Toy fund finds a new home free of charge

Portland Press Herald Toy Fund volunteers have been working for weeks sorting and packaging gifts for needy families.

But as with any enterprise gearing up to distribute shiny new toys for thousands of deserving boys and girls to unwrap on Christmas morning, the volunteers first needed a workshop.

The operation lost its former home when the vacant commercial space in downtown Freeport was leased to a year-round tenant. Fortunately for the volunteer “elves” – and especially for all the Maine children who will soon be unwrapping all those Christmas gifts – the 66-year-old toy fund found a new home in a vacant retail space a little more than a mile away.

WS Development, a Massachusetts-based developer with properties around the country, donated the space to the toy fund free of charge.

“It completes the circle when you work together,” said Ellen Fleshner of Yarmouth, the property manager and someone who also has supported the fund in the past.

It’s a big example of the kind of support from the business community that has helped keep the fund rolling since 1949.

The toy fund is using donations from readers to provide toys to about 7,000 Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.

The fund is accepting applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties. Applications can be downloaded at or picked up at the Welcome Center desk on the fifth floor of One City Center in Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.

Donations to help buy the toys can be made on the website or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

The campaign’s fundraising goal this year is $250,000.

Chicago police say gang targeted, killed 9-year-old

CHICAGO — A Chicago man was charged with first-degree murder Friday in connection with the slaying of a 9-year-old boy who police say was lured from a playground and shot in the head because of his father’s gang ties.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the suspect, 27-year-old Corey Morgan, is a gang member with an extensive criminal history. McCarthy said two other men, including one jailed on an unrelated gun charge, also are suspected in the death of Tyshawn Lee, who was shot in an alley near his grandmother’s home on Nov. 2.

Prosecutors allege Morgan was intent on settling the score after an October shooting killed his brother and injured his mother in a months-long gang feud.

But his attorney, Jonathan Brayman, said Morgan “absolutely denies” being involved in the boy’s death.

McCarthy said the three men’s precise roles were still under investigation, but that all were members of the same gang.

“They’re going to be obliterated. That gang just signed its own death warrant,” McCarthy said during a news conference.

Tyshawn’s slaying shocked a city already grimly familiar with gang violence. The fourth-grader was shot at close range – in the head and back – in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

McCarthy praised local residents, saying they overcame fears and risks of retaliation to come forward and offer tips to police.

“If you have a monster who’s willing to assassinate a 9-year-old, what is that person likely to do if they know that somebody’s cooperating with the case?” McCarthy said at a news conference.

Massachusetts conservation plan for the piping plover proposes to open up recreation areas but target predators

WELLFLEET, Mass. — A new state plan would add more recreational opportunities in the midst of Cape Cod’s fragile piping plover broods, but would also place more emphasis on killing the birds’ predators.

Getting rid of identified predators, such as a specific coyote in a plover nesting area, is what biologists say is necessary to help raise the productivity of Massachusetts’ piping plover pairs, according to the draft state habitat conservation plan, known as HCP. At the same time, opening up more areas for recreation during plover nesting and fledging season is meant to ease public tension over beach closures, raise beach permit revenues and win more community support for plover and barrier beach conservation.

“We do recognize that more flexible management works in the long term for the birds,” said Kathy Parsons, Massachusetts Audubon Society’s coastal waterbird director. Mass Audubon protects about 40 percent of the plovers in the state, through contracts with towns and other agencies and on Mass Audubon’s own land. “It’s not as though there aren’t risks.”

CAPE COD HAS 60 percent of PAIRS

On Cape Cod, there were 65 beaches that had at least one plover pair, according to the 2013 statewide census tallied by the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. Cape Cod’s beaches hosted about 60 percent of the state’s 666 nesting piping plover pairs.

Towns, nonprofit groups, state agencies and private landowners that have plover conservation responsibilities could apply to be included in the state’s HCP program. The state plan does not cover plover conservation efforts by federal agencies such as the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.

There is a second version of the conservation plan that the town of Orleans pursued on its own and implemented in 2015 at Nauset Beach.

The state HCP would be for a 25-year permit, and the Orleans HCP is a three-year permit.

The Seashore also has recently issued an environmental assessment for its new shorebird management plan. That plan, separate from the state and Orleans programs, also proposes killing plover predators and easing some regulations for recreational uses among plover broods. Unlike the other two plans, though, the Seashore program does not allow escorted off-road vehicles through areas with unfledged piping plover chicks.

The draft version of the state HCP is currently under review by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, and a date for that review to be completed is not yet known, according to Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Terri Edwards.

