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Updated: 2 hours 34 min ago

Panic over Russian company’s FaceApp is sign of new distrust of Internet

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 15:59

FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in New York. The popular app is under fire for privacy concerns. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane) (Jenny Kane/)

Shortly after the playful photo-transforming FaceApp went viral Wednesday as the most-downloaded smartphone app in America, a nationwide panic began to set in: Who was this shadowy Russian tech firm everyone had been sending their photos to? And what did they want with millions of people’s faces?

But some of the darkest fears of a Russian connection, researchers and technical experts said Thursday, appeared to have been overblown: The photos are stored on conventional servers run by American companies, and no evidence has surfaced that the company has ties to the Russian government. Technical analyses also found that the app does not, as some rumors stated, swipe a person's entire cache of photos or open their data to unlimited surveillance.

Still, experts said, the FaceApp anxiety highlighted how quickly public attitudes about the Internet have changed amid a widespread reckoning over data privacy and election interference, with more people beginning to think twice about the personal data they freely give up - and the companies they decide to trust.

[Analysis: You downloaded FaceApp. Here’s what you’ve just done to your privacy.]

FaceApp allows anyone to morph their face into a vision of their future self, and social-media feeds quickly filled with computer-generated portraits marked with wrinkles and graying hair. But the app's development by a largely unknown Russian firm, and its widely permissive rules for how people's photos could be used, triggered alarms in Washington and beyond.

The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday sent an alert to 2020 presidential campaigns, state parties and others in the "Democratic ecosystem," urging everyone to delete the app "immediately," citing concerns that whatever the photo-morphing app was doing with people's data wasn't worth the risk.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., followed shortly afterward with a letter to the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission, calling for officials to launch a national-security investigation into the app and potentially to take steps "to mitigate the risk presented by the aggregation of this data."

"It would be deeply troubling if the sensitive personal information of U.S. citizens was provided to a hostile foreign power actively engaged in cyber hostilities against the United States," Schumer wrote.

Burned by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential race, the party has taken an aggressive stance toward cybersecurity, investing in nationwide education and training programs to boost people's online defenses and prevent a damaging repeat.

But Wednesday's alerts weren't based on any intelligence reports of secret dangers, officials said. Instead, they were a reaction to the broader anxiety swirling across social media and news reports - and a proactive, if evidence-light, response over the possibility that another online fad could turn dangerous.

FaceApp's terms of service grant the company a "perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free (and) worldwide" license to use people's photos, names and likenesses - a wide-open allowance that some worried could erode people's data privacy or control.

But experts said many other apps, from social-media giants like Facebook to pregnancy-tracking apps, carve out the same perpetual corporate rights to user data.

Joseph Jerome, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, described the intense reaction to FaceApp as a "perfect storm" of colliding factors: a general distrust of Russian and Chinese tech companies driven by political turmoil; heightened concerns over the use of facial data; and growing worries over a lack of privacy protections online.

"This is not the exception. This is the rule," Jerome said of the app's terms of service. "Privacy policies are not readable. They are broad (and) they don't actually tell you what companies do and don't do with your information."

Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the panic around FaceApp reflects a broader frustration from people about how their data can be misused, in large part because federal privacy laws can do little against invasive terms of service or privacy policies.

"People shouldn't have to rely on a fine-print privacy policy to protect them," she said. "What you are seeing is a reaction to the fact that we don't have laws that do enough to place guardrails on what a company can do with your data."

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, a small-business law attorney in Silicon Valley, told The Washington Post that she also worried about where that user data would go if the company's fortunes changed.

"They could go under and all their data and all their assets could get bought by somebody that is nefarious or could get appropriated by somebody in the national government," she said. "We in the United States don't have jurisdiction over them."

Before its whirlwind rise, FaceApp was started by Wireless Lab in early 2014, according to a LinkedIn post by its chief executive, Yaroslav Goncharov.

Goncharov studied computer science at one of Russia's largest universities, Saint Petersburg State University, before moving to Redmond, Washington, where he spent three years as a technical lead at Microsoft. He later co-founded a software company that was acquired in 2011 by the search firm Yandex, which many call Russia's Google.

Goncharov told the Moscow publication Afisha.ru in 2017 that he was inspired during his time at Microsoft to design FaceApp, by applying the latest in artificial-intelligence and machine-learning techniques to the mass processing of digital photos. That idea is now commonplace in apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, which use AI software to instantly contort images of cats, nature scenes and people’s faces, often with convincing results.

Goncharov said he spent his evenings writing code for projects, including an automated bot he could play poker with. He called the bot's "neural network" - an AI term for how it processes information - "the simplified analog of the human brain implemented in computer code."

An early version of Goncharov's company was incorporated in Delaware in 2014 as "Hotel WiFi Test Inc," referencing a separate service built to help guests judge hotels based on the speed of their Internet connection, company filings show. The start-up reported about $43,000 in sales for 2017.

That year, the company launched FaceApp and saw it explode across the Web - gaining attention both for its photorealistic results and widely criticized design choices, including "ethnicity filters" that some said were tantamount to virtual blackface. The app has been since been used more than 80 million times.

Goncharov told The Post that FaceApp photos are stored on servers run by the U.S. tech giants Amazon and Google, and that the company does not share or sell data with third parties. But a Post analysis found data flowing to the third-party Facebook and Google trackers that many apps use for online ads, and FaceApp's privacy terms state the company can save a user's uploaded photos and other data, even if a user decides to delete them.

Goncharov said the company deletes "most" photos from its servers after 48 hours, but wouldn't say which ones are stored, or for how long. No user data, he said, goes back to Wireless Lab's research-and-development team in St. Petersburg. A 2016 Delaware tax report for FaceApp listed another office about 50 miles west of its St. Petersburg headquarters, in the town of Sosnovy Bor.

