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Justice Department is investigating fetal tissue transfers

Fri, 2017-12-08 14:36

The U.S. Department of Justice asked on Thursday for documents related to a Senate committee's report on the transfer of fetal tissue by abortion provider Planned Parenthood, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The Department of Justice's investigation will likely revive the controversy over fetal tissue transfers, which was sparked by videos released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress in 2015.

The activist group said the videos showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissues collected from abortions. However, Planned Parenthood called the videos heavily edited and misleading and said 13 states that investigated the group's claims cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.

['Not a scintilla of evidence' against Planned Parenthood: Federal judge blocks Texas defunding]

In the latest development, a Department of Justice assistant attorney general, in a copy of the letter dated Thursday and seen by Reuters, asked Senators Charles Grassley and Dianne Feinstein for unredacted documents held by a Senate committee.

Those documents relate to a December 2016 Senate Committee on the Judiciary report that examined fetal tissue transfers and Planned Parenthood's policies.

"At this point, the records are intended for investigative use only – we understand that a resolution from the Senate may be required if the department were to use any of the unredacted materials in a formal legal proceeding, such as a grand jury," DoJ Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in the letter.

In the U.S. legal system, a grand jury may be convened to determine if criminal charges should be filed in a case.

The letter does not mention Planned Parenthood by name.

Grassley, the Republican chairman of the committee, in releasing the report in December 2016, called on the Department of Justice to investigate and possibly prosecute Planned Parenthood and companies involved in fetal tissue transfers.

A representative for Planned Parenthood declined to comment on the letter, but she cited a statement in which an official with the organization said in November that Planned Parenthood never profited from facilitating its patients' choice to donate fetal tissue for use in medical research.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposed abortion when he was a Republican senator, but has pledged to follow the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, in his role now as head of the Department of Justice.

A representative for the Department of Justice declined to comment.

California authorities criminally charged two anti-abortion activists this year, accusing them of filming Planned Parenthood workers without their consent when they made the videos for the Center for Medical Progress.

Woman in apartment wounded by gunfire outside, Anchorage police say

Fri, 2017-12-08 14:35

An altercation outside a Mountain View apartment Thursday night led to a woman inside being shot in the torso, Anchorage police said.

The call came in at 9:41 p.m. about a shooting on the 200 block of Meyer Street.

The woman was inside an apartment when she was shot by a suspect who was outside a window, police said. She was taken to the hospital with what police describe as "non-life-threatening injuries."

The suspect ran away.

Police have pictures from surveillance video of a man walking around the apartment at about the time of the shooting. He was wearing light-colored pants, a dark jacket, a dark hat, a backpack with light blue straps and possibly a scarf.

Police say they believe he has information related to the crime and are looking for him.

Investigators don't think the shooting was random. They have gotten conflicting reports on what started the trouble. They are looking into whether the woman was part of the earlier ruckus or was inside the whole time. At any rate, it appears those involved knew each other, said MJ Thim, police spokesman.

"We believe she was the intended target but we don't know that for sure," he said.

If you have information, call police dispatch at 907-786-8900 (press 0 for an operator) or, if you want to remain anonymous, call 907-561-STOP or provide a tip online at anchoragecrimestoppers.com

Supplements claiming to ease opioid addiction come under scrutiny

Fri, 2017-12-08 14:15

Chris Beekman, whose company sells the dietary supplement Opiate Detox Pro, does not understand what all the fuss is about.

"If it works, it works," Beekman, the owner of NutraCore Health Products, said in an interview. "If it doesn't, it doesn't." His customers, addicts trying to shake a dependence on opioids, can always get their money back, he said.

Opiate Detox Pro's label says, "Opioid addiction ease," and the company's website claims, "Our ingredients are the most effective on the market for treating withdrawal symptoms."

Beekman said he did not have scientific evidence to prove that the product worked and would not be conducting research to buttress the company's claims.

"It's just not going to happen," he said, citing what he called the prohibitive cost of scientific studies and clinical trials.

Peter Lurie thinks that is an unacceptable position from someone who sells supplements that purport to treat addiction. Lurie, a former Food and Drug Administration official, runs the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which on Friday urged the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on businesses that target addicts with products that make unproven health claims.

The FDA has zeroed in on another supplement, kratom, a botanical substance that has been promoted as a safe substitute for opioids and an adjunct to opioid use. Last month, the agency issued a public health advisory for kratom, warning that the product carried "deadly risks," and linked about three dozen deaths to it. Earlier, the agency had ordered that kratom imports be seized and told companies to take it out of supplements.

[Is methadone an answer to Alaska's heroin crisis?]

In general, the agency can fine companies that make and distribute them, or take other enforcement actions. In the past few weeks, reacting to other agency warnings, Amazon has stopped making available some products claiming to assist in opioid withdrawal.

"We monitor the products sold on our website, and when appropriate, we remove products from the website," said Erik Fairleigh, an Amazon spokesman.

The move has upset those who sell the supplements.

"They pulled us all down," said Allen Wetmore, a spokesman for NutraCore Health Products. "They claim we were trying to treat addiction as a disease."

Because dietary supplements are regulated differently than food and drugs, these products do not require clinical trials before entering the market. But the trade commission, which regulates advertising, and the drug agency can enforce rules against fraudulent health claims. And the drug agency's website notes that the array of dietary supplements making health claims has grown tremendously in recent years. "Though the benefits of some of these have been documented, the advantages of others are unproven," the website says.

When they claim to treat diseases, including addiction, supplements shift into the category of drugs, and companies wanting to make such claims must follow the drug agency's approval process to show that their products are safe and effective.

Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, has made expanding available medical therapy for treating opioid-use disorders a key goal of the agency, which has approved several drugs and devices for opioid-withdrawal treatment.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently conducted a market analysis to identify companies promoting dietary supplements as effective aids for opioid withdrawal. The group contacted eight online sellers and requested any scientific evidence they had to substantiate health claims made by their products.

The results offer a glimpse into the loosely regulated field of dietary supplements, and a case study of how businesses are capitalizing on efforts by addicts eager to break their habits amid what has become a national opioid epidemic.

"We're looking at hundreds of thousands of people who are addicted to opioids, many of whom are desperate," Lurie said. "It's a situation with very limited treatment options compared to the demand, and unto the breach come these unscrupulous dietary supplement manufacturers, who know people are desperate and likely to try them."

[Exploding demand for clean needles pushes Alaska's biggest syringe exchange to the edge]

One company, identified on its website as Mitadone U4Life, promotes a product called Anti Opiate Aid Plus. The site claims it will "help ease withdrawal symptoms associated with the use of OxyContin, morphine, Oxycodone," and other drugs. The website also promises that its product "helps eliminate cravings, symptoms and helps you quit."

Another company, Opiate Freedom Center, markets a product called the Ultimate Recovery System, saying it is "made to help you ease withdrawal symptoms, shorten detox length, improve emotional well-being, provide nutritional support to the brain during detox."

As with some other companies contacted by The New York Times for this article Thursday, the Mitadone supplement sellers appear to have changed the wording on their website. Jay Lal, a spokesman for Mitadone, said it had hired a law firm to help it become compliant with drug agency guidelines.

Several of the companies named in the center's report defended their practices, pointing out that their websites offer disclaimers and advise customers to consult their doctors.

On Friday, the FDA responded to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's complaints about these companies.

"Unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors are trying to capitalize on the opioid epidemic by illegally marketing products as dietary supplements, with unproven claims about their ability to help in the treatment of opioid use disorder, or as all-natural alternatives to prescription opioids," said Theresa Eisenman, a spokeswoman for the drug agency.

"Health fraud scams like these can pose serious health risks, and the FDA cautions the public to instead seek out medication-assisted treatments that have met the scientific rigor of FDA approval," Eisenman said.

Roy Moore accuser amends part of her account about inscription

Fri, 2017-12-08 13:37

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore received an unlikely late-campaign boost Friday from one of his own accusers, who admitted to incorrectly describing Moore's inscription in her high school yearbook.

Beverly Young Nelson maintains that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old, while working as a waitress at the Olde Hickory House restaurant in Gadsden, Alabama. But she now says that Moore did not write the entire yearbook inscription she initially attributed to him.

Gloria Allred, an attorney for Nelson, said Friday that Moore did not write several notes at the end of the inscription, including the location, the date, and the initials "D.A." after his signature. Allred said those notes were added later by Nelson "to remind herself of who Roy Moore was and where and when Mr. Moore signed her yearbook."

