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Netflix reports drop in U.S. subscribers, its first ever, raising concern about its future

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 14:14

In recent months questions have arisen about Netflix's future as it faces a growing list of streaming competitors. The future could be coming sooner than expected.

Netflix reported subscriber numbers far lower than even its own estimates for the second quarter, causing a Wall Street sell-off and fears the streaming service's dominance could be weakening.

The company's number of U.S. subscribers dropped by 126,000 in the second quarter; analysts had expected them to increase by 352,000 and Netflix had projected growth of 300,000.

It was the first time the company has seen a quarterly drop in domestic subscribers since it began its explosive growth earlier this decade.

And while earnings and revenue were largely as expected by analysts - $4.92 billion compared to an expected $4.93 billion on the latter - Netflix's international subscribers grew by just 2.83 million compared to the 4.81 million analysts had predicted. Netflix had given guidance of 4.7 million new international subscribers for the quarter.

Investors sent the stock down 11% in after-hours trading.

Netflix still boasts some 150 million subscribers globally and remains the service of first resort for many consumers. But the prospect of a subscriber slowdown is compounded by the launch of new services, including Disney+ in the fall and HBO Max next year, competing for viewers' dollars.

In an investor letter, Netflix explained the bleak numbers as part of a "pull-forward" effect from the first quarter, when subscriber additions nearly totaled 10 million worldwide.

The streamer also saw lower subscriber figures in the second quarter last July, which is attributed to seasonality and expected a bounceback in future quarters, which largely happened.

But the coming months could be trickier. WarnerMedia recently decided against renewing its deal for Netflix to air "Friends" as it prepares to launch its own service, and NBC Universal is doing the same for "The Office." Both shows are very popular, and their departure could lead, investors fear, to mass subscriber exits.

Netflix has been ramping up its original content to combat these departures and keep its service a must-have. Executives in the letter pointed to the debut this month of the new season of "Stranger Things," which according to Nielsen garnered 26.4 million viewers in its first four days of release.

In a note last week, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachte said that despite the popularity of these originals, it “is unclear whether Netflix can replace it with quantity and quality sufficient to keep its current subscriber base loyal.”

Democrats divided as House votes to kill resolution on Trump impeachment

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 14:07

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON - The House on Wednesday voted to kill an impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump, a move likely to rankle the Democratic Party’s liberal base clamoring for the ouster of the president.

The vote was 332 to 95 as House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined with Republicans to stop the measure. It was a surprising turn and created the unusual optic of the Democratic leader working with the GOP a day after a divided House voted to condemn Trump's racist remarks.

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, had put Democratic leaders in a bind Tuesday night by filing articles of impeachment accusing Trump of committing high crimes and misdemeanors. His resolution, which cited Trump's racist comments singling out four minority congresswomen, was privileged, requiring that the House act within two days.

"It's time for us to deal with his bigotry," Green told reporters Wednesday. "This president has demonstrated that he's willing to yell fire in a crowded theater, and we have seen what can happen to people when bigotry is allowed to have a free rein. We all ought to go on record. We all ought to let the world know where we stand when we have a bigot in the White House."

Pelosi, who has been reluctant to launch an impeachment inquiry, backed a procedural vote to table, or effectively kill, the resolution, avoiding a direct vote on the impeachment articles. Republicans supported Pelosi's effort, receiving the sign-off from the White House, according a Republican congressional aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

"With all the respect in the world for Mr. Green . . . we have six committees who are working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest that the president may have engaged in," Pelosi told reporters when asked about Green's efforts. "That is the serious path that we are on - not that Mr. Green is not serious, but we will deal with that on the floor."

Any vote is politically fraught for Democrats as the party's liberal base pushes for Trump's impeachment, and several 2020 presidential candidates have urged the House to move swiftly to force him out of office. So far, 86 House Democrats favor launching an impeachment inquiry, though several were reluctant to endorse Green's effort.

Liberal groups pressured Pelosi to allow a direct vote on the impeachment articles. CREDO Action, a group that says it has 5 million activists, said in a statement that the House needed to begin proceedings “immediately” because “Trump is a racist who has repeatedly abused the powers of the presidency to harm black and brown communities and to make a quick buck for billionaires off the backs of working families.”

The vote split Democrats, with 137 voting to effectively kill the resolution and 95 opposing the move.

Rather than tabling the resolution, several House Judiciary Committee Democrats tried to convince Pelosi and other leaders to refer the articles of impeachment to their panel. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a private supporter of impeachment, argued that that is how such matters are historically handled, but he was rebuffed, according to congressional officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal talks.

"If you are of conscience and see what is happening . . . one would have to vote to refer, and not to table," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a Judiciary Committee member.

But Democratic leaders were wary of headlines suggesting that Democrats are moving toward trying to oust Trump and worry that "referring" to committee may be spun by Republicans as a step in that direction. Indeed, even before the vote, Republicans were relishing the possibility of using the vote against their political opponents, with the office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., citing the vote in a news release and asking: "How many House Democrats support impeachment?"

In December 2017, when Green forced a vote on impeachment articles, 126 Democrats backed tabling while 58 Democrats fought for the resolution's consideration. In January 2018, when Green did it again, 121 Democrats voted to table while 66 Democrats rejected that move.

That's one of the reasons why Pelosi needs the help of Republicans to sideline the resolution, assistance that oddly comes a day after one of the most intense partisan fights on the House floor.

In a series of tweets and remarks, Trump targeted the self-described "Squad" - Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Trump told the four minority congresswomen to "go back" to their home countries - though all are U.S. citizens and three were born in the U.S.

[House condemns Trump ‘racist’ tweets in extraordinary rebuke]

Pelosi sought to swiftly deal with the uproar as the House voted Tuesday for a resolution condemning those racist comments. Some Democrats hoped the resolution would be harsher on Trump, Pelosi said - even as Republicans accused Democrats of harassing the president and breaking rules of House decorum.

"You have no idea the provisions that some people wanted to have in that resolution," Pelosi said Wednesday. "This was as benign - it condemned the words of the president - not the president. . . . We weren't saying that he was racist, we were saying that the words he used were racist."

Some Democrats find Green's timing peculiar, not only coming a day after the condemnation vote but ahead of a high-stakes hearing. Former special counsel Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify next week before two House committees on his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice, a session that lawmakers have been seeking for months.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Wednesday that the House is not ready to debate whether to impeach Trump.

“We may not ever be, but we aren’t yet,” he said.

Moody’s downgrades University of Alaska credit rating, citing financial challenges

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:57

The University of Alaska Anchorage campus, photographed on Friday, July 12, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

A major credit ratings agency downgraded the University of Alaska’s credit rating Wednesday and called the 41% state funding cut the university system faces “unprecedented.”

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded UA’s rating by multiple grades for general revenue bonds and lease revenue bonds, and the outlook for both is negative, the agency said in a report.

The downgrades reflect “the severity and magnitude of the financial challenges confronting University of Alaska” if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes stand, Moody’s said.

In dire language, the report warned that UA’s position has been “materially impaired by this funding reduction." Moody’s expects a multiyear negative impact on enrollment as well as on the “competitive position” of UA’s research enterprise.

“With this unprecedented single year cut in state appropriations, there is a high likelihood of a material reduction in the university’s liquidity over the next year as it uses cash to fund programs pending restructuring of operations, and for the associate costs of that restructuring,” the report said.

[University of Alaska governing board delays vote on whether to declare financial emergency]

The downgrade is a direct result of the state’s budget cut, UA President Jim Johnsen said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Today’s news just amplifies the impact of the state’s funding cut — Moody’s downgrade harms our ability to bond or borrow money at favorable interest rates and to be viewed as financially stable," he said.

UA faces a loss of about $135 million in state funding this year. Dunleavy vetoed an unprecedented $130 million in funding for the university system atop a $5 million cut approved by the state Legislature. In total, that’s about a 41% cut to state funding and roughly 17% of its total budget.

