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Esteban Santiago researched layout of Los Angeles airport days before deadly Fort Lauderdale shooting, feds say

Mon, 2018-05-21 16:11

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Three days before carrying out the deadly mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s main airport, Esteban Santiago researched the layout of the Los Angeles international airport, prosecutors revealed Monday.

Santiago used his cellphone to look up a map of the LAX airport on Jan. 3, 2017, prosecutors wrote in court records. They did not elaborate on why Santiago traveled instead to South Florida.

That same day, Santiago purchased a one-way ticket on a Delta flight from Anchorage, Alaska, where he lived, to Fort Lauderdale, via Minneapolis. The flight departed on Jan. 5 and landed in Fort Lauderdale around lunchtime on Jan. 6.

Santiago, 28, is expected to plead guilty to multiple charges this week and will be sentenced to five life terms plus 120 years in federal prison, according to court records filed Monday.

He is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Wednesday in federal court and the sentencing will be scheduled in several weeks. Prosecutors have agreed to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for his guilty pleas to 11 charges linked to the Jan. 6, 2017, mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s international airport.

[As his life unraveled in Anchorage, Esteban Santiago slipped through all the cracks]

Santiago does not appear to have any significant assets but if he ever comes into any money, he must turn it over as restitution to the victims. The plea agreement includes any money paid to him, or anyone on his behalf, for “writing, interviews, documentaries, movies, or other information disclosed by the defendant, including, but not limited to access to the defendant, photographs or drawing of or by the defendant, or any other type of artifact or memorabilia.”

Five people died in the mass shooting: Mary Louise Amzibel, 69; Michael Oehme, 56; Olga Weltering, 84; Shirley Timmons, 70; and Terry Andres, 62.

And six people, who are only identified by their initials in court records, were seriously injured. Some of the injured were spouses of the murder victims.

Authorities also revealed new details about those injuries in Monday’s court filing.

“J.S. suffered a gunshot wound through her shoulder. B.G. suffered a gunshot wound through his left arm that resulted in a life-threatening arterial injury requiring emergency surgery in order to stem the bleeding and to transplant a vein from his leg in order to effect a repair of that artery,” prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement.

“C.S.T. suffered a gunshot wound to the head resulting in the loss of his left eye and the excision [removal] of part of his skull in order to remove damaged brain tissue. C.P. suffered a gunshot wound to his left wrist, requiring surgery to insert metal parts in order to reconstruct the bones in that wrist. K.K.O. suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, which lodged in her upper back, causing fractures to two vertebrae.”

School shooters are a symptom of a culture that is ill

Mon, 2018-05-21 16:08

I know two Greek-American kids who brought shotguns to high school.

My brother Peter and me.

There were two 12-gauge shotguns. We were going hunting.

I suppose that sounds crazy, after what happened at the Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday.

Another mass school shooting, another horror show with at least 10 students and staff dead, at least 10 others wounded and a disturbed shooting suspect in custody who left explosive devices to kill more people.

His name is Dimitrios Pagourtzis, and he’s 17.

He allegedly used his father’s shotgun and a .38, and so the father is responsible for this, too.

I can’t say yet if he’s legally responsible. But he’s morally responsible. Those were his guns. That was his son.

If he didn’t know that something was deadly wrong with his son, he should have. He’s the father. Ten innocent people are dead.

We live in a legalistic culture now, where responsibility is narrowly defined. The lawyers come up with reasons to mitigate responsibility.

But in my view, the father is the father. The guns were his. The suspect is his son.

As I write this, after the politicians in Texas had their say, the tired liturgy began anew.

You know how this goes. You’ve seen it before: anger, tribal chant and politics, those who want armed security at schools, those who say there are too many guns in America already.

We slide into our default positions. We think by hashtag.

The uglier our thoughts, the harsher they are, the better. People let their anger roll off their thumbs and onto the Twitter accounts. You can watch the number of your Twitter followers grow when you call people like me a “gun fetishist.”

Or you can posture and preen, blame President Trump and the Bill of Rights, and signal your virtue to people you don’t know.

It has nothing to do with understanding.

It has nothing to do with seeing these boy shooters at schools as something more than mere platforms for our gun politics.

They’re monsters, yes. And they’re evil. And the parents in such cases who say they never realized their boy was dangerously mentally ill seem to me to be nothing but liars.

If you want gun control, I’ll offer some now: The mentally ill should be nowhere near guns. I support the Second Amendment, making me an almost extinct creature in the world of journalism.

But I don’t care if the NRA likes that idea or not.

Also, every state should implement some version of a Gun Violence Restraining Order, so families may petition the courts for the temporary confiscation of guns from the mentally ill.

Schools, like hospitals, are soft targets. They must be hardened.

Every school should have a trained law enforcement officer -- not an untrained teacher -- armed and ready.

There were law enforcement officers at the Texas school, and more would have been killed if they hadn’t been there.

But I see the killers as something else, too.

I see them as symptoms of a culture that is seriously ill.

The boy shooters filled with nihilism and despair, with hate, with little regard for the lives of others. But how were they formed?

The boy shooters weren’t hatched from dead eggs in an empty desert and raised up alone.

We’re all part of the culture. So we shape them, if not directly then indirectly as we pursue our own wants and desires. We till the ground for the young.

Belief in God is mocked in our culture. Religion is belittled. Decency is snickered at. Tradition is deconstructed.

Liberty is defined as doing what we want with our bodies. We glaze our minds with media and say hateful things to people we don’t know by using our phones, because we’re right and those who disagree are wrong.

The wave of school shootings dating back to Columbine are telling us something, but we don’t want to understand, because understanding might make us guilty, and get in the way of our true American pastime: seeking instant gratification.

When Peter and I brought our guns to school, we weren’t threats. We didn’t have Twitter or Facebook.

We were just two boys with a good pointing dog on a cool morning in autumn.

We locked the shotguns in the trunk in the school parking lot and parked in the shade. We left our pointer, Jason, in the car with a bowl of water in his dog cage, with the windows half open.

Then we went to class to be marked as “present” before we ditched and drove to some fields near Kankakee to hunt pheasants.

“We didn’t think about killing anybody,” said Pete.

“No,” I said. “Dad knew what we were doing.”

Pete had just come back from the cemetery where he’d taken our mom and my wife, Betty. They’d gone to tend Dad’s grave.

And when they walked back into the house, I was there with the TV. The Texas shooting suspect’s name was on screen:

Dimitrios Pagourtzis.

My mom’s jaw dropped, the immigrant fear of shame brought upon her people was obvious.

“He’s Greek?”

That doesn’t matter. He’s an American high school student and he’s accused of killing 10 people with his father’s guns.

And now we fight the same fight all over again.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.

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.

Supreme Court upholds arbitration that bans workers from joining forces over lost wages

Mon, 2018-05-21 15:58

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a major victory to corporations by sharply restricting the rights of American workers to join together to challenge their employers for allegedly violating federal laws on wages, overtime pay or civil rights.

The justices by a 5-4 vote agreed with Trump administration lawyers and ruled that employers may enforce so-called individual arbitration agreements that require workers to give up the ability to collectively pursue claims that they were short changed or treated unfairly.

The court’s conservatives, speaking through Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, said the employees must abide by a company’s arbitration contract, including provisions that limit them to bringing only individual claims.

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong” and said it harkens back to the era of “yellow dog contracts.” She was referring to a pre-1930s period when workers could be forced to abide by contracts that prohibited them from joining with others, including to form a union.

Labor law experts said the impact of the ruling in Epic Systems vs. Lewis will fall heaviest on tens of millions of low-wage workers who do not belong to unions. As a practical matter, they said, workers at convenience stores, restaurants, hotels or the like will find it expensive and risky to bring complaints if they must do so on their own.

Ginsburg said the “inevitable result of today’s decision will be the underenforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers ... One study estimated that in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City alone, low-wage workers lose nearly $3 billion in legally owed wages each year.”

