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Updated: 1 hour 15 min ago

Another shooting spree leaves bullet holes in East Anchorage apartments

1 hour 30 min ago

For the second night in a row, shooting outside an East Anchorage apartment building early Wednesday left bullet holes in cars and walls but didn't hurt any residents, police said.

Police received reports of gunfire at around 3 a.m. from people inside an apartment in the 100 block of Grand Larry Street in Muldoon.

"When police arrived, they found gunfire damage, including bullets and bullet holes, to the building and multiple vehicles," a police dispatch said. "They also found shell casings around the building and surrounding area."

Spokeswoman Renee Oistad said police have few details on the circumstances of the shooting.

"We have no further details such as where exactly, one person involved, groups of people involved, on foot, in a vehicle, etc. We're asking for anyone with information to come forward," Oistad said.

No arrests had been made and police were not releasing descriptions of suspects "at this time," the dispatch said.

Anyone with information can call dispatch at 907-786-8900 (press "0" to reach an operator) or Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP.

Police also said they had no information connecting the shooting to an apparent gun battle in East Anchorage early Tuesday less than two miles away in the 7800 block of Creekside Center Drive.

[Gun battle sends bullets into East Anchorage apartments]

In that incident, witnesses reported seeing two vehicles pull into a parking lot next to an open area and community center at Grass Creek Village. Police reported a barrage of shots fired from the vehicles that punctured buildings and cars with bullet holes but injured no residents. Police weren't releasing suspect or vehicle information from that shooting on Tuesday.

Check back for updates.

Agony of defeat stronger than thrill of victory

1 hour 31 min ago

WASHINGTON — In mathematics, when you're convinced of some eternal truth but can't quite prove it, you offer it as a hypothesis (with a portentous capital H) and invite the world, future generations if need be, to prove you right or wrong. Often, a cash prize is attached.

In that spirit, but without the cash, I offer the Krauthammer Conjecture: In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. By any Benthamite pleasure/pain calculation, the sum is less than zero. A net negative of suffering. Which makes you wonder why anybody plays at all.

Winning is great. You get to hoot and holler, hoist the trophy, shower in champagne, ride the open parade car and boycott the White House victory ceremony (choose your cause).

But, as most who have engaged in competitive sports know, there's nothing to match the amplitude of emotion brought by losing. When the Cleveland Cavaliers lost the 2015 NBA Finals to Golden State, LeBron James sat motionless in the locker room, staring straight ahead, still wearing his game jersey, for 45 minutes after the final buzzer.

Here was a guy immensely wealthy, widely admired, at the peak of his powers — yet stricken, inconsolable. So it was for Ralph Branca, who gave up Bobby Thomson's shot heard 'round the world in 1951. So too for Royals shortstop Freddie Patek, a (literal) picture of dejection sitting alone in the dugout with his head down after his team lost the 1977 pennant to the New York Yankees.

In 1986, the "Today Show" commemorated the 30th anniversary of Don Larsen pitching the only perfect game in World Series history. They invited Larsen and his battery mate, Yogi Berra. And Dale Mitchell, the man who made the last out. Mitchell was not amused. "I ain't flying 2,000 miles to talk about striking out," he fumed. And anyway, the called third strike was high and outside. It had been 30 years and Mitchell was still mad. (Justly so. Even the Yankee fielders acknowledged that the final pitch was outside the strike zone.)

For every moment of triumph, there is an unequal and opposite feeling of despair. Take that iconic photograph of Muhammad Ali standing triumphantly over the prostrate, semiconscious wreckage of Sonny Liston. Great photo. Now think of Liston. Do the pleasure/pain calculus.

And we are talking here about professional athletes — not even the legions of Little Leaguers, freshly eliminated from the playoffs, sobbing and sniffling their way home, assuaged only by gallons of Baskin-Robbins.

Any parent can attest to the Krauthammer Conjecture. What surprises is how often it applies to battle-hardened professionals making millions.

I don't feel sorry for them. They can drown their sorrows in the Olympic-sized infinity pool that graces their Florida estate. (No state income tax.) I am merely fascinated that, despite their other substantial compensations, some of them really do care. Most interestingly, often the very best.

Max Scherzer, ace pitcher for the Washington Nationals, makes $30 million a year. On the mound, forget the money. His will to win is scary. Every time he registers a strikeout, he stalks off the mound, circling, head down, as if he's just brought down a mastodon.

On June 6, tiring as he approached victory, he began growling — yes, like a hungry tiger — at Chase Utley as he came to the plate. "It was beautiful," was the headline of the blog entry by The Washington Post's Scott Allen.

When Scherzer gets like that, managers are actually afraid to go out and tell him he's done. He goes Mad Max. In one such instance last year, as Scherzer labored, manager Dusty Baker came out to the mound. Scherzer glared.

"He asked me how I was feeling," Scherzer recounted, "and I said I still feel strong … I still got one more hitter in me."

Asked Baker, demanding visual confirmation: "Which eye should I look at?"

Scherzer, who famously has one blue and one brown eye, shot back: "Look in the [expletive] brown eye!"

"That's the pitching one," he jokingly told reporters after the game.

Baker left him in.

After losing her first ever UFC match, mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey confessed that she was in the corner of the medical room, "literally sitting there thinking about killing myself. In that exact second, I'm like, 'I'm nothing.'" It doesn't get lower than that.

Said Vince Lombardi, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." To which I add — conjecture — yes, but losing is worse.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post.  Email, letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

New security measures for all flights to U.S. stop short of laptop ban

1 hour 39 min ago

WASHINGTON – U.S. officials on Wednesday announced enhanced security and screening measures for all commercial flights to the United States, but backed away from a proposal to expand a ban on laptops and other electronic devices – unless airlines and airports refuse to comply with the new rules.

"The good news is we found a way to raise the bar worldwide, but at same time not inconvenience the traveling public," said U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

DHS officials said that the changes will be "seen and unseen" and could include additional screening for travelers and their laptops, e-readers and tablets as well as the expansion of Preclearance, a program in which U.S. Customer and Border Protection officers conduct screening at international airports.

Since March, passengers on flights to the U.S. from certain mostly Middle Eastern countries, have been prohibited from bringing electronic devices larger than a cellphone on board with them. But those restrictions could be lifted if the affected airlines and airports adopt the new security protocols, officials said.

In a briefing with reporters, senior DHS officials said the new requirements will "raise the baseline" on aviation security worldwide. The directives are focused on preventing terrorists from circumventing aviation security.

Ultimately, the senior DHS officials said the secretary concluded that the threats could be handled without an expansion of the laptop ban.

"Since adopting the large [personal electronic device] prohibition, DHS has been in constant contact with our interagency, industry and foreign partners to address evolving threats with a minimum of disruption to the traveling public," according to a fact sheet outlining the changes. "DHS developed these new enhanced security measures to effectively mitigate threats to aviation with minimum passenger inconvenience."

However, airlines and airports that do not comply with the new requirements could face repercussions, including a full ban on all personal electronic on board flights, even in cargo, fines and possible loss of their permission to fly to the U.S.

It is not clear when the enhanced measures would be put into place, but DHS officials said travelers may start to see changes as early as this summer. The officials said that not all measures will be visible to the public, though people may notice more bomb sniffing dogs, more thorough screening of their carry-on bags and swabbing of devices for traces of explosions.

Wednesday's announcement comes after months of debate over whether the U.S. should expand the ban on laptops and other electronic devices that it put into place in March for travelers from 10 airports in mostly Middle Eastern countries.

The ban was prompted by growing concerns that terrorists could conceal bombs in laptops and other similar devices.

In May, U.S. officials suggested the ban might be expanded to include direct flights to the U.S. from Europe. Later that month, in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested he might go even further extending the ban to all international flights in and out of the U.S.

