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Indoor plants to make your house smell nice this winter

Thu, 2017-12-14 14:49

OK, more than one of you have come up and agreed with me that the internet is littered with media stories about air-cleaning houseplants. Yes, I know, I contributed with my column and am part of the mob, but I was really only trying to point out the obvious.

Next up in this line of news, and this is just a prediction based upon my keen ability to read the leaves, as it were, are articles on houseplants that make the house, or at least the room they are in, smell good. It is a natural progression from clean air stories.

Right at the top of that list for Alaskans is Jasminum polyanthum (also known as pink jasmine or white jasmine). This is a plant made for Alaska. If left in natural light, it starts to set blooms during the short days of the year and flowers shortly thereafter. I have written about these flowers before: they are intensely fragrant. And, this vining plant is capable of producing thousands of sweet-smelling flowers. My rule is that if you find Jasminum polyanthums for sale, no matter the time of year, buy them all. Your friends will all want them, if you can part with even one.

In the Lower 48, however, gardenia plants are sure to top the list. Everyone knows what these look and smell like. To grow them as houseplants requires lots of light and pretty good humidity. You can find specimens at local nurseries many times a year and in supermarket and box stores in early spring.

I am not sure you will find the so-called scented geraniums on many of these lists, because the odor these plants produce comes from the leaves and not flowers (the flowers are lovely and delicate, but odorless). You brush or rub the leaves between two fingers to produce the smell. You have come across one kind or another of these houseplants.

Scented geraniums make for great collections because they come in all manner of scents, including citrus, mint, apricot, apple, lemon and even licorice. They are hardy little houseplants, though they do need some light. Because flowers are not involved, you will be able to smell the scent of them all year long.

Another great plant that happens to produce some darn nice fragrances is the hoya. There are lots of different varieties of this tropical, with the hoya carnosa, the so-called "wax plant" being the familiar one you can find at local nurseries. In addition to producing a great fragrance when in flower, this is one of those plants NASA found removes pollutants from the air. It has a reputation of flowering best when root bound and not liking water. Let the leaves start to pucker up a bit before rewetting the soil.

Next on the fragrant plant list, if you have lights, you can grow lavender in a pot. It needs to be grown cool and it has to have lots of good light. You need to make sure to cut back the flowers so new growth and flowers will develop.

While you may not get much fragrance from the orchids you buy at the supermarket, there are those that produce unbelievable smells. Look for zygopetalum hybrids and Oncidium Sharry Baby or Twinkle France Fantasy. I have seen these for sale in Alaska supermarkets and box stores. You may also find Maxillaria tenuifolia, sometimes known as the coconut pie plant due to its scent.

The thing about orchids is that some of these smell awful, literally designed to mimic dead animals. Others are simply out-of-this-world delicious. The trick is to ask when you see them for sale. If there are fragrant orchids in the offerings, you are in luck.

Of all the plants that smell good, what can beat plumeria. I have never had much luck with all those plumeria twigs lugged home from Hawaii. To get these to grow and flower takes much more humidity and light intensity than I am able to provide. If you have the ability, however, you know they are fragrant.

Finally, for smell, consider growing eucalyptus if you find its menthol fragrance pleasant. This is a plant that does not take any work. It does need lots of light. For many, simply buying and using a dried sprig or two in an arrangement is all the fragrance they need.

Note, plants that need lots of light tend to be what folks call "heavy feeders." This being the case, feed the microbes in your potting soil and they will feed your plants. Organics works indoors as well as outdoors. These are all plants and they grow the same way indoors as out.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: All Jeff Lowenfels wants for Christmas is for you to join the ABG. If you read this column and you or your family are not members, then you are missing out. It doesn't cost much, makes a great present that gives all year long. You get wonderful discounts and get to support the first organic botanical garden in the United States. It is easy. Go to and click the membership tab.

[Here's how to grow your own vegetables, herbs and citrus indoors this winter]

Fairbanks pilot charged with obstructing agency investigating fatal plane crash

Thu, 2017-12-14 14:06

A Fairbanks pilot was charged Thursday with misleading a federal agency investigating a crash that killed one of his passengers.

Forest M. Kirst, 60, was charged with two counts of obstruction of the National Transportation Safety Board and piloting an aircraft without a valid certificate, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement.

Kirst was piloting a Navion L-17A on Aug. 24, 2014, on a flightseeing tour with three Canadian passengers when the plane crashed near Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range.

The passengers "sustained serious injuries, and 35 days later, one of the passengers died as a result of his injuries," the statement said.

The NTSB and the FAA investigated the crash.

Pilot error was deemed the reason for the crash, according to the NTSB report, but the agency also blamed the FAA for issuing Kirst a pilot's certificate. Kirst had a "history of accidents, incidents, reexaminations, and checkride failures," shown in FAA records from 2007 to 2012, the NTSB said.

According to federal prosecutors, Kirst misled the NTSB about the altitude of his plane prior to the crash and gave "varying explanations as to how the crash occurred," the statement said.

Kirst's pilot certificate was revoked, but he was later seen flying his plane, according to prosecutors.

If found guilty, Kirst faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the statement said.

When asked for comment, Clint Johnson, chief of the NTSB regional office in Alaska, said the agency's role in the case had ended. "This is a case for the U.S. attorney at this point," Johnson said.

Kirst's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Republicans are still hunting for ways to pay for tax cuts

Thu, 2017-12-14 14:05

WASHINGTON — A day after House and Senate Republican leaders said they had reached agreement on a merged version of their tax bill, they continued looking for ways to pay for the tax overhaul and faced the possible defection of a Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida.

Republicans plan to unveil a final bill Friday, with the aim of voting on the legislation early next week and delivering it to President Donald Trump for signing before Christmas.

[Young says effort to open ANWR is still in tax bill, calls opposition 'dishonest']

But many of the changes made to assuage the concerns of businesses and Republican lawmakers are expected to drive up the cost of the bill and will need to be paid for to ensure the legislation does not add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade. On Thursday, Rubio indicated he would vote no on the bill unless the expanded version of the child tax credit that he and another senator, Mike Lee, R-Utah, have been pushing was included. That change, which would allow families to claim the child tax credit even if they owe no income taxes, would drive up the cost of the bill even more.

"I think my requests have been pretty reasonable and consistent and direct. Right now the refundability level is $1,100. It needs to be higher," Rubio said. "It's a pretty straightforward ask. If the refundable portion of the child credit is substantially increased beyond the $1,100 it currently is, I'll vote for the bill. If it's not, I won't."

In an online town hall meeting Wednesday night, Lee told constituents that negotiations were ongoing to include such an expansion in the conference tax bill.

Among the potential ideas being discussed on Capitol Hill to pay for the bill is allowing the tax cuts for individuals to expire even sooner than the 2025 date already stipulated in the Senate bill. Another idea under consideration, according to Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., is raising the tax rate on profits that companies have parked overseas.

"We're literally trying to squeeze about $2 trillion in tax reform into a $1.5 trillion box and that's been a problem," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who held out on supporting the initial version of the Senate tax bill until it gave more generous tax breaks to "pass through" businesses.

In an early morning cheer on Twitter, Trump encouraged Republicans to get the job done. "Republican Tax Cuts are looking very good. All are working hard. In the meantime, the Stock Market hit another record high!" he wrote.

House and Senate Republicans agreed in principle Wednesday to the framework of a consensus bill. Late changes included a slightly higher corporate tax rate of 21 percent, rather than the 20 percent in the legislation that passed both chambers, and a lower top individual tax rate of 37 percent for the wealthiest Americans, who currently pay 39.6 percent. But the bill will still scale back some popular tax breaks, including the state and local tax deduction and the deductibility of mortgage interest.

Breaking from the House bill, the agreement would allow taxpayers to continue to deduct high out-of-pocket medical expenses, and it would retain a provision allowing graduate students who receive tuition waivers to avoid paying taxes on that benefit. Also included is the Senate's repeal of the health care law requirement that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty and a provision that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to energy exploration.

Still, the bill contains a host of tax changes that are expected to increase the cost of the bill that passed the Senate, such as repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax and increasing the income threshold at which the individual alternative minimum tax kicks in.

While the late changes to the tax bill were meant to alleviate concerns of skeptical Republicans, it was not clear how they would be paid for while still complying with the strict Senate budget rules that will allow the bill to pass without votes from any Democrats. Republicans can add no more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit if they are to pass the bill along party lines.

On Thursday, Republican leaders continued to express confidence that they were getting close to passing the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades.

"I think there's going to be strong support in the House and Senate on this or we wouldn't be moving forward," Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on CNN.

Brady has scheduled a signing of the signature sheets for the conference report — which is the deal that's been struck between the House and Senate lawmakers on the congressional conference committee — between 10 a.m. and noon Friday. A majority of the House and Senate lawmakers who are on the conference committee have to sign affirmatively for the bill to move forward.

But other concerns are looming, including the health of two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona, who is in the hospital, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who recently received medical treatment for health problems. Republicans, who hold a narrow 52-48 majority, can only afford to lose two senate votes, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has already expressed his opposition to the bill.

Vice President Mike Pence decided Thursday to delay a trip to the Middle East that he was planning to take next week so that he can preside over the tax vote in the event he needs to break a tie between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

Democrats have been largely sidelined in the final stages of the tax discussions.

They assailed the single public meeting of the conference committee Wednesday as a "sham" and a "farce" and they continue to point to polls that show Republicans will likely pay for pushing tax cuts that do not appear to be popular with the general public. Democrats have also been calling on Republicans to delay the vote so that Alabama's incoming Democratic senator, Doug Jones, has time to be seated.

"It's the same rushed, awful process as before and it can only result in mistakes and unintended consequences that can wreak havoc on the economy," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, said Thursday. "Every day, the more people know about the bill, the more they don't like."

At his weekly news conference Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., dismissed polls suggesting people are not supportive of the tax plan and predicted that the public would eventually warm to the legislation.

"Results are going to be what sells this bill, not the confusion before it passes," Ryan said.

Open & Shut: Electric bikes, outerwear and a restaurant

Thu, 2017-12-14 13:49

This is an installment of an occasional series in the Anchorage Daily News, taking a quick look at the comings and goings of businesses in Southcentral Alaska. If you know of a business opening or closing its doors in the area, send a note to reporter Annie Zak at


Duluth Trading Co.: The Wisconsin-based outerwear and clothing chain will open its first Alaska location in Anchorage in March. Duluth Trading will be at 8931 Old Seward Highway in a space that used to be occupied by Sports Authority.

The company will hire 35 to 40 people, with most of those being part-time employees, spokeswoman Holly Dugan said in an email.

Duluth Trading will take up about 24,000 square feet, Dugan said — not the entirety of the space that Sports Authority used to occupy.

The Alaska eBike Store: This electric bike shop recently moved from 5610 Old Seward Highway into a new spot at 2229 Spenard Road. Owner Cary Shiflea said the store is open by appointment right now while he's waiting for peak cycling season to return. Probably sometime in late February or early March, the business will be open regularly during the week.

"We had it kind of set up in a warehouse district, testing the market with that," Shiflea said, "and as we saw clientele growing and business growing, we said, 'OK, we need a full retail space.' "

The shop, which was in its old space for a couple of years, sells electric bikes, parts and accessories.

[Open & Shut: New bookstore and ice cream shop, plus two retail closures]

Lazy Dog Antiques & Collectibles: This antique shop moved over the summer from a spot at East Seventh Avenue and Karluk Street to 1340 Rudakof Circle, off DeBarr Road. The owner of the shop's previous building decided to sell the property, said customer service representative Chris Cuaresma.