The ruling is consistent with a series of high court decisions over the past 25 years which have expanded the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, a measure originally adopted to uphold commercial contracts between two companies. As a result, it is now routine for banks, credit card companies, cellphone providers and others to include arbitration clauses in their contracts. By doing so, they can prevent consumers from joining class-action suits if they believe the company has violated part of the contract.

The ruling not only affirmed employers’ ability to bind workers to arbitration, it expanded that power to include asking workers to waive the right to take collective action, even though such a right is protected by 1930s’ labor laws and 1960s’ civil rights measures. The court’s majority ruled the arbitration law in this case overrides later labor laws.

Workers rights advocates accused the court of undermining enforcement of workplace rights laws.

“The Supreme Court has dramatically tilted the legal landscape against working people,” said Catherine K. Ruckelshaus, general counsel for the National Employment Law Project. She said the ”#MeToo” movement had also exposed the danger of arbitration clauses, which have allowed some employers to conceal sexual abuse and harassment by top executives.

About 60 million nonunionized workers in the private sector are covered by arbitration agreements that bar them going to court to sue over alleged violations of federal workplace laws, according to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal group based in Washington. Among them, about 25 million are also required to arbitrate as individuals. Lawyers predicted Monday that number will rise quickly.

The decision is not likely to affect workers who belong to a union. For them, the union negotiates a contract, and it may represent them before an arbitrator.

The case before the court began when several workers in gas stations in Alabama complained they were not paid overtime for working after hours. Their employer, Murphy Oil, which operates more than 1,000 gas stations in 21 states, pointed to an arbitration agreement which prohibited them from suing or joining a class complaint. The National Labor Relations Board, led by Obama appointees, ruled this restriction was an unfair labor practice. It pointed to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 which said workers had a right to join a union or “engage in other concerted activities for ... mutual aid or protection.”

A similar dispute over overtime pay arose from software workers employed by EPIC Systems in Wisconsin and accountants for Ernst & Young in Northern California. The Supreme Court took up all three cases and decided them as one.

It is not clear whether discrimination and civil rights claims will be affected. Gorsuch’s majority opinion did not mention the issue. In dissent, Ginsburg said it “would be grossly exorbitant” to read the ruling so as to “devastate” discrimination claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ginsburg read much of her dissent in court. She said her colleagues in the majority had upheld “these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave it contracts” even though the labor laws of the 1930s have recognized “there is strength in numbers.”

Epic Systems Corp., a Verona, Wis.-based provider of health care software, said it was pleased with the court’s decision. “It is important that employers protect an employee’s right to file complaints, while also providing for a fair forum in which those grievances are addressed,” Epic founder and chief executive Judy Faulkner said in a statement. “When it comes to grievances regarding wages and hours, we believe individual arbitration agreements strike that reasonable balance.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the decision, saying it “restores the law to where it was prior to the NLRB’s overreaching 2012 determination that the National Labor Relations Act overrides the Federal Arbitration Act ... Gutting America’s arbitration system harms all Americans but one group _ the plaintiffs’ bar,” the chamber said. “Plaintiffs’ class-action lawyers will vigorously attack this decision because they will lose hundreds of millions in fees.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Twitter that despite the ruling “we will continue to defend Californians from all backgrounds and their rights to band together _ our hardworking families need a meaningful option to protect themselves in the workplace.”

Al Latham, partner at the law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker who also teaches at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, said “California is bound by this decision.” He said the ruling would encourage companies that don’t yet have arbitration agreements with workers to implement them because “class-action cases are extremely risky for employers even if ultimately there’s no merit to the case. The cost of litigation is huge and the risk is huge, should _ at the end of the road _ a jury decide there was merit to the class-action claims.”

The Obama and Trump administrations took opposite stands on the case as it moved through the courts. Early in 2016, Obama’s lawyers appealed the case of the gas station workers from Alabama and urged the court to allow them to bring a complaint seeking overtime pay. But in 2017, when Trump appointees took office, they switched sides and urged the court to rule for the company.

When the justices heard arguments on the issue in October, they heard from two government lawyers, one of whom represented the Obama-era workers’ rights view at the NLRB and one from the Justice Department representing the Trump administration’s pro-employer view.

Joining Gorsuch in the majority were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg in dissent.

Tesla Model 3 fails to get Consumer Reports nod due to ‘big flaws’

Mon, 2018-05-21 15:45

Influential U.S. magazine Consumer Reports will not recommend Tesla Inc's Model 3 sedan, saying on Monday it braked slower than a full-sized pickup truck, taking the shine off a day of gains for shares in Elon Musk's electric car company.

Musk had driven shares in Tesla as much as 4 percent higher with weekend tweets showing the Silicon Valley company was aiming initially to deliver higher-priced, more profitable fully-loaded editions of the Model 3.

The car is seen as crucial to Tesla's profitability at a time when it is battling to reverse production shortfalls, confronting reports of crashes involving its vehicles and facing increased skepticism over its finances.

On Twitter, Musk said the fully-loaded Model 3, with all-wheel drive, a dual motor and a 310-mile (499-km) range – but excluding its vaunted Autopilot feature – would cost $78,000. The company has not yet begun to make the $35,000 base price version that Tesla originally claimed would make it a mass-market vehicle.

Consumer Reports, however, declined to recommend the Model 3 and criticized it for having overly long stopping distances and a difficult-to-use center touchscreen.

The magazine, which provides an annual rating of vehicles sold in the United States, said even though its tests found plenty to like about the Model 3 and it was a thrill to drive, it had "big flaws."

Tesla's stopping distance of 152 feet (46 m) when braking at 60 miles per hour (100 km per hour) was "far worse" than any contemporary car tested by the magazine and about seven feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford F-150 full-sized pickup, it said.

Tesla said its own testing had found braking distances of 133 feet on average using the 18″ Michelin all season tire, and as low as 126 feet with all tires currently available.

"Unlike other vehicles, Tesla is uniquely positioned to address more corner cases over time through over-the-air software updates, and it continually does so to improve factors such as stopping distance," Tesla said.

"LOSE MONEY AND DIE"

Research firm Berenberg also helped give Tesla shares a boost on Monday, after it raised its share price target to $500 from $470 on Friday.

Its forecast, the highest among over two dozen analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters, is now more than $200 above the stock's price, which has fallen $100 from September's peak.

Musk, whose refusal to answer analysts' questions on a call this month also hurt company shares, said in his weekend tweets that Tesla had to focus first on delivering Model 3s that were priced higher than the base version, or it would "die".

"With production, 1st you need achieve target rate & then smooth out flow to achieve target cost. Shipping min cost Model 3 right away wd cause Tesla to lose money & die. Need 3 to 6 months after 5k/wk to ship $35k Tesla & live," Musk tweeted.

The new Model 3 version's price was similar to the BMW M3, "but 15 percent quicker & with better handling," Musk added, without giving details.

Also over the weekend, a Model S sedan crashed and killed the driver in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of a recent spate of crashes, some of which involved fire and some of which took place while the company's semi-autonomous Autopilot technology was engaged.

In the latest case, the car launched off a rural county road into a nearby pond more than 60 feet from the road, state and local law enforcement said.

The car appeared to be going faster than the posted 35 mph limit, but authorities had not yet determined its speed and whether Autopilot was engaged, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said.

Tesla said it did not yet know the facts and had not yet received data from the car, but was cooperating with local authorities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was gathering information and would "take action as appropriate."

On Friday, proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) backed a shareholder proposal to separate Musk's current chairman and CEO roles, suggesting that shareholders would be better served by having Musk focus on running the company.

Tesla shares closed up 2.8 percent to $284.49 on the Nasdaq.

