Good morning, Maine. Here is your morning briefing.
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National and international headlines
A high school in Portland, Maine, is believed to be the first secondary school in the United States to offer its Muslim student athletes performance hijabs, the Associated Press reports.
The sport hijabs, which are specifically designed to stay in place during rigorous activity, will eliminate the need for female Muslim athletes at the high school to provide their own head coverings, which often shifted or threatened to fall off during play.
The new head wear makes “a huge difference,” Deering High School tennis player Tabarek Kadhim told Portland’s CBS affiliate WGME. “I feel so comfortable now. I can play without my hijab falling off.”
The biggest benefit, students said, is that the new gear has given them a confidence boost on the field.
British Prime Minister Theresa May spectacularly lost her electoral gamble, according to an exit poll that suggested her Conservatives would fall short of a majority in parliament, throwing her Brexit plans into disarray.
The exit poll predicted the Conservatives would win 314 seats in the 650-member parliament and the leftist opposition Labour Party 266 — a “hung parliament” with no clear winner.
May unexpectedly called the snap election seven weeks ago to increase the slim majority she had inherited from predecessor David Cameron and strengthen her hand before launching into arduous divorce talks with the European Union, set to start in just over a week.
Instead, if the exit poll showing strong gains for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is anywhere near accurate, she risks losing power in what would be an ignominious end to her 11 months at Number 10 Downing Street.
Former FBI director James Comey accused President Donald Trump on Thursday of firing him to try to undermine its investigation into possible collusion by his campaign team with Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
In the most eagerly anticipated congressional hearing in years, Comey told lawmakers the Trump administration had lied and defamed him and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the president dismissed him on May 9.
During more than two hours of testimony, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee he believed Trump had directed him in February to drop an FBI probe into the Republican president’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn as part of the broader Russia investigation.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was the last senator to question former FBI director James Comey at Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Nearing the end of more than 2½ hours of questioning, McCain focused his line on two FBI inquiries: the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state and the 2017 investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.
But several of his questions confused viewers, and seemingly Comey himself, and he occasionally was incoherent. He referred to “President Comey,” and at times looked confused and frustrated with Comey’s answers. Viewers clearly thought it was notable; Twitter announced it was the most-tweeted moment of the hearing.
There is nowhere in this country where someone working a full-time minimum wage job could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment, according to an annual report released Thursday documenting the gap between wages and the cost of rental housing.
Downsizing to a one-bedroom will only get you so far on minimum wage. Such housing is affordable in only 12 counties located in Arizona, Oregon and Washington states, according to the report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
You would have to earn $17.14 an hour, on average, to be able to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in a safe area without having to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing. Make that $21.21 for a two-bedroom home – nearly three times the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will visit Maine’s national monument next week as part of a federal review of whether it was created legally, he said Thursday.
“I can’t wait to see it. My understanding is that I am going to go canoeing, which is something that Maine is known for,” Zinke said in response to U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who mentioned the visit.
AUGUSTA, Maine — A federal health care watchdog has again found fault with Maine’s treatment of people with acute mental illness at the Riverview Psychiatric Center, ordering that the state repay $51 million in federal aid.
Gov. Paul LePage announced Thursday that the state will appeal the decision, calling it a “financial tsunami.”
At issue is the decertification of Riverview by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2013. According to LePage, the federal government has notified the state that it is “disallowing” $51 million that has been drawn down for the state-run hospital in Augusta.
LePage said in a written statement that he has warned the Legislature to stop using the federal funding.
For more than a year, Tonya DiMillo saw tragedy waiting to happen at the state’s youth prison.
Young people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses filled the cells at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, and corrections staff, who didn’t have the training to know how to respond, struggled to keep them safe.
Then, last October, a 16-year-old transgender boy, Charles Maisie Knowles, hanged himself in his cell while on suicide watch. Soon after, a young girl at Long Creek tried to do the same, strangling herself before being rushed to the hospital.
The second suicide attempt, and its place in the pattern of self-inflicted violence among Long Creek’s scores of young inmates with mental illness, came to light only because DiMillo and the other members of an independent, citizen watchdog group for the prison reported it to the Maine Legislature. Maine has five of these volunteer groups, called boards of visitors, that are appointed by the governor and empowered by law to monitor and inspect state correctional facilities and recommend changes.
