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Trump’s failure to condemn the bigots of the alt-right tars his presidency

Wed, 2018-08-15 08:32

Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Unite the Right rally, is interviewed by reporters while police escort him into the Vienna metro station before they gather for a second Unite the Right Rally on the anniversary of last year's deadly Charlottesville demonstration on August 12, 2018 in Washington. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Calla Kessler (Calla Kessler/)

WASHINGTON -- How can a president as successful as Donald Trump be so unpopular?

Fueled by his historic tax reform and an unprecedented regulatory rollback, the economy grew by 4.1 percent in the second quarter. The unemployment rate is just 3.9 percent -- near the lowest it has been in nearly two decades -- and the New York Times reports, "Job growth is on a record streak [and] American factories ... are hiring at their fastest rate in two decades." African American and Hispanic unemployment rates are at near record lows. And the unemployment rate for women is the lowest it has been since 1953.

Virtually everyone is doing better thanks to the Trump economic boom. And yet the president's approval rating is stuck at 42 percent. Even worse, his disapproval rating has risen 11 points since his inauguration. When asked if Trump is doing an "excellent," "pretty good," "fair" or "poor" job as president, a stunning 45 percent say Trump is doing a "poor" job.

Part of his disapproval is driven by the intensity of the Democratic "resistance," and the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has certainly taken its toll. Others are put off by his tweetstorms and the chaotic nature of an administration that produces self-inflicted wounds such as family separations at the border.

But ultimately, what makes it impossible for many Americans who approve of Trump's policies to also approve of Trump's presidency is his failure to definitively reject and ostracize the bigots who inhabit the fever swamps of the alt-right. A year after Charlottesville, Trump has still not explicitly condemned them. "Riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division," Trump tweeted Saturday morning. "We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!"

Sorry, that's not good enough. Not all types of racists were marching in his name in Charlottesville. Not all types of racists held a rally after his election in which they shouted "Hail Trump!" Not all types of racists continue to claim to be a part of Trump's coalition.

The fact that the Unite the Right rally in front of the White House on Sunday fizzled does not let Trump off the hook. His defenders will argue that there are always protesters outside the White House, and none of his Republican or Democratic predecessors was expected to comment on them. Why should Trump have to do so? The answer is simple: because the ethno-nationalists of the alt-right have embraced him, and Trump has failed to make clear that he does not accept their support.

This is not hard. After some white nationalists praised a recent monologue she delivered, Fox News host Laura Ingraham went on the air and blasted them, declaring to "all white nationalists ... you don't represent my views, and you are antithetical to the beliefs I hold dear."

Why can't Trump bring himself to say the same thing?

Trump's failure to reject the bigots of the alt-right not only tars his presidency, it also tars his supporters. The overwhelming majority of people who voted for Trump are not racists. They are good, decent, patriotic Americans who were sick and tired of being ignored by the political establishments of both parties in Washington. They had legitimate grievances that were not being addressed, from the opioid crisis to an economy that was not giving them the chance to work and pursue lives of dignity.

Trump's election finally gave them a voice. But his failure to condemn the alt-right allows his critics to dismiss his supporters' valid concerns and lump them in with the tiny minority of bigots who have embraced the president.

His failure to condemn the alt-right has also prevented him from expanding his support beyond his core supporters. With his record, he should be winning over millions of Americans who did not vote for him in 2016 but whose circumstances have markedly improved under his presidency. Instead, his support is stagnant and his disapproval is growing. He would gain far more supporters by rejecting alt-right bigots than he would lose.

The fact is many Americans support Trump’s policies -- from his outstanding Supreme Court picks to his bold economic reforms -- but don’t support him for one simple reason: They don’t want to be associated with a man who seems to have so much trouble telling the white nationalists of the alt-right that they don’t represent his views and are antithetical to the beliefs he holds dear.

