NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism

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National and international headlines

Airline apologizes for making wheelchair user climb up boarding ramp on his hands

Stock photo

A Japanese budget airline has apologized to a passenger in a wheelchair who was made to board a recent flight by crawling up a staircase using only his hands.

The incident took place on June 5, as Hideto Kijima was preparing to return to Osaka from a trip to Amami Oshima island. His time on the southern Japanese island had been fantastic, he wrote in a Facebook post. He had stayed in a fully accessible villa and even gone swimming with sea turtles, he wrote.

However, the return flight would be a decidedly less accommodating experience for Kijima, who lost the use of his legs in a rugby accident when he was 17 and who now heads the nonprofit Japan Accessible Tourism Center in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

At Amami Airport, there were only steps leading up to the plane from the tarmac – and staff for Vanilla Air Inc. told him it was against their company policy for him to be carried up the boarding ramp in his wheelchair, Kijima said.

“I have heard some bad stories, but I did not expect to hear that ‘I cannot fly because I cannot walk,’” he wrote on Facebook.

The ozone hole is healing, but a chemical could delay recovery by decades

A false-color view of total ozone over the Antarctic pole is seen in this NASA handout image released Oct. 24, 2012.

While the famous Antarctic “ozone hole” is finally beginning to heal, 30 years after it was first discovered, scientists have just identified a new threat to its recovery. A study, just out Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, suggests a common industrial chemical called dichloromethane — which has the power to destroy ozone — has doubled in the atmosphere over the last 10 years. And if its concentrations keep growing, scientists say, it could delay the Antarctic ozone layer’s return to normal by up to 30 years.

US says its warning appears to have averted Syrian chemical attack

U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis speaks at a press conference at the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) at Government House in Sydney, Australia, June 5, 2017.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad appeared so far to have heeded a warning this week from Washington not to carry out a chemical weapons attack.

Russia, the Syrian government’s main backer in the country’s civil war, warned that it would respond proportionately if the United States took pre-emptive measures against Syrian forces to stop what the White House says could be a planned chemical attack.

The White House said on Monday it appeared the Syrian military was preparing to conduct a chemical weapons attack and said that Assad and his forces would “pay a heavy price” if it did so.

GOP health-care bill could strip schools of billions for special education

Teacher Rosemary Genuario uses an iPad to work and communicate with students diagnosed with autism at Belle View Elementary in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2012.
Jahi Chikwendiu | The Washington Post

School superintendents across the country are raising alarms about the possibility that Republican health care legislation would curtail billions of dollars in annual funding they count on to help students with disabilities and poor children.

For the past three decades, Medicaid has helped pay for services and equipment that schools provide to special-education students, as well as school-based health screening and treatment for children from low-income families. Now, educators from rural red states to the blue coasts are warning that the GOP push to shrink Medicaid spending will strip schools of what a national superintendents association estimates at up to $4 billion per year.

Spy agencies seek permanent authority for contested surveillance program

From left to right, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers arrive to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 7, 2017.

The intelligence community is seeking permanent authority for a contested surveillance program at a time when senators in both parties are increasingly frustrated in their attempts to learn how much information spy agencies collect on American citizens — and even on senators themselves.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, asked a panel of intelligence officials whether his communications had ever been swept up when he was talking to a foreign leader abroad.

“Am I entitled to know?” he demanded. “Am I entitled to know if my communications were collected?”

The officials – from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Justice Department – struggled to answer the senators’ questions, in some cases saying they could better reply in a classified session before the same panel on Wednesday.

NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism

U.S. Army soldiers attend the 2017 Iron Wolf exercise in Stasenai, Lithuania, June 20, 2017.

NATO allies of the United States plan to boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, a response in part to intense pressure from President Donald Trump that the nations invest more in their militaries.

Trump has repeatedly castigated NATO allies for their dependence on the U.S. military for their defense, and has at times called into question the basic U.S. security guarantees that have underpinned European stability since World War II.

The increase is “a clear demonstration that our alliance stands united in the face of any possible aggression,” Stoltenberg told reporters at the NATO headquarters, a day ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers. “We have really shifted gears. The trend is up, and we intend to keep it up.”

Air pollution limits in US aren’t low enough to prevent deaths

Griffith Park in Los Angeles in October 2014.
Mark Boster | TNS

With the Trump Administration threatening to loosen air pollution controls, a new study is showing that even existing rules are causing tens of thousands of extra deaths in the United States each year.

