 News organizations including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining an informal, on-the-record White House press briefing Friday.

The Associated Press chose not to participate in the briefing after White House press secretary Sean Spicer restricted the number of journalists included. Typically, the daily briefing is televised and open to all news organizations credentialed to cover the White House.

“The AP believes the public should have as much access to the president as possible,” said Lauren Easton, the AP’s director of media relations, in a prepared statement.

On Friday, hours after President Trump delivered a speech blasting the media, Spicer invited only a pool of news organizations that represents and shares reporting with the larger press corps. He also invited several other major news outlets, as well as smaller organizations including the conservative Washington Times, One America News Network and Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman, Steve Bannon, is Trump’s chief strategist. When the other news organizations tried to gain access, they weren’t allowed to enter.

The White House said it felt “everyone was represented” by those in the pool and the invited organizations.

“We decided to add a couple of additional people beyond the pool. Nothing more than that,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

When asked by a reporter attending whether he was playing favorites, Spicer said the White House had “shown an abundance of accessibility,” according to an audio recording of the briefing later circulated by the pool.

The pool included Reuters, Bloomberg, CBS, Hearst Newspapers and CBS Radio. Others in the briefing were Fox, NBC and ABC. Bloomberg reported that its reporter was unaware of the exclusions until after the briefing.

John Roberts, Fox’s chief White House correspondent, told anchor Shepard Smith on the air Friday that Fox supports complaints being filed by the White House Correspondents Association and pool TV networks.

“You can speculate, Shep, that there might be some extenuating circumstances as to why those people were not invited, we’re going to look into that further,” Roberts said.

In a statement, the correspondent association’s president, Jeff Mason, said the group is “protesting strongly” against how the briefing was handled by the White House.

CBS News said in a statement that it was the pool’s radio and TV outlet Friday.

“We recorded audio of this event and quickly shared it out of an obligation to protect the interests of all pool members,” the news division said.

When Spicer was asked by a reporter at the briefing whether he was playing favorites, he said he “disagreed with the premise of the question,” according to the audio.

“We’ve brought more reporters into this process. And the idea that every time that every single person can’t get their question answered or fit in a room that we’re excluding people. We’ve actually gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team, and our briefing room more accessible than probably any prior administration. And so I think you can take that to the bank.

“We do what we can to accommodate the press. I think we’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility, and openness and getting folks – our officials, our team.”

During a panel discussion in December, Spicer said that open access for the media is “what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”

Reaction to Friday’s events from the barred outlets and others was swift.

Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, called the newspaper’s exclusion “unfortunate.”

“The public has a right to know, and that means being informed by a variety of news sources, not just those filtered by the White House press office in hopes of getting friendly coverage,” Maharaj said in a statement. “Regardless of access, the Times will continue to report on the Trump administration without fear or favor.”

Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, said that “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper took aim at the White House as he kicked off “The Lead with Jake Tapper” hours after the briefing.

“A White House that has had some difficulty telling the truth and that has seemed to have trouble getting up to speed on the basic competent functioning of government, and a president who seems particularly averse to any criticism and has called the press the enemies of the American people – they’re taking the next step in attempting to avoid checks and balances and accountability.

“It’s not acceptable. In fact, it’s petulant, and indicative of a lack of basic understanding of how an adult White House functions,” Tapper said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the move by the White House.

“We are concerned by the decision to bar reporters from a press secretary briefing,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement. “The U.S. should be promoting press freedom and access to information.”

]]> 0 line up for a briefing in press secretary Sean Spicer's office at the White House on Friday. The White House held an off-camera briefing in Spicer's office, selecting who could attend.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:40:48 +0000