Here are the political norms that Trump violated in just the past week

Mon, 2018-05-21 15:25

Remember that old adage that a frog will jump out of a boiling pot but won’t notice if the temperature is slowly raised until it’s boiled alive? It turns out that it just isn’t true. In fact, frogs will hop out when the temperature turns uncomfortable. Which suggests that we may not be as smart as slimy green amphibians. President Donald Trump is throwing one democratic norm after another into a big pot and rapidly raising the heat, and we’re too busy watching the royal wedding to notice. Just look at all of the significant norms he has transgressed in the past week:

Revealing intelligence sources. Trump’s henchman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, found out that the FBI had a source gathering information on Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. With Trump’s support, he demanded that the FBI name its informant. The FBI refused, but by persisting, Nunes has gotten his way - the apparent informant has been named by several news organizations. This flies in the face of the long-standing revulsion, codified in a 1982 law, against revealing intelligence sources - the reason that the outing of Valerie Plame and of sundry CIA agents in the 1970s (one of whom was subsequently assassinated) caused such indignation. “The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” says FBI Director Christopher Wray. It’s safe to say that lickspittle Republicans such as Nunes care more about protecting Trump than they do the American people.

Politically motivated prosecutions. Continuing Operation Save My Skin, Trump demanded on Sunday “that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” There is zero evidence of any political surveillance. The FBI was not trying to help the Democrats but to protect the country from Russian subversion - something that Republicans evidently couldn’t care less about. If this had been a Democratic operation, why would it have been kept a secret until after the election? Trump is demanding that the Justice Department investigate these spurious allegations to distract from the serious charges against him. He is thereby traducing a fundamental - impeachable - norm against presidents using the Justice Department for political purposes. Let’s hope that the department can get away with simply referring this dangerous “demand” to the inspector general, because “investigating the investigators” is a tried-and-true authoritarian tactic to escape accountability.

Mixing private and government business. Previous presidents sold their financial stakes or placed them in a blind trust to avoid conflicts. Trump, by contrast, kept his company while turning over management to his sons (who remain politically active). China just gave a $500 million loan to a project that the Trump Organization is linked to in Indonesia. Immediately afterward, Trump shocked national security professionals by saying he was lifting sanctions on the Chinese telecom giant ZTE. It sure looks as if Trump violated the Emoluments Clause - and maybe worse. Did Beijing bribe the president? We need an independent investigation - from either Congress, the existing special counsel, or a new one - to find out.

Foreign interference in U.S. elections. It’s not just the extensive, unexplained contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia-linked operatives - 75 contacts that we know of - or the unseemly eagerness of the Trump high command to get Russia’s help. Now we are also learning of efforts by the Saudi and Emirati governments to help Trump. The New York Times reports: “It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in American elections . . . But two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.” Of course not. Who cares about the rules when there is an election to be won?

Undermining the First Amendment. The Wasahington Post reported that Trump demanded that Postmaster General Megan Brennan double the rate charged to Amazon and other large shippers. She refused, because the rates are set in contracts. The fact that Trump would even ask is scandalous. This is part of his vendetta against what he has called the “Amazon Washington Post.” (The Washington Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, is also CEO of Amazon.) Trump is following the playbook of strongmen such as Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who silenced the press not by imposing censorship but by imposing financial pressure on independent news organizations to either force them out of business or into the hands of friendly owners. In this connection, it’s worth noting persistent - if unproven - allegations that Trump blocked the merger of AT&T and Time Warner to force the latter to sell “Fake News CNN” to Rupert Murdoch, his favorite media tycoon.

Trump’s assault on democratic norms is all the more dangerous because the response is so tepid. Republicans approve of, or pretend not to notice, his flagrant misconduct, while Democrats are inured to it. The sheer number of outrages makes it hard to give each one the attention it deserves. But we must never - ever! - accept the unacceptable. Otherwise our democracy will be boiled alive.

In a state as resource-rich as Alaska, our inability to provide for education is an embarrassment.

Mon, 2018-05-21 15:23

I know a teacher, and I know what a teacher does.

I remember the expectations many of us Alaskans had when the Permanent Fund became a reality: Alaska would have the finest schools in the nation. What happened?

Alaska is one of the richest states in America. Where is the education endowment we expected would come years ago? In Alaska, funding education should never be an issue. How embarrassing is it that so many Alaska teachers would be asking for better conditions? Politicians have been quoted over the years: "We're doing this for the future of our children and grandchildren." This is great, but it appears we have placed our children and grandchildren of today on the back burner. Let there be no doubt: Our Alaska teachers are professionals, and they should be afforded the same recognition, compensation and system involvement as other professionals.

If you know what a teacher does, please bear with me. If you don't know or are not sure, please let me help you along. More than 95 percent of the teachers I know are doing what they do because they want to be a part of the education and growth of our children, and they have wanted to be a teacher since childhood.

[Hundreds of teachers rally as contract battle continues]

Most teachers' work days start earlier and end later than required. This is necessary for them to try and do the best job they can given the steady increase in class size, the increasing number of students for whom English is a second language, as well as students with special needs.

What really gets to me is the amount of their own money they spend to make lessons work. Many teachers spend hundreds of dollars per month so they can do what they were hired to do — teach our kids the best they know how. And they do know how. With four to six years of college and continued, required training throughout their career, these are the professionals most of us rely on in everything we do. How much more burden will we place on society if our education system continues to lack the funding it needs to work for all our children?

[Small Alaska school district remains alone in offering performance bonuses to teachers]

Have you noticed the number of teachers each year — which seems to me to be increasing — who retire earlier than they want to or quit teaching altogether? Could this be the growing frustrations experienced in trying to do their job?

Maybe our community needs to really start listening to the people we hire to educate our kids. Pick a teacher, any teacher — I'm sure you know one. Ask them how they would spend education funds. Ask them what works and what doesn't, especially the money, time and effort we spend in testing. Talk to them about education and really listen to what they have to say. If we don't find the means to boost morale within the system, we will be facing additional problems as well as losing many of our best teachers each year.

These problems are real and need to be dealt with now. How do we do this? First, let's agree that educating our children is not the responsibility of the school board or the district alone. It is a community responsibility.

We've got money. Lots of it. What we don't have is the will to commit a small portion of our wealth on continued funding for education. If it's going to happen, this resolve will have to come from the community — Alaskans who understand the importance of a good education. Given our current problems, we need to rectify this situation now. Are the means there to make this happen? Of course. Can we make it happen soon? If we have the will.

Alaska has a great economic future and our schools hold the key to Alaska involvement in our economy. As a community, we have an uncommon number of successful individuals and businesses in the private sector. As a community, we should be able to set something up that would allow these Alaskans to sponsor a school. This would be a partnership with a singular school. These supporters can assist with funding equipment, activities, and maybe even some new ideas:
– We could set up an expense account for each of our teachers like the legislators have, so they don't have to spend their own money to do their jobs.
– Individuals and businesses could sponsor sports. Maybe not all the programs, but we could reinstate the popular ones that were cut. All a company would have to do is talk to the coaches and find out what we need.
– Schools could participate in an ongoing, as-needed request for assistance. The school requests help, the sponsor agrees and provides funding. For instance, perhaps the library needs new and replacement books and software proven to help kids learn. How about more computers, after-school activities or funding a school newsletter?
It is a long list of needs and wants, and each school will be a bit different.

We can't keep going the way we have been. This fish doesn't swim. Consider the time and effort expended, the anxieties and unknowns, the political arguments, the lack of progress and the inability to begin a planning process every year. What about all the teachers and other district employees who worry each year if they will have a job in the fall? What kind of job security is this? It's time to bring the teachers into the equation, and recognize them for what they are: professional Alaskans with a very important job.

Dave Choquette is a retired fisherman and has served as a part-time substitute teacher for more than six years.

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.

As Haspel is sworn in at CIA, Trump credits her for overcoming ‘negative politics’

Mon, 2018-05-21 14:47

LANGLEY, Va. – As he participated in the swearing-in of his new CIA director on Monday, President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulties that Gina Haspel's nomination had faced but said her strong performance at her confirmation hearing turned things around.