The hope, though, is that the state HCP could be approved and implemented by next summer, said Jonathan Regosin, chief of conservation science with the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program.

The move to allow more recreational use in areas that have been blocked in recent years to protect plovers is a welcome one, Massachusetts Beach Buggy Association board member Scott Morris said. The association has about 1,200 members, and 75 to 100 of them took advantage of the conservation plan at Nauset Beach in Orleans, he said.

The association was active in planning and helping fund both the Orleans and the state plan, Morris said.

The state HCP was developed with 20 representative groups including the beach buggy association, Mass Audubon and the towns of Barnstable, Chatham, Dennis, Orleans, Sandwich and Yarmouth.

The piping plover, once overhunted for the millinery trade, became a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1986. Along the Atlantic Coast, it is designated as threatened, meaning the population would continue to decline if not protected.


Plovers typically arrive at their breeding grounds in late March or early April, and all adult and young plovers have left by mid-September. In Orleans, for example, increasing beach closures because of piping plover protections led to protests by vehicle owners who couldn’t use their town-issued off-road beach permits. The 2013 beach closure at Nauset Beach was the longest on record, lasting 83 consecutive days, according to the Orleans HCP. Also, the town has steadily lost money with fewer people buying ORV permits, from an annual average of $415,000 in years 2003 through 2006 to $243,000 in years 2007 to 2013.

“Co-existence is possible,” Morris said. “Access, whether it is by foot or oversand vehicle, is something that we can introduce and make it work. We proved it this year. At Nauset Beach, it worked great.”

Today, piping plovers are threatened by mammal and bird predators, human recreation, land development, climate change and other hazards, according to state officials.


The idea in both the state and the Orleans conservation plans is that more recreational use will be allowed in the areas of unfledged plover chicks, but with limits to help minimize the possibility of harm. At the same time, there would be a more focused effort to get rid of specific predators that might frequent a certain nesting area.

The equation behind the state HCP is, roughly, that any possible harm that one brood is exposed to by increased public access must be offset by conserving at least 2.5 broods from predators and other threats. The number of broods exposed to greater harm each year would be based on population studies, according to the draft plan. Then towns, nonprofit groups or other agencies would apply for a subset of those broods.

To eliminate predators, the state HCP proposes using traps for mammals such as raccoons and skunks, and then killing them, according to the draft of the plan. Nighttime mammalian predators such as coyotes and foxes would be identified with spotlights or thermal imaging equipment and then shot with suppressed rifles or shotguns. Bird predators would be shot with firearms equipped with silencing devices, and crows may be poisoned. Feral cats identified as predators would be given to local animal shelters. The killing of predators could be handled at the beach location, or off-site if the agency wants to pay for it.

In the Orleans HCP, the town is allowed to expose two broods to increased risk on or after July 15.

While piping plovers are increasing in population on the Atlantic Coast, production of healthy chicks per plover pair has not reached an acceptable level, according to the HCP.

“The focus is on predator management,” Parsons of Massachusetts Audubon Society said. “The approach is not to create a predator-free zone,” she added.

Gay marriage battle looms on tribal lands

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Cleo Pablo married her longtime partner when gay weddings became legal in Arizona and looked forward to the day when her wife and their children could move into her home in the small Native American community outside Phoenix where she grew up.

That day never came. The Ak-Chin Indian Community doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and has a law that prohibits unmarried couples from living together. So Pablo voluntarily gave up her tribal home and now is suing the tribe in tribal court to have her marriage validated.

“I want equal opportunity,” Pablo said. “I want what every married couple has.”

Pablo’s situation reflects an overlooked story line following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision this year that legalized gay marriages nationwide: American Indian reservations are not bound by the decision and many continue to forbid gay marriages and deny insurance and other benefits.

The reasons vary and to some extent depend on cultural recognition of gender identification and roles, and the influence of outside religions, legal experts say.

Other issues like high unemployment, alcoholism and suicides on reservations also could be higher on the priority list, said Ann Tweedy, an associate professor at the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has studied tribes’ marriage laws.

Advocacy groups largely have stayed away from pushing tribes for change, recognizing that tribes have the inherent right to regulate domestic relations within their boundaries.

“Tribal sovereignty is very important to tribes,” Tweedy said. “They don’t want to just adopt what the U.S. does.”

Pablo follows in the footsteps of a handful of other tribal members in Oregon, Washington state and Michigan who lobbied their governments for marriage equality.