The business, which sells housewares, furniture, knickknacks and more, has been around for more than 30 years.


Downtown Grill: The restaurant at 802 Gambell St. announced on Facebook on Tuesday "with such heavy hearts" that it will close its doors Dec. 23.

"We shall remain open during regular business hours and private events until then, and then it's Goodbye Forever," the post said.

Downtown Grill opened in March 2013 and has a staff of eight to 10 people, said owner and chef Logan Stanley. He attributed the closure to the recession, adding that it didn't help when a neighboring gym that brought in good foot traffic closed its doors.

Young says effort to open ANWR is still in tax bill, calls opposition ‘dishonest’

Thu, 2017-12-14 13:30

House and Senate negotiators resolving differences in Republican tax overhaul bills agreed to keep language allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Rep. Don Young said Thursday, despite opposition that he called "dishonest."

With a GOP deal now on the table aligning the tax bills, President Donald Trump said Wednesday he hopes final passage is just days away.

The tax bill is "very, very important" to Alaska, Young said.

"We have in there the ANWR provision," he said of the deal fashioned in the conference committee Wednesday.

If development occurs in the 1.5-million-acre section of ANWR's coastal plain, the caribou that use it will prosper and other animals won't be hurt, Young said, speaking by video to a breakfast meeting of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance in Anchorage.

[Republicans are still looking for ways to pay for tax cuts]

"Animals adjust," he said. "As long as you don't shoot them, they will adjust to human activity."

Young said he's been fighting in Congress for four decades to pass such a measure, which supporters say could one day lead to a giant increase in oil production to help Alaska and the federal government pay their bills.

Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, author of the Senate's language to allow lease sales and development in the refuge, were appointed to a conference committee to help resolve differences between the dueling tax bills.

[Senate passes bill that could lead to opening of Arctic refuge.]

Young said the near-term effect of opening ANWR will be an "emotional" boost to the state's economy. That will be followed by tangible economic benefits as the first lease sale is held within four years and drilling and development are allowed.

"It takes time to put something like this on the drawing board," he said.

Young said Gwich'in people who have come to Washington, D.C., to fight the ANWR measure have been "very dishonest."

"They say it'll hurt the people," he said. "The people where ANWR is, that live there, support the development of ANWR. That's who we should be listening to."

The Gwich'in community of Arctic Village is just outside the giant refuge's southern boundary. The Gwich'in Nation opposes ANWR development because it will hurt caribou that villagers eat, representatives such as Sam Alexander of Fairbanks have said.

In Kaktovik, located in the coastal plain, the tribal government and village corporation support ANWR development, Matthew Rexford, an official with both groups, has said.

But many people in Kaktovik oppose the ANWR measure, said opponent and village resident Robert Thompson in a recent op-ed column in the Anchorage Daily News.

"Congress should not include Arctic refuge drilling in the current tax reform bill," he wrote.

Overnight French toast: Perfect for Christmas morning, or anytime you’re making brunch for a crowd

Thu, 2017-12-14 13:24

I received a text message from my wife asking if I would be willing to help her cook breakfast for her staff for their early morning staff meeting. "Of course," I quickly replied. "What do you have in mind?"

She had polled her staff, asking about their favorite breakfast foods. Four of them requested French toast. I ran through the logistics in my head of what it would look like to make slices of French toast for that many people by 7:30 in the morning in an office kitchen/break room. Although it certainly wouldn't be as hard as a busy restaurant kitchen for Sunday brunch, a scenario I understand all too well, I knew there had to be a better way. Finally, I landed on overnight French toast, the baked version that can be assembled the night before, often used for occasions like Christmas morning.

I wanted to keep the flavor profiles simple and familiar, but I wanted it to be special somehow, too. I scoured recipes and decided to adapt one by Ree Drummond I found on Food Network. I was drawn to it because, just before baking, the entire pan of French toast is covered in a cinnamon crumble (which we also prepared and refrigerated the night before), that bakes up crispy and somewhat caramelized. I loved this idea, almost like French toast meets coffee cake. In reading the reviews, many people said her French toast was too sweet, especially once maple syrup joined the party. So, the first change I made was to reduce the sugar in the custard by half. I also omitted the fresh blueberries she recommends for serving. The final adaptation I made was to add a generous splash of bourbon to the mix. That bit is optional, but highly recommended, especially if you're considering this one for Christmas morning.

Cinnamon crunch overnight French toast

Serves 8-12

For the French toast:

1 loaf French bread, torn into bite-sized pieces

8 eggs

2 cups milk (I used 2 percent)

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)

For the topping:

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup cold butter, cubed

For serving:

pure maple syrup

Grease a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish. Distribute the torn bread evenly in the dish. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, brown sugar, vanilla and bourbon (if using) until it's smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, pressing the bread down into the mixture gently until fully coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To make the topping: in a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Using a pastry blender, cut in the cold butter until the mixture is crumbly. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the French toast and sprinkle it evenly with all of the cinnamon crumble mixture. Bake for 45 minutes, until puffed up, browned and set in the center. Slice into squares and serve while warm with pure maple syrup. Recipe adapted from Food Network.

Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at Have a food question or recipe request? Email and your inquiry may appear in a future column.

[These peppermint chocolate crackle cookies might become your new holiday favorite]

[Here's your go-to recipe for a quick pumpkin bread]

UAA women claim championship at final Shootout

Thu, 2017-12-14 11:38

A resilient UAA women's basketball team never wavered when down eight points late in the GCI Great Alaska Shootout championship game Thursday, and the Seawolves sent the women's tournament out with a bang.

UAA rallied to defeat Tulsa 59-53 and claim the women's championship in front of 1,828 boisterous fans at the Alaska Airlines Center.

It was the seventh Shootout title for the Seawolves, their first since 2009, and the first for sixth-year coach Ryan McCarthy, whose team gets to keep the final gold pan championship trophy in Anchorage.

"It's just surreal," McCarthy said. "I'm just really proud of the ladies and I'm very proud of this particular one in general because it is the last one."

[At final Shootout, Coach McCarthy finally gets a championship]

Two Alaskans scored in double figures for UAA with junior forward Hannah Wandersee of Kodiak posting a team-high 14 points and seven rebounds and junior guard Tara Thompson of Dimond High tacking on 11 points and going 3 of 6 from 3-point land.

Tournament MVP honors went to forward Shelby Cloninger, who sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:06 left on the clock.

A senior from Kamiah, Idaho, Cloninger scored six of her 13 points in the final 66 seconds, including a coast-to-coast layup and free throw that iced the game in the closing seconds.

Before hitting the 3, Cloninger was a measly 1 of 8 from the field, but Tulsa left her open on a UAA slip screen and she knew she had to shoot it.

"I was praying," Cloninger said. "I shot it and it went in and the crowd erupted. It was crazy."

Soon after that the Seawolves got a big traditional 3-point play from their shortest player, 5-foot-3 guard Sydni Stallworth.

The junior from Tucson, Arizona, received an inbounds pass on the baseline, made a layup while being fouled and made the ensuing free throw to increase UAA's lead to 56-51 with 12 ticks left on the clock.

"I was screaming at her not to shoot," McCarthy said. "All she had to do was dribble out, but Syd is a competitor. She stepped up and hit that and that was huge for us."

UAA led 32-27 at the half, but McCarthy said it felt like the Seawolves were down by five instead of up by five.

Tulsa cut into an 11-point UAA lead before halftime and took a 34-33 lead three minutes into the second half on a Crystal Polk jumper. The Golden Hurricane expanded its lead to 49-41 with just over six minutes left before UAA started its comeback.

As the Seawolves gained momentum, the crowd started to emerge from its post-Thanksgiving fatigue and chants of "UAA, UAA, UAA," resonated through the arena.

UAA forced four turnovers and held Tulsa to two points in the final four and a half minutes of the game.

"We take a lot of pride in our defense and I think that's what got us going," said sophomore guard Yazmeen Goo, who snagged four of UAA's 10 steals. "Since we put so much emphasis on our defense, it got us hyped when we started getting stops.

"I think that really helped with our momentum in the fourth quarter."

Tulsa coach Matilda Mossman said the turning point came right before Cloninger's big 3, when Tulsa guard Shug Dickson was called with a charge with 1:26 to go. Tulsa led 51-50 and the charge call took away a Dickson floater on the baseline that would have extended the Golden Hurricane lead.

"It changes the momentum of the game," Mossman said.

Tulsa played much of the game without second-leading scorer Kendrian Elliott, who struggled with foul trouble. The 6-foot-2 center finished with 11 points in 21 minutes.

Polk, Tulsa's other center, led the Golden Hurricane with 12 points and Dickson finished with 10.

Tulsa scored more points in the paint (36-22), but the Seawolves won the rebounding battle (40-30) against the larger team from American Athletic Conference.

Nine of 11 players scored for the Seawolves, who played without second-leading scorer Rodericka Ware, who was suspended for the tournament for a violation of team rules.

UAA's first tournament championship came in 1990 in the old Northern Lights Invitational, when the Seawolves had to beat three Division I teams to claim the title.

The next six championships, including Thursday's, came after the Northern Lights tournament ended and a four-team tournament for women became part of the Shootout. In that format, the Seawolves won titles in 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The Shootout continues through Saturday with men's competition. Saturday's 8 p.m. title game will mark the end of the 40-year-old tournament, the oldest regular-season college basketball tournament in the country.

Binghamton grabs 3rd place

Imani Watkins poured in 20 points to propel the Binghamton Bearcats to third place with a 68-51 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore.

Watkins, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, also racked up eight assists, six rebound and three steals. Alyssa James, a 6-1 senior center, added 15 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.

Binghamton raced to a 22-7 first-quarter lead over the Hawks, who were led by Bairesha Miles' 13 points and 10 rebounds.

2017 GCI Great Alaska Shootout All-Tournament Team
Shug Dickson, Tulsa
Yazmeen Goo, UAA
Crystal Polk, Tulsa
Hannah Wandersee, UAA
Imani Watkins, Binghamton
Most Outstanding Player: Shelby Cloninger, UAA

Last-second 3s send Chippewas, Roadrunners to men’s Shootout championship

Thu, 2017-12-14 11:12

Basketball fans that attended or tuned in for either of Friday's GCI Great Alaska Shootout men's semifinals were in for a treat as both games came down to big 3-pointers in the final seconds.

Central Michigan topped Cal Poly 56-53 on a go-ahead 3-pointer by junior Shawn Roundtree with 3.8 seconds left and Cal State-Bakersfield defeated Idaho 64-62 on a go-ahead triple by freshman Justin Davis with 1.9 on the clock at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The Chippewas and Roadrunners will play for the final Shootout championship trophy Saturday. After 40-years of bringing Division I hoops to Anchorage, the Shootout is ending this weekend.

For Central Michigan coach Keno Davis, Saturday is an opportunity to win a Shootout title 31 years after his father won one with Iowa in 1986.

"I think it's a game that our guys can go in and not feel pressure," Davis said. "You should enjoy the moment. In a historic tournament like this, to be able to have that opportunity is pretty special."

Roundtree was 1 for 9 from the field and had missed time in the second half with a sprained ankle when he came in and immediately hit a 3-pointer that tied the game at 37-37 midway through the second half.

The teams stayed close until the final minute when Roundtree struck again in the closing seconds, this time from NBA range, to send the Chippewas to the title game.

Roundtree, a 6-foot guard, finished with 10 points and five rebounds for Central Michigan, which was led by sophomore guard Kevin McKay's 19 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

In the late semifinal, Bakersfield battled back from a 12-point deficit in the second half. The Roadrunners held Idaho scoreless for a nine-minute stretch that allowed them to erase the deficit and take a 49-45 lead with nine minutes to go.

