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Updated: 9 min 56 sec ago

EPA to weigh withdrawal of proposed mining restrictions

18 min 10 sec ago

JUNEAU — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to resume considering whether to withdraw proposed Obama-era restrictions on mining activity in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

General Counsel Matthew Leopold has directed regional administrator Chris Hladick to weigh the issue. Leopold, in a memo, writes a decision is needed to provide clarity.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay called EPA's actions political.

EPA, as part of a 2017 settlement with the developer of the proposed Pebble Mine, agreed to initiate a process for withdrawing the proposed restrictions.

But in January 2018, EPA suspended that effort, saying it wanted more information on how the project could impact fish. EPA has said Bristol Bay produces about half the world's sockeye salmon.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating a permit application by the developer.

In a March 1 letter to President Donald J. Trump, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy suggested the EPA should “officially announce” that it will not use the proposed restrictions to stop any possible development in Alaska.

The proposed EPA limits against Pebble could frighten away potential investors in other projects who fear the same process might be “used against” their effort, the letter said.


‘They died in each other’s arms’: Mother of migrant found drowned with daughter says family dreamed of saving money for a home

2 hours 48 min ago

Rosa Ramirez cries when shown a photograph printed from social media of her son Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramírez, 25, granddaughter Valeria, nearly 2, and her daughter-in-law Tania Vanessa Avalos, 21, while speaking to journalists at her home in San Martin, El Salvador, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. The drowned bodies of her son and granddaughter were located Monday morning on the banks of the Rio Grande, a day after the pair were swept away by the current when the young family tried to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Her daughter-in-law survived. (AP Photo/Antonio Valladares) (Antonio Valladares/)

SAN MARTIN, El Salvador — The mother of a man who drowned alongside his 23-month-old daughter while trying to cross the Rio Grande into Texas says she finds a heartbreaking photograph of their bodies hard to look at but takes some comfort in knowing “they died in each other’s arms.”

Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria were swept away by the current near Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, this week. The grim photo shows the girl tucked inside her father's shirt for protection with her arm draped over his neck — an image that underscores the dangers migrants and asylum-seekers face trying to make it to the United States and the desperate measures they resort to in the face of policies designed to deter them.

"It's tough, it's kind of shocking, that image," the 25-year-old man's mother, Rosa Ramírez, told The Associated Press. "But at the same time, it fills me with tenderness. I feel so many things, because at no time did he let go of her."

"You can see how he protected her," she said. "They died in each other's arms."

[A grim border drowning shown in photos underlines peril facing many migrants]

Ramírez had shared a sea-green brick home with barred windows in San Martin on the outskirts of the capital, San Salvador, with her son, his 21-year-old wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos and their daughter until the young family decided to make the journey north.

In their working-class neighborhood of about 40,000, Martínez worked in a pizzeria and Ávalos as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant, Ramírez said.

The area has had problems with gang violence but these days it's calm, she said, adding that he never had any problems with gangs — they left for economic reasons.

Ramírez said that she had given them the big room in the two-bedroom house, but they dreamed of saving money for a place of their own and that drove the family to head for the United States in early April.

"I told him, 'Son, don't go. But if you do go, leave me the girl,'" Ramírez said.

"'No, mamá,'" she said he replied. "'How can you think that I would leave her?'"


EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martinez' wife, Tania told Mexican authorities she watched her husband and child disappear in the strong current. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc) (Julia Le Duc/)

Now she feels a hole that “nobody can fill, but God gives me strength,” she said.

Marta Argueta de Andrade, their 50-year-old neighbor, said she met the family about five years ago. She described them as "good people," and Martínez as an easygoing young man.

"I would see him walking with the girl. I called her 'little curly one,'" Argueta said. "She was very pretty."

Officials have said the bodies were expected to be returned to El Salvador on Thursday. Ramírez said she wasn't sure when they would arrive, but that the government was covering the cost.

"I would say to those who are thinking of migrating, they should think it over because not everyone can live that American dream you hear about," Ramírez said.

"We can put up a fight here," she added. "How much I would like to have my son and my granddaughter here. One way or another, we get by in our country."

The U.S.-Mexico border region has long been perilous for those trying to cross illegally into the United States between ports of entry, from the fast-moving Rio Grande to the scalding Sonoran Desert. A total of 283 people died while trying to cross last year; figures for 2019 have not yet been released.

On Sunday, Martínez decided to make that journey, swimming with Valeria from Matamoros to the Texas side of the Rio Grande, where he left her on the riverbank and started back to get his wife. Seeing him leave, the girl threw herself into the water. Martínez returned to get her, but both were swept away. Ávalos was not harmed.

News of the drownings, and the shocking photo, resonated in El Salvador among those considering heading north as part of what has been a surge of people from that country, Guatemala and Honduras fleeing poverty and violence.

In a Salvadoran chat group for people thinking about forming a migrant caravan — a phenomenon that drew the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump last year but has all but vanished after Mexican immigration enforcement started cracking down — members were having a raw discussion of the perils of the journey and whether it's right for parents to bring children.

"If one goes there, they shouldn't bring children, because going there is risking everything and a child is not prepared for that," read one message, adding that minors should be left with loved ones back home.

"The thing is, it's more likely that they give you help with children," another person replied.

"But that's only if they manage to arrive there ... and that help should come when they are on the road. ... But no, on the road there is no help for any child and there is where it's most needed," came the response.

Migration activists worry people may be driven to more risky measures by recent U.S. policies such as "metering" that dramatically reduce the numbers allowed to apply for refuge, as well as others that send asylum-seekers back across the border to wait in Mexico while their cases slog for months or even longer through a backlogged U.S. immigration court system. Wait lists for registering refugee claims with U.S. officials are in the thousands at some ports of entry.

Meanwhile, migrant shelters on the Mexico side are overflowing, and in places like Tamaulipas state, where Matamoros is located, cartels and gangs known to extort, kidnap and murder migrants are a major threat.

___

Orsi reported from Mexico City.

Pro-Trump message board ‘quarantined’ by Reddit following violent threats

3 hours 29 min ago

The biggest forum for supporters of President Donald Trump on Reddit has been “quarantined” following months of incitements to violence and other offensive behavior, the tech giant said Wednesday, in a move that could further inflame conservatives’ claims of social-media bias.


President Donald Trump gestures as he walks to Marine One across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, for the short trip to Andrews Air Force Base en route to Japan for the G-20 summit.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

The forum, called “r/The_Donald,” has long served as a highly trafficked and controversial gathering place for supporters of Trump and Republicans on Reddit, America’s fifth-most popular website.

Created in 2015, "The_Donald" counts roughly 750,000 followers and advertises itself as "a never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump."

Reddit officials said on Wednesday that the board had allowed or encouraged months of "rule-breaking behavior," including the "encouragement of violence towards police officers and public officials in Oregon."

"We are clear in our site-wide policies that posting content that encourages or threatens violence is not allowed on Reddit," Reddit spokeswoman Anna Soellner said in a statement to The Washington Post. "We are sensitive to what could be considered political speech," Soellner added, but "recent behaviors including threats against the police and public figures is content that is prohibited by our violence policy."

The action will effectively demote the forum on Reddit, restricting how its content is shared across the site and removing key features. It is not an outright ban, but will conceal the forum behind a warning and require viewers to verify they are sure they want to view its contents.

Quarantines are rare punishments imposed on only the forums Reddit has deemed most offensive or upsetting. Past quarantines have included forums devoted to white supremacy, Sept. 11 conspiracy theories and videos of fatal violence.

The message board has long trafficked in edgy "trolling" and offensive behavior, promoting anti-Semitic memes and baseless conspiracy theories, including that victims of the Parkland school shooting were "crisis actors."

Some of the top threads on "r/The_Donald" Wednesday criticized E. Jean Carroll, the author who recently accused Trump of rape, and called Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. soccer star whom Trump had criticized, a "human leech."

Reddit is a link-sharing and discussion site where readers can submit and vote on posts; the most "upvoted" posts are promoted more widely across the site. The site's forums, known as "subreddits," operate independently from the company and are overseen by volunteer moderators, who are expected to follow sitewide rules banning violent threats, harassment and other prohibited content.

The forum's moderators tweeted on Wednesday that the company had moved to "totally suppress" the forum "on the eve of the Democrat Debates." In a post on the forum, the moderators said the company has "set up an impossible standard as a reason to kill us before the 2020 election."

Forum moderators had in weeks past changed elements of the "subreddit," removing the down-vote button and changing the "Report" button, which allows people to flag potential rule-breaking content, to say "Deport."

The "quarantine" move comes on the same day Trump launched his latest attack against Silicon Valley. He threatened a potential lawsuit against Facebook and Google, without providing much detail, and accused Google of trying to rig the election. The company has repeatedly denied that claim.

Trump also accused Twitter of limiting the reach of his tweets and censoring other conservative users, a charge the tech giant has long denied. The White House on Wednesday also announced it would gather "digital leaders" next month to talk about social media but did not elaborate on who would be in attendance.

The White House did not immediately offer comment on the Reddit move.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Tony Romm contributed to this report.