The Navajo Nation is one of a few of the country’s 567 federally recognized tribes that have outright bans on gay marriage. Some tribes expressly allow it, while others tie marriage laws to those of states or have gender-neutral laws that typically create confusion for gay couples on whether they can marry.

The mish-mash occurs because tribes are sovereign lands where the U.S. Constitution does not apply.

But Pablo argues in her lawsuit that members of the Tribal Council are violating the Ak-Chin constitution by denying her equal protection and due process – rights also guaranteed under the federal Indian Civil Rights Act.

Her lawyer, Sonia Martinez, said tribal members could potentially have a persuasive argument to employ against gay-marriage bans if their tribe incorporated federal constitutional rights into tribal laws, which she says is the case on the Ak-Chin reservation.

The Ak-Chin Indian Community wouldn’t comment directly on Pablo’s lawsuit but said marriage laws are a matter for the tribe to decide, not the U.S. Supreme Court.

Google shows you every U.S. flight on the day before Thanksgiving



If you tried to fly anywhere in the U.S. the day before Thanksgiving, it might have seemed like everyone in human existence was queued up ahead of you at the airport.

Roughly 3.6 million people took to the air Wednesday, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday — traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year

To underscore just how crowded the skies are, Google’s data editor Simon Rogers made a digital visualization of every flight that originated from American soil on November 25 2015. The flights are color coded by airline

This hypnotic illustration really puts into perspective just how many people resorted to air travel for the holiday weekend. Moreover, it’s a timely reminder that you don’t necessarily need to think domestically about your Thanksgiving travel plans next year. Read more…

More about Travel, Thanksgiving, Air Travel, Lifestyle, and Travel Leisure

Vegetable mix linked to E. coli recalled

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal officials say a business is recalling a vegetable mix believed to be the source of E. coli in Costco chicken salad that has been linked to an outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states.

Taylor Farms Pacific Inc. of Tracy, California, has recalled a mix of diced celery and onion used in Costco chicken salad and other foods containing celery “out of an abundance of caution,” the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Thursday.

The foods range from Thai-style salads to packaged dinners and wraps, and they are sold at Costco, Target, Starbucks and many other outlets, the FDA said.

Costco says it uses one supplier for those vegetables in the chicken salad sold in all its U.S. stores.

A message left Thursday with Taylor Farms was not immediately returned.

Costco, based in Issaquah, Washington, pulled the chicken salad off store shelves nationwide, posted signs in its stores and provided detailed purchase logs to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help it track who bought the product and where the salad ingredients came from.

Six people got sick in Montana, five in Utah, four in Colorado, and one each in California, Missouri, Virginia and Washington state. The illness reports began on Oct. 6 and involved people from age 5 to 84, the CDC said.

Health officials urged people who bought chicken salad at any U.S. Costco store on or before Nov. 20 to throw it away, even if no one has gotten sick.

The strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli can be life-threatening, but no deaths have been reported. Five people have been hospitalized, including two with kidney failure.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. The incubation period is three to seven days from the time of exposure.

The number of people sickened in the outbreak will likely grow over the next few weeks, even though the product has been removed from store shelves, the CDC said Wednesday.

Health officials urge anyone with the symptoms, especially people who have eaten Costco chicken salad, to go to their doctor.

More companies put year-end office parties on ho-ho-hold

The silly season is upon us –the holiday rush, the shopping hangover, the December calendar crowded with obligatory holiday parties overloaded with crudites, shrimp cocktail and bad wine.

And so what once might have been viewed as a foreboding sign of corporate distress could sound pretty good this time of year: More companies are saying they just don’t do holiday parties anymore.

This week, the Society for Human Resource Management released its annual survey about end-of-the-year office fetes. In it, 30 percent of the H.R. professionals who responded said their companies do not usually have year-end parties for all employees. That’s the largest percentage recorded since the organization started doing the survey in 2009.

More are saying a December sans le soiree is just business as usual, rather than a blip for the current year because of budget constraints. This year, only 6 percent of the managers surveyed said their company had cut back on the office party because of financial challenges, compared with 9 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2009 and 2010 amid the recession (there was no survey in 2014).

“That stood out to me,” said Evren Esen, director of survey programs for SHRM. “It may be that they’re not directly relating it to financial challenges, but they did cut it out before and may have felt employees don’t really seem to be missing it.”

Esen said it’ll be interesting to see whether the trend continues. “Maybe it’s one of those things that’s not as appealing to employees anymore,” she said. “Millennial employees may also have different expectations of the workplace and how they want to spend their time at work.”