"We got put in a tough situation there in the second half and our kids showed a lot of composure," Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said. "(They) just kind of had a will to win."

Bakersfield got the win, but Idaho had arguably the highlight play of the game. Idaho 6-2 guard Perrion Callandret soared over a Bakersfield defender for a dunk that brought many of the 3,000 fans at the Alaska Airlines Center to their feet in the second half.

Aside from the big Callandret dunk, the Roadrunners enjoyed a dominant presence in the paint, where 6-11 center Aly Moataz (14 points) and 6-6 forward Shon Briggs (14) did most of their damage.

The Roadrunners' 5-10 guard Rickey Holden added an outside element to the game with 15 points and four assists, and Justin Davis tallied nine points, none bigger than the go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner.

"I'd like to say we drew that up on the sideline, but actually we didn't," Barnes said. "They left him (open) and he got a chance to hit a big shot for us."

GCI Great Alaska Shootout men's tournament

Alaska Airlines Center

Friday's semifinals

Central Michigan 56, Cal Poly 53
Cal State-Bakersfield 64, Idaho 62

Saturday's games

Noon – Sam Houston State vs. Santa Clara, seventh-place game
2:30 p.m. – UAA vs. Charleston, fourth-place game
5:30 p.m. – Idaho vs. Cal Poly, third-place game
8 p.m. – Central Michigan vs. Cal State-Bakersfield, championship

Tournament leaders through two rounds


Victor Sanders, Idaho, 21
Victor Joseh, Cal Poly, 19.5
Joe Chealey, Charleston, 19.5
Perrion Callandret, Idaho, 19
Donavan Fields, Cal Poly, 18.5
K.J. Feagin, Santa Clara, 16
Henry Caruso, Santa Clara, 15.5
Shawn Roundtree, Central Michigan, 15
Aly Moataz, Cal State-Bakersfield, 15
Rickey Holden, Cal State-Bakersfield, 14.5


Blake Brayon, Idaho, 9
David DiLeo, Central Michigan, 8.5
Henry Caruso, Santa Clara, 8
Nick Harris, Charleston, 7.5
D.J. Ursery, UAA, 7.0
Jamal Williams, Sam Houston State, 7


Joe Chealey, Charleston, 9
Brent Wrapp, Cal State-Bakersfield, 8.5
John Dewey, Sam Houston State, 8.5
Shawn Roundtree, Central Michigan, 5.5
Donovan Fields, Cal Poly, 5
Perrion Callandret, Idaho, 5

Texas congressman won’t seek re-election amid allegations of sexual harassment

Thu, 2017-12-14 10:41

WASHINGTON – A congressman under scrutiny for allegations that he sexually harassed female staff members and created a hostile work environment announced Thursday that will not seek re-election next year.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who settled a complaint with his former communications director but denied wrongdoing in the case, plans to serve out the rest of his term but will not seek re-election in 2018, he announced Thursday in a video posted to Facebook. His decision makes him the sixth lawmaker to fall due to allegations of misconduct as Congress grapples with how to address what some aides have described as a culture of inappropriate behavior on Capitol Hill.

Farenthold, who represents the 27th Congressional District along the Texas Gulf Coast, including Corpus Christi, apologized Thursday in the five-minute video.

"I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional," Farenthold said, carefully reading a prepared statement. "It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes . . . and I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts."

The announcement came the morning after the Nevada Independent published new allegations of inappropriate behavior by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev. The freshman congressman, once considered a rising star in Nevada politics, has refused to step down amid calls from party leaders.

Farenthold continued to deny the charges from his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who accused him of making sexually inappropriate comments designed to gauge if she was interested in a relationship. And he stated his belief that he broke no laws.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he supported Farenthold's decision, citing "disconcerting" new accounts of his behavior toward staff members.

"I think he's making the right decision to retire," Ryan said Thursday at a news conference. "I think he's made the right decision that he's going to be leaving Congress."

Ryan and other congressional leaders have faced pressure to take a hard line against the growing list of lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior. Last week, Ryan successfully urged former Republican congressman Trent Franks of Arizona to resign immediately following allegations that Franks had asked two female staffers to serve as surrogates for his child.

[Texas congressman says he would challenge Murkowski and other female GOP senators to a duel over health care — if they were men]

On Thursday, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also weighed in to support Farenthold's decision.

"Congress must work harder to hold ourselves to a higher standard, which is why the House took action to ensure this body is a safe and constructive workplace for all," Stivers said in a statement. "However, there is still more work to be done."

Stivers added that he is confident the party will retain Farenthold's seat in next year's midterm elections.

Farenthold's pending retirement comes after Alabama voters rejected Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in a special election Tuesday night. Moore allegedly pursued romantic relationships with teenage girls, including a 14-year-old, while in his 30s. His loss was a major victory for Democrats, putting the party one seat closer to regaining its Senate majority.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., renewed her calls Thursday for Kihuen to step aside, in light of the Nevada Independent report.

"He wants to go through the ethics process. That is his right to do," she said at a news conference. "I've asked for him to resign. I've asked for him to resign right from the start."

Late Wednesday, the Las Vegas-based news website published the anonymous account of a female lobbyist who said Kihuen made unwanted sexual advances toward her from 2013 to 2015 when he was a state senator. The woman said the two never dated but that Kihuen touched her thighs and buttocks without consent and sent her hundreds of suggestive text messages, which the Independent reviewed.

Kihuen, who has said he would welcome a House ethics probe into his behavior, told the Independent he would not comment on his dating "relationships" as a state legislator.

Farenthold stood firm in the face of unflattering news stories and an investigation by the House Ethics Committee before choosing to retire.

In her 2014 lawsuit, Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker admitted to having sexual fantasies and "wet dreams" about her, a claim he has denied. She was fired for complaining, she alleged.

Greene's allegations swept back into the news this month when the Committee on House Administration revealed a House office had settled a complaint of sexual harassment for $84,000 in 2014. The Washington Post and other news outlets confirmed it was Farenthold's settlement with Greene.

Although the terms of the agreement prevent Greene from speaking about Farenthold's behavior, she said last month that pursuing legal action has had professional repercussions.

"I was told this would be career suicide," she said in an interview with CNN. "As soon as I decided to do this, I had to come to the conclusion that D.C. was no longer going to be in the cards."

CNN also reported Wednesday that another former aide, Michael Rekola, approached the Ethics Committee with allegations Farenthold was verbally abusive and sexually demeaning to aides.

A spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State said Farenthold missed the deadline to withdraw from his district's primary race, so his name will likely remain on the ballot.

"Barring any challenge to the candidate's application before the mail-in ballots go out in late January, his name will still be on the ballot for the March 6 Primary," Sam Taylor emailed.

– – –

Michelle Lee and Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.

College of Charleston pulls away to deny UAA a win in its final Shootout game

Thu, 2017-12-14 10:40

After the UAA men's basketball team's loss to the College of Charleston on Saturday in Great Alaska Shootout, Seawolves coach Rusty Osborne choked up in the postgame press conference while talking about his final Shootout team.

Charleston beat UAA 55-46 in front of 2,229 fans in the tournament's fourth-place game at the Alaska Airlines Center.

It was the 120th game for the Seawolves and 81st for Osborne in the Shootout, which is ending after a 40-year run.

"We talked about making sure we gave worthy effort win or lose today that would represent the way we've played in this tournament for 40 years," Osborne said. "I think they can hold their heads up high even though they lost and they're not happy with it.

"I think the 40 years of players that came before them, the 40 years of coaches, the 40 years of administrators — all those people can be proud of the effort that this group gave today despite not winning. It's been a great run."

The game was a physical, defensive battle for all 40 minutes and at times several minutes rolled off the clock before either team scored.

Charleston used a 7-0 run midway through the second quarter to increase its lead from 32-31 to 41-33 and UAA couldn't recover.

A pivotal moment during that run came when UAA's Kylan Osborne, Rusty's son, was charged with a technical foul for a comment he made after UAA guard Maleke Haynes was charged with a foul during a block attempt. The Cougars led 38-33 at the time of the foul with nine minutes to go.

"They said he made a comment," Rusty Osborne said. "Nothing vulgar or anything like that, just another comment by a player out there that had been going on all night. They decided to call it at that time."

Charleston's Joe Chealey and Grant Riller went a combined 3 of 4 on the ensuing free throws to put the Cougars ahead by eight.

Charleston received a boost from a pair of senior guards who did most of their damage in the second half. Chealey scored 10 of his 15 points in the latter period and Cameron Johnson scored all of his eight points in the second half.

Chealey also tallied eight assists and 6-foot-10 forward Nick Harris controlled the paint with 12 points, including a couple big dunks.

"A lot of guys made big shots, made big plays, and we had good balanced scoring," Charleston coach Earl Grant said. "That was our approaching going in to the game was we wanted to share the ball, be unselfish."

UAA senior forward Jacob Lampkin was the Seawolves' leading scorer (13 points) and rebounder (8) and senior guard Malik Clements added 10 points and seven boards. Haynes failed to score and went 0 of 4 from the field two days after he scored 22 points and nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send UAA to overtime in 78-73 overtime win over Santa Clara.

The Seawolves led the Cougars in most of the major statistical categories — UAA outshot Charleston (38.8 percent to 36.5 percent), garnered more assists (17 to 16) and grabbed more rebounds (35 to 31) — but the Cougars won the battle at the free-throw line. Charleston made 11 of 16 free throws to only 3 of 6 for UAA.

"We didn't get to the free-throw line, so that was the difference in the game," Osborne said.

The Seawolves (4-4) finished their final Shootout with a 1-2 tournament record. UAA won 39 games since the tournament began in 1978.

Although the offense sputtered at times, UAA showed it will be a tough defensive team this season after holding two Division I opponents under 60 points in their three Shootout games. Saturday's 55 points allowed tied the lowest for UAA this season.

"I thought we made it tough on that team," Osborne said. "The second half they had 33 percent from the field and 26 percent from the 3-point line.

"I think as we get better offensively we'll be able to take advantage of it."

The Seawolves don't have much time to recover from playing three games in four days because the UAA returns to the Alaska Airlines Center on Tuesday for a game against instate rival UAF.

"Hopefully we can have some success next week and start conference off right at home," Osborne said.

Central Michigan survives late scare to take home the final Shootout championship

Thu, 2017-12-14 10:39

Thirty-one years after his father won a Great Alaska Shootout championship, Central Michigan men's basketball coach Keno Davis and his Chippewas are the champions of the tournament's 40th and final edition.

Central Michigan made enough free throws late to fend off Cal State-Bakersfield 75-72 and claim the GCI Shootout title Saturday in front of nearly 4,000 fans at the Alaska Airlines Center.

Davis was in 8th grade when he watched his dad, Tom Davis, coach Iowa to the '86 Shootout championship at Sullivan Arena. Three decades later, Davis hoisted the last Shootout gold pan championship trophy.

"It's such a historic tournament, to be just a part of it is something our players (and) our fans are going to remember — going to the Great Alaska Shootout," Davis said. "Not only to be able to be here, but to play well and to be able to have a championship is something they'll remember for a long, long time."

The Chippewas (5-1) led by as many as 12 points in the second half, but they had to hold off the Roadrunners (4-3) in the game's closing moments.

Tournament MVP Shawn Roundtree scored 11 of his team-high 15 points in the second half and made a pair of free throws that put the Chippewas up 74-72 with less than two minutes remaining.