Moody’s downgraded UA’s general revenue bonds three notches, from A1 to Baa1, and downgraded its lease revenue bonds four notches, from A2 to Baa3. UA currently has financial indebtedness on several buildings. Ratings such as those from Moody’s gauge an entity’s creditworthiness.

The UA Board of Regents on Monday postponed a vote on whether to declare a financial emergency for the system.

Toddler dies after being reported missing near Palmer

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:52

PALMER -- A toddler died early Wednesday morning in Mat-Su after going missing, Alaska State Troopers say.

The child was reported missing Tuesday evening in the area of Butte, troopers spokesman Ken Marsh said.

The incident remained under investigation around noon Wednesday, Marsh said. He couldn’t provide any additional information.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Letter: Budget history lessons

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:47

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is all in for the Dunleavy vetoes. He says that “… my legislative colleagues and I struggled to bring spending back in line with income …” That is just plain wrong. What I remember is bloated legislative budgets with no vetoes from then-Gov. Sean Parnell. The hallmark of that Legislature and the Parnell administration was big cuts to revenue, with Mr. Meyer being one of the deciding yes votes. Then came another periodic crash in volatile oil prices, which should have surprised nobody. The Legislature subsequently cut the budget and spent down our savings. Eventually, Gov. Walker took the fall for cutting the Permanent Fund dividend when savings were running low, then Gov. Mike Dunleavy promised back PFDs and more.

Now Alaskans are looking at either a $3,000 PFD, which is almost twice as big as last year’s, or budget cuts to services to the people who can least afford those cuts. The governor’s plan is the same thing next year. The lieutenant governor is clear. He favors the cuts, as do Outsider budget architect Donna Arduin, Tuckerman Babcock, Alaskans for Prosperity and a minority of Alaskans. My overall impression is that big money talks big and has big influence.

— John Jensen

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: More cuts, please

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:41

It amazes me to see all the crying and fear-mongering going on about the budget. The unions, contractors and special interests have spent the last years prying money out of Juneau with the lobbyist and union leaders. Now that the bank is broke, all they can say is it is doom and gloom time. People are going to do without, the sky is falling and hordes will do without or have to move. Nothing is positive or has a can-do attitude out of this crowd. They now want access to the people’s piggy bank to keep their fat salaries, benefits and projects to nowhere with vast overspending. We need to control this group or in a few years, the Permanent Fund dividend will be gone and they will still want more. We must bring the spending back to a real level.

— Mark Elliott

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: Shameful treatment of seniors

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:37

Seniors are citizens and cannot return to work. Do you want your parents and/or grandparents to move back in and live with you?Below poverty level, aging and ill seniors were cut from their senior benefits with no notice July 1. They are frightened on how they will pay their rent, dental care, medical and prescription co-pays and other living needs.

They were cut from dental care. How are they suppose to even pull an infected tooth? Go to Juneau?

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has cut resources for kids, seniors, and the most vulnerable Alaskans, but has actively opposed cutting the unnecessary $1.2 billion in oil tax credits to some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. Seniors paid business and property taxes and even personal state tax (before the Permanent Fund dividend) and are residents of Alaska and citizens of the U.S. They built Alaska decades before Gov. Dunleavy came to Alaska in 1983. Perhaps we need to cage them, because they can no longer work and are no longer of use to us.

— Mary Johnson

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.

Blackberries, shade gardening, snakes? Imagining a warmer climate for Alaska gardens

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:32

Wow, the record-setting heat has everyone talking. Is this the new “norm” or just a meteorological fluke? Is it over or will it go into the winter months? Will any more fans or sprinklers be delivered to our stores? And how could we have run out of ice?

First of all, let me opine that this is not the last such spell we will see. Global warming is really real. Alaska is one of the canaries in the mine and things are definitely headed warmer. We not only have to acknowledge it, we have to deal with it. And now.

It seems to me that one of the worst problems with having hot spells here in Alaska is that as gardeners we can’t prepare for them. They happen “unexpectedly” and we are suddenly impacted. As gardeners, our job is to safely solve problems that accompany the higher temperatures.

Yes, I am talking about things we didn’t know existed, like the lilac leaf roller we didn’t know about. We also need to be concerned about the things caused by what we used to call unseasonable warming spells, such as the spruce bark beetle kills. These are just the beginning, you can be sure. Here come new invasive weeds and pests. (Oh, please, hold off on the snakes!)

Then there is the use of clear plastic to heat up soil and all those makeshift cold frames we use here. It doesn’t take that much extra heat to cook your crop in situ. Using clear plastic will become a preferred method for ridding an area of weeds because it will get so warm underneath it.

Ah, but just as important, we must figure out how to use the extra heat to our advantage. It is a shame, perhaps even a crime, to let such warmth go to waste. If we knew it was going to be warmer, we would try okra; Alaska has been the only state gardeners can’t grow it outdoors because it is normally too cool.

Or, if you knew that we would reliably have long streaks of warm nights, you would plant tomatoes outdoors and be assured of fruit. (They drop flowers when night temperatures hits 55 degrees or so). Cucumbers and peppers without a greenhouse, anyone? At the same time, if you have a greenhouse, it might be time to put in a more powerful exhaust fan.

Hmm, longer growing seasons will allow for fruit trees and different kinds of berries. (Oh-oh, more invasives). And, we are going to have to rethink WHAT should be allowed to grow here. All of a sudden we are going to be able to plant new things. How about Metasequoias, chestnuts, Bing cherries, any manner of apple or pear or peach? I am drooling, but also a bit worried we will introduce spreaders and change things even more. (Agh, blackberries?). This is coming and we need to give it a lot more thought than we ever have.

Gee, we might even rethink our use of raised beds, needed in the past to warm the soil. That won’t be a problem much longer if predictions take hold. Given the duration of our sunlight, we will also definitely need to look into shade gardening. Wow.

Lawn care will be very different. If you knew it was going to be so hot and sunny, you might have listened to the advice in this column and watered your lawn BEFORE the extreme heat hit. And you already would have hoses and sprinklers that reach every part of your property, so shortages of such equipment be damned.

Mowing? Now is when you want to let the lawn grow out. No reason to live with that burned look. When we get the confidence that these spells are the norm, maybe Alaskan Yardeners won’t even put in lawns. Won’t that be a time!

Finally, it isn’t just practices that will change -- or rather, need to change now. Animals, insects and microbes will change as well. Gardeners need to keep vigilant. Observation is one of our best tools. Change is happening. Look for it. Share what you see. We are all in this together.

Jeff’s Alaskan garden calendar

Keep watering: Lawns should get 2 inches or so between you and Nature. Vegetable gardens as well. Shrubs and trees like a good deep soaking once or twice a week as well. Welcome to the new norm!

Potatoes: Hill yours again.

Raspberries: If they’re ripe in your neghborhood then it is time to pick them before the birds do.

Botanical sketchbooks workshop: With Ayse Gilbert, Sat.-Sun. July 20-21. $255 for members and $285 for non-members of the Alaska Botanical Garden. See alaskabg.org for details.

ABG shuttle: Shuttle service for Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally! The ABG now has a shuttle bus that goes from the Downtown Visit Anchorage Log Cabin to the Botanical Garden and back. Drop em off! See alaskabg.org for details.













Letter: The value of higher education

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:30

Alaska’s Legislature recognized the value of education and the cost of being untaught when they rejected the enormous cuts to the University of Alaska advanced in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal. Unfortunately, the governor returned to his drastic 40% cut in state support to the university by use of a line-item veto. So once again, it will be up to the Legislature to maintain a strong public university for the citizens and industry of the state. Effective colleges and universities are not built overnight. It takes decades of investments to establish the culture of learning and exploration that secures a modern economy and society. Investments in faculty and staff, in classrooms, laboratories and libraries, in students and alumni. The University of Alaska and the citizens of the state have benefited from more than a century of such investments. As the state’s legislators know, through its main campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, the university serves the entire state.