The Russian connection was, to some experts, not as alarming as some in Washington first suspected. Russia's educational system has gained prominence for its burgeoning AI sector, and Google and other tech firms employ engineers and other technical positions in Moscow.

Samsung last year opened an "AI Center" in Moscow's White Square business district, home to the American corporate giants Deloitte and McKinsey & Company. This spring, AI engineers at the Moscow lab unveiled a breakthrough: a new style of "deepfake" technology that can automatically create convincing animations of a person's face from just a single photo.

FaceApp is also far from the only popular foreign-born app with curious data practices. The viral video-sharing app TikTok is owned by one of China's most valuable tech firms, Bytedance, now worth more than $75 billion. The Beijing-based app has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the U.S., and more than a billion times worldwide.

"I wouldn't look at a project and judge it based on the city of origin," said Oren Etzioni, the CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research center in Seattle. "I would judge it based on the quality of work and the particular application. Just because it's from St. Petersburg or Beijing does not at all mean it's bad. And just because it was developed by the NSA or the U.S. doesn't mean it's good."

The real issue, Etzioni said, was how the data was used - whether users understood how the photos might be used for different purposes, or what they were giving up. "That's a subject of concern for all of us. Not just, 'Oh my god, it's Russia,' " he said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Natalia Abbakumova, Alice Crites, Magda Jean-Louis and Hamza Shaban contributed to this report.

Emmonak man defends himself in assault case, gets 17 years in prison

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 15:40

A 28-year-old rural Alaska man who acted as his own attorney in a felony domestic violence case, and cross-examined his ex-girlfriend on the stand for more than eight hours, has been sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Michael Redfox of Emmonak at a March trial in Bethel was convicted of three felony assault charges.

Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Peters sentenced him Wednesday. State prosecutors say Peters noted that Redfox's prospects for rehabilitation were poor based on past criminal history.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Redfox strangled his girlfriend several different times during the attack and at one point, she stabbed Redfox in the forehead with a screwdriver to make him stop.

Redfox at sentencing said he was a strong candidate for rehabilitation because he had completed substance abuse programs.

Alaska attorney general defends veto of court system funding over abortion ruling

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 15:38

This photo from Jan. 30, 2019, shows Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, right, during a news conference with state Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman, left, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, center, in Juneau. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

Alaska’s attorney general says Gov. Mike Dunleavy was within his constitutional rights to cut the court system budget for a decision he didn’t like.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in a statement Thursday says a governor has line-item budget veto power over all appropriations, without exception.

Dunleavy's budget vetoes last month included a $334,700 cut to the court system, the amount spent on state-funded abortions.

The Alaska Supreme Court this year ruled that a state law defining what constitutes a medically necessary abortion was unconstitutional.

The ACLU of Alaska sued Wednesday, claiming Dunleavy’s budget reduction to the court system was a threat to judicial independence.

Clarkson says the lawsuit proposes that the judiciary control how the other two branches of government fund the courts.

[Alaska hospital group sues Dunleavy administration over Medicaid cuts]

Two big air cargo projects proposed for Anchorage International Airport

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 15:23

An Atlas Air Boeing 747-400 freighter taxis past one of two sites at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, where proposed air cargo expansion facilities would be constructed. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Two projects proposed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport would, if approved, bring hundreds of thousands of square feet of new warehouse and cargo space to what is already the fifth-busiest cargo airport in the world.

An Alaska investment firm is behind one of the projects, a warehouse with cold storage space, and a Lower 48 cargo facility company is behind the other, which would allow for faster cargo transfer between aircraft. The developments would be located on airport land that is currently occupied mostly by grass and shrubs — one next to the FedEx facility and the other on a piece of land across the north-south runway.

Cold storage at the airport would grow capacity for companies to ship seafood and other perishables to and from markets in Asia, or capitalize on Alaska’s growing peony industry, said airport manager Jim Szczesniak. The cargo transfer facility would allow aircraft to land, unload, and get going to their next destination, rather than wait on other planes to land.

Such additions to expand the airport’s cargo capacity are long overdue, said an architect on one of the projects. Both are still in a public comment period before they can officially move forward.

It has been more than 20 years since the last cargo facility was built at Ted Stevens, said Szczesniak. Last fall, the airport put out feelers to see if there were any businesses interested in pursuing such projects there.

The company that proposed one of the projects is 6A-XL Aviation Alaska, owned by Maryland-based company 6A Aviation Inc. That development would be 500,000 square feet of space to facilitate cargo transfers between aircraft. The other project, backed by Anchorage firm McKinley Capital through a company called Alaska Cargo and Cold Storage, would be a 700,000-square-foot cold storage and general warehouse space.

By comparison, the FedEx facility at the airport is 450,000 square feet, according to a spokesman from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

“These are pretty big developments,” said Szczesniak. The estimated value of the 6A project is $170 million and the estimated value of the other is $200 million, according to land lease applications filed with transportation department.

While the Anchorage airport is already the fifth-largest airport in the world by cargo throughput, according to the state, Szczesniak wants to add business opportunities for flights that already make stops here.

“So now not only do you have your stopover, but you have the ability to make revenue by swapping cargo, getting new stuff, dropping stuff off, that it makes Anchorage so much more attractive compared to competitors" such as Canadian airports in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, he said.

Anchorage International is unique among most airports because of expanded rights it has had for cargo transfers since 2004. That means flights with cargo going to or from an international destination can stop in Anchorage and transfer that cargo between aircraft without it being considered to have broken its international journey. That makes the facility all the more attractive for prospective freight business.

[Using fungi, UAA team develops biodegradable insulation for shipping Alaska seafood]

Right now, there’s not a facility for aircraft-to-aircraft cargo transfers on airport property. Having one will make the process more efficient and give planes a spot indoors to unload goods.