Central Michigan added another free throw by sophomore forward David DiLeo and held Bakersfield off the scoreboard for the final three minutes of the game.

"I think the main thing (was) just staying composed," said Roundtree, a 6-foot guard who battled a nasty cold all tournament. "I think we did a good job of executing down at the end and staying together, and riding the whole game out."

On the final possession, Bakersfield put the ball in the hands of red-hot senior Damiyne Durham, but his 3-point attempt grazed the front of the net at the buzzer. It was a rare miss for Durham, who racked up a game-high 24 points and buried 6 of 12 shots from beyond the arc.

[After 40 years of Thanksgiving week hoops, Great Alaska Shootout is history]

Both teams shot well from 3-point land, where Bakersfield went 10 of 27 and Central Michigan went 10 of 23. Six players hit 3s for the Chippewas, who led NCAA Division I 3-pointers last season with 399 on the season.

DiLeo, a 6-7 forward, went 4 of 9 from long range and scored 13 points to lead Central Michigan's sharpshooters.

Center Luke Meyer registered 14 points, including two triples, and forward Cecil Williams tallied 12 points and four assists to round out Central Michigan's double-digit scorers.

Durham, Rickey Holden (15 points) and Justin Davis (13) paced the Roadrunners.

Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said Central Michigan's depth on the perimeter cause problems for the Roadrunners' pressure defense.

"The way they played is really tough for us because they spread guys out," he said. "They have big guys who can shoot on the perimeter, but I thought our kids hung in there, showed a lot of toughness."

Bakersfield's second-place finish equals the highest finish in the Shootout by a Western Athletic Conference team. BYU was in the WAC in 1994 when it lost the title game to Minnesota.

Central Michigan's championship was the first for a team from the Mid American Conference.

It was the second appearance in the tournament for the team from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The Chippewas finished fourth in the 2011 Shootout.

March Madness is still four months away, but Davis said the tournament had a March feel to it with many of the games coming down to the closing moments.

In the semifinals, Central Michigan edged Cal Poly 56-53 on a game-winning 3-pointer by Roundtree and Bakersfield beat Idaho 64-62 on a trey by Justin Davis.

"I think the overriding factor for us was that we played extremely hard, not just tonight in championship, but we needed to play hard for three straight games," Keno Davis said. "To be able to go through that and win is extra special."

All-Tournament team
MVP: Shawn Roundtree, Central Michigan
Shon Briggs, Cal State-Bakersfield
Perrion Callandret, Idaho
Joe Chealey, College of Charleston
Chris Galbreath Jr., Sam Houston State
Rickey Holden, Cal State-Bakersfield
Luke Meyer, Central Michigan
Victor Joseph, Cal Poly
Jacob Lampkin, UAA
Victor Sanders, Idaho
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan

SUV driver fleeing Anchorage police crashes, forcing hours-long closure on C Street

Thu, 2017-12-14 10:25

Anchorage police stopped a fleeing driver early Thursday with a maneuver that caused his SUV to roll over on C Street in South Anchorage.

The use of what police call a "pursuit intervention technique" — but that might be described as a shove by a police vehicle — led to southbound C Street being shut down for about six hours near 64th Avenue.

A female passenger in the fleeing vehicle was admitted to the hospital with injuries, said police spokesman MJ Thim. A male passenger, Dan Caldwell III, age 25, was arrested on a felony warrant for a probation violation in a theft case, Thim said.

The incident began around 2:18 a.m. when police got a report of a prowler in the 5700 block of Old Seward Highway attempting to break into vehicles.

When police got there, a man ran and got into a Ford Explorer, which drove off, police said.

The driver eluded officers, then turned onto C Street from Potter Drive and started to go faster, police said.

Officers had lights and sirens on but the driver accelerated, police said.

At that point, Thim said, police tried to force the driver to stop as a way to avoid a dangerous high-speed pursuit.

He declined to describe the "pursuit intervention technique."  Other sources describe it as a maneuver that police in Fairfax County, Virginia, adapted from stock car racing to take out another vehicle.

"In this case it happened from the rear," Thim said.

The Explorer rolled and crashed on the side of C Street, he said.

Police closed the road between 64th Avenue and Foxridge Way while they reviewed their actions, said Thim. They reopened the street just before 9 a.m.

"We've done this procedure a few times this year. It is standard procedure to take a look and review," he said.

The driver and passengers – one man and two women were in the Explorer – were taken into custody for questioning, Thim said.

The incident was still being investigated. Police were trying to establish whether the man initially spotted was the driver or the passenger, Thim said.

"When fleeing from police and we are behind you with lights and sirens activated, you need to pull over," he said.

Or, he said, police may force it, as they did Thursday morning.

Ilisagvik College in Utqiagvik waives tuition for all Alaska Native students

Thu, 2017-12-14 10:25

Alaska Native students from all around Alaska are now able to attend the state's only tribal college tuition-free.

"We looked at some of the obstacles that students — especially those in rural Alaska — have in going to college and money was one of them," said Janelle Everett, Iḷisaġvik College's director of recruitment. "The North Slope is fortunate in that there is wealth here, but that wealth is not necessarily in other parts of the state. People may not have the finances to attend college."

Iḷisaġvik recently announced that starting next semester, Native students who are over the age of 18 will be able to apply for a tuition waiver to attend both distance learning and campus-based classes.

"We Inupiat believe in sharing our good fortune. We have been fortunate enough on the North Slope to have an accredited college in a Native community where Native students can feel comfortable and supported as they pursue their post-secondary education," said college president Pearl Brower in the announcement. "As the only tribal college in Alaska, I feel it is very important that we throw our net as widely as possible so that all Alaska Native students have a chance to enhance their future by acquiring the knowledge that comes with higher education."

The waiver covers only tuition, but students using the waiver must also apply for both federal student aid and some type of scholarship, which college administrators hope will help cover the rest of their costs.

"So, we're hoping that this is a stepping stone, but it's also a great way for students to have less of a financial burden going to college," said Iḷisaġvik registrar Meghan Galligan.

Each credit at the college costs $145, so a full-time student taking a regular class load would save about $3,500 a year with the waiver.

Everett hopes the tuition waiver will not only ease the burden for students, but also help raise Iḷisaġvik's profile in other parts of the state. Students at the college are predominantly locals who have grown up or lived on the North Slope.

"Our students know that they have access. If you look at students from other parts of rural Alaska, they did not know that we exist, but they're learning about us," said Everett. "The idea of going from a really small village to one of the urban centers for an education can be daunting and overwhelming for them. A lot of students graduate and think they have no option for where to go to school, so they don't go for higher education or training. With the tuition waiver, we hope it will allow them to get out of the community, and if they want higher education, to come to us, because we are a small community."

Galligan echoed her words, saying because it's a tribal college in a small community, it might be a more familiar environment for Native students.

"Because we're a small college, we're more able to help students through the challenges and obstacles that colleges put on the students," she said. "Other larger universities don't necessarily have that fortunate capability because they have larger class sizes, more students to faculty, things like that. We have a lot more faculty to students, so we're able to help them a little bit more. We want to help them succeed."

Everett said she's fielded calls from prospective students who say they want to get more education, but are scared of going to college because they don't know what steps they need to take to prepare. That's OK, she said. Making the call to ask for help is the first step.

She'd like to see a more diverse student body bring with it the potential to broaden all of the students' horizons.

"I think the most important thing is that, because Alaska is so large, we have different Alaska Native regions and with them come different cultures. So, when our students come, they're bringing a piece of their culture with them. That allows our students who are from the North Slope to learn about other Alaska Native regions and cultures. It's a sharing," said Everett. "I think, in that sense, we are hopefully allowing our students to create lifelong friendships and also an exchange of cultures."

If students are accepted into the waiver program, which will happen if they meet the requirements, they have to begin and continue a program of study, make a C grade average and successfully complete two-thirds of their classes to qualify for the waiver in following semesters.

The waiver is only necessary for credit classes, Galligan noted, which do not include CEU courses that are non-credit. However, there are many educational tracks that are entirely credit-based, she said.

"I want Alaskans to take [the] jobs [here]. I want Alaskans to be educated and trained, whether it's in accounting or heavy equipment operation, to take jobs," Everett said. "Then, we can fill other jobs with people from Outside, but Alaskans and Alaska residents should be the people to get those jobs for the future of the state."

This article was republished with permission from The Arctic Sounder.

FCC votes to repeal net neutrality rules in a sweeping act of deregulation

Thu, 2017-12-14 09:42

WASHINGTON – Federal regulators voted Thursday to allow Internet providers to speed up service for some apps and websites – and block or slow down others – in a decision repealing landmark Obama-era regulations for broadband companies such as AT&T; and Verizon.

The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry is a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision. And it marks a significant victory for Republicans who vowed to roll back the efforts of the prior administration, despite a recent survey showing that 83 percent of Americans – including 3 out of 4 Republicans – opposed the plan.

Led by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission and its two other GOP members on Thursday followed through on a promise to repeal the government's 2015 net neutrality rules, which sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally. The agency also went a step further, rejecting much of its own authority over broadband in a bid to stymie future FCC officials who might seek to regulate providers.

[GCI, Alaska Communications vow not to penalize Alaskans when net neutrality rescinded]

The result is a comprehensive redrawing of the FCC's oversight powers in the digital age, at a time of rapid transformation in the media and technology sectors.

The move is also a prominent example of the policy shifts taking place in Washington under President Donald Trump. With Republicans controlling the levers of government, federal policy has swung to the right, in some respects eclipsing what would have been considered middle-of-the-road conservative positions just a decade ago, said Jeffrey Blumenfeld, co-chair of the antitrust and trade regulation practice at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler.

"What we're seeing now is a dramatic change not just from the Obama administration, but even from the prior Republican administration," said Blumenfeld.

Under President George W. Bush, the FCC outlined a series of guiding principles that would eventually lead to the 2015 net neutrality rules. Then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in a 2004 speech, said Internet users should enjoy four fundamental freedoms: The freedom to access any Web content of their choice, so long as it was legal; the freedom to use any online application; the freedom to use their home broadband connections on any device; and the freedom to get subscription information from their own providers.

Consumer advocates fear that those freedoms could be curtailed in a world where Internet providers are legally permitted to give preferential treatment to sites they own or share commercial relationships with, and to discriminate against apps they do not like.

For example, under the net neutrality rules Verizon was not allowed to favor Yahoo and AOL, which it owns, by blocking Google. In addition, Verizon was not be allowed to charge Google extra fees in order to connect to Verizon customers. Under the new rules, that type of behavior would be legal, as long as Verizon disclosed it. Some analysts say affected content companies could pass any new network costs to Internet users, and that Internet providers will develop new ways to market Internet service that could lead to higher prices.

"You and I and everyone else who uses the Internet for personal use will see some changes in pricing models," wrote Glenn O'Donnell, an industry analyst at the research firm Forrester, in an email. "For most of us, I expect we will pay more. Service bundles (e.g., social media package, streaming video package) will likely be bolted on to basic transport for things like web surfing and email."

Internet providers vigorously contest that prediction. They argue there is no financial incentive to penalize specific apps or services, that giving some sites the option of faster service could in fact benefit consumers, and that the new rules allow the Federal Trade Commission to sue carriers that act anti-competitively. Consumers' daily Internet experience will be the same "next week, next month and next year," industry officials promised on a conference call Wednesday.

The officials also said the 2015 rules discouraged providers from making broadband faster and more reliable, according to the industry. USTelecom, a trade group representing AT&T;, Verizon and others, said that annual broadband infrastructure spending fell from $78.4 billion in 2014, before the rules took effect, to $76 billion in 2016.