Senate approves $4.6 billion in emergency spending for border crisis, setting up fight with House

3 hours 37 min ago

Migrant families wait to be transported after initial information was taken about them by Border Patrol agents in Los Ebanos, Texas, on June 21, 2019. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten) (Carolyn Van Houten/)

WASHINGTON - The Senate on Wednesday approved $4.6 billion in emergency spending for the U.S.-Mexico border, with lawmakers galvanized by a chilling photo of a father and his young daughter lying dead in the Rio Grande.

But despite the overwhelming 84-to-8 vote and a bipartisan sense of urgency to act, a struggle loomed with the House, which passed a different version of the spending bill on Tuesday that contains greater restrictions on the Trump administration and is opposed by the White House.

Senate Republicans oppose the House bill, too, and were urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to take up and pass the bipartisan Senate version before Congress leaves town for a 10-day recess as soon as Thursday. But Pelosi ruled that out, telling reporters: "They pass their bill. We respect that. We passed our bill, we hope they would respect that. And there's some improvements that we think can be reconciled."

Pelosi addressed reporters not long after having a phone conversation with Trump during which she urged him to support a negotiation on the border bill.

Trump himself sounded notes of optimism as he spoke about the legislation outside the White House prior to departing for Japan.

"What they're working on is aid, humanitarian aid for the children. It seems that the Senate is very close," Trump said. "I think that Nancy wants to get something done, and the Senate and the House will get together. I think they'll be able to do something very good."

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., appeared on the Senate floor to display a widely circulated photo of two migrants - Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria - who drowned trying to cross the river into Brownsville, Texas. In the photo the pair lie face down in shallow water, the little girl's arm around her father.

"President Trump, I want you to look at this photo," Schumer said. "These are not drug dealers. Or vagrants or criminals. They are simply people fleeing a horrible situation in their home country for a better life."

Schumer blamed the Trump administration for conditions at the border, where large numbers of migrants from Central America have overwhelmed U.S. facilities and personnel, resulting in unaccompanied children being held in conditions that visitors have described as inhumane.

The legislation in the Senate includes $2.88 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for caring for migrant children, which is at risk of running out of money within days.

But some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus oppose the Senate bill, arguing it allows the administration too much leeway to spend the money on purposes they oppose. The bill passed Tuesday by the House includes stricter conditions on facilities that hold migrants, and excludes money for the Defense Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency contained in the Senate bill.

Senate Republicans and the White House describe such provisions as non-starters that would prevent the House Democratic bill from ever becoming law, and they accused Democrats of playing politics with people's lives.

"House Democrats have been consistently uncooperative and uninterested in anything except political posturing," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Now that they've finally passed something last night, it's a go-nowhere proposal filled with poison-pill riders which the president would veto."

It was uncertain how - or if - the House and Senate would resolve their differences before Congress breaks for its Fourth of July recess. But lawmakers of both parties insisted they could not leave Washington without acting.

Customers march to protest closure of Fairbanks Nordstrom store

3 hours 59 min ago

This story was originally published on Sept. 9, 1989

FAIRBANKS — With her red linen Jones of New York blazer, navy skirt, floral silk blouse and cream-colored Italian pumps, Sally DeWitt was the picture of conservative Yuppie taste as she marched along a downtown sidewalk here Friday afternoon.

But with her pearls and earrings, she wore an odd accessory: a picket sign propped on her shoulder. It said: "Nordstrom Don't Abandon Me."

"I've never carried one of these in my life," said DeWitt, director of marketing and planning at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. "It's a completely new experience."

She wasn’t the only neophyte protester who showed up Friday to express her disappointment with the decision by the upscale Nordstrom department store chain to close its Fairbanks store in January. About 200 people — most of them women and many of them well-dressed — spent an hour or so marching in the street outside the store on a warm afternoon before the rally finally fizzled out.

As protests went, it was . . . polite. No chanting, no raised voices. The signs said things like: "I'll Spend More," "Please Don't Leave, I Keep My Credit Card Full," and "We're Here to Stay, You Should Too." Someone arrived dressed as a charge card. Someone else came as a giftwrapped box. A woman in a clown costume carried a sign that said, "Pinky Loves Nordstrom."

The only excitement came when the police came to arrest an alleged shoplifter inside.

The event, billed as a rally rather than a demonstration, was organized by the local chamber of commerce. It was hard to tell how much was media event — Outside newspapers and TV have been calling here for two days — and how much a real indication of how people here feel about the store closing. But the mood of many of the marchers was downbeat and many talked, only partly in jest, about how depressed they were about the closing.

“Let’s face it, when it’s 30 or 40-below, there’s not that much to do,” said Gail Ballou. “This little store helps a lot. In Washington, D.C., it doesn’t make any difference. They close this store, you go to Macy’s or wherever. Here, this is it.”

Ballou, a Harvard-educated lawyer from Oregon, moved here eight years ago. The first time she drove into town, she said, she saw “BaskinRobbins and a Nordstrom and I knew everything was going to work out OK.”

With a population of about 75,000, the FairbanksNorth Star Borough is the largest population center for 400 miles. After January, the sole Nordstrom in Alaska will be in Anchorage, an eight-hour drive or a $145 roundtrip weekend flight to the south.

Many Fairbanksans — even those who claim they rarely set foot in the store — are talking about the terrible loss. Some said it was like a city losing its baseball team.

"When you have an upscale retail store, it lends to the identity of your community," said City Manager Brian Phillips, who acknowledged he rarely shops there. "People like to think of the good things they have in their city. You look at the hotels, what kind of restaurants you have, the schools, and your retail businesses. . . .

"Something like this . . . it hurts. It hurts when you're selling the city as a place for people to come and you don't have it."

Nordstrom officials said the store will close because its two small buildings are too decrepit to keep open, and sales here can't justify remodeling or moving into a more modern building.

The Fairbanks store ranks last in sales in the 52store Nordstrom chain, and only the store in Yakima, Wash., is physically smaller, said Paul Hunter, a vice president at the chain's Seattle headquarters.

The Fairbanks Nordstrom may be the only one in the chain with the men’s and women’s departments in separate buildings, and it may be the only one with whitewashed, boarded-up windows. The main building here is one of the oldest in Fairbanks, built in 1905 as the Northern Commercial Co. warehouse, and taken over by Nordstrom in the 1970s during the pipeline boom. The paint outside is peeling and the roof leaks.

Hunter said the decision to close the store was final, and said he was surprised by the protest. Although local chamber and city officials say they're trying to come up with some options for the company including finding a new building Hunter said he was not optimistic.

"The Fairbanks community has been very loyal and we appreciate that." Several years ago, Fairbanks businessmen tried to put together a proposal to move the store, "but the developer was never able to pull it off," he said.

The closing comes as the chain is getting reams of upbeat national press for its expansion into Midwest and East Coast markets. The New York Times recently described the store's reputation for customer service as "almost legendary," and other stores are copying the store's approach.

The Fairbanks store is only the second Nordstrom closure since the first store opened in 1901; the other was in Kenai several years ago.

It hasn't gone unnoticed in the Outside press. For the past two days, the telephone at the chamber of commerce has been ringing with calls from television, radio and newspaper reporters in Seattle, Los Angeles and other West Coast cities.

Organizers were disappointed that more people didn't show up for the protest Friday, which featured food, music and a 5kilometer "Nordys Don't Run Run." But several people couldn't remember the last time this many people had shown up outside in Fairbanks to protest anything.

Marvilla Davis, a voice teacher wearing a green, flowerprint dress, thought for a moment when asked why she was so upset about a store.

"I know it seems superficial," she said. "But for some of us, the arts in the community and this store are what keeps Fairbanks from being a big truck stop. It helps the quality of life."

Sharon Dowlearn, who lives 90 miles away in Delta Junction, drove in for the protest just as she sometimes drives in to the store a couple of times a week, she said.

"This is how we take out our stress living up here," said Dowlearn, a commissary manager at the Fort Greely Army base. "I think we ought to send Nordstroms our psychiatrists' bills when we don't have a place to go."

Down the street, in the JC Penney store, manager Gerry Bowden said he was disappointed, too. Having Nordstrom nearby helps his business, and when it closes it will be one less reason for people to come downtown.

"I support a full choice and I think we're all going to lose," he said.

But not everyone in Fairbanks is so gloomy. Out on the sidewalk, Tom Tribble said he was sorry to hear the store was closing, but couldn't say he was going to miss it. He wore dirty gray coveralls unzipped to the waist, sneakers and a blue ballcap over shoulderlength blond hair; his eyes were bloodshot.

"Well, if I had an old lady right now, I might care if it was there," he offered. Had he been in the store recently?

“Oh yeah, I rang the bell for the Salvation Army in there last summer,” he said. “I mean last Christmas.”

Nordstrom to close downtown Anchorage store in September

4 hours 41 min ago

People walk past the Nordstrom store in downtown Anchorage. (AP Photo/Al Grillo/File) (Al Grillo/)

Nordstrom will close its downtown Anchorage store at the Fifth Avenue Mall in September, the company announced Wednesday.