She noted there could also be concerns about the risks of employees who overindulge in all those passed glasses of cheap chardonnay. While roughly similar numbers of H.R. managers said they would serve alcohol this year – 59 percent, down from 61 percent in 2012, the last time the question was asked – many more said they planned to offer drink tickets to regulate employees’ consumption. Seventy-one percent said they were going to use that strategy this year, compared with 57 percent in 2012.

The survey also found that more H.R. managers plan to close early on the day of their holiday party (22 percent, up from 12 percent in 2012). And while it’s not surprising that few companies are giving out nonperformance-based holiday bonuses anymore –most companies have moved to merit-based awards – the drop in H.R. professionals saying they’re giving out Christmas gifts is notable (23 percent, compared with 32 percent in 2013).

Companies also don’t seem to be loosening the reins on holiday shopping at work. For the first time, the survey asked about what limits companies place on letting their employees hunt down the latest “Star Wars” gadget or Girl Scout cookie oven while on their computers at work. Fully 32 percent said it wasn’t OK for their workers to do so, even during lunch or breaks, and only 13 percent said it was acceptable at other times during the workday if an employee’s work was on schedule.

Cheap gas alters perceptions, behavior of U.S. consumers

DALLAS — All day long, vehicles flow into Fuel City gas station on the outskirts of downtown Dallas. They’re headed to Austin or Abilene or Shreveport or maybe just down the road, just as they did 16 months ago when gasoline was selling for $3.50 a gallon.

Except now, there are more of them. When owner John Benda reviews his sales, he can see the evidence.

“People are taking road trips again. The trucking companies have been doing more deliveries, and they’re not complaining about the price of diesel anymore,” he said. “I would say (gasoline sales are) up 7 percent, 8 percent, which is a lot for me.”

The dramatic decline in gasoline prices over the past year has come as a relief to motorists, for whom the prospect of $2-a-gallon gasoline once seemed the stuff of nostalgia. Now drivers can fill up for less than it costs to take their children to the movies. And as the principles of economics dictate, they’re filling up more often.

For the first time since 2010, U.S. gasoline consumption was higher this summer than it was the year before. Americans on average pumped more than 370 million gallons of gasoline a day between June and August, a 5 percent increase over 2014 and the largest 12-month increase since the U.S. Energy Information Administration started recording that data in 1983.

The recent spike reverses a years-long slide in U.S. gasoline consumption, driven in large part by high prices and new federal standards that required better fuel efficiency on new vehicles. According to the EIA, America’s thirst for gasoline peaked in the summer of 2005 at 395 million gallons a day on average. Ever since, it’s been on a fairly steady downward slide.

Until now. As the lows in gasoline prices continue, Americans – initially hesitant to respond to the price drop – have been consuming more and more fuel. Two key pieces of data bear this out:

First, Americans are simply driving more than they have in recent years. As of July 31, Americans had driven 1.8 trillion miles in 2015 – 4 percent more than they did last year, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Second, we’re buying bigger and less-efficient cars. U.S. pickup and SUV sales are growing by double digits. Last month, researchers at the University of Michigan reported that the fuel efficiency of new vehicles pulling off the lot had fallen 2 percent since August 2014.

That ended what had been a fairly steady upward trajectory — from late 2007 to last August the average new American vehicle went from 20.1 mpg to 25.8 mpg.

“There’s a level of price where people start changing habits,” said Will Speer, an analyst in Houston with the research firm GasBuddy. “Before gas prices became so affordable, you never would have considered the SUV because it was guzzling so much gas. Now if you look up how many Google searches of car efficiency, that has actually gone down with lowering of gasoline prices.”

The spike in fuel consumption worries environmentalists, who say that if sustained it could intensify changes already underway in the earth’s climate.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. carbon emissions had fallen steadily since 2007, driven in some measure by the reduction in the amount of gasoline the United States was burning. That mirrored similar trends in Europe and other developed countries.

“There was an awareness (poor) economic conditions played a role, but there was also an understanding it had to do with efficiency,” said Lorne Stockman, research director of the environmental group Oil Change International. “If we’re going to tackle climate change, any increase in fossil fuel use is the wrong direction. No matter the size.”

For those on the road, the last 10 months harken back to better economic times, when filling up hardly gave motorists a second thought. Gasoline prices in Texas have stayed below $2.50 a gallon on average for all but a couple months this summer, when crude prices briefly rebounded.

For Paul Strom, a software engineer, that has meant more trips to see his daughter attending college in Austin. Amy Franklin, a stay-at-home mom who describes herself as a penny pincher, is so enjoying the bargains at the pump that she tweeted last month, “CHEAP. GAS. YES.”