For the Moore campaign, which has been working to raise doubts about multiple accusations that he made sexual advances toward teenage girls when he was in his 30s, the Allred announcement was greeted as a political gift, and the campaign worked to suggest that there were more falsehoods that would be revealed, without describing them specifically.

[Woman shares new evidence of relationship with Roy Moore when she was 17]

The Moore campaign repeated its call for Nelson to release her yearbook to an independent analyst, so the handwriting attributed to Moore could be analyzed.

"The truth is out there and until she releases the yearbook all we know is that they are not telling the truth," said Phillip Jauregui, a lawyer for the Moore campaign, at a brief press conference.

The Moore campaign took no questions from the press. Moore, who has not appeared in public since a Tuesday rally with former White House strategist Steve Bannon, did not attend.

In her initial statement, Nelson said that Moore had written the entire inscription in her yearbook. "He wrote in my yearbook as follows," said Nelson. " 'To a sweeter and more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas. Christmas 1977. Love Roy Moore, Olde Hickory House.' And he signed it 'Roy Moore D.A.' "

Allred said Friday that an independent forensic handwriting analyst had examined the signature, and the handwriting before the signature, and concluded they were made by Moore.

"We did not ask the expert to examine the printing after the cursive writing and signature," Allred said Friday.

Allred did not say when Nelson wrote the additional words into the yearbook.

The Moore campaign previously attacked the credibility of Nelson's account by pointing out the difference in writing styles in the inscription. Moore advisers have pointed out that in the past, Moore had an assistant with the initials "D.A.," which would be printed next to his signature when she signed documents on his behalf with a stamp. Those initials were used, campaign officials say, on a copy of a document related to Nelson's own divorce, which briefly came before Moore when he was a judge.

Allred reiterated the willingness of Nelson to testify under oath to the U.S. Senate about her experience with Moore. Nelson has said that Moore offered to drive her home when she was a 16-year-old waitress at the Olde Hickory House. She says Moore instead parked the car and sexually assaulted her.

"We are very transparent," Allred said.

Six women have told The Washington Post that Moore pursued them in the late 70s and early 80s. Five were teenagers at the time and one was 22; Moore was in his early 30s. One woman, Leigh Corfman, said she was 14 and Moore was 32 when he brought her back to his house, gave her alcohol and touched her sexually.

[2 more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall]

Nelson's account has not been independently verified by The Post. But The Post did interview another accuser, Debbie Wesson Gibson, who shared a scrapbook from her senior year in high school, which contained a similar inscription and signature from Moore. His campaign has not specifically contested Gibson's account.

In recent weeks, Moore has said of his accusers, "I did not know any of them." This contradicts an interview Moore gave with Sean Hannity on Nov. 10, in which Moore said he knew two of the accusers when they were teenagers. He told Hannity that he did not remember dating girls between the ages of 16 and 18, but could not rule it out.

"I don't remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother," Moore said.

2 dead in ‘Day of Rage’ over Trump declaration on Jerusalem; Palestinian president remains defiant

Fri, 2017-12-08 12:50

JERUSALEM/GAZA – At least two people were killed in clashes with Israeli troops on Friday when thousands of Palestinians demonstrated against U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the Palestinian president said Washington could no longer be a peace broker.

Across the Arab and Muslim worlds, thousands more protesters took to the streets on the Muslim holy day to express solidarity with the Palestinians and outrage at Trump's reversal of decades of U.S. policy.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man near the Gaza border, the first confirmed death in two days of unrest. Scores of people were wounded on the "Day of Rage". A second person later died of their wounds, a Gaza hospital official said.

The Israeli army said hundreds of Palestinians were rolling burning tyres and throwing rocks at soldiers across the border.

"During the riots IDF soldiers fired selectively towards two main instigators and hits were confirmed," it said.

More than 80 Palestinians were wounded in the occupied West Bank and Gaza by Israeli live fire and rubber bullets, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service. Dozens more suffered from tear gas inhalation. Thirty-one were wounded on Thursday.

As Friday prayers ended at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, worshippers made their way toward the walled Old City gates, chanting "Jerusalem is ours, Jerusalem is our capital" and "We don't need empty words, we need stones and Kalashnikovs". Scuffles broke out between protesters and police.

In Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers who fired back with tear gas.

In Gaza, controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, calls for worshippers to protest sounded over mosque loudspeakers. Hamas has called for a new Palestinian uprising like the "intifadas" of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, which together saw thousands of Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis killed.

"Whoever moves his embassy to occupied Jerusalem will become an enemy of the Palestinians and a target of Palestinian factions," said Hamas leader Fathy Hammad as protesters in Gaza burned posters of Trump.

"We declare an intifada until the liberation of Jerusalem and all of Palestine."

Protests largely died down as night fell. Rocket sirens sounded in southern Israeli towns near the Gaza border, and the Israeli military said it had intercepted one of at least two projectiles fired from Gaza. No casualties were reported.

Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant group linked to Abbas's Fatah party, claimed responsibility for firing one of the rockets, and said it was in protest against Trump's decision.

The military said another rocket hit the Israeli town of Sderot. No casualties were reported.

Israel's military said that in response to the rocket fire, its aircraft bombed militant targets in Gaza and the Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 25 people were wounded in the strikes, including six children.

The Israeli military said it had carried out the strikes on a militant training camp and on a weapons depot. Witnesses said most of the wounded were residents of a building near the camp.

At the United Nations, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington still had credibility as a mediator.

"The United States has credibility with both sides. Israel will never be, and should never be, bullied into an agreement by the United Nations, or by any collection of countries that have proven their disregard for Israel's security," Haley told the U.N. Security Council.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appeared defiant.

"We reject the American decision over Jerusalem. With this position the United States has become no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process," Abbas said in a statement. He did not elaborate further.

France, Italy, Germany, Britain and Sweden called on the United States to "bring forward detailed proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement".

"PROMISE FULFILLED"

Trump's announcement on Wednesday has infuriated the Arab world and upset Western allies. The status of Jerusalem has been one of the biggest obstacles to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians for generations.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future independent state of their own.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East War, to be occupied territory. It includes the Old City, home to sites considered holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.

For decades, Washington, like most of the rest of the international community, held back from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying its status should be determined as part of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. No other country has an embassy there.

The Trump administration argues that the peace process has become moribund, and outdated policies need to be jettisoned for the sides in the conflict to make progress.

Trump has also noted that Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all promised as candidates to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "I fulfilled my campaign promise – others didn't!" Trump tweeted on Friday with a video montage of campaign speeches on the issue by his three predecessors.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday it would still be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to hammer out all other issues surrounding the city in future talks.

"With respect to the rest of Jerusalem, the president … did not indicate any final status for Jerusalem. He was very clear that the final status, including the borders, would be left to the two parties to negotiate and decide."

Still, some Muslim countries view the Trump administration's motives with particular suspicion. As a candidate he proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, and in office he has tried to block entry by citizens of several Muslim-majority states.

"DEATH TO THE DEVIL"

In Ramallah, the seat of Abbas's Palestinian Authority, the leader's religious affairs adviser said Trump's stance was an affront to Islam and Christianity alike.

"America has chosen to elect a president who has put it in enmity with all Muslims and Christians," said Mahmoud al-Habbash.

In Iran, which has never recognized Israel and supports anti-Israel militants, demonstrators burned pictures of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while chanting "Death to the Devil".

In Cairo, capital of Egypt, a U.S. ally which has a peace treaty with Israel, hundreds of protesters who had gathered in Al-Azhar mosque and outside in its courtyard chanted "Jerusalem is Arab! O Trump, you madman, the Arab people are everywhere!"

Al Azhar's Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, rejected an invitation to meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Large demonstrations also took place in Jordan, Tunisia, Somalia, Yemen, Malaysia and Indonesia, and hundreds protested outside the U.S. embassy in Berlin.

France said the United States had sidelined itself in the Middle East. "The reality is they are alone and isolated on this issue," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

(Additional reporting by Ammar Awad, Omar Fahmy and Maayan Lubell, John Irish in Paris and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations)

Southern California ‘like a war zone’ as raging wildfires grow

Fri, 2017-12-08 12:00

CARPINTERIA, Calif. – Wildfires continued to ravage Southern California for a fifth day Friday, with growing blazes and new fires sending rivers of flames through communities and injuring several people.