With Thursday's decision, "this country will return to a rational regulatory framework similar to the one that capably governed the Internet for decades," said AT&T; in a blog post Wednesday.

[FCC chairman approaches his biggest win with net neutrality repeal]

Powell, who now leads a top cable industry trade group, said that the repeal of the FCC's net neutrality rules is still consistent with the four freedoms he described nearly 14 years ago.

"Our belief at the time was that the Internet needed to retain a light regulatory environment to get broadband moving," said Powell. "And the companion to those four freedoms was the decision to keep the Internet classified as an information service." ("Information service" providers face fewer obligations under the FCC's regulatory structure than do providers of telecom service, a category that covers landline phone companies.)

Under Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the net neutrality rules took the extraordinary step of reclassifying Internet providers as telecom providers, giving the FCC broad powers to define new obligations for providers on everything from prices to privacy practices.

Advocates hailed the 2015 decision as a victory for consumer protection and a necessary step in light of how differently the Internet now looked compared to its earlier days, when fewer massive companies dominated the space. Meanwhile, industry groups sought to get the regulations overturned in court. They failed, but have escalated the case to the Supreme Court. The court has yet to decide whether it will hear the case.

Meanwhile, supporters of the net neutrality rules have signaled that they will sue the current FCC in hopes of stopping Pai's decision.

Some analysts believe the uncertainty surrounding net neutrality provides an opening for congressional legislation to settle the issue once and for all. Republicans on Capitol Hill are optimistic. But their efforts are likely to stall unless they can court Democratic votes, and many Democrats view litigation against the FCC as the preferable course of action.

The sharp divides on net neutrality show that what began as a bipartisan issue has hardened into two distinct sides.

"Tribal partisanship is dominating our public policy debates," said Marc Martin, a communications lawyer at the firm Perkins Coie. "It wasn't always this way. First adopted and enforced during the Bush administration, net neutrality began as a noncontroversial policy to protect consumers' use of online platforms."

Man was driving drunk before fatal collision on Palmer-Wasilla Highway, troopers say

Thu, 2017-12-14 08:49

A 35-year-old man was driving drunk Wednesday evening when his SUV crashed into another on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and killed a woman, according to Alaska State Troopers.

William Brucher of Wasilla was heading west in his 1998 Ford Expedition when it crossed the centerline and hit a 2005 Chevrolet Suburban head-on, troopers said.

Troopers said they responded at 7:23 p.m. to the crash, near the intersection of the highway and Skip Circle.

Brandy Reed, 42 of Wasilla, was trapped in the Suburban. Medics freed her and rushed her to Mat-Su Regional Hospital, where she died, according to troopers.

Other passengers in the Suburban suffered minor injuries. They were treated at the hospital, then released.

Troopers said they arrested Brucher for driving under the influence. The investigation was continuing, troopers said.

Brucher has a drunken driving conviction from 2006 in Anchorage, court records show. He pleaded no contest in early 2007 in that case.

A U.K. baby was born with her heart outside her body – and survived

Thu, 2017-12-14 06:59

Immediately after Vanellope Hope Wilkins was born, she was put in sterile plastic to protect her heart – which was beating outside her tiny chest.

It was a moment that her parents, Dean Wilkins and Naomi Findlay, had hoped for but were not certain would actually come – a moment in which their baby girl would come into the world, and live.

The newborn, who was born Nov. 22 at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, England, was delivered by Caesarean section several weeks premature with a rare and often fatal congenital condition called ectopia cordis, in which the heart is growing either completely or partially outside the chest cavity. Most babies born with the malformation are stillborn or they do not survive long after birth.

"It was overwhelming, wasn't it?" Wilkins, from Bulwell, Nottingham, recently asked Findlay about the birth of their first child, according to BBC News.

"It was very overwhelming," she agreed.

"Especially the part where we were just staring at each other because we didn't want to be told what was happening while it was happening. But, as soon as we heard her cry, that was it," Wilkins said, turning toward Findlay. "We had a little cry, didn't we?"

She started: "It's like we held our breath through it all -"

"For her," Wilkins added, talking about their daughter.

The details came in a statement Wednesday from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, where dozens of doctors, nurses and clinical staffers worked together late last month to deliver Vanellope and give her a chance to live. A pediatric cardiologist there said the newborn may become the first to survive the condition in the United Kingdom.

In June, Wilkins and Findlay learned they were expecting their first child, according to the statement from hospital.

They also learned early on that the fetus had an extremely rare condition and were told about the potential risks – that she could have other chromosomal abnormalities or other issues, and that she could die before she would ever get to live.

Scans showed her heart and stomach growing outside her developing body. Weeks later, her stomach had entered her torso, but her heart had not.

The soon-to-be parents rejected advice to terminate the pregnancy. They sought help from specialists. They underwent blood tests to determine whether the fetus had major genetic disorders. "When the results of that test came back as low risk of any abnormalities we jumped up and down in the living room and cried," Wilkins said in the statement from the hospital. "At that point we decided to fight to give our daughter the best chance of surviving."

So the couple continued on.

And on that Wednesday morning in November, less than an hour after Vanellope was born – after she was put in a sterile plastic bag to protect her heart, and after she was given a breathing tube, fluids and medications to help her heart beat strong – she was ready to undergo complex surgery to put it into place.

"At around 50 minutes of age, it was felt that Vanellope was stable enough to be transferred back to the main theater where she had been born to the waiting anesthetists, congenital heart disease and pediatric surgical teams who began the task of putting her entire heart back inside her chest," Jonathan Cusack, a consultant neonatologist within the hospital system, said in the statement.

According to the hospital: "The actual defect in baby Vanellope's chest wall was quite small. The main concern with repositioning her heart was that the arteries and veins which bring blood to and from the heart were extremely elongated, and might become kinked and blocked when the heart was placed inside the chest wall. To ensure this didn't happen, the plan was to use a special splint to support the edges of the larger hole that had been created in the front of her chest, attached to its own plastic tube. This meant it was possible to hang her heart outside of her chest to help create more space within, and allow a plastic sheet to be stitched around it to seal the heart away from the outside air."

Since then, Vanellope has had two additional surgeries – one to remove the supporting tube and another to place her heart behind the skin of her chest wall, Frances Bu'Lock, a consultant in pediatric cardiology, said in an email sent Wednesday by the hospital.

"She's been lucky, if you like, in that she has a structurally normal heart, which most of these babies don't have and she didn't have any other abnormalities with the chromosomes. Sometimes the bowel is outside the body as well. She's not had any of those problems," Bu'Lock said about the newborn, according to BBC News. "But she's also proved very resilient and she's had a great team to support her."

About one in every 126,000 babies is born with ectopia cordis, and about 90 percent of them are either stillborn or die soon after birth, according to Children's Hospital Colorado. That said, in most cases, babies born with the condition also have heart problems in addition to the heart's unusual placement; typically babies who survive are ones like Vanellope, who seemingly have no other heart issues.

Jack Rychik, director of the Fetal Heart Program at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the prognosis hinges partly on the heart's structure. In the heart, he said, there are four chambers – two on the top and two on the bottom – as well as vital vessels; but in most cases of ectopia cordis, the heart structure is affected – whether it be holes, blockages or other developmental problems.

Rychik said there are more anticipated favorable outcomes in cases without other heart problems.

"If this particular patient had no structural cardiac abnormalities – just ectopia cordis – and had a normal genetics and chromosomal makeup, and it was detected prenatally and managed in an anticipatory manner – that's a threading of a needle that's pretty wide," he told The Washington Post.

In any case, Rychik said, the challenge with ectopia cordis is the heart needs to be put back into the chest, which is often filled with the lungs and other organs.

"So the way to think about this is, you sort of have to be a bit of an architect and reconstruct the chest around the heart and do so in a manner that does not compress the cardiac structures and allows for function and allows for growth of the chest," he said.

Now three weeks old, the baby has "more strength than you could ever imagine," Wilkins, her father, said, according to BBC News.

"She's fighting it all the way and she's defying everything, isn't she?" he added, addressing the baby's mother. "What they're saying she can't be doing, she's doing it."

Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked

Thu, 2017-12-14 06:45

WASHINGTON – In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded – that Russia's interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump's 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers – including Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus – prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation's spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"This was part of the normalization process," one participant said. "There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president."

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn't be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, "So what?" Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a "trap."

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," he said, adding that "we also get hacked by other countries and other people."

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. "It's not me," he said to aides afterward. "It wasn't right."

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president – and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality – have impaired the government's response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized – the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.

Intelligence officials who brief the president play down information about Russia they fear might displease him, current and former officials said. Plans for the State Department to counter Russian propaganda remain stalled. And while Trump has formed a commission to investigate widely discredited claims of U.S. voter fraud, there is no task force focused on the election peril that security officials regard as a certainty – future Russian attacks.

Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

Trump's stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. "Having Russia in a friendly posture," he said last month, "is an asset to the world and an asset to our country."

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet – all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

This account of the Trump administration's reaction to Russia's interference and policies toward Moscow is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, many of whom had senior roles in the Trump campaign and transition team or have been in high-level positions at the White House or at national security agencies. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

Trump administration officials defended the approach with Russia, insisting that their policies and actions have been tougher than those pursued by Obama but without unnecessarily combative language or posture. "Our approach is that we don't irritate Russia, we deter Russia," a senior administration official said. "The last administration had it exactly backwards."

White House officials cast the president's refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in the election as an understandably human reaction. "The president obviously feels . . . that the idea that he's been put into office by Vladimir Putin is pretty insulting," said a second senior administration official. But his views are "not a constraint" on the government's ability to respond to future election threats, the official said. "Our first order in dealing with Russia is trying to counter a lot of the destabilizing activity that Russia engages in."

Others questioned how such an effort could succeed when the rationale for that objective is routinely rejected by the president. Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, has described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.

"What the president has to say is, 'We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,' " Hayden said in an interview. Trump "has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that."

‘More than worth the effort’

The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin.

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 "active measures" campaign – as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations – as a resounding, if incomplete, success.

Moscow has not achieved some its most narrow and immediate goals. The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine has not been recognized. Sanctions imposed for Russian intervention in Ukraine remain in place. Additional penalties have been mandated by Congress. And a wave of diplomatic retaliation has cost Russia access to additional diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate.

But overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives – destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was "more than worth the effort."

The Russian operation seemed intended to aggravate political polarization and racial tensions and to diminish U.S. influence abroad. The United States' closest alliances are frayed, and the Oval Office is occupied by a disruptive politician who frequently praises his counterpart in Russia.

"Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence," said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years."

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update – known as the president's daily brief, or PDB – is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump's ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump's main briefer – a veteran CIA analyst – adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

"If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference – that takes the PDB off the rails," said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the briefing is "written by senior-level, career intelligence officers," and that the intelligence community "always provides objective intelligence – including on Russia – to the president and his staff."

Trump's aversion to the intelligence, and the dilemma that poses for top spies, has created a confusing dissonance on issues related to Russia. The CIA continues to stand by its conclusions about the election, for example, even as the agency's director, Mike Pompeo, frequently makes comments that seem to diminish or distort those findings.

In October, Pompeo declared the intelligence community had concluded that Russia's meddling "did not affect the outcome of the election." In fact, spy agencies intentionally steered clear of addressing that question.