Researchers used 12 years of data — health records from nearly 61 million Medicare beneficiaries, combined with a massive databank of pollution readings — to link specific air quality levels to death rates.

They found that for every increase of just 10 micrograms in small-particle pollution known as PM2.5, the death rate went up 7.3 percent. That’s the equivalent of 120,000 fatalities among people age 65 and older, lead author Qian Di of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Local headlines

New Bangor city budget doesn’t include funds for multicultural center, 4 firefighters

Bangor City hall
Ashley L. Conti | BDN

The city council on Monday passed a $97.6 million budget that excludes funding for a multicultural center, more marketing for regional tourism and four firefighter positions.

The council unanimously voted to pass a budget without those items — the subject of debate at recent meetings — saying it didn’t know how much it will eventually get from the state.

“Revisiting those funding requests is going to depend on how we are affected in Augusta,” City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said. “It makes more sense for us to do it this way than to make promises that we’re going to change. So it makes sense for us to see what happens with the Legislature.”

Here’s what happens when state government shuts down

Gabor Degre | BDN

With no agreement in sight on a two-year budget in the Maine Legislature, the state is as close to a government shutdown as it has been since 1991.

Gov. Paul LePage has wide authority to determine which state employees work during a shutdown. While he hasn’t released a plan, he sent a memo to state employees on Wednesday that mostly sticks to the shutdown strategy of John McKernan, the former Republican governor who presided over the last shutdown.

We can glean a lot from the last shutdown on who may work. Courts will likely be scaled back and Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices closed. A lasting shutdown promises to frustrate Mainers around — and particularly after — the Fourth of July weekend.

Ranked-choice voting supporters consider people’s veto if legislature scraps law

Supporters of Maine’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting law say they could launch a people’s veto effort to keep the initiative alive.

While approved by voters last fall, the law ran into constitutional problems, and could be scuttled by the Legislature. The threat of a people’s veto adds another layer of complexity to a political stalemate.

Inmate linked to deaths or disappearance of 6 people dies in state custody

A 79-year-old inmate at the Maine State Prison who was serving a life sentence for a murder in Maine and who is believed to have killed his family in Illinois has died.

Albert P. Cochran died Tuesday morning at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, according to a press release from the Maine Department of Corrections.

Cochran, whose cause of death is being reviewed by Maine State Police and medical examiner, had served 18 years of a life sentence.

Living and events

Solo camping is an act of solitude, confidence

Molly surveys the landscape from the steps of the lean-to at Site 105 during a recent camping trip to Cobscook Bay State Park.
Meg Haskell | BDN

I had packed up the Subaru with an astonishing amount of camping gear for this three-night expedition. Douglas was headed south for the weekend to help our son-in-law with a home-improvement project. I’m perfectly happy being home alone once in a while, but I had been craving the quiet adventure of a solo camping trip for some time.

Not backpacking — I never did enjoy carrying a heavy pack on the trail, and it’s only gotten less appealing as I’ve gotten older. No, I was after the relative comfort, ease and flexibility of car camping. And going alone meant a few days in my own company, making my own decisions, solving my own small problems, proceeding at my own slow pace.

History of Maine fire towers

Collin Brown

Bill Cobb, director of the Maine chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association, will give a presentation about several historic fire towers Down East, including the much beloved Grand Lake Stream tower that sits atop Indian Hill. The tower was built in 1934, and it is currently the oldest standing, enclosed wooden tower in Maine, and potentially New England. Following the presentation, we will take a group walk up to the GLS Tower to examine the site.

The talk will be 5 to 7:30 p.m. June 30 at the Grand Lake Stream School Building, 15 Water St., in Grand Lake Stream.

195th Army Band to play Old Town concert series

Performing for audiences around the world and in their own backyard in Maine, the 195th Army Band’s Concert Band is carrying on a proud tradition of military bands past and present by presenting free patriotic public performances.

The band will perform 6:30 to 8 p.m. July 6 at Riverfront Park, North Main Street, in Old Town.

Red Cross and Old Town Fire Rescue partner to install free smoke alarms

The American Red Cross of Maine and the Old Town Fire Rescue Department are teaming up to install free smoke alarms in residents’ homes and teach people how to be prepared for home fires.

Old Town residents can sign up for the free smoke alarm installation by calling Ron Springel of the Red Cross at 874-1192, ext. 113. The Red Cross, the Old Town Fire Rescue Department and community volunteers will follow-up with the installation on July 22.

