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Updated: 1 hour 55 min ago

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

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 21:14

A yearlong legal battle waged by The Washington Post and HD Media, publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, resulted in a ruling Monday releasing government data tracking sales of billions of opioid pills in the U.S. from 2006 to 2012.

The data in the Drug Enforcement Administration's Drug Automation of Reports and Consolidated Order System, known as ARCOS, 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.

Lawsuits against the drug companies now say they allowed some of the highly addictive 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.

The Post on Tuesday asked opioid distributors, pharmacies and manufacturers to respond to information contained in the database. The paper also asked them to respond to three major allegations made by plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits:

1. That your company helped fuel the opioid epidemic by manufacturing, distributing or dispensing hundreds of millions of pain pills.

2. That your company along with other companies conspired to flood the nation with opioids.

3. That your company failed to report suspicious orders to the DEA and filled those orders to maximize profits.

The Post also asked for comment from the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an industry trade group.

These were their public statements to The Post:

- - -

DISTRIBUTORS

AmericansourceBergen: "Broadly providing retroactive DEA data to plaintiffs' law firms solely for litigation purposes offers a very misleading picture regarding efforts being made around diversion. This data has never previously been given to anyone outside DEA, and therefore has not been available to inform the order monitoring programs and decision-making of distributors like AmerisourceBergen.

"After providing daily order reports to DEA, distributors such as AmerisourceBergen have at no time been privy to how this information was used by DEA, despite consistently seeking guidance on how to most effectively walk the tightrope of providing access to needed, FDA-approved medications while playing a role - however limited, given lack of interaction with patients - in combating the diversion of these same medications.

"Only recently did DEA share any of this data with distributors or manufacturers, when it was compelled to through the passage of the SUPPORT Act in late 2018 to make limited information from the database available to distributors.

"The fact that our market share of these controlled substances seems to be far smaller than our total market share is a testament to the fact that our 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 combatting prescription drug diversion."

Cardinal Health: "Cardinal Health is an intermediary in the pharmaceutical supply chain and plays an important but limited and specific role: to provide a secure channel to deliver medications of all kinds from the hundreds of manufacturers that make them to our thousands of hospital and pharmacy customers licensed to dispense them to patients, and to work diligently to spot, stop and report suspicious orders of medications.

"Cardinal Health is proud to operate a constantly adaptive and rigorous system to combat controlled substance diversion. We have learned from our experience and the threats the pharmaceutical supply chain faces, and as a result our anti-diversion program today is stronger and more effective as it continues to evolve. We have increased the size of our anti-diversion team, including bringing in personnel with additional regulatory, pharmaceutical, and law enforcement experience. We have developed an analytical model to evaluate our pharmacy customers, assigned threshold ordering limits to them, created a centralized database to store and track data on customers and orders, and enhanced policies and procedures for anti-diversion personnel. Over the years, we have trained thousands of our people on anti-diversion practices. Our people operate in good faith, our goal is to get it right, and we have stopped suspicious orders for the shipment of hundreds of millions of dosage units of controlled substances over the last decade.

"As we fulfil our role in the closed supply chain, we are in full compliance with all applicable federal and state laws, which include the requirement to report to state and federal regulators those orders deemed suspicious, despite there being only vague guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration on what constitutes an unusual, or suspicious, order.

"We report those suspicious orders to state boards of pharmacy and to the DEA, but we do not know what these government entities do with those reports, if anything. Distributors have no law enforcement power and, unlike the regulators which oversee and regulate the manufacture, distribution, prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances, cannot stop physicians from writing prescriptions for medication nor take unilateral action to block DEA- and state-licensed pharmacies' ability to dispense medication.

"Cardinal Health shares the judgment of top policymakers that too many prescriptions have been written for too many opioid pills over the past decade, a trend that began with changes in the medical community's attitudes toward managing pain. The DEA, the only entity with the ability to limit production of prescription opioids as it sets an annual quota of the amount allowed to be manufactured, also until recently continuously raised these annual production quotas. From 2006 to 2014, the DEA's authorized quota rose 140%. Thus, the quantity of opioid pills sold is a direct reflection of the number of prescriptions written by healthcare providers and filled by licensed dispensers, neither of which wholesale distributors can influence.

"Cardinal Health cares deeply about the opioid epidemic and takes seriously our commitment, in cooperation with everyone else in the prescription drug supply chain - state and federal government regulators, pharmaceutical manufacturers, doctors and other healthcare providers, insurers and pharmacies - to find and support solutions to this national challenge.

"In addition, Cardinal Health will continue, as we have for over a decade, to make a meaningful difference by raising awareness about the dangers of overprescribing and actively supporting efforts to address it. We also will continue to vigorously defend ourselves in all opioid-related legal matters."

McKesson Corp.: "As the ARCOS data demonstrates, McKesson has consistently disclosed controlled substance transactions to the DEA. 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 distributes prescription opioids and other medications in response to orders placed by state-licensed and DEA-registered pharmacies, and those pharmacies may only dispense these medications to patients with a valid prescription written by a government-licensed health care provider.

"The allegations made by the plaintiffs are just that - allegations. They are unproven, untrue and greatly oversimplify the evolution of this health crisis as well as the roles and responsibilities of the many players in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Any suggestion that McKesson influenced the volume of opioids prescribed or consumed in this country would reflect a misunderstanding of our role as a distributor."

- - -

PHARMACIES

CVS: "The plaintiffs' allegations about CVS in this matter have no merit and we are aggressively defending against them. The fact is that we are committed to the highest standards of ethics and business practices, including complying with all federal and state laws governing the dispensing of controlled substance prescriptions.

"We are also dedicated to helping reduce prescription drug abuse and diversion. We have stringent policies, procedures and tools to help ensure that our pharmacists properly exercise their professional responsibility to evaluate controlled substance prescriptions before filling them.

"Over the past several years, we have taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation's opioid epidemic. This includes millions of hours training our pharmacy teams about responsibilities and best practices regarding controlled substances.

"When reviewing information in the ARCOS database about CVS, it is important to keep the following in mind for context:

"We did not, and still do not, distribute Schedule II controlled substances such as oxycodone and fentanyl. We only distribute Schedule III-V controlled substances to our retail pharmacies.

"CVS Pharmacy is one of the two largest retail pharmacies in the nation. During the covered time period of 2006-2012, CVS had an average market share of over 18% for all retail prescriptions dispensed in the country. During those last two years, our market share for all retail prescriptions dispensed nationally was 20-21%.

"We dispensed over 4.2 billion retail prescriptions during that time period and opioid medications were a very small percentage of that total.

"Pharmacies dispense medication, including controlled substances, to patients who have authorized prescriptions written by doctors, physicians and other prescribers."

Walgreens: "Walgreens pharmacists are highly trained professionals committed to dispensing legitimate prescriptions that meet the needs of our patients. Walgreens has not distributed prescription controlled substances since 2014 and before that time only distributed to our chain of pharmacies. Walgreens has been an industry leader in combatting this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work."

Walmart: Declined to comment.

- - -

MANUFACTURERS

Actavis Pharma: "Teva acquired Actavis in 2016 and cannot speak to any systems in place beforehand. I can also not confirm any of your statistics without more specificity on medicines, locations and additional detail.

"That said, overall, generic medicines automatically replace branded medicines at the pharmacy with absolutely no influence from Teva. Teva has not conspired, failed to report suspicious orders or contributed to the abuse of opioids in the U.S. in any way. We maintain a comprehensive and robust system to prevent suspicious orders from ever entering the market."

Endo Pharmaceuticals: "Regarding the lawsuit, it is Endo's policy not to comment on current litigation. Our comments regarding the topic of opioids can be found on our website. In the letter, Endo states:

"Since its founding as a family business in 1920, Endo has evolved into a generics and specialty branded pharmaceutical company whose products help millions of patients lead healthier lives. We are deeply concerned about the opioid abuse crisis, a public health challenge unprecedented in scope, severity and complexity. We believe this crisis can only be solved through intensive collaboration among the multiple stakeholders involved in our healthcare system.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has worked to balance access to pain care medications for appropriate patients while aggressively mitigating the risks of opioid abuse. Endo supports these efforts and has taken parallel actions. Since our new Executive Leadership Team began working together in September 2016, Endo voluntarily stopped promoting opioid products to healthcare professionals and eliminated the Company's entire pain product salesforce. Endo also voluntarily withdrew Opana® ER from the market, discontinued the research and development of new opioid products and implemented additional anti-diversion measures, including product serialization aimed at thwarting counterfeiting and theft to protect patient safety.

"While we are proud of Endo's actions, neither we nor any other single actor can solve the opioid abuse crisis. Instead, any solution must be multifaceted and consider not only the product supply chain, but also individual risk factors and other factors affecting utilization decisions, together with scientific, legislative and regulatory measures, training, treatment and education. Criminal trafficking of opioids (including heroin and fentanyl), illegal Internet sales and importation must also be addressed. Finally, the legitimate access needs of the millions of patients suffering from acute or chronic pain who rely on opioid medications must be considered. We remain committed to working collaboratively and proactively on a comprehensive solution to the opioid abuse crisis and to continuing Endo's longstanding mission of improving patients' lives."

Mallinckrodt: "The Drug Enforcement Administration determines the total quantity of Schedule II opioids needed each year to meet legitimate medical, scientific and research needs in the U.S. Our DEA registrant company, SpecGx LLC, cannot and does not produce more opioids than the annual limit set for the company by the DEA. SpecGx sells only to DEA-approved distributors and other entities, who are themselves registered with and monitored by the DEA. In addition, through its ARCOS database, DEA monitors the flow of these DEA controlled substances from their point of manufacture through commercial distribution channels to point of sale or distribution at the dispensing/retail level.

“Mallinckrodt has for years been at the forefront of preventing prescription drug diversion and abuse, and has invested millions of dollars in a multi-pronged program to address opioid abuse. Those efforts include the purchase and donation of nearly two million drug disposal pouches, and working with policymakers, community leaders, law enforcement and industry partners to ensure the responsible use of pain medication and preventing unused medications from ending up in the wrong hands. The company will continue to support these efforts. For more information on Mallinckrodt’s work to combat prescription drug abuse and misuse, please visit www.mallinckrodt.com/solutions (mallinckrodt.com).”

Purdue Pharma: "We have no further comment on the release of the ARCOS data beyond what was stated in our brief.

"Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the claims brought forth in the MDL, which are based on mischaracterizations and allegations we believe are without merit. We are confident in the strength of our legal arguments, and will continue to defend ourselves in the litigation."