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Hanging on to Trump’s rabid base won’t be enough for Republicans

Wed, 2018-08-15 08:24

President Donald Trump arrives at a rally, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

After the Helsinki debacle, 11 days of the Paul Manafort trial, contradictory statements on the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, numerous obnoxious and racist tweets, never-ending verbal duels with accusers (including past employees) and, for good measure, a senseless trade war, we shouldn’t be surprised that President Donald Trump’s approval rating is slipping somewhat. Gallup has it down to 39 percent; Quinnipiac has it at 41 percent.

The Quinnipiac poll numbers highlight how poorly Americans think of him:

"Only 31 percent of American voters like President Donald Trump as a person, while 59 percent dislike him, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released (Tuesday). ... By a smaller 54 - 43 percent margin, American voters dislike President Trump's policies.

“Voters disapprove 54 - 41 percent of the job Trump is doing as president, including 48 percent who disapprove strongly. Another 30 percent approve strongly. The Trump Administration is not doing enough to help middle class Americans, voters say 58 - 38 percent.”

Americans don't need to hear a tape of Trump saying the n-word to know he "does not treat people of color with the same amount of respect he affords white people" - by a margin of 54 percent to 39 percent. Moreover, "American voters say 54 - 37 percent that 'President Trump has emboldened people who hold racist beliefs to express those beliefs publicly.' "

As for the media, Trump strikes out there, too. ("The news media is an important part of democracy, 65 percent of American voters say, while 26 percent of voters say the media is the enemy of the people.") On Russia, 55 percent say he is too weak, while only 36 percent say his attitude toward Russia is "about right." Unfortunately for Trump, "It is never acceptable for a presidential campaign to obtain information on a political opponent from a hostile foreign power, voters say 79 - 12 percent, including 69 - 19 percent among Republicans." And finally, special counsel Robert Mueller III is holding his own, with 51 percent saying he is doing a fair investigation and only 33 percent saying he is not.

Republicans operate in a different political universe. They approve of his job performance (83 percent) and actually like him (66 percent) - which makes one seriously question what attributes they find so attractive. (His vulgarity? His racism? His greed?) In the minds of Republicans, he is doing enough for the middle class (80 percent/16 percent) and the media is the "enemy of the people" (51 percent/36 percent). Sixty-eight percent of Republicans say he is tough enough on Russia, while 55 percent say Mueller is not conducting a fair investigation. The GOP has been thoroughly Trumpized and now resembles the right-wing, nativist parties of Europe.

This split in opinion between Republicans and everyone else is not a sustainable situation for a national party. Pew Research reported this year that "37% of registered voters identified as independents, 33% as Democrats and 26% as Republicans. ... The 8-percentage-point Democratic advantage in leaned partisan identification is wider than at any point since 2009, and a statistically significant shift since 2016." You cannot win national elections with a narrow base of support. (Quinnipiac's pollster aptly describes Trump's political situation: "The base is hanging in and the rest aren't buying in.")

We'll see in November how much of Trump's unpopularity weighs down Republicans. However, it doesn't bode well for Trump in 2020.

"The warning light for supporters of President Trump should be his seeming inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to expand his base," writes pollster Charlie Cook. "It would seem to be advisable for someone who captured the office with just 46 percent of the popular vote, 2.1 percentage points and 2.9 million votes less than his opponent had."

Trump cares only about the people who love him, and he needs their approval like a drug addict needs his next fix. He therefore goes back incessantly to the well of base-pleasing lines and themes. The base gets more and more fired up; everyone else gets more and more horrified. Cook cautions: "Politics is supposed to be an exercise in addition, not subtraction or division." Right now all Trump is doing is seeing how many groups (women, nonwhites, college-educated voters) he can drive away from the GOP.

Democrats shouldn't start measuring the Oval Office drapes, however. They will not beat Trump in 2020 with another weak candidate who suffers from political scandal. They won't win with a candidate who cannot dominate in a side-by side face-off. (They need someone who can treat Trump with the disdain he deserves and who can expertly wield facts to unnerve him and reveal him as a liar.) Democrats will not beat him with someone easily characterized as a far-left radical.

