Congress averts government shutdown after striking a late-night budget deal

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National and international headlines

Congress reaches deal to keep government open through September

Congressional negotiators reached an agreement late Sunday on a broad spending package to fund the government through the end of September, alleviating fears of a government shutdown later this week, according to The Washington Post.

Congress is expected to vote on the package early this week. The bipartisan agreement includes $12.5 billion in new military spending and $1.5 billion more for border security, a major priority for Republican leaders in Congress.

“This agreement is a good agreement for the American people, and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, said. “The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren’t used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle class relies on, like medical research, education and infrastructure.”

“The agreement will move the needle forward on conservative priorities and will ensure that the essential functions of the federal government are maintained,” said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey.

Trump guarantees protection for those with pre-existing medical conditions – but it’s unclear how

President Donald Trump tried Sunday to reassure anxious Republicans that the latest proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act would continue to protect those with pre-existing medical conditions, although he struggled to fully articulate what form those protections would take, The Washington Post reports.

Carl Goulden of Littlestown, Pennsylvania, developed hepatitis B 10 years ago. Soon his health insurance premiums soared beyond a price he and his wife could afford. President Donald Trump assured people that pre-existing conditions would be covered by health insurance.
Elana Gordon | TNS

In an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that aired Sunday morning, Trump said “this bill has evolved” over the past several weeks and will “beautifully” protect those who have pre-existing medical conditions. He highlighted the proposal to set up high-risk pools, which could help lower insurance rates for those who are healthier — but he also said repeatedly that the legislation includes “pre-existing,” seeming to suggest an extension of the current mandate.

“Pre-existing is going to be in there, and we’re also going to create pools, and pools are going to take care of the pre-existing,” Trump said at one point, later adding that the proposal has “a clause that guarantees” protection for those with pre-existing conditions.

The White House has yet to respond to a request to clarify what the president meant.

A skeptical climate change column whips up a storm

The New York Times thought it was bringing a fresh voice and some ideological diversity to its influential op-ed pages when it hired conservative columnist Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago.

Readers weren’t impressed by Stephens’s debut column, to say the least, The Washington Post reports.

The cancel-my-subscription outrage flowed freely after Stephens challenged the certitude about climate science in his first piece for the newspaper on Friday. While acknowledging that the planet has warmed over the past century and that humans have contributed to it, he wrote, “much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future.”

Pentagon identifies US soldier killed in bomb blast outside Mosul

The Pentagon has identified the soldier killed by a roadside bomb outside the Iraqi city of Mosul Saturday.

U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Weston Lee, 25, of Bluffton, Georgia, an infantry officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, poses in an undated photo released by the U.S. Army April 30, 2017. Lee died when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on patrol outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the army said.

First Lt. Weston C. Lee, 25, of Bluffton, Georgia, was an infantry officer from the 82nd Airborne Division and was on patrol at the time of his death, according to an emailed statement from his unit.

Lee joined the Army in 2015 and deployed to Iraq in December. He was a platoon leader and died on his first deployment.

Pentagon says US-led airstrikes against Islamic State have killed 352 civilians

At least 352 civilians have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since the operation began in 2014, the U.S. military said in a statement Sunday.

The military’s official tally is far below those of other outside groups, according to Reuters. Monitoring group Airwars said more than 3,000 civilians have been killed by coalition airstrikes.

“We regret the unintentional loss of civilian lives … and express our deepest sympathies to the families and others affected by these strikes,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Man who plays ‘Pokemon Go’ in a Russian church may spend over 3 years in prison for it

Last summer, Ruslan Sokolovsky entered the imposing Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, a city about 1,000 miles east of Moscow. The Russian Orthodox church holds special meaning for some, because it was supposedly built on the site where the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, was murdered along with his family.

But Sokolovsky wasn’t there to worship or pay tribute to Russian history. Instead, the blogger wandered through the gilded rooms of the church, his eyes and fingers glued to his smartphone. He was playing “Pokemon Go,” the app that allows users to “catch ‘em all” using augmented reality.