Instruction is a vital part of the university’s mission, but it is not the only part. The university’s research in oceanography, in fisheries, in arctic biology, in seismology and volcanology are not only of value to Alaska, but also to countries around the world, particularly fellow Arctic nations and those around the Pacific rim. Most of the research is supported by federal funds, an income stream that stimulates economic activity and brings distant scholars and visitors to Alaska. Cutbacks in state support to the university, and the loss of students and faculty cutbacks would entail, would severely threaten federal support and have a noticeable negative effect on the level of economic activity in the state. What takes decades to build can be rapidly shattered. Where building takes time, resources and devotion, destruction is quick and ugly and seemingly cheap. But only seemingly. In a short amount of time. the weakening of the university would become apparent across the state. Daughters and sons will be driven away, and most will not return. Businesses, hospitals and schools will find it more and more difficult to locate qualified employees. And the knowledge Alaskans will need to maintain the industries of the state and avoid the worst outcomes of a warming climate will remain more elusive.

Alaska is not a poor state. It is the opposite. In other states, government is supported by the taxes of the governed. In Alaska, the state sends its residents a yearly check generated by the Permanent Fund, a sovereign wealth fund worth more than $60 billion. Alaska is not a poor state, but it can be made poor by shrinking support for those institutions that make modern states and countries rich. The Legislature needs to protect the richness and vitality of the state by restoring the funds cut by the governor.

— Jerome B. Komisar

Former University of Alaska president

Silver Spring, Maryland

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.

Discovery of more earthquake damage adds to troubles at Port of Alaska

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 12:00

A recent examination of piles at the Port of Alaska petroleum and cement terminals revealed more extensive damage from the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck on Nov. 30, 2018. This photo shows the unraveling of a spiral weld on a pile supporting the terminal that has compromised its ability to carry vertical load and resist lateral seismic movement. (Photo courtesy Port of Alaska)

The primary users of Anchorage’s beleaguered port want city officials to delay the first major rehabilitation work at the port in years while port leaders continue to discover earthquake damage to critical infrastructure.

The eight companies that make up the informal “Port of Alaska Users Group” sent similar letters to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on June 28 and members of the Anchorage Assembly on July 12 urging them to stop advancing work to build a new petroleum and cement terminal.

They contend the municipality’s plan to start building the roughly $220 million petroleum and cement import terminal, or PCT, without having a way to pay for all of it would leave the city with a “trestle to nowhere,” according to the July 12 letter to the Assembly, and could invite tariff increases that would impact business at Anchorage’s other logistics hub.

“Fuel is a highly sensitive commodity and as the 5th busiest air cargo hub in the world, it seems imprudent not to conduct this type of analysis before proceeding down any path that might produce negative fiscal impacts to our fragile Alaskan economy. Ultimately, without knowing what the final cost of the project will be, it is impossible to determine what the appropriate tariff should be to underwrite the project, and by extension, whether the increased tariff is even feasible for the airport customers,” the July 12 letter to the Assembly states.

The port user group is composed of the general cargo shippers Tote Maritime and Matson Inc.; five fuel supplier and distribution companies; and Alaska Basic Industries, which is primarily a cement distributor.

The Anchorage Assembly officially changed the name of the city-owned port in 2017 from the Port of Anchorage to the Port of Alaska in an attempt to highlight its importance statewide and possibly drum up support for funding the rebuild.


This illustration created by the Municipality of Anchorage shows the scale of the work at the Port of Alaska compared to other landmarks. (Illustration courtesy Municipality of Anchorage)

Some sections of the pile-supported docks have been in place since 1961 and have far exceeded their initial 35-year design life. Studies indicate the pile maintenance program can keep the docks open for about another nine years before pervasive corrosion from seawater will start forcing closures.

Major construction at the port has been on hold since 2010 after major damage to the sheet pile then being installed to support new docks was discovered. The original port expansion project cost upward of $300 million but resulted in little usable infrastructure. The Municipality of Anchorage is engaged in a lawsuit against the federal Maritime Administration, or MARAD, which oversaw the failed work. The Federal Claims Court judge presiding over the lawsuit is scheduled to visit the port Aug. 1-2.

Additional quake damage discovered

Port officials stress rebuilding the docks is becoming more and more a time-sensitive issue. While the port survived the 7.1 magnitude Nov. 30 earthquake, it didn’t come out of the shaking unscathed, according to port spokesman Jim Jager.


A weld failure is seen on a pile supporting the petroleum and cement terminal at the Port of Alaska. The Municipality of Anchorage is considering a plan to start building a new terminal in 2020 if the Assembly approves the contract bid by Pacific Pile and Marine. (Photo courtesy Port of Alaska)

He said in an interview that post-earthquake inspections of the already corroded pilings supporting the docks conducted since breakup have shown the port’s two current fuel docks are the facilities most at risk of failure in another earthquake. This month, port engineers de-rated the load capacity of the Terminal 1 dock adjacent to petroleum, oil and lubricant dock No. 1 because of earthquake damage, according to Jager.

Additionally, roughly 20% of the pilings under petroleum dock No. 2 have failed, he said, and most of the damage is likely due to the earthquake.

“Engineers say that dock is vulnerable to progressive collapse. … Consequently, the dock is likely to function normally, until it doesn’t. Individual pile failures may not cause the overall dock to fail … until they create a failure that moves from one pile to adjacent piling (think of dominoes falling),” Jager added via email.

In February, city officials released a concept analysis that indicated the port’s import charges on fuels and cement would have to be increased five-fold or more if the municipality needed to sell $200 million worth of revenue bonds to pay for the new PCT.

At the time, Anchorage Municipal Manager Bill Falsey said the city was trying to spread the $60 million it has for the port modernization effort to support preconstruction work on other portions of the project; however, officials have since decided to put that $60 million toward a new PCT.

Airport cargo concerns

Port users immediately responded to the concept tariffs by stressing the cost increases would certainly have major negative consequences on their business and could also drive air cargo traffic away from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The Anchorage airport is the fifth-busiest cargo hub in the world mainly because of its position between manufacturers in East Asia and consumers in North America, and that cargo business is a large reason the airport supports 10% of the jobs in the city, according to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Refueling in Anchorage allows carriers to fill aircraft with more cargo instead of carrying the added fuel that would be needed to reach refueling hubs or destinations to the south and east.

However, the economics of the cargo business model rely on a difference of pennies per gallon between hauling more fuel or hauling more cargo, industry experts note. As a result, any tariff change at the port could impact international business at the airport, according to fuel company representatives.

The PCT tariff analysis was largely an exercise to elevate the discussion about how the work most everyone agrees needs to happen should be paid for and less a step toward actually implementing large tariff hikes, city officials have said.

“We talked to people and we agree, a tariff of that rate would have negative impacts on cargo operations at the airport,” Falsey said during a July 12 Assembly work session on the matter, adding the city will won’t do anything to drive business away from the airport or port, which could end up reducing the tariff revenue to fund port improvements.

Still, he noted that some tariff increases on most cargo crossing the Anchorage docks are likely unavoidable as the overall port rehabilitation project continues.

Port managers received a $42 million bid last month from Seattle-based Pacific Pile and Marine to build the PCT access trestle and platform next year with cathodic corrosion protection. The bid would leave the city about $100 million short of finishing the PCT, which would still need piping, utilities and mooring dolphins to secure offloading vessels, Falsey said.

City officials initially expected the “phase one” PCT work to cost closer to $60 million, and delaying the work would likely push the cost back up, Falsey added.

While not ideal, building part of the PCT would give the port a new, seismically resilient “dock” that could be used to offload fuel and cargo if an emergency — such as another major earthquake — rendered the three existing cargo terminals unusable before they are rebuilt, according to Falsey.