The search for a plausible presidential nominee is no trivial task. A party lacking an obvious candidate whose views are mainstream, who is battle-tested in presidential politics and who has sufficient toughness to take on Trump risks losing yet again to an entirely unfit GOP nominee. As bad as Trump’s numbers are, he will win again unless the Democrats or independents find someone better.

Lower Kuskokwim School District uses taxis to transport students

Wed, 2018-08-15 08:01

A mobile Kusko Cab dispatcher keeps track of his fleet on a board listing sections of town on a slow Aug. 28, 2014, in Bethel. (Erik Hill / ADN archive)

BETHEL – A Western Alaska school district is turning to taxis after scrambling to find transportation for students before the school year starts this week.

KYUK-AM reports the Lower Kuskokwim School District doesn't have enough buses for Bethel-area students, so administrators reached a deal with a taxi company to fill the transportation gap.

Kusko Cab will operate in a similar manner as the bus system. Owner Naim Shabani says the district will give cab vouchers to students and taxis will pick them up at designated stops in Bethel.

The district's last-minute scramble occurred after it parted ways with longtime contractor Golden Eagle Unlimited. The contractor provided transportation for students in Bethel for more than two decades.

The district has purchased a fleet of buses expected to arrive in about six weeks.

With little fanfare, Trump and McConnell reshape the federal judiciary

Wed, 2018-08-15 07:33

President Donald Trump (right) walks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before attending the weekly Senate luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 15, 2018. Bloomberg photo by Aaron P. Bernstein. (Aaron P. Bernstein/)

WASHINGTON - As the Senate moves toward confirming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are leading a lower-key yet deeply consequential charge to remake the entire federal judiciary.

The Senate will return Wednesday from an abbreviated summer recess to confirm two more federal appeals court judges by the end of the week. That would come on top of a record-breaking string of confirmations: The Senate already has installed 24 appellate court judges since Trump was sworn in, the highest number for a president's first two years in office.

While much of the focus has been on Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Senate's rapid approval of appellate court judges is likely to have its own broad impact on the nation, as the 13 circuit courts will shape decisions on immigration, voting rights, abortion and the environment for generations.

For McConnell, this is the culmination of a years-long gambit that started with stymieing President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, most notably Supreme Court choice Merrick Garland, and creating a backlog of vacancies on the nation's highest courts.

Trump's 2016 election enabled McConnell, R-Ky., to cement a legacy of judicial confirmations that is likely to be felt long after the two men leave office. The Republican leaders are also trying to use judicial nominations to energize conservative voters, whom party leaders worry will sit out the midterm elections.

There are 179 authorized judgeships for the U.S. Court of Appeals. With 24 confirmations and 13 vacancies to fill, Trump and the Republicans have the power to install more than 20 percent of the judges on the nation's second-highest courts.

"One of the most significant accomplishments in President Donald Trump's first year will serve Americans for decades to come, yet it has received very little fanfare," wrote McConnell with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, in a January National Review op-ed.

On Wednesday, the Senate plans to advance the nominations of Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. and Julius Ness Richardson, both for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Both Quattlebaum and Richardson have some bipartisan support, winning the votes of some Democrats when they were considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The Supreme Court gets the bulk of the attention, but the circuit courts decide the bulk of the cases," said Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies the federal judiciary. "Because the Supreme Court these days is taking so few cases, the law of the circuit is, on many, many issues, the final law for the people who live in that circuit."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said two of his children are beginning law school and "these judges will be there for a good part of their legal careers." The appeals court is "the backbone of the federal judiciary," said Blumenthal, who regretted the "very unfortunate," enduring legacy of Trump's choices.

Virtually all of Trump's nominees have graduated from top law schools, held Supreme Court clerkships or worked in big-name law firms or the Justice Department. But they also have affiliations with the Federalist Society or other conservative credentials. That, as well as past writings and cases, have sparked often fierce opposition from Democrats and liberal groups.