- - -

TRADE GROUP

Healthcare Distribution Alliance: “The ARCOS data show that distributors have consistently reported sales of opioid-based medications, along with the quantity of the order and the identity of the receiving pharmacy to the DEA. Distributors only recently received access to the full set of data with information about the total shipment of opioid medicines a particular pharmacy received from all distributors. The DEA has been the only entity to have all of this data at their fingertips and it could have used the information to consistently monitor the supply of opioids and when appropriate, proactively identify bad actors. Unlike the DEA, distributors have no authority to stop physicians from writing prescriptions, nor can they take unilateral action to halt pharmacies’ ability to dispense medication.”

Fun things to do this week around Anchorage

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 20:16

The One Where Poor People Live Comfortably in Manhattan — It’s time to put your trivia knowledge to the test and compete in this quiz that covers all 10 seasons of “Friends.” Trivia winners will receive a cash prize. Hosted by Williwaw and Geeks who Drink. The event is for those 21 and older and registration is required. $5. 3 p.m. Saturday July 20, Williwaw Social, 609 F St. (williwawsocial.com)

Total Loss: A Comedy Show About Death — Boston comedian Will Martin will present a half comedy and half tribute show about something everyone has in common: death. No cover. 7:30-10 p.m. Saturday July 20, Koot’s, 2435 Spenard Rd. (koots.com)

Mat-Su Valley Fiber Festival — This festival features everything great about animal fiber and will feature goats, sheep, rabbits and vendors, as well as a cavy show, or a presentation of small rodents. Free admission. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday July 20, Alaska State Fairgrounds, 2075 Glenn Hwy. (Details on Facebook)

Apollo 11 Anniversary Event — The UAA Planetarium teamed up with the Anchorage Museum and other lunar fanatics to create a celebration of the moon landing featuring hands-on activities like constructing rockets or moon craters. There will also be films about the Apollo missions and current NASA missions. Free. 12-4 p.m. Saturday July 20, UAA Planetarium, 3101 Science Cir.

West End Block Party — This block party and Visit Anchorage business exchange celebrates summer with a beer and margarita garden, live music from H3, face painting and art activities. There will also be cheap eats and picnic fare from Snow City and Captain Cook. Free admission. 4-8:30 p.m. Wednesday July 24, Snow City Cafe, 1034 W Fourth Ave. (Details on Facebook)

Live After Five Featuring The Hannah Yoter Band — Alaska-based group, The Hannah Yoter Band, will play a mix of country, folk and bluegrass at this concert series. There will also be food, beer and family-friendly activities. Free. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday July 25, Anchorage Town Square, 544 W Fifth Ave.

Alaska Native groups criticize Sen. Reinbold for ‘inflammatory’ Facebook post

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 18:42

Lora Reinbold at the Republican Party of Alaska gathering at the Top of the World restaurant at the Hilton Anchorage on Nov. 8, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

Three of Alaska’s largest Native organizations have called on state Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, to publicly retract statements she made recently on Facebook that they described as ill-informed and inflammatory.

In a letter dated Monday, the Alaska Federation of Natives, Alaska Regional Association and the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association expressed dismay at Reinbold’s post.

“Senator Reinbold we respect you as (an) elected public official. However, the position comes with a wide platform that requires the responsible dissemination of information,” reads the letter, which is signed by Alaska Federation of Natives president Julie Kitka; Alaska Regional Association executive director Kim Reitmeier; and Alaska Native Village Corporation Association executive director Hallie Bisset. “Your July 11 Facebook post failed to meet this standard. We urge you to study the other sides of the issues you raised, and to consider updating your Facebook post.”

Reinbold’s original post — which has since been modified — questioned Alaska Native corporations, which she claimed receive state and federal subsidies yet fail to care for Alaska Natives.

“Why do these corporations (that were given tremendous money and land, basically free, partly to help allow the oil pipeline to be built) need so many state subsidies still?” Reinbold wrote. “Are the native corporations taking care of the native people as they agreed to? How much in taxes do they pay to the state coffers with the billions of dollars of revenue they generate? Unlike the average citizen, the Regional corps get rights to resources below their land.”

Reinbold later updated the post by removing the words “basically free,” changing “state” to “state/federal” and changing “as they agreed to” to “as they should.” She also added an “addendum” in which she said she admitted a lack of knowledge on the complicated Native claims laws passed by Congress in the 1970s.

“I didn’t intend to offend anyone,” she wrote. “Yes I admit I was young when (ANCSA) and ANILCA took place -- my history is rusty.”

She went on to say her questions were valid in light of the fact Native corporations have “entered into our budget battle publicly” and that many Alaskans have questions about “Native rights/privileges 8A contracts and equal protections for all regardless of race.”

“When powerful wealthy native corporations go public and claim to still need state (and federal) subsidies, its our responsibility to ask tough questions- even when we are chided. Every dollar government spends was taken from the private sector and should be prioritized, spent wisely and accounted for,” she wrote.

On Tuesday, Reinbold she had already corrected her post and was too busy with ongoing budget negotiations to comment further.

“That’s a discussion for another day,” she wrote in a text message. “Today we must focus (on) funding PFD and crime bills and get a capital budget.”

In their letter, the three Native groups said they receive no subsidies from the state, and that there is no agreement in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act requiring them to provide social services to Native people — though they do, indeed, provide a variety of services through a variety of charitable organizations.

“Native corporations improve the life outcomes of Alaska Natives through affiliated and non-affiliated non-profits,” they wrote in the letter, which was also sent to the Alaska State Senate and Alaska House of Representatives. “ANCs do this because of a strong sense of pride in Native ownership and corporate responsibility. This does not, however, abdicate the State’s Article VII constitutional responsibilities to provide for the public education, public health, and public welfare of Alaskans, including Alaska Natives.”

The letter went on to criticize Reinbold’s assertion Native corporations were given land “basically free,” a statement the groups called “incorrect and inflammatory.” Instead, the letter says the corporations — which were created under ANCSA — received $947 million from the U.S. government in exchange for relinquishing their aboriginal rights to the land.

The groups also told Reinbold her comments about the taxes paid by Native corporations were off base, and pointed out that 85% of Native corporations’ income is returned to their respective villages. The groups concluded the letter by inviting Reinbold to meet with them to better understand the state of Alaska Native corporations and Alaska Native land claims.

According to AFN, the group represents all of Alaska’s 12 regional for-profit and 12 regional nonprofit organizations, as well as 172 village for-profit corporations and 191 of Alaska’s federally represented tribes — in total, one in five Alaskans.

When signed into law, ANCSA divided Alaska into 12 regions and settled Alaska Native land claims by creating a system of regional corporations made

up of shareholders from local villages and tribes. The settlement paid Alaska Natives nearly $1 billion, with the regional and village corporations selecting some 44 million acres of land with which to start their companies.

According to the Alaska Resource Development Council, Alaska’s Native corporations now employ 58,000 people worldwide, including 16,000 in Alaska. The corporations include some of Alaska’s largest, including Utqiagvik-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp., which employs 12,000 people around the world and is the state’s largest Alaska-owned company.

DV.load("https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6204582-Reinbold-Letter.js", { responsive: true, container: "#DV-viewer-6204582-Reinbold-Letter" }); Reinbold Letter (PDF)
Reinbold Letter (Text)

Nonprofit giving experts say donations from Alaskans can’t make up funding losses caused by vetoes

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 18:37

Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of Rasmuson Foundation, photographed March 29, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Bill Roth / ADN /)

Experts in charitable giving in Alaska say that there is no way private donors, corporations and foundations can fill the massive gap caused by the loss of state funding related to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes.

Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of Rasmuson Foundation, the largest private funder in the state, said that the total of all the private funding available, including from individual donors, corporate donors and foundations, amounts to an estimated $80 million.

“The gap we’re talking about is $1.6 billion,” she said, referring to the difference between revenue and spending that the governor and the Legislature have been wrestling with. “It’s a drop in the bucket.”

In late June, Dunleavy announced $444 million in line-item budget vetoes affecting a wide swath of programs, from the University of Alaska to Medicaid to preschool to the arts.

[Impasse continues as Alaska lawmakers push different visions for budget, Permanent Fund dividend]

In Alaska’s contentious budget discussion, some, including the governor, have suggested that as government funds for nonprofits recede, private donors might step in to replace them. In a news conference on Monday, for example, Dunleavy suggested that along with other city revenue, private donors might ease the impacts of major cuts to homeless services in Anchorage. But Kaplan and others in the Alaska nonprofit world have collected data about both how Alaskans give and how much it’s possible to raise in-state. They say the private pockets aren’t deep enough to cover the massive losses.

“It’s a ridiculous suggestion,” Kaplan said.

The governor’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment from the governor.

Alaskans tend to give time, not money

Charitable giving in Alaska is influenced by unique factors that limit how much money can be raised and how fast, said Laurie Wolf, who heads up The Foraker Group, which works with nonprofits across the state.

[Read more coverage on the governor’s vetoes and the legislature]

The tradition of cash philanthropy in Alaska is young, and there isn’t a lot of what’s called “generational wealth," which might come from a family that accrued wealth several generations ago and is in the habit of giving. Residents also tend to be more transient, Wolf said, which might also keep them from making a significant donation. The world of corporate and foundation giving, like the state’s population, is small.

“On the corporate and foundation side, we just don’t have that many. It’s not New York City,” she said.


Foraker Group president and CEO Laurie Wolf meets with vice president of programs Chellie Skoog on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in Wolf's office. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

Another factor is that Alaskans don’t tend to donate money to charity as much as residents of other states. According to a Foraker study from 2017, of Alaskans who itemized their income taxes, 16% showed charitable donations. The U.S. average is 24%. That number does not include contributions by people who don’t itemize or people who give to people or organizations that are not nonprofits. On the other hand, Alaskans have some of the highest rates of volunteering in the country, she said. And the tradition of giving tangible things, like subsistence foods, to neighbors and family is strong and can’t be quantified.

“We more space to grow in giving back in a financial way to the things we care about,” Wolf said. “Sometimes people confuse time and money. We’re super good at giving our time, we don’t understand how it’s different than money.”

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

Corporations can’t carry all the weight either, she said.

“Every company is telling us the requests far outnumber the amount that they are giving,” she said. “Could corporations give more money, they could if they wanted to, but they still couldn’t fill the gap. ... That’s not a realistic expectation.”

