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National and international headlines
WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the sweeping criminal charging policy of former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. and directed his federal prosecutors Thursday to charge defendants with the most serious, provable crimes carrying the most severe penalties.
The Holder memo, issued in August 2013, instructed his prosecutors to avoid charging certain defendants with drug offenses that would trigger long mandatory minimum sentences. Defendants who met a set of criteria such as not belonging to a large-scale drug trafficking organization, gang or cartel, qualified for lesser charges – and in turn less prison time – under Holder’s policy.
But Sessions’ new charging policy, outlined in a two-page memo and sent to more than 5,000 assistant U.S. attorneys across the country and all assistant attorneys general in Washington, orders prosecutors to “charge and purse the most serious, readily provable offense” and rescinds Holder’s policy immediately.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has long been closely tied to the Boy Scouts of America and uneasy with the Boy Scouts’ increasingly liberal stance on gay and transgender men and boys, took a measured step Thursday toward distancing itself from Scouting.
The church, which automatically enrolls every boy who attends a Mormon congregation as a Boy Scout, will stop participating in Varsity and Venturing, which are teen programs for high-school-age Scouts. For the time being, the church said Thursday, it will still enroll 8- to 13-year-old boys in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
The decision is not because of the Boy Scouts’ policies on LGBT inclusion, the church said in a statement. “The BSA has always allowed the Church to operate its programs in ways that are consistent with our standards and beliefs, and they have been very supportive.”
Vice President Mike Pence sought on Thursday to reassure Christian leaders looking for the White House to focus more on the plight of persecuted Christians abroad.
“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration,” the vice president said during a morning address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians being held this week in Washington. Pence spoke to an audience who are grateful for the Trump administration’s statements of support for that cause but who are starting to question when the administration will take more concrete action.
Advocacy on behalf of people persecuted for being Christian is a topic “of enormous importance to this administration,” Pence said. Turning to speakers at the conference who were there to share their personal stories of persecution abroad, he said: “You have the prayers of the president of the United States. The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred Americans to action, and it brings me here today.”
President Donald Trump is angry the U.S. Navy isn’t using more steam power. He sent the Navy scrambling Thursday after he suggested it scrap an already-built electromagnetic catapult system on its brand-new aircraft carrier and replace it with a “goddamn steam” one.
In excerpts from an interview with Time magazine published Thursday, Trump slammed the catapult launch system on the USS Gerald Ford, the new, high-tech supercarrier slated to become the crown jewel of the U.S. Navy. The new system, the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), replaces the old steam-powered catapult launch system for hurling jets off a short runway, albeit with heftier up-front costs. Which really peeved the commander-in-chief.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday that its investigative branch has arrested 1,378 people across the United States in recent weeks in what officials called the largest anti-gang crackdown in the agency’s history.
More than two-thirds of the people arrested are U.S. citizens, and all but two of those were born in this country, ICE officials said.
The arrests were part of a six-week initiative, from March 26 to May 6, led by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, which focuses on combating gangs and other criminal activity in the United States and overseas.
LOS ANGELES — Meet the new host, same as the old host? Variety hears through sources that Ryan Seacrest is in advanced talks to come back as host of “American Idol” when the show is rebooted on ABC next spring.
According to an insider, final tweaks are being hammered out on a new contract for the multihyphenate, who recently joined Kelly Ripa as co-host of ABC’s long-running morning show, the newly named “Live with Kelly and Ryan.” Stakeholders in “Idol,” which include FremantleMedia and CORE Media Group, are hoping to nail down a look that’s “authentic and most like the original.”
Cigna Corp. can walk away from its $48 billion merger with Anthem Inc., a Delaware judge ruled almost three months after another court blocked the deal as anticompetitive.
The ruling on Thursday means Anthem could be on the hook for $1.85 billion in breakup fees and $13 billion in damages to Cigna, which had argued that its would-be partner was too stubborn to see that the concerns about competition were insurmountable.
AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Thursday he has been asked to serve on an election fraud commission that is being spearheaded by President Donald Trump.
The purpose of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, which will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, is to investigate Trump’s belief that there was widespread voter fraud in the November 2016 election. Trump announced in January that he would seek an investigation into voter fraud in the election, even though the consensus among state officials is that it is rare, according to Reuters.
LINCOLN, Maine — A Poland Spring representative said he will push his company to build a $50 million bottling plant in the Lincoln area — a crucial but far from final step in the company’s expansion planning.
Recent well tests showed that the Lincoln Water District can easily anchor a bottling plant, Senior Natural Resource Manager Thomas Brennan said during a district board meeting on Tuesday. Poland Spring has been testing wells and scouting plant locations in the Lincoln area since March.
“For my part as a hydrogeologist, this is where we’re going to do it,” Brennan said. “That’s going to be my advice to the company.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 34,000 Americans contracted hepatitis C in 2015. Maine has also seen an increase in reported infections.
Cases of acute hepatitis C nearly tripled nationally from 2010 to 2015, according to the CDC. Maine’s rate also tripled within that time frame, and state epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett says it’s likely connected to another public health issue.
“At the moment, it appears that current transmission is being driven by current drug users,” she says.
The most commonly reported risk factor for hepatitis C is injection drug use. Just as the opioid crisis is showing no signs of slowing down, Kenney Miller of the Health Equity Alliance says the rate of hepatitis C infections continue unabated.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe came under sharp questioning Thursday from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Maine’s two senators.
Sen. Angus King asked McCabe if he agreed with a White House characterization that the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election was one of the smaller ones underway.
“Is this a small investigation in relation all the other work that you are doing?” King asked McCabe.
“Sir, we consider it to be a highly significant investigation,” McCabe responded.
“So you would not characterize it as one of the smallest things you are engaged in?” King pressed.
“No, I would not,” McCabe said.
Humans have a centuries-old reputation as poor smellers. We can see more colors than the average mammal, but our noses are simply no match for the questing snouts of rabbits and hounds. Sure, the aromas of coffee and pie are great. But intelligent humans outgrew the need to sniff our way through life. Or so the thinking went.
In a review published Thursday in the journal Science, John McGann, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, argued that this is a flawed perception dating back to the 19th century. He blamed pioneering French anatomist Paul Broca, who wrote that, given the comparatively small olfactory organs in the primate brain, “it is no longer the sense of smell that guides the animal.” As for smelling in apes, humans included, “All that exceeded the needs of this humble function became useless.”
BELFAST, Maine — A Maine military veteran will oversee the resting place of more than 9,386 American servicemen killed during the Allied invasion of France that helped turn the tide of World War II.
On June 6, the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, Scott Desjardins, a Madawaska native and former U.S. Army cavalry scout and tank crewman, starts his new job as superintendent of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
“I consider myself still serving,” Desjardins said in an email. “But I now serve those who served and gave all. It is important to remember the sacrifice these service members made and to keep their stories fresh.”
ORLAND, Maine — A steady but manageable wind blew on a recent chilly May morning, turning the Toddy Pond into that most sought-after of surfaces — a “salmon chop” or “streamer chop,” depending on which old-timer you happen to ask.
Landlocked salmon don’t strike when it’s too bright or when the water is flat calm, those same old-timers will tell you. But if you’ve got a bit of a breeze, and there are at least a few clouds in the sky?
Well, on days like that, you head for the water and do what generations of Maine anglers have done: You tie a hand-crafted streamer fly on the end of your line, and you go trolling.
Waterfront Concerts announced on Thursday morning that legendary singer-songwriter Elton John will perform two concerts in Bangor and Portland this fall.