“This facility will handle the freight and keep it out of the elements," said 6A vice president of sales Lawrence Majewski.

In recent years, state and private entities have identified air cargo as one industry in Alaska that is ripe for growth, by leveraging its prime location between Asia and the Lower 48.

“We’ve already got the planes,” Szczesniak said. “Now, with these projects, we’ll have the infrastructure that makes that process efficient, which will strengthen our market.”

If approved, the projects are expected to be finished two to three years from when work starts. Both are privately funded, and would lease the land from the airport. The 6A Aviation facility has an airline or airlines involved on the project, but Majewski would not say who, citing confidentiality agreements.

The developments “are years overdue,” said Jason Gamache, principal architect on the project, at Anchorage firm MCG Architecture Design. “Our airport’s been hungry for it for quite a while.”

Following a period of challenges around the Great Recession, the U.S. aviation industry in recent years has rebounded some, thanks to e-commerce. While Alaska just weathered a three-year recession, “the overlapping aviation industry has continued to grow,” Gamache said.

“We have a huge resource here, and it’s not the resource everybody often thinks of,” he said. “In fact, a fairly invisible resource.”

The projects would be large investments in Anchorage at a time when some economists say the state may be poised to return to a recession if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s massive vetoes to the state budget stand. Szczesniak isn’t concerned by such forecasts.

[Dunleavy budget vetoes will result in Alaska job losses, economists say]

“I saw a great T-shirt back in 2008, and the T-shirt said, ‘I refuse to participate in your recession.’ And that’s kind of our attitude,” he said. “The governor says the state’s open for business, and we’re moving forward with it and I’m not worried about any external issues. We have a tremendous asset here. We’re maximizing that asset.”

Rob Gillam, CEO of McKinley Capital, said that while the firm historically has invested outside of Alaska, more recently it is investing here.

“One of the many things we think is a good idea is world logistics and transportation, which is a play on Asia,” he said. “(The Anchorage airport) is playing a central role in that.”

The demand for the cargo transfer facility is driven by e-commerce growth, said Majewski with 6A.

“Trying to get packages faster, that’s what’s really driving expansion,” he said.

Amazon recently announced its air cargo operation, Amazon Air, would start serving the airport as of last month. The two proposed warehouse projects are unrelated to that, Szczesniak said.

There’s more cargo expansion happening at the airport beyond these proposed projects. The FedEx Express facility there is set to upgrade gates to accommodate growth in Boeing 777F operations, the state transportation department announced last month.

Anchorage burn ban remains in place as state lifts campfire restriction

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 15:21

Although some campfires are now allowed in designated areas, Anchorage fire officials are stressing that the municipality’s burn ban is still in place.

A bout of lower temperatures and rainfall prompted state forestry officials to lift a campfire restriction for Southcentral Alaska early Thursday morning, meaning that campfires less than 3 feet in diameter are allowed again on city, state and private lands.

The restriction had been in place since July 9.

In Anchorage, though, those campfires are limited only to certain locations in state parks that fall within the municipality.

“While campfires will be allowed in designated fire pits and rings in state campgrounds within the Municipality of Anchorage, the Municipality is retaining its ban on outdoor fires within the rest of the Municipality,” the Division of Forestry said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

[Swan Lake fire smoke drifts back into Anchorage]

[Swan Lake Fire may have ruined a weekend, but there is relief that it finally happened]

In the nearly three weeks since Anchorage instituted its burn ban, the only fires allowed outdoors have been those contained in barbecue and pellet grills. Outdoor fireplaces, like chimeneas, were prohibited June 28, and burning yard debris and trash is already illegal.

Burn restrictions issued by federal agencies on federal land, as well as burn suspensions enacted by local forestry offices, were not affected when the state Division of Forestry’s campfire restriction was lifted. Burn suspensions remain in effect for the Kenai, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Copper River areas as of Thursday.

On Thursday, 221 wildfires were burning statewide, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Smoke from the Swan Lake fire, which is burning 101,000 acres on the Kenai Peninsula, drifted into Anchorage on Thursday, leaving a distinctly smoky smell hanging around town. The air quality index remained moderate — below “unhealthy” levels, according to state air quality data — and a National Weather Service forecaster said that while smoke could be a problem again Friday morning, there’s a chance it could clear up by the weekend due to shifting weather conditions.

U.S. lawmakers propose ban on export of tribes’ sacred items

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 14:54

File - In this April 15, 2019 file photo, U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, left, and Debra Haaland of New Mexico speak at a field hearing of a House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources in Santa Fe, N.M. Lawmakers are making a renewed push in Congress to ban collectors and vendors from exporting Native American ceremonial items. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File) (Morgan Lee/)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A group of U.S. lawmakers made another push Thursday to ban collectors and vendors from exporting Native American ceremonial items to foreign markets, including Paris, where there has been uproar over auction houses listing tribal pieces for sale over the years.

The lawmakers introduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, which would also increase penalties within the United States for trafficking objects that tribes hold sacred by increasing prison time from five years to 10 years for violating the law more than once.

At the same time, the bill would establish a framework for collectors to return protected items to tribes and avoid facing penalties.

The change was proposed by a group that includes Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Don Young, R-Alaska, and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

In 2016, Heinrich blamed federal legal loopholes for stifling efforts to retrieve a ceremonial shield from a Paris auction house that year.

“It is only right for other countries to respect ownership of the sacred treasures, artifacts and other items belonging to Native Americans,” Cole said Thursday. He and Haaland are among four Native American representatives in Congress.

“By protecting and repatriating tribal cultural heritage, we are also actively preserving the cultural identity and history of our Native populations," Murkowski said in a statement. "This process of returning stolen items back to their rightful owners in our Native communities aids in the process of healing from cultural oppression.”