Another important consideration is that state monies leverage other matching monies, like federal or private donations, she said. Losing state dollars means losing other funds.

“We leverage each other’s gifts to make the Alaska we want. If you take out a piece of that, it unravels," Wolf said.

‘We haven’t seen a plan’

There is deep concern among nonprofits that the state lacks a plan for the overnight loss in services that nonprofits provide for children, mentally ill people, domestic violence survivors, homeless people, low-income seniors and people in supported housing, Wolf said.

“You can stop funding things, but people don’t disappear, children need to go to preschool so their parents can go to work, we still have seniors, we still have people who experience mental illness, we still have people who experience homelessness,” Wolf said.

[Anchorage’s biggest homeless shelter closes during the day, braces for drastic budget cuts]

It’s unknown whether the governor considered the practical problems caused by the vetoes, she said, and whether there is a contingency beyond the hope private donors will come forward.

“We haven’t seen a plan,” she said.

Jason Grenn, spokesman for United Way of Anchorage, said that nonprofits have pulled together in the wake of the vetoes, looking for innovative ways to deliver services that might help soften some of the blow. Even a modest increase in donations requires time and building relationships, he said. The problems with funding losses, however, are immediate.

“Showing the real-life impacts of all of these different budget cuts, you might see a shift, I hope anyway, for people’s capacity for giving, but it’s not something that’s filled in overnight,” he said.

Foraker has worked with governors for 19 years, Wolf said, but this administration would not meet with her agency in advance of the vetoes so that they could develop contingencies. Kaplan also said that her organization reached out to the governor’s office early in the budget process about projects funded jointly by the foundation and the state, but got no response.

“We said, ‘Governor, let’s work together, what do you want to continue, what do you want to change, what ideas do you have?’ ” she said "There was nothing, he hasn’t been willing to meet with us.”

Many of the programs nonprofits run save money by preventing expensive problems and reduce human suffering, Wolf said. For example, when mentally ill people people lose housing, as some will because of cuts, they end up on the street and are more likely to use emergency services, which costs the public.

“The problems don’t go away," she said. "They just get more expensive.”

Pick.Click.Give isn’t enough

Some have suggested that if Alaskans are given $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend checks, they might contribute at high levels through Pick.Click.Give, a program that allows people to pick individual organizations and donate part of their checks. Kaplan said that Pick.Click.Give generates $2.7 million, which is spread among 628 organizations.

“To make up for the cuts, every Alaskan, including children and babies, would have to donate their entire PFD,” she said.

Some people dealing with immediate losses related to service cuts like those to Medicaid dental care, for example, have turned to private individual fundraisers, like GoFundMe. Grenn and Kaplan said that suggestion isn’t sustainable on a large scale.

“I don’t think anyone would advise that your health care plan would be to pop up on social media and ask strangers for money,” Grenn said.

Kaplan cited 11,000 low-income seniors who lost benefits with the vetoes.

“Are all 11,000 going to do a GoFundMe? Do they even know how to do a GoFundMe?” she said. “I don’t think so. These are people who are barely scraping by in housing and some percentage are going to lose their housing.”

Wolf said the extreme situation for nonprofit organizations may change the charitable giving habits of some Alaskans, which is positive.

“If people are inspired to give more to these organizations, based on this budget and these conversations, great," she said. "But it’s not enough.”

Gov. Dunleavy is getting his way so far. But at what price?

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 18:09

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 Legislature’s failure to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes would be an interesting topic for a political science class if the consequences were not so devastating.

Dunleavy has followed the path of minority rule, and minority rule in a democracy is always of interest to students of politics. How do you justify minority power over the majority and what mechanisms are available to implement it?

In classrooms, students routinely are taught the importance of protecting minority rights. American history, students learn, is replete with controversies over the limits of majority rule. The U.S. Constitution itself was born of one of these controversies. In 1789, how could tiny Rhode Island protect itself from the behemoth next door, Massachusetts? Equal representation in the Senate was one way.

The history of the struggle to end slavery can be seen as a protracted battle over of the property rights of the slave-holding minority. Slaveholders built an intricate intellectual and legal structure to maintain their minority power, backed by force. The American majority stripped them of their slaves not after debate but through violence - the Civil War.

In Alaska, Gov. Dunleavy has the mechanism for minority rule over the budget - the veto - but does not have a majority of the Legislature behind him, nor a majority of the public. Legislators say they have received thousands of messages damning Dunleavy. Civic and business leaders have spoken out against the cuts to the university, Medicaid, public schools, the arts and old folks’ benefits. I would wager the majority of paid lobbyists, so often trashed for everything that smells in Juneau, are against the vetoes. They have too many clients who directly benefit from government spending and the stable political system Gov. Dunleavy upended.

The governor's oft-repeated justification for the cuts is: There is no choice. Government doesn't have the money to do what it did in the past.

Governments always have a choice, no matter how unpalatable. Subsidizing oil companies is a choice. Rejecting all forms of state taxation is a choice. Demanding a $3,000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend while laying off thousands of workers is a choice. Gov. Dunleavy has said that it is fine by him if the cuts shackle government - and that is what he intends to do, while championing the genius of the free enterprise system as the solution to our difficulties. Whatever free enterprise can do, it will never respond rapidly enough to rescue teens whose college plans have been ruined.

Don't misunderstand; The governor has Alaskans who agree with him - maybe a third of the Legislature and a chunk of public opinion perpetually riled up about big government. In the 2018 election, the Governor received 51.44 of the vote. It is a good guess there are people who picked Dunleavy who now think "I voted for the guy because he was the best choice at the time. I didn't expect him to eliminate my job."

By governing via veto, Gov. Dunleavy has abandoned persuasion for coercion, and he has magnified his weaknesses in the rest of the legislative process. He can't pass Constitutional amendments by himself. He can't appropriate money by himself. Non-budgetary legislation he introduces will face a new level of scrutiny and hostility from burned lawmakers.

Governors understand that they will make enemies. Bill Walker knew this when he reduced the amount of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. But governors rarely set out to make enemies as Dunleavy has.

I have heard people say Gov. Dunleavy is a tool of the Koch brothers, the right-wing billionaires. There is some evidence for this, given Dunleavy’s relationship with the Koch-created group Americans for Prosperity.

But however close Dunleavy is with the brothers, it is clear that he understands two of the core Koch beliefs, rarely expressed publicly by the Koch family members themselves but commonly heard from the university and think-tank intellectuals who have joined the Kochs.

First, to succeed, you must use the legislative rules to maximum advantage and then change the rules to your advantage through Constitutional amendments.

Second, killing major state-funded programs is never popular with a majority of voters. Too many people (“takers, not makers,” in Koch-speak) benefit from student loans, Medicaid, power cost subsidies. A referendum on dismantling the university would never pass. Gov. Dunleavy knew this when he began his veto review. The cries of pain were expected, even those of establishment Republicans like Senate President Cathy Giessel.

Gov. Dunleavy has had his way, but he has paid a price - to his reputation, to public respect for his office. He has been especially hurt by his inability to either show (or fake) empathy for the people he is damaging.

In candidate Dunleavy's 2018 election-pamphlet statement, he concluded "Too many politicians have squandered the trust of the people with broken promises on the PFD, taxes, the budget, and other issues. I am committed to earning that trust back, the only way I know how; by keeping promises and commitments."

At the moment, Gov. Dunleavy's trust department is earning a rate of return of about zero.

Michael Carey is an Anchorage Daily News columnist. He can be reached at mcarey@adn.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens dies at 99

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 17:44

FILE - In this April 30, 2014 file photo, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens prepares to testify on the ever-increasing amount of money spent on elections as he appears before the Senate Rules Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court's leading liberal, died Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99. (AP Photo, File) (Uncredited/)

WASHINGTON — John Paul Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court’s leading liberal, died Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99.

During nearly 35 years on the court, Stevens stood for the freedom and dignity of individuals, be they students or immigrants or prisoners. He acted to limit the death penalty, squelch official prayer in schools, establish gay rights, promote racial equality and preserve legal abortion. He protected the rights of crime suspects and illegal immigrants facing deportation.

He influenced fellow justices to give foreign terrorism suspects held for years at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base the right to plead for their release in U.S. courts.

Stevens served more than twice the average tenure for a justice, and was only the second to mark his 90th birthday on the high court. From his appointment by President Gerald Ford in 1975 through his retirement in June 2010, he shaped decisions that touched countless aspects of American life.

He remained an active writer and speaker into his late 90s, surprising some when he came out against Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation following Kavanaugh's angry denial of sexual assault allegations. Stevens wrote an autobiography, "The Making of a Justice: My First 94 Years," that was released just after his 99th birthday in April 2019.

At first considered a centrist, Stevens came to be seen as a lion of liberalism. But he rejected that characterization.

“I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” Stevens told The New York Times in 2007. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.”


FILE - In this May 29, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama awards former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court's leading liberal, died Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Carolyn Kaster/)

The way Stevens saw it, he held to the same ground, but the court had shifted steadily to the right over the decades, creating the illusion that he was moving leftward.

He did change his views on some issues, however. He morphed from a critic of affirmative action to a supporter, and came to believe the death penalty was wrong.

His legal reasoning was often described as unpredictable or idiosyncratic, especially in his early years on the court. He was a prolific writer of separate opinions laying out his own thinking, whether he agreed or disagreed with the majority's ruling. Yet Stevens didn't consider his methods novel. He tended toward a case-by-case approach, avoided sweeping judicial philosophies, and stayed mindful of precedent.

The white-haired Stevens, eyes often twinkling behind owlish glasses, was the picture of old-fashioned geniality on the court and off. He took an unusually courteous tone with lawyers arguing their cases, but he was no pushover. After his fellow justices fired off questions, Stevens would politely weigh in. "May I ask a question?" he'd ask gently, then quickly slice to the weakest point of a lawyer's argument.

Stevens was especially concerned with the plight of ordinary citizens up against the government or other powerful interests — a type of struggle he witnessed as a boy.

He voiced only one regret about his Supreme Court career: that he had supported reinstating the death penalty in 1976. More than three decades later, Stevens publicly declared his opposition to capital punishment, saying that years of bad court decisions had overlooked racial bias, favored prosecutors and otherwise undermined his expectation that death sentences could be handed down fairly.


Justice John Paul Stevens chats with his wife, Elizabeth Monday, Jan. 12, 1976 in Washington, in his chambers prior to joining his colleagues for his first working session on the Supreme Court bench. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2009 file photo, the Supreme Court poses for a portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated, from left are: Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. Standing, from left are: Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak. File ) (Charles Dharapak/)

One of his harshest dissents came when the court lifted restrictions on spending by corporations and unions to sway elections. He called the 2010 ruling "a rejection of the common sense of the American people" and a threat to democracy.