"These are not mainstream jurists being nominated because they are legal luminaries, but people who are coming to the bench with clear ideological-driven missions of eroding constitutional rights and legal protections," said Daniel Goldberg, legal director for the Alliance for Justice, a liberal group focused on judicial issues.

Hellman said that Trump's nominees have, so far, largely replaced retiring Republican-appointed judges, and thus he has yet to wholly remake any of the 13 circuit courts. But he said at least one circuit - the 5th Circuit, covering Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas - is at a tipping point.

Democrats have sought to slow the confirmations, forcing every circuit court nominee to clear procedural hurdles. But a Democratic rule change in 2013 allows federal judicial nominees to advance to confirmation by a simple majority.

Under Trump, the pace of confirmations to the district courts, which are lower on the court hierarchy, has lagged behind Obama and George W. Bush.

"Twenty-four is excellent for two years," said Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former law clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. "But it needs to be sustained in order to have any real transformative effect."

During the final two years of the Obama administration, in which Republicans controlled the Senate, the confirmation of judicial nominees slowed to a crawl - giving McConnell and Trump plenty of vacancies to fill starting in 2017.

Hours after Scalia's death in February 2016, McConnell said the Senate would not consider any Obama nominee until the voters had their say in the presidential election. Democrats were enraged but powerless.

The decision paid huge dividends when Trump won in 2016 and nominated Gorsuch, a conservative choice widely hailed by Republicans. Gorsuch won the vote of all Republican senators and three Democrats.

Now, McConnell is confidently eyeing a confirmation vote for Kavanaugh this fall. The judge plans to meet Wednesday with Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, N.D., and Joe Donnelly, Ind. The two backed Gorsuch, face challenging reelection bids in states Trump won and are feeling pressure to vote for Kavanaugh.

Russell Wheeler, a Brookings Institution visiting fellow who closely tracks judicial nominations, said that now more than ever, the confirmation process is more about hardball politics and less about cooperation between the parties. "It's just dog-eat-dog for the moment, and we'll worry about what happens when the tables get turned later," he said. "I don't see how you ratchet it back."

The Democratic attempts to defeat Kavanaugh have fallen flat, leading to finger-pointing within the party. Liberal activists have portrayed Kavanaugh as a threat to tilt the court toward erasing health-care protections and abortion rights - arguments that have shown virtually no signs of swaying most critical swing votes in the Senate.

McConnell is trying to use the Supreme Court pick as well as the Senate's work on lower court nominees to spur conservative voters to participate in November's midterms. Republicans are defending a 51-49 majority, and party leaders are bracing for a difficult election, due to Trump's unpopularity.

A Pew Research Center poll in July found conservative Republicans more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to say the choice of the next Supreme Court justice was very important to them.

Steven Law, a former McConnell aide who is now the president of the conservative group American Crossroads, predicted that the Supreme Court and judicial nominations more broadly "will be part of our pitch to conservatives on why their vote matters this fall."

Exit polls conducted in the 2016 election found that 7 in 10 said Supreme Court appointments were the most or an important factor in their vote. Among Trump voters, 26 percent said it was "the most important factor" and 48 percent said it was "an important factor."

"It was a way for him to reassure people who didn't really want to vote for Hillary Clinton that he was going to be, even though he was quite unusual, he was going to be a real Republican," McConnell said of Trump in an interview with The Washington Post this summer.

McConnell, who titled his memoir "The Long Game," frequently reminds his allies that the Senate is in the personnel business. He's had a rocky relationship with Trump since his election, but the confirmed judges have given them a common goal.

Republicans face difficult political head winds in November, with some on the right fearful they will soon lose their plum chances to push through court nominees.

"If the Republicans lose the Senate in November, the great start will be nothing more than a great start," said Whelan.

The Washington Post’s Emily Guskin, Seung Min Kim and Paul Kane contributed to this report.