European officials raised concerns about potential new restrictions and sought more information about the threats that prompted talk about an expansion.

European Union officials characterized a meeting last month in Brussels with top U.S. Homeland Security officials as productive but also urged officials to consider other ways to address the potential threat.

Industry groups both in the U.S. and abroad said they were concerned about the economic implications of expanding the ban as well as the impact it could have on worker productivity.

In May, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents more than 270 international carriers, expressed serious concerns about the ban and urged leaders to consider other enhanced screening methods as an alternative.

Expanding the ban could cost $1.1 billion a year in lost productivity, travel time and "passenger well-being," Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive of the group, which represents 265 airlines, wrote in a letter to Violeta Bulc, the EU's top transportation official and Kelly.

In all, 280 airports in 105 countries will be required to meet the heightened security standards, DHS officials said. Roughly 325,000 daily passengers on 2,100 flights could be affected.

DHS officials also said one visible enhancement could be the expansion of CBP's Preclearance program, which is currently in place at airports in six countries: Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

Wildfires can cause glaciers to melt from over a thousand miles away, scientists find

1 hour 49 min ago

For the first time, scientists have tracked soot from Canadian wildfires all the way to the Greenland ice sheet where the dark, sunlight-absorbing particles landed on the ice and had the potential to significantly enhance its melting — pointing to a possible new driver of sea level rise.

It's the first end-to-end documentation of a process that, it's feared, could hasten Greenland's melting in the future — and since the ice sheet could contribute more than 20 feet of eventual sea level rise, any such process is one that scientists weigh carefully.

[Sea level rise isn't just happening, it's getting faster]

"That's the first time we've been able to connect that whole logic chain from, here's a fire and here's where it ended up on the ice sheet," said Chris Polashenski, one of the study's authors and a researcher with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

The study found that a specific atmospheric event, a snowstorm in late July and early August of 2013, was the critical factor in delivering the soot to the surface of Greenland. Without that storm to bring them down from the atmosphere to the surface, the soot particles could have traveled over the ice sheet at a high altitude and never landed.

"A lot of the time, the wind blows from a fire to the ice sheet and the black carbon doesn't actually end up on the ice sheet," said Polashenski.

The paper was published in Geophysical Research Letters. It had 14 scientific contributors from institutions in the U.S., France, and Norway – not surprising since different groups of scientists analyzed the fires themselves, studied how their smoke plumes traveled a vast distance and ended up over Greenland, and actually documented the presence of soot on the ice sheet.

Soot — which emerges from combustion and is largely comprised of a substance called black carbon – influences a property of snow called albedo, or reflectivity. Whiter ice reflects more solar rays back to space. Pools of water and dark particles reduce the reflectivity of the ice sheet, allowing it to absorb more heat. Water is less reflective than pure snow – and in some cases the growth of biological life in ponds atop the ice sheets also causes darkening, which speeds the melting process.

The study, which only examined a single event, was not able to document a trend towards an increased deposition of soot atop Greenland due to a larger number of wildfires. But it certainly hints at the possibility that such a trend could occur.

The amount of soot deposited in this single event would have been enough to cause an increase in melting, the researchers said – if not for the fact that it was subsequently buried by another snowstorm. The study found that 57 percent of all of the black carbon that fell in northwest Greenland in 2013 occurred in this single event.

That means the risk that worsening fires could enhance the melting of Greenland – and therefore, the rising of the seas – is definitely worth taking seriously, if hardly proven at this point.

"I would say that certainly, as fire activity increases in the future, the chances that this perfect combination of factors come together will increase," said Jennie Thomas, the lead author of the study and a researcher at France's National Center for Scientific Research.

Warming atmospheric and ocean temperatures remain the chief driver of the melting of Greenland, rather than the distant transport of melt-enhancing particles from fires.

But the study adds to understanding about how the "darkening" of Greenland's ice – caused in this case by soot particles – is affecting melting.

"It's finally a scientific manifestation of a lot of speculation that was happening on the web, and I'm glad that there is now this paper that can provide some substance," said Marco Tedesco, a Greenland researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University who was not involved in the study.

Tedesco agrees that while this study doesn't itself prove it, in the future this could be bad news for the ice sheet.

"The effect of these fires could add to the overall contribution of black carbon," he said. "And then of course in the future, if it becomes more frequent, then yes, it could start playing a major role."

Alaska is about to lose another Blockbuster video store

2 hours 15 min ago

Another Alaska Blockbuster video store is about to close.

The Eagle River location will shut its doors in July. Alan Payne, the owner of Austin, Texas-based Blockbuster licensee Border Entertainment, said business had declined too much to keep the store going.

“Sales have dropped to the point where we can’t keep it profitable,” Payne said. “In our business, you don’t ever really think you can get it back once it’s dropped.”

The store on Business Boulevard will cease its video rental business after Wednesday and then open Thursday at noon to start selling off merchandise. Payne said the store would stay open until July 23.

The closure will bring the number of Blockbuster stores in Alaska, all run by Border Entertainment, to six. They are in Soldotna, Wasilla, Fairbanks, North Pole and Anchorage, where there are two.

[Alaska: Where struggling chain outlets sometimes make their last stand]

“At some point, when you don’t have a large population like Wasilla and Anchorage stores have, it just drops to the point where it doesn’t work anymore,” Payne said when asked what specific challenges the Eagle River store faced.

Last year, the Kenai Blockbuster store closed, and so did another in Midtown Anchorage. In recent years, locations in Juneau and Kodiak have also closed.

When the Midtown Anchorage store closed, Payne acknowledged one big factor is consumers shifting to streaming services such as Netflix.

Since Blockbuster's bankruptcy in 2010 and subsequent store closures across the country, Alaska has become one of few states where the stores have managed to stay open.

The Washington Post reported in April that most of the remaining Blockbuster stores were in the Last Frontier. The Blockbuster website lists 12 locations, with just a few in Oregon and Texas. That site then directs visitors to the website for Dish Network, which bought Blockbuster in its 2011 bankruptcy auction.

Senate health care bill should pass as is

2 hours 30 min ago

The much-ballyhooed Senate Republicans' health-care reform – officially the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 and better known as Obamacare repeal-and-replace – is now the center of public debate. Much of the discussion has focused on issues of timing – the "secretive" process by which the bill was developed, the putative "jamming" of the bill forward for a floor vote and now a delay of the vote until after the July 4 recess. But to begin: What's actually in the BCRA?

If you start from the perspective of the Affordable Care Act – that it should be illegal to be uninsured and that there should be no limit to the amount of taxpayer money subsidizing coverage – the BCRA is a sharp departure. But it makes sense to change course. After all, the single most amazing thing about the ACA is that it made it illegal to be uninsured, topped that off with hefty coverage subsidies and still failed miserably to hit its coverage goals.

[McConnell is trying to revise the Senate health care bill by Friday]

The BCRA addresses the reality that the ACA infringed personal freedoms, was an economic burden (enacted when the United States was suffering the aftereffects of the Great Recession), was irresponsible budget policy and fell well short of its goals. The BCRA cuts $700 billion in taxes and reduces the regulatory burden. Instead of worsening the country's already daunting debt outlook, it reforms two entitlement programs and reduces the 10-year deficit. Additionally, within the constraints of fiscal reality, it focuses Medicaid funding and individual insurance subsidies to offer coverage opportunities to the neediest Americans.

The starting point is stabilizing the broken ACA markets by providing subsidies to cover the out-of-pocket costs of low-income individuals for 2018 and 2019. The BCRA devotes $50 billion to a short-term stabilization fund, part of $86 billion dedicated to insurance markets in the first four years.

Individuals will be eligible for subsidies to purchase insurance, but those subsidies are restricted to those with incomes below 350 percent of the federal poverty line – tighter targeting than the ACA. In addition, the subsidies reflect not only the incomes of purchasers, but also their ages. This structure will attract younger individuals, assist older workers and help balance risk pools, which proved to be the Achilles' heel of the ACA.