As he read parts of that opinion aloud, Stevens' voice wavered uncharacteristically and he repeatedly stumbled over words. For the 90-year-old who'd worried he wouldn't know when to bow out, it was a signal. "That was the day I decided to resign," Stevens said later. He also disclosed in his autobiography that he had suffered a mini-stroke.

The retirement of Stevens, known as a defender of strict separation of church and state, notably left the high court without a single Protestant member for the first time.

"I guess I'm the last WASP," he joked, saying the issue was irrelevant to the justices' work. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in 2017, was raised Catholic, but attends a Protestant church.

A great-grandfather, Stevens eased into an active retirement of writing and speaking, still fit for swimming and tennis in Fort Lauderdale, where he and his second wife, Maryan, kept a home away from Washington.

He is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth and Susan, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Stevens’ first wife, Elizabeth, second wife, Maryan, and two children died before him.


Judge John Paul Stevens, lower right, then a nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States, holds his grand-daughter Christy Jedlicka, 3, as he poses with members of his family in his home Nov. 29, 1975 in Burr Ridge, Ill. His wife Elizabeth, lower left, holds grand-daughter Katie Jedlicka, 4. Other members of family behind them are, from left; son-in-law Edward Jedlicka, daughter Katherine Jedlicka, daughter Elizabeth Stevens, 14, and daughter Susan Stevens, 13. (AP Photo) (Anonymous/)
U.S. Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens, second from left, Lewis F. Powell Jr., third from left, and Byron R. White, second from right, listened to former Secretary of state Alexander Haig address 3,500 lawyers at the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco, CA, Monday, August 9, 1982. The two men on the far right and left are unidentified. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (Eric Risberg/)

Bluster, cooperation mark China’s Arctic summit

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 17:17

FILE - This July 22, 2006 file photo, provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, shows the Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaking ice in the Arctic Ocean near Barrow, Alaska. The U.S. will assert its sovereignty in the Arctic, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Friday, even as Russia, China and other nations stake claims and expand their use of the icy waters for military exercises and transit. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Prentice Danner, File)

Two major events occurred in or about the Arctic last month. The first was the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council held in Rovaniemi, Finland in early May. The second was the Arctic Circle China Forum held in Shanghai, China, a self-described ‘near-Arctic nation.’ At both events, the Arctic activities of the United States, Russia and China dominated the headlines, making now a good time to look at how these three powers are jockeying for influence on the international stage.

According to several persons present at the Finland-hosted Arctic Council Ministerial who flew directly to Iceland’s Arctic Circle meetings conducted in Shanghai several days later, the U.S. Secretary of State “shocked” the typically diplomatic biannual Ministerial by hurling bullying and cantankerous remarks on the eve of the Ministerial. Secretary Mike Pompeo reserved his particular ire for Russia, China and even, Canada. Whether his remarks reflected envy of China’s growing Arctic presence, or a spillover of the U.S. ‘trade war’ to demonize China while being “tough on Russia” is not clear. However, the Secretary did refer to China’s massive multi-billion dollar Polar Belt and Road investments as a prelude to “territorial aggression.”

The U.S. Secretary also objected to the use of the phrase, “climate change” in the Arctic Council’s Ministerial Statement. Pompeo’s objection meant that for the first time, no joint statement was issued by the Arctic Nations since the Arctic Council’s 1996 founding as an intergovernmental forum dedicated to cooperative Arctic science, environmental protection and related activities among all Arctic states, indigenous peoples and, now, “observer states,” such as China.

The effects of Pompeo’s lashing out at U.S. Arctic allies, even adversaries – certainly, not enemies – in a region long known as a “zone of peace,” resonated at the Shanghai-Arctic Circle meetings several days later. Opening remarks by Wang Hong, Director of China’s State Oceanic Administration of the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources and other high-level officials, may have been hitting back as they described China’s interest in the science of Arctic warming that is impacting Chinese weather patterns. The high levels officials insisted that China’s massive investment across Russia’s Northern Sea Route, environmentally controversial Polar Belt and Road initiative, would “be green,” irrespective of sessions with titles such as “Paving the Belt and Road.”

Arctic Circle Founder, former Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, expanded upon the Chinese representatives’ pledge to address climate change to the some 500 delegates from more than 20 countries in what he heralded as an “historic meeting" – the first dedicated exclusively to Arctic issues in China. With his seeming Gorbachev-Reagan-in-Reykjavik sensibility, President Grimsson thanked the Chinese officials for their concern about Arctic climate matters. Then, he proceeded to describe the changes in climate and weather patterns, particularly experienced in the Arctic region, as being accelerated by the burning of carbon fuels. The President remarked that “China’s reliance on” coal-fired generator plants contributes to a “circular pattern” of Arctic warming, that then contributes to destructive weather patterns worldwide.

The “bluster” on climate from Secretary Pompeo, flies in the face of most recent reports that express concern about climate change ranging from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Congressionally required Fourth National Climate Assessment, the IPCC Global Warming Special Report 2018, and, sufficient concern to the convening of a coalition of 39 central banks, about half the global economy, study on the effects of climate change on financial markets.

The former President thanked the Chinese officials for working with Iceland for, thus far, installing some 70 geothermal plants across China to replace coal-based electricity. Given the memorandum of understanding signed between Iceland and China suggests the possibility of more conversions from coal to geothermal – such as occurred in Iceland some 70 years ago, is likely. Iceland’s Director General of Orkustofnun, the nation’s National Energy Authority,

Gudni A. Johannesson, told this observer that “the air quality situation is quite serious in China” – more than 200,000 people reportedly die annually of respiratory diseases caused by a combination of pollution by coal-fired electrical plans and petro-chemicals, often located in the outskirts of communities.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, flying in from Finland to Shanghai, was well received in her remarks that promoted a spirit of cooperation in the region. The senator, who has noted the U.S. need for functional icebreakers, deep-draft ports and other Arctic infrastructure, expressed concern for climate impacts and responded to a question from a panel presenter, noting that she would bring the issue of geothermal energy development to Washington to determine any congressional interest.

The Arctic Circle China meetings seemed to stand for the twin principles of coexistence and cooperation. President Grimsson’s ethic – that of a small Island nation unafraid to face the largest Arctic, or near Arctic- nations and demand, perhaps by the power of presence, the maintenance of a stable and environmentally protected region, irrespective of new rules, different governance models of nations operating in the Arctic, or conventional notions of security. If nothing else, the Arctic Circle – China meeting offered an option of no–one being left outside of the Arctic discourse where explosive growth is unfolding in a region where a new Mediterranean-sized ocean is opening at the top of the world at the North Pole.

Despite the bombast by the U.S. Secretary, U.S. Ambassador David Balton, former representative of the United States to the Arctic Council, expressed an optimistic view. The former Ambassador said in a telephone interview that “efforts to strengthen international governance of the Arctic will continue.”

Whether or not the cooperative model will continue to evolve raises a series of unfolding and vital questions, not the least of which is to keep external geopolitics from seeping in. And, climate, in all of its meanings, in check.

Anita L. Parlow is a recent Fulbright scholar in Iceland, Team Lead for the inaugural Woodrow Wilson Polar Code Roundtable Project, and advisor for the Harvard–MIT Arctic Fisheries Project. Parlow has advised corporations, NGOs and international agencies on Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental and Community Risk.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

U.S. Army Alaska welcomes new commander

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 16:48

Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak Jr. accepts the U.S. Army Alaska flag from Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky during Maj. Gen. Andrysiak's change of command ceremony July 16, 2019. (Jeff Parrott / ADN) (Jeff Parrott/)

Soldiers from United States Army Alaska welcomed a new commander Tuesday morning in a ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

In front of a crowd of senior military leaders, family and friends, Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak Jr. accepted the U.S. Army Alaska flag and responsibility for the soldiers under his new command from Lt. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Incoming commander Andrysiak is a United States Military Academy graduate and has been in the Army for more than 29 years. He has led soldiers at nearly every stage of his career, and his previous deployments include Rwanda, Kuwait, two tours to Iraq and three tours to Afghanistan.

A previous commander of the 2nd Engineer Brigade at JBER, Andrysiak returns to Alaska with his wife, Casey, and their two children, MacKenzie and Max. The family was last stationed in Hawaii, where he served as the U.S. Army Pacific chief of staff.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Alaska,” Andrysiak, addressing the crowd, said of his return.

“Alaska is a very special place, and your warmth and support to the military is unrivaled.”


Incoming U.S. Army Alaska Commander Maj. Gen. Peter B. Andrysiak addresses soldiers and guests during a change of command ceremony July 16, 2019. (Jeff Parrott / ADN) (Jeff Parrott/)
Members of the 9th Army Band march across Pershing Field at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Jeff Parrott / ADN) (Jeff Parrott/)

As the U.S. Army Alaska commander, Andrysiak will supervise units located at JBER and Fort Wainwright, to include two brigade combat teams, several battalions and the Northern Warfare Training Center.

“We look forward to renewing old friendships and making new ones,” Andrysiak said. "We are deeply honored to be rejoining this amazing team in the land of the midnight sun.”

The outgoing commander, Maj. Gen. Mark J. O’Neil, is retiring after more than three decades of service. O’Neil has served in a variety of leadership positions — including in special operations — since joining the military in 1986. He has deployed to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and deployed 15 times in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Addressing the soldiers he led for the last two years for a final time, O’Neil said, “Today’s ceremony is about you.”

“I am grateful to have served with each of you,” he said, looking out to the formation.

“I challenge each and every one of you in this formation, and beyond, to never stop investing in each other," he said. “Own your responsibility to improve and continue to take care of each other, that’s what it means to be an Arctic warrior."

A $3,000 PFD? Forget about it.

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 16:13

From right to left, Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; and Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, await the final results of a special session adjournment vote Thursday, June 13, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

Let’s bust one myth right now: Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million in vetoes would not fund a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend. To be precise, the $444 million he vetoed comes out to approximately $600 per Alaskan who receives a PFD. As we have heard from literally thousands of Alaskans, it would be incredibly short-sighted to destroy the university, crash our economy and defund public education for a one-time $3,000 PFD payout. But that calculus is even more obvious when we consider the costs and benefits accurately: In exchange for the sweeping devastation Dunleavy’s vetoes would cause, each Alaskan’s PFD check would only be $600 larger.