The largest of the fires spread across more than 200 square miles by Friday morning and crept toward the college town of Santa Barbara, while a new blaze in San Diego County grew quickly and dangerously, forcing a new round of evacuations.

These dangers came as firefighters confronted a half-dozen blazes across the region, fires that imperiled communities and homes, burned through streets and roared over mountains, forcing many to flee and leaving them with no idea when they could return home or if they would have anything to return to. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed and thousands more remained in danger, officials said.

The San Diego County blaze, dubbed the Lilac Fire, started Thursday morning and grew to more than 4,000 acres by that night. Ron Lane, the county's deputy chief administrative officer, said it had never experienced December winds like these before.

The Lilac blaze destroyed at least 20 buildings, and three people suffered burns, according to county officials. Another person was injured by smoke inhalation, while two firefighters combating the blaze were injured. Authorities ordered a wave of evacuations and said more could follow.

"We are nowhere near the end of this," Lane said. "There are thousands of homes that are within the path of these fires."

President Trump on Friday declared an emergency in California and ordered federal aid to the state in response to a request from Gov. Jerry Brown, D, who had declared states of emergencies in four counties amid the fires. Hundreds of schools were shuttered across the region, some transforming into shelters to house people who fled their homes.

Forecasts said the most severe winds that have whipped up and moved the blazes would ease Friday and Saturday, lessening the fire danger some. But the National Weather Service cautioned that the risk of fires will stay elevated through Sunday as conditions remain abnormally dry and breezy.

Veteran firefighters said the blazes across the region, which come just months after another wave of wildfires rampaged through Northern California's wine country, are unlike anything they have ever encountered.

There were some positive signs as the blazes persisted. Authorities had not reported any deaths due to the fires by Thursday. In Los Angeles, where three separate fires had burned homes across the city and county, leading to evacuation orders for more than 100,000 people, officials said the majority of residents who had fled would be allowed to return to their homes.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, D, cautioned that it was "still an insecure time" and warned that high winds could pick up again at any time. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said the forecast of the city's weather and humidity conditions for Friday still put it in the "extreme range" of fire risk.

The Creek Fire, the largest blaze threatening that area, had grown to more than 15,000 acres by Thursday evening and it was 20 percent contained, officials said. That fire had destroyed more than 60 structures, half of them homes, and still threatened another 2,500 other buildings.

All around the region, people encountered nightmarish conditions as flames seemed to come from everywhere. Patricia Hampton, 48, said she and her boyfriend woke up at her house in Ventura on Tuesday night to the sound of helicopters. Outside, the ground was covered in ash, the air so smoky it was hard to breathe as they hopped on bicycles and tried to flee.

"We didn't know what had happened. We rode down into town trying to make sense of what we were seeing – police everywhere, firetrucks, helicopters," she said at a temporary shelter at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. "It was like a war zone. You could hear transformers blowing up."

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, the state's biggest active blaze, continued to grow, burning more than 200 square miles and destroying more than 400 buildings in Ventura County. Another 85 structures were damaged, the county fire department said.

"The fire continues to burn actively with long range spotting when pushed by winds," officials said in an alert posted online Friday morning.

Officials warned that even as the powerful Santa Ana winds weakened, they posed a new risk: an element of unpredictability, particularly dangerous for those fighting the blaze.

The local firefighters confronting the blazes were joined by many who flocked in from out of state as reinforcements, navigating new and unfamiliar terrain as they stepped in to help.

"You had to chew the air before you breathed it," said Shane Nollsch, who had traveled from Lyon County, Nevada, on Wednesday to help fight the fires.

The Thomas Fire covered a massive swath of terrain in Ventura County, edging up against Carpinteria, a city of 13,000 people just down Highway 101 from Santa Barbara. Officials issued voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders for different parts of the town on Thursday night and said the fire was inching closer to Santa Barbara.

Further down the 101, La Conchita, a tiny town, was also threatened by flames on Thursday. Fire crews managed to keep the blaze from the town's edge, but new lines, fanned by offshore winds, remained a peril.

Fred Burris, a Ventura County Fire Department battalion chief, was finishing a 24-hour shift that included helping to protect La Conchita. New fire lines kept popping up Thursday along a 15-mile stretch of Highway 150 that came inland from Carpinteria toward Ojai, a popular vacation getaway set inland that is home to about 8,000 people, officials said.

"Everyone says, 'Yeah, this is the worst,' but it really is the high-water mark for me," said Burris, a 36-year veteran of the department. "We've never seen a fire with this much speed and range."

Along Rincon Mountain Road a few miles south of Carpinteria, fire crews fought several lines of flames throughout Thursday, focused on protecting homes and ranches. A dozen Ventura County fire engines staged along the road near midday, the fire burning in the avocado and citrus orchards along the ridgeline above.

The California National Guard said it has mobilized more than 1,300 personnel to help confront the wildfires.

Many of those who fled left in a hurry. People took what they could and rushed out, some bringing little more than backpacks or the clothes they were wearing.

Ivonna Ferrea, 52, of the Sylmar area, said she grabbed her passport, birth certificate and some money, but little else. She got out safely but has no idea what she will find when shed is allowed to return.

"It's difficult," Ferrea said. "I don't know anything about my home."

Berman and Rosenberg reported from Washington. The Washington Post's Noah Smith in Los Angeles; Soo Youn in Ventura, Calif.; and Jason Samenow in Washington contributed to this report.

Black ice plus rain equals dangerous roads and sidewalks

Fri, 2017-12-08 10:36

A winter weather advisory for Anchorage is in effect until noon Friday. The Glenn Highway is slick with rain, freezing rain and black ice. Anchorage police are urging drivers to slow down.

Conditions are particularly slick between Eklutna and Boniface exits on the Glenn.

"Give yourself extra time," police urged in an alert. "Might be a good idea to top off your windshield wiper fluid — it's messy out there."

Police also reported several crashes at 15th Avenue and Lake Otis Parkway.

In downtown Anchorage, some sidewalks were so slick early Friday that it was hard to walk on them.

Some school buses were delayed Friday morning. Buses with chains just travel more slowly, said Catherine Esary, spokeswoman for Anchorage School District.

"Parents who have selected to receive messages get a text message when a bus is running late," she said in an email. "We appreciate the cooperation of parents in keeping all our children safe.

Rain and freezing rain are continuing to fall but should end by noon, the National Weather Service said. The advisory covers the Anchorage area from Eklutna down to Bird Creek.

Since midnight, 14 vehicle accidents had been reported to Anchorage police including three with injuries. Another five vehicles were in distress, according to police spokesman MJ Thim.

A rapper and an 81-year-old woman finally met in person after bonding over Words With Friends

Fri, 2017-12-08 10:29

The close friendship between the 20-something rapper in New York and the 80-something retiree in Florida started with the word p-h-a-t, which is hip-hop slang for excellent.

Rosalind Guttman, 81, was playing Words With Friends, the online Scrabble-like game, and used the word. She had been randomly paired up with Spencer Sleyon, 22, an aspiring rapper and hip-hop producer.

"I was like, yo, how do you know that word?" Sleyon asked her.

And so they started messaging as they played. When that game was over, they played another and another.

Over time, they became gaming partners across the miles, playing more than 300 games starting in the summer of 2016 and found that they were a superb match. They were competitive, but as the games kept coming, a familiarity developed, and soon, an unlikely friendship.

And last week, they met in person in Palm Beach, hugging and smiling like long-lost relatives. Sleyon posted photos on social media, and their friendship instantly became an internet sensation, with Sleyon tweeting on Dec. 1:

"so last summer i randomly met this 80 y/o woman on words with friends. we played 300+ games together and she actually ended up becoming a good friend of mine. today i got to go to florida and meet her in person"

Sleyon doesn't remember how Guttman knew the word phat. He said he thought she might have just guessed the word.

so last summer i randomly met this 80 y/o woman on words with friends. we played 300+ games together and she actually ended up becoming a good friend of mine. today i got to go to florida and meet her in person

Students caught selling marijuana candies in Bethel High School

Fri, 2017-12-08 09:56

Several students have been caught selling marijuana edibles at Bethel Regional High School, officials said.

The incidents took place from September to early October. Parents contacted the Lower Kuskokwim School District staff with suspicions that their children might be involved.

Superintendent Dan Walker the district worked with the parents and the Bethel Police Department to investigate the drug dealing.

" 'Marijuana oil-laced gummy bears' is the way it was described to me," said Walker. "It was investigated by Bethel Police Department and students involved were issued some discipline."