The store’s last day of business will be Sept. 13. It is Nordstrom’s only full-line store in Alaska.

“Looking at our needs in the Anchorage market, we decided it made the most sense to close this store and focus on serving customers at the nearby Rack store as well as online,” the statement said.

Nordstrom Rack has a location in Midtown Anchorage. No changes are planned for that store, Nordstrom spokeswoman Emily Sterken said in an email.

The downtown Nordstrom opened in 1975. About 170 people work at the 97,000-square-foot store.

Department stores across the country have been closing for years as consumers shift to online shopping.

It’s not a surprise that the local Nordstrom is closing, said Andrew Halcro, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority.

“It is a sign of the changing retail landscape but I’d also argue it’s really a sign of a struggling economy” in Anchorage, he said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Alaska Legislature’s top lawyer says lawmakers can decide special session location

5 hours 42 min ago

This June 14, 2019, photo shows a Wasilla sign on the outskirts of Wasilla, Alaska. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) (Mark Thiessen/)

JUNEAU — The top lawyer on the staff of the Alaska Legislature says Gov. Mike Dunleavy does not have the constitutional authority to call a special session in Wasilla without lawmakers’ consent.

In a memo dated June 25, Legislative Legal Services director Megan Wallace wrote that Alaska’s Constitution trumps a state law that allows the governor to select the location of a special session called by the governor. According to a proclamation issued this month, lawmakers will meet in special session July 8 to set the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.

In the memo, Wallace says there are three reasons the Legislature, not the governor, can determine the location of a special session:

-- The Constitution does not grant the governor the power to select a location;

-- The Constitution states that Juneau is the capital, and therefore the Legislature should meet there unless lawmakers decide otherwise;

-- The separation of powers doctrine, plus previous rulings by the Alaska Supreme Court, means the Legislature does not have to comply with laws that affect the rule-making power of the Legislature.

“I think there’s an argument that that law goes beyond the scope of what’s allowed in the constitutional description," Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said Tuesday.

Josephson is an attorney and, after reading the memo, said of the location law, “You could have a heck of an oral argument in a court deciding the legality of it.”

In 1982, lawmakers approved legislation that says in part, “The governor shall designate the location (of the special session) in the proclamation."

In his June 13 proclamation, Dunleavy chose Wasilla.

But Wallace contends that the 1982 law never waived the Legislature’s authority to pick its own location.

“It seems evident to me ... the Legislature did not contemplate a scenario, like here, where the governor would designate a location in a special session proclamation absent an agreement with the Legislature,” she wrote.

Because lawmakers and the governor disagree, the Legislature’s constitutional authority to govern itself wins the argument, she contends.

“Last time I checked, Wasilla was not our capital," Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, said Tuesday.

He said he supports the decision by the leadership to challenge the applicability of the location law.

Not everyone else does. On Tuesday, Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, said she has heard “there are people interested in filing a lawsuit against the Legislature.”

The Constitution prohibits the governor from suing the Legislature, and state courts have traditionally declined to consider cases involving lawsuits over legislative procedure. Several lawmakers said a suit by a private citizen is the most likely outcome. The time needed to organize and file a suit may make the issue moot: The special session is scheduled to begin in less than two weeks.

Regardless of the legal debates, some lawmakers believe the issue is a distraction.

“Until that law is changed, I think we should follow it,” Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said in a Tuesday interview.

Wielechowski said he previously supported moving the special session to Anchorage or Juneau when it appeared that at least 40 lawmakers supported the idea.

He believes the Legislature would win any legal challenge regarding the location law, but he also said it’s an argument better served for another time. He believes the Legislature should be focusing on the Permanent Fund dividend and the unfinished capital budget.

“I just want to get our work done. I think the public’s getting really frustrated,” Wielechowski said.

Watch: In 1 minute, an Anchorage father shows what his morning with a special needs child is like

6 hours 36 min ago
View this post on Instagram

Having a child with special needs can present a whole new list of things to do. Here's the first two hours of our typical day. Filled with medicine, stretching, suction, respiratory therapy and of course some fresh air for Peanut on her favorite swing!

A post shared by @ dan_redfield on Jun 17, 2019 at 12:17pm PDT

Not a lot of people know what it Tay-Sachs disease is, let alone what it’s like to have a child with the condition. After a year of living with his daughter’s diagnosis, Anchorage filmmaker Dan Redfield decided to make a video to tell part of that story.

The video, “A Morning With a Special Needs Child,” documents two hours of a typical morning -- sped up and condensed into one minute.

“Two hours go by really fast when you’re doing a bunch of stuff,” Redfield said.

Shot with a GoPro camera from Redfield’s perspective, the video shows the dizzying array of steps that make up his morning routine with his daughter. Redfield wakes Ava up, exercises her arms and legs, prepares her medicines, administers them via a feeding tube and places a mask on her face to help her breathe. Cooing to Ava as he carries her around, Redfield takes her outside at one point and places her on a swingset in the sunshine.

“She’s blind at this point, but she loves the sun and the wind in her hair, and it gets the other senses going.”

Tay-Sachs is a rare genetic disorder. It usually begins in infancy and progressively destroys the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord. Ava, a 2-year-old with pale, curly hair, seemed like a normal baby until she was a year old, when her pediatrician noticed some developmental delays. Then, an optometrist saw a cherry-red spot in Ava’s eye during an exam, a telltale sign of Tay-Sachs.

At this point in her life, Ava needs nearly constant care -- in addition to losing her ability to see or eat on her own, she can’t move much and needs help to clear the mucus from her lungs each day so she can breathe. She frequently has seizures.

Redfield is a director/producer at Anchorage film company Hybrid Color and runs his own film series, Alaska Photoventures. He said the main reason he made the video was because he and his fiancee, Kristen Frederic, are trying to document everything they can about their time with Ava. Children who have Tay-Sachs disease have a life expectancy of two to five years, and there is no known cure.

The video also gives people a glimpse of what life is like for his family. Not many people know what Tay-Sachs is because it’s so rare -- in Alaska, Redfield has not been able to find any other family going through it.

After posting the video on Instagram and Facebook, he realized other families in his Tay-Sachs network were sharing to show what they are going through too. So far the video has over 200 shares and 14,000 views on Facebook.

“A lot of people shared that video with the caption that like -- ‘yeah, real life, every day.’”


House panel votes to authorize subpoena for Kellyanne Conway after she fails to show for hearing

7 hours 15 min ago

WASHINGTON - A House committee voted Wednesday to authorize a subpoena for White House counselor Kellyanne Conway after she failed to show for a hearing on a government watchdog's findings that she broke the law dozens of times.


In this April 30, 2019 photo, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks with reporters outside the White House in Washington. A federal watchdog is recommending that President Donald Trump remove counselor Kellyanne Conway from federal service for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act by repeatedly disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

The House Oversight Committee voted, 25-16, for the subpoena after Special Counsel Henry Kerner said she blatantly violated the Hatch Act, a law that bars federal employees from engaging in politics during work.

"Ms. Conway's egregious and repeated Hatch Act violations, combined with her unrepentant attitude, are unacceptable from any federal employee, let along one in such a prominent position," Kerner told the panel. "Her conduct hurts both federal employees, who may believe that senior officials can act with complete disregard for the Hatch Act, and the American people, who may question the nonpartisan operation of their government."

White House lawyers on Monday rejected the House Oversight Committee's request for Conway to appear at the hearing, citing a bipartisan practice that West Wing officials don't come before Congress while they still work in the administration. In a letter addressed to Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Pat Cipollone, counsel to the president, wrote that "in accordance with long-standing precedent, we respectfully decline the invitation to make Ms. Conway available for testimony before the committee."

Democrats, however, criticized the White House for barring Conway from appearing to answer for her alleged crimes, arguing that the Trump administration was moving to stonewall yet another House investigation. House Democrats say the White House has no right to claim executive privilege or immunity for Conway because the alleged violations deal with her personal actions - not her duties advising the president or working in the West Wing.

"This is about right and wrong. This is about the core principle of our precious democracy - that nobody, not one person, nobody in this country is above the law," Cummings said in his opening statement. "Contrary to claims by Ms. Conway and President Trump, this is not a conspiracy to silence her or restrict her First Amendment rights. This is an effort to enforce federal law."

It is unclear, however, what Democrats will do if Conway ignores the subpoenas. She could be held in criminal contempt of Congress.

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from engaging in political activity during work hours or on the job. But a report submitted to President Trump earlier this month by the Office of Special Counsel - which a Trump appointee runs - found that Conway violated that law on numerous occasions by "disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media."

It recommended that Trump terminate her federal employment. The president had indicated that he will not fire her.

Conway has appeared on national television to defend her name. On Monday morning, she said on Fox News Channel that House Democrats are trying to retaliate against her for managing Trump's 2016 campaign.

"You know what they're mad about?" Conway said. "They want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth because I helped as a campaign manager for the successful part of the campaign . . . So they want to chill free speech because they don't know how to beat [Trump] at the ballot box."

Republicans also derided the hearing as a political attack aimed at silencing one of Trump's most loyal aides. Before her time in the White House, Conway helped run Trump's campaign, pushing him to victory in 2016. Since then, she has frequently appeared on television to defend Trump and attack his political opponents.