On Jan. 6, two weeks before Trump was sworn in as president, the nation's top intelligence officials boarded an aircraft at Joint Base Andrews on the outskirts of Washington to travel to New York for one of the most delicate briefings they would deliver in their decades-long careers.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., CIA Director John Brennan and National Security Agency chief Michael S. Rogers flew together aboard an Air Force 737. FBI Director James B. Comey traveled separately on an FBI Gulfstream aircraft, planning to extend his stay for meetings with bureau officials.

The mood was heavy. The four men had convened a virtual meeting the previous evening, speaking by secure videoconference to plan their presentation to the incoming president of a classified report on Russia's election interference and its pro-Trump objective.

During the campaign, Trump had alternately dismissed the idea of Russian involvement – saying a hack of the Democratic National Committee was just as likely carried out by "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds" – and prodded the Kremlin to double down on its operation and unearth additional Clinton emails.

The officials had already briefed Obama and members of Congress. As they made their way across Manhattan in separate convoys of black SUVs, they braced for a blowup.

"We were prepared to be thrown out," Clapper said in an interview.

Instead, the session was oddly serene.

The officials were escorted into a spacious conference room on the 14th floor of Trump Tower. Trump took a seat at one end of a large table, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the other. Among the others present were Priebus, Pompeo and designated national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Following a rehearsed plan, Clapper functioned as moderator, yielding to Brennan and others on key points in the briefing, which covered the most highly classified information U.S. spy agencies had assembled, including an extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that had captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation.

Trump seemed, at least for the moment, to acquiesce.

"He was affable, courteous, complimentary," Clapper said. "He didn't bring up the 400-pound guy."

A copy of the report was left with Trump's designated intelligence briefer. But there was another, more sensitive matter left to cover.

Clapper and Comey had initially planned to remain together with Trump while discussing an infamous dossier that included salacious allegations about the incoming president.

It had been commissioned by an opposition research firm in Washington that had enlisted a former British intelligence officer to gather material. As The Washington Post reported in October, the research was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

But in the end, Comey felt he should handle the matter with Trump alone, saying that the dossier was being scrutinized exclusively by the FBI. After the room emptied, Comey explained that the dossier had not been corroborated and that its contents had not influenced the intelligence community's findings – but that the president needed to know it was in wide circulation in Washington.

Senior officials would subsequently wonder whether the decision to leave that conversation to Comey helped poison his relationship with the incoming president. When the dossier was posted online four days later by the news site BuzzFeed, Trump lashed out the next morning in a 4:48 a.m. Twitter blast.

"Intelligence agencies never should have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public," Trump said. "One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?" The Post was one of several news organizations that had received the dossier months earlier, had been attempting to verify its claims and had not published it.

After leaving the Jan. 6 meeting at Trump Tower, Comey had climbed into his car and began composing a memo.

"I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution," he testified to Congress in June. It was the first of multiple memos he would write documenting his interactions with Trump.

Clapper's office released an abbreviated public version of the intelligence report later that day. Trump issued a statement saying that "Russia, China" and "other countries" had sought to penetrate the cyberdefenses of U.S. institutions, including the DNC.

In their Trump Tower interventions, senior aides had sought to cement his seeming acceptance of the intelligence. But as the first year of his presidency progressed, Trump became only more adamant in his rejections of it.

In November, during a 12-day trip to Asia, Trump signaled that he believed Putin's word over that of U.S. intelligence.

"He said he didn't meddle," Trump said to reporters aboard Air Force One after he and Putin spoke on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam. "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,' and I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it."

As those remarks roiled Washington, Trump sought to calm the controversy without fully conceding the accuracy of the intelligence on Russia. He also aimed a parting shot at the spy chiefs who had visited him in January in New York.

"As to whether I believe it or not," he said the next day, "I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership."

‘Don’t walk that last 5½ feet’

In the early days of his presidency, Trump surrounded himself with aides and advisers who reinforced his affinity for Russia and Putin, though for disparate reasons not always connected to the views of the president.

Flynn, the national security adviser, saw Russia as an unfairly maligned world power and believed that the United States should set aside its differences with Moscow so the two could focus on higher priorities, including battling Islamist terrorism.

Some on the NSC, including Middle East adviser Derek Harvey, urged pursuing a "grand bargain" with Russia in Syria as part of an effort to drive a wedge into Moscow's relationship with Iran. Harvey is no longer in the administration.

Others had more idiosyncratic impulses. Kevin Harrington, a former associate of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel brought in to shape national security strategy, saw close ties with oil- and gas-rich Russia as critical to surviving an energy apocalypse – a fate that officials who worked with him said he discussed frequently and depicted as inevitable.

The tilt of the staff began to change when Flynn was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job for falsehoods about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His replacement, Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, had more conventional foreign policy views that included significant skepticism of Moscow.

The change helped ease the turmoil that had characterized the NSC but set up internal conflicts on Russia-related issues that seemed to interfere with Trump's pursuit of a friendship with Putin. Among them was the administration's position on NATO.

The alliance, built around a pledge of mutual defense against Soviet or Russian aggression among the United States and its European allies, became a flash point in internal White House battles. McMaster, an ardent NATO supporter, struggled to fend off attacks on the alliance and its members by Trump's political advisers.

The president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, moved to undermine support for NATO within weeks of arriving at the White House. After securing a position on the NSC, Bannon ordered officials to compile a table of arrears – alleged deficits on defense spending by every NATO member going back 67 years. Officials protested that such a calculation was impractical, and they persuaded Bannon to accept a partial list documenting underspending dating from 2007.

Bannon and McMaster clashed in front of Trump during an Oval Office discussion about NATO in the spring, officials said. Trump, sitting behind his desk, was voicing frustration that NATO member states were not meeting their defense spending obligations under the treaty. Bannon went further, describing Europe as "nothing more than a glorified protectorate."

McMaster, an ardent supporter of NATO, snapped at Bannon. "Why are you such an apologist for Russia?" he asked, according to two officials with knowledge of the exchange. Bannon shot back that his position had "nothing to do with Russians" and later told colleagues how much he relished such confrontations with McMaster, saying, "I love living rent-free in his head."

Bannon and his allies also maneuvered to sabotage displays of unity with the alliance. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived for an April visit at the White House, McMaster's team prepared remarks for Trump that included an endorsement of Article 5 – the core NATO provision calling for members to come to one another's defense.

But the language was stripped out at the last minute by NATO critics inside the administration who argued that "it didn't sound presidential enough," one senior U.S. official said. A month later, Stephen Miller, a White House adviser close to Bannon, carried out a similar editing operation in Brussels where Trump spoke at a dedication ceremony for NATO's gleaming new headquarters.

Standing before twisted steel wreckage from the World Trade Center that memorialized NATO's commitment to defend the United States after the 9/11 attacks, Trump made no mention of any U.S. commitment to mutual defense.

Trump finally did so in June during a meeting with the president of Romania. Officials said that in that case, McMaster clung to the president's side until a joint news conference was underway, blocking Miller from Trump and the text. A senior White House official said that Trump has developed a good relationship with Stoltenberg and often praises him in private.

On sensitive matters related to Russia, senior advisers have at times adopted what one official described as a policy of "don't walk that last 5½feet" – meaning to avoid entering the Oval Office and giving Trump a chance to erupt or overrule on issues that can be resolved by subordinates.

Another former U.S. official described being enlisted to contact the German government before Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit at the White House in March. The outreach had two aims, the official said – to warn Merkel that her encounter with Trump would probably be acrimonious because of their diverging views on refugees, trade and other issues, but also to urge her to press Trump on U.S. support for NATO.

The signature moment of the trip came during a brief photo appearance in which Trump wore a dour expression and appeared to spurn Merkel's effort to shake his hand, though Trump later said he had not noticed the gesture.

His demeanor with the German leader was in striking contrast with his encounters with Putin and other authoritarian figures. "Who are the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi [Jinping] of China, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and Putin," one Trump adviser said. "They're all the same guy."

Merkel has never fit into that Trump pantheon. Before her arrival, senior White House aides witnessed an odd scene that some saw as an omen for the visit. As McMaster and a dozen other top aides met with Trump in the Oval Office to outline issues Merkel was likely to raise, the president grew impatient, stood up and walked into an adjoining bathroom.

Trump left the bathroom door open, according to officials familiar with the incident, instructing McMaster to raise his voice and keep talking. A senior White House official said the president entered the restroom and merely "took a glance in the mirror, as this was before a public event."

McMaster gained an internal ally on Russia in March with the hiring of Fiona Hill as the top Russia adviser on the NSC. A frequent critic of the Kremlin, Hill was best known as the author of a respected biography of Putin and was seen as a reassuring selection among Russia hard-liners.

Her relationship with Trump, however, was strained from the start.

In one of her first encounters with the president, an Oval Office meeting in preparation for a call with Putin on Syria, Trump appeared to mistake Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing her to rewrite it.

When Hill responded with a perplexed look, Trump became irritated with what he interpreted as insubordination, according to officials who witnessed the exchange. As she walked away in confusion, Trump exploded and motioned for McMaster to intervene.

McMaster followed Hill out the door and scolded her, officials said. Later he and a few close staffers met to explore ways to repair Hill's damaged relationship with the president.

Hill's standing was further damaged when she was forced to defend members of her staff suspected of disloyalty after details about Trump's Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – in which the president revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests – were leaked to The Post.

The White House subsequently tightened the circle of aides involved in meetings with Russian officials. Trump was accompanied only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting with Putin at a July summit of Group of 20 nations in Hamburg. In prior administrations, the president's top aide on Russia was typically present for such encounters, but Hill has frequently been excluded.

A senior administration official said that the NSC "was not sidelined as a result" of Hill's difficult encounters with Trump, that Hill is regularly included in briefings with the president and that she and her staff "continue to play an important role on Russia policy."

An insult to Moscow

White House officials insist that the Trump administration has adopted a tougher stance toward Moscow than the Obama administration on important fronts.

They point to Trump's decision, after a chemical weapons attack in Syria, to approve a U.S. military strike on a base where Russian personnel and equipment were present. They cite Trump's decision in early August to sign legislation imposing additional economic sanctions on Moscow and steps taken by the State Department at the end of that month ordering three Russian diplomatic facilities – two trade offices and the consulate in San Francisco – closed. They also said that the NSC is preparing options for the president to deal with the threat of Russian interference in American elections.

"Look at our actions," a senior administration official said in an interview. "We're pushing back against the Russians."

Senior Trump officials have struggled to explain how. In congressional testimony in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on whether the administration had done enough to prevent Russian interference in the future. "Probably not," Sessions said. "And the matter is so complex that for most of us we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there."

The administration's accomplishments are to a large measure offset by complicating factors – Trump had little choice but to sign the sanctions – and competing examples. Among them is the administration's persistent exploration of proposals to lift one of the most effective penalties that Obama imposed for Russia's election interference – the seizure of two Russian compounds.

Russia used those sprawling estates in Maryland and New York as retreats for its spies and diplomats but also – according to CIA and FBI officials – as platforms for espionage. The loss of those sites became a major grievance for Moscow.

Lavrov has raised the confiscation of those properties in nearly every meeting with his American counterparts, officials said, accusing the United States of having "stolen our dachas," using the Russian word for country houses.

Putin may have had reason to expect that Russia would soon regain access to the compounds after Trump took office. In his recent guilty plea, Flynn admitted lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador in late December. During the call, which came as Obama was announcing sanctions on Russia, Flynn urged the ambassador not to overreact, suggesting the penalties would be short-lived.

After a report in late May by The Post that the administration was considering returning the compounds, hard-liners in the administration mobilized to head off any formal offer.