Gov. Paul LePage responded with what members of the Long Creek oversight board described as retribution. He dismantled it.
AUGUSTA, Maine — The issuance of $15 million in voter-approved bonds to build affordable senior citizen housing in Maine will likely have to wait at least until Gov. Paul LePage leaves office following a House vote Thursday to uphold his veto of a bill designed to release the bond money.
The bill in question, LD 832, would eliminate LePage’s approval for selling the bonds so the projects could move forward. LePage argued in his veto letter that the bill would remove crucial safeguards around the issuance of all bonds in rough economic times, though his contention that the bill would affect all past and current bonds is not supported by the bill’s language.
“This is a major departure from our current bonding process that must be carefully considered,” LePage said.
After years of debate, a proposal to arm Maine’s forest rangers on the job had a breakthrough moment Thursday with a 132-15 vote of support from the House of Representatives.
Providing forest rangers with service firearms has been the subject of debate at the State House for several years but has failed to make it into law. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill to arm rangers in 2014 and the Legislature sustained his veto. LePage’s veto was based on funding and the fact that the 2014 bill did not call for rangers to be trained to handle weapons.
The Bangor man who died Tuesday night in a Winterport crash has been identified as Blaze McQuate, the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
McQuate, 21, was driving a 2002 Mercury on Baker Road in Winterport shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday when he left the road at a corner and sideswiped a utility pole, then went airborne over an embankment and struck a large tree, Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton said Wednesday.
BANGOR, Maine — A top credit rating agency lowered its rating Wednesday on $393 million in debt from Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems to “junk bond” status, reflecting lower confidence that the network will be able to pay back its loans.
The move by Moody’s Investors Service ends a review it started in February out of concern about the hospital network’s performance during its 2016 fiscal year.
In a statement Wednesday, Moody’s wrote that the system’s operating loss, low levels of cash on hand and risks from mergers with other hospitals fueled the downgrade from its Baa3 rating to a Ba1 rating. The hospital says it has an improvement plan in place.
The rating drops the network below Moody’s “prime” ratings categories, reflecting higher risk for investors in what it calls “speculative grade” investments.
A Midwestern egg mogul and his son are asking to serve their sentences at the federal corrections facility in Berlin.
Attorneys representing Austin “Jack” DeCoster, 82, and his son, Peter DeCoster, filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, where the family owned and operated an egg production facility linked to a major salmonella outbreak in 2010 that sickened thousands.
The DeCosters were sentenced two years ago to three-month prison terms after pleading guilty to introducing adulterated eggs into interstate commerce. The DeCosters have been appealing the sentences; Jack DeCoster and his wife, Pat, have since permanently relocated to their home in Turner, Maine. The family previously ran several egg operations in Maine.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case last month, essentially putting an end to the DeCosters’ appeals.
DEBLOIS, Maine — A monster is lurking in Maine’s bucolic blueberry barrens: mummy berry disease, a type of fungus with zombie-like qualities that can be devastating to the state’s crop of wild blueberries.
The disease, which turns sweet, juicy blueberries into hard, shriveled-up and gray “mummy” berries, is bad news for growers and eaters. In an affected field, it can wipe out as much as 90 percent of the blueberry crop. But even though it is probably the most serious blueberry disease, it’s not well understood, according to Frank Drummond, a University of Maine insect ecology professor.
That’s why a hardy group of researchers from the university are braving thick clouds of blackflies this spring to collect samples of blueberry plants and pollinators in a blueberry field in the Washington County town of Deblois. What they learn will be added to a computer simulation model that plays out different infection scenarios and hopefully help producers avoid getting devastated by mummy berry.
Driving is so central to maintaining independence, especially in a rural state like Maine, so many seniors are deeply reluctant to give up their keys. Even concerned family members, neighbors, doctors and others in the community may find it very difficult to raise the safety issue with an older driver, understanding the deep implications of losing the right to drive.
“It’s very difficult, because the public transportation alternatives [in Maine] are not great,” occupational therapist and rehabilitative driving instructor Heather Shields of Brunswick said. “At the same time, we don’t want people out there who shouldn’t be driving.”