After Russian officials discovered the footage, Sokolovsky was detained last fall and charged with inciting religious hatred. On Friday, the last day of the trial, prosecutors in Russia requested a sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison for Sokolovsky, according to The Washington Post.

While prosecutors and others have justified Sokolovsky’s arrest under a new law that prevents the “violation of the right to freedom of conscience and belief,” others have blasted the potential punishment — and the law — as a restriction on free speech.

Trump confers with Asia allies on North Korea nuclear threat

President Donald Trump is stepping up outreach to allies in Asia to discuss the North Korean nuclear threat and gain their backing if action is needed, according to Reuters.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Trump would speak to the leaders of Singapore and Thailand on Sunday, after North Korea test-launched another missile that Washington and Seoul said was unsuccessful but which drew widespread international condemnation.

The planned telephone calls follow Trump’s conversation Saturday night with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. A week ago, Trump spoke with the presidents of China and Japan on the North Korea issue.

“We need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure that we have our ducks in a row,” Priebus told ABC’s “This Week.”

“So if something does happen in North Korea, that we have everyone in line backing up a plan of action that may need to be put together with our partners in the area,” he said. “We have got to be on the same page.”

Local headlines

Controversial urban renewal group that Bangor may finally disband

The group credited with revitalizing several Bangor neighborhoods and accused of destroying much of downtown’s historic charm was scheduled to meet for the first time in 25 years Wednesday to begin the process of disbanding. However, only one of its two current members showed, the BDN’s Danielle McLean reports.

The former Bijou theater on Exchange Street.
BDN file

The Urban Renewal Authority, which was created nearly 60 years ago and wrote the plan to modernize the city by demolishing 100 buildings on 50 acres along the Kenduskeag Stream, has been dormant since 1991, despite remaining a functional city board with appointed members.

“There’s really nothing for the [authority] to do,” City Solicitor Norm Heitmann said, so it’s time to eliminate it and take it off the books.

Hannaford stores see shortage of refrigerated foods after warehouse fire

A fire Wednesday night at Hannaford’s distribution center in South Portland has resulted in a temporary shortage of some refrigerated items, produce chief among them, at stores around the state, the BDN’s Dawn Gagnon reports.

Corporate spokesman Eric Blom said Saturday that for the time being the company is shipping produce and other affected products to Maine from its large warehouse in New York.

“That has created some delivery delays for certain products,” he said. “We’re working across our whole network to supply the stores.”

A quirk in Maine’s Constitution could keep casino question off ballot

Top Maine legislators are casting about for ways to thwart a highly controversial casino bid slated for the November ballot, considering the unprecedented use of a potential loophole in the state Constitution that could allow them to strike it from the ballot, the BDN’s Michael Shepherd reports.

Such a move would likely prompt a lawsuit from the opaque network linked to U.S. Virgin Islands developer Shawn Scott that is behind the York County casino push and has pumped more than $4.2 million into a referendum campaign that qualified for the ballot in January.

A ball is seen on a roulette wheel in front of slot machines at Gaming Expo Asia in Macau, May 22, 2012.

The campaign is under scrutiny from the Maine Ethics Commission after documents filed by backers earlier this month showed that all contributions dating to 2015 — previously reported as coming from Lisa Scott, the developer’s sister — were loans from companies in Nevada and Japan.

Just the fact that lawmakers are considering moves to keep the question from the ballot — which was acknowledged by top Republican, Democratic and York County lawmakers on Friday — is indicative of the Legislature’s widespread bipartisan disdain for the casino bid.

“It’s a dramatic step and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, co-chairman of the legislative committee overseeing gambling, said. “But this is just so fraudulent that I think it rises to that occasion.”

Maine AG Mills joins fight against Trump environmental proposals

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has joined Democratic colleagues from other states in filing legal challenges aimed at stopping the Trump administration from weakening environmental regulations, Maine Public’s Mal Leary reports. The suits reflect a growing trend of partisan alliances among states’ attorneys general.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills.
Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Democratic attorneys general have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration on a variety of environmental fronts. In one case, they seek to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which requires power plants to curb carbon emissions.