"It took courage for her to say 'yes' in the face of a lot of very negative politics and what was supposed to be a negative vote," Trump said at a ceremony at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. "But I'll tell you, when you testified before the committee, it was over. There was not much they could say."

The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Haspel's nomination, 54 to 45, despite lingering concerns about the role she played in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Haspel, who succeeds Mike Pompeo, Trump's new secretary of state, is the first woman to lead the CIA. Trump noted the milestone in his remarks, adding: "That's big."

Trump praised Haspel, who rose through the ranks at the CIA, as "someone who has served this agency with extraordinary skill and devotion" for 30 years.

"Our enemies will take note," Trump said. "Gina is tough, she is strong, and when it comes to defending America, Gina will never, ever back down."

Trump had wavered in his backing for Haspel, at times expressing doubt in private meetings about whether she had the support to win confirmation, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Earlier this month, Haspel sought to withdraw after some White House officials worried that her involvement in the CIA's interrogation program could derail her chances.

Trump decided to push for Haspel to stay in the running, after first signaling he would support whatever decision she made, administration officials said.

In late 2002, Haspel, then a senior leader at the Counterterrorism Center, managed a secret detention facility in Thailand where two al-Qaida suspects were waterboarded (one of them before Haspel's arrival).

During her confirmation hearing, Haspel insisted she would never allow torture at the CIA again, and she said she would be guided in the future by her own "moral compass." But she resolutely avoided saying whether, at the time, she thought the secret detention and "enhanced interrogation" of suspected terrorists was moral.

From the moment she was nominated to succeed Pompeo, Haspel had faced major confirmation hurdles. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced from the outset that he would oppose her, while she faced deep skepticism from Democrats and other Republicans for her role in the enhanced interrogation program during the administration of George W. Bush.

Haspel, however, sailed through her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee without any major slip-ups, and former defense and intelligence officials under the Obama administration mounted a campaign to persuade swing Democratic votes.

On Thursday, six Democratic senators supported her nomination, and two Republicans voted against her – Paul and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.

During remarks after she was sworn in Monday by Vice President Mike Pence, Haspel noted that "it has been nearly 50 years since an operations officer rose up through the ranks" to become CIA director.

After her two-month-long confirmation battle, Haspel added: "I think I know why that is."

"I want each of you to know that I took on the position of director because I want to represent you, as well as lead you," Haspel said to CIA employees present at the ceremony. "I want the current CIA leadership team to be role models and mentors for our next generation of officers."

Former senior intelligence officials attended the swearing-in ceremony, but former CIA Director John Brennan was not invited, according to people familiar with the matter. Brennan, who led the agency during President Barack Obama's administration, has become a fierce and vocal critic of Trump, accusing him of behavior that he recently characterized as "self-serving" and dangerous to democracy.

In various tweets in recent weeks, Brennan has called Trump a hypocrite and a liar. On Sunday, Brennan called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to prevent the president from ordering a Justice Department investigation into the probe of his presidential campaign's contacts with Russia.

"If Mr. Trump continues along this disastrous path, you will bear major responsibility for the harm done to our democracy," Brennan wrote in a tweet.

On Monday morning, Trump, in an apparent response, alleged that Brennan had orchestrated the Russia investigation as a "political hit job" against the president. (There is no evidence that Brennan was the source of the investigation.) Trump was quoting Dan Bongino, a former U.S. Secret Service agent and frequent Fox News commentator.

The Washington Post's Shane Harris and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

26-year-old man killed after he lost control of his car on the Seward Highway, Anchorage police say

Mon, 2018-05-21 14:08

A 26-year-old man died early Sunday after he lost control of his car on the Seward Highway near the Rabbit Creek Road exit, according to the Anchorage Police Department.

Police say Derrick Johnson was alone in a green 1995 Ford Taurus as he drove southbound on the Seward Highway. The car left the roadway and rolled into a ditch. Johnson was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle, said a police statement Monday.

Police first learned of the crash around 3:50 a.m.

Authorities shut down the highway's southbound lanes in the area for several hours. Emergency responders declared Johnson dead at the scene.

In Monday's statement, police said they continue to investigate the crash and believe speed was a factor.

Governor launches trade mission to China with more than 35 Alaska businesses

Mon, 2018-05-21 13:58

Gov. Bill Walker's trade mission to China begins this week after dozens of Alaskan business representatives and state officials traveled there to try to strengthen ties with Alaska's largest trading partner.

Chinese officials and entities will be meeting with more than 35 Alaska businesses, according to a statement from Walker on Monday.  Representatives from Alaska's seafood, mining, tourism, craft brewing and other industries are part of the mission.

"It's a well-timed trip, since yesterday the U.S. and China announced they'd be taking a step back from a rumored trade war, and China committed to importing more American goods to reduce the U.S. trade deficit," Walker's statement said.

China is Alaska's top trading partner, and top Chinese entities are considering making major investments in the $43 billion Alaska LNG project that would ship Alaska liquefied natural gas to China and other Asian countries.

[Chinese entities eyeing Alaska LNG project send large delegation to Alaska.]

Walker has sought to boost the amount of products Alaska already exports to China, valued at $1.3 billion in 2017 and dominated primarily by sales of Alaska seafood.

The list of businesses on the trip looking for export opportunities with China included small companies such as Bambino's Baby Food and 49th State Brewing Co., and large firms such as Icicle Seafoods, with operations throughout Alaska.

On Monday, Walker and other officials from the U.S. met with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He in Beijing at the fourth China-U.S. governors' forum, according to China Daily.

The talks included strengthening U.S.-China cooperation in areas such as trade and "green development," China Daily said.

The trade mission will last more than a week with a "very aggressive" meeting schedule, according to an email from Bill Popp, head of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., who is part of the mission.

On Monday, the delegation met with Jim Mullinax, U.S. consul general in Chengdu, for a briefing on economic opportunities in south China. That region is experiencing rapid growth and growing affluence, Popp's email said.

[Five big questions about Alaska's deal with China.]

"Quality is more and more on the minds of Chinese consumers in this region and Alaska wild seafood is seeing growing demand, as are many other food and agriculture products the U.S. is selling to this region," Popp said in the email.

Popp said the delegation consisted of nearly 50 Alaskans, including many Alaska business officials and members of the governor's staff.

China is already Alaska's biggest importer, but there could be more room for growth in items that the expanding middle class in China might want, said Sean Carpenter, AEDC spokesperson.

Popp is focused on "meeting with various company officials in China to figure out their needs, and see if we can meet them," Carpenter said, from Anchorage on Monday.

Trump administration proposes reversal of Obama-era hunting rule in Alaska’s national parks

Mon, 2018-05-21 13:04

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is taking another stab at controversial hunting regulations for national preserves in Alaska.

In a proposed regulation published online Monday, the National Park Service floated plans to peel back National Park Service hunting restrictions established during the Obama administration in October 2015. The the goal is to promote hunting and trapping activities and better align federal and state regulations, according to the park service.

National preserves are parts of national parks designated by Congress to allow fishing, hunting, mining or other resource extraction. Central to the dispute is a 1994 state law that focuses on controlling predators — wolves, bears and other carnivores — in order to keep game such as caribou abundant for hunters. The Obama-era park service said that federal law doesn't support reducing predators to boost populations of their prey.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is vociferously was opposed to the rule, which he said tramples on the state's regulatory control over hunting. Young was able to pass a law revoking a similar Obama-era regulation issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, because the administration issued it nearer to the end of President Barack Obama's final term. But the park service rule remained in place.

[U.S. Senate votes to repeal wildlife refuge hunting rule for Alaska]

The 2015 rule demonstrated a long-running disagreement between federal and state game management officials on how to best manage predator populations in Alaska. In 2015, the park service said that certain hunting practices mess with predator-prey dynamics and upset the balance for harvest purposes, while causing problems for public safety.