But the graying of the driver population is a phenomenon that’s happening in every state, and cultural institutions are responding. Before older Mainers hang up their keys for good, there are several options to help them stay safely behind the wheel.
The rotisserie restaurant co-founded by OTTO Pizza owners that opened with a bang and closed five months later, is now home to HiFi Donuts and Coffee. After siting vacant for almost a year, the key City Center spot opens Friday featuring from-scratch doughnuts, some made with beer — a Maine first.
“My partner came up with it,” said Ari Modugno, HiFi owner, who worked for six years as a general manager at OTTO.
By adding beer to sourdough starter, Modugno and partner Melissa Selvon, a UK native who cheffed in London and locally at The Front Room, introduce “a floral aroma which adds a lot to the doughnut experience.”
Using a spinning wheel to spin your own yarn or a scythe to clear grass and weeds might seem like skills lost to history, but the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is bringing them to the forefront with an annual event offering workshops on these back to the land skills.
The sixth annual Farm and Homestead Day is being held Saturday June 17 at the MOFGA fairgrounds in Unity. The community-oriented event is free to attend and offers a full day of hands-on workshops.
“We’re trying to get people to come here and actually learn skills by doing them. A lot of our events are educational […] but with [Farm and Homestead Day] virtually every component that goes on for the day is hands on,” said Jason Tessier, Building and Grounds Director at MOFGA and member of the Farm and Homestead Day steering committee.
Are you ready to buy a home? Do you have questions about loan documents, building and rebuilding credit history, household finances, the lending process, or what to look for in a home? A good way to prepare for home ownership is to attend a home buyer education class. Class participants who attend ALL classes receive a home buyer education certificate that is recognized by Maine State Housing Authority, Rural Development, and other lenders.
Saturday, June 3, 2017 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday, June 10, 2017 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Avenue, Belfast, Maine
Native Gardens of Blue Hill will be hosting local growers and vendors of native plants on Saturday morning, June 10 from 9 – 1. Hard to find garden-worthy native plants will be offered for sale to the public. The sale will take place at the Bagaduce Music Lending Library parking lot at 49 South Street in Blue Hill.
Enjoy a run, walk or stroll around Back Cove to benefit Presumpscot Elementary School, one of the smallest schools in Portland, with one of the most culturally diverse populations from across the globe. Despite being a high poverty and high needs school we are very proud of the academic successes of our students. Money raised will go toward purchasing technological equipment and educational resources to aid in 21st century learning. Join us in this community event Saturday June 10 starting at 8:30 am.
Held 9 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of each month, these mornings are an opportunity for proud drivers to show off their own special cars, and for all auto enthusiasts to congregate to kick tires, peer under hoods, and enjoy coffee with their fellow car-lovers. Each month there will be a different theme, but autos of any kind are welcome at each. All are encouraged to attend with or without their own antique or vintage automobile. There will something for everyone to enjoy and admire!
Seal Cove Auto Museum, 1414 Tremont Road, Seal Cove, Maine
Come celebrate the American Revolution Downeast! Educational. Fun. Free.
Handicapped Accessible. Rain or Shine. Margaretta Days takes you back in time to life in 1775-1777. History comes alive with an encampment of soldier re-enactors and Native Americans. Thee will be a parade, period foods, games, demonstrations such as blacksmithing, timber framing, weaving, tomahawk throwing, entertainment, music, storytelling, informative talks, historical presentations, children’s activities, and contemporary crafters and artists.
Saturday, June 10, 2017 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
University of Maine Machias, College Avenue, Machias, Maine
Starring Bangor’s Community Connector, washed out on 4/22 now back in the sun this Saturday 11AM to 1 PM. Caring for the Earth and promoting our local public transportation system, the festival features kid and family-friendly activities: face-painting and sidewalk art, music and story-telling, seed-planting and bubbles, zumba and juggling. Come play, learn, celebrate!
Join us for this unique figure drawing event at Bright Star World Dance in Portland, ME. The models are dancers of various genres, in costume or in practice wear.
The two-hour self-directed session will consist of timed poses varying from 1-20 minutes. There may be an opportunity to display Draw A Dancer artwork at the First Friday Artwalk in future!
Sunday, June 11, 2017 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Bright Star World Dance, 108 High Street Floor 3, Portland, Maine