Kerner in an interview pushed back on that assertion.

"We're trying to hold Ms. Conway to the same standard we hold other people in government to," Kerner said Monday. "My staff came up with violations. They're obvious. She says things that are campaign messages."

The hearing is expected to create more than a few awkward moments. Kerner is a former Oversight committee staffer who worked for Republicans and spent years investigating former president Barack Obama. He was once well-liked and friendly with fellow committee GOP staff and lawmakers. And he actually sat beside them on the dais years ago, advising GOP chairmen.

Now, Kerner has returned as a star witness for the Democrats.

Still, Republicans are trying to undermine his credibility, top committee Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio argued that Kerner felt slighted by Conway and sought to punish her.

"The reason we're here today is because Mr. Kerner got his feelings hurt," Jordan said. "Mr. Kerner felt slighted. Ms. Conway didn't pay enough attention to him and his office . . . You know why she didn't? Because the allegations were ridiculous."

The Office of Special Counsel is a quasi-judicial independent agency that adjudicates claims of retaliation by whistleblowers and administers the Hatch Act and other civil service rules. It is separate from the office run by former special counsel Robert Mueller, who led an inquiry of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

- - -

The Washington Post Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

President Trump expected to make brief afternoon stop in Anchorage en route to Japan

7 hours 46 min ago

President Donald Trump arrives in Anchorage aboard Air Force One, landing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for a refueling stop en route to Japan Friday, May 24, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

President Donald Trump is expected to arrive in Anchorage for a brief visit aboard Air Force One on Wednesday afternoon, according to a Federal Aviation Administration notice to pilots.

The notice applies to an area around Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from 3:30 p.m. until 6 p.m.

Trump is making a trip to Japan for the G-20 summit, where he’s expected to meet with world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping. The president last stopped at JBER in May for a refueling stop en route to Japan.

The temporary restriction applies to all aircraft except for those operated by the U.S. Secret Service and the office of the president, as well as approved air ambulance flights and regularly scheduled commercial passenger and cargo flights.

It wasn’t immediately clear if any events were planned in association with the arrival of Air Force One.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Medical examiner identifies body pulled from Kuskokwim River near Napakiak

7 hours 49 min ago

The state medical examiner has identified a body pulled from the Kuskokwim River near the village of Napakiak.

Alaska State Troopers say the dead man was 28-year-old Stacey Hoagland Jr. of Akiak.

Hoagland's boat capsized in September and he could not be found.

Boaters spotted the body June 19 and summoned troopers from Bethel.

Juneau assembly votes to give downtown district a new Native name

8 hours 41 min ago

Downtown Juneau in May 2019. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

JUNEAU - The Juneau assembly has voted to rename a district with a traditional Native name, a report said.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted Monday to change the Willoughby District to the Aakw Kwaan Village District, The Juneau Empire reported Tuesday.

The area was home to a neighborhood known as the "Indian Village" and became a traditional summer village site for Alaska Native people.

Renaming the downtown district bordering Willoughby Avenue acknowledges the Aakw Kwaan people settled the area, officials said.

Willoughby Avenue will not be renamed as part of the resolution.

The new name becomes effective immediately following adoption of the resolution, officials said.

Aakw Kwaan spokesperson Frances Houston attended the meeting Monday and said Alaska Natives are pleased with the change.

"I discussed it with other Aakw Kwaan, and they voted on it, and they're happy," she said.

Residents may need time to adapt to the change, but the city will begin using the new name in ongoing projects, said Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove.

The idea to rename the district arose during a Sealaska Heritage Institute lecture by writer Ernestine Saankalaxt Hayes during Native American and Alaska Native Heritage month in November.

“Is it not time to stop erasing Native people, erasing Native history, erasing Native names,” Hayes asked. “Let us not look back with admiration, but forward with hope.”

A few Akiak residents consider staying in homes threatened by erosion

8 hours 47 min ago

Erosion in Akiak swallowed 75 to 100 feet of Kuskokwim River banks along the village on May 20, 2019. (Ivan Ivan / City of Akiak via KYUK News)

AKIAK - Alaska residents living near a riverbank threatened by erosion are facing a choice of whether to move, and some want to remain in their homes, a report said.

Six houses in Akiak are within 100 feet of the Kuskokwim River, with one home 20 feet from the water, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

Erosion caused a one-mile section of the embankment to fall into the river last month and the community of about 350 people northeast of Bethel is attempting to find relocation money.

Akiak officials are working on a hazard mitigation plan in the hopes it will become eligible for state disaster funding this year.

Peter Gilila said moving his house will cost almost $100,000, while adding utilities will compound the cost.

Gilila owns one of the homes closest to the river and said he will remain as long as there is running water, because the river water is contaminated.

He is prepared to rebuild rather than relocate.

"Because I can rebuild. And that's what we do, that's what we've always been doing: rebuilding. This is not a new situation for me," Gilila said.

City Administrator David Gilila, Peter's brother, has been working to secure funds to move the homes closest to the river.

"I wouldn't move either," David Gilila said. "That's where we grew up."

Arnold Williams fears the possible loss of his home and works to place sandbags and secure tarps to support the eroding riverbank.

Williams tells his neighbors, “You wanna save your family, you wanna save your house, move it.”

Two US service members reported killed in Afghanistan

9 hours 47 min ago

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during their meeting at the Prime Minister's Residence, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in New Delhi, India. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

KABUL, Afghanistan - Two American service members were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the U.S. military said, a day after an unannounced visit to the country by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The military did not immediately provide any details of the deaths but indicated that the service members were killed in combat. The Taliban insurgent group claimed responsibility, saying the two Americans were slain in an ambush in Wardak province, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul.

The deaths were reported three days ahead of a seventh round of U.S.-Taliban talks scheduled for June 29 in Qatar.

"The names of the service members killed in action are being withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin is complete," the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in New Delhi, called the deaths "tragic," adding: "I think this drives home the need for us to be successful" in negotiating an end to Afghanistan's decades of violence.

The U.S. goal in Afghanistan "is a reconciliation, to reduce the level of violence, to reduce the level of risk to Afghans broadly and the risk to American service members," he said. "So, I think what you'll see is a continued push by the United States to achieve the reconciliation, the reduction in risk that the president set out as the mission set for the State Department and for the United States government."

In his brief visit to Kabul on Tuesday, Pompeo met President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai to discuss the need for a peaceful settlement to end nearly 18 years of warfare in Afghanistan involving the United States.

"Afghans yearn for peace and we share their desire to end the conflict," he wrote on Twitter after the visit. "Peace would offer Afghans and the wider region a different future, one which we are ready to support."

Pompeo said in Kabul that the U.S. government hopes to reach a peace deal before Sept. 1.

Taliban fighters continue waging war, targeting Afghan government and foreign forces across the country despite engaging in a wide range of negotiations with U.S. officials and Afghan power brokers.

But the Taliban has refused to meet directly with Ghani's government, disparaging him as a "stooge" of the Americans.

The two deaths Wednesday bring this year's total of U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan to 10, according to iCasualties, a website that tracks casualties of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In April, three U.S. service members and a contractor were killed in car-bomb attack outside Bagram airfield, the largest U.S. military base in the country. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.

More than 2,400 U.S. service personnel have died in Afghanistan since American forces intervened in the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which were carried out by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization then based in Afghanistan under Taliban protection. Before U.S. airstrikes helped Afghan resistance forces drive the Taliban from Kabul in November 2001, the country had been beset by almost continuous warfare since the late 1970s, including a decade-long occupation by Soviet forces in the 1980s.

- - -

Branigin reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Carol Morello in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Department of Justice lawyer defends herself over viral video about providing soap, toothbrushes to migrants

9 hours 59 min ago

It had been a long week for Sarah Fabian, a Justice Department lawyer many Americans now closely associate with the detention of child migrants, and at the end of it, she logged onto Facebook to compose a letter.

"To my friends," she began. "I am not permitted to make any statements in any official capacity, so this is just a message from me, your friend. It's not a press release. I'm just hoping to explain myself to a small corner of the universe if I can."

A bigger corner of the universe was demanding answers. Video footage of Fabian arguing in federal court last Tuesday that the federal government was not legally required to provide toothbrushes, soap or adequate sleep to detained migrant children went viral, eliciting outrage. And although the case dated to the Obama administration, the timing of her argument could not have been worse. Lawyers had just arrived to visit those same detention facilities along the border, finding children who were filthy and hungry and crying, without access to toothbrushes or soap or sleep. Furious people started trying to donate basic hygiene products at the U.S. Border Patrol facilities. And Fabian started getting death threats.

On Monday, she broke her silence - at least to her friends. The Facebook post, first reported by NBC News, was obtained by The Washington Post on Tuesday night and independently confirmed through two of Fabian's college friends who had access to it. In the post, Fabian accepted responsibility for the argument, allowing that she had possibly failed to articulate it properly. But she maintained that she was not arguing that detained children should be denied hygiene products.