Analysis: Winners and losers from Tuesday’s primaries: Once again, Trump is a big winner

Wed, 2018-08-15 06:32

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, center, is greeted by his supporters after returning to the watch party, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in Plymouth, Minn. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via AP) (Alex Kormann/)

Primaries in four states Tuesday - Minnesota, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Vermont - set up competitive governors, Senate and House races across the country this November. But even before then, these primaries identified some clear winners and losers that reinforced trends we’ve been seeing all year. Here they are:


• Trump: At least in Republican primary politics, Tuesday once again proved he’s the king. Republican politicians on the ballot Tuesday who dissed him in 2016 raced to undo that, and those who didn’t do it convincingly enough lost their primaries. In Minnesota’s competitive governor’s race, Republican voters nominated a relative outsider, Jeff Johnson, over a former governor, Tim Pawlenty, as Pawlenty struggled to get out from under the fact he called Trump “unhinged and unfit” during the campaign. (Johnson has his own past problems with Trump, which we’ll get to in the loser section.) “The Republican Party has shifted,” Pawlenty said as he lost. “It is the era of Trump, and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.”

Trump's riskiest endorsement yet, in last week's GOP Kansas governor's primary, paid off Tuesday, too. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded an ultra-close race to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped lead Trump's voter fraud commission.

• Diversity: For the first time, voters of a major party nominated an openly transgender woman for governor. Christine Hallquist won the Democratic nomination for governor in Vermont (though she’ll have to work hard to actually make that race against Gov. Phil Scott, R, competitive). In Connecticut, Democrat Jahana Hayes won her primary for Congress and is set to become the first black woman to represent New England in the House. In Minnesota, Democrat Ilhan Omar is one of two candidates who won primaries in the past two weeks vying to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

• Candidates with arrest records and alleged #MeToo perpetrators: Once again, 2018 is proving that politicians can be accused of -- or admit -- behaving badly and win elections. The felon on the ballot Tuesday, a Connecticut mayor running for governor, didn’t win. But in Wisconsin, an admitted drunk driver did. Democrat Randy Bryce, an iron worker who has raised millions to try to take the seat of retiring House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R, in November, won his primary. In Minnesota, Rep. Keith Ellison, D, won his nomination for attorney general while denying accusations that he abused a former girlfriend.

Connecticut Republicans: It sounds counterintuitive to say a governor’s race in Connecticut would be among the most competitive races in the country this November. But that is exactly what appears to be shaping up after Tuesday. Both Democrats and Republicans nominated the candidates they wanted for this open seat (Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, both wealthy businessmen). Outgoing Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy is one of the most unpopular politicians in America, so Republicans feel like they have a real shot to seize this governor’s mansion.


Republican consistency on Trump: Any Republican on the ballot Tuesday who didn’t particularly like Trump in 2016 (or now) needed to pivot quickly. In Wisconsin, state Sen. Leah Vukmir did just that as she won her primary to challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. She called him “offensive to everyone” during the campaign but endorsed him after he won the primary.

And the night's big winner, Johnson in Minnesota's GOP governor's primary, had attacked Trump as a "jackass" during the campaign. But he successfully argued that, like Vukmir, he came around to supporting the president.

Gov. Scott Walker, R, who didn't have a competitive primary Tuesday but will have a competitive reelection in November, has twisted himself into a pretzel on whether he supports Trump's tariff policy, which has ensnared Wisconsin's Harley-Davidson.

Republicans' chances in governor’s races in Minnesota and Kansas: The Trumpier candidate won in each of these races, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for Republicans' chances in November.

In Kansas, Washington Republicans aren't happy that Kobach won. They feel that his inflammatory politics gives Democrats a leg up to take that governor's mansion. They're even less thrilled with Minnesota's results. The Republican Governors Association had reserved $3 million to $4 million in ads for the general election, but that could be in jeopardy now that a lesser-known candidate, Johnson, is the nominee.

People who don’t want white nationalists running for Congress: He lost, by a lot, but in the Republican primary to replace Ryan in Wisconsin, self-described “pro-white” nationalist candidate Paul Nehlen got 11 percent of Republican turnout on Tuesday. That’s about 6,500 votes for a guy who was banned from Twitter for racist posts.