“Working smoke alarms are key to escaping a home fire safely. That early warning, along with a practiced escape plan to a designated meeting area and early notification to emergency services can greatly reduce death and injuries,” Capt. David Daniels of the Old Town Fire Rescue Department said.

Volunteers needed for 70th Maine Lobster Festival

The Maine Lobster Festival is looking for volunteers to help with this year’s festival to be held Aug. 2-6. It takes more than 1,300 volunteers to run the festival each year.

Volunteer jobs include everything from setting up and taking down tents, to taking tickets, or cooking the lobsters served to guests. Volunteers will receive an exclusive “volunteer” shirt and free admission the day you volunteer.

If you wish to sign up, fill out an Online Volunteer Form from our website,, or print a paper volunteer form and mail it in. Be specific about which job you’d like to sign up for. If you have any questions, email

Appalachian Trail Conservancy 2017 Maine Conference coming to Waterville

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Waterville will host the 2017 Appalachian Trail Conservancy Conference. It will be held at Colby College Aug.4-11.

The week-long event features over 240 hikes, numerous workshops, and excursions to local areas of interest.

Each evening there are exciting adventure presentations and stellar entertainment.

Schooner Fare to kick off Paris Hill Music Festival

The Paris Hill Music Festival will kick off with Schooner Fare at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, at First Baptist Church of Paris, 500 Paris Hill Road, South Paris. Tickets are $25 and available at Paris Hill Country Club and Bolster’s Decorating in Market Square and Books-n-Things in Norway or by calling 743-9390.

Business headlines

Solar energy compromise heads to LePage with enough support to withstand veto

A Maine barn fitted with a 12kw solar power generation system.
Peter Cowin

Two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Maine Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a solar policy compromise designed to prevent the costly rollout of rules that would have required utilities to install two power meters at certain homes and businesses.

But the bill keeps some of those rules in place, including a controversial plan to decrease the credits given to homes and businesses with solar power installations.

Australian company buys Saddleback resort

An Australian company has announced plans to purchase Saddleback Mountain Resort in Rangeley.

An Australian company announced Wednesday that it has signed an asset purchase agreement to secure ownership of Maine’s third-largest ski resort, which has been closed to skiing for the past two winters.

Majella Group, fronted by its CEO Sebastian Monsour of Brisbane, Australia, announced the deal with Bill and Irene Berry of Farmington, who have owned Saddleback Mountain Resort since 2003.

The deal, which is expected to be finalized later this summer, includes the purchase of all holdings of Saddleback Mountain Resort, the base lodge, ski lifts, and surrounding timberland totalling 6,337 acres, according to a news release.

Pandora CEO Tim Westergren to leave company

Headphones are seen in front of a logo of online music streaming service Spotify.

Struggling music streaming service Pandora is shaking up its leadership team.

On Tuesday the company announced that chief executive and co-founder Tim Westergren will step down from his position and his seat on the board. The company named chief financial officer Naveen Chopra as interim CEO as it searches for a Westergren’s successor, Pandora said in a news release.

“I am incredibly proud of the company we have built,” Westergren said in the news release. “We invented a whole new way of enjoying and discovering music and in doing so, forever changed the listening experience for millions.”

Opinion headlines

Collins sets the right standard for Senate health care bill

President Donald Trump meets with Senate Republicans about healthcare in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 27, 2017. Trump is flanked by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska..

The standard set by Sen. Susan Collins was straightforward: A Senate bill should not reduce the number of people with health insurance. It should not raise costs or put rural hospitals at risk.

A Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act fails all these tests, according to an analysis released Monday by the Congressional Budget Office.

It’s a moral obligation to welcome the stranger at our nation’s door

George Danby | BDN

All major religions agree on a few fundamental tenets: Welcome the stranger, stand with the most vulnerable, and love your neighbor. As a Christian and the leader of the Episcopal Church in Maine, engaging with the world is central to how I live out my faith every day.

With the news that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a limited version of the president’s travel ban to go into effect, we should recall our moral obligation to assist refugees seeking a chance to rebuild their lives and create a better future for their families.

The gay marriage debate has been won

James Beckett (left) puts a wedding ring on the finger of Ken Tidd while getting married at Bangor City Hall, Dec. 29, 2012. Beckett and Tidd were the first couple to exchange vows in Bangor after voters approved gay marriage in November of 2012.
Kevin Bennett | BDN

A large majority of Americans in a very short time have shifted their view dramatically in favor of accepting gay marriage. Religious minorities are free to disagree, and some still do, but their claimed privilege to discriminate will not be one shared — or even understood — by a growing majority of their fellow Americans.