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on funding the contract Tuesday.

Marathon Petroleum spokesman Casey Sullivan urged the Assembly to reject the PCT construction contract and other major port work until the city has an overall financing plan. Moving ahead without full funding and a more detailed economic impact analysis of tariff increases is a signal of uncertainty to the port’s customers who would still have to plan for the most severe tariff increases possible, he and other representatives of port user companies said.

“That (PCT) trestle is good but that trestle doesn’t ultimately fix the port,” said Lev Yampolsky of Petro Star, an Alaska fuel refining company.

However, Falsey said in a brief interview that city and port officials have not been able to get specific information from fuel companies engaged in a highly competitive industry as to what level of tariff increases they would be able to absorb. Other Anchorage economic experts have similarly said getting detailed information on what would deter air cargo companies from stopping here is virtually impossible.

The municipality is also concerned delaying the work could also hurt future logistics business prospects in Anchorage as companies could see slowing the work at the port as a signal the city has no plan to rebuild the docks before they deteriorate to the point of needing to be closed, he said.

According to Falsey, the Assembly needs to approve the contract by about Aug. 1 if the city is going to have the work done next summer to allow Pacific Pile and Marine to order long lead time items such as the steel piles that would support the PCT trestle and platform.

Building the PCT to the south of the current docks will also free up port frontage needed when the larger cargo docks are replaced, port officials emphasize.

Sullivan and Yampolsky said the user companies have ideas on how to substantially lessen the $1.9 billion cost estimate for the overall port modernization project, and taking the time to develop a new, comprehensive plan would help gain the support of all the stakeholders in the project. That support will be needed to obtain large sums of federal grants or other funding for the work, they said.

Falsey and port officials have stressed they will not build a $1.9 billion port; it’s simply unaffordable, and the Assembly has hired a consultant to review the high cost estimate and suggest lower-cost alternatives. That report is due in September and the port users encouraged the Assembly to hold off on any major decisions on the port at least until then.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Letter: Governor has the right idea

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:58

Here’s a perspective. After all the wailing and mashing of teeth over the governor’s budget cuts considering the University of Alaska system, he still has left the base student allocation at 145% of the national average!

Do I approve of all things the governor is doing? No, but at least we have an adult in the room who is willing to start the conversation that we don’t have a money problem, we have a spending problem!

— Bob Lopetrone

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.

ACLU sues Dunleavy for veto to Alaska court system over abortion rulings

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:42

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his veto to the court system budget over its rulings on abortions.

The lawsuit targets Dunleavy’s veto in June of $334,700 from the court system budget. That amount, he has said, is equal to the amount the state spent on “elective abortions” last year.

[Dunleavy vetoes $335,000 from Alaska judiciary budget over court’s abortion decisions]

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Superior Court in Anchorage.

Alaska conservatives have tried repeatedly to bar the state’s Medicaid program from paying for abortions outside of cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger. Each time, they’ve been blocked by the Alaska Supreme Court, which most recently declared two such laws unconstitutional in February.

The complaint in the lawsuit describes Dunleavy’s veto as an “unprecedented affront to the Alaska Constitution” and a “startling breach” of the separation of powers. His veto was meant to punish the court “for exercising its judicial power” and to threaten the court with further budget cuts for decisions he might disagree with, the suit says.

“Such actions, if left unchecked, threaten our democracy and the core system of check and balance,” it says.

A budget document from the Dunleavy administration says of the veto: “The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction.”

Bonnie Jack and John Kauffman are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Jack is described in the suit as a lifelong Anchorage resident and Kauffman as an attorney and Anchorage resident.

The lawsuit comes amid a flurry of legal actions in recent days. On Tuesday, the Alaska Legislature sued Dunleavy for not sending out the school funding this week that legislators had appropriated in 2018.

Read the ACLU’s complaint here.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Ebola outbreak in Congo declared a global health emergency

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 10:16

In this photograph taken Sunday July 14, 2019, an Ebola victim is put to rest at the Muslim cemetery in Beni, Congo DRC. The head of the World Health Organization is convening a meeting of experts Wednesday July 17, 2019 to decide whether the Ebola outbreak should be declared an international emergency after spreading to eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, this week. More than 1,600 people in eastern Congo have died as the virus has spread in areas too dangerous for health teams to access. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Jerome Delay/)

GENEVA — The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced on Wednesday after the virus spread this week to a city of two million people .

A WHO expert committee had declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, which other experts say has long met the conditions. More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.

This week the first Ebola case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border with an international airport. Health experts have feared this scenario for months.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

While the risk of regional spread remains high the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva. "The (international emergency) should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help," he said.

This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio eradication.

WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" which constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Last month this outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative. Even then, the expert committee advised against a declaration.

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center, said Wednesday's declaration was long overdue.

"This essentially serves as a call to the international community that they have to step up appropriate financial and technical support," she said but warned that countries should be wary of imposing travel or trade restrictions.

"Those restrictions would actually restrict the flow of goods and health care workers into affected countries so they are counter-productive," she said. Future emergency declarations might be perceived as punishment and "might result in other countries not reporting outbreaks in the future, which puts us all at greater risk."


In this photograph taken Sunday July 14, 2019, a morgue employee walks with a cross past others disinfecting the entrance to the morgue in Beni, Congo DRC. The head of the World Health Organization is convening a meeting of experts Wednesday July 17, 2019 to decide whether the Ebola outbreak should be declared an international emergency after spreading to eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, this week. More than 1,600 people in eastern Congo have died as the virus has spread in areas too dangerous for health teams to access. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Jerome Delay/)
People coming from Congo have their temperature measured to screen for symptoms of Ebola, at the Mpondwe border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda Friday, June 14, 2019. In Uganda, health workers had long prepared in case the Ebola virus got past the screening conducted at border posts with Congo and earlier this week it did, when a family exposed to Ebola while visiting Congo returned home on an unguarded footpath. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi) (Ronald Kabuubi /)

WHO had been heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead. Internal documents later showed WHO held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies.

The current outbreak is spreading in a turbulent Congo border region where dozens of rebel groups are active and where Ebola had not been experienced before. Efforts to contain the virus have been hurt by mistrust by wary locals that has prompted deadly attacks on health workers. Some infected people have deliberately evaded health authorities.

The pastor who brought Ebola to Goma used several fake names to conceal his identity on his way to the city, Congolese officials said. WHO on Tuesday said the man had died and health workers were scrambling to trace dozens of his contacts, including those who had traveled on the same bus.

There was no immediate reaction to WHO's emergency declaration from Congo's health ministry, which had lobbied against it.

"Calling for a (global emergency) to raise funds while ignoring the negative consequences for (Congo) is reckless," the ministry tweeted following an editorial by Britain's secretary of state for international development in favor of a declaration. Rory Stewart announced earlier this week that Britain would donate up to another $63 million for the Ebola response and called for other countries, especially Francophone ones, to increase their support.

At a U.N. meeting on Ebola in Geneva on Tuesday, Congo's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga, said the outbreak was "not a humanitarian crisis" and that the risk of Ebola spreading to other cities or regions in Congo remained the same.

"Ebola is not rocket science, it's very simple," he said.

WHO has long called the regional Ebola risk "very high."

Earlier this week, Ugandan health officials said a Congolese fish trader had traveled to Uganda while sick and vomited several times at a local market. The woman returned to Congo last week and died after testing positive for Ebola. Ugandan officials estimate almost 600 people could be targeted for vaccination and follow-up.

Those working in the field say the outbreak is clearly taking a turn for the worse despite advances in this outbreak that include the widespread use of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

Dr. Maurice Kakule was one of the first people to survive the current outbreak after he fell ill while treating a woman last July before the outbreak had even been declared.

"What is clear is that Ebola is an emergency because the epidemic persists despite every possible effort to educate people," he told the Geneva meeting. "We have sufficiently informed them about the existence of this disease but there are still people who don't want to believe that it does."