But now the park service — under a new administration — has changed its mind. The proposed rule will delete portions of the 2015 rule that set limits on hunting that are not in line with state regulations.

The banned practices the park service plans to reverse include: "taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears," according to the proposed rule.

The state disputes that the hunting methods currently barred by the park service "are intended to function as a predator control program," the proposed rule said. "The State also maintains that any effects to the natural abundances, diversities, distributions, densities, age-class distributions, populations, habitats, genetics, and behaviors of wildlife from implementing its regulations are likely negligible," the proposed rule said.

The park service also points to the state's argument that baiting bears doesn't' cause them to become "food-conditioned, and therefore a greater safety concern."

The legal basis for reversing the Obama-era decision lies in two orders issued by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year, according to the Interior Department. In one (Order 3347), urged expanded access to hunting and fishing on public lands and better consultation with state wildlife management. In the other (Order 3356), instructs the park service to find more opportunities for hunting on public lands, work with state wildlife agencies to ensure regulations on federal land match those on nearby lands, and change regulations to "advance shared wildlife conservation goals/objectives that align predator management programs, seasons, and methods of take" to match state wildlife agencies.

The environmental organization Defenders of Wildlife quickly attacked the proposal, saying that the federal government is wrongly proposing to hand its authority over to the state.

"Alaska's express goal for managing wildlife is to artificially increase game populations by driving down carnivore numbers. Its policy would allow hunters to bait, trap and snare bears, and kill black bears and cubs and wolves and pups in their dens. The proposed regulation would also remove the current prohibition against killing defenseless caribou from boats or shore as they swim across rivers in national preserves," said Defenders of Wildlife.

The group's president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, called the move a "new low" for the Trump administration's wildlife policies.

"Allowing the killing of bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens is barbaric and inhumane. The proposed regulations cast aside the very purpose of national parks to protect wildlife and wild places," Rappaport said. "The National Park Service should not accept Alaska's extreme predator control program as a suitable method of managing wildlife and their habitat."

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Mon, 2018-05-21 12:44

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Can virtual reality help reform prisoners? Department of Corrections wants to find out.

Mon, 2018-05-21 11:15

SEWARD — Prisoner Anthony Garcia wants to meditate on top of the Sphinx. Prisoner Michael Lawson pictures a beach under the warm sun. Prisoner Lamont Moore imagines a virtual visit with family.

"You could all be having dinner," he said.

Perhaps there's no better group to dream of virtual reality possibilities than men who haven't been outside the walls of a maximum security prison in years, even decades. In the visiting room of Spring Creek Correctional Center, some had the chance to try it earlier this month.

The Alaska Department of Corrections is exploring innovative recidivism reduction ideas statewide with help from a federal grant, officials said. Prisoners and staff both said virtual reality could be a valuable tool to enhance life skills and provide training to prisoners before they are released.

"I see a tremendous upside," said prisoner Delano Hall.

Spring Creek is the only maximum security prison in Alaska. It holds about 400 prisoners, some of whom have been convicted of the most serious offenses the state can charge. Several of the prisoners who participated in the test have been convicted of murder.

"We have a 66.41 percent recidivism rate currently," said Morgen Jaco, the re-entry program manager for Corrections, referring to felony offenders who return to prison within three years of release.

"It's just not good enough," she said.

Representatives from the National Mental Health Innovation Center, based at the University of Colorado, think they can help. Virtual reality can be an effective tool for prison reform in the same way it has worked in other mental health applications, according to executive director Matt Vogl.

"We know for a fact, because it's been studied, that it can help people with PTSD, and depression, anxiety and all kinds of social phobias," Vogl said. "It has the ability to build empathy for other groups of people and populations better than any other tool we've had."

The National Mental Health Innovation Center is working with New York City-based software developer Nsena Virtual Training. Vogl said the center acts as an intermediary, helping inform the content for the developer while demonstrating its potential to prisoners and staff. Virtual reality is an emerging technology in which users are immersed in a computer-generated simulation.

"VR is one of those things. Until you have tried it, you have no idea," Vogl said.

Prisoners strapped on goggles, held controllers in each hand, and experienced scenarios designed to impress, soothe, and even trigger anger.

The first stop was Richie's Plank Experience, a virtual reality app from the Steam online video game store, a good tool to show the power of VR, said Nsena CEO Ethan Moeller. After viewing a nameless downtown from the street level, the user enters an elevator that carried them high into a skyscraper. When the elevator opens, an iron beam was the only walkway forward, with nothing between it and the busy street far below.

It was convincing enough that some chose to stay inside. Prisoner Jason Downard fell from the beam and shared colorful language on his digital descent.

"You could hear the wind going by your ears," he said.

At a second station, prisoners walked into a make-believe job interview. A ringing phone interrupted the conversation with a surly-looking potential employer, who folded his arms and fired hard questions at the candidates. "What value do you bring to this company?" the animated character said.

"That's a really hard question for someone who just got released from decades in prison," Vogl said.

Kent Matte, an inmate who hopes to be released next year, said it was valuable practice in a low-stakes setting. Out in the world, workplace failures can send people back down a path toward drugs and alcohol. He knows that's a precursor to a return to prison.

"I did that," he said.

Vogl said Colorado's prisons are the only others they work with right now. Alaska prisons offer a unique opportunity due to geographic isolation and workforce shortages, he said.

"If we can work with Alaska and solve some of those problems here, then we can solve them anywhere," he said.

Inmates weren't the only target audience. Probation officer Josh Varvil tried a weapon-drawn training scenario, holding a controller extended like a pistol. By the time he took off the goggles, he said his heart rate increased. That's a reaction he said was stronger than role-playing scenarios he had been through, where the trainees usually knows the other actors.

"I think the officers will get better training out of it," he said.

Though impressed, some prisoners said the software wasn't flawless. Delano Hall said the lack of some small details prevented him from getting "lost inside of it." For example, the trees didn't look real enough, he said, and the cars seemed to be all the same make. Matte was distracted that the job interviewer didn't blink. Vogl acknowledged that the characters would need to look and sound more like Alaskans for it to be more effective here.

"The details, if more polished, can be a spectacular experience," Hall said. He suggested a virtual scenario in which a user finds himself at the center of urban bustle and noise, an experience prisoners may have not experienced in many years.

Bill Lapinskas, superintendent of Spring Creek, noted the prisoners' enthusiasm and said his own opinion mattered little.

"What I do have is little respect for what what we've done for thirty years," Lapinskas said. "With a 67 percent recidivism rate, we're not fixing anything. So why not try anything?"

Brian Radel, who is 14 years into a 99-year sentence, offered his own idea about how virtual reality might be applied.

"I'm in on murder. I killed one person, hurt a lot other people as a result. Emotionally. Mentally," Radel said. "And my goal is, if I can create less victims when people get out, then I can pay back to society a little bit of what I did."

Maybe virtual reality can be designed to help prisoners understand their impact on victims, he suggested.

"I believe that evoking empathy is very important in making sure that when somebody gets out, they understand the pain, they feel the pain, and then they don't want to hurt another person," he said.

Pompeo vows US, Mideast allies will ‘crush’ Iranian operatives around the world

Mon, 2018-05-21 10:54

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday launched a sweeping broadside against the Iranian government, vowing to use all U.S. economic and military might to destroy its economy and “crush” its operatives and proxies around the world.

In his first major foreign policy address as secretary of state, Pompeo listed a dozen demands, an agenda encompassing Iran’s foreign ventures as well as its nuclear and missile programs. If Iran agrees to those demands, he said, the United States would lift all sanctions, reestablish diplomatic relations with Tehran and provide it access to advanced technology.

Pompeo said he will work with the Defense Department and regional allies - a group that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states - to “deter Iranian aggression” in the region, including at sea and in cyberspace.