Billionaires: In Wisconsin’s Republican Senate primary, both candidates were boosted by billionaires willing to throw millions at the race. In the end, someone had to win (Vukmir). The loser was Kevin Nicholson, a former Democrat who paradoxically was boosted by one of the most conservative billionaires active in U.S. politics, Richard Uihlein. Some $8 million in spending for Nicholson’s failed election can be tied back Uihlein.

White House admits error for false claim on black employment

Wed, 2018-08-15 06:07

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders smiles as she speaks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in Washington. Sanders took questions about former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault and other topics. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)

WASHINGTON — The White House has acknowledged error in its false claim that President Donald Trump created three times as many jobs for African-Americans than President Barack Obama.

It was a rare admission of fault for an administration that frequently skews data and overstates economic gains.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter late Tuesday that she had been wrong earlier that day when she told reporters that Obama created only 195,000 jobs for African-Americans during his tenure compared with Trump's 700,000 new jobs in just two years.

The U.S. economy actually added about 3 million jobs for black workers during Obama's tenure, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years," she told reporters during a Tuesday press briefing.

But that assertion is false. Official statistics show black jobs went from 15.5 million when Obama took office in January 2008 to 18.4 million when he left in January 2017.

In fact, the most dramatic drop in black unemployment came during the Obama administration as the nation climbed out of a crippling recession. Unemployment of black workers fell from 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.

It is true that black workers under Trump have continued to see gains, reaching a record low of 5.9 percent in May. Still, black unemployment rate is now nearly double that of whites, which is 3.4 percent.

Sanders tweeted Tuesday: "Jobs numbers for Pres Trump and Pres Obama were correct, but the time frame for Pres Obama wasn't. I'm sorry for the mistake, but no apologies for the 700,000 jobs for African-Americans created under President Trump."

Sanders linked to a tweet by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which claimed responsibility for the “miscommunication.”

Death toll hits 39 in Italy bridge collapse; blame begins

Wed, 2018-08-15 06:02

Cars and trucks are left on a section of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters (nearly 300 feet) into a heap of rubble below. (AP Photo/Nicola Marfisi) (Nicola Marfisi/)

GENOA, Italy — Italian prosecutors on Wednesday focused their investigation into the Genoa highway bridge collapse on possible design flaws or inadequate maintenance, as the death toll rose to 39 and Italian politicians looked for someone to blame.

Fears mounted that a part of the Morandi Bridge which is still standing could also coming crashing down. That prompted authorities to widen their evacuation to include some 630 people living near the highway bridge that was carved in two by the collapse of its midsection during a violent storm.

On Tuesday, just as many Italians were driving to vacation destinations on the eve of Italy's biggest summer holiday, a huge stretch of the 51-year-old bridge collapsed, sending over 30 cars and three trucks plunging to the ground as far as 45 meters (150 feet) below.

As this crippled major Mediterranean port city of 600,000 reeled from the tragedy, about 1,000 rescue workers on Wednesday kept searching through tons of broken concrete slabs, smashed vehicles and twisted steel from the bridge for any more bodies. At least two more were pulled out.

Some of the tons of debris that rained down from the bridge landed in a dry stream bed, while other wreckage came crashing down perilously close to apartment buildings. At one point, Sky TG24 said, residents were temporarily stopped from even returning to their homes briefly to grab essential documents, medicine or other necessities.