The subsidies will be available to anyone under the income limit, thereby filling the ACA's Medicaid coverage gaps. Medicaid financing will move from the open-ended draw on taxpayer dollars that has fueled unsustainable growth to "per capita allotments" – fixed amounts for each type of beneficiary. (There is also an option for states to elect a block grant.) This serves to put this piece of the social safety net on a sustainable financial path – in sharp contrast to Medicare, Social Security and the other financially challenged programs.

But this is not a budget-driven, slash-and-burn exercise. Compared with historical Medicaid growth, the allotments are generously over- indexed for inflation in the early years, with the inflation adjustment gradually slowed later on. This reflects an abundance of caution and is worlds away from any rhetoric that refers to "draconian" Medicaid cuts.

Critics will disagree and quickly point out that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that the BCRA would reduce the number of insured people by 22 million over 10 years. But a closer look at those numbers reveals that this is in large part about the flaws of the ACA. In 2018, the BCRA makes no changes to Obamacare other than to stabilize the Obamacare markets and eliminate the individual mandate. Result? Fifteen million Americans immediately flee the individual, employer and Medicaid markets and choose to be uninsured.

[Murkowski, Collins plan amendment to strip Planned Parenthood provision from health care bill]

Moreover, the CBO is required to compare the BCRA with current law. For Medicaid, that means it must assume that the financially unsustainable entitlement will continue to swell to cover about 5 million more people, accounting for the bulk of the remaining 7 million uninsured. Not likely. For the individual ACA markets, it means the CBO assumes that enrollment rises by 30 percent over the next 10 years – a sharp contrast to the reality of insurer after insurer walking away.

Much of the criticism of the BCRA was directed at the legislative process. While hardly following a civics textbook, ultimately this will not matter. From the outset Democrats announced their opposition to any bill repealing Obamacare, thus ceding their right to shape such legislation. At that point, the die was essentially cast. The resulting legislation would inevitably migrate to the ideological midpoint of the Senate Republican caucus, regardless of whether there were four markups or 400. The BCRA as released is exactly what a committee process would have produced. Democrats' complaints that the bill was being rushed to a vote ring hollow. How much time do they need to vote no?

Finally, politics predictably forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay a vote to buy time to make changes to the bill. But he should (and probably will) resist the temptation to make anything more than cosmetic changes. The BCRA that he has is the BCRA that should pass.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin is president of the American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

Murkowski, Collins plan amendment to strip Planned Parenthood provision from Senate health bill

2 hours 56 min ago

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine plan to introduce an amendment to strip the Senate health care bill of a provision to defund Planned Parenthood, Murkowski's office confirmed Wednesday.

The proposed Senate bill, the Better Health Care Reconciliation Act, bars Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for one year. Murkowski and Collins' amendment suggests they do not expect Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to drop the provision from a rewritten bill that could be released at the end of this week.

Murkowski and Collins, both moderate Republicans, have long opposed efforts by their party to defund Planned Parenthood. Federal law prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions, but the women's health centers do accept federal funding and Medicaid payments for other health care offered to patients.

Abortion opponents argue the organization should not be allowed to take any federal funding.

There are four Planned Parenthood clinics in Alaska serving an estimated 7,000 women each year.

Murkowski's spokeswoman Karina Petersen said in an email that Murkowski "has been saying that she's concerned the bill bars Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for one year and plans on introducing an amendment to strip that provision out."

Whether Murkowski or Collins will ultimately support the Senate bill in the coming weeks remains unknown. Collins has said she would not support the bill as introduced and wants major changes to how the bill manages Medicaid spending.

Murkowski said Tuesday she is still undecided on the bill and is continuing to gather information on exactly how its provisions would impact Alaskans.

[After vote delay, Murkowski and Sullivan remain noncommittal on Senate health bill]

But Murkowski might get more of what she wants from working with moderate Democrats than by negotiating with the most conservative Republicans in the Senate. In a television interview Tuesday, which Murkowski posted to her Twitter account Wednesday morning, she advocated working with Democrats on changes to health insurance legislation rather than attempting to find a compromise within the slim Senate majority of 52 Republicans.

"The Congress of the United States — whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, in the House or in the Senate — shouldn't we all be working together on the problems that are part and parcel of who we are as Americans?" she said.

Happy we have more time to address Alaskan priorities in the healthcare bill. This was a good step. As I said before, we need to do it right pic.twitter.com/79dbhOgTsZ — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) June 28, 2017

"This is not for Republicans to fix or Democrats to fix. This is for us as Americans to fix. So when did we get to the point where we said, 'No. We're not going to talk to Democrats about a fix?' We should be working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle."

A woman threw coins at her plane for luck. One landed in the engine and caused a 5-hour delay

3 hours 57 min ago

Flights can be delayed for myriad reasons these days: Passenger scuffles. Disputes over a birthday cake. The birth of a baby on board. We've heard it all.

But on Tuesday, a China Southern Airlines flight was pushed back after an elderly woman was spotted throwing coins at the plane during the boarding process. One of the coins landed inside the engine, police said.

The 80-year-old woman, identified only by her last name, Qiu, said she had been tossing coins at the plane for good luck, according to Shanghai police.

Police detained the woman while maintenance crew members conducted a "comprehensive inspection" of the aircraft and its engine, China Southern Airlines said in its official account on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter.

Local media outlets showed pictures of several investigators peering into an open engine and holding a handful of coins that had been retrieved from the area – including one from within the engine of the Airbus A320.

China Southern Airlines flight from #Shanghai to #Guangzhou grounded for four hours after old lady throws coins into the engine pic.twitter.com/5Xwv2yVXqT

— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) June 27, 2017

Police said the woman had no criminal record or history of mental illness, and had tossed the coins at the plane to "pray for a safe flight." Police also said they would not jail the woman because of her age.

McConnell is trying to revise the Senate health care bill by Friday

4 hours 11 min ago

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to send a revised version of his health-care bill to the Congressional Budget Office by as soon as Friday, according to Capitol Hill aides and lobbyists.

The effort reflects the tight timeline McConnell faces in his attempt to hold a vote before the August recess – and the pressure he is under to make changes that improve the CBO's measure of the bill's impact on coverage levels and federal spending.

McConnell is trying to move quickly to produce a new CBO score by the time lawmakers return to Washington in mid-July, giving the Senate about two weeks to fulfill the majority leader's goal of voting before the August recess.

McConnell and his aides plan continue negotiations through the end of the week and will be in frequent communication with the CBO, according to McConnell spokesman David Popp.

It remains unclear exactly what parts of the Better Care Reconciliation Act are being revised – or whether McConnell is trying to move the measure to the right, with greater savings or regulatory adjustments, or to the left, with more coverage protections. McConnell needs to bring on board about nine senators who have said they wouldn't vote for the bill in its current form. Moving to the right would appease conservatives in the Senate – but also in the House, where any Senate bill would also have to pass.

[After vote delay, Alaska senators remain noncommittal on Senate health bill]

Aides both at the White House and on Capitol Hill are aware of the effort, several GOP aides said Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks. One aide described the situation as akin to the weeks leading up to the draft bill's release, when McConnell presented chunks of the emerging legislation to CBO to expedite the scoring process. The aide expected GOP leaders to present tweaks to CBO for review as soon as this week.

Another aide said that after Tuesday's meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House, Republicans have a better sense now of what everyone wants. A draft is not yet ready, but the reworking process has begun.

Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their own ranks Tuesday and postponed a vote until after the Fourth of July recess. While they bought themselves more time to work out disagreements, the move also gave rise to new doubts about their ability to ever get to the point of a holding a final vote.