“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region,” he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, a conservative think tank whose ideas have been embraced by the Trump administration. “We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyberactivity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promptly rejected Pompeo’s assertion.

“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?” he was quoted saying by the Iranian news agency ILNA. “The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent,”

Declaring the era of U.S. domination “over,” Rouhani added, “We will continue our path with the support of our nation.”

The suggestion of a further U.S. military role in the region was striking, since President Trump has said he seeks to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Syria, where Iran provides training and arms to militiamen.

Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters the military is looking at potential actions to push back against Iran’s regional military influence as part of a larger U.S. government response. He said the United States would take “all necessary steps” to contain Iran, but declined to provide specifics.

State Department officials say the aim of the speech is to outline a path forward after Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions, a decision that immediately puts the United States in breach of its commitments.

The Treasury Department already has reimposed sanctions on the head of Iran’s Central Bank and other companies and groups.

“The Iranian regime should know that this is just the beginning,” Pompeo warned.

“After our sanctions come into full force, it will be battling to keep its economy alive,” he added. “Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.”

Many European officials, including those who negotiated the Iran agreement alongside the United States, have chafed at the Trump administration’s positions on Iran, the Paris climate accord, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and trade tariffs. “With friends like that, who needs enemies,” European Council President Donald Tusk groused recently.

The new secretary of state, now in his fourth week in office, made clear that the United States is prepared to square off with Europe, using secondary sanctions against companies that do business in Iran.

“We understand our re-imposition of sanctions and the coming pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will pose financial and economic difficulties for a number of our friends,” Pompeo said. “But you should know that we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account.”

In negotiating the Iran deal, the Obama administration also started with a long list of demands. But they made concessions along the way on issues they considered less important than the goal of setting future limits on Iran’s nuclear deal and getting international inspectors to monitor it.

“The list of requirements of the Iranians asks for everything but conversion to Christianity and reads more like a demand for unconditional surrender than an actual attempt at negotiation,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Pompeo said the administration is seeking a full treaty with Iran, not just “fixes” to the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Rather, he demanded Iran’s complete capitulation on 12 points. Judging by its reaction to similar proposals made previously, Tehran is likely to reject most, if not all.

Among the items on Pompeo’s wish list is a full acknowledgment of Iran’s previous attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied ever wanting to build nuclear arms. U.S. negotiators tried unsuccessfully to get Iran to admit it tried to build one in the early 2000s.

Other demands the Iranians are unlikely to go along with include stopping uranium enrichment and ballistic missile tests, and allowing international inspectors access to all sites, including military locations where critics suspect clandestine research. Currently, inspectors must outline the basis for their suspicions.

The one demand that Iran could theoretically assent to is the release of all U.S. citizens imprisoned on a variety of charges, as well as citizens of countries allied with the United States such as France and Britain. At least six Americans are imprisoned or unaccounted for, and they are widely considered to be bargaining chips.

Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, called most of Pompeo’s demands “non-starters.”

“This will only lead to one thing: confrontation,” he said. “And one cannot help but think that is the strategy and the goal.”

Pompeo stopped short of calling directly for regime change, but he urged Iranians to think of Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as part of a corrupt, venal and dangerous regime. Previous U.S. officials and the Europeans consider them relative pragmatists who are less dogmatic than the radical theocrats.

“The West often treats President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif as ‘apart’ from the regime’s unwise, terrorist, and malign behaviors,” Pompeo said, speaking directly to the Iranian people. “Yet, Rouhani and Zarif are your elected leaders. Are they not the most responsible for your economic struggles? Are these two not responsible for wasting Iranian lives through the Middle East? It is worth the Iranian people considering.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s John Hudson and Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

Royal wedding sermon on ‘love’ was about more than the marriage of Harry and Meghan

Mon, 2018-05-21 10:00

The sermon delivered at Saturday’s royal wedding was about the love shared by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But Bishop Michael Curry’s message, called “The Power of Love,” following a week that included a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that claimed 10 lives, the killing of more than 60 Palestinian protesters the day of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the daily hateful rhetoric that has become normative among partisans in our political climate, challenged guests and viewers alike to also imagine a love so powerful that it could change the world.

Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who is known for connecting biblical concepts to the events of the day, said:

“There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love.

“Not just in its romantic forms but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it.”

It’s not uncommon for black American pastors to quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a pastor himself, in sermons. But the civil rights icon’s name is not one you often hear at weddings.

But Curry quoted the activist, who did revolutionary work speaking for marginalized people oppressed by governments, because King regularly spoke about how much his work was rooted in the concept of “love.” Even when difficult, King’s worldview advocated for loving your enemies and people who are different regardless of their ethnic identity, political tribe or religion.

Curry referenced the relevance of that in 2018 when he said on Saturday:

“The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said, and I quote: We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. For love is the only way.

“There’s power in love.”

Based on social media, the reaction to Curry’s sermon showed that it was incredibly well-received, especially by black Americans. But emphasizing the power of love seemed to resonate across countries, races and even political views perhaps because such a unifying message is rarely shared so prominently. And it also possibly connected because the current times are politically divisive, and even violent.

Curry spoke for an alternative:

“Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way,” he said. “Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive.”

There is a lot to take away from Saturday’s ceremony, and there will be numerous pieces reflecting on it. But the component of the day that had the greatest potential to connect is that hate will never be an effective approach to righting societal ills. Therefore, tapping into love is worth a try.

China said to consider ending birth limits as soon as this year

Mon, 2018-05-21 08:22

BEIJING -- China is planning to scrap all limits on the number of children a family can have, according to people familiar with the matter, in what would be a historic end to a policy that spurred countless human-rights abuses and left the world’s second-largest economy short of workers.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, has commissioned research on the repercussions of ending the country’s roughly four-decade-old policy and intends to enact the change nationwide, said the people, who asked not to be named while discussing government deliberations. The leadership wants to reduce the pace of aging in China’s population and remove a source of international criticism, one of the people said.

Proposals under discussion would replace the population-control policy with one called “independent fertility,” allowing people to decide how many children to have, the person said. The decision could be made as soon as the fourth quarter, the second person said, adding that the announcement might also be pushed into 2019.

Danone, which has doubled its share of China’s baby food market in the past five years, rose to a session high in Paris before paring gains. Reckitt Benckiser shares erased declines in London.

The policy change would close the book on one of the largest social experiments in human history, which left the world’s most-populous country with a rapidly aging population and 30 million more men than women. The policies have forced generations of Chinese parents to pay fines, submit to abortions or raise children in the shadows.

The U.S. and other Western nations have criticized the coercive measures required to enforce the birth limits, including steep fines, sterilization and forced abortions. The 2015 shift toward a two-child policy was part of a gradual effort to loosen the birth limits over the years as China’s working-age population began to wane.

An initial feasibility study was submitted to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in April, according to one of the people familiar with the discussions. That study found there would be “limited” benefits to lifting birth restrictions nationwide. Li requested more research on the social impact of scrapping the policy altogether, the person said.

Neither the State Council Information Office nor the National Health Commission immediately returned faxed requests for comment Monday.

The move underscores growing concern among Chinese policy makers that more dramatic action is needed three years after allowing all families to have two children instead of one. Births fell 3.5 percent to 17.2 million nationwide last year, according to the Bureau of National Statistics, erasing almost half of the increase in births caused by relaxing the policy.

China’s graying society will have broad consequences for the nation and the world, weighing on President Xi Jinping’s effort to develop the economy, driving up pension and healthcare costs, and sending foreign companies further afield for labor. The State Council last year projected that about a quarter of China’s population will be 60 or older by 2030, up from 13 percent in 2010.

“The low birth rate and low number of newborns from the previous two years after the two-child policy sent a strong message to the decision-makers that the young generation has a weak willingness to have more children,” said Chen Jian, a former division chief at the National Family Planning Commission, who’s now a vice president of the China Society of Economic Reform. “China’s population issues will be a major hurdle for President Xi Jinping’s vision of building a modernized country by 2035.”