___

Cheng reported from London. Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Beni, Congo contributed.

Former ‘Top Chef’ contestant and James Beard-nominated chef takes over Muse restaurant. So: how’s the food?

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 09:00

Spicy Spot Prawn Pasta at Muse on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

While I have always had a fond spot for Muse, the playfully chic dining space in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, it has been some time since I found myself recommending it with confidence. Despite a location that is both tourist- and locals-friendly, the spot has had its ups and downs over years of semi-regular management and menu overhauls. In short, Muse has never seemed to hit its stride for very long. So I had high hopes when I learned that Laura Cole, of 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern in Denali National Park, was primed to take over the kitchen and bring her uniquely Alaskan vision to the often foundering space.

I got my first taste of the restaurant’s new iteration on a recent First Friday when I treated myself to a little dinner before a performance in the museum’s atrium. It’s a capricious menu, changing often with the availability of local and seasonal ingredients, so I unhesitatingly ordered the artichoke soup ($9). I’m always delighted at seeing artichokes featured on local menus because my love for artichokes is exactly proportional to my dislike for preparing them.

Because artichokes are such a woody, earthy ingredient, I worried that I was making a heavy choice for a warm summer evening, so I balanced my starter with a pint of cold, dry cider from Alaska Cider Works because … science? But I needn’t have worried. This soup is so cleverly conceived – light and bright and pleasantly grassy – it tasted as if it had come to my table by way of the garden. A generous drizzle of lemon oil made the bowl fresh and fragrant, and a small heap of deep red tendrils of micro-greens (called “bull’s blood” according to the server) floated on top and did the two-part job of adding texture and slowly turning the soup into a lovely shade of rose. This transformation of the dish as you eat it feels like a metaphor for the a la minute nature of truly seasonal cooking. Apologies for waxing poetic; artichokes do that to me.

For my entrée, I opted for the spicy spot prawn pasta ($20) with house made lemon-infused semolina pasta, greens, and prosciutto in a lobster broth vodka cream sauce. It’s one of the best dishes I’ve had all year. The shrimp are plump and sweet inside with a perfect smoky char on the outside. The lobster broth is rich and flavorful but not heavy. Crisp little shards of prosciutto add salt and texture. It’s a stunning, comforting dish and I hope it will stay on the menu long enough for a return visit.


Kalamata olive flatbread at Muse, in the Anchorage Museum (Photo by Mara Severin)

I returned the following week for a late lunch with my daughter. She, a recent vegetarian, wanted the Picnic Salad ($14) which comes with greens dressed in a house made ranch sauce, apple matchsticks, crisped prosciutto, a chicken skin chip and a fried egg on top. We asked them to hold the prosciutto – to my lasting regret. This is a nice dish but the prosciutto was really needed for texture against the silkiness of the spinach, and the softness of the egg. There’s always a danger in “customizing” a dish especially in such an assured kitchen as this one. Lesson learned. Happily, I got to keep the crispy, pleasantly greasy chicken chip for myself.

We also shared two “snacks” (according to the menu). The deliciously assertive Kalamata olive flatbread ($12) – a sort of “pizza” topped with fresh mozzarella, greens, and pickled onions – as well as the smashed Alaska potatoes ($9) topped with arugula, thick shavings of Parmesan cheese, and a generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar. These were excellent dishes to share – hearty and generously portioned.


Pork belly entree at Muse Restaurant, in the Anchorage Museum (Photo by Mara Severin)

But the star of the meal (alas, sampled only by me) was my pork belly. The pork is meltingly tender and served on a satiny parsnip puree accented with a drizzle of the gastrique, which I at first mistook for honey. Pickled grapes stud this dish providing a pop of acid to balance the overall earthiness of the protein and vegetables. This is a rustic, perfectly executed dish with thoughtful, unexpected details which, to me, perfectly encapsulates the kind of cooking going on in the Muse kitchen.

One final note: I don’t often analyze, in writing at least, the overall value of each restaurant I review. Dining out in Alaska is expensive: a $16 hamburger is routine, a plate of halibut can cost upward of $40. But I was struck by the pricing on the Muse menu (at least at the times when I visited). The two most expensive entrees were marked at $22 each – one for a NY strip steak and one for a lamb dish, which strikes me as an unexpected bargain. Not many restaurants offer an elegant dining experience with attentive service and generous portions at prices that can be described as reasonable and restrained.


Chef Laura Cole prepares flank steak at Muse on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

Chef Cole, a recent Top Chef alum (Season 15) with two James Beard Award nominations under her belt, boasts an impressive culinary pedigree. And while her food is thought-provoking and nuanced, it’s also playful and approachable -- like, perhaps, a museum exhibit that really resonates. I hope it gets the audience it deserves.

Muse Restaurant

Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center

Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (last seating at 5 p.m.) and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on First Friday (last seating at 8 p.m.)

625 C Street; 907-929-9210

All day a la carte brunch on Sundays

****

$$



Northernmost inhabited site on Earth hits record high temperature

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 07:50

Temperature differences from normal during June globally, according to NASA.

Boosted by a historic heat wave in Europe and unusually warm conditions across the Arctic and Eurasia, the average temperature of the planet soared to its highest level ever recorded in June.

According to data released Monday by NASA, the global average temperature was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.93 Celsius) above the June norm (based on a 1951-to-1980 baseline), easily breaking the previous June record of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.82 Celsius), set in 2016, above the average.

The month was punctuated by a severe heat wave that struck Western Europe in particular during the last week, with numerous all-time-hottest-temperature records falling in countries with centuries-old data sets.

Notably, 13 locations in France surpassed their highest temperature ever recorded. The heat wave’s highest temperature of 114.6 degrees Fahrenheit (45.9 Celsius), posted in Gallargues-le-Montueux, was 3.2 degrees above the old record, set during an infamous heat wave in July and August 2003.


People cool off in the fountain of the Trocadero, as the Eiffel Tower is visible in background, in Paris, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) (Alessandra Tarantino/)

NASA is the second institution to confirm that it was Earth’s hottest June, as the Copernicus Climate Change Service had already determined that June 2019 was the warmest such month on record for Europe and globally.

June featured unusually mild conditions in the Arctic, particularly in Greenland, where the melt season got off to an early start.

July is picking up right where June left off. Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist based in Berkeley, California, tweeted that the month so far ranks as the hottest on record narrowly ahead of 2017, the previous record holder.

"If this July turns out to be the warmest July (it has a good shot at it), it will be the warmest month we have measured on Earth!" tweeted Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

Like June, July has featured some notable high-temperature extremes, including in Nunavut, Canada, the northernmost permanently inhabited location on Earth. It hit a record high of 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit (21.0 Celsius) Sunday, breaking the previous record of 20 Celsius.

Alert, Nunavut, the world's most northerly community, is in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave. https://t.co/tRH6xYj5p1

— CBC News (@CBCNews) July 16, 2019

In addition, Alaska last week posted its hottest two days on record, highlighted by a temperature of 90 degrees in Anchorage for the first time.

The June monthly record and July’s toasty first half raises the odds that 2019 could make a run for a top-three finish for warmest year, rather than top five. According to data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, a trend that scientists have tied mainly to human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Measles confirmed in unvaccinated Kenai Peninsula teen who traveled Outside

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 07:40

In this March 27, 2019 file photo, a woman receives a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., north of New York City. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) (Seth Wenig/)

An unvaccinated teenager from the Kenai Peninsula has become the first Alaskan in years with measles, state health officials announced this week.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday confirmed measles in the teen, who recently traveled to Arizona by way of Seattle.

The case makes Alaska the 29th state to have a confirmed case of measles in 2019.

The only people at immediate risk are those who may have been exposed and are not already immune to measles either by adequate immunization or from having the disease in the past, health officials say.