"I do not believe that's the position I was representing, and I get that defending myself by parsing out a technical legal position won't change most people's minds," she wrote. "I wouldn't be permitted to do so anyway, so I won't try. I will say that I personally believe that we should do our very best to care for kids while they are in our custody, and I try to always represent that value in my work."

The Justice Department could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.

[House Democrats pass border bill, setting up tense negotiation over migrants]

[US returns 100 migrant children to overcrowded border facility as HHS says it is out of space]

Since last week, as anger boiled over conditions at migrant detention facilities, Fabian has emerged as one of the most recognizable faces among the hundreds of mostly anonymous foot soldiers in the Trump administration tasked with confronting the humanitarian crisis at the border. Her role: arguing that U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facilities satisfy the legal requirement of being “safe and sanitary” for children - in the face of alarming reports from attorneys and advocates who argue that they do not.

Fabian went to court last week to appeal a 2017 ruling finding that Obama-era conditions were deplorable, in violation of a 1997 consent decree requiring conditions remain "safe and sanitary." She argued that, because the 1997 agreement did not explicitly require "toothbrushes," "soap," "towels" or "sleep" for children, the government shouldn't be found to be in violation of the "safe and sanitary" requirement for not providing those things.

The three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit were astonished. "Are you really going to stand up and tell us that being able to sleep isn't a question of safe and sanitary conditions?" U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked.

As video footage spread, some recognized that it was Fabian's job to defend her client, the United States - but many found the position indefensible, arguing that she should have put her foot down and refused to make the argument.

Fabian's thoughts remained a mystery. On Monday, the registered Democrat - according to Colorado voting records - told her friends that she was limited in how much of her own opinion she could reveal, bound to the duties of the job. But her Facebook post provided some hints. In Monday's note, she said understood why people may "hate" her, but said she "shared many people's anger and fear at times over the future of our country," and would continue to do her best to "make it better."

"I respect that in perceiving my argument as many people did it struck a nerve. Maybe many nerves," she said. "I'm so sorry that happened and I wish I could go back and try to say something better to make the position more clear, and since I can't lots of people may well hate me for a long time. I get it, and I accept it, and I'm not going to try in vain to fight back against that other than to try to look out for my own safety and to hope that people take it easy on my family."

She changed her profile picture to a quote from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., from the time in 2017 he attempted to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a quote now frequently worn on T-shirts of feminists and liberals: "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Fabian stressed that she is not a political appointee, but rather a "career employee at my current job since 2011," in the Justice Department's Office of Immigration Litigation. Before joining the Obama administration, Fabian worked for the private law firm Kirkland & Ellis. She attended Amherst College in Massachusetts in the mid- to late 1990s, where she played on the soccer team and joined a club called Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect, which raised awareness about consent, a friend told The Post. But otherwise, the friend said, Fabian was not overtly political.

Since taking the government job, she has argued controversial positions for the Obama and Trump administrations. In 2015, she argued on the government's behalf for detaining migrant families for prolonged duration inside the Obama administration's family residential detention centers that were unlicensed to care for children, arguing that the detaining them would deter illegal immigration while releasing them would provide incentive for more to come.

She made headlines during the family separation crisis in 2018, when she told a judge she couldn't come to court on the weekend for an urgent hearing on the reunification of 101 children with their parents because "I have dog-sitting responsibilities."

And then there was the "safe and sanitary" case.

Last week was not the first time Fabian argued on behalf of the United States that the federal government was not legally required to provide children with sleeping accommodations or hygiene items. The argument is articulated in court documents dating to December 2016, during the final days of the Obama administration.

Even at that time, child migrants had described going without showers, toothbrushes, soap and sleep.

"If Plaintiffs wish to challenge the availability of sleeping accommodations in CBP facilities, or assert that certain hygiene items or clothing items must be provided, they must do so in a new lawsuit," Fabian wrote in one 2016 filing. "To find otherwise would allow Plaintiffs to use the Agreement to require any number of conditions at CBP facilities that were never intended to be covered by this Agreement."

Last week, Berzon recommended Fabian drop the appeal rather than continue. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to questions about whether it planned to continue to make this argument.

In her Facebook post, Fabian said the agency has been "super supportive of me."

Fabian said that she has "struggled" with the decision about whether to remain in this role, that "it has not always been an easy decision," appearing to address a question many in the public raised over the past week: What if Sarah Fabian is opposed to the position of the federal government? Why does she stay?

“A vast majority of the work that I do is not public, but I strive to help people by my participation in the process, and I feel like so often I get to do so in ways that are unique to me and my experience,” she said, “and that is why I stay.”

How to squeeze all those Democrats on the debate stage

11 hours 8 min ago

The 2020 Democratic debate lineups. (Tribune News Service) (Davis/)

With virtually the entire adult U.S. population seeking the Democratic presidential nomination — or so it seems — the party faces some knotty questions.

Is anyone left to vote for somebody besides him- or herself? Can all those people squeeze onto a single debate stage? How does that Buttigieg guy pronounce his name, anyway?

The debate question is a serious one, even if the number of Democrats running is only a mere two dozen or so.

There are several reasons for the exceedingly large field: Changes to the nominating process — which all but eliminated the gate-keeping role of the major political parties — and the advent of social media have made it much easier to wage at least a semiserious run for president.

There is little downside to entering and losing the contest (unless you think a lucrative cable-TV gig is slumming it) and plenty of incentive to run in 2020, with polls suggesting President Donald Trump is highly vulnerable.

That brings us to that crowded debate stage.

The series of a dozen forums planned by the Democratic National Committee, beginning Wednesday night in Miami, will play an important role in sorting out the presidential field. For some contestants, the debates offer the best and perhaps only shot at breaking from the pack and stamping themselves as serious White House contenders.

That's because after this week's opening round in Florida and a pair of debates at the end of July, the rules for participation get even tougher and more exclusionary.

How many Democrats will be in Miami to debate?

Twenty.

All at once? Won't that violate the fire code?

No. The debate will be split over two nights, back to back.


In this June 21, 2019 photo, a sign outside the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County announces the upcoming Democratic Presidential Debates, in Miami. Democratic presidential hopefuls face a challenge as they gather in Miami this week for the opening round of primary debates: presenting immigration ideas that go beyond simply bashing President Donald Trump’s administration. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee/)

Ten candidates will debate for two hours each night Wednesday and Thursday — although “debate” is something of a misnomer, in the Lincoln-Douglas sense of the word, given the time constraints and limited ability for great depth or lengthy engagement.

Think of it more like a series of side-by-side press availabilities, with candidates fielding questions from journalists from NBC, which is hosting the first debate, and Telemundo.

How did the party decide which 20 candidates to include?

There were two ways onto the debate stage. One was to hit 1% support in three state or national polls approved by the DNC as among the most trusted and reliable. The other was to raise money from 65,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 200 in 20 different states.

So the lesser-known candidates will be relegated to a "kiddie table"?

No. That's effectively what happened four years ago, when 17 Republicans sought the GOP nomination, straining both credulity and the physical capacity of the debate stage.

The solution was to split the field, grouping the underdogs in a matchup that served as a warm-up to the main event among the top contenders.

Given the inherent unfairness of stratifying the candidates — elevating some over others before any had uttered a word — Democrats decided to stage their debates differently.

This time, leading candidates — whose standing based on polling or perception put them in the top tier — will be spread over two nights. The idea is to have everyone start on a somewhat even footing and hope both nights produce compelling TV.

How was it decided which candidates appear on which night?

The candidates were split into two groups: those polling on average 2% or higher, and those with less support. The names were then picked randomly from each group to ensure a mix on both nights.

As it turns out, several top contenders — former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California; and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — will debate Thursday night, with Biden and Sanders at center stage.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another in the top tier, will be center stage Wednesday night, alongside former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Everyone must be super-pleased with this arrangement!

Ha, ha. These are Democrats, remember? They could find a way to fight over sunshine and lollipops.

So what's the gripe?

Some complain the rules put too much power in the hands of the Democratic National Committee and place too high a premium on fundraising as opposed to grassroots organizing — though the small-dollar stipulation was seen as a way of gauging candidates' support on the ground as opposed to on Wall Street or along Washington's K Street corridor, where lobbyists lurk.

One of the most vocal critics is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who makes the not-unreasonable case he could bring something unique to the conversation as a Western governor from a state Trump won handily.

Can't wait to hear from him!

Alas. Bullock only declared his candidacy last month and will not be debating in Florida because he failed to meet the polling and fundraising thresholds. He was not pleased, though he has qualified for July's round of debates.

Also excluded were Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Fla.

Will I recognize everyone on stage?

Not unless you're some kind of political obsessive, or busy boning up for the 2020 presidential edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Producers of the debate are putting the lower-tier candidates on the outer edge of the stage. Among them are Marianne Williamson, the author of "Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships," and Andrew Yang, a wealthy New York businessman who warns that robots could soon make many jobs obsolete.

A stable of more standard politicians will also be clustered toward the wings, among them John Delaney, a former Maryland congressman who launched his campaign in July 2017 but has yet to achieve a breakout moment.

How do I tune in?

The first debate will be televised live on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. It will also be streamed for free on NBC and Telemundo's websites and apps.