Lujan, who is the assistant House speaker, said he was confident the bipartisan legislation would pass.

U.S. law prohibits the trafficking of certain items domestically but does not explicitly ban dealers from exporting them, according to lawmakers.

“The STOP Act is a critical step — the legal protection of our cultural heritage will help ensure the history of misappropriation of Native objects will not repeat itself,” Vivian Korthuis, CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said in a statement. “These objects belong to us — they are a part of the legacy we will always share with future generations.”

Collectors have expressed concern that the legislative efforts hurt the market for Native American artifacts.

Last year, a federal report found the number of Native American cultural items listed for bidding at five Paris auction houses declined after outcry led French dealers to halt the sale of the Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield in May 2016.

Tribal leaders said the circular shield was taken from their village in New Mexico decades ago before appearing for sale on the auction house's website.

In 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 220 items were listed in Paris auction catalogs with less than a third of the items marked as sold. By year's end, the number of items listed dropped 75 percent.

Last week, a settlement agreement in U.S. court in New Mexico called for the Eve auction house to release the shield to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, so it could be returned to Acoma Pueblo.

The agreement involved Acoma Pueblo and Jerold Collings, a resident of New Mexico who has said he inherited the shield from his mother.

The U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico has sought to execute a warrant granted by U.S. courts for the return of the shield.

Its return to New Mexico would require cooperation from the auction house in Paris. Eve did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Thursday.

Letter: Remedial coursework

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 14:24

Note to legislators: Perhaps if you had paid attention in class, studied harder and completed your homework assignments, you wouldn’t have to attend summer school.

— David Falsey

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Souls are born at conception

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 14:23

Abortion is a volatile and emotional issue, particularly now, with the recent changes a few states have passed restricting the act. I’ve read impassioned letters from women who claim their intractable rights when it comes to their bodies. I agree, if their rights include not having unprotected sex, avoiding risky behavior and dressing in an inappropriate way.

Much has been said about the unborn and when an abortion is justified. Remarkably, that includes partial-birth abortion, which I consider barbaric and, frankly, murder. It has been stated that abortion is OK up until a heartbeat is detected at about six weeks. Looking at this objectively picking a point where the child has a right to survive, I find that the point of conception is the most significant.

The moment of conception is miraculous, where the egg and the sperm join and a life begins. No other point in the nine months of development is as significant. It is my personal belief that point is where God imparts a soul. Not when breaching the birth canal or the moment when a heartbeat is detected. I know I’ll hear about rape, incest and the like, but those circumstances are in the minority and few courageous women chose to protect the innocent child, carrying it to term. In the final analysis, it comes down to taking responsibility for your actions by not putting the burden on the helpless, innocent unborn.

— William Ahrens

Eagle River

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

The heat goes on: June was the toastiest on record, and July may follow

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 13:18

People cool off in the fountains of the Trocadero gardens, in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. Schools are spraying kids with water and nursing homes are equipping the elderly with hydration sensors as France and other nations battle a record-setting heat wave baking much of Europe. On Thursday, July 18, 2019, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that June averaged 60.6 degrees (15.9 Celsius), about 1.7 degrees (0.9 Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. It beat out 2016 for the hottest June with records going back to 1880. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly) (Lewis Joly/)

WASHINGTON — The heat goes on: Earth sizzled to its hottest June on record as the climate keeps going to extremes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday announced that June averaged 60.6 degrees, about 1.7 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

It beat out 2016 for the hottest June with records going back to 1880. NASA and other groups also concluded that last month was the hottest June on record.

Europe shattered June temperature records by far, while other records were set in Russia, Africa, Asia and South America. France had its hottest month in history, which is unusual because July is traditionally hotter than June. The Lower 48 states in America were near normal.

"Earth is running a fever that won't break thanks to climate change," North Carolina state climatologist Kathie Dello said in an email. "This won't be the last record warm summer month that we will see."

It seems likely that July too will be a record hot month, said Berkeley Earth climate scientist Robert Rohde.

The United States set a record for most precipitation. The 12-month period from July 2018 to June 2019 was the wettest on record.

The first half of 2019 is tied with 2017 for the second hottest initial six months of the year, behind 2016. So far the year is 1.7 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

This heat “is what we can expect to see with a warming climate,” said Freja Vamborg, a climate scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe.

Trump says not happy with backers’ ‘send her back’ chant

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 13:15

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Gerry Broome/)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday he was unhappy with his supporters chanting “send her back” after he assailed a young Democratic congresswoman who he’s suggested should leave the U.S.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump claimed he tried to stop the chant, which came after he recited a litany of complaints about Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who fled to the U.S. as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia. Video shows the president pausing his remarks, appearing to drink in the uproar and not admonishing his supporters as they chanted.

"I was not happy with it," Trump said a day later as some prominent Republicans criticized the chant at the president's re-election event. He said he "would certainly try" to stop the chant should it return at a subsequent rally.

So far, no GOP lawmakers are directly taking on Trump over the episode.

The muted reactions by congressional Republicans followed a pattern that's become familiar after numerous incidents in Trump's presidency when he's made antagonistic or racially provocative comments.

At the Wednesday campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump tore into four progressive freshman congresswomen who last weekend he tweeted should return to their native countries if they “hate America.” Of the four, who strongly oppose many of Trump’s policies, one is black, one is Hispanic and two are Muslim. All are American citizens, and three were born here.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that such cries "have no place in our party and no place in this country."

But McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally, said the president's aversion to Omar is based on ideology, not race.

"This is about socialism vs. freedom," he said, a refrain Republicans are increasingly using as they begin trying to frame their offensive against Democrats for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that the "send her back" chant was "ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union."