Trump is also trying to help, mainly by wooing skeptical conservatives, which he has struggled to do. He convened a meeting of all GOP senators at the White House on Tuesday after McConnell announced the vote would be delayed.

But the White House appears less involved in crafting specific policy tweaks. From the outset of the effort, McConnell and a small clutch of aides have controlled that process.

Conservatives are blasting the plan for leaving in place too much of the ACA, while a coalition of patient advocates, doctors and senior citizens' groups have joined Democrats in decrying its proposed cuts to the Medicaid program and rollback of taxes on the wealthy.

At the White House, the president sat between two of the bill's holdouts – Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) – and said Republicans are "getting very close" to securing the votes they need even as he acknowledged that they might fail.

"This will be great if we get it done," he said. "And if we don't get it done, it's just going to be something that we're not going to like – and that's okay. I understand that very well."

Some Republican have grown anxious about the reception senators will receive when they return home for the July 4 recess.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) acknowledged that the delay McConnell announced Tuesday could just as easily jeopardize the bill's prospects. More time, he said, "could be good and it could be bad."

– – –

Robert Costa, Kelsey Snell, Paul Kane and Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

A woman threw coins at her plane for luck. One landed in the engine and caused a 5-hour delay.

4 hours 34 min ago

Flights can be delayed for myriad reasons these days: Passenger scuffles. Disputes over a birthday cake. The birth of a baby on board. We've heard it all.

But on Tuesday, a China Southern Airlines flight was pushed back after an elderly woman was spotted throwing coins at the plane during the boarding process. One of the coins landed inside the engine, police said.

The 80-year-old woman, identified only by her last name, Qiu, said she had been tossing coins at the plane for good luck, according to Shanghai police.

Police detained the woman while maintenance crew members conducted a "comprehensive inspection" of the aircraft and its engine, China Southern Airlines said in its official account on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter.

Local media outlets showed pictures of several investigators peering into an open engine and holding a handful of coins that had been retrieved from the area – including one from within the engine of the Airbus A320.

China Southern Airlines flight from #Shanghai to #Guangzhou grounded for four hours after old lady throws coins into the engine pic.twitter.com/5Xwv2yVXqT

— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) June 27, 2017

Police said the woman had no criminal record or history of mental illness, and had tossed the coins at the plane to "pray for a safe flight." Police also said they would not jail the woman because of her age.

Safety concerns intensify as New York subway derailment injures dozens

6 hours 40 min ago

NEW YORK — For months, the city's aging transportation infrastructure has served New Yorkers one fresh outrage after another.

Subway meltdowns have become all too frequent, with delays skyrocketing as pieces of antiquated equipment fail regularly. Hundreds of straphangers were recently stranded on a steamy F train in Manhattan that left them struggling to pry open the doors to escape.

Until Tuesday, however, the main concern for subway riders had been long and unpredictable delays aboard a fraying system. But in a flash, the concern shifted from inconvenience to questions about basic safety as two cars on a train in northern Manhattan veered off the tracks in a jumble of sparks and smoke.

At least 34 people were injured in the derailment, with 17 taken to local hospitals for treatment of minor injuries, according to Fire Department officials.

One passenger aboard the southbound A train, Michelle Ayoub, said she was afraid she would die when the train suddenly went out of control as it approached the 125th Street station. She had been frustrated by subway delays, but until now had not worried that there was any danger.

"I never thought it was not a safe system," she said. "I guess now I'm thinking that. I really don't want to get back on a train."

The cause of the accident was under investigation, but Joseph Lhota, the newly named leader of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, said the train careened off the tracks after its emergency brakes were activated. Asked about the safety of the system, Lhota said he wanted to "rebuild the confidence" in the agency.

"We transport millions of people every day," Lhota told reporters. "We want to do it safely, and we want to do it as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can."

Among the unanswered questions are what activated the brakes and what caused the two cars to derail. It was unclear if the derailment was related to the system's dilapidated infrastructure.

In 2015, a G train derailed in Brooklyn, injuring three people, when a crumbling wall fell on to the tracks — an accident subway officials said amplified the need for infrastructure improvements.

On Tuesday night, local A train service was restored between Columbus Circle and 168th Street in Manhattan, but the C train remained suspended in the area. Crews were working to remove the derailed train from the express tracks and to bring back normal service Wednesday morning.

The damage from the accident was so severe — with about 200 feet of track and signal equipment damaged and mounds of concrete shorn from the walls — that restoring service became a laborious task.

The derailment comes amid other transit problems throughout the region, including the need to make urgent repairs at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan — the nation's busiest railroad station, where two trains recently derailed. State officials have predicted a "summer of hell" when several tracks are taken out of service, starting July 10.

Riders aboard the derailed subway train relayed harrowing accounts of the train being violently jolted and then being plunged into darkness. For several frightening minutes, as smoke filled cars, passengers did not know what had happened.

Kelly Kopp, 48, a photographer who lives in Manhattan, said there was chaos on board as passengers struggled to find a way off the train.

"People were screaming. People were throwing up because the smoke was so thick," Kopp said as he stood on a street corner above the 125th Street station. His shirt was covered in dirt from having climbed off the train into the tunnel.

When the train derailed, Kopp saw sparks from what looked like an explosion.

"I thought, 'This is it,'" he said. "I thought, 'We're going to burn alive in here.'"

There were about 800 people in the subway tunnel after the accident, and it took more than an hour for all of them to get out, according to officials.

Lhota said that the smoke and fire reported by riders was the result of garbage on the tracks that was set ablaze in the crash. Asked by reporters how fast the train was going when it derailed, Lhota said that would be examined as part of the investigation.

For Lhota, who is days into a job he has held once before, the derailment was an inauspicious beginning. He had planned to unveil the new South Ferry subway station in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning, but instead traveled to the scene of the derailment. The South Ferry station was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and the authority had just completed $369 million in repairs to bring it back to service.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the subway and has come under heavy criticism for the continual problems, has vowed to take action to improve the system after it became clear that its antiquated infrastructure was failing. Cuomo did not visit the derailment site, as he did when a Long Island Rail Road train derailed in January; his office said he traveled to Albany on Tuesday morning, where he called a special legislative session to begin Wednesday.

Cuomo released a statement Tuesday night, saying that under Lhota's leadership, he hoped to address the "fundamental issues plaguing the transit system."

"While the investigation is ongoing, this morning's subway derailment is an unacceptable manifestation of the system's current state," Cuomo said. "New Yorkers deserve better."

Tony Utano, the vice president of Transport Workers Union Local 100's Maintenance of Way Division, said that at least 100 members were working to bring service back.

"It's a serious derailment, with quite of bit of damage to signals and some structural damage to the walls," Utano said. "Our members are working as fast and safely as possible to bring the system back to normal."
(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)
Photographs that the union provided showed signals ripped from their moorings and switches heavily damaged. The metal cladding on one of the cars was shorn off, creating a gash several feet long. Chunks of concrete were torn from the walls.

Surveying the damage after the crash, Keyvan Chamani, 28, said it was amazing no one was more seriously injured. He was sitting on the train watching YouTube videos on his phone when "everything went crazy." His first thought was that there had been an explosion. But it soon became clear that it was an accident, he said.

A door, only feet from where he sat, was torn off as the train crashed into a wall.

He said people were having trouble breathing and some passengers opened windows. But that caused more smoke to pour in, he said, so they closed the windows again.

"I was getting panicked," he said.

Kirk James, 42, was traveling to New York University, where he is a professor, when he said the train seemed to "brake really hard." Many people were thrown to the floor, and he said that in those first few minutes, there was no announcement about what had gone wrong. People from another car began shouting that they saw and smelled smoke.

"They were trying to break the glass to come into our car," he said. They succeeded and huddled in that car for a brief period, afraid to open the door for fear that there might be a fire outside.