The last confirmed case of measles in an Alaskan was in 2015 in Fairbanks, in a man recently returned from Mongolia. The previous case was confirmed in 2000. Measles was also confirmed in an out-of-state cruise passenger last year, but that didn’t lead to other cases in Alaska.

The teen involved in the latest case developed symptoms of measles more than 10 days after arriving in Alaska in early July, the state says. There were at least two places some people may have been exposed: Froso’s Family Dining in Soldotna, on July 8-9 and July 11-13, and Urgent Care of Soldotna and Central Peninsula Hospital on July 14.

The patient has been isolated at home since then and is recovering, officials say.

[Unaware he had measles, a man traveled from New York to Michigan, infecting 39 people]

People who think they may have been exposed should find out if they have been vaccinated or have evidence of measles immunity and call a health care provider immediately if they develop an illness with fever or illness with unexplained rash, the state says. To avoid possibly spreading measles to other patients, officials recommend not going to a clinic or hospital without calling first to tell them you want to be evaluated for measles.

Measles symptoms could appear starting from seven days after the first exposure to twenty-one days after the last exposure, according to a state measles information website. Rash is most likely to appear 10 to 12 days after an exposure.

Measles is a highly contagious virus. The disease was declared officially eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. The majority of U.S. cases of measles now come from unvaccinated travelers visiting from abroad, officials say.

[How today’s political polarization has fueled the measles outbreak]

Worldwide, about 90,000 people die from the virus annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The agency says that one dose of measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective; two doses are 97 percent effective.

Drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán gets life sentence in U.S. federal court

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 06:37

In this Jan. 19, 2017, file photo provided by U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (U.S. law enforcement via AP, File)

NEW YORK — The Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been sentenced to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, a humbling end for a drug lord notorious for his ability to kill, bribe or tunnel his way out of trouble.

A federal judge in Brooklyn handed down the sentence Wednesday, five months after Guzman's conviction in an epic drug-trafficking case.

The 62-year-old drug lord, who had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters and an elaborate corruption operation, was brought to the U.S. to stand trial after he twice escaped from Mexican prisons.

Before he was sentenced, Guzman complained about the conditions of his confinement and told the judge he was denied a fair trial. He said U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct.

"My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching," Guzman said in court through an interpreter. "When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite."

The sentence — life plus 30 years — was pre-ordained. The guilty verdict in February at Guzman’s 11-week trial triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole . Cogan also ordered Guzman to pay $12.6 billion in ill-gotten proceeds — money his drug-trafficking organization made distributing cocaine and other drugs around the United States.

The evidence showed that under Guzman's orders, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers re-capping the trial. They also said his "army of sicarios" was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.

The defense argued he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases.

Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017 and his remarks in the courtroom Wednesday could be the last time the public hears from him. Guzman thanked his family for giving him "the strength to bare this torture that I have been under for the past 30 months."

Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, U.S. authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government's "Supermax" prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies." Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a 4-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.

While the trial was dominated by Guzman's persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn't testify.

But evidence at Guzman's trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defense table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. He famously gave an interview to American actor Sean Penn while he was a fugitive, hiding in the mountains after accomplices built a long tunnel to help him escape from a Mexican prison.

There also were reports Guzman was itching to testify in his own defense until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.

At the trial, Guzman's lawyers argued that he was the fall guy for other kingpins who were better at paying off top Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to protect them while the U.S. government looked the other way.

Prosecution descriptions of an empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers say. And the chances the U.S. government could collect on a roughly $12.5 billion forfeiture order are zero, they add.

The government’s case, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said recently, was “all part of a show trial.”

Congressman files articles of impeachment against Trump despite pushback from Democratic leaders

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 05:37

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., walks to the House Chamber, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

WASHINGTON - Rep. Al Green filed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday night, triggering a contentious vote in the coming days to confront an issue that has bitterly divided the Democratic Party.

The Texas congressman, who notified Democratic leaders of his decision on Tuesday, said the House must impeach Trump for racist remarks suggesting four minority congresswoman "go back" to their ancestral countries as well as other comments made in the past. The four Democrats - Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan - are all citizens; three were born in the United States.

"Donald John Trump has, by his statements, brought the high office of the President of the United States in contempt, ridicule, disgrace and disrepute, has sown discord among the people of the United States, has demonstrated that he is unfit to be President, and has betrayed his trust as President of the United States to the manifest injury of the people of the United States, and has committed a high misdemeanor in office," Green read from his resolution on the House floor Tuesday night."

Green's move will force House Democrats to deal with the issue in the near term because of the privileged nature of the resolution. Under House rules, Democratic leadership can decide to try to table the impeachment articles, effectively killing them for now and risk criticism from the party's liberal base; refer them to the House Judiciary Committee for possible consideration; or allow the vote to proceed.

If leaders do nothing, Green can force a vote on the impeachment articles in two legislative days.

The move comes as more than 80 members of the House have called for launching an impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has resisted, however, encouraging her chairmen to keep investigating the president for potential abuse of power and obstruction of justice.


President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Washington. Trump is accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon/)

The matter is likely to divide the caucus, which has grappled for months with the question of what to do about Trump. Even impeachment proponents seemed divided about whether it is wise to force the issue now.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he would support an immediate move to impeach the president, even voting against Democratic leaders should they try to refer the matter to committee to sideline the debate.

"In all probability, I'd vote against it, because I'm prepared to vote," he said of the possibility of leadership moving to table or refer the resolution to committee. "My district wants me to vote for the immediate impeachment of Donald Trump."

But others, like Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a strong impeachment backer, hesitated.

"We're trying to keep the caucus together as we respond to the most lawless administration of our lifetimes," Raskin said. "I'm enough of a political pragmatist to believe that you call votes when you think you can win them, not when you think you can lose them."

Certain to be wary are moderates and lawmakers from districts that Trump won in 2016 who have long feared blowback for such a vote.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who leads the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, said, "I don't think that we have completed the process or the investigations that we need to, to take that step at this time." Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., a freshman from a swing district, said he would vote against the resolution.

"I don't think we're there yet. I don't think it's healthy," he said of Green's effort.

Leaders, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois, were resigned to the likelihood that they could not stop the vote, even if they wanted to.

"I can't control what another member does, so it looks like that's going to happen and we're just going to have to deal with that," Bustos said.

Leadership officials said Pelosi would likely refer the articles of impeachment to the Judiciary Committee or table them, though her office has not weighed in on the matter. Some Democratic aides, however, worry that Pelosi could struggle to find the votes to refer to the panel because it would take a majority of her caucus. Republicans, according to a senior GOP leadership aide, are not likely to help deliver those votes.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Some have questioned the timing of Green's move. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to receive testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller next Wednesday, perhaps the most high-profile hearing in decades. Impeachment proponents hoped Mueller would spark new supporters, but they're not sure Trump's racist tweets will have the same effect.

Leadership, meanwhile, advanced a resolution condemning Trump's attacks on their colleagues, alleviating some of the pressure that party leaders were under to respond to the president's sharp words about the four congresswomen.

House Rule Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a close Pelosi ally, tried to keep the focus on the former, which was slated to pass Tuesday night.

"Look, this is an important vote we're going to have today," he said. "This is the first time that I can recall that we're actually . . . condemning the president for his words, which were racist, and it's disgusting," he said. "This is not normal. This is so divisive."

Rep. Cedric Richardson, D-La., said that if Green forces the matter, "I'm going to vote for it." But Richardson wondered whether it was "the most strategic thing right now without a game plan."

“I just don’t think that impeachment is going to happen before Mueller testifies, before we gain more evidence and all those other things,” he said.

Bethel hospital opens outpatient clinic in first phase of new facility

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 05:26

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital, center, and the Community Health Services Building, top right, are seen from the air on Thursday, August 28, 2014, in Bethel. (ERIK HILL / ADN)

BETHEL - A Southwest Alaska health care system has opened an outpatient clinic in the first phase of a new hospital launch.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. opened the clinic Monday at the tribal organization’s new regional facility in Bethel, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

The organization will open the facility in phases throughout the year, officials said.