Walker cited confidentiality in saying he could not comment on the specifics, including who the sellers were and what disciplinary actions have been taken; neither could the Bethel Police Department. Police said that the matter is being taken up by the Juvenile Justice Division and the District Attorney's Office.

Walker says the number of such incidents that have occurred already this school year is unprecedented.

"Given our experience over the last four or five years, you know we might have an incident here and there, but I would say at least five incidents that I can remember off the top of my head this year that required my level of intervention," Walker said.

School district safety coordinator Perry Barr, who oversees everything regarding school safety from drugs and alcohol to security issues, said the candies were sold at $5 apiece.

"The dangerous thing about that is you don't know the potency of the THC that's in the gummy bears," Barr said.

THC is the active ingredient in marijuana. Barr says high doses in edibles can have much more intense and long-lasting effects. He says that the issue of marijuana edibles is a new one for the district.

"Since Alaska legalized marijuana, they also legalized edibles. So marijuana, or the THC, is coming in many different forms. Unfortunately, some of those forms are in candy," said Barr.

Barr says the school district's policy involves educating students and providing treatment resources, including social workers district-wide.

"One of the most important things is actually getting the children to realize how dangerous drugs and alcohol is," Barr said.

This article originally appeared on KYUK.org and is republished here with permission.

Brexit negotiators see breakthrough after months of deadlock

Fri, 2017-12-08 09:10

LONDON — Britain and the European Union on Friday cleared the way to start a crucial new round of talks on British withdrawal from the bloc, announcing a breakthrough after months of deadlock, an internal political standoff in London and a dispute over the future of the Irish border.

The deal would avoid a "hard" border in Ireland; set Britain's divorce bill at between $47 billion and $52 billion, roughly double its original offer; and establish judicial protocols to protect the rights of the 3 million European citizens in Britain and the million British citizens in the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain made a predawn flight to Brussels to make the announcement with Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, after she wrapped up tough negotiations with the small Northern Irish party on which her government depends.

The accord still needs the approval of EU leaders, but May apparently convinced negotiators that enough progress had been made in talks on Britain's withdrawal from the bloc to move on to a new phase of difficult negotiations early next year.

The agreement, a rare step forward in the nearly nine months since Britain formally announced that it would leave the bloc, should allow the start of negotiations on future trade relations with the bloc, as well as on a period of transition for the time immediately after Britain's scheduled departure in March 2019, during which a full trade agreement can ideally be worked out.

May came back to Brussels after several days of negotiations in London with the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Arlene Foster, over language to rule out a "hard border" between Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, part of the European Union. May relies on the 10 votes that Foster's party has in Parliament.

May had to break off talks earlier in the week when Foster suddenly objected to a draft British-EU statement on the border, while the government in Dublin was demanding pledges that there would be no re-imposition of controls on the Irish frontier after Britain leaves the European Union.

But a deal was worked out overnight, and Juncker said the commission was satisfied that "sufficient progress" has been made.

While negotiators managed to finesse the Irish border issue to reach this agreement, the matter seemed far from settled. It will now go to trade negotiators, and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland noted approvingly that there was now a "backstop arrangement," in case they do not resolve the issue.

Under that deliberately ambiguous formulation, Northern Ireland and perhaps all of the United Kingdom would maintain "full alignment" with European rules as needed to "support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement" that ended the Troubles in the North.

The haziness surrounding the arrangement was cause for concern for Foster and the Democratic Unionist Party, who are determined above all to avoid a situation in which the rules governing Northern Ireland diverge from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. That direction, they fear, would ultimately lead to reunification with the South.

So, while welcoming the idea there would be no "red line," or border, running through the Irish Sea, Foster said in a statement, "We cautioned the prime minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form, given the issues which still need to be resolved and the views expressed to us by many of her own party colleagues."

But that snag, should it develop at all, lies in the future, while Friday was portrayed as a day for celebration, however muted by recognition of the hard road ahead.

"This is a difficult negotiation but we have now made a first breakthrough," Juncker said in a statement. "I am satisfied with the fair deal we have reached with the United Kingdom. If the 27 member states agree with our assessment, the European Commission and our chief negotiator Michel Barnier stand ready to begin work on the second phase of the negotiations immediately."

The heads of the member states will meet next week and are expected to confirm the deal next Friday.

"This government will continue to govern in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland and uphold the agreements that have underpinned the huge progress that has been made over the past two decades," May said in a statement on the British government's website.

With the 2019 deadline fast approaching, May has been under growing pressure to make progress. Opponents have criticized the way she has conducted the negotiations, and British businesses have been increasingly anxious to know what rules will apply after British withdrawal, known as Brexit.

May, who lost her parliamentary majority in elections earlier this year, has been assailed by numerous problems at home, where her Cabinet is deeply divided over Brexit policy and two ministers were recently forced to quit over separate issues.

Although supporters of Brexit once insisted that Britain held all the cards in the withdrawal negotiations, it has been May who has made nearly all the concessions. Nevertheless, the hard-line Brexit supporters in May's Cabinet, who have at times said Britain did not owe the EU anything and that the government should walk away rather than accept a bad deal, strongly supported the agreement.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who had said the union could "go whistle" if it thought it would get a hefty payment, congratulated May on "her determination in getting today's deal." Environment Secretary Michael Gove said she had "confounded her critics."

The lone dissenter, it seemed, was Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, who said on Twitter that the deal was "good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation."

Assuming that EU leaders agree at their summit meeting in Brussels to proceed, detailed trade negotiations will begin soon, probably early in the new year. There will also be talks on a transition period, which May wants to run for two years, during which very little will change as business gets ready for a new set of rules.

Time is short. In March, May triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which lays down a two-year timetable for a country leaving the European Union to forge an exit agreement. That can only be extended with the agreement of all member nations.

A trade and transition agreement will have to be concluded well before March 2019 — probably by fall 2018 — in order to provide time for it to be ratified by member nations and by the European Parliament. Most trade experts believe that it will only be possible to agree on an outline trade deal next year, and that negotiations will be extended into the transition period.

The tight time span is not May's only problem. Her Cabinet has yet to agree on its ultimate objectives for Brexit, particularly the extent to which Britain would continue to adopt the standards and rules of the EU, its neighbor and biggest trading partner.

"While being satisfied with this agreement, which is obviously the personal success of Prime Minister Theresa May, let us remember that the most difficult challenge is still ahead," said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. "We all know that breaking up is hard, but breaking up and building a new relation is much harder."

May's colleagues are split between those who want to remain close to the bloc, to minimize the disruption to trade, and hard-line supporters of Brexit, like Johnson. He wants Britain to be able to adopt its own rules and regulations and to be free to strike new free trade deals with non-European nations around the globe.

In a speech in September in Florence, May said that while Britain would leave the customs union and single market, she wanted a much deeper free trade agreement than the one the EU negotiated with Canada. Officials with the bloc insist that Britain cannot be outside the bloc's main economic structures and still receive the same type of market access as those on the inside.

Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger from Berlin, Milan Schreuer from Brussels, and Alan Cowell in London.

Alaska just recorded one of the most extreme snowfall rates on record: 10 inches per hour

Fri, 2017-12-08 07:33

Imagine going into a movie theater to check out the latest science fiction flick and there is not a single flake of snow on the ground. A couple hours later, as the credits start to roll, you mosey outside and are stunned to find your car buried in more than a foot of snow.

Perhaps you'd wonder if you were still watching a movie.

Well that's kind of what happened Wednesday at Alaska's Thompson Pass, outside of the town of Valdez, when an incredible 10 inches of snow piled up in one hour – around 1.7 inches every 10 minutes. This is an absolutely incredible snowfall rate.

The furious storm dropped another 5 inches in 30 minutes, for a remarkable 15 inches in a brief hour and a half period. In the end, 40 inches of heavy wet snow accumulated in 12 hours.

The Thompson Pass storm ranks among the most intense snowfalls that we know of, according to an analysis by Weather Underground's weather historian, Christopher Burt.

Burt said that on Dec. 2, 1966, 12 inches fell in 60 minutes in Copenhagen, N.Y., and on Jan. 26, 1972, Oswego, New York, was inundated with 17.5 inches in a two-hour period. Not surprisingly, both of these records were the result of the snow machine blowing off Lake Ontario.

The Alaska storm was definitely not lake-effect, but a similar amount of moisture was involved. An atmospheric river – a plume of very wet air – transported warm, Pacific Ocean moisture all the way up into the high latitudes and smacked into the mountainous coast of Alaska.