The second debate, scheduled for July 30 and 31 in Detroit, will run on CNN. The third, on Sept. 12 and potentially Sept. 13, will air on ABC News and Univision.

After that, the Democratic Party will hold one debate per month until April 2020. The media sponsors of the remainder have yet to be announced, but the party has ruled out Fox News, citing its close ties to Trump.

What time is the debate?

The debate will run each night from 9 to11 p.m. Eastern time.

By the way, how do you pronounce Buttigieg?

It’s BUDDHA-judge or, alternatively, BOOT-edge-edge. There’s some debate about which is preferable.


Salvos of insults stoke US tensions with Iran

11 hours 32 min ago

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with the Health Ministry officials, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 25, 2019. Iran on Tuesday sharply criticized new U.S. sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic's supreme leader and other top officials, saying the measures spell the "permanent closure" for diplomacy between the two nations. For his part, Iran's president described the White House as "afflicted by mental retardation." (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

WASHINGTON - Any prospect of easing tensions between the United States and Iran seemed increasingly remote Tuesday as threats and personal insults flew between the two governments.

In language reminiscent of last year's taunts between President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the White House as "mentally crippled" and denounced newly sanctions against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as "outrageous and idiotic."

Trump called Rouhani's comments "ignorant" and said Iran does "not understand reality." Any attack on "anything American," tweeted the president - who last week called off a military strike that was to be launched after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone - will bring "overwhelming" U.S. force and "obliteration" of some Iranian assets.

Beneath the din, no new options emerged for avoiding a conflict that both sides say they do not want, and more doors appeared to be closing rather than opening.

Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to talk. But he has indicated that he is prepared to continue squeezing the Iranian economy and leadership until Iran meets the "very simple demands" he has tweeted - "No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!"

Iran, whose nuclear energy program is under international restrictions, says it sees no reason to talk with an adversary that is crushing the life out of it, and that the United States must first show some respect. It said that "useless sanctioning" of Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif "means the permanent closure of the doors of diplomacy."

In Washington, even those who fully and vocally support the administration's "maximum pressure" sanctions policy have begun to question whether Trump has a strategy.

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, pushed back at critics who said economic sanctions against Khamenei were merely "symbolic" because the ayatollah has no U.S. assets. As the head of an authoritarian state, Khamenei presides over a $200 billion corporate conglomerate that controls massive international investments, Dubowitz said in a tweet.

But it was "perfectly legitimate," Dubowitz tweeted, "to ask what impact (the Khamenei sanctions) will have on U.S.-Iran diplomacy."

Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, where he worked with Trump national security adviser John Bolton, said, "I'm one who believes that pressure can work" against Iran. But neither the Iranians nor many of Trump's own supporters understand where Trump is heading, he said.

"During the campaign, Trump talked about how a lack of predictability can actually be a strategic asset," Rubin said. "But that presupposes that the lack of predictability is part of a policy rather than cover for lack of a policy."

"We're at a very dangerous point right now where we risk allowing the Iranian leaders to rally people around the flag. In other words, sometimes it's better to address a problem with a scalpel rather than an ax," he said.

Other experts said Trump's summit strategy with nuclear-armed North Korea, in which both leaders had reason to seek the public spectacle of a meeting, but whose governments have yet to substantively address their differences, would not work with Iran.

"When and if Tehran is ready to talk, the differences between Trump and Khamenei present further obstacles," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Trump prefers public pageants about broad topics; Khamenei prefers private discussions about narrow topics."

While Trump has emphasized that Iran's military forces would be no match for those of the United States, U.S. defense officials have wondered whether provoking a confrontation is wise, and whether Bolton, a leading hawk on Iran, is pushing the president into a position where conflict is the only option.

Trump has been on all sides of the issue. After last week's drone shoot-down, he warned that Tehran had made a "big mistake" but later speculated that the attack was the errant action of low-level personnel. From first authorizing a retaliatory strike, to calling it off because it might cause "disproportionate" Iranian deaths, he arrived at Tuesday's threat that "any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force," and in some cases "obliteration."

Asked Tuesday whether he had an exit strategy in the event of war, Trump told reporters, "You're not going to need an exit strategy. I don't do exit strategies."

Sadjadpour said "the danger of Trump's approach is that he's provoked an escalatory cycle while also signaling to Iran and the world that he has no interest in conflict. As a result, Tehran may miscalculate that it can continue to take free shots against U.S. interests, allies and assets."

Lawmakers have focused their attention on the legal authority that might be used to conduct military action against Iran. Democrats in both houses of Congress want to amend the defense bill to state unequivocally that Trump would have to seek congressional authorization before engaging militarily with Iran. Some in the Senate advocate blocking the defense legislation until they are promised a vote on Iran.

"There's a lot of folks who think we need to take a stand," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said, emerging from a meeting of Senate Democrats in which there was significant discussion of what they should do.

As Democrats huddled, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that while he would personally oppose the amendment, "I am not opposed to having the vote."

Pentagon officials do not think Congress' 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks in this country - the foundation for virtually every U.S. military action since then in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia - can be used as a legal basis for war with Iran, said a defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on the sensitive issue.

Any dispute over the authorization issue is likely to be moot. Trump has said he thinks he has all the authority he needs to strike Iran, and the likelihood is that the president would declare such action authorized under his constitutional power to act in the nation's defense.

But Republic leaders, including McConnell, expressed concern over the debate itself, saying that if Congress appeared to be trying to limit the president's actions, the international community would be further confused about U.S. policy.

Confusion, however, already appears rampant, along with mistrust of the administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in response to questions raised by allies, experts and journalists about whether the U.S. drone was over international waters when it was shot down - as the administration said - or within Iran's maritime boundaries, as Tehran insisted, implied Sunday that expressing doubt was tantamount to aiding an adversary.

The "childlike map" presented by Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, was a clear "contrast with the excellence and professionalism of America's military and intelligence services," Pompeo said. "We shouldn't let the Iranians have one moment where any reporter would write there is even a credible response to the data set that the Americans have put forward."

Pompeo accused Iran of additional "disinformation," including what he said were reports last week that the United States was withdrawing from a military base in Iraq, although the report in question, by Reuters, was attributed to U.S. military officials and referred only to the withdrawal of contractors.

Retired U.S. diplomat Jeffrey Feltman, a Middle East expert who served in numerous senior State Department posts and as undersecretary for policy at the United Nations, said that "rhetoric aside," Iran has taken steps - including the drone shoot-down - "to make sure that we know that they will react to American steps." But Iran has not taken "such big steps as to be irreversible, assuming no miscalculation and no misinterpretation. . . . Nor, for that matter, have we," he said of the Trump administration.

"But at some point, it just seems like this becomes increasingly risky," Feltman said. "The idea of relying on the Iranian mullahs for restraint or on the president's instincts not to go to war, I think those are pretty weak foundations on which to build a deescalation strategy."

The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Missy Ryan in Washington, Erin Cunningham in Dubai and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

In search of a better conversation about alcohol and pregnancy

13 hours 17 min ago

Part 2 of 3

SPONSORED: The tidal wave begins to crest as soon as that second blue line appears on the home pregnancy test.

It starts with books, articles and online forums. Then sisters, mothers, aunts and friends start to weigh in, followed by coworkers and colleagues. Before long, strangers on the street begin stopping you to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

From prescription medications to coffee, soft-serve ice cream to soft cheeses, lunch meat, cantaloupe, herbal teas, exercise, skincare products, sweeteners and more, pregnant parents today are drinking from a firehose when it comes to advice about what to eat or not eat, do or not do, avoid or embrace.

The constant stream of unsolicited advice can understandably put new parents on the defensive.

“Guess what?” one ScaryMommy contributor writes in a post titled “Don’t Judge Me For Having That Glass of Wine While Pregnant.” “I’m a full-grown adult with an advanced degree in motherhood. I think I can handle eating or drinking whatever I want without the public rubbernecking and making sanctimonious commentary on it.”

That sentiment probably feels relatable to anyone who’s been pregnant and encountered a person who feels entitled to criticize what they’re eating, doing or buying. But drinking alcohol during pregnancy isn’t like ordering a milkshake or a cup of coffee. Here’s why.

Understanding and assessing risk

Some pregnancy advice is based in science. Some of it isn’t. And much of it is wildly misconstrued or misunderstood.

“We focus on ‘What kind of cheese you eat?’ or ‘Did you have one cup of coffee or two?’ and there’s no real evidence for that,” said Dr. Stephanie Eklund, an Anchorage OB/GYN. “But it’s dramatized and spread like wildfire.”

Take cantaloupe, for example. Some people have the impression that it’s dangerous in pregnancy. But dig a little deeper and you’ll learn that those concerns about cantaloupe stem from a single listeria outbreak in 2011 that sickened 147 people, killed 33, and caused one woman to miscarry. Cantaloupe itself is no more dangerous to a pregnancy than any other raw fruit or vegetable. (Listeria, which kills about 260 people in the U.S. each year, is at the root of many pregnancy warnings, including lunch meat, soft cheeses, and ice cream.)