Rep. Tom Emmer, who heads the House GOP's campaign organization, told reporters, "There's no place for that kind of talk. I don't agree with it."

But he defended Trump, saying there isn't "a racist bone in this president's body" and asserting that Trump "said wrong" what he actually meant.

"What he was trying to say is that if you don't appreciate this country, you don't have to be here. That goes for every one of us. It has nothing to do with your race, your gender, your family history. It has to do with respecting and loving the country that has given you the opportunities which you have."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Fox Business News that it's time to "lower the rhetoric" about racism. He did not mention the crowd's chants or Trump's acceptance of them.

Besides Omar, Trump has also been criticizing Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The Democratic-led House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump's tweets as racist. On Wednesday, it rejected an effort by one Democrat that was opposed by party leaders to impeach Trump.

___

AP writers Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed.

Alaska hospital group sues Dunleavy administration over Medicaid cuts

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 13:02

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks and answers questions about his recent budget vetoes at the start of a meeting with members of his cabinet in Anchorage on July 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association has sued the state of Alaska and the Department of Health and Social Services, arguing that the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy improperly used emergency regulations to slash Medicaid payments to doctors, clinics and other health care providers. The administration has said it is seeking to make the regulations permanent.

The lawsuit and an accompanying motion for summary judgment claim the governor and his administration created an emergency by vetoing portions of the Medicaid budget, deliberately underfunding Medicaid in order to justify the reductions to doctors.

“As a matter of law, these emergency regulations and proposed permanent regulations are inconsistent with both state and federal law, are arbitrary, and violate due process,” states a motion for summary judgment filed by attorney Jahna Lindemuth on behalf of the association.

Lindemuth was attorney general under former Gov. Bill Walker.

The suit was filed July 12 in Alaska Superior Court at Anchorage. If the lawsuit is successful, it would require the state to reverse the cuts. The state could seek to reimpose them through the traditional regulatory process, which is slower.

KTUU first reported the lawsuit.

Under the emergency regulations, in effect from July 1 to Oct. 28, the state reduced payments to doctors by 5% and eliminated a scheduled inflation adjustment, further reducing payments.

Those regulations were announced June 28, following Dunleavy’s veto of $117 million from the state’s Medicaid program the same day.

In its lawsuit, the association says that the state’s “emergency” claim is artificial. In signing a justification for the emergency regulations, Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum wrote that the Medicaid program “will be significantly underfunded in fiscal year 2020.”

“Given the simultaneous nature of Gov. Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes and Commissioner Crum’s ‘Finding of Emergency,’ " reads the lawsuit, “it appears that the underfunding causing this emergency is not an ‘emergency’ at all. This underfunding is an occurrence entirely of the Dunleavy Administration’s own deliberate creation.”

The lawsuit claims that payments to doctors are now “below the reasonable cost of services” required by state law.

Almost 30% of Alaska’s population uses Medicaid for health care, according to the latest available statistics from the state.

“While DHSS purports to consider the short-term impact of the funding shortfall on care in its finding of emergency," the summary judgment motion states, “DHSS has not considered what the rate reductions will do in the longer term to access to care for all Medicaid recipients. If providers are underfunded, they will have to cut services and access to care will go down.”

The suit is one of several significant legal actions against the Dunleavy administration since it took office in December.

The administration has been accused of illegally vetoing money from the Alaska Court System budget, illegally firing state employees (two separate suits were filed), improperly seeking the privatization of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, failing to implement a school funding law passed by the Legislature, improperly delaying the distribution of school funds, and improperly setting the location of the ongoing special session.

One lawsuit backing the governor’s position on the special session has also been filed.

According to the Alaska Court System’s online database, former Gov. Walker did not face similar legal challenges during his first eight months in office. The first major lawsuit against his administration was filed nine months in, when the Alaska Legislature challenged his unilateral decision to expand the state’s Medicaid program. A judge later dismissed the lawsuit.

American warship destroys Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 13:01

In this May 1, 2019, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) transits the San Diego Bay in San Diego, Calif. President Donald Trump says the USS Boxer destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Trump says it's the latest "hostile" action by Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse Monford/U.S. Navy via AP) (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse Monford/)

WASHINGTON — A U.S. warship on Thursday destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship, President Donald Trump said. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike.

In remarks at the White House, Trump blamed Iran for a "provocative and hostile" action and said the U.S. responded in self-defense.

He said the Navy's USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, took defensive action after the Iranian aircraft closed to within 1,000 yards of the ship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.

"The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce," Trump said.

The Pentagon said the incident happened at 10 a.m. local time Thursday in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.

"A fixed-wing unmanned aerial system approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a written statement. "The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew."

The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it's not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship.

In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the U.S. ships.

Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from American warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard's small fast boats often cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into them in "swarm attacks." The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles.

Thursday's incident was the latest in a series of events that raised U.S.-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf. In response, the U.S. accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to the Gulf state of Qatar. It has since deployed additional Patriot air defense missile batteries in the Gulf region.

Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone aircraft on June 20, Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any U.S. lives.

Iran claimed the U.S. drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Thursday that Iran and the U.S. were only “a few minutes away from a war” after Iran downed the American drone. He spoke to U.S.-based media on the sidelines of a visit to the United Nations.

Zarif also blamed Washington for the escalation of tensions.

"We live in a very dangerous environment," he said. "The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss." Zarif accused the Trump administration of "trying to starve our people" and "deplete our treasury" through economic sanctions.

Earlier Thursday, Iran said its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports passes through the strait.

