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Trump appears to back further away from bipartisan health-care push

14 min 10 sec ago

President Donald Trump appeared to distance himself further from a bipartisan Senate health-care effort on Wednesday, warning against "bailing out" insurance companies.

"I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care," Trump wrote on Twitter. He was referencing Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who forged a deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that was released Tuesday and was greeted by ample GOP skepticism.

The president's Wednesday tweet was the latest in conflicting statements about the Alexander-Murray plan in the hours since it was released Tuesday afternoon.

The compromise would authorize payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage in exchange for granting states greater flexibility to regulate health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Trump ended the payments, known as CSRs, last week, arguing they were illegal because they were not explicitly authorized under the ACA. He left it to Congress to decide whether to fund them.

Initially, on Tuesday, Trump said the Alexander-Murray proposal would "get us over this intermediate hump" and allow Republicans to later revisit efforts to aggressively undo the ACA. But later Tuesday, he was noticeably cooler to the idea, saying, "I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies."

Trump's sudden skepticism puts him in line with congressional Republicans, many of whom are not championing the plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not mention it in a speech opening Senate business Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, McConnell said he hadn't "had a chance to think about the way forward yet."

Key House Republicans have been outright hostile.

"None of our guys voted for Obamacare," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a close ally of House GOP leadership, said in an interview Tuesday. "They're not very interested in sustaining it."

But Democratic leaders have been supportive of the blueprint. Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who discussed the prospect of a bipartisan deal with Trump less than two weeks ago, railed against the president for his about-face.

"The president doesn't know what he's talking about," Schumer said of Trump's suggestion that legislation authorizing the subsidies amounted to an industry bailout. "It helps people who are sick and need health care. It keeps their premiums low."

The minority leader described a commander in chief who constantly shifted positions, expressing a willingness to broker deals with Democrats only to be reined in by conservative Republicans.

"This president keeps zigging and zagging," Schumer said, noting that Trump had reassured both him and Alexander that he was open to a compromise that would keep the payments flowing. "Our only hope is maybe tomorrow, he'll be for this bill."

While Trump has repeatedly described cost-sharing payments as a "bailout" to insurers, the money directly covers the discounts low-income Americans covered under the Affordable Care Act receive for deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. This group includes about 7 million Americans earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Insurers are obligated to provide the discounts, which totaled roughly $7 billion this year and are estimated to reach $10 billion next year, even if the federal payments are cut off. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Trump's decision last week to halt the subsidies will cost insurance carriers more than $1 billion this year.

Facing the prospect for months that the Trump administration would cut off the payments, most insurers have opted to factor in this shortfall into their 2018 premium rates for all their customers. The cutoff in cost-sharing payments have translated into premium hikes ranging from 12 percent to 20 percent, according to several analyses.

The Alexander-Murray bill authorizes CSR payments for two years in exchange for granting states greater flexibility to regulate health coverage under the ACA. Those payments help offset deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers who obtain insurance through the law; critics of Trump's decision to halt CSR payments said eliminating the subsidies would cause insurers to back out of marketplaces across the country.

The framework would also allow insurers to offer catastrophic insurance plans to consumers age 30 and older on ACA exchanges, while maintaining a single risk pool. It would shorten the time period for federal review of state waiver applications, expedite review for states in emergency circumstances and those with waiver proposals that have already been approved for other states, and allow governors to approve state waiver applications rather than requiring state legislative approval.

The Post's Amy Goldstein and John Wagner contributed to this report.

Glenn Highway inbound backed up; slick roads reported in Anchorage and Mat-Su

17 min 38 sec ago

Light snow re-freezing on roads early Wednesday is making for a slick morning commute on the Glenn Highway, with Anchorage-bound traffic near Chugiak briefly restricted to one lane, authorities said.

The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday warning of "slick" driving conditions expected to persist until the late morning.

The statement applied to the Anchorage area and communities along the Glenn Highway stretching through Chickaloon, along the Matanuska River.

Police issued a statement at 6 a.m. saying that Anchorage-bound traffic was limited to one lane at Mirror Lake, near Chugiak, and that drivers should "use caution due to icy road conditions."

Spokesman MJ Thim said a minor accident had caused the closure; all lanes have since been reopened but traffic is still moving slowly.

"We've got traffic backed up from Anchorage all the way to the Valley. Our message is, if you're headed into Anchorage from the Valley or Eklutna or Eagle River, take a deep breath and arrive alive at your destination," Thim said.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, October 18, 2017

Tue, 2017-10-17 21:49

Trump can thank Palin

Who would have thought a few years ago that we would have a president of the United States such as Donald Trump? How could a person with so little political experience ever get elected?

We have the catalyst for this phenomenon right here in Alaska in the person of, yes, Sarah Palin. Sarah showed Trump the power of personal magnetism in building a base of undying support. Remember when she ran for governor and vice president, she mesmerized a corps of people, ordinary folks who loved her plain-spoken, blunt message. She could say or do anything and it didn't matter to her base. I think Trump saw this and expended on it tenfold. So love him or hate him he has Sarah to thank for leading the way.

— Jim Cross
Anchorage

Tinted windshields hazardous

There's a definite safety benefit to eye contact between drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others using the road. Those excessively tinted windows (even windshields!) make a visual connection impossible and very dangerous. Could APD look into this situation and clear it up?

Ken Flynn
Anchorage

It's clear state needed PFD
money to pay its bills

In the hope that Mr. Geoff Armstrong ("What will Walker do," Letters, Oct. 15) reads the "Letters" column more closely than he reads the rest of the paper, I will accede to his request, and tell him what Gov. Walker and the Legislature are doing with the $800 million that didn't get paid out as PFDs this year: It will be used to pay the state's bills.

Let me direct Mr. Armstrong's attention to the ADN, practically every issue of the past two years: The state spends more money than it's taking in. Further spending cuts hurt vulnerable Alaskans. How will we pay the bills? Not by handing out cash, that's for sure.

— Scott Walker
Anchorage

Misses We Alaskans

Am I the only reader of the ADN who is disappointed in the content the new owners are publishing?

Opened the Sunday paper of Oct. 1 to learn that "We Alaskans" will no longer be published. This is one of the most intriguing weekly sections that published articles on Alaskan history, interesting recent events from writers all over the state and well-written book reviews. The notation of the change on Page 1 stated that articles that fit into the format of "We Alaskans" would be found throughout the paper. I searched several times and found nothing that remotely resembled such material.

Additionally, the new owners have laid off writers who have a solid grasp and long-view on Alaska history and events whose analysis has been educating us for years. Now, I feel lost and disconnected without their contributions.
The recent content of ADN is thin and unsubstantial. This is what I notated:

1 page of opinions

4 pages of sports

3 pages of Alaska news

2 pages of nation/world

2 pages of comics

1 page on the weather

5 3/4 pages of ads/advice

Is this what the paper has to be in order to be successful? I never thought I'd feel it would almost be better if it did not exist in paper at all. For now, I'll continue to subscribe just to feel a bit of connection, but if there is no improvement in content and "We Alaskans" is not brought back, I may discontinue. As it is, the ADN is mostly useful for placing on the bottom of my bird cage.

— Susan Valenti
Anchorage

How's state spending money?

As this country was founded on independence, I would think it most prudent to report on how our PFD money is being utilized by the state government to resolve its mismanaged, failing economy. Now that Alaskans have less to spend in their own communities, how is the state fairing with its newly acquired windfall? Are those lazy state workers still being paid for doing not much?
Please give us an accounting, not just to answer unquiet, but out of respect.

— Paul Knight
Fairbanks

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email letters@alaskadispatch.com, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to commentary@alaskadispatch.com.

Tax cut proposal looks like no break for the middle class

Tue, 2017-10-17 21:02

President Trump campaigned on helping the little guy. His latest tax proposal, he says, is about helping the middle guy.

"It's a middle-class bill," Trump promised an audience of truckers last week.

Other administration officials and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have also claimed that their primary objective in reconfiguring the tax code is to help the middle class, not the wealthy.

Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten things backward.

In a preliminary analysis, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that 80 percent of the proposed tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent of earners over the next decade. Meanwhile a quarter of households in the middle quintile would see their tax bills rise.

This should be no surprise, when you consider what's in the Republican framework.

[For real tax reform, simplify the system and put the middle class first]

It cuts the top personal income tax rate; eliminates estate taxes, which currently befall only estates worth at least $5.5 million; kills the alternative minimum tax; and slashes rates on pass-through income. The White House has lately even made the absurd claim that its enormous, unfunded corporate rate cuts are primarily about helping the middle class.