Right now, U.S. gasoline prices are averaging less than $2.01 a gallon, according to GasBuddy. In Texas, the average is only $1.84 a gallon. Analysts are predicting prices will continue to fall through early 2016, bottoming out around February.

Ben Tison, vice president of fuel operations for 7-Eleven, said that once oil prices rebounded he expected gasoline to level out around $2.50 a gallon.

“I don’t think we’ll go back to $4.50 gas,” he said. “The customer kind of expects $2 gas now.”

Maine heating oil prices dip

Maine heating oil prices dip

The Governor’s Energy Office in Augusta says the average statewide cash price for heating oil is down five cents from two weeks ago at $2 per gallon.

Kerosene was also down three cents over the last two weeks at $2.58 per gallon and propane rose one cent to $2.19 per gallon.

State officials say the heating oil prices are among the lowest they have seen for this time of year in years.

The highest average price for heating oil in Maine was $2.17 per gallon in northern Maine. The lowest average price was $1.91 per gallon in western Maine. The highest heating oil price found in Maine was $2.34 in the eastern part of the state.

Chicago store entrances blocked in protest over police shooting

CHICAGO — Hundreds of protesters blocked store entrances and shut down four lanes of traffic in Chicago’s ritziest shopping district on Black Friday to draw attention to the 2014 police killing of a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a white officer.

Demonstrators shrugged off a cold drizzling rain to turn the traditional start of the holiday shopping season on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile into a high-profile platform from which to deliver their message: The killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was another example of what they say is the systemic disregard police show for the lives and rights of black people.

They chanted “16 shots! 16 shots!” and stopped traffic for blocks to express their anger over the Oct. 20, 2014, killing of McDonald and the subsequent investigation, which they say was mishandled.

Prosecutors charged the officer, Jason Van Dyke, with first-degree murder on Tuesday, hours before police released disturbing dashcam video of McDonald’s death under a court order to make it public. It shows McDonald jogging down a street and then veering away from Van Dyke and another officer who emerge from a police SUV drawing their guns. Within seconds, Van Dyke begins firing. McDonald, who authorities allege was carrying a three-inch knife and was suspected of breaking into cars, spins around and falls to the pavement as Van Dyke keeps shooting.

Among the marchers Friday was 73-year-old Frank Chapman of Chicago, who said the disturbing video confirms what activists have said for years about Chicago police brutality.

“That needs to end. Too many have already died,” said Chapman, whose organization, the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Oppression, is pushing for an elected, civilian police accountability council.

Officers along the sidewalk formed a barrier of sorts between the protesters and stores and helped shoppers get through the doors. But protesters on the march succeeded in blocking main entrances on both sides of Michigan Avenue for more than three blocks.

Store employees directed shoppers to exit from side doors. When one person tried to get through the front door of Saks Fifth Avenue, protesters screamed at him, shouting, “Shut it down! Shut it down.”

Entrances were also blocked at the Disney Store, the Apple Store, Nike, Tiffany & Co., and Neiman Marcus.

Van Dyke is being held without bond. His attorney said Van Dyke feared for his life when he fired at McDonald and that the case should be tried in an actual courtroom, not the court of public opinion.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest and prominent local activist, said he thought Friday’s protest would cost businesses money because the publicity surrounding it would discourage shoppers from even venturing into the area.

But shoppers still crowded the sidewalks and seemed to take the disturbance in stride. Some even snapped photos of the crowd.

“Honestly it’s the cold that’s likely to scare us away first,” said Christopher Smithe, who was visiting from London with his girlfriend.

Several protesters were seen lying face-down on the ground in handcuffs, but a police spokeswoman said she hadn’t been informed of any arrests.

With the rain and the protests, there seemed to be less foot traffic than on a normal Black Friday, said John Curran, vice president of the Magnificent Mile Association, which represents 780 businesses on North Michigan Avenue.

“The storefronts that were blocked by the demonstrators certainly had an impact on some of the businesses,” he said.

All previous marches have been largely peaceful. There have been isolated clashes between police and protesters, with about 10 arrests and only a few minor reports of property damage. The police have allowed protesters to march in the middle of the street and even hold rallies in the middle of intersections, and on Thursday the department said it would handle Friday’s march much the same way.

Throughout the week, protesters have expressed anger over the video of the shooting. They’ve also harshly criticized the department for its months-long effort to prevent the video from being released and the state’s attorney’s office for taking more than a year to file charges against the officer, despite having footage of the incident.