With alcohol, on the other hand, the full picture of the risk is still developing. Fetal alcohol syndrome was identified in 1973, and it became well known following a 1981 Surgeon General’s warning advising pregnant women to stop drinking. (At the time, the founding director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism called the warning “overkill”; today, the Institute advises total abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy.) Now it’s estimated that as many as 1 in 20 American children are affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including -- but not limited to -- FAS. ((LINK HIGHLIGHTED TO PART 1))

The wheels of public health research tend to turn slowly, said Susan Astley Hemingway, a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Washington and director of the Washington State FAS Diagnostic and Prevention Network. It wasn’t until the 1990s that public health efforts to screen, diagnose and prevent FASD began, supported by agencies like the Centers for Disease Control.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders as a field of study are still relatively young, and reliable answers are hard to find in part because the controlled, double-blind study design ideally used for health research would require deliberately exposing fetuses to alcohol -- an experiment no organization would ever approve. It’s also difficult to disprove the potential for harm, especially when new research indicates that there are other factors at play, including genetics.

What is known today is that alcohol is a teratogen that has the potential to cause harm -- mild or severe -- at any stage of pregnancy, and doctors don’t have enough information to say whether there is a safe dose of that teratogen.

Hence the public health message that’s a simple statement of fact: There is no amount of alcohol known to be safe during pregnancy, so it’s best not to drink at all.

“I think it’s meant to be a diplomatic way of saying we don’t know what ‘moderate’ or ‘enough’ or ‘safe’ drinking is during pregnancy, and that’s probably because there’s not really any safe amount or safe time,” Eklund said. “I think it’s a little bit confusing, though, when you hear it and you’re not a medical person.”

And in a world full of confusing and conflicting pregnancy messages, where the phrase “Can I eat cream cheese while pregnant?” yields 14 million Google results, some parents are pushing back against any kind of blanket restriction in pregnancy. Drinking while pregnant is on the rise in the U.S., particularly among college-educated women in their 30s and 40s.

“How do you share with the general population -- being a mix of highly educated women, less educated women, and women who are suffering from alcoholism?” Astley Hemingway said. “Public health messages need to be succinct, accurate and resonate with the full spectrum of women.”

Finding better ways to talk to patients

That’s where providers come in, says Dr. Elizaeth Barlet. Barlet is the FASD Champion for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and chair of Women’s and Children’s Services for Mercy Joplin Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health in Joplin, Missouri.

“As OB/GYNs, we have to reach patients in a variety of ways,” Barlet said. “Some patients respond better to straightforward facts and statistics, while others prefer real-life examples of how something can affect their pregnancy.”

But even obstetricians may differ in their advice about alcohol use during pregnancy, something Eklund says is part of the problem.

“The people that should be listening are us, the providers,” she said. “If we (sent) a consistent message, that would be the first step.”

Recent research in Australia found that the use of alcohol during pregnancy is often influenced by conflicting social and emotional factors -- like not wanting to miss out on celebratory toasts or feeling anxious about what others will think -- suggesting that it’s important that health care providers equip their patients with reliable information about the chemical nature of alcohol as a teratogen.

Eklund says one of the most valuable tools at her disposal is a developmental chart that shows a fetus’s growth alongside the systems that alcohol has the potential to affect at any point in a pregnancy. It helps focus the conversation from a vague “it’s bad for the baby” to the potential for damage to specific parts of the body.

“A lot of providers don’t see it that cut and dried; it’s kind of a nebulous ‘It’s probably not good for you -- don’t do it that much,’” Eklund said. With the chart, “It’s like, ‘If you drink in your sixth week, this is what’s going to be affected.’”

Experts say health care providers should also be able to help patients sort through what they hear from friends, family, books and websites to make sure they’re getting the best information and asking the right questions.

“If you read something on the Internet or social media, be sure to run that past your OB/GYN to confirm that the information is accurate and safe for you and your baby,” Barlet said.

Overcoming fears & opening up

Before that dialog can happen, a patient has to be open with their health care provider -- and that can be intimidating when it comes to talking about alcohol.

“One of our whole challenges is how do we shift the stigma around alcohol and pregnancy?” said Marilyn Pierce-Bulger, an Anchorage nurse practitioner who specializes in diagnosing FASDs. “Because stigma is getting in the way of women disclosing and providers asking.”

Women drink more than they used to, and they’re less likely to get help if their drinking becomes a problem. But all too often, Pierce-Bulger said, there’s a reluctance among pregnant women to disclose any alcohol use. Patients don’t talk about it because they’re afraid of being judged, and doctors consequently may not realize how common it is.

“I’ve had providers say “Well, I don’t have those women in my practice,’” Pierce-Bulger said. “I’m sorry, but yes, you do. It’s not just ‘those women.’”

One thing parents may be reluctant to discuss is exposure to alcohol early in pregnancy. About half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and messages about drinking in early pregnancy can seem conflicting -- you should quit drinking if you might be pregnant, but you shouldn’t panic if you drank before you knew. Exposure early in pregnancy can cause problems, but Astley Hemingway said it comes down to understanding the “continuum of risk.”

“When we say it’s not safe to drink even a little bit during the first part of pregnancy, we’re talking about a risk,” she said. “The flip side is, if you’ve already done that drinking and now you’re frightened, I can emphasize that the risk is only 5 percent. There’s a higher chance that nothing’s going to happen, but it’s not zero.”

It’s the kind of reassurance and support an OB or midwife can only provide if the patient is willing to open up and share honestly.

“No matter what the issue, it’s important for patients to be completely honest with their medical provider,” Barlet said. “Your physician isn’t judging you for your lifestyle but does need to know all the facts to provide the best care for you and your baby.”

Coming Friday: How an FASD diagnosis changed one young woman’s life

Read Part 1: ‘He looks so normal’: When it comes to FASDs, there’s no such thing as predictability

It is never too late to stop drinking. Because brain growth takes place throughout pregnancy, the sooner you stop drinking the safer it will be for you and your baby. If you’ve been drinking while pregnant, stop immediately and talk to your medical provider. If you are unable to stop, your medical provider can refer you to resources for help. This series is sponsored by LetsTalkFASDak, an FASD prevention initiative of the State of Alaska administered through the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. Learn more about alcohol, pregnancy, and what you can do to take charge of your health at LetsTalkFASDak.org.

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

House Democrats passes border bill, setting up tense negotiation over migrants

Tue, 2019-06-25 20:10

WASHINGTON - The House passed a $4.5 billion emergency border aid bill Tuesday, one containing provisions for the treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody that Democratic leaders added amid widespread anger in their ranks over President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.

The 230-to-195 largely party-line vote followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations among Democrats who said they have been horrified by reports of poor conditions at overcrowded U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities where unaccompanied children have been kept. The bill's passage sets up a high-stakes negotiation with Trump and Senate Republicans to deliver aid days before a looming deadline.

The backdrop for the vote is not only the humanitarian concerns about the surging numbers of migrants but also Trump's threats - delayed but not canceled Saturday - to begin a mass deportation of illegal immigrant families. Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns about passing a border aid bill that would not address both of those issues.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., unveiled changes to the bill Tuesday morning that would require the CBP to establish new health and safety standards for migrants in its custody, as well as protocols for dealing with migrant surges, within 30 days. The changes would also limit children's stays at "influx shelters" used by the Department of Health and Human Services to no more than 90 days and require the department to report to Congress on their use.

Additional changes Lowey unveiled Tuesday afternoon would bar HHS shelter contractors who do not provide adequate accommodations, food and personal items, such as toothbrushes, as well as routine medical care, schooling, leisure activities, and other basic services.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who pushed for the final revisions as a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she had "tremendous apprehensions" about voting to fund the Trump administration's border response but said she was prepared do so to improve conditions for migrant children.

"I don't even know how to describe the idea that we have to tell them: You've got to provide food and water to these kids," she said. "But that's what we're doing."

Tuesday's House vote is not expected to garner significant Republican support. The White House announced it was opposed to the bill Monday, and House GOP leaders said they favor a competing bipartisan bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 30-to-1 vote last week.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that Democrats were "playing politics" with the border aid, and he called on Pelosi to put the Senate bill to a vote.

"Let's send the bipartisan bill from the Senate to the president's desk," he said. "I don't understand what the Democrats are doing here.

But Republicans are not entirely united behind the Senate compromise. Two conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, went to the White House on Tuesday to lobby Trump to push Democrats for more concessions.

"I'm telling him it could be better," Gohmert said of the Senate bill Tuesday.

Meadows acknowledged that he visited the White House on Tuesday to discuss immigration with Trump but disputed that he was urging him to oppose the Senate deal. "I'm not a fan of the Senate border bill, and yet at the same time it's head and shoulders above what we're about to pass here in the House," he said.

Trump has previously reversed course on key legislation - most notably, a December funding bill that would have averted what became a 35-day federal government shutdown. But a senior GOP lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe talks with the White House said Republican leaders are not concerned Trump will withdraw support for the Senate deal.

The two chambers now have only two days to spare before lawmakers are set to leave Washington for a weeklong holiday recess. The HHS has warned Congress the agency will exhaust its funding for housing migrant children at the end of the month - a scenario that would impede efforts to move them out of Border Patrol facilities.