___

Associated Press writers Ian Phillips in New York and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Letter: Recall Dunleavy

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 12:59

I’ll be brief and not take up valuable space. It’s time to speed up the recall process for our governor, before he wreaks havoc on our state with his destructive budget cuts, with the resultant job losses and loss of educational opportunities, just to name two effects of his policies. He will damage this state more than our split Legislature can repair. Just as one doesn’t attempt to train a rabid dog, one doesn’t attempt to reason with or protest against a Koch-fueled ideologue. The recall must occur as soon as possible.

— David P. Werner

Palmer

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Cancel the cuts

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 12:57

We implore legislators to restore funding and cancel the slashing cuts the governor has made. It serves no purpose to decimate groups and cause further hardships to citizens. We did not move to Alaska 35 years ago for the Permanent Fund dividend. We did not even know it was being considered when we decided to move here. We did not move here because it was tax free. We had paid our fair share of taxes in every other state in which we lived. We live in Seldovia, within the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and pay borough taxes as well as city taxes. We are definitely not opposed to a state income tax. We believe the entire voting block of the state should decide whether or not there should be a state income tax.

We thought Gov. Bill Walker did the right thing by limiting the PFD to help reduce the budget. In our own personal budget, we make gradual sacrifices to keep it in control. When things were tight we did not stop feeding our children so we could meet obligations. We did not kick our children out because they were too expensive to care for.

What really gets our goat is that Gov. Mike Dunleavy spent thousands of dollars to hire a budget slasher who has no sense of the reality of Alaska’s issues. We wonder if Dunleavy has any grasp on our issues if he thinks increasing our homeless population or causing people to leave the state is any solution. There are many qualified economists in Alaska who he could have consulted without bringing in a dummy to do his dirty work.

It also makes no sense to spend more money to have a special session in another location that is not equipped to handle it. Does Dunleavy think Alaskans are so stupid that we believe legislators will make a better decision in unfamiliar location?

Finally, we do not very often contact our legislators with issues, as we feel they don’t have time to answer our letters. Experience has shown us that those who agree with us will answer and those who oppose us just tend to ignore our opinions and don’t answer the letter.

We hope the Anchorage Daily News will publish this letter to everyone.

— Jan and Dick WylandSeldovia

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

1 person dead, 2 injured after house fire in Anchorage

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 12:16

A fire at a home on the 5300 block of Tudor Top Circle, off Lake Otis Parkway, early Thursday morning, July 18, 2019, killed one person and sent two others to the hospital. (Madeline McGee / ADN)

One person is dead and two more are hurt after an early morning house fire in Anchorage on Thursday.

Firefighters arrived at the home on the 5300 block of Tudortop Circle, off Lake Otis Parkway, around 3:25 a.m., Anchorage Fire Marshal Cleo Hill said.

By that time, the roof and deck were on fire, Hill said.

Nineteen firefighting units responded to the scene and brought the blaze under control at 4:50 a.m. The two people who were injured were taken to a hospital.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Hill said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Letter: Weather Service wrong on records

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 12:02

As much as I both admire and appreciate the National Weather Service and its dedicated personnel, there is a bureaucratic component to the so-called records for Anchorage. First but not least nor last is the fact that there is no continuous record at the Anchorage International Airport.

There have been at least two locations for the station at the airport, (one of which now is not even at the airport — it’s up on Sand Lake Road, 4,000 feet at least from where it was from the 1950s to the 1980s, when it moved. I suspect it was moved around after the 1964 earthquake as well. For the record, the original Anchorage station was in the Ship Creek area. It was then moved to the Delaney Park Strip (which was the airfield in its day). Then it was moved to Merrill Filed and lastly, in the early 1950s, to the airport. All those previous locations were certified official NWS stations by their days’ standards, and when you round numbers off those standards, they are as good as today’s. The central and most representative of Anchorage continues to be Merrill Field (which continues to have a certified officially reporting station). It’s just that the NWS has chosen to fixate on their current location, which is a bust of the so-called direct comparisons.

By real-world standards, we tied the record and Merrill Field hit 90 degrees twice on July 4. Generally, NWS Sand Lake is going to be cooler and have less snow (which is true of the airport as well). Clearly, one winter we blew through the snow record, except at the less snowy airport.Anchorage should go back to using Merrill Field as a central standard, not the Sand Lake Station, though I know in the bureaucratic mind it detracts from that being the Vatican of weather for the NWS Weather Cardinal for Anchorage. It’s supposed to be about weather, forecast and as accurate readings as we can achieve. The NWS station manager in Anchorage should be ashamed of his spin in this regard.

— Gregory Schmitz

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Swan Lake fire smoke drifts back into Anchorage

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 10:51

Smoke from the Swan Lake fire on the Kenai Peninsula drifted into Anchorage on Thursday and cooler temperatures aloft helped concentrate the smoke in the city, surprising residents who’d become accustomed to clear skies in recent days.

“It was out of sight, out of mind,” said Lucas Boyer, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “We had a couple of really good clear days there, and things cooled off, and it became easy to forget there’s still a 100,000-acre fire burning down there.”

The air quality index remains moderate — not “good” but still below “unhealthy” levels, according to state air quality data for Thursday.

“We’re monitoring it but we don’t think there’s a need for an air quality advisory,” said Mark Smith, with the state Division of Air Quality.

Light winds have shifted to flow from the fire and up Cook Inlet to Anchorage, Boyer said. A temperature inversion capped the smoke, cloaking the city beneath a haze.

I took this photo about an hour ago. pic.twitter.com/MUcE0hbB61

— Adam gutteRsnipe W. (@adamrweinert) July 18, 2019

Temperatures in the mid-80s around the area of the Swan Lake fire northeast of Sterling increased the smoke of the 101,000-acre fire, said Adam Livermore, an information officer with the Swan Lake fire incident command team.