The atmospheric river was aided by the North American Winter Dipole, which is a "fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East," according to The Washington Post's Jason Samenow. "Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half."

Upstream of the massive ridge over the western United States, the atmospheric river bombarded coastal south central Alaska, right along the jet stream.

Valdez, with a population around 4,000, was cut off from the rest of the state when the only overland route in and out of town was buried in an avalanche. On Thursday, the Richardson Highway was sitting under 20 feet of snow.

[Highway to Valdez reopened after avalanche]

No stranger to big snow dumps, Valdez and the coastal Chugach Mountain range get a ridiculous amount of snow each winter. Valdez, sitting in a cove on the Prince William Sound, is considered the snowiest town in the United States, averaging a whopping 300 inches per year.

Thompson Pass, at 2,678 feet above sea level, is the snowiest reporting station in the nation, getting between 600 to 900 inches per year. Compare that to the average of 180 inches at Snowshoe, West Virginia, and 460 inches at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Republicans know this tax is an ‘abomination,’ so why is it still in their bill?

Fri, 2017-12-08 07:32

The phones of House and Senate leaders are ringing off the hook right now, as CEOs and wealthy donors lobby them furiously to lower the top income tax rate and insert costly carve-outs into the GOP tax bill to protect their business tax preferences. Too bad regular taxpayers don't have a direct line to the conferees hammering out the final bill to plead their cases. Because it seems as though they have been forgotten.

Case in point: At the last minute, Senate Republicans changed their version of the tax bill to keep the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) – a pernicious parallel tax code which they had promised to scrap that requires corporations and millions of individuals to calculate their taxes twice and pay whichever rate is higher. On hearing the news, corporate lobbyists swung into action, pressing GOP leaders to get rid of the corporate AMT in the final bill. And their efforts seem to be paying off. The corporate AMT "has to be eliminated," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Monday.

But what about individuals? Who is championing AMT repeal for them?

Enter Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who is fighting to get the individual AMT removed from the final tax reform bill as well. "Repeal of the individual AMT has been a fundamental element of Republican tax reform campaign promises for years," he told me. "By leaving the individual AMT in place, we would be punishing hardworking Americans and doing virtually nothing to simplify the tax code."

Burr is right. Congress created the AMT in 1969 after the Treasury Department reported that 155 high-income filers were using tax breaks to avoid paying any income taxes. In 1970, it affected only 20,000 very high-income taxpayers. But today, the number of people impacted has ballooned to 5.2 million.

Most of those who currently pay the AMT are not from the highest-income households for which the tax was intended, but the middle and upper-middle class – folks who have enough money to be a ripe target of revenue raisers, but not enough to have influence on Capitol Hill. They are mostly two-earner households with mortgages to pay, who give to charity and have children.

The AMT also hits the families of our fallen warriors. According to Burr, children who receive an annuity from the Uniformed Services Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) can see the AMT eat up as much as 26 percent of their benefit. No Republican tax bill should punish individuals like these – especially not to pay for tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest among us.

Members of the Trump administration know that the AMT is a horrible tax. In 2006, Kevin Hassett – now chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers – called the AMT "an economic abomination" and urged Congress to "erase it from the tax code completely." Yet instead of erasing it, Republicans are retaining it.

Keeping the individual AMT means many Americans will see no tax cut under the GOP bill, Burr says. It defeats the entire purpose of tax reform. GOP leaders promised to make the tax code simpler and fairer. But the AMT increases tax complexity and raises compliance costs for 10 million American taxpayers, who must calculate their taxes using two separate systems every year – and then pay whichever rate is the highest. That is not simple or fair. It is obscene.

GOP leaders are focused on passing corporate tax cuts to fuel economic growth, which is a good thing. But they seem to have lost sight of the fact that reducing taxes for individuals is important, too. According to the Tax Policy Center, even before the AMT retention, 1 in 4 Americans will not get any tax cut under the Senate bill, and 14 percent of middle-class Americans will get a tax increase of $1,170.

That is a problem for the GOP. If Americans see the GOP borrowing $1.5 trillion to pay for tax cuts, and they end up getting either no tax cut or paying more next year, they will punish Republicans at the polls. Instead of more carve-outs for corporations and fat-cat donors, Republicans should give tax relief to more individuals, especially the middle class.

Will Burr vote no on final passage if the individual AMT is not repealed? He hopes it won't come to that. "I am confident the House and Senate conferees will fix the individual AMT in the final tax reform bill," he says. Let's hope he's right. If Republicans get rid of the AMT for corporations, but not for individuals, that will send a clear message to American voters about where the GOP's interests lie.

Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, writes a twice-weekly online column for The Washington Post.

14 U.N. peacekeepers killed in attack by militiamen in Congo

Fri, 2017-12-08 07:07

UNITED NATIONS/ABIDJAN – Suspected militiamen killed at least 14 U.N. peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers in an attack on a United Nations base in eastern Congo on Thursday night, the U.N. mission said on Friday.

A further 53 U.N. troops were wounded, it said.

The mission, known as MONUSCO, said it was coordinating a joint response with the Congolese army as well as medical evacuations of the wounded from the base in North Kivu's Beni territory.

Rival militia groups still control swathes of mineral-rich eastern Congo nearly a decade and a half after the official end of a 1998-2003 war that killed millions of people, most from hunger and disease.

Gilbert Kambale, the president of an activist group in Beni, said the U.N. soldiers targeted in the attack were Tanzanian. A U.N. official confirmed that information.

Kambale said the attack occurred about 50 km (30 miles) northeast of Beni city on the road that leads to the Uganda border, near where militants killed at least 26 people in an ambush in October.

Established in 2010, MONUSCO, the United Nations's largest peacekeeping mission, has recorded 93 fatalities of military, police and civilian personnel.

"Our thoughts and prayers with families and our colleagues in MONUSCO. Reinforcements are on scene and medical evacuations by mission ongoing," the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Joe Bavier and Michelle Nichols)

Alaska chef Laura Cole makes her ‘Top Chef’ debut

Fri, 2017-12-08 06:49

A few years ago, MTV produced a program called "Slednecks," a show about youths drinking in Wasilla. At that point, I made the bold claim that we (Alaska) were going to state (for TV). I take that back. Now, there is an Alaskan on "Top Chef" and we are actually going to state.

"Top Chef" is a legit good cooking competition show on Bravo that premiered Season 15 on Thursday. And by "legit good," I mean people who read The New Yorker watch and enjoy it un-ironically. This season takes place in Denver, Colorado, and is really focusing on the rustic — which should suit Alaska chef Laura Cole, of 229 Parks Restaurant, well.

In the season premiere, we meet the 15 chefs from all over the country. They specialize in cooking different cuisines, from "Pakistani street food" to "soul foods meet Amish" (whatever that means). Their first challenge is to prepare something for a potluck, and Chef Laura Cole finishes in the middle of the pack with an eggplant dish.

My early favorites are two men, Tyler Anderson and Bruce Kalman, who bond over being the "fat boys with sleep apnea machines," and therefore room together in their shared house. They also recruit another chubbier man to their room by saying "he's younger, but he'll have one soon."

Chef Laura Cole's narrative is a little different and 99 percent focused on her Alaska-ness. In advance of their first elimination challenge, they drive to a Whole Foods to go shopping, and Cole has a conversation with chef Joseph Flamm from Chicago, Illinois. They are discussing her unique restaurant near Denali National Park, and Cole says, "As far as Alaskan proteins, we have seven reindeer going to slaughter this summer."

In an interview, Flamm then says, "I watch a lot of "Alaska: The Last Frontier." Laura seems like she falls in line with an Alaskan lady. I mean that as a compliment." As we all knew, you can't go anywhere as an Alaskan without eventually talking about Alaska reality TV shows. Even in a car on the way to Whole Foods on another reality TV show.

Cole then gets to Whole Foods and the camera follows her the entire time they are at the store. Since we don't have Whole Foods in Alaska, she is the only chef that doesn't know the layout. However, she says that from watching every past episode of "Top Chef" with her son, she knows to go to the meat department first. TV research for the win.

Their first challenge is a modern take on "meat and potatoes" that they'll serve to 200 people in downtown Denver. Cole decides to make a flank steak sandwich with potato bread, but after all the ovens are being used, she has to improvise on the bread front. She compares this to a moose coming through your garden and eating all your cabbages. She's really toeing the Alaska plotline and I appreciate it.