In March, China removed the term “family planning” from the name of the newly consolidated National Health Commission _ the first time since 1981 that no agency bears the name. Xi and Li also omitted any reference to the phrase from key policy reports in recent months.

While China credits birth limits with helping to launch a decades-long economic boom under reformer Deng Xiaoping, they have also exacerbated demographic imbalances, with many parents choosing to abort female fetuses. China has 106 men for every 100 women, compared with 102 globally, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Such moves have done little to increase the fertility rate, with many parents concerned about the costs of raising additional children in a society accustomed to focusing family resources on one. Nonetheless, Chinese policy makers have resisted calls by economists and demographers to relinquish control amid concerns over the impact of a sudden increase in births or older parents angry about missing the chance to expand their families.

Even a short-lived baby boom could prove lucrative for businesses who cater to childrens’ needs in the world’s most populous county. Chinese consumers bought $19.4 billion of infant products between September 2016 and August 2017, an 11 percent increase, according to an annual report released by Nielsen Holdings Plc in November.

Shortage of truckers starting to cause prices to rise

Mon, 2018-05-21 07:32

Joyce Brenny, chief executive of Brenny Transportation in Minnesota, gave her truck drivers a 15 percent raise this year, but she still can’t find enough workers for a job that now pays $80,000 a year.

A year ago, when customers would call Brenny, she could almost always get their goods loaded on a truck and moving within a day or two. Now she’s warning customers it could take two weeks to find an available truck and driver.

Shipping costs have skyrocketed in the United States in 2018, one of the clearest signs yet of a strong economy that might be starting to overheat. Higher transportation costs are beginning to cause prices of anything that spends time on a truck to rise. Amazon, for example, just implemented a 20 percent hike for its Prime program that delivers goods to customers in two days, and General Mills, the maker of Cheerios and Betty Crocker, said prices of some of its cereals and snacks are going up because of an “unprecedented” rise in freight costs. Tyson Foods, a large meat seller, and John Deere, a farm and construction equipment, also recently announced they will increase prices, blaming higher shipping costs.

The trucking industry shows an extraordinary labor shortage in one corner of the economy can spill out and affect the economy more broadly.

“I’ve never seen it like this, ever,” said Brenny, who has been in the trucking industry for 30 years. “It doesn’t matter what the load even pays. There are just not drivers.”

Trucking executives say their industry is experiencing a perfect storm: The economic upswing is creating heavy demand for trucks, but it’s hard to find drivers with unemployment so low. Young Americans are ignoring the job openings because they fear self-driving trucks will soon dominate the industry. Waymo, the driverless car company owned by Alphabet, just launched a self-driving truck pilot program in Atlanta, although trucking industry veterans argue it will be a long time before drivers go away entirely.

Brenny anticipates she will have to raise pay another 10 percent before the end of the year to ensure that other companies don’t steal her drivers.

“The drivers deserve the wages. They really do, but the raises are coming so fast that it’s hard to handle,” said Brenny, who is having to adjust contracts for drivers - and customers - rapidly.

The United States has had a truck driver shortage for years, but experts say it’s hitting a crisis level this year. There’s even more demand for truckers now as just about every sector of the economy is expanding and online sales continue to soar. On top of that, the federal government imposed a new rule in December that requires drivers to be on the road for no more than 11 hours at a time. Drivers are now tracked by an electronic device that monitors their time so they can’t cheat.

“It’s as bad as it’s ever been” to find drivers, said Bob Costello, chief economist at the American Trucking Associations. “Companies are doing everything they can to make drivers happy: increasing pay and getting them home more often, but that means they aren’t driving as many miles.”

America had a shortage of 51,000 truck drivers at the end of last year, Costello found, up from a shortage of 36,000 in 2016. He says “without a doubt” it’s going to be even higher this year, even though many companies are giving double-digit raises. He gets asked about the driver scarcity daily as companies try to figure out how to handle the growing backlog. His best advice is for companies to invest in technology like what Uber and Lyft have to cut down on the time a driver or truck sits idle between runs.

As driver pay rises quickly and diesel fuel costs tick up, shipping companies are charging higher and higher rates to move goods. It now costs more than $1.85 a mile to ship a “dry good” that doesn’t require refrigeration or special accommodation, a nearly 40 percent increase from the price a year ago, according to data from DAT Solutions.

Shipping costs hit an all-time high earlier this year and have remained near that level ever since, according to DAT Solutions and the Cass Freight Index Report.

Manufacturers are complaining that higher shipping costs are causing their profits to fall. It was a constant topic of discussion as American firms reported earnings in recent weeks. Walmart said this week that high transportation costs are its “primary head wind” right now.

Economists warn those costs are almost certainly going to end up resulting in higher prices for everyday items that many Americans purchase.

“Every single good ends up on a truck at some point. Businesses that use trucking to receive and ship goods are going to do their best to pass on the costs to the rest of us,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.

Logistics and transportation accounts for about 10 cents of every dollar in the U.S. economy, says Donald Broughton of Broughton Capital and author of the Cass Freight Index publication.

“I don’t normally speak in hyperbole, but we’re entering some uncharted territory,” Broughton said. “If there is a 10 percent increase in transportation costs, that gives you a 1 percent increase in inflation for the broader economy. That’s real.”

It could mark a turning point for the U.S. economy. Inflation has stayed unusually low in the past decade, largely because costs have stayed low for food, clothes and other items Americans buy in store or online as companies got more efficient and worker wages barely increased. But rising shipping costs could change that dynamic in 2018, potentially forcing people to have to spend more and employers to hike pay as they try to compete for workers with the trucking industry.

There already aren’t enough trucks on the road to keep up with demand this spring. It could get even worse when the holiday season hits.

Trucking companies hope they can lure more drivers with higher pay, signing bonuses and shorter hours. The job doesn’t require a high school degree or being in great shape. Someone can obtain a truck license in a matter of weeks, although they must pass a drug test. But many say the biggest hindrance is that the job doesn’t have a lot of cachet in modern society, a perception that’s hard to change.

“You are away from home and family and friends on a regular basis, and the job is not highly respected,” Broughton said.

Photos: Best of May 2018

Mon, 2018-05-21 07:28

Anchorage Daily News photographers and contributors capture slices of life around Anchorage and beyond.

He was a ‘church-going family man’ up until killing 2 family members at NC restaurant

Mon, 2018-05-21 07:27

Roger Self was “a faithful, church-going family man,” known for quoting the Bible, according to his hometown newspaper, The Gaston Gazette.

But that image was shattered at 12:04 p.m. Sunday, when he climbed into his Jeep and drove it through the door of a Bessemer City restaurant in North Carolina where his family was eating lunch.

Two died and at least two others were injured, report multiple media outlets.

It was a perfectly timed killing, when the Surf and Turf Lodge was packed with extended families just out of church services.

But Self apparently sought only to target his own family.

He had been eating appetizers with them when he got up, stepped outside, then returned to the table minutes later behind the wheel of his Jeep, reported the Washington Post. Patrons told the Post the aftermath scene included seeing people pinned beneath the wreckage at the heart of the restaurant. One of the victims died in a restaurant manager’s arms, the Washington Post reported.

He specifically targeted the spot in the restaurant where his family was seated, reported the Gaston Gazette.

The Observer’s news partner WBTV reported Roger Self made the reservation with the restaurant, and asked for that specific table. He then left the table, complaining of having a headache, the station reported.

The dead included Self’s 26-year-old daughter, Katelyn Tyler Self, an off-duty Gaston County deputy, according to a press release. WSOC identified the other victim as Self’s daughter-in-law, Amanda Self.

Amanda Self’s 13-year-old daughter was also injured, as was Roger Self’s wife, Diana, WSOC reported. The killing was labeled “bizarre” in a Gaston Gazette headline, and the newspaper blamed the incident on Self’s descent into depression and mental illness.