After nearly a half-hour, he said, he saw people leaving the cars and walking toward the 125th Street station and he joined the procession, eventually emerging onto the sunlit street to join many other shaken riders.

Jim Dwyer and Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting.

British prosecutors file new charges in 1989 stadium tragedy that killed 96

6 hours 59 min ago

LONDON – British prosecutors announced Wednesday criminal charges against six people – including a former police chief – in a 1989 soccer stadium disaster that claimed 96 lives and left their families in a nearly three-decade struggle over who was to blame.

The Hillsborough stadium disaster is one of the world's worst sports-related disasters and still looms large in British consciousness during a long and tangled legal reckoning.

The latest twist comes five years after the overturning of a ruling that declared the deaths accidental. Last year, a new inquest concluded the 96 had been "unlawfully killed" – setting up potential cases against authorities for possible security lapses and other charges.

"I have decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge six individuals with criminal offenses," Sue Hemming, head of the special crime and counter terrorism division at the Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement.

During a soccer match in Sheffield in northern England, fans flooded into an already-full section of the stadium, leaving many trampled or crushed against metal fences. Immediately following the incident, visiting Liverpool fans were blamed for the disaster, something their families adamantly denied.

For 28 years, victims' families have fought a campaign to clear their loved ones of any blame.

They were told privately of the state's decision to press charges Wednesday and reportedly hugged each other upon hearing the news.

The new proceedings come as Britain deals with the aftermath of another tragedy involving mass casualties – this time from a deadly fire in a London tower block, where at least 79 people died. Victims and victims' families also are demanding justice.

Police have said they are considering manslaughter charges over the Grenfell Tower fire, but they have not said who they might charge.

In the Hillsborough tragedy, David Duckenfield, a former a former police chief superintendent who was in charge on the day of the disaster, was charged with the "manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 men, women and children."

He is not being charged with the death of the 96th victim because he died four years after the disaster, prosecutors said.

"We will allege that David Duckenfield's failures to discharge his personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives," said Hemming.

Norman Bettison, a former police chief constable, was charged with offenses relating to alleged lies about his involvement in the aftermath of the disaster and the culpability of fans.

"Given his role as a senior police officer, we will ask the jury to find that this was misconduct of such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the officeholder," said Hemming.

In addition, two other ex-police officers, a lawyer, and a club secretary and safety officer who worked at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium were also charged.

Man arrested for smashing Ten Commandments monument at Arkansas Capitol

7 hours 24 min ago

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A newly installed Ten Commandments monument on Arkansas state Capitol grounds was toppled on Wednesday, with police saying they have arrested a man they suspect of driving his vehicle into the granite slab.

"It was shattered into a lot of pieces," Chris Powell, a spokesman for the Secretary of State and Capitol Police, said in an interview.

No motive has been released for destroying the monument installed on Tuesday, Powell said. The suspect, identified as Michael Reed, faces three charges, including felony defacing an object of public interest.

An officer patrolling nearby arrested Reed, 32, shortly after the incident occurred, Powell said. No lawyer was listed for the suspect in online jail records.

The 6-foot monument was funded with $26,000 in private donations. Legislation permitting it on the Capitol grounds was enacted in 2015, and whether that was appropriate has been debated ever since.

Courts have ordered the removal of similar religious monuments erected in Oklahoma and Alabama.

A civil liberties group pledged a court challenge in Arkansas, saying the monument showed an unconstitutional government preference for a certain religion.

At the installation ceremony in Little Rock on Tuesday, Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert noted that the Ten Commandments were chiseled into the portals of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"If it's good enough for the U.S. Capitol, it's good enough for the state of Arkansas," said Rapert, an evangelist who sponsored the legislation permitting the new monument.

But Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, has said the group is preparing to file a lawsuit over the placement of the monument, which she called a visible symbol of government endorsement of one particular religious belief.

Since Arkansas' Ten Commandments monument act was proposed about two years ago, satanists and other groups have also sought state permission to place markers on Capitol grounds, but their requests were rejected.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz)

Police rebels in helicopter attack Venezuela’s Supreme Court building

7 hours 46 min ago

CARACAS – A Venezuelan police helicopter strafed the Supreme Court and a government ministry on Tuesday, escalating the OPEC nation's political crisis in what President Nicolas Maduro called an attack by "terrorists" seeking a coup.

The aircraft fired 15 shots at the Interior Ministry, where scores of people were at a social event, and dropped four grenades on the court, where judges were meeting, officials said.

However, there were no reports of injuries.

"Sooner rather than later, we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country," Maduro said.

"They could have caused dozens of deaths," he said.

The 54-year-old socialist leader has faced three months of protests from opposition leaders who decry him as a dictator who has wrecked a once-prosperous economy. There has been growing dissent too from within government and the security forces.

At least 75 people have died, and hundreds more been injured and arrested, in the anti-government unrest since April.

Demonstrators are demanding general elections, measures to alleviate a brutal economic crisis, freedom for hundreds of jailed opposition activists, and independence for the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature.

Maduro says they are seeking a coup against him with the encouragement of a U.S. government eager to gain control of Venezuela's oil reserves, the largest in the world.

Venezuela's government said in a communique the helicopter was stolen by investigative police pilot Oscar Perez, who declared himself in rebellion against Maduro.

Images shared on social and local media appear to show Perez waving a banner from the helicopter reading "Liberty", and the number "350" in large letters.

The number refers to the constitutional article allowing people the right to oppose an undemocratic government.

A video posted on Perez' Instagram account around the same time showed him standing in front of several hooded armed men, saying an operation was underway to restore democracy.

Perez said in the video he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian officials opposed to the "criminal" government, urged Maduro's resignation and called for general elections. "This fight is … against the vile government. Against tyranny," he said.

Local media also linked Perez to a 2015 action film, Suspended Death, which he co-produced and starred in as an intelligence agent rescuing a kidnapped businessman.

On Tuesday, witnesses reported hearing several detonations in downtown Caracas, where the pro-Maduro Supreme Court, the presidential palace and other key government buildings are located.

Opponents to Maduro view the Interior Ministry as a bastion of repression and also hate the Supreme Court for its string of rulings bolstering the president's power and undermining the opposition-controlled legislature.

VOTE CONTROVERSY

Opposition leaders have long been calling on Venezuela's security forces to stop obeying Maduro.

However, there was also some speculation among opposition supporters on social media that the attack could have been staged to justify repression or cover up drama at Venezuela's National Assembly, where two dozen lawmakers said they were being besieged by pro-government gangs.

Earlier on Tuesday, Maduro warned that he and supporters would take up arms if his socialist government was violently overthrown by opponents.

"If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what couldn't be done with votes, we would do with arms, we would liberate the fatherland with arms," he said.

Maduro, who replaced Hugo Chavez in 2013, is pushing a July 30 vote for a special super-body called a Constituent Assembly, which could rewrite the national charter and supersede other institutions such as the opposition-controlled congress.

He has touted the assembly as the only way to bring peace to Venezuela. But opponents, who want to bring forward the next presidential election scheduled for late 2018, say it is a sham poll designed purely to keep the socialists in power.

They are boycotting the vote, and protesting daily on the streets to try and have it stopped.

Maduro said the "destruction" of Venezuela would lead to a huge refugee wave dwarfing the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

"Listen, President Donald Trump," he said earlier on Tuesday. "You would have to build 20 walls in the sea, a wall from Mississippi to Florida, from Florida to New York, it would be crazy … You have the responsibility: stop the madness of the violent Venezuelan right wing."

Opposition to the July 30 vote has come not just from Venezuelan opposition parties but also from the chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega and one-time government heavyweights such as former intelligence service boss Miguel Rodriguez.

Rodriguez criticized Maduro for not holding a referendum before the Constituent Assembly election, as his predecessor Chavez had done in 1999.