On Monday, the president's Council of Economic Advisers released a report claiming that corporate tax cuts would boost the average household's income by at least $4,000. This estimate relies on a series of assumptions that seem dubious at best, given other research (including one recently deleted paper by Treasury's own staff economists).

All this made me wonder: What would a tax plan that actually prioritizes the middle class look like?

Not much like the one Republican leadership cooked up, but it could still include elements appealing to both parties.

A real middle-class tax plan would likely include a large expansion of the earned income tax credit.

For decades, the EITC has supplemented lower-income people's pay through a tax refund. It's pro-work, because it increases the payoff from holding down a job. It also meaningfully improves working families' living standards.

Given these selling points, the EITC has historically enjoyed support from both Republicans and Democrats. In recent years, both Ryan and President Barack Obama proposed making it more generous to workers who don't have custody of a minor child.

Curiously, though, the current GOP framework says not a peep about this powerful tool.

Fortunately, there's an (admittedly expensive) off-the-shelf policy available: a Democratic plan to expand EITC eligibility up the wage ladder, to households making as much as $76,000 depending on family size. The legislation would also roughly double the maximum size of the EITC for working families and almost sextuple it for childless workers.

These expansions are designed to help middle-income workers "reclaim" the pay they would have received had there not been decades of wage stagnation, the House bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told me in a recent interview.

Khanna also observed that expanding the EITC is a much more direct way to raise middle-class families' earnings than some Rube-Goldberg-like corporate tax-code machinations.

"Trump is saying he's going to cut the corporate tax rate in order to raise your wages," Khanna said. "I'm saying: Let's just raise your wages."

We could also help middle-income families by expanding the child tax credit.

The GOP tax plan does include an expansion of this credit, to be sure. But what they've announced so far doesn't do much for the middle class.

That's because the expansion appears to be non-refundable (meaning it primarily helps higher-income filers), and it mostly serves to offset the framework's elimination of personal exemptions, explains Tax Policy Center researcher Elaine Maag.

Other more generous expansions would be possible though, including a version pushed by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah.

What about the corporate tax code?

There are some changes that could arguably boost growth and productivity, some of whose benefits could (ahem) trickle down to workers. Cutting rates and eliminating distortionary loopholes could be helpful — which is why Democrats previously said they'd support such a plan.

Only, though, if the plan were revenue neutral.

A revenue-negative plan most likely hurts growth in the long run, as Obama's former chief economist Jason Furman points out. More important, someone eventually has to cover the cost of unfunded tax cuts through some future combination of higher taxes and lower spending. Lower spending almost certainly would disparately hurt lower- and middle-income families.

Which is why the best thing elected officials can do to help the middle class would be to make sure any promised benefits are adequately funded. Which would mean raising rather than cutting tax revenue.

Something tells me that's not what Republicans have in mind here.

Catherine Rampell is a columnist for The Washington Post. Email,  crampell@washpost.com. Twitter, @crampell.

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

Alaska Native leaders say Tara Sweeney is well suited for Trump’s top Indian affairs job

Tue, 2017-10-17 20:28

She grew up in rural Alaska and graduated from Cornell University. She co-chaired the Alaska Federation of Natives and led the international Arctic Economic Council. She was Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics, Miss Top of the World and Miss National Congress of American Indians.

Now Tara Sweeney, 44 and an executive vice president of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., is being nominated by President Donald Trump to the nation's top post with oversight over Native American matters. If the U.S. Senate confirms his pick, she'll be the first Alaska Native and the second woman to hold the position of assistant secretary of Interior for Indian affairs.

The late Morris Thompson, an Athabascan who went on to lead Doyon Ltd., held an earlier version of the position, commissioner of Indian affairs.

Sweeney is an Inupiaq who grew up in various rural communities: Noorvik, Wainwright, Bethel, Unalakleet and mainly Barrow, now Utqiaġvik. She graduated from Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1998. She has spent much of her professional career with Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Alaska's biggest locally owned and run company.

The White House announced the pick Monday. The reaction on Tuesday bordered on ecstatic.

"What pops right into my head is why wouldn't she be nominated?" said Clare Swan, a Kenaitze tribal elder, pausing after her keynote address Tuesday at the First Alaskans Institute's Elders and Youth Conference. "Because she knows Alaska, for one thing."

In her speech, Swan told the young leaders they would always be breaking trail. In the Dena'ina language, that's susten, she said.

And Sweeney is the kind of person who breaks trail, said Swan and others.

"She sees with her heart," Swan said.

It was Sweeney and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. who backed Cook Inlet Tribal Council's effort to create a Native-themed video adventure game. The result, "Never Alone," was launched in 2014 based on Inupiaq folklore and narrated entirely in Inupiaq. It's been a hit.

"It was ASRC and Tara who stood with us and made an investment," said Gloria O'Neill, president and chief executive of Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a social services agency.

Sweeney is tough and smart with the political savvy and instincts to negotiate bureaucracy, said O'Neill, who has long worked with Sweeney on boards and projects. The women are friends.

"Tara has that good sense of timing," O'Neill said. "She's worked in D.C. for a number of years so she has the smarts and skills to maneuver through and get things done."

The assistant secretary oversees the bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education, which provide services directly or through grants and contracts to almost 2 million Native American people and 567 tribes, including 229 in Alaska. Areas of responsibility include tribal courts, Indian child welfare, schools, roads, and management of land and money held in trust by the federal government for tribes and Native individuals.

"Congratulations to her," said Willie Hensley, a longtime Alaska Native leader who chairs the board of First Alaskans Institute. "It's going to be a real challenging job. You have tribes scattered all over the country and Alaska, and in challenging economic times."

Trump, as a businessman, battled with Lower 48 tribes over casinos. His relationship with tribes as president is evolving.

Sweeney will be in a good position to help the Trump administration understand the Native power structure, Hensley said.

"A lot of people don't understand Alaska because it is confusing," Hensley said. "We have tribes. We have (Alaska Native) corporations." And the Native-run corporations have land and money, while tribes here more often are struggling with few resources.

The announcement about Sweeney came on the eve of the Alaska Federation of Natives' annual convention in Anchorage, the biggest representative gathering of Native people.

Twenty-four years ago, a predecessor in the assistant secretary's role, Ada Deer, drew cheers at the AFN convention when she announced that the Clinton administration was officially recognizing more than 220 Native entities in Alaska as having nearly the same powers as Lower 48 tribes.

Sweeney will be good not just for Alaska, but for the country, said state Sen. Donny Olson, a Democrat from Golovin, who as a boy went to a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in his home village.

"For someone like the president who sometimes loses sight of what is going on because he is so involved with tweeting to have finally appointed someone who will do an excellent job for Alaska" is welcome, said Olson, who fended off a political challenge from Sweeney back in 2004 when she ran as a nonpartisan candidate. She's now again a registered Republican.

Another longtime Native leader, Georgianna Lincoln, is on the AFN board as well as the board of Doyon Ltd. Sweeney was an excellent AFN co-chair, Lincoln said.

"She was very organized. She read her information beforehand," Lincoln said. "She didn't take over the meetings but she helped others to understand maybe the language we were discussing, what the implications were for a piece of legislation and always with such a kind heart."

If Sweeney is confirmed, she will be someone for other Alaska Native women — and for other Alaskans — to model themselves on, said Lincoln, who understands the power of that as the first and only Alaska Native woman to serve in the state Senate.

"She can be my role model," Lincoln said.

Sweeney's mother was the late state Rep. Eileen MacLean, a Democrat who represented what was then Barrow.

Her husband is Kevin Sweeney, a former longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski who recently stepped down. The couple, who live in Anchorage, have two children, Caitlin and Ahmaogak.

Efforts to interview Sweeney on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Iditarod says dogs on a 2017 team tested positive for prohibited pain reliever

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:37

Several sled dogs on a 2017 Iditarod team tested positive for tramadol, a pain reliever prohibited by the race, the Iditarod Trail Committee said Tuesday.

The Iditarod released the information in a brief statement late Tuesday afternoon, several days after race officials last week refused to name the prohibited drug or the musher involved.

Race spokesman Chas St. George said last week that "legal concerns" prevented the release of the information. He did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday, including why the race now decided to release some additional details about the drug tests. 