“That’s a huge issue for the state of Maine because we are the end of the tailpipe [of the nation] when it comes to emissions,” Mills said.

Living and events

Want to raise backyard chickens in Maine? Here’s what you need to know

Just past where the agricultural zone line starts on Union Street in Bangor, Cat Randall’s chicken obsession is flourishing, the BDN’s Lauren Abbate writes.

Gabor Degre | BDN
Cat Randall at her Bangor home. A few years ago Randall started with six chickens, and now she has 60. Some of them are laying hens, but she also has unique chickens that she keeps as pets.
Gabor Degre | BDN

As cars whizz by, her roughly 60 chickens of varying breeds peck around her yard, free ranging and clucking in coops. She never saw herself tending after a backyard full of hens and roosters, but once you start raising the personable breed of domesticated fowl it’s pretty hard to stop.

“Once you get into it, you’re like, ‘Well, I can add a couple more, it’s no big deal,’” Randall said. “I mean, we definitely went a little overboard. […] But that’s what happens. You start by getting one, and then you’re like I want this one and this one. They’re cool.”

This mind and body practice helps seniors ‘show up for life’

More and more 21st century seniors are turning to a fifth century practice to ease the aches and pains of aging and create more emotional balance in their lives, the BDN’s Julia Bayly writes.

Yoga, the Indian-based discipline of specific stretching and breathing exercises, is not just for those who can twist themselves into a shape reminiscent of a double-helix molecule.

“Yoga is very gentle and holistic,” Sandy Cyrus, owner of Full Circle Yoga in Orono, said. “It’s like taking your car in for a tuneup, but yoga is a tuneup for the whole body.”

Most people have a sense of the physical nature of yoga, Cyrus said, but there’s more to it than that.

“We also work with controlled breathing and being in the moment,” she said. “When combined with the physical motions, it helps with circulation, lung capacity and improving brain function because the students are taking time to pause, focus and concentrate.”

Midcoast Lyme Aide event to benefit those needing financial assistance for testing for tick-borne disease

The first Midcoast Lyme Aide to benefit Midcoast Lyme Aide Fund will begin at noon Saturday, May 6, with a benefit ride with Ridin’ Steel that culminates with a benefit concert at 5 p.m. at Taste of Maine, 161 Main St., in Woolwich.

Concert doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets $25 in advance and $30 at the door. VIP packages available for $50 each.

Decorated astronaut Dr. George Nelson to give keynote address at UMFK commencement

The University of Maine at Fort Kent is pleased to announce that astronaut George D. Nelson will be the keynote speaker for the 135th commencement ceremony held at 1 p.m. May 13 in the university Sports Center.

Nelson is an emeritus director of science, mathematics, and technology education, and a full professor of physics and astronomy at Western Washington University. From 1996-2001, he served as the director of Project 2061 and senior staff at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and from 1989-2006 as associate vice provost for research and associate professor of astronomy at the University of Washington.

“Dr. Nelson is an extraordinary individual and we are so fortunate to have him speak at commencement,” UMaine at Fort Kent President Dr. John Short said. “He has had a remarkable career; he has experienced things that we can only dream of.”

Outdoor “Rosary Rally” set for Gorham on Saturday, May 13

Over the next six months, thousands of individuals around the country will gather once a month to publicly pray the rosary in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Mary to three young visionaries in the town of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

Among the venues for these outdoor “rosary rallies” will be the lawn of St. Anne Parish, located on 299 Main Street in Gorham, with the first scheduled for noon Saturday, May 13.

“The apparitions occurred on the 13th of each month, so the first two ‘rosary rallies’ will be on May 13 and Tuesday, June 13,” said Dan Kasprzyk, a 4th degree Knight of Columbus who is organizing the gatherings. “The remaining dates will probably occur on a Saturday closest to the 13th of each month.”