Good luck replacing your paycheck, health insurance or university scholarship with $600.

The governor continues to claim that the Legislature should appropriate funds for a super-sized $3,000 PFD. Yet he has provided no plan, no balanced budget proposal to get there. There is no way to fund a $3,000 PFD without draining the Permanent Fund itself, unless we substantially raise oil taxes. Under Gov. Dunleavy’s plan, we would drain the Earnings Reserve by 2025 and have $0 PFDs after that. It would be insane to drain our trust fund for a short-sighted payout, as I wrote in a previous op-ed.

The governor’s budget plan is simple: Devastate our economy, defund essential public safety and law enforcement programs, and cripple our future through wholesale elimination of early childhood education programs. Meanwhile, Gov. Dunleavy would drain Alaskans’ savings in the Permanent Fund and lose out on the investment earnings that are the rightful inheritance of my daughter’s generation. Naturally, his vetoes have drawn widespread condemnation. I have received thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls in opposition to the governor’s vetoes, and dozens of Alaska’s most prominent business and non-profit organizations have urged us to override the cuts. But many people oppose Dunleavy’s vetoes thinking the trade-off is a $3,000 PFD, and the mathematical reality is far worse.

Here’s another way to put $444 million in perspective: That is almost the precise amount of additional revenue the Legislature could generate through a modest adjustment to per-barrel tax credits claimed by the oil industry. Specifically, reducing the per-barrel credit to the amount industry requested — $5 per barrel — would save the state nearly a half-billion dollars. That’s enough to negate the need for every single veto of Gov. Dunleavy’s and have a $1,600 PFD payout. Quick history refresher: When the oil industry and its allies rewrote oil taxes with Senate Bill 21 in 2013, industry lobbyists asked for a $5 per-barrel tax credit (among many other changes). At the last minute, a House floor amendment increased the per-barrel credit to $8 per barrel at modest oil prices. Back in 2013, prices were high and many legislators didn’t realize how much money this amendment would cost. Now we know it’s massively expensive, and a simple change back to $5 per barrel would save nearly a half-billion dollars in revenue and protect essential jobs and public infrastructure.

Unfortunately, Gov. Dunleavy has categorically opposed even small changes to per-barrel oil tax credits. Rather than a modest tax credit change back to what the oil industry itself requested to fund a $1,600 PFD, or a $1,000 PFD consistent with the amounts we’ve paid historically, he would prefer to wreck the state’s economy.

Fortunately, the Legislature is working together across party and caucus lines to defend our economy, institutions established by the Alaska Constitution and indeed the lives of many of our neighbors. It is incredibly inspiring to see legislators from all regions and backgrounds pulling together to override these vetoes. For the sake of Alaska, I hope we prevail.

Zack Fields (D-Anchorage) represents the Downtown, Fairview, South Addition, Government Hill, and Eastridge neighborhoods in the Alaska House of Representatives.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

From 2001: 3 arrested in shooting of Stebbins mayor

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 15:38

NOTE: This story was originally published Nov. 30, 2001.

Alaska State Troopers have arrested one man and two teens in Stebbins in what they say was a plot to kill the village mayor and his wife and rob their general store.

Mayor Robert Ferris, 55, survived being hit in the face with a .22-caliber bullet fired through his window late Saturday night. Robert Tea, 20, Richard Martin, 16, and Travis Snowball, 14, are charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Stebbins is a village of about 550 people on Norton Sound, about 120 miles southeast of Nome. John Merculief, the village public safety officer, said he can't remember such a serious crime in the 20 years he's lived there.

''People just can't believe it, that juveniles this young would go to that extent, to shooting another person with a rifle,'' Merculief said.

According to charging documents filed by Nome district attorney John Vacek, Tea is accused of giving the two teens a .22-caliber rifle and helping Martin tape a shampoo bottle to the muzzle as a makeshift silencer. Then Martin and Snowball went to Ferris' house, which doubles as the town's general store, and Martin knocked on the window, the documents state.

When Ferris opened the window, charging documents state, Snowball shot him in the face. Then the two teens fled, scared by what they had done, the documents state.

Ferris was recovering at home Thursday after several days at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. The bullet is lodged near his spine, but Ferris said he didn't immediately realize he had been shot. He thought at first that someone had hit him with a rock.

''A .22 rimfire does not have a whole lot of energy,'' he said. ''It's logical I wouldn't get knocked down.''

Ferris said he didn't learn he had been shot until hospital X-rays revealed the bullet, he said. It is too close to his spine to be safely removed, doctors told him, but leaving it there won't do him any harm.

''For being unlucky enough to be shot in the head, I couldn't have been luckier,'' Ferris said.

Martin and Snowball were arrested on Sunday after Tea told troopers the two had told him about their plot to kill the Ferrises and rob them for money to buy drugs, charging documents state. Tea was arrested on Wednesday after Martin told troopers he was in on the plot, the documents state.

Snowball and Tea were already being investigated for an August burglary of Ferris' store, said Vacek, the Nome prosecutor. Authorities believe Snowball broke into the store and split the stolen money with Tea, Vacek said.

Tea served as a village police officer in Stebbins for several months last year, Ferris said, though he had a criminal record.

''I was not very fond of that idea in the first place,'' Ferris said, but ''in a place like this you take any help you can get.''

Tea served short jail sentences for convictions of assault and cruelty to animals in 1999 and 2000, said Bruce Richards, a special assistant with the state Department of Corrections.

Village police officers are employed by the village and are distinct from village public safety officers, who are trained and supported by the Alaska State Troopers, said Stebbins VPSO Merculief.

Ferris said Tea ''didn't do much of a job as a cop'' but was not under pressure to resign when he quit the job last year.

Snowball lived with his adoptive father some of the time and with Tea and his wife some of the time, said Jean Ferris, Robert Ferris' wife and city administrator.

''His adoptive mother died several years ago,'' she said. ''He's had kind of a hard life.''

Neither Snowball's father nor Tea's wife would comment when reached by telephone Thursday.

Tea and Martin are being held at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome, Tea in lieu of $50,000 cash-only bail and Martin in lieu of $25,000 cash-only bail. Martin was waived into adult court because of the seriousness of his crime, Vacek said.

Snowball is being held at the Nome Youth Facility. His name was released under a 1998 law that allows authorities to identify juveniles charged with certain serious felonies, Vacek said.

Ferris came to Stebbins in 1968 from Vermont, married Jean in 1969 and opened a store in 1970. He has served on the city council and as mayor on and off for the past 30 years. Merculief said he is popular.

''He loans people his personal tools without questioning, and sometimes he'll loan money to people in time of need,'' Merculief said.

Reporter Jeff St. John can be reached at jstjohn@adn.com and 907-257-4205.



Alaska congressional delegation urges budget compromise to protect federal funding

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 15:33

Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan in Anchorage on May 30, 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

Alaska’s congressional delegation urged lawmakers and the governor to prioritize Alaskans and find a way through an unprecedented budget divide that threatens federal funding.

In separate statements, the three members of the delegation said they’re working to protect federal funds that are key to the Alaska economy.

The state’s lawmakers have yet to complete a capital budget amid a continued battle over Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million in vetoes to the state operating budget.

[Impasse continues as Alaska lawmakers push different visions for budget, Permanent Fund dividend]

Alaska’s senior senator provided a statement Monday urging a cautionary approach to the cuts, at a time when some lawmakers still see hope of restoring funding eliminated by the vetoes.

“While budget reductions are needed, how these cuts are implemented is important too," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a prepared statement. "These are difficult decisions that require sober discussion. I urge all members of our Legislature to productively engage - together as Alaskans - with the governor and his team to quickly resolve the uncertainty that is facing so many. Alaskans deserve no less.”

Murkowski’s office said the senator is working with federal agencies to protect federal funds that could be jeopardized by the impasse in Alaska. That includes looking at funding timelines and alternate methods of delivering the money to the state, her office said.

In one scenario, the state could lose $1 billion in federal transportation construction aid if the capital budget isn’t approved by the end of the month.

[At hearing, Alaskans call for compromise to protect state services]

Rep. Don Young said in a short statement that Alaskans are having much-needed conversations about the budget. He said an end to the stalemate is important.

“I’m hopeful that the governor and Legislature can move us forward,” Young said. “That’s in the best interest of the people of Alaska. When it comes to federal funding, Alaskans know that I’ve always put them first, and will continue to do so as their sole representative in Congress.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office issued a short statement calling on Alaska politicians to find a way forward on the capital budget. As with Young’s statement, Sullivan’s office did not mention the budget cuts.

“Senator Sullivan is optimistic that the Legislature and the governor reach an agreement soon on funding the capital budget, to ensure that hard fought matching federal funds - like the hundreds of millions of infrastructure funding secured by the Alaska Congressional delegation - can be used for the benefit of all Alaskans,” his office said.

Former Alaska governors have also urged the state’s political leaders to cooperate and compromise.

House condemns Trump ‘racist’ tweets in extraordinary rebuke

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 15:22

From left, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., respond to base remarks by President Donald Trump after he called for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All four congresswomen are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — In a remarkable political repudiation, the Democratic-led House voted Tuesday night to condemn President Donald Trump’s “racist comments” against four congresswomen of color, despite protestations by Trump’s Republican congressional allies and his own insistence he hasn’t “a racist bone in my body.”

Two days after Trump tweeted that four Democratic freshmen should "go back" to their home countries — though all are citizens and three were born in the U.S.A. — Democrats muscled the resolution through the chamber by 240-187 over strong GOP opposition. The rebuke was an embarrassing one for Trump, and he had appealed to GOP lawmakers not to go along, but there were four Republican votes for the resolution.

The measure carries no legal repercussions for the president and the vote was highly partisan, unlikely to cost him with his die-hard conservative base.

[Sen. Murkowski: ‘No excuse’ for Trump’s comments about Democratic lawmakers]

Before the showdown roll call, Trump characteristically plunged forward with time-tested insults. He accused his four outspoken critics of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!” — echoing taunts long unleashed against political dissidents rather than opposing parties’ lawmakers.

The president was joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and other top Republicans in trying to redirect the focus from Trump's original tweets, which for three days have consumed Washington and drawn widespread condemnation. Instead, they tried playing offense by accusing the four congresswomen — among the Democrats' most left-leaning members and ardent Trump critics — of socialism, an accusation that's already a central theme of the GOP's 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

Even after two-and-a-half years of Trump's turbulent governing style, the spectacle of a president futilely laboring to head off a House vote essentially proclaiming him to be a racist was extraordinary.