The Iditarod's statement Tuesday said the sled dog team was tested after finishing the race in Nome. St. George had also declined to provide that information last week when race officials originally announced that "several dogs" on a 2017 Iditarod team had tested positive for a "prohibited substance."

According to the statement Tuesday, urine samples were collected from the dogs six hours after the unnamed team completed the 1,000-mile race. Those samples tested positive for tramadol.

"Based on the test results, it was estimated that the drug could have been administered somewhere between fifteen hours prior to, and up until the time the team was tested in Nome," the statement said.

The statement described tramadol as a "analgesic that can help control moderate to severe pain." The drug is listed as a "Class IV opioid drug," it said.

The Iditarod still has not named the musher who competed with the sled dogs that tested positive for tramadol. It has not said exactly how many of the musher's dogs tested positive for the drug.

In an interview last week, St. George said that despite the positive drug tests, the Iditarod could not penalize the unnamed musher due to the phrasing of the 2017 race rules.

[RelatedAfter several 2017 Iditarod sled dogs fail drug test, race changes its rules]

In the case of dogs' positive drug test, the 2017 rules required that Iditarod officials prove the musher intended to give his or her dogs the prohibited drug and the dogs did not ingest it in some other way, whether it was laced in a meat product or given to them by a competitor.

Now if there's a positive drug test, a musher must prove that he or she did not give the drug to the dog, according to the 2018 race rules.

Both the 2017 and 2018 rules list about a dozen prohibited drugs for competing Iditarod dogs, including steroids and painkillers.

According to the American Kennel Club, "tramadol is a medication veterinarians commonly dispense to manage pain in dogs." It can also be used by humans for pain relief, the club's website says.

The American Veterinary Medical Association said tramadol was used in veterinary medicine for "pain control."

Wade Marrs, who serves as the musher representative on the Iditarod Board of Directors, said in an interview Tuesday that he did not believe the unnamed musher gave the drug to the dogs.

The musher placed in the race's top 20, Marrs said, and dogs racing in each of those teams are tested in Nome. It's a known drug test — not a random one like others during the race. Why, Marrs asked, would the musher choose to give a banned substance so close to the finish line?

Plus, Marrs said, the side effects of tramadol include drowsiness.

"The test results show this was most likely given between Safety and Nome and at that point it would be absolutely ridiculous to think this drug would do any good for the musher," he said.

Marrs, who placed sixth in the 2017 race, declined to name the musher racing the dogs that tested positive. He said it was not him.

This is the story of Allie, the alligator from Wasilla that got too big for its bathtub

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:25

MEADOW LAKES — A Wasilla animal control officer this week liberated a young alligator from a bathtub.

Wasilla Police Department's Mikey Rager got the call on Monday: a 3-year-old American alligator was living in the bathroom.

Long story short, rescuers say, the 4 1/2-foot-long gator was outgrowing the tub and its owner called for help.

By 10 a.m. Tuesday, Allie the Alligator had a new home about 15 minutes away at Valley Aquatics & Reptile Rescue in a strip mall along the Parks Highway.

"Our animal control officer typically handles loose dogs and cats, with the occasional rogue chicken thrown in," the police department posted on its official Facebook page Tuesday. "Yesterday was a first for him…"

There's no law against keeping an alligator in Alaska, according to Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. But experts say it's ill-advised given the cold dry climate and inherent risks.

Valley Aquatics is full of reptiles from homes unable to keep them: nine turtles; a ball python; a 9-foot-long Colombian red-tailed boa named "Mouse."

The alligator was treated well and looks very healthy, said Nadine Rawlings, the manager of Valley Aquatics. Rawlings thinks the gator is a male. The previous owner kept Allie in the tub but sometimes would put a band on its snout and let it walk around and dry out.

The gator likes to be scratched under the chin, as seen in a video Valley Aquatics posted on Facebook.

For now, Allie is living in a 100-gallon tank. But the rescue plans to fashion a holding pen from a combination of donated water troughs and a dry-out area. The pen will be secure, Rawlings said: "No fingers, no unauthorized entry or touching."

She and owner Sheridan Perkins are trying to find a nature reserve in Florida to take Allie. There's little chance anyone in Alaska would have the resources to take the gator here.

The gator is still young enough that it makes duck-like squeaks, like a call to its mother, when it's time to eat. But Rawlings notes that American alligators can grow to 12 feet long and 700 pounds.

"It's an animal that shouldn't necessarily be a pet," she said.

Meadow Lakes is no stranger to famous reptiles with problems staying at home.

A 17-foot albino Burmese python weighing 100 pounds triggered a snakewatch in May — and no small amount of panic — when it went missing from a Meadow Lakes home only to be found, safe, some days later.

Alligators don't normally make the news in Alaska, though one that disappeared from the greenhouse at Palmer High School made headlines in 2003.

[Related: Mat-Su school alligator has mysterious demise]

Someone posted a comment on the police department Facebook page Tuesday about not needing "alligators plus bears" in Alaska's predatory suite.

"Thankfully a feral alligator population isn't going to be a concern in the near future," the department administrator replied.

McCain gives Senate GOP enough votes to pass budget, a boost for Trump’s tax plan

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:25

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans desperate to pass tax cuts as a way to salvage their deadlocked legislative agenda earned a series of much-needed victories Tuesday, raising GOP hopes of approving legislation this week that will lay the groundwork for rate cuts later.

As President Donald Trump prepared to promote tax reform in a speech Tuesday night, Senate Republicans won over a key holdout on the budget resolution, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and welcomed back Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., whose absence due to illness had threatened to derail the bill.

"I support the Senate budget resolution because it provides a path forward on tax reform," McCain said in a statement. "I have long supported efforts to fix our burdensome tax system and hope Congress will produce meaningful reform that simplifies the tax code, strengthens America's middle class and boosts our economy."

These developments were seen as positive signs for the resolution, which lays out Republicans' spending priorities and would enable them to approve tax cuts on a simple-majority vote, without support from Democrats. This is a crucial step in a closely divided Senate, where few if any Democrats are expected to support tax cuts.

Debate began on the measure midday Tuesday after a party-line vote to move the process forward.

[Budget deal could open up possibility of ANWR drilling, sparking opposition from Democrats and environmentalists]

If Republicans succeed in passing the budget, they will be one step closer to approving the tax cuts that have become their essential policy objective since the Senate failed to pass multiple bills to rewrite Obamacare. Approving the budget would also help shore up ties between Senate GOP leaders and President Trump, who is angry at Republicans' failure on health care and bent on Congress approving a tax-reform package by the end of the year.

McCain had told reporters earlier in the day that the level of military spending would shape his vote on the resolution.

"It is an absolute requirement that we adequately fund the men and women who are serving in the military. I've said it 50 times, I'll say it again: Men and women in uniform are being killed and wounded because we have refused to fund them adequately in order to do their job," he said.

Asked whether he was close to a deal to satisfy his demand for more spending, McCain sounded optimistic.

"Yeah, sure!" he said. "We're having those conversations with leadership."

The GOP's success on the final budget vote is not yet sure, though McCain's "yes" and Cochran's presence gives the party a wider margin for error. Republicans control 52 of the Senate's 100 seats, meaning they can lose two votes from their own party and still pass the budget. Without Cochran, Republicans would have only been able to lose one vote.

Political pressure is on leaders' side: The fact that Republicans cannot cut taxes without first passing the budget resolution creates an incentive for members to support it.

"We feel good about where our numbers are today in terms of getting the budget passed," Sen. John Thune, S.D., the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told reporters Tuesday.

The vote midday Tuesday on the motion to proceed was the first big test for leaders. It passed 50 to 47, with three senators absent and all other Republicans voting "yes."

Even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who opposes the budget in its current form, voted "yes" to begin debate after a conversation with Trump.

"A lot of this is out of respect to the president and also out of the fact that we should debate the budget," Paul said during a conference call with reporters.

Yet Paul said he continues to oppose the current version of the budget. He demanded the legislation undergo changes – including substantial spending cuts – to earn his approval.

"I spoke with the president about this. He and I discussed this. I'm a 'yes' vote, but we have to obey our own rules," Paul said.

[Another last-ditch effort to tackle Obamacare stalls within hours of its release]

It is unclear which other Republicans, if any, plan to vote against the budget. As of this week, several who had threatened to oppose it seemed more or less on board.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters Monday that he has reservations about the eventual tax-reform proposal but was "fine" voting for the budget resolution to allow the process to move forward. "I voted for [the resolution] out of committee," he noted.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, whose opposition helped block the GOP health-care bills, said Monday that she was leaning toward voting "yes," but would decide after the bill goes through the amendment process.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, another key opponent of the health-care bills, said Sunday that she is "likely a yes" during an interview with ABC News.