The fire is largely contained, but it could smolder until winter or a huge rainstorm arrives, Livermore said. Crews are working to stop the fire from “creeping" east. They’re on guard elsewhere around the perimeter to make sure it stays hemmed in. Two helicopters are dousing it with 40,000 gallons of water daily, he said.

“The temperature went up and the relative humidity went down, so there will probably be more smoke in the area until it cools down,” Livermore said.

Morning smoke could be a problem in Anchorage on Friday as well, Boyer said. But there’s a chance of rain in the forecast Friday and Saturday and winds should move in from the southeast, helping mix things up, he said.

“There’s a good chance everyone wakes up Saturday morning and we don’t see this cycle again Saturday, hopefully,” he said.

The science of good bud

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 10:15

In Alaska, cannabis is regulated like alcohol, and while the two controlled substances work very differently inside the human body, they do have one important commonality: There’s much more to consumption than a simple mind-altering experience.

“When you walk into a liquor store, do you ever walk up to them and ask, ‘What is going to get me the most drunk the fastest?’” asked Jessica Alexander, technical director of The New Frontier Research in Wasilla. “Do you say ‘What’s your strongest? Where’s your Everclear?’”

No, she continued, most alcohol users don’t pick their beverage based solely on alcohol content. They look for flavor and a positive experience. Cannabis is similar in that different strains deliver different kinds of highs and effects. It’s a simple notion rooted in science that is surprisingly complex -- and still not completely understood.

The science of cannabis

At this point, especially in states like Alaska that have passed legalization, people are generally familiar with the two primary active chemical components of cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is just one of the 113 cannabinoids known to be present in cannabis, and the primary psychoactive component -- the part that gets you high. Cannabidiol, known as CBD, is the cannabis plant’s second major compound. It doesn’t have the psychoactive effects of THC; in fact, research indicates that CBD acts to modulate those effects while enhancing some others.

“There are a lot of details to the science of cannabis,” said Jonathan Rupp Strong, the scientific director at CannTest, which, along with New Frontier, is one of four licensed cannabis testing businesses in Alaska. “Even the experts, in general, don’t know all the details.”

One thing that is well established at this point is that humans actually have an endocannabinoid system that exists specifically to interact with cannabinoids. Two cannabinoid receptors were discovered in the 1990s, helping researchers begin to better understand how this system can impact anything from memory to female reproduction to exercise euphoria.

“THC makes you feel high, and CBD has these other properties, medicinal and otherwise,” Rupp Strong said. “On our body’s side of it, there are receptors in the endocannabinoid system that these plant compounds interact with. Different strains have different amounts and different ratios, and that’s going to have a different effect.”

In fact, he said, not only can the same strain of cannabis have different effects on different people, it can have different effects on the same person depending on when they use it and what state their body is in at the time.

“It’s complex,” Rupp Strong said. “The chemicals in the plant interact with different things in our body. There are receptors in our cells that activate different pathways in our biology.”

So while THC content is one factor to consider, Alexander said it’s far from an indicator of whether a cannabis product will be the right fit for a consumer.

“It doesn’t correlate to sensation,” she said. “It doesn’t correlate to enjoyment.”

And in fact, she added, it may not even correlate to potency. Concentration -- the percentage you see listed next to strain names at your local dispensary -- only tells you the amount of THC in a product. Potency, or the strength of its effect, varies depending on the complete cannabinoid makeup.

Enter terpenes

Cannabinoids aren’t the only compounds that affect how cannabis acts in your body. Even if you don’t partake, you might be familiar with the word “terpene.” These essential oils are found in different amounts and combinations in many plants, including cannabis, and they’re an important part of the cannabis experience.

“Terpenes, by and large, are not exclusive to cannabis,” Rupp Strong said. “Limonene is an example of a terpene; it’s found in citrus and it has a lemony smell. There’s lots of them that have different smells (and) different potential influences on the effect of the product.”

In the cannabis plants themselves, terpenes often play a defensive role.

“Cannabinoids and terpenes are equivalent to what our immune systems are,” Alexander said. “So when the plant is threatened or when the plant is trying to interact with its environment” -- repelling or attracting insects, healing a break, protecting itself from too much sun -- “it produces terpenes and cannabinoids -- terpenes in particular -- and those serve a purpose in its own personal health. And luckily for us, those terpenes and cannabinoids often do the same thing in our bodies.”

Terpenes interact with cannabinoids, with each other, and with the human body to achieve different results. In fact, a terpene’s effects may change depending on what other compounds it’s interacting with, a phenomenon known as the Entourage Effect.

“Different ratios of these compounds can work together synergistically, and that will produce this different effect in the user,” Rupp Strong said. Strains with similar THC and CBD content may have very different effect profiles because of their terpene content.

We do know what we don’t know

There’s much more going on inside the cannabis plant that still isn’t well understood. For example, Rupp Strong said, we know that cannabis contains flavonoids -- some of them unique to cannabis -- and that they likely contribute to the Entourage Effect.

“It’s a new area,” Rupp Strong said. “A lot of this stuff we’re still learning about, and flavonoids are even less known.”

Prohibition has made it difficult for researchers to have access to cannabis, so in many ways the science of cannabis is still in the early stages of exploration. Both Rupp Strong and Alexander stressed the need for further research to better understand cannabis and its effects, both medicinal and recreational, as well as whether certain strains may have compounds you might want to avoid.

“They’re actually even finding that there is one cannabinoid that is highly concerning for being something that promotes cancer,” Alexander said. “So it’s important that we learn about all the cannabinoids and what they do in the body.”

With so many factors to consider, and THC concentration no meaningful indicator of how a strain works, how does a consumer know what’s going to work for them? That’s where a budtender comes in.

“If you were to walk in and say to a budtender, ‘I want to giggle for hours and have a good time with my friends. What is that (strain)? And don’t talk to me about numbers,’ you’re going to get quality cannabis,” Alexander said.