Several weeks later, the FBI organized an elaborate briefing for Trump in the Oval Office, officials said. E.W. "Bill" Priestap, the assistant director of the counterintelligence division at the FBI, brought three-dimensional models of the properties, as well as maps showing their proximity to sensitive U.S. military or intelligence installations.

Appealing to Trump's "America first" impulse, officials made the case that Russia had used the facilities to steal U.S. secrets. Trump seemed convinced, officials said.

"I told Rex we're not giving the real estate back to the Russians," Trump said at one point, referring to Tillerson, according to participants. Later, Trump marveled at the potential of the two sites and asked, "Should we sell this off and keep the money?"

But on July 6, Tillerson sent an informal communication to the Kremlin proposing the return of the two compounds, a gesture that he hoped would help the two sides pull out of a diplomatic tailspin. Under the proposed terms, Russia would regain access to the compounds but without diplomatic status that for years had rendered them outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.

The FBI and some White House officials, including Hill, were livid when they learned that the plan had been communicated to Russia through a "non-paper" – an informal, nonbinding format. But "Tillerson never does anything without Trump's approval," a senior U.S. official said, making clear that the president knew in advance.

Administration officials provided conflicting accounts of what came next. Two officials indicated that there were additional communications with the Kremlin about the plan. One senior official said that Tillerson made a last-minute change in the terms, proposing that the Maryland site be returned "status quo ante," meaning with full diplomatic protections. It would again be off-limits to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

State Department officials disputed that account, however, saying that no such offer was ever contemplated and that the final proposal shared with the Kremlin was the non-paper sent on July 6 – one day before Trump met with Putin in Hamburg.

Tillerson "never directed anyone to draft" a revised proposal to the Kremlin, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement. "We considered possible options for restoring Russian access for recreational purposes in a way that would meet the security concerns of the U.S. government." By the end of July, Congress had passed a new sanctions bill that "imposed specific conditions for the return of the dachas," she said, "and the Russians have so far not been willing to meet them."

Moscow made clear through Lavrov and others in mid-July that it regarded the overture, and the idea that any conditions would be placed on the return of the sites, as an insult. State Department officials interpreted that response as evidence that Russia's real purpose was the resumption of espionage.

‘He was raging. He was raging mad.’

With no deal on the dachas, U.S.-Russia relations plunged into diplomatic free fall.

Even before Trump was sworn in, a group of senators including John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., had begun drafting legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia.

In the ensuing months, McCain's office began getting private warnings from a White House insider. "We were told that a big announcement was coming regarding Russia sanctions," a senior congressional aide said. "We all kind of assumed the worst."

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the sanctions bill from moving forward at the behest of Tillerson, who kept appealing for more time to negotiate with Moscow.

But after Comey's firing in early May, and months of damaging headlines about Trump and Russia, an alarmed Senate approved new sanctions on Russia in a 98-to-2 vote.

Trump at times seemed not to understand how his actions and behavior intensified congressional concern. After he emerged from a meeting in Hamburg with Putin, Trump said he and the Russian leader had agreed upon the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described the proposed pact as "pretty close" to "the dumbest idea I've ever heard" and introduced additional provisions to the sanctions bill that would strip Trump of much of his power to undo them – a remarkable slap at presidential prerogative.

Then, in late July, new information surfaced about the extent of Trump's interactions with Putin in Hamburg that sent another wave of anxiety across Capitol Hill.

At the end of a lavish banquet for world leaders, Trump wandered away from his assigned seat for a private conversation with the Russian leader – without a single U.S. witness, only a Kremlin interpreter.

A Trump administration official described the reaction to the encounter as overblown, saying that Trump had merely left his seat to join the first lady, Melania Trump, who had been seated for the dinner next to Putin. Whatever the reason, little over a week later both chambers of Congress passed the sanctions measure with overwhelming margins that would withstand any Trump veto.

Trump's frustration had been building as the measure approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin, according to his advisers.

In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president.

"He was raging," one adviser said. "He was raging mad."

After final passage, Trump was "apoplectic," the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill, arguing that if he vetoed it and Congress overturned that veto, his standing would be permanently weakened.

"Hey, here are the votes," aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. "If you veto it, they'll override you and then you're f—ed and you look like you're weak."

Trump signed but made his displeasure known. His signing statement asserted that the measure included "clearly unconstitutional provisions." Trump had routinely made a show of bill signings, but in this case no media was allowed to attend.

The reaction from Russia was withering. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev taunted the president in a Facebook post that echoed Trump's style, saying that the president had shown "complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress."

Putin, who had shown such restraint in late December 2016, reacted to the new sanctions with fury, ordering the United States to close two diplomatic properties and slash 755 people from its staff – most of them Russian nationals working for the United States.

Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington, Trump expressed gratitude to Putin.

"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll," Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey – remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. "We'll save a lot of money."

‘Scream bloody murder’

Trump has never explained why he so frequently seems to side with Putin.

To critics, the answer is assumed to exist in the unproven allegations of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, or the claim that Putin has some compromising information about the American president.

Aides attribute Trump's affection for Putin to the president's tendency to personalize matters of foreign policy and his unshakable belief that his bond with Putin is the key to fixing world problems.

"When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing," Trump tweeted last month. "There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!"

White House officials present Trump as the latest in a long line of presidents who began their tenures seeking better relations with Moscow, and they argue that the persistent questions about Russia and the election only advance the Kremlin's aims and damage the president. "This makes me pissed because we're letting these guys win," a senior administration official said of the Russians. Referring to the disputed Florida tallies in the 2000 presidential election, the official said: "What if the Russians had created the hanging chads? How would that have been for George Bush?"

The allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, which the president has denied categorically, also contribute to his resistance to endorse the intelligence, another senior White House official said. Acknowledging Russian interference, Trump believes, would give ammunition to his critics.

Still others close to Trump explain his aversion to the intelligence findings in more psychological terms. The president, who burns with resentment over perceived disrespect from the Washington establishment, sees the Russia inquiry as a conspiracy to undermine his election accomplishment – "a witch hunt," as he often calls it.

"If you say 'Russian interference,' to him it's all about him," said a senior Republican strategist who has discussed the matter with Trump's confidants. "He judges everything as about him."

Recent months have been marked by further erosion of the U.S.-Russia relationship and troubling developments for the White House, including the indictment of Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Flynn.

Trump remains defiant about the special counsel's probe, maintaining that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing and describing the matter as a "hoax" and a "hit job."

Some of Trump's most senior advisers support that view. One senior official said that Trump is right to portray the investigations and news reports as politically motivated attacks that have hurt the United States' ability to work with Russia on real problems.

"We were looking to create some kind of bargain that would help us negotiate a very dangerous world," said a senior White House official. "But if we do anything, Congress and the media will scream bloody murder."

Putin expressed his own exasperation in early September, responding to a question about Trump with a quip that mocked the idea of a Trump-Putin bond while aiming a gender-related taunt at the American president. Trump "is not my bride," Putin said, "and I am not his groom."

The remark underscored the frustration and disenchantment that have taken hold on both sides amid the failure to achieve the breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that Trump and Putin both envisioned a year ago.

As a result, rather than shaping U.S. policy toward Russia, Trump at times appears to function as an outlier in his own administration, unable to pursue the relationship with Putin he envisioned but unwilling to embrace tougher policies favored by some in his Cabinet.

A Pentagon proposal that would pose a direct challenge to Moscow – a plan to deliver lethal arms to Ukrainian forces battling Russia-backed separatists – has languished in internal debates for months.

The plan is backed by senior members of Trump's Cabinet, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who voiced support for arming Ukrainian forces in meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August. Mattis "believes that you should help people who are fighting our potential adversaries," said a senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations.

A decision to send arms has to be made by the president, and officials said Trump has been reluctant even to engage.

"Every conversation I've had with people on this subject has been logical," the senior U.S. official said. "But there's no logical conclusion to the process, and that tells me the bottleneck is in the White House."

In July, the administration appointed former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as special envoy to Ukraine, putting him in charge of the delicate U.S. relationship with a former Soviet republic eager for closer ties with the West.

Putin has taken extraordinary measures to block that path, sending Russian commandos and arms into Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists. And Putin is bitter about U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression. A decision by Trump to send arms would probably rupture U.S.-Russian relations beyond immediate repair.

Trump was forced to grapple with these complexities in September, when he met with Poroshenko at the United Nations. Volker met with Trump to prepare him for the encounter. Tillerson, McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had replaced Priebus, were also on hand.

Trump pressed Volker on why it was in the United States' interests to support Ukraine and why U.S. taxpayers' money should be spent doing so, Volker said in an interview. "Why is it worth it?" Volker said Trump asked. As Volker outlined the rationale for U.S. involvement, Trump seemed satisfied.

"I believe that what he wants is to settle the issue, he wants a better, more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship," Volker said. "I think he would like [the Ukraine conflict] to be solved . . . get this fixed so we can get to a better place."

The conversation was about Ukraine but seemed to capture Trump's frustration on so many Russia-related fronts – the election, the investigations, the complications that had undermined his relationship with Putin.

Volker said that the president repeated a single phrase at least five times, saying, "I want peace."

The Washington Post's Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Disney makes a deal for 21st Century Fox, reshaping the entertainment landscape

Thu, 2017-12-14 05:44

LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co. said Thursday that it had reached a deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, the conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $52.4 billion.

While the agreement is subject to the approval of antitrust regulators — and the Justice Department recently moved to block a big media company from becoming even bigger — the once unthinkable acquisition promises to reshape Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is the biggest counterattack from a traditional media company against the tech giants that have aggressively moved into the entertainment business.

Disney now has enough muscle to become a true competitor to Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook in the fast-growing realm of online video.

At the same time, the agreement means that one of moviedom's most celebrated studios, 20th Century Fox, will be downsized, with some operations folded into Walt Disney Studios or refocused to make films designed for online distribution. Founded in 1935, the Fox studio championed Marilyn Monroe, produced classics like "The Sound of Music," released the first "Star Wars" movie and, more recently, turned "Avatar" into the biggest ticket-seller of all time.

But lately, like most of Hollywood, 20th Century Fox has struggled to keep pace with the changing way younger audiences view content — namely on an internet-connected device.

To complete the integration, a legacy-defining task, Robert A. Iger, Disney's chairman and chief executive, agreed to renew his contract for a fourth time, delaying retirement from July 2019 to the end of 2021. Murdoch asked Iger to stay as a condition of the deal, which was valued at $66.1 billion including debt.

"We're honored and grateful that Rupert Murdoch has entrusted us with the future of businesses he spent a lifetime building," Iger said in a statement.

Murdoch added, "I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry."

Not included in the acquisition: Fox News, the Fox broadcast network and the FS1 sports cable channel. Murdoch said he would spin those businesses and a handful of other cable networks into a newly listed company.

Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, hopes 21st Century will supercharge its plans to introduce two Netflix-style streaming services. The company's first major streaming effort, ESPN Plus, will arrive in the spring. A second and still unnamed offering, built around the company's Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar brands, will roll out late next year. Rounding out its streaming portfolio will be Hulu, the already established service that focuses on older viewers with programming that includes ABC shows.

Iger is buying 21st Century Fox's minority stake in Hulu, resulting in majority control of the streaming service by Disney, which previously owned 30 percent. Comcast and Time Warner also have stakes in Hulu.

"We're going to launch big, and we're going to launch hot," Iger said in September when announcing Disney's streaming strategy. At the time, it could have been viewed as old-fashioned exaggeration.

Not anymore.

Disney is purchasing the Fox television studio, which has 36 series in production, including "The Simpsons," "Homeland," "This Is Us" and "Modern Family." Disney's significantly smaller TV factory, ABC Studios, has delivered series of inconsistent quality and lost its biggest hitmaker in August when the "Grey's Anatomy" producer Shonda Rhimes decamped for Netflix.