Paul said his support hinged on cutting the $43 billion in overseas war funding desired by McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., arguing that the amount goes against the federal budget caps established in 2011.

"Are these people all hypocrites?" Paul asked on the conference call. "What's the point? Is this a charade?"

"They are not fiscally conservative," he added of McCain and Graham. "They think when it comes to defense, you can spend whatever you want."

Both of Paul's targets brushed away his criticism.

"Getting more bad info @RandPaul," Graham tweeted. "Don't screw up #TaxReform now."

"I'm not going to comment on Senator Paul's activities," McCain told reporters.

Farmers markets head indoors for the winter, but there are still plenty of local treats

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:06

With the below-freezing temperatures, it's been feeling a lot more like winter than autumn. And the farmers who have completed their harvests are happy.
Late-season crops are plentiful at the indoor farmers markets.

"Harvest is finally done for us," says Alex Davis of AD Farm and the Center Market, which has three indoor options at The Mall at Sears. "Cleanup now begins, before things disappear under a blanket of snow.

"If you're looking for root crops, life is good. We have a little leftover broccoli and cauliflower."

Davis will have plenty of those root crops to accompany the broccoli and cauliflower on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The vegetable crop includes red and green cabbage, kohlrabi, red beets, golden beets, four varieties of cauliflower, broccoli, spaghetti squash, acorn squash and four colors of carrots. Davis also has plenty of potatoes, including Yukon gold, both loose and in 25-pound bags; German butterball, loose and in 25-pound bags; magic Molly; and fiesta potatoes.

As always, Davis has a wide selection of pork cuts. His coolers at the mall will be filled with loin roast, pork chops, fresh side sliced, ground pork, Italian sausage, spicy sausage, breakfast sausage, chorizo, fajita meat, ribs, roast, bone for broth, fat for rendering, feet and hocks. Davis also has duck and chicken eggs and raspberry jam.

Davis also has a variety of items from Alaska Sprouts, including micro greens, tofu and basil; Alaska Flour Co.'s barley products; grass-fed beef from Windy River Farm; krauts, kimchi and other items from Evie's Brinery; and items from Tonia's Biscotti.

Northern Lights Mushrooms will be at Wednesday's market with shiitake and king oyster mushrooms, along with end-of-season cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.

Monica's Confection Connection will be at the Wednesday market with gourmet brittles, caramels, salted caramels, gummies, marshmallows and fudge. Featured this week is Holiday Spice Brittle, and fudge flavors including pumpkin pie, butter pecan, chocolate walnut and cookies and cream.

Alaska Seeds of Change will be at Saturday's market with a large selection of fresh herbs, including chervil, dill, stevia, Thai basil, Genovese basil, parsley and chives. They also will have bok choy, cabbage, rainbow Swiss chard and three varieties of Russian kale. They also have locally grown strawberries. Also look for Alaska Seeds of Change at Wednesday's APU Farmers Market.

Other vendors include Jonsers hand-crafted nectars, Doggy Decadence and Mosquito Mama with balsamic vinegar.

Thankful Thursdays

Far North Fungi will be at the market with fresh blue oyster mushrooms available at Thankful Thursday. "We also have our fantastic powdered mushrooms, great for gravy mixes, as a flour substitute or as an umami-filled spice rub," says owner Allison Dunbar.

Farm 779 will have "an abundant ketogenic lineup including ferments and nondairy vegan and gluten-free snacking options," says owner Julie Meer.
Look for almond cocktail bread loaves, almond cookies, kefirs, "Awesome Sauce," krauts and vegetable blends made with Valley-grown produce, Yensis and red onions, carrots, and body products.

Duane Clark will be at the market with potatoes, carrots, beets, kale, honey, jams, salsa, grass-fed beef and yak.

Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at akmarketfresh@gmail.com.

Local farmers markets

Wednesday in Anchorage: APU Farmers Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 4225 University Drive; Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Saturday in Anchorage: Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 15th Avenue and Cordova Street; Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Sunday in Anchorage: Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Troopers seek man accused of groping juvenile girls at resort near Fairbanks

Tue, 2017-10-17 17:59

Alaska State Troopers are asking the public's help in identifying a suspect who is accused of groping two girls at a resort near Fairbanks.

At 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, troopers got a report that a man had "touched two juvenile girls inappropriately" while in a pool at Chena Hot Springs Resort. The resort is about 60 miles west of the city of Fairbanks.

"A white male with blue hair was in the pool with the girls when he groped them," troopers wrote in a dispatch. "The suspect was no longer in the area when troopers arrived."

Anyone with information is asked to call Alaska State Trooper Nate Johnson at 907-451-5100.

Greens, Democrats ramp up opposition to ANWR drilling in Washington

Tue, 2017-10-17 17:36

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats and environmental groups are ramping up efforts to oppose drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the Senate inches closer to a budget deal that could open the door to the long-sought oil rights.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats gathered in protest of an upcoming budget vote that will open the door to a simple-majority vote in the Senate that could allow drilling in ANWR. Meanwhile, the League of Conservation Voters announced a $200,000 campaign to convince members of Congress that opening ANWR is simply a corporate giveaway that will do little to reduce the deficit.

LCV plans to urge people nationwide to contact their representatives to oppose drilling in ANWR. And they plan to target six House Republicans whom they think they can sway on the issue.

The budget bill headed to a vote this week sets funding limits for the government, though not specific funding or appropriations amounts. It doesn't need a presidential signature. It's a guideline for Congress, and sets out dictates for tax and revenue plans. Later, it guides a budget reconciliation bill, which will only require a 51-vote majority to pass — key for the 52-person Republican bloc.

As part of that, the proposed Senate bill would ask the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to come up with legislation that would raise $1 billion in revenue over 10 years. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs that committee, is expected to find that revenue in ANWR drilling.

Earlier this year, Murkowski and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan introduced legislation to allow oil and gas production on 2,000 acres of the coastal plain of ANWR. That is far smaller than the entire "1002" coastal area that the law says Congress could open to drilling — 1.5 million acres.

Consequently, the Senate could open ANWR with a simple majority vote that is largely centered around tax reform.

But Democrats opposed to the plan say it's an underhanded move. They're calling for more public attention and activism, and are hoping to secure enough Republican support to tank an ANWR provision.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and others are looking for just the right point in the budget fight to try to put a stop to the rider, he said at a press conference behind the Capitol Building on Tuesday morning.

Markey called the provision a "poison pill" that would harm "one of America's greatest national treasures." He accused lawmakers of using the budget process to "ram" Arctic drilling through the Senate in a "big oil polar payout."

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said he would not let the Senate sneak the provision through the process. "The tribes there and the species there are counting on us to make sure it doesn't happen," he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., lambasted ANWR proponents for repeated efforts to squeeze a provision into other must-pass legislation. "It tells you something that this idea does not stand on its own," she said. "When are they going to stop holding us all hostage to vote for the Arctic Wildlife Refuge being opened?" she asked.

Cantwell would have a front-row view to any efforts to use ANWR drilling to prop up revenues in the eventual budget reconciliation. She's the ranking member — the top Democrat — on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The idea of opening the 1002 area to drilling has raised controversy in Congress for decades, though Alaska's delegation has remained uniformly in favor.

In Congress, opposition to drilling in ANWR is generally led by Democrats, with some support from moderate Republicans, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

But back in Alaska, the bipartisan agreement goes in the other direction — in support of opening ANWR. Former Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich made support for drilling in ANWR central in his campaign against Sen. Ted Stevens. And current Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, is eagerly supportive of opening the area to drilling.

Opponents are not only in the Lower 48, however. The Gwich'in people and several Alaska environmental groups regularly make their way to Washington, D.C., to lobby against drilling in ANWR. They say the land is sacred, and drilling would endanger the Porcupine caribou herd, polar bears, moose, musk oxen and wolves that live there. Roughly 200 types of birds migrate through the area.

Murkowski has not straight-away said that she plans to use the directive to open ANWR. But it is a longtime priority for the senator. And on the House side, her counterparts in the Natural Resources Committee — and Alaska Rep. Don Young — have been very clear about their intentions to do so.