One witness told the Gazette Self stood by at the crime scene in handcuffs “repeatedly screaming that everybody was evil.” Self is now facing two charges of first degree murder, reports the Charlotte Observer’s news partner WBTV.

Reaction in the community has ranged from shock to outright denial. Self was a former police officer himself, and worked as a private investigator, reported the Washington Post.

Rumors had spread in the community in recent months that Self, who lived in Dallas, N.C., had changed, according to social media posts. There was even talk that Self was suffering from a brain tumor, according to multiple Facebook posts.

“This isn’t Roger!” posted Chad E. Clewis on Facebook.

“This man just snapped. He isn’t a murderer,” wrote Kathy Moose.

“I simply don’t understand,” posted Geoff Rhodes on Facebook.

Others on social media were less sympathetic.

“This man is sick. Put him under the jail. No excuses,” posted Lynn Renfroe on Facebook.

The family’s pastor, Austin Rammell, told WSOC that he had known Self 16 years and that Self had sought help in recent months for mental illness, including anxiety and depression.

Another family friend, long time Gaston County commissioner Tracy Philbeck, told the Gaston Gazette that he was also aware Self was battling mental illness.

“If I could have committed him, I would have committed him myself,” Philbeck told the Gazette. “He couldn’t sleep. He stopped eating.”

Roger Self ran a private investigations business, according to WBTV. The business, Southeastern Loss Management, opened in 1989 and mostly helped companies investigate employees’ wrongdoing, according to a Gaston Gazette profile written in 2017.

What prompted his reported descent into mental illness remained a mystery Monday, but many were second guessing what might have been done to stop the tragedy.

“This would be a lesson to us all,” posted Billy Ramsey on Facebook. “If we know someone in need of mental help, don’t be afraid to report them ... Seems too many people knew of how severely depressed and disturbed he was.”

“This man ... had progressed to the point of psychosis and delusions,” posted Tammy Brown Hodge on Facebook. “When and if the fog clears for him, no one will hurt more than he will himself.”

BP back on its feet but CEO senses no respite

Mon, 2018-05-21 06:13

LONDON - After the near collapse of his company following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster and a three-year slump in oil prices, BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley is hardly relaxed.

“It doesn’t feel like we are in a serene time for any energy company,” Dudley told Reuters in an interview.

BP is stronger today than at any other time since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig accident.

With oil prices at their highest since late 2014 and BP shares back to levels not seen in more than 8 years, it is once again in a position to contemplate boosting dividends and acquiring, Dudley said.

Sitting in his office in BP‘s central London headquarters in St James Square, Dudley, 62, said he intends to carry on leading the company into 2020 and navigate it through a phase of expansion and new uncertainty following a tumultuous eight years at the helm.

The oil and gas sector is looking to retain its relevance as economies battle climate change by weaning themselves from their dependence on fossil fuels, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

For BP, it is a two-speed race.

The 110-year old company is undergoing its fastest growth in recent history with new oil and gas fields from Egypt and Oman to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, riding a tide of higher oil prices following the 2014 downturn.

It is gradually paying off more than $65 billion in penalties and clean-up costs for the Deepwater Horizon accident which left 10 employees dead.

Regarding the danger of the company going bankrupt at the time, Dudley said: “The worst moment was when I heard that our debt was untradable back in the summer of 2010... To me that was a moment of the unthinkable was possible.”

Dudley says he no longer sees BP as an acquisition target after facing years of speculation it could be bought out.

The company is focused on increasing production and cash flow while reducing its large debt pile, after which it will consider boosting shareholder returns such as dividends although “we’re not at that point yet”, Dudley said.

Longer-term challenges also loom.

Investors are increasingly pressing energy companies to find ways to adapt to the energy transition, and Dudley is looking to strike a balance between reducing a large carbon footprint while securing revenue.

“This is the great dual challenge that the industry and BP faces: how to supply the world’s energy on multiple fronts of growing population and doing it with less emissions,” said Dudley, who was appointed to the helm of BP months after the April 2010 spill.

BP, like rivals such as Royal Dutch Shell, is betting on natural gas, the least polluting hydrocarbon, to sustain an expected surge in demand for electricity as economies grow and transportation is electrified.

Gas is also playing a key role as a back-up to renewable energy such as wind and solar in power generation.

To that end, BP is expanding its gas production through new projects in Oman, Egypt and Trinidad and Tobago.

Gas already accounts for over 55 percent of its production.

“I am optimistic about the climate change if you can combine renewables wind and solar and natural gas. To me that’s part of the big answer,” Dudley said in an interview with Reuters.

In the early 2000s BP introduced the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” and adopted a sunburst logo after launching an $8 billion expansion into renewables. The company was forced to write off its solar business 10 years later, but still retains a large U.S. onshore wind business and biofuels plants.

Now, Dudley is taking a cautious approach, investing in smaller start-up companies in renewables, clean fuels and battery charging docks.

“We have to go slow and pick the right low carbon fuels,” he said. BP “will be a broad-based company that supplies all forms of energy that are needed that can be done economically.”

The company will invest $500 million per year in low-carbon energy and technology in the coming years out of a total spending of $15 to $17 billion, a range which Dudley said the company could stay within.

“If a shareholder or someone else came to BP tomorrow and said here is $10 billion to invest in low carbon energies for us, we would not know how to do that yet.”

BP is also expanding its vast global network of petrol stations and investing in convenience stores and charging spots, hoping to retain its dominant brand as electric vehicles become more popular.

“I’m not worried about BP in this area. The most strategic thing we can do is to get our balance sheet strong so that when we have the firepower we can do anything in these areas.”

LESSONS

BP expects demand for oil to peak in the late 2030s, after which it will plateau and gradually decline.

For BP, whose roots go back to 1908 with the discovery of Iran’s first oil field, the days of the black gold are far from dead.

While oil prices in recent weeks have hit their highest levels since late 2014 at $80 a barrel, BP are working on an assumption that prices will remain at a range of $50-$65 per barrel due to surging U.S. shale output and OPEC’s ability to crank up output.

Mega projects involving complex, multi-billion facilities such as huge offshore platforms that came to symbolize the technological prowess of the world’s top oil companies are most likely a thing of the past, Dudley said.

Instead, BP is opting for phased developments that require less capital and less time to construct, which make them easier to control at a time of uncertainty over oil prices.

“Many of the companies in the industry are remembering the lesson learned during the $100 oil era (which) is take it in phases,” Dudley said.

BP is applying this approach in many of its main production hubs such as Egypt and Gulf of Mexico, where it can continue raising production into the early 2020s, Dudley said.

BP‘s oil and gas output is set to reach around 4 million bpd by the end of the decade, a level last seen in 2009, with more than a fifth of that coming from projects started since 2016.

It is partnering with top oil producing nations which have some of the lowest costs of extraction such as Oman, Azerbaijan and most importantly Russia, where BP has a 19.75 percent stake in Rosneft and where it draws one third of its production.

BP has a relatively small shale business, focused mostly on gas, but Dudley is considering growing in the sector, which has attracted billions of dollars in investments in recent years.

”(Shale) comes down to economics and competitiveness on what is on offer. So far they feel overheated... it is not a burning need to fill that in the portfolio, but if it is attractive, we will.”

BP could place a bid for BHP Billiton’s shale assets, Dudley said.

RUSSIA

BP’s position in Russia has put the firm in the spotlight as the United States and Europe tighten sanctions on Moscow.

Dudley, who sits on the board of Rosneft, believes BP can continue there and act as a bridge between countries.

“We don’t apologize for doing business in Russia,” said Dudley. “Certainly today within the boundaries of the sanctions we can and do operate without issues.”

BP will continue to operate in Russia and expand projects with Rosneft even though the company has had to turn down certain offers to develop projects offshore or in the Arctic, he said.

Dudley also said BP remained committed to its stake in Rosneft, which it received following the 2013 sale of TNK-BP.

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