Cars and trucks are left on a section of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters (nearly 300 feet) into a heap of rubble below. (AP Photo/Nicola Marfisi) (Nicola Marfisi/)
General view of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters (nearly 300 feet) into a heap of rubble below. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP) (Luca Zennaro/)
A view of the Morandi highway bridge that collapsed in Genoa, northern Italy, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. A large section of the bridge collapsed over an industrial area in the Italian city of Genova during a sudden and violent storm, leaving vehicles crushed in rubble below. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) (Antonio Calanni/)
In this photo released by the Italian firefighters, rescue teams work among the rubble of the collapsed Morando highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters (nearly 300 feet) into a heap of rubble below. (Vigili Del Fuoco via AP)
Rescue teams search for survivors among the rubble of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa, northern Italy, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters (nearly 300 feet) into a heap of rubble below. (Flavio Lo Scalzo/ANSA via AP) (Flavio Lo Scalzo/)

Besides searching through the mountain of debris, emergency workers said it has to be cleared away as soon as possible. Genoa is a flood-prone city, and authorities warned that the piles in the dry riverbed could become a dam in a matter of hours if heavy rains arrive.

Civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli confirmed Wednesday that 39 people had died and 15 were injured. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said three children were among the dead. Three French citizens and two Albanians were also killed.

Genoa Prosecutor Francesco Cozzi told reporters the investigation into the collapse was focused on human causes, specifically the possibility of inadequate maintenance or a design flaw in the bridge’s construction.

"'I don't know if there is responsibility. For sure it was not an accident," he said.

Asked if authorities had been given any warning that the bridge, — a key link between two high-speed highways, one headed toward neighboring France and the other to Milan — could be dangerous, Cozzi indicated that no serious safety concerns before Tuesday had reached his office.

Otherwise "none of us would have driven over that highway 20 times a month as we do," Cozzi said.

Work to upgrade the bridge's safety with a 20 million-euro ($22.7 million) project had already been approved, with public bids for the work to be submitted by September. According to the business daily Il Sole, the improvement work involved two weight-bearing columns that support the bridge — including one that collapsed Tuesday.

The 1967 bridge, considered innovative in its time for its use of concrete around its cables, was long due for an upgrade, especially since the structure was more heavily trafficked than its designers had envisioned.

One expert in such construction, Antonio Brencich at the University of Genoa, had previously called the bridge "a failure of engineering."

Engineering experts, noting that the bridge was 51 years old, said corrosion and decades of wear-and-tear from weather could have been factors in its collapse.

The Italian CNR civil engineering society said structures dating from when the Morandi Bridge was built had surpassed their lifespan. It called for an ambitious comprehensive plan to repair or replace tens of thousands of Italian bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s, during the Italian economy's rapid growth as the nation surged back after the damage of World War II.

Mehdi Kashani, an associate professor in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton in Britain, said pressure from "dynamic loads," such as heavy traffic or strong winds, could have resulted in "fatigue damage" in the bridge's parts.

Italian politicians, for their part, were busy pointing fingers at possible culprits.

Italy's deputy premier, Luigi Di Maio, blamed the bridge collapse on a lack of maintenance by the private company that operates many of the nation's toll highways. Speaking in Genoa, Di Maio said Wednesday that he was looking at revoking highway concessions.

"Instead of investing money for maintenance, they divide the profits. And that is why the bridge falls," Di Maio said of the holding company that controls Autostrade Per Italia.

Di Maio, who leads the anti-business 5-Star Movement party that is part of Italy's coalition government, also took a swipe at the Benetton group, which controls Autostrade SRL through its Atlantia holding company. He blamed previous Italian governments of turning a blind eye to the health of the nation's toll highways because of political contributions.

Autostrade controls 3,020 kilometers (1,876 miles) of Italian highways.

Transport and Infrastructure Danilo Toninelli, also from the populist 5-Star Movement, threatened in a Facebook post that the state, if necessary, would take direct control of the highway contractor responsible for the bridge if it couldn't properly care for it.

State radio reported Wednesday that some 5-Star lawmakers in 2013 had questioned the wisdom of an ambitious, expensive infrastructure highway overhaul program as possibly wasteful, but that a post about that on the Movement's site was removed Tuesday after the bridge's collapse.