"This is a country without government, this is chaos," he told a news conference on Tuesday. "The people are left out … They (the government) are seeking solutions outside the constitution."

The government said pilot Perez was linked to Rodriguez.

Neither men, nor representatives for them, could be reached immediately to comment on the accusations.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Girish Gupta, Eyanir Chinea, Andrew Cawthorne and Andreina Aponte)

Anchorage Assembly OKs new pot shop downtown

Tue, 2017-06-27 23:18

In a busy meeting Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly approved a new downtown pot shop, created legal safeguards for prostitutes victimized by crimes and authorized the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to pursue an intricate development deal for a new city health building.

The Assembly also passed an ordinance preventing the city parking authority from charging for metered parking before 11 a.m. on weekends and holidays.

Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar, who introduced the measure, said he was worried downtown bar patrons would try to drive while intoxicated to avoid a ticket Saturday morning. He said he's left his car downtown overnight at times in the past to avoid driving, and has talked to a number of others who have done the same.

At Tuesday's meeting, Andrew Halcro, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, sharply criticized Dunbar's ordinance, which he said wasn't based on data. He said a pilot program is designed to collect information about parking behavior.

Under the pilot program, which starts this Saturday, drivers won't be charged for downtown metered parking. But cars parked at meters for longer than two hours between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays risk a warning ticket.

Development deal gets green light for next steps

The Berkowitz administration has outlined a complex proposal with two developers, Mark Lewis and David Irwin, to use land trades and tax breaks and other concessions for a new city health building on city-owned land at the corner of Tudor and Elmore roads.

The proposal includes two privately financed developments: A grocery store, shops and housing on the Tudor property and a senior housing development at Eighth Avenue and L Street downtown, the site of the current health building.

The city and the developers have until March 1, 2018, to execute an actual agreement.

The current proposal involves moving an Anchorage School District bus barn from an 8-acre property to a 3-acre lot south of the Tudor property, to make room for the new health building. The bus barn houses 120 buses, or about half of the district's fleet.

At Tuesday's meeting, school district officials said they were worried about potential impacts on bus operations if that move happened. Addressing Assembly members, superintendent Deena Bishop also said that questions from the district about the proposal had gone unanswered, and the district had not been directly included in the negotiations with the developers. The district's buses ferry 26,000 students twice a day, to and from school.

After the meeting, Bishop said she was more confident the city, school district and transit officials would be able to resolve the issues. She said district officials were set to meet with the developers on Wednesday.

New equipment could cut accident investigation time

Anchorage police say road shutdowns to investigate major accidents, including on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm, will be significantly shorter with new equipment approved by the Assembly on Tuesday night.

The Assembly authorized the city to spend about $155,000, mostly federal grant money, on a camera system that reconstructs accident scenes. It's much more powerful than the equipment currently used by the Anchorage Police Department, said deputy chief Kenneth McCoy.

The Anchorage Police Department expects to start using the new equipment in mid-August, said city spokeswoman Nora Morse.

Downtown pot shop approved

The Assembly authorized a new pot shop in downtown Anchorage at 541 W. Fourth Ave., at the heart of Anchorage's busy tourist street.

A group of more than 20 investors own Great Northern Cannabis Inc., including Andrew Halcro, the executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, and former Anchorage Assemblyman Patrick Flynn.

But Tuesday night's hearing on the license was overtaken by pleas from some property and business owners for a moratorium on pot shops downtown.

Bob Neuman, a downtown business owner, read a letter from former Alaska Gov. and Anchorage Mayor Tony Knowles, who owns property downtown, voicing concerns about a "concentration" of pot shops downtown.

Assemblywoman Amy Demboski stressed the Assembly looks closely at each marijuana license, including location. If the Assembly decided granting the license would lead to problems, the business may not get the license, Demboski said.

She advised concerned business or property owners to contact Assembly members directly about moratoriums.

Prostitution 

The Assembly also passed an ordinance Tuesday night that would grant immunity to a criminal charge of prostitution when a person reports a more serious crime. The measure is a local version of a state law passed through criminal justice legislation known as Senate Bill 91.

Immunity would extend until the close of the investigation or prosecution of the particular crime that's reported, according to the ordinance.

City prosecutor Seneca Theno expressed doubts about the measure, indicating prosecutors and police already apply discretion in prostitution cases, which are now very rare.

But Assemblyman Fred Dyson, who co-sponsored the measure, said the measure was narrowly aimed at helping prostitutes report abuse by pimps or clients, or crimes discovered through sex work.

"This is designed to be proactive on him or her reporting crimes, that they know about," Dyson said.

With 3 words, Supreme Court opens a world of uncertainty for refugees

Tue, 2017-06-27 22:44

Fouad Dagoum fled Sudan after his village was ransacked by militia members who captured, detained and tortured him until his body was limp.

Eventually, he escaped to Egypt, where he was parked for more than a decade until getting a green light to resettle in the United States with his wife, Azhar Ahmed, and daughter, Lames.

Two years ago, the family arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, where they knew no one. A refugee resettlement agency found them an apartment, signed them up for benefits, got them Social Security numbers and enrolled the daughter in school.

"It was hard," recalled Ahmed, 32. "When we arrive, we don't know anyone. We don't have friends. We don't speak English. But we are safe, and we got help."

About four out of 10 refugees who come to the United States have no family ties in the country, according to independent estimates. In some cities known for taking in refugees — like Boise, Idaho; New Haven; and Fayetteville, Arkansas — those with no family ties are a majority.

On Monday, the Supreme Court threw into question whether such refugees, who are among the most vulnerable people seeking a haven after fleeing persecution or conflict, will be approved for resettlement in the United States.

[Supreme Court revives parts of Trump travel ban, agrees to hear full arguments]

In agreeing to hear two cases on President Donald Trump's travel ban, the court introduced a new phrase to the fraught discussion of refugees and Muslim immigrants: "bona fide relationship."

Those who can show a "bona fide relationship" with a "person or entity" in the United States will not be affected by Trump's 120-day halt to refugee admissions or his 90-day ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries, according to the court's order. Those refugees or travelers must be admitted, at least for now.

However, those who have no family, business or other ties can be prohibited, the court said.

The justices gave some examples of a bona fide relationship: visiting relatives in the United States, attending a university or taking a job offer.

On a conference call Monday, lawyers who have fought the Trump administration argued that other refugees and travelers should also be allowed in because, like Dagoum, they often have ties to a nonprofit organization that has been helping them even before they land in the United States.

"Anyone who has an existing relationship with a nonprofit, frankly tens of thousands of refugees," should be seen as having bona fide ties, said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Representatives of some resettlement agencies said they were awaiting guidance from the State Department. Although the department did not say Monday how it would interpret the ruling, it is conceivable that it will take a relatively narrow view of the phrase and argue that anyone without a family, university or employment tie can be barred.

That could lead to another round of lawsuits from opponents of the ban, the very situation that Justice Clarence Thomas warned of in a partial dissent in which he called the standard "unworkable."

"The compromise also will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a 'bona fide relationship,'" Thomas wrote. He argued that all refugees and travelers from the six countries should be temporarily barred.

Trump has said he issued the ban to give his administration time to review its vetting procedures, but opponents argue that the order unconstitutionally discriminates against Muslims. On Monday, Trump hailed the court's decision, and his administration said it would begin putting it into effect on Thursday.

"At the very least, there will be delays in refugees' coming to the United States until we get clarifications from the State Department or the federal court," said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University.

Clarity on that issue is crucial for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which resettled about 13,300 refugees last year.

For example, its affiliate in Fayetteville relies on 13 local congregations whose members have been preparing for the new arrivals.

"They have been waiting for families for months," said Emily Crane Linn, resettlement director at the affiliate, Canopy Northwest Arkansas. "They have garages filled with furnishings for their apartments."