To augment ESPN Plus, Disney is adding 21st Century Fox's chain of 22 regional cable networks dedicated to sports, including the YES Network, which carries New York Yankees games.

As part of the deal, Disney will also get the FX and National Geographic cable networks, and stakes in two behemoth overseas television-service providers, Sky of Britain and Star of India. That component of the deal would seem to contradict Disney's push to lessen its reliance on traditional television, a business built on third-party cable subscriptions that is now in decline as people turn to streaming services for home entertainment.

But those assets serve another one of Iger's strategic goals: making Disney more of an international player. Disney has major operations in Europe, Japan and China, where it opened Shanghai Disneyland last year. But most of Disney's profit still comes from the United States, where ESPN dominates, despite recent struggles, and annual attendance at Walt Disney World in Florida and the Disneyland Resort in California totals 162 million people.

Since taking over as Disney's chief executive in 2005, Iger has greatly expanded Disney's theme park operations, opening in Shanghai against all odds and nearly tripling the size of Disney Cruise Line. Walt Disney Studios, bolstered by Iger's acquisitions of Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel, has become Hollywood's runaway leader.

But pulling off the acquisition of 21st Century Fox dwarfs those deals and will create complex integration challenges. Some executives who work at Fox's studio offices in Los Angeles have been complaining bitterly about the prospect of Disney cost-cutting.

Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting from London.

Kentucky lawmaker accused of molesting a teen girl likely killed himself, coroner says

Thu, 2017-12-14 05:29

Kentucky lawmaker Dan Johnson was found dead Wednesday, an official said, days after allegations surfaced that he had molested a member of his church when she was 17.

Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings said the Republican state representative – and self-proclaimed "Pope" of his Louisville church – most likely killed himself. His body was found near a bridge on Greenwell Ford Road in Mount Washington, in a spot called the River Bottoms. He had a single gunshot wound to his head.

Officials discovered Johnson's body after they were made aware of a concerning Facebook statement and tracked Johnson's phone to his location, Billings said.

A gun was recovered at the scene, said Lt. Scotty McGaha of the Bullitt County Sheriff's Office.

More details will be released Thursday after an autopsy is done.

Wednesday afternoon, Johnson, 57, again denied the allegations against him in the now-deleted Facebook post, adding that "I cannot handle it any longer . . . BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME."

State leaders from both parties had been calling for Johnson's immediate resignation after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) published an expose Monday detailing allegations of how Johnson woke his daughter's friend during a sleepover in 2013 and forced himself on her, slipping his hands up her shirt and bra and putting his fingers in her vagina.

"What you did was beyond mean, it was evil," the victim said shewrote in a Facebook message to him shortly after the incident, according to KyCIR.

Johnson on Tuesday denied the accusations.

"This allegation concerning this lady, this young girl, absolutely has no merit, these are unfounded accusations, totally," he said, according to the Courier-Journal.

The victim, now 21, told KyCIR that for years she had considered Johnson to be a "second dad." She became close with his daughter, Sarah, and familiar with the boozy weekend parties Johnson would throw at the "Pope's House" – the fellowship hall next to the Heart of Fire Church. Those parties, KyCIR reported, featured scantily clad women, body shots and costumes.

In the first hours of 2013, as a New Year's Eve party came to an end, the victim, then 17, was spending the night with Johnson's daughter in the apartment under the fellowship hall, according to the report. The Post does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.

Johnson entered, drunk and stumbling, so the victim helped him navigate the stairs. She thought he was putting his arm around her for balance. Until his hand allegedly slipped up her shirt, KyCIR reported.

The victim then woke up later that night on the sofa. She found Johnson kneeling above her. She told KyCIR that he kissed her forehead and then slipped his hands up her shirt and bra. The report said he groped her, stuck his tongue in her mouth and put his fingers in her vagina. She begged him to stop and tried to force the man, who weighed twice as much as she did, off her without waking Johnson's daughter, KyCIR reported.

"He told her she'd like it. She said no, she didn't. She pleaded with him: go away, go away," KyCIR reported. He eventually did.

The KyCIR report highlights how Johnson – known in his church community as "Danny Ray Johnson" – painted a picture of himself over the years as a pro-gun, pro-life "patriot," which helped propel him into the Kentucky legislature in 2016, when he won the House's 49th District seat. But the seven-month investigation, comprised of more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of public records, alleges the Republican's persona is orchestrated to mask a series of concerning incidents – including sexual abuse, arson and false testimony.

In the wake of the allegations, David Osborne, the acting Kentucky House speaker, called the report "compelling and deeply troubling," according to the Associated Press. Gov. Matt Bevin, R, said he had not read the report and wanted to "wait until we get some facts" before commenting.

Bevin said in a tweet Wednesday that he was saddened by the news of Johnson's death: Saddened to hear of tonight's death of KY Representative Dan Johnson. . .My heart breaks for his family tonight. . .These are heavy days in Frankfort and in America. . .May God indeed shed His grace on us all. . .We sure need it. . .

At a news conference at the church Tuesday alongside family, campaign members and other church members, Johnson acknowledged that the woman accusing him was close to the family.

"I don't want to blast this girl, I have a lot of compassion for her," Johnson said. "I'm very sorrowful that she's in this dark place in her life."

Johnson could not be immediately reached for comment.

The accusations against Johnson come as dozens of high-profile men have been fired or have resigned from their jobs in politics, media, entertainment and business after facing allegations of sexually harassing or assaulting women and men. They include Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and broadcaster Charlie Rose. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., both said last week that they would leave Congress over sexual misconduct allegations.

Other Kentucky House Republicans facing scandal in recent months remain in the state legislature. Former Kentucky House speaker Jeff Hoover, after admitting he paid to settle a sexual-harassment claim made by a woman in his office, resigned from his leadership position last month but is still a state representative. Three other lawmakers involved in the secretive settlement had their committee chairmanships taken away from them but also still serve as representatives.

It's not the first time leaders have called for Johnson to step down. In 2016, while running for office, he posted racist photos on his Facebook page that compared President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to monkeys. He disregarded calls for him to drop out of the race – and won.

During Tuesday's news conference, Johnson said the woman accusing him was motivated by his political opponents, according to the Courier-Journal. The woman supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, he said, and disagrees with his conservative stance on abortion rights.

"This is an assault on all real people, there's no perfect people and you get into office and all of sudden political hacks come against you and start accusing you after you're in office," Johnson said.

He added that there is a "season" of sexual abuse allegations in politics, referring to the accusations against President Donald Trump and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama. Johnson said he didn't think all the women who've spoken out about abuse across the nation were lying, however.

The woman accusing Johnson told KyCIR that she never returned to the apartment below the fellowship hall. When she didn't show up to the church for service the following Sunday, Johnson allegedly sent her a Facebook message. In the message, he said his daughter told him he had been "mean" to her, the victim and his son, Boaz, the night of the party.

"Sarah said I was mean to Bo You and Her by telling you all to go to bed so sorry don't remember I was told we all got drugged at TK's anyway so sorry if I sounded mean, you know you are one of my favorites, love you sorry! Boaz did Great Sunday! Your future Husband!" the message read, according to KyCIR. TK's refers to T.K.'s Pub, a local bar.

The victim responded the next day, and said, according to KyCIR:

"Drugged or not, I think you know what happened that night and that's why you're sending this message. I never thought something like that would happen to me, especially by someone like you. I looked at you as a Dad, but now I sincerely hope I don't see you again, but I might try to maintain a relationship with your kids. And there is no point in responding to this message either because I don't want to talk about it ever again."

Louisville Metro police said they closed the case after investigating the allegations, according to KyCIR.

On Tuesday, Johnson acknowledged that he sent the victim a Facebook message shortly after the night she stayed over, but again said he did not remember what happened on the night of the alleged abuse because he was "drugged" at the bar, according to the Courier-Journal. He said he didn't file a police report about the alleged drugging because he did not want to bring accusations against a bar.

He later said at the news conference that he did recall what happened on that night – and said he never approached the victim while she was sleeping, according to the Courier-Journal.

The KyCIR report also detailed other incidents from Johnson's past. A grand jury indicted him for complicity to commit arson and making a false police report in 1987, according to the report, which suggests Johnson may have been linked in another arson incident 13 years later in which his own church was burned down.

Another human foot washes ashore in Canada. That makes 13.

Wed, 2017-12-13 23:06

The exceptionally high tides this time of the year off British Columbia can turn the rocky western coast of Vancouver Island into a graveyard. Bones from gray whales, sea lions and killer whales wash ashore, piling on the beach along fallen evergreens.

But on Thursday morning, Taz, a 6-year-old Rottweiler, sensed something different about a bone tangled in a bed of kelp. Taz darted away from her owner, Mike Johns, to inspect it, sniffing a piece that jutted out on a beach in the hamlet of Jordan River.

Her instincts were right. Johns followed behind her and pushed away the kelp, revealing his dog's find: a tibia and fibula attached to a left human foot with a white ankle sock in a black running shoe.

In any other part of the world, a sneaker with a human foot washing ashore might be a terrifying discovery, enough to frighten residents and stir fears of a gruesome murder or a serial killer on the loose. But not in British Columbia, where these discoveries have become so common that they are tracked. It was the 13th foot to wash ashore since 2007.

"It's just a freak thing that it happened to be here," said Johns, 56, who lives in Jordan River, a surfer's village about 70 miles southwest of Vancouver, Canada.

Johns said he called the police and then used a stick to pick up what remained of the leg, carried it back to his property and locked it in his greenhouse. He worried that if it remained on the beach, it would have washed back into the ocean or attracted the bear hanging around town or an eagle from the nearby nest.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police retrieved the remains on Friday, the authorities said, and they are being inspected by the Coroners Service of British Columbia. "We'll try to get a DNA sample," said Andy Watson, a spokesman for the service.

[Severed feet – still inside shoes – keep mysteriously washing up on Pacific Northwest shores]

During winter months, British Columbia experiences what are known as "king tides," unusually high tides that can cause coastal flooding. The tides, along with strong currents and the fact that shoes are buoyant, mean that the remains could belong to someone as far north as Alaska or as far south as Oregon, Watson said.

"Our search won't stay in Canada," he said.

Watson said it was too soon to determine how the person died.

Since the first severed foot was discovered in August 2007, the cases have caught the attention and imagination of Canadians across the country. By July 2008, five feet had been retrieved in the Strait of Georgia, part of the Pacific Ocean between Vancouver and Washington state.

The 12th foot was discovered in February 2016, a right foot in a black and blue New Balance sneaker that was found about 20 miles west of last Thursday's discovery. (One foot discovered in 2008 turned out to be a hoax.)

At first, people's theories for how the feet came to their final resting spot ran from the logical to the hysterical. Maybe they died in a plane crash or fell overboard, some surmised, or they were dumped in the ocean by a serial killer or human traffickers.

But in reality, the explanations were far less sinister. The authorities have identified eight of the 12 feet as belonging to six people, and none died by foul play.

Joshua Constandinou, who owns the Cold Shoulder Cafe in Jordan River, about a half-mile from the site of the foot, said residents were not rattled by the discovery. "At the beginning, it seemed more strange, but now it happens so many times," Constandinou said.

He said that people understood that science could explain the mysteries. "It makes sense to me that if a body is in the ocean and decomposes, you end up with a shoe that floats and an ankle where it would disconnect from the tibia and fibula," Constandinou said. "That is what they are finding on the beaches."