Inpatient services are scheduled to open in two to three weeks, while dental and behavioral health is expected to follow in November.

The ability to add more staff was one of the reasons YKHC needed a new hospital, said Jim Sweeney, vice president of hospital services.

Having sufficient staff will enable dentists and medical staff to deliver health care beyond Bethel more often, Sweeney said.

"Our goal is really to bring the patient services as close to home as possible," Sweeney said. "So we want to serve people here in Bethel, but we also want to go out to the villages."

The facility's behavioral health unit will allow patients with critical mental health issues to be treated rather than being flown to Anchorage, said spokesman Mitchell Forbes.

"You're leaving your home, leaving your family, leaving your support system," Forbes said. "So for us being able to provide services in-region is about improving the quality of our patient care and patient experience."

YKHC plans to renovate its older hospital at the site and connect the two buildings. The corporation also plans to demolish the north wing of the old hospital and build a gathering space for patients, officials said.

Newly released federal data unmasks epidemic that led to 76 billion opioid pills

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 21:20

Oxycodone pills are displayed, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) (Mark Lennihan/)


America’s largest drug companies saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012 as the nation’s deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control, according to previously undisclosed company data released as part of the largest civil action in U.S. history.

The information comes from a database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States - from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city. The data provides an unprecedented look at the surge of legal pain pills that fueled the prescription opioid epidemic, which has resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths from 2006 through 2012.

Just six companies distributed 75 percent of the pills during this period: McKesson, Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart, according to an analysis of the database by The Washington Post. Three companies manufactured 88 percent of the opioids: SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt; Actavis Pharma; and Par Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Purdue Pharma, which the plaintiffs allege sparked the epidemic in the 1990s with its introduction of OxyContin, its version of oxycodone, was ranked fourth among manufacturers with about 3 percent of the market.

The volume of the pills handled by the companies skyrocketed as the epidemic surged, increasing about 51 percent from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012. By contrast, doses of morphine, a well-known treatment for severe pain, averaged slightly more than 500 million a year during the period.

Those 10 companies along with about a dozen others are now being sued in federal court in Cleveland by nearly 2,000 cities, towns and counties alleging that they conspired to flood the nation with opioids. The companies, in turn, have blamed the epidemic on overprescribing by doctors and pharmacies and on customers who abused the drugs. The companies say they were working to supply the needs of patients with legitimate prescriptions desperate for pain relief.

[Distributors, pharmacies and manufacturers respond to DEA data about opioid sales]

The database reveals what each company knew about the number of pills it was shipping and dispensing and precisely when they were aware of those volumes, year by year, town by town. In case after case, the companies allowed the drugs to reach the streets of communities large and small, despite persistent red flags that those pills were being sold in apparent violation of federal law and diverted to the black market, according to the lawsuits.

Plaintiffs have long accused drug manufacturers and wholesalers of fueling the opioid epidemic by producing and distributing billions of pain pills while making billions of dollars. The companies have paid more than $1 billion in fines to the Justice Department and Food and Drug Administration over opioid-related issues, and hundreds of millions more to settle state lawsuits.

But the previous cases addressed only a portion of the problem, never allowing the public to see the size and scope of the behavior underlying the epidemic. Monetary settlements by the companies were accompanied by agreements that kept such information hidden.

The drug companies, along with the DEA and the Justice Department, have fought furiously against the public release of the database, the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System, known as ARCOS. The companies argued that the release of the "transactional data" could give competitors an unfair advantage in the marketplace. The Justice Department argued that the release of the information could compromise ongoing DEA investigations.

Until now, the litigation has proceeded in unusual secrecy. Many filings and exhibits in the case have been sealed under a judicial protective order. The secrecy finally lifted after The Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, waged a year-long legal battle for access to documents and data from the case.

On Monday evening, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster removed the protective order for part of the ARCOS database.

Lawyers for the local governments suing the companies hailed the release of the data.

"The data provides statistical insights that help pinpoint the origins and spread of the opioid epidemic - an epidemic that thousands of communities across the country argue was both sparked and inflamed by opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies," said Paul Farrell of West Virginia, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

In statements emailed to The Post on Tuesday, the drug distributors stressed that the ARCOS data would not exist unless they had accurately reported shipments and questioned why the government had not done more to address the crisis.

"For decades, DEA has had exclusive access to this data, which can identify the total volumes of controlled substances being ordered, pharmacy-by-pharmacy, across the country," McKesson spokeswoman Kristin Chasen said.

A DEA spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday "due to ongoing litigation."

Cardinal Health said that it has learned from its experience, increasing training and doing a better job to "spot, stop and report suspicious orders," company spokeswoman Brandi Martin wrote.

AmerisourceBergen derided the release of the ARCOS data, saying it "offers a very misleading picture" of the problem. The company said its internal "controls played an important role in enabling us to, as best we could, walk the tight rope of creating appropriate access to FDA approved medications while combating prescription drug diversion."

While Walgreens still dispenses opioids, the company said it has not distributed prescription-controlled substances to its stores since 2014. "Walgreens has been an industry leader in combating this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work," said Phil Caruso, a Walgreens spokesman.

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, said the plaintiffs' allegations about the company have no merit and CVS is aggressively defending against them.

Walmart, Purdue and Endo declined to comment about the ARCOS database.

A Mallinckrodt spokesman said in a statement that the company produced opioids only within a government-controlled quota and sold only to DEA-approved distributors.

Actavis Pharma was acquired by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in 2016, and a spokeswoman there said the company "cannot speak to any systems in place beforehand."


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The Post has been trying to gain access to the ARCOS database since 2016, when the news organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DEA. The agency denied the request, saying some of the data was available on its website. But that data did not contain the transactional information the companies are required to report to the DEA every time they sell a controlled substance such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The drug companies and pharmacies themselves provided the sales data to the DEA. Company officials have testified before Congress that they bear no responsibility for the nation's opioid epidemic.

The numbers of pills the companies sold during the seven-year time frame are staggering, far exceeding what has been previously disclosed in limited court filings and news stories.

Three companies distributed nearly half of the pills: McKesson with 14.1 billion, Walgreens with 12.6 billion and Cardinal Health with 10.7 billion. The leading manufacturer was Mallinckrodt's SpecGx with nearly 28.9 billion pills, or nearly 38 percent of the market.

The states that received the highest concentrations of pills per person per year were: West Virginia with 66.5, Kentucky with 63.3, South Carolina with 58, Tennessee with 57.7 and Nevada with 54.7. West Virginia also had the highest opioid death rate during this period.

Rural areas were hit particularly hard: Norton City, Virginia, with 306 pills per person; Martinsville City, Virginia, with 242; Mingo County, West Virginia, with 203; and Perry County, Kentucky, with 175.

In a country of 306 million, the companies distributed enough pills to supply every adult and child with 36 each year.

The database is a virtual road map to the nation's opioid epidemic that began with prescription pills, spawned increased heroin use and resulted in the current fentanyl crisis, which added more than 67,000 to the death toll from 2013 to 2017.

The transactional data kept by ARCOS is highly detailed. It includes the name, DEA registration number, address and business activity of every seller and buyer of a controlled substance in the United States. The database also includes drug codes, transaction dates, and total dosage units and grams of narcotics sold.

The data tracks a dozen different opioids, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, which make up three-quarters of the total pill shipments to pharmacies.

Under federal law, drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies must report each transaction of a narcotic to the DEA, where it is logged into the ARCOS database. If company officials notice orders of drugs that appear to be suspicious because of their unusual size or frequency, they must report those sales to the DEA and hold back the shipments.

As more and more towns and cities became inundated by pain pills, they fought back. They filed federal lawsuits against the drug industry, alleging that opioids from the companies were devastating their communities. They alleged the companies not only failed to report suspicious orders, but they also filled those orders to maximize profits.