The first wave of refugees from any particular country rarely have family ties. Thus, a majority of those arriving from Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two of the most common nationalities of refugees in recent years, are so-called free cases.

As the number of refugees from a country grows, they become sponsors of relatives applying to join them. Until then, the families require intense case management from resettlement agency staff, to show them where to buy groceries, how to ride the bus and how to perform other mundane tasks.

Dr. Heval Kelli, a Syrian refugee, moved to the United States with his family in 2001, knowing no one in his new country. He was greeted by members of a local Episcopal church when he arrived in Clarkston, Georgia.

"They brought furniture and food, sat on the ground with us, took us shopping to Walmart," said Kelli, 34. "That was the first time I went to Walmart."

He eventually attended medical school at Morehouse and completed a residency at Emory, where he is now training to be a cardiologist.

Dagoum, who settled in New Haven, now works at a granite company, packing and shipping marble and tiles. His wife is studying English at a local college.

Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, the nonprofit agency that helped Dagoum, serves mostly people without family connections in the United States.

Linda Bronstein, a senior case manager at the agency, called these "classic refugee cases."

"All of a sudden, we're saying these refugees might not be allowed here," she said.

Alaska baseball scores, schedule for June 27

Tue, 2017-06-27 22:16

Alaska baseball

Sunday's results
Peninsula Oilers 2, Anchorage Glacier Pilots 1
Mat-Su Miners 3, Chugiak Chinooks 2

Monday's results
Anchorage Bucs 6, Mat-Su Miners 2
Anchorage Glacier Pilots at Peninsula Oilers, rescheduled for July 31

Tuesday's results
Mat-Su Miners 9, Anchorage Glacier Pilots 6
Chugiak Chinooks 4, Anchorage Bucs 3
Fairbanks Goldpanners 11, Highline Bears 0, at Grand Forks (B.C.) International Baseball Tournament

Wednesday's games
7 p.m. — Anchorage Glacier Pilots at Anchorage Bucs, Mulcahy Stadium
7 p.m. — Mat-Su Miners at Chugiak Chinooks, Lee Jordan Field
7 p.m. — Fairbanks Goldpanners vs. North Sound Emeralds at GFI Baseball Tournament

Thursday's games
10 a.m. — Fairbanks Goldpanners vs. Everett Merchants at GFI Baseball Tournament
7 p.m. — Chugiak Chinooks at Anchorage Bucs, Mulcahy Stadium
7 p.m. — Anchorage Glacier Pilots at Mat-Su Miners, Hermon Brothers

Extra Bases

— Mitch Berryhill hit 2 doubles and triple, while Alex Vesia struck out six in a complete-game shutout in the Goldpanners' 11-0 win against the Highline Bears. Fairbanks is competing at the 10-team Grand Forks (B.C.) International Baseball Tournament this week.

— 2010 Goldpanners outfielder Mike Tauchman has been called up by the Colorado Rockies, becoming the 205th Panner to reach the major leagues.

— Blake Benefield powered a solo walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to help Mat-Su defeat Chugiak 3-2 on Sunday.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, June 28, 2017

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:32

Don't give tax cuts to wealthy; instead, let's cover everyone

How many Alaskans need to lose their health care before our senators vote no on the "non-health care but a tax cut for the wealthy" bill? Don't they realize that the non-insured will delay medical care until the problem is dire, and go to emergency room, which they can't afford, and are admitted to the hospital, which they sure can't afford, and if they survive they will be forced into bankruptcy? Now they are broke and poorer and so are we; after all, we will pay for their bills through higher costs at the hospital or higher taxes (the hospital deducts the loss from their taxes). The cuts to Medicaid down the line raise costs to all Alaskans. Please protect Alaskans instead of ideology.

So why don't we do the smart thing and cover everyone (such as Medicare for all who are working and Medicaid for those who are not), not give tax cuts to the wealthy. The insurance companies would still provide supplemental and Part D coverage as well as "Cadillac" policies for our very rich friends. This would make the playing field level for all the businesses, since everyone is covered, no insurance costs for any business except maybe supplemental and Part D. If you, our senators, really are serious about reducing costs, repeal the "no negotiations with drug companies."

— Bill Harbin
Anchorage

Medicare is far better than
insurance writer used to have

We may soon know if either of our Alaska U.S. senators is willing to concoct an excuse to throw 100,000 Alaskans under the bus for the opportunity to stay in Sen. McConnell's good graces. Oddly, the same vote will deliver a giant tax break to wealthy families, their families included.

By the way, have you ever wondered why the same industry complaining about the exorbitant costs of insuring their workers also pays lobbyists to lobby against Bernie Sanders' proposal to lift the burden from their shoulders with better quality, lower deductible coverage through a single-payer system? Bernie wants to expand Medicare to cover every American of every age through Medicare. I'm on Medicare; my annual deductible is $183, my monthly premium is $134, and I've had no difficulty finding doctors who accept Medicare. It's less costly, and vastly superior to the coverage my real estate company once provided for myself and my employees.

Yes, taxes would go up just a bit, but the tax increases would be nowhere near the cost savings for the premiums industry would no longer pay. Could it be that industry views controlled access to medical care through cheap employment as the worthwhile cost of forcing middle-class Americans into the cheap-labor harnesses that pull the profit strings of their industry?

— Ray Metcalfe
Anchorage

If Alaska can afford Big Oil welfare, it's not time for taxes

Whether it is a dollar paid to small producers or a tax credit or voucher given to Big Oil, it is a transfer of the wealth of Alaska to private industry set into motion by our former governor and ConocoPhillips lobbyist Sean Parnell. The House is trying to limit small producer credits but have not even begun to address the Big Oil giveaway. And as long as the our Legislature and governor continue to allow this transfer to the oil industry, we certainly have no need for individual income or sales tax. If anyone is getting a free ride, it's Big Oil.

Article 9, section 6 of the Alaska Constitution states, "No tax shall be levied, or appropriation of public money made, or public property transferred, nor shall the public credit be used, except for a public purpose." Allowing Big Oil to mooch off our treasury and oil reserves is not a public purpose — it is a private, profit-making purpose. Once our Legislature and governor end this tax credit waste, we may have enough money to pay for government. Until then, don't ask me to pay Big Oil welfare.

— Wayne Blank, CPA
Anchorage

New direction: Alaska news first

The good news is the editors at Alaska Dispatch News have asked for suggestions from their readers. What appears to be the disappointing news: The ADN editors are not listening.

Front page above the fold today (June 27) "CBO: 22 million would join uninsured" and also "Supreme Court to hear case on travel ban." The ADN editors are underestimating their readers' intelligence because those news stories appeared in great detail 20 hours previous on the radio and television. The articles should have been inside the paper. The main story should have been "Here comes the caribou."

The news that appeared above the fold came from the financially failing Washington Post and The New York Times. If ADN wants to succeed they should head in a new direction: Alaska news first.

— Dorrance Collins and Faith Myers
Anchorage

To keep people safe, kill wild animals

Another bear attack! When will Fish and Game, the parks departments and the people finally figure it out? Wild animals and people don't mix. When I moved here 35 years ago, I recall few problems with wild animals locally because people then knew wild animals and people don't mix, and the bears and moose were eliminated because they had been known to be a problem.

In the last decade, people, mostly those who have never had a problem, either because they were "bush wise" or ignorant, have promoted "wildness" in our city and adjacent parks. New York City, Chicago and a host of metropolitan areas used to have wild animals but have eliminated them from their environs for good reason. What is our problem — ignorance, stupidity, what? How many attacks and/or fatalities will it take? Wise up. People and wild animals don't mix!