She ends up once again in the middle of the pack. Time will tell where she'll end up on "Top Chef," but I double watched the "This season on…" and there were only a few clips of her, so I'm not hopeful that she'll bring enough drama to get much screen time. "Top Chef" airs Thursday at 9 p.m. AST on Bravo.

['Edge of Alaska' is back, with farmsteading and snowmachine rescues in McCarthy]

[Are reality TV shows set in Alaska finally going out of style?]

Bitcoin frenzy: As the digital currency’s value soars, so do fears

Fri, 2017-12-08 06:34

Bitcoin soared past the $17,000 mark on Thursday, a dizzying run for a digital currency that was worth less than $1,000 at the start of the year and was once largely the preoccupation of technologists or those looking to avoid scrutiny to launder money or buy drugs and weapons online.

The fast rise – it had gone up more than 40 percent this week alone – is creating a buying frenzy among eager speculators around the world and helping push bitcoin into the mainstream. But it is also forcing U.S. regulators to grapple with whether to legitimize a product that operates outside the control of any government or financial institution.

But on Friday, Bitcoin lost almost a fifth of its value in 10 hours, sparking fears the market may be heading for a price collapse.

In a hectic day on Thursday, bitcoin leapt from below $16,000 to $19,500 in less than an hour on the U.S.-based GDAX, one of the biggest exchanges globally.

"This correction is an appropriate one after such frenzied trading," said Nigel Green, founder and chief executive of financial consultancy deVere Group, in a note to clients. "We should expect to see bitcoin see-sawing in coming weeks."

The run-up in price comes as bitcoin enthusiasts prepare to reach a new landmark. On Sunday, a bitcoin product will trade for the first time on a U.S. financial market, making it almost as easy to bet on the virtual currency as oil, corn or the euro.

The move will give it a "veneer" of legitimacy, said Mark Williams, a former Federal Reserve official who teaches finance at Boston University. "From an investors standpoint, that could give it a false sense of protection."

Indeed, many industry experts warn that the United States is not prepared for bitcoin's entry into the financial markets. As bitcoin prices were setting records, hackers this week reportedly made off with $70 million in the digital currency after targeting NiceHash, a cryptocurrency platform. The Futures Industry Association, which includes Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, has complained that the process for investing in bitcoin is moving too fast. "We remain apprehensive with the lack of transparency and regulation of" bitcoin, the group said in a letter earlier this week.

Such warnings haven't stopped the craze surrounding the currency, as the sharp rise in value creates ever more demand around the world. In South Korea, ordinary people are pouring their life savings into bitcoins and other digital currencies. In Venezuela, after observing the rise of bitcoin, the government announced it would launch its own virtual currency called "The Petro" to get around U.S. sanctions.

Bitcoin was first created in 2009 under mysterious circumstances – little is known about who originally came up with the idea. It launched as a digital currency – without physical coins such as dimes or nickels – and was accompanied by an online payment network, similar to Paypal. But unlike Paypal, the bitcoin transaction system is not owned by anyone.

Its decentralized, democratic nature gave it special appeal among technologists – and some international criminals. Only buyers and sellers- rather than the central bank of a government — can change its value. Transactions between accounts are recorded on online ledgers and prices posted publicly on exchanges such as Coinbase's GDAX, one of the indexes that tracks the value of bitcoin. GDAX on Thursday reported bitcoin's price of more than $17,000.

Cryptocurrencies initially won fans among technology enthusiasts and people trying to avoid traditional currency markets. Last week, for instance, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced the country would develop its own cryptocurrency, dubbed "the Petro," to defeat Trump administration sanctions.

It has also proven popular with people seeking to buy drugs on off-the-grid online marketplaces without being detected by the police. When federal authorities shut down one such marketplace called Silk Road in 2014, they seized 26,000 bitcoins worth about $3.6 million.

"The people who started to use bitcoin years ago were those that couldn't use anything else," said Nicolas Christin, a security researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.

Confidence in the virtual currency has been repeatedly shaken by spectacular failures, including the 2014 implosion of the largest bitcoin exchange of its time, Mt. Gox, which went bankrupt after $400 million in bitcoin was allegedly stolen. Hackers remain a threat and sometimes bitcoins just disappear after their owner forgets or loses the passwords for their accounts.

"Ten percent of bitcoin that has been generated to date has been lost forever," estimated Williams from Boston University. "That is billions and billions of dollars."

But these hiccups have been followed by quick rebounds. Some retailers, such as Overstock.com and Subway, began accepting bitcoins as payment several years ago and bitcoin ATMs are available in some cities, making purchase of the currency easier. Brokers such as San Francisco-based Coinbase have developed apps to made it easy to buy and sell bitcoins from a personal computer or smartphone.

Yet, for Wall Street investors, bitcoins have remained a fringe product, too awkward – and potentially hazardous – to buy and sell. On a typical day, the price of a single bitcoin can rise or fall 10 percent or more, the kind of fickleness that would send panic through traditional stock markets.

But investors are finding bitcoin difficult to ignore as its collective value races past $250 billion, more than the gross domestic product of Vietnam and Greece.

The currency's growing popularity has split the investment world. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, has dismissed bitcoin as a "fraud." "If you're stupid enough to buy it, you'll pay the price for it one day," he said last month.

Yet, Bill Miller, a legendary investor famous for producing better returns than the Standard & Poor's 500 for 15 years straight before hitting a rough stretch, has been investing in bitcoin for years. Bitcoin remains "speculative" and could easily fall 50 percent, he said. But "it's been a big winner for us."

Until now, investors who want to wager on bitcoin prices in traditional ways have had to do so in Europe or Asia. But these overseas marketplaces are often too small and loosely regulated to attract large U.S. investors, said Michael Unetich, vice president of cryptocurrencies at Trading Technologies, which provides trading software. Some have even gone out of business or been victimized by hackers, who steal their bitcoins, he said.

"They are not seen as legitimate by institutional investors" such as hedge funds, said Unetich.

There's been an ambivalence in the United States. Earlier this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission rejected an application from Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twins famous for suing Mark Zuckerberg over the creation of Facebook, to create a bitcoin product over concerns such exchanges could be vulnerable to "fraudulent or manipulative acts and practices." The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, another financial regulator, has been slow to adopt new rules that could potentially legitimize the bitcoin market, industry experts say.

William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, recently said he remained cautious about the digital currency, saying it was not a "stable store of value and it doesn't really have the characteristics that you'd like to have in a currency."

Yet, he said, "It is something we are starting to think about: what would it mean to have a digital currency, what would it mean to offer it, do we actually need it."

An eary test could come this week. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is allowing the Cboe Global Markets and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to offer a bitcoin product, for example, that will permit investors to bet on future price changes. The better-known Nasdaq could follow next year.

Cboe has already received significant interest about its new bitcoin product, said John Deters, its chief strategy officer.

"The interest we have seen is probably more broad based than anything we have seen before," said Deters. "We're really offering something different, a truly regulated and well surveilled [bitcoin] marketplace with transparent rules and cutting edge technology."

Yet, Deters acknowledges, the bitcoin craze that has sent the value of the virtual currency soaring, could dissipate once it hits the regulatory rigors of a traditional trading market.

"Nobody knows, we will see what happens when people start to engage," he said. "I think we're modest in terms of the expectation."

For now, experts urge investors to be wary. There are dozens of venues that quote slightly different bitcoin prices, many of which are small and could potentially be manipulated, they said. Also, some bitcoin enthusiasts are hoarding the virtual currency rather than using it to make a purchase, worried that its price will go up even further, rendering their purchase laughably expensive.

"As the price skyrockets, it is hard to justify selling your bitcoin to buy a piece of furniture when tomorrow you could afford to buy two pieces of furniture," said Jai Massari, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, who advises clients on financial regulation.

But those accumulating bitcoins could try to sell just as quickly, and there's no certainly they will find ready buyers, experts said, leading prices to fall as fast as they rose.

– – –

The Washington Post's Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, December 8, 2017

Thu, 2017-12-07 23:18

Bring back Saturday newspaper

I have a question: Why do you still advertise as "Anchorage Daily News" when you aren't a daily paper any longer, since you no longer publish a Saturday edition? It would be nice if you reinstated the Saturday edition and actually became a daily paper once again.