The Senate is poised to vote this week on its own $4.6 billion emergency spending bill, which includes $2.88 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to address the large numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the border. Through May, nearly 51,000 children have been referred to the HHS since the fiscal year began in October, an increase of almost 60% compared with the same period last year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged the House on Tuesday to take up his chamber's bill: "I'm hoping the House will conclude that's the best way to get the problem solved," he said.

The Senate bill does not contain most of the strictures that House Democrats are demanding to ensure humane treatment of migrant children in U.S. custody. The Senate bill also includes $50 million more than the House measure for immigration judges to speed the adjudication of asylum claims, as well as $61 million in back pay for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Republicans described some of the provisions in the House Democrats' bill as unacceptable, diminishing chances of a deal. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said Republicans are especially unhappy with the lack of funding for immigration judges and restrictions on Immigration and Customs Enforcement funding.

"This should have been an easy situation," he said. "But, right now, nothing is easy when it comes to the border."

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that he expected a quick negotiation to reach a compromise once both chambers pass their bills: "We've got to get some aid to these poor children. You read about this; it just wrenches your heart."

Inside a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., characterized a vote against the House bill as "a vote for Donald Trump and his inhumane, outside-the-circle of civilized attitude toward the children," according to notes taken by an aide present in the room who was not authorized to comment publicly.

"The stronger the vote, the bigger the message to the Senate," she said, adding: "Think about children being in their parents' arms. Think about what our values are as a country, and not about each of us."

Pelosi asked the members in the room whether anyone had a problem with the bill. She was met with silence, according to the aide's notes.

She told reporters afterward that the Democratic bill represented "a very strong first step for us, for the children." Other Democrats said additional bills could be drafted to address humanitarian conditions at the border, but only the supplemental funding bill is expected to pass into law in the near future.

"It's like every bill we pass: It's not perfect, but it's a good bill, and I think most think it's preferable to the Senate bill, although the Senate bill is not a bad bill either," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Dozens of Democrats spent more than two hours in Pelosi's office Monday night, debating how to amend the bill to address the growing concerns about the conditions in Border Patrol facilities, as well as the difficulties the Trump administration has experienced in transferring migrants out of Border Patrol custody into HHS shelters or the custody of relatives in the United States.

A group of hard-left Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., came out Saturday against providing any funding that could be used to detain migrant children and potentially conduct deportations. Their rhetoric threatened to derail support for the bill, particularly among members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus - two groups with outsize influence.

But when leaving Tuesday morning's meeting, several lawmakers affiliated with those groups said they were inclined to back Pelosi to improve their negotiating stance with the GOP-led Senate and Trump.

"I feel much better about it today," said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member who said she was particularly pleased to see the 90-day time limit. "We didn't have that before, and to me, that was critical."

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The Washington Post’s Emily Davies, Hailey Fuchs, Paul Kane and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.



Panhandling, drinking and loitering are at a breaking point in Midtown Anchorage, businesses say

Tue, 2019-06-25 19:09

Sara Ondola-Carter, her husband Tony Carter, and a friend pass around a can of high-alcohol beer at an intersection in Midtown Anchorage Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The couple said they met outside of Fred Meyer and had been married about a year. "We have each other," he said, referring to his friends and family on the street. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

Midtown Anchorage businesses say homelessness, panhandling and public drinking have reached a crisis point, and the district’s community council is poised to send a strongly worded resolution to the city asking for more aggressive enforcement of anti-panhandling and nuisance laws.

Albert Circosta, treasurer and secretary of the community council, sent out a copy of the resolution with an email describing panhandling and drinking parties” in the public right of way. The body will consider it Wednesday.

“No matter how much we coordinate or add dollars for security contracts, it remains very difficult to manage this situation next to the ongoing public inebriation parties,” he said.

The measure also comes in response to a letter that Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, and eight other legislators sent to the city earlier this month, asking for more aggressive clearing of homeless camps in public parks, said Ric Davidge, vice president of the council. Davidge, who wrote the resolution, and wife Connie Yoshimura, a real estate broker who owns Dwell Realty, have offices in Midtown, he said. Businesses there have had enough, he said.

“What’s happened, every one of our meetings without exception, some business person has come to complain with what is happening to their business,” Davidge said.


Ric Davidge, vice president of the Midtown Community Council, photographed on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

The city has stepped up efforts to clear the parks and to get homeless people into the shelter system and housing over the last few years, reducing the total number of homeless in the city between 2017 and 2018. But, police and homeless advocates say, recent camp abatements may have made some homeless who were living in the woods more transient and more visible, pushing them out of the wooded areas in the Chester Creek greenbelt into adjacent Midtown.

Public outcry about camps and homelessness across Anchorage has become more intense, especially in recent weeks.

[Anchorage is doing more than ever to clear homeless camps. But to many, the problem has never been worse.]

The Midtown Community Council district is bordered by Arctic Boulevard to the west, Fireweed Lane to the north, the Seward Highway to the east and International Airport Road to the south. The area is mainly commercial with some residential pockets. The council is made up mostly of business owners. Many businesses are having problems with loitering in the municipal right-of-way, panhandling, shoplifting, drinking and menacing behavior like pounding on windows, Davidge said. Some of their employees have been assaulted when they tried to intervene with shoplifting.

“We’ve seen a slow, steady increase of people illegally soliciting,” he said.

The resolution calls homelessness a “community crisis” and connects it generally with the spread of infectious diseases, including “the bubonic plague, typhus, tuberculosis, hepatitis A and C,” as well as crime, litter, public defecation and open drug use. It knocks the organizations charged with dealing with the homeless problem as being ineffective, “a group now generally referred to as the ‘homeless industrial complex,'” and says they waste public money. It also says police are turning a blind eye to panhandling.

“The Municipality has, we have been informed, directed the Anchorage Police Department not to fully enforce certain laws,” it says.

The resolution also pushes for a tent city to house homeless people, tickets to send willing homeless people back to villages or Outside, and job training in rural Alaska “so that young remote residents can learn how to survive in a western 9-5 work culture.”

Lt. Jack Carson, who oversees community policing with the Anchorage Police Department, took issue with the resolution’s assertion that the department isn’t enforcing panhandling rules. The department has focused on panhandling, he said. But it is not illegal to sit in the municipal right-of-way in Midtown with a sign if you’re not blocking the sidewalk, he said. It is illegal to take money from cars and to give money out a car window, he said.

“The money is what’s bringing them to that corner,” he said.

Police can cite both panhandlers who take money and drivers who give money or other things like food or hygiene supplies out their windows, he said. In the downtown business district police may write a panhandling citation, he said, which is a civil, not criminal, infraction. Public drinking may also net a $100 fine. The problem is that homeless people generally have no money to pay, he said. Fines have not shown to change behavior in the homeless population, he said. Outreach has been, he said.

“Everybody is wanting the APD to arrest our way out of this, but it needs to be a change in a behavior by everybody,” he said.

If someone wants to give money, he recommended giving to nonprofit charities that help the homeless. The department is also focused on shoplifting, he said, with a number of recent retail stings. The majority of those arrested are not homeless, he said. He stressed that people in Midtown should call the police rather than intervening to stop criminal activity.

“What we’re seeing a lot more is people trying to take the law in their own hands and confronting these people,” he said. “We are seeing a lot more aggressive public out there. ... That’s more of the job of the Anchorage Police Department.”


Michelle Tugatuk and Gene Smallwood sit on the grass next to C Street in Midtown Anchorage Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. The pair, who are experiencing homelessness, had recently visited a friend who was staying at the Merrill Field Inn. The visit gave them a chance to shower and watch television. "It was wonderful," Gene said. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

Gene Smallwood, 43, sat with a group of seven on the southwest corner of West 36th Avenue and C Street on Tuesday morning. Smallwood has lived outside in Midtown for 15 years, he said. He avoids the homeless shelters because of the bugs and the noise, he said. He’d rather listen to the traffic.

“Scabies, lice, bed bugs,” he said.

JR Voyles, 54, sat next to him. He’s been homeless in Midtown 10 years, he said. Both men attended Mount Edgecumbe High School, a boarding school for Alaska Native students in Sitka, although a decade apart. After school, Voyles said, he worked construction but is “too beat up” to work anymore. He has been sleeping mostly in Midtown, he said. He doesn’t have a tent. He said he spends his nights near Outback Steakhouse or Credit Union 1.

“They’ve got a good overhang,” he said.

Others in the group recognized that members of the community saw them as a nuisance. As recently as two weeks ago, the group said they’d been asked to leave buildings they had once felt welcome around. Voyles sipped a can of Steel Reserve, getting a little emotional.

“No matter what happens in this lifetime, be happy, keep a sense of humor. Keep your friends next to you. You’ve got to love each other,” he said. “Fighting becomes the end of debate.”

Reporter Jeff Parrott contributed to this story.


JR Voyles, left, drinks from a can of high-alcohol beer at an intersection in Midtown Anchorage Tuesday morning, June 25, 2019. He says that he's "too beat up to work anymore." (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

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