— Wes Sutterlin
Anchorage

This veteran appreciates VA's help

The news is filled with complaints about the VA. I am a veteran with a different story. I use a power wheelchair that tilts back to horizontal, so I am not sitting on my bottom all day. Around 10:30 a.m. on Friday, I was tilted back and needed to sit forward when the screen on my controls flashed (Contact Service Technician). Then the screen went blue with the word PRISM (manufacturer) on it. I could not turn the wheelchair on or off and I definitely could not lower myself back down to a sitting position. In this tilted position I could not get through the doorway to reach the ceiling-mounted Hoyer lift (made possible by a VA grant). Now I couldn't get out of my wheelchair.

Luckily my caregiver, provided through the VA, arrived at 11:15 a.m. She could not get it to work and so helped me call the VA. When I told the nurse in the specialty clinic my dilemma, she immediately convened the care team at the VA and called me back within 20 minutes with the authorization sent to the people who service the wheelchair.

Now, that is a quick, efficient response and allowed me to get the help I needed.
Thank you and kudos to the VA here in Anchorage from a very grateful veteran.

— Penny Hlavna
Anchorage

Three changes could help resolve
health care and insurance issues

Dear Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan, Gov. Walker and the Alaska Legislature:
At this critical juncture where health care laws are being changed, here are three recommendations for dealing with the health care/insurance crisis.

First, make medical billing rates transparent. Most people have no idea how much the fees are for medical services received until they get their bills weeks or months later. Even then, the bills can be arcane and not easily understood. Requiring that all health care providers post their prices on the internet would allow the public, patients and health insurers to compare prices. Such price transparency will foster competition and help drive down medical rates, which theoretically would to help contain health insurance premiums. (Compare the transparency and ease of shopping for airline travel on the internet.)

Second, the laws should be changed to allow for the purchase of health insurance across state lines. Right now the number of health insurers doing business in Alaska and other states is dwindling, causing premiums to skyrocket. Creating a national marketplace for health insurance would help foster competition among health insurers and theoretically drive down rates.

Finally, under ERISA, health insurers cannot be sued for bad-faith handling of health insurance claims. That immunity should be repealed, and health insurers should be held to the same standards of good faith and fair dealing on handling claims as other insurers.

There are no easy answers to out-of-control medical prices or health insurance premiums. However, these three proposals would allow market forces to do their job and ensure health insureds are treated fairly.

— Rebecca Rogers
Anchorage

Kudos to senators on Russian hacking

I was happy to see that our senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, were a part of the overwhelming majority of the Senate in voting for sanctions against Russia for their hacking and meddling in our election system and process. This was long overdue.

The lack of response from the executive branch regarding Russia's attacks on our election process is most disheartening.

I hope that our senators also take a stance against the GOP health care plan, which involves a phase-down in Medicaid and extreme cuts in Medicare. Let's not punish the most vulnerable part of our population by denying them adequate health care.

— Jim Bailey
Anchorage

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An unlikely journey lands one Anchorage player in basketball royalty

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:19

It's no secret Alaska prep athletes often have a harder time getting noticed than their Lower 48 counterparts.

That's why former West High basketball standout Brandon Huffman made the tough decision in 2015 to finish his prep basketball career at Word of God Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina — a more than 4,000-mile drive from Anchorage.

His decision paid off big time.

Despite not playing basketball until seventh grade, the 6-foot-10 center will don the Carolina blue and white next season as a member of the defending NCAA champion North Carolina Tar Heels.

"I think him leaving was able to give him some growth because he was able to play against people his size and he was able to be pushed a little bit more," said Antonio Wyche, Huffman's coach at West. "Up here, it's hard — he (was) the only 6-10 person.

"He dominated."

Wyche said Huffman is a fun, goofy guy off the court, but all business on it.

An electric player, Huffman is known for throwing down devastating dunks. A YouTube search reveals several videos of Huffman getting an edge in the paint and finishing with a big slam.

But Huffman, who declined an interview, didn't always dominate on the court.

Always a big kid, Huffman started playing basketball in middle school after getting too big and too old for youth football, said his father, Byron Huffman.

"He was not a skilled player when he started out, but all the coaches recognized the potential in him," Byron said.

In addition to Wyche, former East High stud Muff Butler noticed Huffman had the potential to turn into a force. Butler asked to train Huffman 1-on-1.

"… Brandon would ride his bicycle over (to the Southside Alaska Club) and he and Muff would meet up and train," Byron said.

In 2015, Huffman helped lead the Eagles to a state title in a game West battled back from a double-digit deficit at halftime to win in overtime over East, 77-73.

"Every time they were down court on offense, they were calling Brandon's name because he was getting the offensive rebounds, putting them back, scoring points," Byron said. "Between him and Da'Zhon (Wyche), they fought and got them back in the game."

It was redemption for Huffman, who missed the 2014 championship game with a leg injury. The Eagles lost to Service 49-47.

After winning the state championship, Huffman told his parents if he really wanted to get better, he had to go Outside to play.

"He went out and found the coach, sent the coach video," Byron said. "He said, 'I can either be comfortable, or I can get better.' "

After visiting Word of God Academy, the Huffmans decided to send Brandon there. Since he was going from a public school to a private school in another state, Huffman was able to reclassify as a junior and play two seasons for the Holy Rams, Byron said.

Scouts noticed him immediately.

Before leaving Alaska, Huffman had only a couple of scholarship offers from mid-major programs, but at Word of God, the scholarships started rolling in.

By the time UNC offered Huffman a scholarship, 47 schools had already extended offers, Byron said. In September, he decided to commit early to the Tar Heels.

Huffman isn't the only recent Alaska basketball player to finish his prep career in the Lower 48. West's Devon Bookert spent one season at a prep school in Las Vegas before playing four seasons at Florida Sate. The 6-3 guard finished his career in 2016.

Most recently, rising senior Kamaka Hepa of Barrow is finishing his career at Jefferson High in Portland, Oregon.

"The coaches from the Lower 48, the high major D-Is, they're not going to travel to Alaska," Byron said. "They're not going to extend the effort to come to Alaska to look at one kid."

All in the family: Dimond hoopster Osborne to join dad at UAA

Tue, 2017-06-27 21:19

Kylan Osborne of Dimond will be the first UAA athlete to play for a parent when he joins the UAA men's basketball team and coach Rusty Osborne, his father, this fall.

Kylan, who helped lead the Lynx to a state title in the spring, signed his National Letter of Intent on Monday to round out Rusty's recruiting class.

"It can be tough for kids to play for their parents, so I know this was a difficult decision for Kylan," Rusty said in a news release. "However, as a father, I look forward to being around him every day for the next 4-5 years and helping him reach his goals.

"This is only happening because our entire staff believes he has great potential to help the program."

Osborne, a first-team All-Cook Inlet Conference selection as a senior, joins former Dimond teammate Eric Jenkins and state Gatorade Player of the Year Austin White of Ninilchik to give the Seawolves three Alaskans in the recruiting class.

Osborne averaged 10.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 3.0 steals last season, when he earned all-tournament honors at the Soldotna Invitational and the Capitol City Classic, plus selection to the postseason AABC All-Star Game.

He came up clutch in Dimond's state championship win, sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer with one minute remaining. He also produced a steal and nailed two free throws in the game's final five seconds.

"Kylan is a late bloomer physically and we feel that he will continue to fill out and grow with the help of Coach (Ryan) Walsh and our other outstanding strength coaches," Rusty said. "He is a good athlete, has great defensive instincts and has proven to be a clutch shooter.

"His basketball IQ and unselfish attitude will fit in well with our system."

Osborne is the 10th addition to UAA's 2017 recruiting class, joining four Division I transfers — 6-3 guard Malik Clements from North Dakota State and 5-10 guard Maleke Haynes, 6-9 forward Jacob Lampkin and 6-4 guard D.J. Ursery, all from University of the Pacific; two junior college transfers in 6-5 guard Josiah Wood of Butte College and 6-0 guard Jack Macdonald of Ohlone College; and fellow true freshmen Jenkins and White.

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