In search of Alaska’s best bud

This month, Alaska cultivators are putting their products to the test in the Great Alaskan Cannabis Bowl, a locally produced event that will provide a way to learn even more about different strains and what they do. Twenty-four judges will evaluate commercial THC and CBD products, as well as homegrown flower entered by personal-use cultivators.

“They’re going to be looking at the aroma, the taste, the high or stone, the burnability or flush, the visual aesthetics, and a few other aspects,” said Cody Coman, co-owner of Trich Productions, who is producing the event. “Edibles, they’re going to be looking at the product originality, its healthiness, its strength and effect, the visual aesthetics of it. For the topicals, they’ll be looking at the aroma, the strength and effectiveness, the consistency, the ease of use.”

Rupp Strong said that while judging is ultimately subjective, the range of criteria being evaluated provides nuance and value.

“They aren’t just saying ‘This one’s the best, that one’s the worst, the end,’” he said.

Products will be tested at CannTest and New Frontier Research and evaluated by a panel that includes four members of the public -- selected through a random drawing -- as well as cannabis experts.

“Our biggest focus was to make the competition as even a playing field as possible,” Coman said. The winners will take home hand-carved, jade-inlaid burlwood trophies made by AK Manshed owner Scott Schwartzbauer-Carver, along with recognition for their prizewinning product.

“Part of the competition is figuring out who’s really good at their job,” Coman said. “Who has taken the responsibility of a young and growing industry and cultivated that responsibility? We want to help highlight and honor the people that are taking the responsibility seriously and at the same time being unique in their craft, helping move the industry forward.”

The Great Alaskan Cannabis Bowl may also be an opportunity to learn about strains that cultivators themselves love the most, including ones that often aren’t cost-effective to grow because they don’t have the high THC concentrations that customers want. Alexander said she hopes more consumers will educate themselves about the science of cannabis so cultivators aren’t discouraged from growing some of these strains.

“I see literally hundreds of cultivators,” Alexander said. “One question I ask every single person that comes through the door: ‘What is your favorite strain that you have?’ I can’t tell you the last time a cultivator told me, ‘Oh, it’s my strongest one.’”

Trich Productions presents the Great Alaskan Cannabis Bowl, July 27-28 at Settlers Bay Golf Course in Wasilla. Use the code GACB19ADN to save $15 when you buy your tickets online at https://events.bizzabo.com/GACB19?promo=GACB19ADN.

This story was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Trich Productions. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

Anchorage man charged with attempted murder in stabbing of 74-year-old woman

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 10:06

A 28-year-old Anchorage man was charged this week with attempted murder in a July 4 stabbing of a 74-year-old woman who was using a walker when the kitchen-knife attack occurred, authorities say.

Rigoberto Walker was indicted by an Anchorage grand jury Wednesday for attempted murder and multiple felony assault counts for the stabbing that left the woman hospitalized with multiple wounds, according to state prosecutors.

Walker was arrested and arraigned on multiple assault counts on July 5.

He’s accused of approaching the woman near Centennial Circle, then attacking her with what police described as a large kitchen knife. The woman was moving a plant when the stabbing occurred, just before 7:45 p.m., and didn’t even realize what was happening initially. Walker is also accused of threatening two other people who tried to help the woman.

One of the victims identified Walker after police apprehended him shortly after the attacks, prosecutors say.

Walker is scheduled for arraignment on the attempted murder charge Friday.

He was also arrested and ultimately convicted of arson in a case last year that resulted in the closure of the restrooms at the Anchorage downtown transit center. Walker pleaded no contest to a second-degree arson in the case, in which he was accused of intentionally starting a fire that damaged the men’s restroom in the bus depot.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Injured hiker, companion rescued from ridge near Girdwood after 30-foot fall

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 09:31
Video from the Alaska National Guard shows the area in the Chugach Mountains near Girdwood where two hikers were rescued.

The Alaska National Guard on Wednesday rescued a 22-year-old hiker from Anchorage who spent the night outside after he was badly injured in a 30-foot fall in the Chugach Mountains near Girdwood, authorities say.

The hiker’s companion, who climbed a nearby peak to wave down rescuers, was also picked up by the Army Guard UH-60 Black Hawk, the Guard said.

Ben Seaman fell from Penguin Ridge and injured his leg on Tuesday evening, Alaska State Troopers said. A trooper helicopter couldn’t locate Seaman because of bad weather, and the weather also kept LifeMed from responding. The Rescue Coordination Center, which dispatches military crews, didn’t have any air assets available that night.

The ridge stretches high above the Seward Highway between Bird Creek and Girdwood.

Seaman ended up at the bottom of a saddle in steep, rocky terrain at 3,600 feet, the Guard said.

Early Wednesday morning, the Black Hawk from the 2-104th’s Golf Company, Detachment 2, left Bryant Army Airfield on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson with a flight medic, according to the Guard. The medevac unit stood up in 2017, and Wednesday’s mission was its first rescue with hoist.

The crew, with pilot 2nd Lt. Cody McKinney, scanned the ridge on the way to pick up pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron in Girdwood. They spotted the hikers, “waved” the helicopter at them, then continued to Girdwood before heading back to the hikers, McKinney said in an account of the rescue. McKinney is the medevac unit commander.

The pararescuemen dropped down to the peak and descended to the injured hiker to find that Seaman couldn’t walk, the Guard said. He and his companion were hoisted out from the saddle, with the helicopter about 70 feet from the ground.

Seaman was taken to an Anchorage hospital for treatment of injuries described as not life-threatening.

The Guard rescue was a joint mission, with the Army Guard providing the helicopter, crew and medic and the Air Guard providing the pararescuemen, officials say.

Volunteers with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group also responded, troopers said.

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