As the hundreds of lawsuits began to pile up, they were consolidated into the one centralized case in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. The opioid litigation is now larger in scope than the tobacco litigation of the 1980s, which resulted in a $246 billion settlement over 25 years.


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Judge Polster is now overseeing the consolidated case of nearly 2,000 lawsuits. The case is among a wave of actions that includes other lawsuits filed by more than 40 state attorneys general and tribal nations. In May, Purdue settled with the Oklahoma attorney general for $270 million.

In the Cleveland case, Polster has been pressing the drug companies and the plaintiffs to reach a global settlement so communities can start receiving financial assistance to mitigate the damage that has been done by the opioid epidemic.

To facilitate a settlement, Polster had permitted the drug companies and the towns and cities to review the ARCOS database under a protective order while barring public access to the material. He also permitted some court filings to be made under seal and excluded the public and press from a global settlement conference at the outset of the case.

In June 2018, The Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail asked Polster to lift the protective order covering the ARCOS database and the court filings. A month later, Polster denied the requests, even though he had said earlier that "the vast oversupply of opioid drugs in the United States has caused a plague on its citizens" and the ARCOS database reveals "how and where the virus grew." He also said disclosure of the ARCOS data "is a reasonable step toward defeating the disease."

Lawyers for The Post and the Gazette-Mail appealed Polster's ruling. They argued that the ARCOS material would not harm companies or investigations because the judge had already decided to allow the local government plaintiffs to collect information from 2006 through 2014, withholding the most recent years beginning with 2015 from the lawsuit.

"Access to the ARCOS Data can only enhance the public's confidence that the epidemic and the ensuing litigation are being handled appropriately now - even if they might not have been handled appropriately earlier," The Post's lawyer Karen Lefton wrote in her Jan. 17 appeal.

The lawyers also noted that the DEA did not object when the West Virginia attorney general's office provided partial ARCOS data to the Gazette-Mail in 2016. That data showed that drug distribution companies shipped 780 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone into the state between 2007 and 2012.

On June 20, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio sided with the news organizations. A three-judge panel reversed Polster, ruling that the protective order sealing the ARCOS database be lifted with reasonable redactions and directed the judge to reconsider whether any of the records in the case should be sealed.

On Monday, Polster lifted the protective order on the database, ruling that all the data from 2006 through 2012 should be released to the public, withholding the 2013 and 2014 data.

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The pain pill epidemic began nearly three decades ago, shortly after Purdue Pharma introduced what it marketed as a less addictive form of opioid it called OxyContin. Purdue paid doctors and nonprofit groups advocating for patients in pain to help market the drug as a safe and effective way to treat pain.

But the new drug was highly addictive. As more and more people were hooked, more and more companies entered the market, manufacturing, distributing and dispensing massive quantities of pain pills.

Purdue ended up paying a $634 million fine to the Food and Drug Administration for claiming OxyContin was less addictive than other pain medications.

Annual opioid sales nationwide rose from $6.1 billion in 2006 to $8.5 billion in 2012, according to industry data gathered by IQVIA, a health care information and consulting company.

Individual drug company revenues ranged in single years at the epidemic's peak from $403 million for opioids sold by Endo to $3.1 billion in OxyContin sales by Purdue Pharma, according to a 2018 lawsuit against multiple defendants by San Juan County, New Mexico.

Over the past two decades, Florida became ground zero for pill mills - pain management clinics that served as fronts for corrupt doctors and drug dealers. They became so brazen that some clinics set up storefronts along I-75 and I-95, advertising their products on billboards by interstate exit ramps. So many people traveled to Florida to stock up on oxycodone and hydrocodone, they were sometimes referred to as "prescription tourists."

The route from Florida to Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio became known as the "Blue Highway." It was named after the color of one of the most popular pills on the street - 30 mg oxycodone tablets made by Mallinckrodt, which shipped more than 500 million of the pills to Florida between 2008 and 2012.

When state troopers began pulling over and arresting out-of-state drivers for transporting narcotics, drug dealers took to the air. One airline offered nonstop flights to Florida from Ohio and other Appalachian states, and the route became known as the Oxy Express.

A decade ago, the DEA began cracking down on the industry. In 2005 and 2006, the agency sent letters to drug distributors, warning them that they were required to report suspicious orders of painkillers and halt sales until the red flags could be resolved. The letter also went to drug manufacturers.

Even one distributor that doesn't follow the law "can cause enormous harm," the 2006 DEA letter said.

DEA officials said the companies paid little attention to the warnings and kept shipping millions of pills in the face of suspicious circumstances.

As part of its crackdown, the DEA brought a series of civil enforcement cases against the largest distributors.

The corporations to date have paid nearly $500 million in fines to the Justice Department for failing to report and prevent suspicious drug orders, a number that is dwarfed by the revenue of the companies.

But the settlements of those cases revealed only limited details about the volume of pills that were being shipped.

In 2007, the DEA brought a case against McKesson. The DEA accused the company of shipping millions of doses of hydrocodone to Internet pharmacies after the agency had briefed the company about its obligations under the law to report suspicious orders.

"By failing to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that it received from rogue Internet pharmacies, the McKesson Corporation fueled the explosive prescription drug abuse problem we have in this country," the DEA's administrator said at the time.

In 2008, McKesson agreed to pay a $13.25 million fine to settle the case and pledged to more closely monitor suspicious orders from its customers.

That same year, the DEA brought a case against Cardinal Health, accusing the nation's second-largest drug distributor of shipping millions of doses of painkillers to online and retail pharmacies without notifying the DEA of signs that the drugs were being diverted to the black market.

Cardinal settled the case by paying a $34 million fine and promising to improve its suspicious monitoring program.

Some companies were repeat offenders.

In 2012, the DEA began investigating McKesson again, this time for shipping suspiciously large orders of narcotics to pharmacies in Colorado. One store in Brighton, population 38,000, was ordering 2,000 pain pills per day. The DEA discovered that McKesson had filled 1.6 million orders from its Aurora, Colorado, warehouse between 2008 and 2013 and reported just 16 as suspicious. None involved the Colorado store.

DEA agents and investigators said they had amassed enough information to file criminal charges against McKesson and its officers, but they were overruled by federal prosecutors. The company wound up paying a $150 million fine to settle, a record amount for a diversion case.

Also in 2012, Cardinal Health attracted renewed attention from the DEA when it discovered that the company was again shipping unusually large amounts of painkillers to its Florida customers. The company had sold 12 million oxycodone pills to four pharmacies over four years.

In 2011, Cardinal shipped 2 million doses to a pharmacy in Fort Myers, Florida. Comparable pharmacies in Florida typically ordered 65,000 doses per year.

The DEA also noticed that Cardinal was shipping unusually large amounts of oxycodone to a pair of CVS stores near Sanford, Florida. Between 2008 and 2011, Cardinal sold 2.2 million pills to one of the stores. In 2010, that store purchased 885,900 doses - a 748 percent increase over the previous year. Cardinal did not report any of those sales as suspicious.

Cardinal later paid a $34 million fine to settle the case. The DEA suspended the company from selling narcotics from its warehouse in Lakeland, Florida. CVS paid a $22 million fine.

As the companies paid fines and promised to do a better job of stopping suspicious orders, they continued to manufacture, ship and dispense large amounts of pills, according to the newly released data.

"The depth and penetration of the opioid epidemic becomes readily apparent from the data," said Peter Mougey, a lawyer for the plaintiffs from Pensacola, Florida. "This disclosure will serve as a wake-up call to every community in the country. America should brace itself for the harsh reality of the scope of the opioid epidemic. Transparency will lead to accountability."

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The Washington Post’s Aaron Williams, Andrew Ba Tran, Jenn Abelson, Aaron C. Davis and Christopher Rowland contributed to this report.

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