— Herbert Gray
Anchorage

2-party system ruining democracy

The Republican and Democratic parties are private corporations with an iron grip on nationally recognized party status. As much as they vilify single-party Communism, one thing they agree on is no third party. Either of them would wipe out the other, making the U.S. a one-party nation if they could.

The Democrats and Republicans have created barriers to the development of nationally recognized third parties. In one hundred and fifty years not one political movement has navigated its way to ballot access in all fifty states as required for national party recognition.

The U.S. is the only western government with only two parties.

It is time for the courts to consider whether or not the barriers to ballot access created by the two nationally recognized parties secured an unconstitutional monopoly on political power, denying the majority of Americans the right to associate with and vote for candidates who share their convictions.

If the Republican Party of Alaska can deny ballot access to a professed Republican; if Democratic Party officials can manipulate primary election outcomes, as they did with Hillary, this nation is no longer a democracy.

— Ray Metcalfe
Anchorage

Where is pot revenue going?

Amazing amount of money being collected in taxes for marijuana sales. One question — where is that money going? Hopefully not the "general fund." If I missed the location, I apologize. Wonder if it could go for some sort of grant application process for needy organizations? Just a thought.

— Marilyn Montgomery
Palmer

Patients must be the bottom line

I read with interest the article about Dr. Gross. I too am a physician — family medicine — and have practiced in Southeast Alaska for more than 13 years. Physicians' costs make up about 9 percent of the total cost of the health care expenditure in this country. We are the only industrialized nation without a national health care plan. Our infant mortality ranks 25th in the world. Our life expectancy has declined. We as a nation need to realize that prevention (lifestyle modification), not procedures, will be the answer to many of our ailments. Heart disease and cancer are still the No. 1 and No. 2 killers in this country. We know that smoking, obesity and diet are all contributors to these two families of illnesses. Unfortunately these issues can be the hardest to modify.

I suggest that if Dr. Gross really wants to change the delivery of health care, he support a universal-payer plan that would help reduce overall costs. When the bottom line is the stockholder and not the patient, there is a moral hazard that cannot be resolved, even with the best of intentions.

— J Russell Bowman
Juneau

Trump, Moore should resign too

Sen. Murkowski: On Wednesday, Dec. 6, your Facebook page stated this:

"We are seeing a culture of harassment and assault being exposed on almost a daily basis. Whether you are in the media, politics, or anywhere else abuse of power is unacceptable, wrong, and shouldn't be tolerated at any place at any level. We can no longer turn a blind eye to it. Senator Franken must know that and that is why he must step down."

I completely agree. Harassment, assault and abuse of power and should never be tolerated. Given that we all agree, I am sure you will be making the same statements about

POTUS as well as withdrawing your support for Roy Moore, both participating fully in game of power and abuse.

When will you be making your demands that they step down as well?

— Nancy Stone
Anchorage

ANWR numbers don't add up

Thursday's coverage of the latest North Slope oil and gas lease sales should prompt readers to question the myth being put forward by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the oil industry's other allies in Congress as they attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

Tracts in the NPR-A just sold for an average of less than $15 per acre. To reach the $1 billion in federal revenue that Murkowski claims would be raised by leasing the refuge's sensitive coastal plain, the per-acre price would have to be 166 times higher.

Murkowski's bill calls for leasing 800,000 acres in the Arctic Refuge. Every one of those acres — and it is rare for all acres to be leased in a sale — would have to sell for $2,500 to raise enough revenue to cover the 50/50 split with the state and provide $1 billion to the federal government. Does anyone believe an oil company would pay more than 150 times as much for an acre in the refuge than it would in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska?

The numbers don't make economic sense, and Sen. Murkowski is using them to trick Congress into selling off land that is sacred to the Gwich'in Nation and the American people.

— Nicole Whittington-Evans
Alaska regional director
The Wilderness Society
Anchorage

Bipartisan discussion lacking

What I dislike most about the GOP tax plan is the complete lack of bipartisan discussion and public input into the legislative process. Nearly half of senators are Democrats, but they were not involved in the development of the bill. I doubt they will have input into the Senate/House compromise. This happened recently with the GOP plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. When asked why no Democrats were involved in the development of the health care overhaul, Donald Trump said "Oh, they would just want to add things."

Sen. Murkowski spoke about her dissatisfaction with the lack of legislative process on the health care bill and the failure to reach across the aisle, but I notice she had little to say about the tax plan. Give her a few barrels of oil and she gets in line. When are we going to demand that our House and Senate adopt a more inclusive approach to legislation? Millions of Americans feel they have no say in their government. Who is supposed to fix this mess? The voters? Someday, perhaps. But for now it's up to our current senators and congressmen, and it doesn't look as if they're particularly motivated.

— Connie Nuss
Wasilla

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

UAA’s emergency hockey goalie started school year as sports media intern

Thu, 2017-12-07 20:22

UAA freshman Ronan Klancher was a sports media intern and nearly two years removed from his last competitive hockey game when he asked UAA hockey coach Matt Thomas about joining the Seawolves as a walk-on.

UAA had only two goalies on its roster — four-year starter Olivier Mantha and freshman Brody Claeys — after freshman Kristian Stead suffered a season-ending knee injury in September.

One day after taking video of a hockey press conference for UAA athletics, Klancher turned off the camera and asked Thomas one last question: Do you guys need another goalie?

To his surprise, Thomas said yes.

"I kind of just asked Matt, 'Hey, you guys need another goalie because I'd heard Stead was out for the year?' " Klancher said. "It was kind of like why not just ask? What's the worst that can happen?"

Thomas recognized Klancher from his time playing hockey for  Service High and UAA needed another body in practice to relieve some stress off Mantha and Claeys. The timing and fit were perfect.

"We found out that he was a full-time student and was working in athletics and it seemed to be a good fit," Thomas said.

The process to clear Klancher for Division I athletics was long and daunting — he had to basically submit his entire life story and medical history, "including every stubbed toe," he said — but he was eventually allowed to join the team in November.

His primary role is to go into the net whenever Mantha or Claeys need a breather in practice and he often stays late after practice to take shots from guys who want a little extra work.

"I do whatever the players want me to do," Klancher said. "I'm there to help them, I'm not there for myself."

Klancher said even though he's just a walk-on emergency goalie, and he doesn't travel with the team, his short time with UAA is the best he's ever been treated on the ice.

"They're a funny bunch of guys and they care about their own team," Klancher said. "They treat me like I belong there, which I'm pretty sure I don't, but they're treating me like I do."

Klancher grew up in Anchorage and started playing hockey when he was 6 years old. He chose goalie because it was the position of his older brother, Angus, and he stuck with it because he liked the pressure.

"It's the most important position on the team," he said.

[Success is in the details for UAA goaltender Mantha]

In high school, Klancher posted a respectable .957 save percentage and suffered one regular-season loss during his sophomore season in 2014-15. The Cougars won the regular-season Cook Inlet Conference title that season before falling in the first round of the state playoffs.

But Klancher's high-school career was cut short after he suffered a bad concussion during his junior season in January 2016. He missed the rest of the season and decided to sit out his senior year to focus on academics and baseball.

At 5-foot-9, Klancher knew his chances of playing hockey beyond high school were slim and he doubted he'd ever don the mask and goalie pads again.

It wasn't until the injury to Stead that Klancher thought there was even a glimmer of a hope to play again. The opportunity happened by being in the right place at the right time and having Thomas give him a chance.

"He's been good, he's done his job and what we've asked him to do," Thomas said. "Anytime you're out of the competitive hockey world for any stretch of time, it's tough to get back into it. He's a guy who's been working hard."

Klancher is also still doing his internship with UAA athletics. He helps manage the UAA sports Twitter accounts and takes video and edits the press conferences after games.

The best part, though, is helping broadcast the hockey games, he said. Klancher does UAA's home hockey broadcasts with announcer Kurt Haider on WCHA.tv and GCI cable Channels 1 and 907.

The days are long, sometimes starting with early morning hockey practices and ending at 11 p.m. after UAA hockey or basketball games.

And Klancher knows he's only on the Seawolves squad to fulfill a very specific role on the team, but he's just happy to be contributing to a team he grew up idolizing as a kid.

"I've always watched UAA since I was like 2," he said. "I've been coming to the games every single year.

"Now I'm one of the guys."

Pebble has no place in Alaska’s future

Thu, 2017-12-07 19:41

My training and expertise are in economics and finance, but from time to time — when needed — I know how to do battle. For over a decade, I have taken on the battle against the Pebble mine because, more than any other development proposal in our state's history, it threatens to forfeit to foreign mining companies an invaluable part of our heritage, something Alaskans cannot afford to lose and will never stop defending: Bristol Bay, the last great salmon fishery on the planet.