Young has managed to move pro-ANWR drilling provisions through the House a dozen times, but been stalled in the Senate all but once. That time, President Bill Clinton vetoed the bill. In 2005, Stevens came close to allowing drilling in the refuge with a similar move — inserting a provision in a must-pass budget bill.

So how does a 6-foot alligator get misplaced?

Tue, 2017-10-17 17:12

Originally published April 18, 2003.

Mitch the alligator spent the past year and a half in the greenhouse at Palmer High School, living large.

At mealtime, chunks of salmon and halibut dropped from a long stick into a pen framed by a big wood fence. Mitch soaked in a palm-rimmed pond or napped in a cave under a heat lamp.

Occasionally, a turtle that shared the pond crawled into the cave and lounged on the 6-foot gator's back, under the lamp.

But this alligator idyll came to an end, possibly a bad one for Mitch. He disappeared over spring break. He never made it to the Florida game farm where he had a reservation.

All that seems certain is Mitch was evicted and no longer lives at Palmer High.

Inspection officer Mike Kiehn, an agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said that the alligator was dead and that Palmer High agriculture teacher Don Berberich told him he shot it.

Berberich, a respected teacher and boys soccer coach, said twice this week that he had not shot the alligator, especially since Kiehn instructed him not to.

Berberich said he inherited Mitch from a Wasilla couple who had a new baby in the house. Last school year, a custodian asked Berberich whether he wanted her daughter's alligator for his greenhouse pool. Berberich, who had baby alligators when he grew up in Ohio, was intrigued.

"I said, 'How big is it?' " he said. "She said, 'Two feet long.' "

The alligator he loaded into his pickup was twice that big, the teacher said.

"I can see trouble here," he recalled thinking. "Instead of saying 'No way, this is dumb,' I went ahead, thinking 'This will be cool.' All the way home, I'm wondering how I'm going to tell my principal."

Two days later, the School District office told local school officials to get rid of the gator. But time passed and nothing definitive happened, Berberich said.

District officials contacted Palmer High last year because they worried that Mitch might hurt students, and they also wanted the greenhouse used for the study of Alaska agriculture, said Kim Floyd, spokeswoman for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

A fence surrounding the gator's pen was too high for younger students to even look in, Berberich said. Two seniors made the gator their senior project, and they were really the only students who interacted with Mitch.

Meanwhile, Mitch grew from 4 to 6 feet. He was thought to be an American alligator, which can grow to 500 pounds and 14 feet, with 74 to 80 teeth.

Spring break last month seemed like a good time to evict Mitch, Floyd said. The district sent out a memo that all animals had to go home over the break.

Palmer police sent an animal control officer to the school March 25, according to a borough memo. The officer found a well-fed alligator, along with the district superintendent, the borough's risk manager and a few other people.

Superintendent Bob Doyle reportedly told the officer to load the gator into his truck. The officer balked, saying he didn't have the right equipment or a place to put the creature, but he offered to find an appropriate facility.

"The School District gave him a deadline of Friday, March 28 (the end of spring break), to remove the alligator, with implications that something would be done to the alligator if it were not removed by the Friday deadline," the memo states.

The officer, with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, worked to find Mitch a home. They contacted St. Augustine Alligator Farm, a zoological park in Florida.

Curator John Brueggen said he agreed to take the alligator as long as the Alaskans would pay Mitch's way, which he estimated at $300.

Kiehn said the agencies were probably days away from finding a way to pay for the trip.

After animal control couldn't collect Mitch, Berberich said, "they set up something else. I went skiing."

When spring break ended a few days later, the gator was gone. Berberich said the last he heard, the reptile was bound for Florida.

But Mitch never made it to the zoological park, curator Brueggen said.

Borough Attorney Elizabeth Friedman said animal control officers did not take the gator; they left it — alive. The borough's "Alligator Status Memorandum" says the alligator's owner, which it did not name, took the animal home and shot it.

The case is still under investigation.

It's not necessarily illegal to kill an alligator. But the authorities suspect that Mitch was an American alligator, protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Once decimated by hunters to make handbags and boots, the alligators have rebounded. They remain protected because most hunters can't differentiate them from rare American crocodiles, Kiehn said.

Alligators acquired as pets are generally farm-raised. A Fish and Wildlife agent is trying to find out whether the alligator's importation to Alaska or supposed untimely end violated any laws.

Berberich, meanwhile, said he won't miss the fish smell in his greenhouse. All the same, he said, he remembered fondly the day Mitch moved in.

"When we turned him loose in that pond, he was just lovin' it."

On abortion, Democrats show their cultural extremism

Tue, 2017-10-17 16:36

WASHINGTON — What would America's abortion policy be if the number of months in the gestation of a human infant were a prime number — say, seven or eleven? This thought experiment is germane to why the abortion issue has been politically toxic, and points to a path toward a less bitter debate. The House of Representatives has for a third time stepped onto this path. Senate Democrats will, for a third time, block this path when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brings the House bill to the floor, allowing Democrats to demonstrate their extremism and aversion to bipartisan compromise.

Democracy, which properly is government by persuasion rather than majority bullying or executive or judicial policy fiats, is a search for splittable differences. Abortion, which supposedly is the archetypal issue that confounds efforts at compromise, has for two generations — since the Supreme Court seized custody of the issue in 1973 — damaged political civility.

Pro-abortion absolutists — meaning those completely content with the post-1973 regime of essentially unrestricted abortion-on-demand at any point in pregnancy — are disproportionately Democrats who, they say, constitute the Party of Science. They are aghast that the Department of Health and Human Services now refers to protecting people at "every stage of life, beginning at conception." This, however, is elementary biology, not abstruse theology: Something living begins then — this is why it is called conception. And absent a natural malfunction or intentional intervention (abortion), conception results in a human birth.

In 1973, the court decreed — without basis in the Constitution's text, structure or history, or in embryology or other science — a trimester policy. It postulated, without a scintilla of reasoning, moral and constitutional significance in the banal convenience that nine is divisible by three. The court decided that the right to abortion becomes a trifle less than absolute — in practice, not discernibly less — when the fetus reaches viability, meaning the ability to survive outside the womb. The court stipulated that viability arrived at 24 to 28 weeks.

On Oct. 3, the House passed (237-189) the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act banning abortions (with the usual exceptions concerning rape, incest and the life of the mother) after the 20th week. The act's supposition is that by then the fetus will feel pain when experiencing the violence of being aborted, and that this matters. Of course, pro-abortion absolutists consider the phrase "unborn child" oxymoronic, believing that from conception until the instant of delivery, the pre-born infant is mere "fetal material," as devoid of moral significance as would be a tumor in the (if they will pardon the provocative expression) mother.

Whether a 20-week fetus has neurological pathways sufficient for feeling pain is surely a question that science can answer, if it has not already. Already there are myriad intrauterine medical procedures, some involving anesthesia: Doctors can heal lives that America's extremely permissive abortion law says can be terminated with impunity. Only seven nations allow unrestricted abortion after 20 weeks. Most European nations restrict abortions by at least week 13. France and Germany are very restrictive after 12, Sweden after 18.

Getting a scientific answer to the pain question, even if it is "yes," should gratify the Party of Science. If the answer is "yes," those who think fetal suffering is irrelevant can explain why they do.

New medical technologies and techniques are lowering the age of viability. And increasingly vivid sonograms, showing beating hearts and moving fingers, make it increasingly difficult to argue that the "fetal material" is at no point, in any way, a baby. Science is presenting inconvenient truths to the Party of Science, truths that are the reasons the percentage of pregnancies aborted is the smallest since 1973.

In 1973, the court bizarrely called the fetus "potential life"; it is, of course, undeniably alive and biologically human. A large American majority is undogmatic, because uncertain, about — and the House bill does not address — the question of when the living thing that begins at conception should be held to acquire personhood protectable by law. This majority's commonsensical, prudently imprecise, split-the-difference answer is: Not at conception but well before completed gestation. Hence this majority, its vocabulary provided by the court's arbitrary jurisprudence, thinks first-trimester abortions (more than 90 percent of abortions) should be legal. After which, approximately a two-thirds majority supports restricting abortions.

When — the sooner the better — the House bill comes to the Senate floor, Democrats will prevent a vote on it. This will be a tutorial on the actual extremists in our cultural conflicts.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post.  Email,  georgewill@washpost.com.

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

Steve Meyer: Yes, we should ban bump stocks

Tue, 2017-10-17 16:23

The time of day when the newsfeed on my computer screen announced the Oct. 1 shootings in Las Vegas escapes me. Rarely do my setters allow me to sleep beyond 5 a.m., so it was sometime around then — too early to be sick to one's stomach.