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

Underscoring the stakes, Republicans formally objected after Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said during a floor speech that Trump’s tweets were “racist.” Led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, Republicans moved to have her words stricken from the record, a rare procedural rebuke.

[Four minority congresswomen condemn Trump attacks decried as racist]

After a delay exceeding 90 minutes, No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland ruled that Pelosi had indeed violated a House rule against characterizing an action as racist. Hoyer was presiding after Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri stormed away from the presiding officer's chair, lamenting, "We want to just fight," which he apparently aimed at Republicans. Despite Hoyer's ruling, Democrats flexed their muscle and the House voted afterward by party-line to leave Pelosi's words intact in the record.

Some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers have agreed that Trump's words were racist, but on Tuesday party leaders insisted they were not and accused Democrats of using the resulting tumult to score political points. Among the few voices of restraint, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump wasn't racist, but he also called on leaders "from the president to the speaker to the freshman members of the House" to attack ideas, not the people who espouse them.

"There's been a consensus that political rhetoric has gotten way, way heated across the political spectrum," said the Republican leader from Kentucky, breaking his own two days of silence on Trump's attacks.

Hours earlier, Trump tweeted, "Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don't have a Racist bone in my body!" He wrote that House Republicans should "not show 'weakness'" by agreeing to a resolution he labeled "a Democrat con game."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, one of Trump's four targets, returned his fire.

"You're right, Mr. President - you don't have a racist bone in your body. You have a racist mind in your head and a racist heart in your chest," she tweeted.

The four-page Democratic resolution said the House "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color." It said Trump's slights "do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America."

All but goading Republicans, the resolution included a full page of remarks by President Ronald Reagan, who is revered by the GOP. Reagan said in 1989 that if the U.S. shut its doors to newcomers, "our leadership in the world would soon be lost."

Republican leaders lobbied GOP lawmakers hard to oppose the resolution.

McCarthy called the measure "all politics," and No. 3 House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming said the four Democrats "are wrong when they attempt to impose the fraud of socialism on the American people."

The showdown came after years of Democrats bristling over anti-immigrant and racially incendiary pronouncements by Trump. Those include his kicking off his presidential campaign by proclaiming many Mexican migrants to be criminals and asserting there were "fine people" on both sides at a 2017 neo-Nazis rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.

And the strong words in Washington come as actions are underway elsewhere: The administration has begun coast-to-coast raids targeting migrants in the U.S. illegally and has newly restricted access to the U.S. by asylum seekers.

Trump's criticism was aimed at four freshman Democrats who have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and thinly veiled distaste for Trump: Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family.

The four have been in an increasingly personal clash with Democratic Speaker Pelosi, too, over how assertively the House should be in trying to restrain Trump's ability to curb immigration. But if anything, Trump's tweets have served to ease some of that tension, with Pelosi telling Democrats at a closed-door meeting Tuesday, "We are offended by what he said about our sisters," according to an aide in the room who described the private meeting on condition of anonymity.

That's not to say that all internal Democratic strains are resolved.

The four rebellious freshmen joined Rep. Steven Cohen of Tennessee and a handful of others who wanted the House to vote on a harsher censure of Trump's tweets. And Rep. Al Green of Texas was trying to force a House vote soon on whether to impeach Trump — a move he's tried in the past but lost, earning opposition from most Democrats.

At the Senate Republicans' weekly lunch Tuesday, Trump's tweets came up and some lawmakers were finding the situation irksome, participants said. Many want the 2020 campaigns to focus on progressive Democrats' demands for government-provided health care, abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and other hard-left policies.

"Those ideas give us so much material to work with and it takes away from our time to talk about it," Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said of the Trump tweets.

___

AP reporters Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire and Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.

Alaska Legislature sues Gov. Dunleavy over public school funding

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 14:28

The Alaska Legislature is suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy and two members of his administration over their failure to send out the money to public schools that legislators had appropriated last year, the complaint says.

The complaint was filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Juneau, the day after the state typically distributes a portion of funding to K-12 schools. The funding was not sent Monday, triggering the lawsuit, which legislators had prepared for earlier this year.

The lawsuit boils down to whether it’s legal for the state Legislature to appropriate money in advance for education.

Dunleavy and state legislators disagree sharply over whether funding for the 2019-20 school year, approved in 2018 under then-Gov. Bill Walker, is constitutional.

Dunleavy’s administration has said the funding is not legal and so schools were not funded in the current fiscal year, that started July 1. Legislators say the funding is legal, and the governor’s action fails to follow a constitutional appropriation by the Legislature.

The issue stems back to 2018, when legislators voted to forward fund public schools in the 2019-20 school year with no cuts and a $30 million bonus payment. Walker approved that budget.

This year, legislators didn’t include the 2019-20 education funding in the operating budget for the current fiscal year because, they said, they already approved the funding last year.

[Alaska’s governor and Legislature ready for a legal fight over education funding]

But the state Department of Law argues that last year’s advance education funding is unconstitutional. It violates the annual budgeting process mandated by the state constitution and the governor’s right to veto, according to a legal memo from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson. The constitution also bans dedicated funds, it says.

In a joint motion filed Tuesday, the Legislature and Dunleavy’s administration asked for the monthly payments to schools to continue amid the lawsuit. The payments will not include the one-time $30 million, it says. A judge will have to sign off on the request.

Dunleavy’s spokesman did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.

The complaint was filed by the Legislative Council on behalf of the Legislature.

Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson and Kelly Tshibaka, commissioner of the state Department of Administration, are also named as defendants in the complaint.

In a statement Tuesday, Attorney General Clarkson said there’s a "clear constitutional disagreement between the executive and legislative branches.

“But that should not impact our schools. Both the governor and the legislature agree funding should continue, even if we disagree on whether there is a valid appropriation to fund schools," he said. "The stipulation ensures that funding continues while the courts review the legal arguments.”

[No interruptions to school funding if education lawsuit proceeds, state says]

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Looking at budget cuts’ impact on Alaska fisheries

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 14:24

Just under $1 million was cut from the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes, leaving it with an $85 million budget, half from state general funds.

“To give the governor credit, he recognized the return on investment,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, Fish and Game commissioner. “It’s a theme I had all the way through the Legislature that we take a $200 million budget of which about $50 million is unrestricted general funds and we turn that into an $11 billion return to our state. And I think he got that.”

Vincent-Lang added that Dunleavy also did not veto the travel budget for the Board of Fisheries and its advisory committees.

It’s indefinite still how the budget cuts will play out, and Vincent-Lang said he is trying to avoid staff cuts to the 700 commercial fisheries positions.

“I suspect we may have some but we will try to do that through vacancies and a variety of other things as we have retirements,” he said.

Also set to get axed is funding for research projects, such as salmon inseason sampling and Tanner crab surveys at Prince William Sound, and five salmon weirs at Kodiak and Chignik. Salmon counting is likely to be reduced at the Yukon River’s Eagle and Pilot Station sonars, along with various stock assessment surveys for groundfish.

“I’ve asked my staff to look at their overall program, and not necessarily cut the projects, but take the ones that have the least impact on the management of our fisheries across our state in terms of economic value back and cut those,” he explained, acknowledging that the cutbacks could lead to more cautious management.

“Clearly, any time you reduce your forecast ability you become more precautionary in your inseason management approach until you can become more certain,” he said.

Vincent-Lang said the state hopes to form local partnerships to help fund shortfalls, “like the Bristol Bay Science Initiative and Yukon River tribal groups to try to find ways that we can replace that money to ensure that we minimize the impact to our ongoing management programs.”

Those partnerships “are the path forward” for Alaska’s fishing industry to jointly fund research, he stressed.

“If we are going to be continually dependent on state general funds, that presents a challenge,” he said. “We need to look for ways to partner with different groups to get a diversified funding stream.”

Partnership also will be important to fund Fish and Game’s special areas management, which is facing a $280,000 budget cut for its oversight of 12 game refuges, 17 critical habitat areas and three wildlife sanctuaries. Vincent-Lang said using hunting dollars with matching grants in some areas will help make up for that budget shortfall.

“The rest of the department, like the sportfish and wildlife divisions, are largely funded by federal funds that are dedicated to those activities and we match them with hunting and sport fishing license dollars. There’s very little state general funds in those divisions,” he explained.

The Habitat and Subsistence Divisions will remain under the auspices of Fish and Game, despite reports that two director-level positions and associated funding would move to the Office of Management and Budget. Vincent-Lang said those two positions were open when he took the job and he opted not to fill them.

“I didn’t want to lose actual staff members in those divisions that were equal to a director position,” he explained. “If a director position cost $200,000 I would have lost three or four staff members in both divisions to make up for that. I willingly gave up those two positions to OMB because they needed them, but the activity they were doing remains under the supervision of ADF&G.”

The total budget for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is $200 million.

College produces state workers

Several hundred of Alaska’s fishery managers are graduates of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, an arm of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The college offers degree programs in fisheries, marine biology and oceanography, and of its nearly 1,000 graduates over half have come out of the fisheries program and work in the state.

“That is a remarkable number. I don’t know any other fishery department in the country that can say half of their graduates still work in their home state,” said Brad Moran, dean of the college, adding that the college has seen steady year-over-year increases in enrollment of undergraduates.

Moran is awaiting the fallout from Gov. Dunleavy’s evisceration of the university budget. The College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, which has a staff and faculty of about 140, also operates campuses in Juneau and Kodiak and its collaboration with Alaska Sea Grant extends its reach to a dozen more locations. Moran said nothing is safe.

“There’s not any faculty, staff, student or location that will not be impacted should the veto for the university budget not be overridden, “he said. “That has to be crystal clear. There is nothing that will be left untouched,”

With the number of incoming state dollars driven by the university, Moran said he just doesn’t get it.

“It’s been shown that for every dollar the state spends, we’re bringing in about $6 university-wide to the state. I don’t see how you cannot say that’s a great turn on investment,” Moran said.

Moran pointed to the college-operated research icebreaker Sikuliaq, homeported at Seward, as an example.

“We are entrusted to operate a $200 million federal asset in that vessel, which is owned and paid for by the National Science Foundation. All of the funding for that ship is externally coming into the state. That’s only one example of state dollars driven by the university,” Moran said.

He added that Alaska’s university teachers and researchers are at the forefront in the world in terms of rapidly changing ocean and Arctic conditions.

“All require basic research and those investments from the federal government are leveraged by the state one dollar on six,” he emphasized.