No one said this battle would be easy. In fact, a decade ago, to uninformed investors, Pebble seemed like a safe bet. Its major early partners — Anglo-American, Rio Tinto and Mitsubishi — were as formidable a mining trio as you will find anywhere. Alaska is a state with a long history of mining, big enough for development of all kinds if done responsibly, with respect for the natural resources and the wide-open spaces that attracted us and our ancestors in the first place. Alaska was attractive to miners in the past.

However, after 10 years of intense but successful opposition led by Alaskans, what was the Pebble Partnership now consists of a sole remaining partner, a Canadian exploration company called Northern Dynasty Minerals. Northern Dynasty is surviving month to month, looking for gullible new partners and potential investors, ideally with a short memory.

[Pebble Mine gets no better with time]

Northern Dynasty has no financial or technical capacity to actually develop the Pebble mine. Its share price value has plummeted from a high of $21 per share six years ago to under $2 per share today.

But the Pebble mine is, and has always been, doomed, and there are three fundamental reasons why.

What are the three essential things about Pebble that Alaskans understand, that the former Pebble partners learned the hard way, that Northern Dynasty probably now realizes but is not saying, and that, if you are a potential investor, you need to know?

• First, any project that threatens our salmon has no future. Bristol Bay and the watershed that feeds it are the home of the world's greatest, most productive wild salmon fishery on the planet. It produces 30 million to 60 million wild salmon a year — 60 million just this summer — and it generates $1.5 billion a year in revenue, while supporting an estimated 14,000 jobs. It is one of our most powerful and sustainable economic engines, and we will not risk it.

[Pebble unveils long-awaited smaller mine plan]

• Second, because the proposed mine would be built in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, it puts our salmon at risk, and there is nothing Northern Dynasty can do to change that. It can promise to design a smaller mine, to build the mine in phases, to engineer a fail-safe containment, or even to enhance the salmon habitat — and in fact, it is promising these things right now to anyone who will listen. But ultimately those promises are nothing but public relations.  There is no way to build, operate, and maintain an open-pit mine on the scale of Pebble without damaging Bristol Bay's salmon habitat; and anyone who believes otherwise just is not paying attention.

• Third, by unprecedented numbers, Alaskans have made clear since 2014 that they do not want the Pebble mine and will never stop fighting it. In 2014, 65 percent of voters statewide approved the Bristol Bay Forever initiative prohibiting mining projects in the Bristol Bay watershed that threaten salmon or their habitat.

In fact, the Bristol Bay Forever initiative won every single voting precinct in Alaska. It is now the law of this state, overwhelmingly endorsed by the voters, and unmistakable in its clarity and purpose. For years, numerous polls have shown broad-based opposition to the Pebble mine within the Bristol Bay region — among Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, businesses and political perspectives across the spectrum. Numbers like this in opposition to development are rarely seen in this state, as any informed investor understands.

And the opposition is not going to go away. It has been said that before the Pebble mine came along, many of us had never met a mine we did not like. As a resource state, mining is an industry we need and depend on. But we do not need the Pebble mine, or any mine like it, in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. As a lifelong Alaskan, I am determined to continue to work toward stopping it.

No one ever expected this battle to be easy, but it is a battle Alaskans have to win, however long it takes, for our state, our salmon, our communities, our people and our future.

Bob Gillam is a lifelong Alaskan and CEO of McKinley Capital Management, LLC, a global asset manager based in Alaska with clients all over the world. Gillam was one of the prime sponsors of the Bristol Bay Initiative and has worked for more than a decade to protect the salmon and people of Bristol Bay from the Pebble mine.

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

It’s time for a new dialogue on Pebble

Thu, 2017-12-07 19:39

In today's hyper-political world, there seems to be an endless supply of issues and events to shake one's confidence in the human experiment. But to me, there's one threat that rises above them all.

Increasingly, our society has turned its back on reason — on listening to one another and forming opinions based on fact, rather than hearing and believing  only those facts that support our (usually self-serving) pre-existing views.

This troubling sign of the times is one the reasons I came out of retirement this fall to join the Pebble team. The willful distortions and premature judgments that have dogged this project over the past 12 years are every bit as intellectually dishonest as those that have kept Alaskans from safely developing ANWR, and stand as a glaring example of our society's growing inability to reason and make sound judgments based on observable facts.

The other reason I came out of retirement is concern for our state, its economy and citizens. Pebble is a hugely valuable asset that belongs to all Alaskans. Given Alaska's fiscal crisis, and the clear need for economic diversification and good-paying jobs in rural parts of our state, we simply can't afford to turn our back on an opportunity as significant as Pebble without fully and rationally evaluating its potential.

Now, that's not to say the work of those who opposed Pebble in the past is entirely without merit. Opponents like Bob Gillam, Bristol Bay Native Corp. and others have clearly forced the project's developers to rethink their proposal — making it both substantially smaller, and adding significant new environmental safeguards.

Alaskans will get a chance to judge the relative benefits and risks of the new Pebble mine for themselves beginning in a few short weeks, when we submit permit applications to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

What I hope and believe is that Alaskans are ready for a new dialogue on Pebble — one based on a project design proposed by its developers, and on science and other objective facts as vetted and confirmed by federal and state regulatory agencies and the third-party experts they employ. It's time to put the old arguments and alarming rhetoric to bed, and have an honest debate about Pebble.

[Pebble unveils long-awaited smaller mine plan]

Undoubtedly, Alaskans will continue to hear that Pebble is the "wrong mine in the wrong place." But I believe they'll come to understand that Pebble is actually a smaller mine than Donlin Gold, a project that's earned widespread support. They'll learn that the 223-square-mile watershed areas in which Pebble's primary facilities are sited produce less than 1/10th of 1 percent of Bristol Bay's famed sockeye.

Now, Pebble's goal is to fully protect even the modest proportion of Bristol Bay salmon that exist near our project. But to suggest that the entirety of Southwest Alaska is the "wrong place" for resource development — a region in which 70 percent of the land base is already locked up in parks, refuges and preserves — is simply not a rational argument.

Alaskans will continue to be told that all mines are environmental disasters. But the rational among us will know the experience and evidence of our home state tells a different story.

All of Alaska's hardrock mines have exemplary track records when it comes to protecting water quality and aquatic habitat. In fact, several actually contributed to improved habitat conditions for fish over those that existed pre-development. Why should Pebble be any different?

[Pebble and Native corporation team up, frustrating mine opponents]

In fact — and again, partially in response to the concern and close scrutiny of our critics — Pebble is going above and beyond industry norms in several important areas. We have eliminated the use of cyanide at our mine. We will incorporate an engineered liner in our tailings facility as an additional barrier to protect water quality.

We have eliminated waste rock piles from our design. And we have added several additional engineering features to substantially bolster the factor of safety of our tailings embankment. The facility is being designed as if a fault ran immediately beneath it, when no evidence of such a seismic feature exists.

I have every confidence that the project we take into permitting later this month will be safe, and that we have the scientific knowledge and technological know-how to be successful.

I'm also mindful that Alaskans remain to be convinced. The federal and state permitting process about to commence is the right forum for Alaskans to state their concerns, to ask their questions and to inform themselves — with a reasoned consideration of the facts — whether Pebble is safe and a good project for Alaska.

It's time for a new, more rational dialogue on Pebble. And it begins soon.

Mark Hamilton is president emeritus of the University of Alaska and a retired major general, U.S. Army. He currently serves as executive vice president, external affairs for the Pebble Limited Partnership.

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

1 dead in collision near Talkeetna

Thu, 2017-12-07 19:26

A vehicle collision Thursday afternoon left one person dead, Alaska State Troopers said in a written statement.

Around 1 p.m., two vehicles collided near Mile 97 of the Parks Highway near Talkeetna. Everyone involved in the crash was taken to a hospital, where one person was pronounced dead, troopers wrote.

The deceased's name was not being released Thursday, and the investigation was ongoing, troopers wrote.

Around the same time Thursday, in a separate crash, three vehicles collided near Mile 91 of the Parks Highway, said Ken Barkley, fire deputy director with Matanuska-Susitna Borough emergency services.

In that collision, there were no serious injuries, but the roads were so slippery that emergency responders had to drive at 30 miles per hour, Barkley said.

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