None of the people killed or wounded and none of the first responders faced with the aftermath were known to me. So my silent thoughts went out to them.

The media couldn't remain silent and allow the families, friends, co-workers and folks who just care about others a moment. The political subdivisions representing the pro-gun and anti-gun crowd had the right to just shut up for a moment, but they didn't have the ability.

My life has revolved around guns. From a lifetime of hunting to a career in law enforcement, firearms have been a part of my life. I've spent a good many days as an instructor, and now I write about guns. Thus, because I feel a certain responsibility, I'll write about automatic weapons, and I won't like it much.

The rhetoric spewed by both sides, the continuous bombardment of incorrect information and the lip service from lawmakers who know nothing of the subject isn't helpful. But then extremism rarely is.

The general public, including the majority of gun owners in this country, doesn't know much about automatic weapons. Why would it? In 1934, the National Firearms Act (NFA) targeted firearms capable of firing multiple shots with the single press of the trigger, which in a nutshell is what an automatic weapon is.

Prior to 1934, anyone could own an automatic weapon, and some folks did. Gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s — people like John Dillinger, George "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone — made automatic firearms famous. Their use of the Thompson submachine gun brought the issue of automatic weapons into the limelight.

The NFA does not prohibit the private ownership of automatic weapons. A law-abiding citizen willing to go through an arduous process of registration, background checks and securance of approval from the head of a local law enforcement agency or a sitting judge can legally obtain a firearm capable of automatic fire.

If there is a documented case of a legally owned automatic weapon being used for criminal behavior since the passage of the NFA, I haven't been able to find it. The NFA is a reasonable method of controlling something that needed to be controlled. It has not infringed on the ability of Americans to protect themselves.

For most of my years in law enforcement, I was part of a Special Emergency Response Team. I sometimes carried automatic weapons. Their usefulness in the law-enforcement arena is specific to certain special circumstances, and they only come into the arena in those circumstances.

Military use of shoulder-fired automatic weapons is a bit broader. They are used rarely for specific engagement of an enemy soldier. Mostly they are used to saturate areas with prolific gunfire to keep the enemy's heads down during advance and retreat. Any casualties inflicted during the process are bonuses. To put it in perspective, during the Vietnam conflict, 58,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition (mostly 5.56×45, the military designation for the .223) were fired for every enemy casualty.

One needs to understand the basic realities of these guns to understand their limited usefulness. I'll try to explain using the AR-15, chambered for the .223 cartridge, capable of automatic fire, as an example. These guns fire at a rate of 700 to 900 rounds per minute, depending on the configuration. Taking the median number, that equates to about 13 rounds per second — nowhere near the 3,000 rounds per second suggested in some media reports. Numbers like that would be reserved for the fantasy world of motion pictures.

With the gun selected to automatic fire, aim at a human-sized target 10 yards away and press the trigger. Under the assumption you had a correct sight picture and didn't jerk the trigger, the first shot will hit the target where you aimed. The second shot might hit the target, but the hit won't be anywhere close to your original aiming point. The third shot is just about guaranteed not to hit the target at all.

Even though the recoil impulse of the .223 is light, it does exist, and no normal human can contain this recoil in a light, shoulder-fired weapon. As the gun continues to fire, the recoil moves the gun and the subsequent shots spread out. An expert in the use of these types of guns can consistently put two shots on the target. Step back to 20 yards, and even the best aren't going to get two hits.

If we can all agree that no sane person is going to park an automatic weapon in their bedroom or by their front door for home defense, the question is, why have one?

Beyond the historical significance for collectors, the answer for most is simple: They are just plain fun to shoot. Used responsibly in the controlled environment of a shooting range, these guns will bring a smile of delight to most anyone who gives them a try. They are sort of like a top-fuel dragster — expensive to own, expensive to feed and not particularly useful, but many would like to drive one, just once. It's the same with automatic weapons.

And thus, you have the "bump stock," the most recent in a long line of accessories designed to circumvent the law regarding automatic weapons. It is reported that the bump stock was used by the lunatic in Las Vegas, although when listening to the tape of gunfire it is understandable why some speculated there were real automatic weapons involved as well. It's a very distinct sound.

The bump stock was approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives because by the strict letter of the law, the gun on which it is employed still requires one press of the trigger for each shot. It does not make an AR-15 an automatic weapon, but it does provide a means for putting a lot of rounds downrange fast. It also provides a means for someone to place a lot of rounds into a crowd of people.

If asked for an opinion on the proposed bump-stock ban, I say ban them. That's my opinion. It has nothing to do with fixing the problem of mass shootings. That is a societal issue lost in the hateful banter that now passes for social discourse.

I think they should be banned because this circumvention of the spirit of a law passed to control firearms that don't belong in the general concept of self-protection seems disingenuous. If you want an automatic weapon, go through the process to legally own one.

The argument that you need a bump stock to have more equal footing should the government decide to do whatever it is your imagination thinks it will do doesn't pencil out. People who believe they are going to defeat a trained military or law enforcement force with automatic weapons and a stock of ammunition are expressing a belief, not a reasonable argument. That is not to say the citizenry could not prevail in such an event. But not by engaging in a pitched battle with your AR-15.

Maybe more important is that if this country ever comes to that, we will have failed so miserably at every level that it will no longer matter.

Steve Meyer of Soldotna is lifelong Alaskan and an avid shooter. He writes every other week about guns and hunting. Contact him at oldduckhunter@outlook.com.

Warm welcome for AFN convention

Tue, 2017-10-17 16:18

On behalf of the Alaska Federation of Natives board of directors, staff, delegates and membership, Quyana (thank you) to the Dena'ina people of Southcentral Alaska for welcoming us to their area. We are honored to be gathering for this significant meeting on your land.

The 2017 convention is AFN's 51st statewide gathering. Formed to seek a fair and just settlement to land claims in Alaska, AFN has continued for more than 50 years to serve as the voice of advocacy for the statewide Native community. Our convention is part annual business meeting, part family gathering, part celebration of culture and life, part sharing of information and ideas, and part forum.

[AFN convention brings a week of events that shine a light on Alaska Native culture and issues]

Our convention theme, "Strength In Unity: Leadership — Partnerships — Social Justice," underlines the vital importance of unity not only in the Native community but for all Alaskans. To face the many challenges big and small, only a unified effort through sound leadership and equitable partnerships will succeed.

We also owe a big Quyana to our convention sponsors. Without these partners, the convention simply would not be as spectacular.

We would also like to mention the welcoming spirit we have felt in these weeks leading up to the convention. Anchorage community leaders and businesses have been very supportive. A large contingent of volunteers has signed up to help with this big event, with between 4,000 to 5,000 people expected to attend. Bridge Builders of Anchorage is hosting a Welcoming Celebration on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. at the Egan Center. We hope you can join us.

The convention, while primarily for the Native community, is open to interested Alaskans to attend to observe the discussions and check out the wonderful art and craftwork of the renowned Native Arts Showcase, which runs all three days on the first floor of the Dena'ina Center. It's a great place to get started on your holiday shopping. The entire event along with Quyana Alaska evening cultural performances will be televised on GCI, ARCS and 360 North. Join us online at nativefederation.org. There will be a live chatroom, so we hope to hear your comments. And of course, #AFN2017.

Thank you, Anchorage, for being a great host city.

Julie Kitka is president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

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

Tax cut proposal looks like no break for the middle class

Tue, 2017-10-17 16:00

President Trump campaigned on helping the little guy. His latest tax proposal, he says, is about helping the middle guy.

"It's a middle-class bill," Trump promised an audience of truckers last week.

Other administration officials and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have also claimed that their primary objective in reconfiguring the tax code is to help the middle class, not the wealthy.

Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten things backward.

In a preliminary analysis, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that 80 percent of the proposed tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent of earners over the next decade. Meanwhile a quarter of households in the middle quintile would see their tax bills rise.

This should be no surprise, when you consider what's in the Republican framework.

[For real tax reform, simplify the system and put the middle class first]

It cuts the top personal income tax rate; eliminates estate taxes, which currently befall only estates worth at least $5.5 million; kills the alternative minimum tax; and slashes rates on pass-through income. The White House has lately even made the absurd claim that its enormous, unfunded corporate rate cuts are primarily about helping the middle class.