“You can always look for economies of scale and improvements in cost efficiency,” Moran added. “What you cannot do is drop the hammer overnight to this extent and expect an organization to deliver the same kind of value to the state. But we will do our very best.”

Alaskans Own delivers

Alaskans Own, a Sitka-based seafood delivery service, is celebrating 10 years of providing local fish not to Outsiders, but to other Alaskans - the majority of whom can’t get their hands on the best fish out there.

“It’s a crazy statistic that just 1% of the seafood that is caught in Alaska stays in Alaska, so 99% is exported,” said Natalie Armstrong, outreach assistant for Alaskans Own, a Community Supported Fishery project of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

The CSF follows a more well-known agriculture model that bridges the gap “from farm to table.”

“We’re bridging the gap from ocean to table and connecting more communities to their seafood,” Armstrong said.

Alaskans Own has over 300 subscribers who from May to October can choose different sized packages of portioned halibut, salmon, lingcod, shrimp, sablefish and more. The fish is shipped to hubs in Sitka, Anchorage, Seattle, Juneau and Fairbanks and also to Outside customers.

“Anyone can choose what they want. They can get a mixed bag or 40 pounds of coho and we ship it right to their door,” Armstrong said.

A fleet of 100 boats fish for the CSF, and all profits go to the Fishery Conservation Network, an ALFA offshoot that partners fishermen with scientists in local research projects.

Armstrong is hopeful other Alaska fishing towns will create CSFs to promote their small boat fleets and protective fishing practices.

Trump’s new asylum rules go into effect, and opponents sue

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 14:12

People wait to apply for asylum in the United States along the border, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. Dozens of immigrants lined up Tuesday at a major Mexico border crossing, waiting to learn how the Trump administration's plans to end most asylum protections would affect their hopes of taking refuge in the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)

TIJUANA, Mexico — Hundreds of immigrants showed up at border crossings Tuesday in hopes of getting into the U.S. but faced the likelihood of being turned away under a new Trump administration asylum rule that upends long-standing protections for people fleeing violence and oppression in their homelands.

The policy went into effect Tuesday but drew a swift lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This is the Trump administration's most extreme run at an asylum ban yet," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt. "It clearly violates domestic and international law and cannot stand."

The policy represents the most forceful attempt to date by President Donald Trump to slash the number of people seeking asylum in America. It comes at a time when Trump's recent tweets telling four members of Congress to "go back" to other countries have set off an uproar.

Trump did not mention the new practices rules Tuesday during a White House meeting.

Under the rules, migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. will be ineligible for asylum. Most of the immigrants arriving at the border this year pass through Mexico — including Central Americans, Africans, Cubans and Haitians. That makes it all but impossible for them to get asylum. The rule also applies to children who have crossed the border alone.

At the crossing in Tijuana, 12 people whose numbers were first on a waiting list to enter through a San Diego border crossing were escorted behind a metal gate to a white van that left minutes later to turn them over to U.S. authorities.

Ndifor Gedeon, 27, arrived in Tijuana nearly three months ago with the hope of seeking asylum in the U.S. after being jailed in Cameroon by a government that has been going after the African nation's English-speaking minority.

He was rethinking those plans after hearing that he may not have a chance at getting asylum because of the new policy and if his case is denied he will be deported straight back to Cameroon.

"I feel sick," he said of the anxiety consuming him. "If I am sent back to Cameroon, I'd lose my life. The situation is very horrible."

He speaks no Spanish and does not feel safe in Tijuana, which has one of the highest homicide rates in Mexico. Even so, he prefers Tijuana to returning to Cameroon.


People wait to apply for asylum in the United States along the border, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. Dozens of immigrants lined up Tuesday at a major Mexico border crossing, waiting to learn how the Trump administration's plans to end most asylum protections would affect their hopes of taking refuge in the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)
A woman sits with her sons as they wait to apply for asylum in the United States along the border, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. Dozens of immigrants lined up Tuesday at a major Mexico border crossing, waiting to learn how the Trump administration's plans to end most asylum protections would affect their hopes of taking refuge in the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)

At another crossing in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, 10 Cuban asylum seekers were called by Mexican officials and led across the Paso Del Norte Bridge to El Paso, where they were handed over to Customs and Border Protection officers. They were taken to a room where their possessions were searched, laid out on a table and bagged.

The immigrants will still go through the normal first steps of requesting asylum, but will face a dramatically higher bar to be allowed in the country.

Lawyers who represent Cuban migrants say that they are not deportable because Cuba will not accept them.

"I'd rather be in prison the rest of my life than go back to Cuba," said Dileber Urrista Sanchez, who had hoped his number would be called Tuesday, but he was further down the list.

Sanchez, 35, has waited with his wife in Juarez for the past two months, renting a room with money his mother sends him from Las Vegas.

He said his mother left Cuba years ago because she was part of an opposition party. In retaliation, he said, the government took away his job as a chauffeur, and he and his wife had been imprisoned for days at a time for being "untrustworthy."

He criticized the Trump administration's new policy, pointing out that the first country he was able to reach after leaving Cuba was Nicaragua.

"How are we going to apply for asylum in Nicaragua when it's just as communist?" he said.


Migrants line up along an entrance to the border crossing as they wait to apply for asylum in the United States, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. Dozens of immigrants lined up Tuesday at a major Mexico border crossing, waiting to learn how the Trump administration's plans to end most asylum protections would affect their hopes of taking refuge in the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)

Derek Mbi of Cameroon was among nearly 50 migrants who gathered in Tijuana. He arrived there about a month ago, and more than 8,100 people were ahead of him on the waiting list.

Processing new arrivals has ground to a virtual halt to in recent days, down from an average of about 40 names a day.

Mbi, 29, joined a wave of Cameroonians who fled fierce government oppression against their country's English-speaking minority by flying to Ecuador, which does not require a visa. From there, he traveled for months by bus and on foot through seven other countries to reach Tijuana.

Mbi learned about the new policy but mistakenly believed that it applied only to Central and South Americans. He hopes to settle with a friend in Texas.

For now, he is sharing a one-bedroom apartment with 13 Cameroonians in Tijuana and scraping by with odd jobs, like peeling tomatoes at open-air markets. He said many companies refused to hire him because his short-term transit permit in Mexico does not allow him to work.

___

Cedar Attanasio reported from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo in Washington and Julie Watson in Tijuana contributed to this report.

Facebook’s currency plan gets hostile reception in Congress

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 13:52

FILE - This March 28, 2018, file photo shows a Facebook logo at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook’s ambitious plan to create a new financial system based on a digital currency faces questions from lawmakers, as it’s shadowed by negative comments from President Donald Trump, his Treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)

WASHINGTON — Under sharp criticism from senators, a Facebook executive on Tuesday defended the social network’s ambitious plan to create a digital currency and pledged to work with regulators to achieve a system that protects the privacy of users’ data.

"We know we need to take the time to get this right," David Marcus, the Facebook executive leading the project, told the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing.

But that message did little to assure senators. Members of both parties demanded to know why a company with massive market power and a track record of scandals should be trusted with such a far-reaching project, given the potential for fraud, abuse and criminal activity.

"Facebook is dangerous," asserted Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee's senior Democrat. Like a toddler playing with matches, "Facebook has burned down the house over and over," he told Marcus. "Do you really think people should trust you with their bank accounts and their money?"

Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona said "the core issue here is trust." Users won't be able to opt out of providing their personal data when joining the new digital wallet for Libra, McSally said. "Arizonans will be more likely to be scammed" using the currency, she said.

The litany of criticism came as Congress began two days of hearings on the currency planned by Facebook, to be called Libra. Also Tuesday, a House Judiciary subcommittee was extending its bipartisan investigation of the market power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.

On the defensive from bursts of aggressive questioning, Marcus indicated the currency plan is a work in progress. "We will take the time" to ensure the network won't be open to use by criminals and illicit activity like money laundering and financial fraud. "We hope that we'll avoid conflicts of interest. We have a lot of work to do," Marcus said.

The grilling followed a series of negative comments and warnings about the Libra plan in recent days from President Donald Trump, his treasury secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve.

But some senators emphasized the potential positive benefits of Facebook's plan, meant to bring money transacting at low cost to millions around the globe who don't have bank accounts. Facebook had its strong defenders of the project, too, on the panel.

"To strangle this baby in the crib is wildly premature," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

In that vein, Marcus said Libra "is about developing a safe, secure and low-cost way for people to move money efficiently around the world. We believe that Libra can make real progress toward building a more inclusive financial infrastructure."

The planned digital currency is to be a blend of multiple currencies, so that its value will fluctuate in any given local currency. Because Libra will be backed by a reserve, and because the group of companies managing it will encourage a competitive system of exchanges, the project leaders say, "anyone with Libra has a high degree of assurance they can sell it for local (sovereign) currency based on an exchange rate."

Promising low fees, the new currency system could open online commerce to millions of people around the world who lack access to bank accounts and make it cheaper to send money across borders. But it also raises concerns over the privacy of users' data and the potential for criminals to use it for money laundering and fraud.

To address privacy concerns, Facebook created a nonprofit oversight association, with dozens of partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and MasterCard, to govern Libra. As one among many in the association, Facebook says it won't have any special rights or privileges. It also created a "digital wallet" subsidiary, Calibra, to work on the technology, separately from its main social media business. While Facebook owns and controls Calibra, it won't see financial data from it, the company says.

Senators demanded to know exactly what that separation will entail.

"Facebook isn't a company; it's a country," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Kennedy and other conservative senators took the occasion to air long-standing grievances against Facebook, Twitter and Google for a perceived bias against conservative views.

Facebook's currency proposal has also faced heavy skepticism from the Trump administration.

Trump tweeted last week that the new currency, Libra, "will have little standing or dependability." Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell have expressed serious concerns recently that Libra could be used for illicit activity.

The Treasury Department has "very serious concerns that Libra could be misused by money launderers and terrorist financers," Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday. "This is indeed a national security issue."

Facebook has “a lot of work to do before we get to the point where we’re comfortable with it,” Mnuchin said.

UAE-based oil tanker disappears in Iranian waters in the Strait of Hormuz

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 13:04

In this image from file video provided by UK Ministry of Defence, British navy vessel HMS Montrose escorts another ship during a mission to remove chemical weapons from Syria at sea off coast of Cyprus in February 2014. The British Navy said it intercepted an attempt on Thursday, July 11, 2019, by three Iranian paramilitary vessels to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel just days after Iran’s president warned of repercussions for the seizure of its own supertanker. A U.K. government statement said Iranian vessels only turned away after receiving “verbal warnings” from the HMS Montrose accompanying the commercial ship through the narrow Strait of Hormuz. (UK Ministry of Defence via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - An oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates is missing after it stopped in Iranian waters three days ago and its transponder was switched off, raising concerns that it may have been seized by Iran amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Shipping tracking data showed that the Panama-flagged Riah stopped transmitting its position late Saturday when it was off the coast of Iran's Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has a base.

Data showed that the ship was on its way to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates before diverting sharply and slowing to a halt in Iranian territorial waters.

An Emirati official denied that the tanker has links to the UAE, saying that the ship is "neither UAE owned nor operated" and "does not carry Emirati personnel."

It "did not emit a distress call," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

There were conflicting reports about the ownership of the Riah, a small oil-products tanker. But according to Equasis, a shipping industry database, it is operated by Prime Tankers LLC in Dubai.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the U.S. military is aware of the disappearance and has no additional information to share at this time. The Riah did not request any help or put out any distress signal, the official said.

In Washington, Mark Esper, President Donald Trump's nominee to become his new defense secretary, said at a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that the U.S. military and allied forces have established Operation Sentinel to patrol the Persian Gulf region's waters in response to recent acts by Iranian forces.

Since May, at least six vessels have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil choke point, in incidents that the United States has blamed on Iran. Britain said last week that Iranian naval forces attempted to block a British oil tanker traversing the strait but were repelled by a navy frigate escorting the ship.

Esper said that if the British warship had not intervened, it probably would resulted in the Iranians assaulting the oil tanker or forcing it into Iranian waters and creating an international incident.

"Just a simple thing of appearing on the scene and the warship putting itself in between the IRGC boats and a merchant vessel was enough to deter something that could have escalated out of control," he said.

Iran has denied involvement in the incidents but also threatened to retaliate against British shipping interests after an Iranian oil tanker was seized off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month.

The vessel, the Grace 1, was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was suspected of seeking to travel to the Syrian port of Baniyas in violation of European Union sanctions, authorities in Gibraltar said. Gibraltar is a British territory.

"The vicious British government committed piracy and attacked our ship," Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech Tuesday. Iran "will not leave such acts without a response," he warned.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain would help facilitate the Grace 1's release if Iran could provide guarantees that the ship's cargo would not go to Syria. Iran has said that it is not subject to EU sanctions.

The confrontation comes as Europe struggles to keep Iran in a nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015, following a U.S. withdrawal from the pact last year.

The agreement curbed Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for major sanctions relief, including from the United States. The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran in the fall, prompting Tehran to scale back its own commitments under the deal.

European nations have urged Iran to reverse recent moves to breach the agreement, including boosting uranium-enrichment levels beyond a limit set by the deal. Iran says it will continue to reduce its obligations to the pact in 60-day intervals until Europe compensates Tehran for economic losses suffered as a result of U.S. sanctions.

Also Tuesday, Iran's judiciary confirmed the arrest of French Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah, the latest dual national to be detained by Iranian security forces. French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tehran on Monday to explain why Adelkhah, 60, was arrested.

"What has happened worries me a great deal," Macron told reporters during a visit to Belgrade, Agence France-Presse reported.

"I have expressed my disagreement and asked President [Hassan] Rouhani for clarification," he said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.

Alyse Galvin announces she will again challenge Don Young for US House seat

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 12:32

U.S. Rep. Don Young, left, and Alyse Galvin are shown prior to a debate Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. Galvin, an independent who won the Alaska Democratic primary, is again challenging Young, a Republican who is the longest serving member of the House. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) (AP/)

U.S. Rep. Don Young has picked up a familiar challenger for the 2020 election.

Independent Alyse Galvin announced Tuesday she will again challenge the 86-year-old Young for Alaska’s only seat in the U.S. House.

Galvin is a founder of Great Alaska Schools, an organization that advocates for public schools.

Galvin in her announcement said she would build on the success of the 2018 election in which she captured more than 46% of the vote.

She said she will campaign across Alaska with town halls, neighborhood gatherings and online events.

Young has been in office since winning a special election in 1973 to fill the unexpired term of Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, who was declared dead after his plane went missing in Southeast Alaska.

Alaska ferry service dodges vetoes but not a big budget cut

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 11:38

The state ferry Columbia sits tied up outside the Ketchikan Marine highway ferry terminal in 2003. (AP Photo/Ketchikan Daily News, Hall Anderson) (AP/)

The Alaska Marine Highway System escaped the veto pen, but it didn’t avoid the budget knife.

According to a draft winter schedule released late Monday by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, budget cuts approved by the Alaska Legislature will mean no ferry service for Prince William Sound communities, including Cordova, for more than six months. Kodiak and Unalaska will go without service for three and a half months. Juneau will have no service for the first half of November or between Jan. 15 and March 1.

The schedule was first reported by KHNS-FM radio in Haines.

The draft schedule indicates that by mid-January, only one of the state’s 11 ferries will be operating, and that ship will be on the route to Bellingham, Washington. There will be no intra-state ferry service anywhere in Alaska for two weeks.

In an email to its members, the Cordova Chamber of Commerce wrote of the schedule, “That’s seven months without connection to the surface road system for five communities.”

The chamber asked its members to write DOT and urge the agency to reconsider the schedule. It provided a list of talking points, including one that explained, “Most of our community’s perishable food comes in via ferry. Without ferry access, there will be very limited if any access to fruits, vegetables, dairy products for over half the year.”

The same email also urged members to write legislators in support of House Bill 2001, a proposal that would reverse Dunleavy’s budget cuts and fix the state’s capital budget.

Karl Becker, a longtime Cordova resident, said by email that the lack of services “is UNPRECEDENTED in the 43 years I’ve lived in Cordova.”

The reduction is a direct result of the Legislature’s decision to cut the state ferry system budget by $43.6 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the budget of the Alaska Marine Highway System was just under $140 million. As signed into law by the governor, it shrank to $96.4 million. While the governor had proposed even more significant cuts to the system’s budget in February, he declined in June to make further cuts with his veto pen.

Even without vetoes, the cuts are significant enough to leave the ferry system without sufficient money to run all of its ships. The ferries Columbia and Fairweather will be tied to the dock throughout the winter. The ferry Kennicott will be tied to the dock until the end of 2019. The ferry LeConte will be tied up from mid-January through March. The ferry Aurora, which serves Juneau, Haines and Skagway, will be tied up starting Dec. 5.

The normal winter overhaul schedule takes other ferries offline for various periods this winter, and three ferries — including the new Hubbard and Tazlina — will be unusable because of dockyard work.

According to an email from DOT, the agency is taking public comments on the draft winter schedule through July 26. Comments can be emailed to dot.amhs.comments@alaska.gov.

The agency has also scheduled a teleconference for Alaskans to offer comments by phone. That is scheduled for July 29, with Southeast residents asked to call starting at 10 a.m. and Southwest and Southcentral residents scheduled for 1:30 p.m. The number to call is 1-515-604-9000, access code 279613.

Roger Stone barred by US judge from posting on social media through trial

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 10:41

Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife Nydia Stone, left, arrives at federal court in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz) (Sait Serkan Gurbuz/)

WASHINGTON - A federal judge on Tuesday barred Roger Stone from communicating through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook until after his trial after months of social media postings that the judge said violated a gag order she had imposed to prevent prejudicing potential jurors.

The new order says Stone cannot post anything to the social media sites, expanding on the previous gag order that banned his discussing his case or its participants in the media or public settings.

Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, was previously rebuked by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington for public statements attacking his indictment, the conduct of the FBI, intelligence agencies and government officials including former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Jackson did not say how she would enforce the tighter order but said she could hold a hearing to find Stone in contempt of court later, possibly after his trial. She said holding such a hearing now would waste both sides' resources and the court's, and might spread the prejudicial pretrial publicity she is trying to prevent.

In court Tuesday, Jackson read aloud social postings by Stone, 66, that referred to his case. She recited that litany after noting she already had warned him several times in court about his postings that criticized Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. One such incendiary post prompted the Feb. 21 gag order, his posting of a photograph of the judge's face next to what appeared to be gun-sight crosshairs.

"Mr. Stone, what am I supposed to do with you?" Jackson said "I find that he is in violation of his conditions of release and media communication order."

Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying about his efforts to gather information about Democratic Party emails hacked and leaked by Russian operatives in 2016.

Stone was in court Tuesday for a regularly scheduled hearing on a request from his lawyers to suppress evidence they argued was gathered through a flawed search warrant underpinned by what the defense says was second-hand unreliable information.

Prosecutors led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis had filed a motion with the court requesting a hearing, arguing Stone's posts breached an order that he not comment "in the media or in public settings about the Special Counsel's investigation or this case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case."

Jackson said in court that her order was "clear as day," before reading from some of Stone's vitriolic and profane social media attacks.

She said postings in Stone's Instagram account included photos of commentators referring to the "Russia Hoax" and claiming Stone's defense has exposed "the 'intelligence community's' betrayal of their responsibilities" and revealed "deeply disturbing lessons about the level of corruption at the top levels of the agencies charged with protecting us from external threats."

Stone's attorney Bruce Rogow had called the court gag order, which he had helped draft, "overbroad," and argued that Stone should not be prevented from commenting about the media, court filings, or U.S. officials in general.

Above all, Rogow said, Stone's social media following was minimal. He argued, "The whole theory of any kind of restraint on a person's ability to speak in this kind of situation has to do with whether it will affect a fair trial. None of these things are the kind of thing that have any reasonable basis for affecting a fair trial."

"I am sorry the court is offended by these things and thinks they violate the court's order. I understand how one can look at them and come to the conclusion and find they're at the line or across the line," Rogow acknowledged, adding, "But Mr. Stone has tried to hew to that line.

Jackson responded sternly Tuesday before expanding her order that, "There's some added verbiage there. I don't think recognizing or determining a line has been crossed has to do with whether a person is offended."

Kravis said the prosecutors were not asking that Stone be jailed or face any particular sanction, explaining that prosecutors were most interested in "protecting the jury pool and protecting the fair trial right" going forward, not "punishing the defendant's past conduct."

Jackson said the clarity of her Feb. 21 order was “undisputed” but it was not a week before Stone texted about Cohen, a potential witness in the case. She said that came as his lawyers dissembled and Stone withheld information on the stand in her court about the publication of a book by Stone about the investigation.

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