On Monday, the president's Council of Economic Advisers released a report claiming that corporate tax cuts would boost the average household's income by at least $4,000. This estimate relies on a series of assumptions that seem dubious at best, given other research (including one recently deleted paper by Treasury's own staff economists).

All this made me wonder: What would a tax plan that actually prioritizes the middle class look like?

Not much like the one Republican leadership cooked up, but it could still include elements appealing to both parties.

A real middle-class tax plan would likely include a large expansion of the earned income tax credit.

For decades, the EITC has supplemented lower-income people's pay through a tax refund. It's pro-work, because it increases the payoff from holding down a job. It also meaningfully improves working families' living standards.

Given these selling points, the EITC has historically enjoyed support from both Republicans and Democrats. In recent years, both Ryan and President Barack Obama proposed making it more generous to workers who don't have custody of a minor child.

Curiously, though, the current GOP framework says not a peep about this powerful tool.

Fortunately, there's an (admittedly expensive) off-the-shelf policy available: a Democratic plan to expand EITC eligibility up the wage ladder, to households making as much as $76,000 depending on family size. The legislation would also roughly double the maximum size of the EITC for working families and almost sextuple it for childless workers.

These expansions are designed to help middle-income workers "reclaim" the pay they would have received had there not been decades of wage stagnation, the House bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told me in a recent interview.

Khanna also observed that expanding the EITC is a much more direct way to raise middle-class families' earnings than some Rube-Goldberg-like corporate tax-code machinations.

"Trump is saying he's going to cut the corporate tax rate in order to raise your wages," Khanna said. "I'm saying: Let's just raise your wages."

We could also help middle-income families by expanding the child tax credit.

The GOP tax plan does include an expansion of this credit, to be sure. But what they've announced so far doesn't do much for the middle class.

That's because the expansion appears to be non-refundable (meaning it primarily helps higher-income filers), and it mostly serves to offset the framework's elimination of personal exemptions, explains Tax Policy Center researcher Elaine Maag.

Other more generous expansions would be possible though, including a version pushed by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah.

What about the corporate tax code?

There are some changes that could arguably boost growth and productivity, some of whose benefits could (ahem) trickle down to workers. Cutting rates and eliminating distortionary loopholes could be helpful — which is why Democrats previously said they'd support such a plan.

Only, though, if the plan were revenue neutral.

A revenue-negative plan most likely hurts growth in the long run, as Obama's former chief economist Jason Furman points out. More important, someone eventually has to cover the cost of unfunded tax cuts through some future combination of higher taxes and lower spending. Lower spending almost certainly would disparately hurt lower- and middle-income families.

Which is why the best thing elected officials can do to help the middle class would be to make sure any promised benefits are adequately funded. Which would mean raising rather than cutting tax revenue.

Something tells me that's not what Republicans have in mind here.

Catherine Rampell is a columnist for The Washington Post. Email,  crampell@washpost.com. Twitter, @crampell.

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

Alaskan Chris Hladick to head EPA Region 10 office in Seattle

Tue, 2017-10-17 15:55

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has appointed Alaskan Chris Hladick to head EPA Region 10, a Seattle-based office that oversees Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Hladick is currently the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

He comes to the position amid major changes at the agency centered around efforts to revoke Obama-era rules and regulations. As regional administrator, he will have a major role in handling the controversy over the proposed Pebble mine, which would potentially sit in the sensitive, salmon-spawning headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced on Tuesday that he was replacing Hladick with outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

Appointment of an Alaskan to the Region 10 position is a victory for the state's congressional delegation against pressure from Washington state to nab the slot for someone from there.

Region 10 covers Alaska and the Pacific Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, along with 271 Native tribes. The headquarters is in Seattle.

Traditionally, the position of regional administrator is one that is rotated among states, and chosen by the EPA administrator largely via input from the relevant congressional delegation, or at least those of the same party as the president. It is not a Senate-confirmed position.

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It commonly takes up to a year after inauguration to appoint new regional administrators.

But from the start of the Trump administration, there were "transition" officials from Washington state that had designs on the position, and they were vocal about it. Some insisted that they had received promises of an appointment from President Donald Trump or other high-ranking officials.

And recently, Alaska Rep. Don Young said that there was still an ongoing effort by some in the Washington delegation to hold on to the position, arguing that they had not recently been able to choose an appointee under a Republican administration.

"You heard correctly," Sullivan said when asked Monday about the Washington state effort to take another turn at the helm of Region 10. "And we shut that down because it was Alaska's turn," he said.

In a statement Tuesday, Sullivan said that the Alaska delegation "has been relentlessly pushing to have an Alaskan serve as the Administrator for EPA's Region 10 Office."

Hladick understands the intersection of federal agencies in the state and has a history of navigating the agency's rules and regulations, Sullivan said. "He also has the heart of a public servant informed by years of experiences serving in different places across Alaska."

Before joining Gov. Bill Walker's cabinet in 2015, Hladick spent 14 years as city manager for Unalaska, and before that, seven years as Dillingham's city manager. He headed public works in Galena.

Hladick, as city manager for Unalaska, received kudos from colleagues in 2012  for his efforts to keep EPA fines low during a dispute over upgrading a wastewater treatment plant. The city faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and multimillion-dollar upgrades to its sewer system due to EPA treatment mandates for water treatment and managing runoff from a nearby landfill.

Hladick is also currently involved in the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, Northern Waters Task Force, on a working group on Arctic Marine Protected Areas, according to the EPA.

As regional administrator, Hladick will report to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in Washington, D.C.

Pruitt praised Hladick's career and knowledge base for the job. "Chris Hladick has spent his career servicing the needs of the people and tribes of Alaska," Pruitt said. "His passion in helping others, experience in managing numerous government departments, and familiarity with regional issues make him the perfect fit to address the environmental issues of Region 10."

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lauded the pick, and said that Hladick would "implement the law instead of furthering agendas. … He knows the issues our communities face when dealing with the EPA, from fishermen struggling with overburdensome regulations to the need to ensure that Alaskans can reasonably comply with the agency's environmental rules."

Young also praised the appointment. "Having lived in and managed river and coastal communities across rural Alaska for many years, Chris understands the many challenges our residents face when dealing with government agencies, particularly the EPA. I'm optimistic Chris can begin rebuilding a level of trust and confidence in the EPA that was steadily eroded over the previous eight years."

The EPA also issued accolades for Hladick from Bryce Edgmon, speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives; Mayor Shirley Marquardt of Unalaska; Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association; and Heath Wasserman, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League.

Hladick has worked as a carpenter in home building in Colorado, a derrick hand on oil rigs in Wyoming, a fire cache in Everglades National Park in Florida and a deck hand on barges in the Upper Mississippi River, according to his resume.

Walker picks outgoing Kenai mayor as new commerce commissioner

Tue, 2017-10-17 15:29

Outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre will be Alaska's next commerce commissioner, Gov. Bill Walker announced Tuesday.

Navarre replaces Chris Hladick, who is leaving Walker's administration on Nov. 1 for a job in the Trump administration at the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency announced Tuesday.

Navarre, who served six two-year terms as a Democrat in the state Legislature, has been mayor of the Kenai borough for six years. He'll be replaced by the winner of an Oct. 24 runoff election between Charlie Pierce and Linda Hutchings.

Navarre has been one of the most prominent supporters of a plan to fix Alaska's budget and its multibillion-dollar deficit, calling for a restructuring of the Permanent Fund and a broad-based tax.

[Alaska disconnect skews budget debate]

He'll lead the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and its 425 employees. The department oversees corporations and banking, municipal aid programs, the state's insurance industry and a wide range of professional boards and licensing programs.

Volcanic eruptions in Alaska could have impacted lives of ancient Egyptians

Tue, 2017-10-17 14:39

Did violent volcanoes in Russia, Greenland and Alaska affect the lives of ancient Egyptians?

It may sound improbable, but according to a new study, the answer is yes.

In a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, a team of researchers shows that explosive volcanic eruptions in high northern latitudes of the globe can impact the Nile watershed, causing the flow of one of the world's mightiest rivers to slow.

This in turn could keep the lower Nile from flooding in the late summer months — a regular occurrence on which ancient Egyptians relied to irrigate their crops.

No Nile flooding meant no irrigation, which meant a bad year in the fields, low food supplies and ultimately, researchers say, civic unrest.

"It's a bizarre concept that Alaskan volcanoes were screwing up the Nile, but in fact, that's what happened," said Joseph Manning, a historian at Yale University who worked on the study.

Manning said the idea to compare geological evidence of volcanoes with records kept by the ancient Egyptians occurred to him about two years ago.

He was at a dinner with geographer Francis Ludlow, now at Trinity College in Dublin, who had contributed to a seminal study that redated volcanic eruptions and looked at how they may have impacted the climate — and history — at the time.

Around their third glass of wine, Manning asked Ludlow whether he had any data on volcanoes that erupted from 305 to 30 B.C. — the centuries that the powerful Ptolemaic dynasty ruled Egypt, and Manning's area of expertise.

When Ludlow pulled the data up on his computer, Manning was stunned. He instantly recognized the dates of some of the volcanoes as corresponding with times of upheaval in Ptolemaic Egypt.

"It almost looked too good to be true," Manning said. "And that's when we started to work."

The two researchers teamed up with William Boos, who studies the fluid dynamics of tropical atmosphere with an emphasis on monsoon circulations to try to understand how an explosive volcano in a different part of the world can affect the East African monsoon season.

The authors explain that sulfurous gases released during a powerful volcano can form reflective sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere. Because these aerosols reflect solar radiation, they lead to a cooling effect that can last for one to two years. This, in turn, affects what is known as the hydroclimate, including the amount of surface evaporation and rainfall.

"It's an indirect response, but because of atmospheric circulation and energy budgets, we find that large volcanic eruptions cause droughts, particularly in monsoon areas," Manning said.

He added that the effect on the Nile watershed appeared to be greatest for volcanoes in the high northern latitudes of the globe.

To see how this dynamic played out in the real world, the authors compared the dates of ancient volcanic explosions from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica to the Islamic Nilometer — an ancient record of the heights of the Nile's annual summer flood.

The Islamic Nilometer, which stretches more than 1,000 years from 622 till 1902, is the longest-known annually recorded observational hydrological record, the authors wrote.

Through this work, they found that the flood height of the Nile during an eruption year was consistently lower than during non-eruption years — in all but one case.

"On average, the impact of an explosive volcano reduces river flooding by 25 percent below the mean," Manning said.

Although the Nilometer did not go back to the time of Ptolemaic Egypt, the authors still were able to compare data about the timing of ancient volcanoes with socioeconomic and political activity from that era. They were aided by a trove of well-dated records, particularly papyri, that survived.

The researchers found an increase in revolts against Ptolemaic rule in eruption years, suggesting the events might have been triggered by the stress of the Nile failure and not by overtaxation or resentment of Greek rule, as previously has been thought.

And while they discovered no relationship between volcanic explosions and the initiation of wars, the group did find that ongoing wars were more likely to cease after a violent volcano.

This could be because shortly after volcanic eruptions altered the Nile flow, warrior kings had to leave the battlefield and return home to mitigate civil unrest.

For example, after major volcanic eruptions in 247 and 244, historical documents suggest that Ptolemy III was called to address food shortages at home just as he and his troops were about to enter Babylon.

"If he had stayed, he might have conquered the entire Near East — possibly changing the course of human history," Manning said.

The authors note that there are a lot of causes of Nile flooding variability — not just volcanoes. The ancient Egyptians were fairly well adept at handling the river's unpredictability, for example, by relying on grain storage.

Similarly, they point out that there are other reasons besides Nile failure that would have led to revolts in Ptolemaic Egypt: ethnic tensions between Egyptians and Greek elites, heavy state taxation and the cost of having nearly constant military operations.

The authors are not saying that volcanoes caused all civil unrest in Egypt, but they do think the eruptions could have been a factor.

The work suggests that humans may be a little less in control of our destiny than we realize.

"As current events have shown, we still live in nature," Manning said.

These women are starting an international shoe company around a kitchen table in Spenard

Tue, 2017-10-17 14:06

A kitchen table in Spenard had $10,000 worth of shoes on it. Four shoes. But none worth wearing.

It's hard to make a good-looking shoe that expands to fit swollen feet. But if the three women behind a local startup manage it, the market for their product could be in the tens of millions of people.

A lot of people seem to think they can. Pandere Shoes has won prizes in a series of business competitions, including last year's national 1 in a Million contest, given by the Kauffman Foundation, which brought a $25,000 prize and a series of trips to learn from business advisers.

But while the women have proved they can win contests — they've placed between six and a dozen times, depending on how they count — they don't have a product yet. That's part of the adventure of being entrepreneurs. Will it work?

[How a shop in Palmer out-innovated defense contractors to manufacture high-tech equipment in Alaska]

Laura Oden had the idea. She is a 54-year-old singer-songwriter (and my friend) well known in musical circles for her many community efforts. She also works in business planning at Southcentral Foundation, the regional health care provider for Alaska Natives.

Oden has lymphedema, a fluid buildup that swells her feet to different sizes, due to an operation she had as a teen. For people like her, and others with diabetes, arthritis or injuries, attractive shoes can be impossible to find.

In 2015, after another operation, she found a Facebook page for people like her.

"For the first time in my life I had gotten connected with a larger community of people with lymphedema," she said. "I never knew they existed."

No one on the page could find shoes.

"My very first thought was, 'Who is going to solve this problem?' And, 'I could be one of the people who could be good at solving this problem,' because I tend to be somebody who says, 'Let's just get in there and do it rather than waiting for somebody else,' " she said.

Writing songs, booking gigs and recording albums makes you a small-business person. But manufacturing shoes is something else entirely.

In January 2016, Oden took her idea to Startup Weekend at the Boardroom in downtown Anchorage, an event where entrepreneurs compete with business ideas. She was a company of one.

That wasn't going to work. The competition required teams to work together. Through the course of the weekend, Oden convinced her co-worker, Celia Crossett, to join her. They recruited the only other person available, Ayla Rogers, who was helping run the event.

The trio turned out to be a good team. Rogers had worked in startups before. Crossett is a whiz at social media.

Besides having complementary business skills, age and gender made the team mesh. They said they speak the same language. While Oden is twice her partners' ages — they are both 27 — that seemed to create a balance of perspectives.

They won that first competition. They started the company. And then they kept winning other competitions.

"They are solving a very specific, unique problem that people can pretty quickly understand and value," explained Ky Holland, who works supporting the startup community.

Contest prizes have been the company's major source of funding, more than $36,000 so far.

That's important, because none of the women knew anything about making shoes. They had to hire consultants outside Alaska to design the shoes and craftsmen overseas to make the prototypes. They also hired a lawyer to patent their idea.

[After running out of diapers for her twins at the mall, this Anchorage entrepreneur started a business]

Meanwhile, they studied the market. A Facebook support group the women started brought immediate feedback. They attended a walk for lymphedema sufferers and measured the volume of people's feet.

Traditional shoe sizes measure feet in two dimensions, length and width. People whose feet are unusually thick often must buy shoes that are too long or too wide. If each foot is different, they may need to buy two pairs.

Pandere shoes will be adjustable in areas that are normally stiff, expanding in volume where feet swell. Each shoe will adjust separately, so one pair will do.

The women estimate more than 40 million people in the United States need these shoes.

Unfortunately, the problem is not solved. They have not yet created a shoe that expands and looks good.

After spending their money on design and construction of a prototype, Oden said, she felt like throwing up when she saw the result. Their ideas had not translated. The shoe didn't work, and it looked ridiculous.

More contests, more money, more prototypes. They found new consultants, new craftsmen to make the prototypes, and they've gotten closer.

Meanwhile, they still own the company without investors. They hope to get an interest-free loan soon from Kiva, a crowdfunded, nonprofit microloan website. They don't want to sell a share of the company.

[How years of wealth weakened Alaska's spirit of innovation]

If all goes well, the product will be ready early next year. With their now-enormous web-based network, the women hope to pre-sell shoes and use that revenue to have the shoes produced in Mexico and drop-shipped to customers.

Those early customers' feedback will allow further improvements, getting the product right for the broader market of traditional sales.

I hope it works. If it does, it will solve a real problem for people all over the world and will employ people in Mexico. And three women in Alaska will win their biggest prize, which they will deserve.

For other Alaskans, the moral of the story is that we don't need to sit around dreaming. The internet and the nurturing of the Anchorage startup community can leverage Alaskans' ingenuity out into the world.

I went into this column thinking these women were brave for risking this work. And they are. But when I finished talking to them, I realized they weren't risking as much as if they had never tried.

As the business mentor Holland pointed out, "The biggest risk people have is of being afraid to move and share an idea, and the risk of that is that you never do anything."

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

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