Just hours after the collapse, Salvini also was trying to shift the blame away from Italy’s new populist government, vowing not to let European Union spending strictures on Italy, which is laden with public debt, stop any effort to make the country’s infrastructure safe

Public weighs in, but no action yet on plastic bag ban in Anchorage

Wed, 2018-08-15 00:13

A proposed Anchorage ban on thin, single-use plastic shopping bags generated mostly positive public testimony, along with some opposition, at an Anchorage Assembly meeting Tuesday night.

But the Assembly won't make a decision on a ban for at least another two weeks. When the meeting adjourned at 11:15 p.m., the Assembly had just begun to weigh banning all plastic shopping bags, as opposed to a ban on plastic shopping bags of a certain thickness that are handed out with a fee.

Sponsors of the measure say the goal is to encourage people to bring their own bags from home and reduce littering.

Most of the roughly 20 people who testified about the proposed ban said they were concerned about the effects of plastic on the environment. Some wore stickers that read "Plastic Free Anchorage," representing a group that is seeking to reduce overall plastic use in the city.

Stephanie Thornton of Eagle River came to the meeting with her young daughter. She told the Assembly they picked up more plastic bags every spring, and had spotted them high up in trees.

Grace Johnston, who lives in Rabbit Creek, described a poll she conducted on that asked opinions on a plastic bag ban or tax. About 200 people took it, and close to three-quarters supported a ban not only supported a ban on plastic bags but also on single-use plastic straws and coffee cup lids, Johnston said.

"Change is very hard and this will be a difficult change for many people, but I believe it's a necessary change," Karen Dahl, a Midtown resident, told the Assembly.

In Wasilla, the thin, single-use plastic bags have been outlawed since July 1. Some major retailers, like Target and Walmart, are still putting purchases in plastic bags, though the bags are now required to be more substantial. It's free for now at Target; Walmart is charging a 10-cent fee.

[Plastic…for a price: How the bag ban shakes out in Wasilla]

Carol Montgomery, of the Mat-Su Zero Waste Coalition, told the Assembly on Tuesday night the ban went smoothly. Many other large retailers have switched entirely to paper bags, Montgomery said.

A similar ban in Palmer takes effect July 1.

Not everyone was a fan of the proposed ban or that the Assembly was spending time on it.

Tom McGrath of Spenard said Anchorage residents would bear the cost of the ban. He questioned where the regulation would stop, noting that plastic bags are only one type of plastics being distributed to customers.

Rose Chamberlain of Fairview said that she asked a dozen people at the supermarket if they knew the Assembly was debating a plastic bag ban Tuesday night. All of them said no, she said.

She suggested that residents were more worried about crime than plastic shopping bags.

Jeremy Price, state director for the Alaska branch of Americans for Prosperity, said he opposed any legislation that would regulate the way people carried groceries.

The Assembly is expected to meet one more time to hash out details of a proposed ban before its next meeting Aug. 28.

On Tuesday night, Assemblyman Christopher Constant proposed an outright ban on all single-use plastic shopping bags, regardless of the thickness. Other Assembly members were leaning toward a measure that allows plastic bags of a certain thickness, while requiring a fee for reusable or paper bags.

At 21st annual Steel Bucket Relay, to the victors go the paintbrushes

Tue, 2018-08-14 21:19

Runners in the first leg of the girls race leave the starting line Tuesday at Kincaid Park. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Swapping paint isn't an activity exclusive to NASCAR drivers.

Thanks to the outcome of Tuesday's Steel Bucket Relay at Kincaid Park, paint jobs are in order for the traveling trophies awarded to the winning teams at the annual meet between the Dimond and West cross-country teams.

The steel bucket trophies (which are actually aluminum) traded hands after the Dimond boys won the race for the first time since 2011 and the West girls prevailed for the first time since 2015.

The team that wins the bucket gets to paint it in school colors, so for the girls trophy, orange is the new maroon. The boys trophy, which has been orange and black the last six years, will be redecorated in maroon and gold.

"This was a huge deal," said Niko Latva-Kiskola, a senior who anchored the Dimond boys team. "I've been doing this race since my freshman year and they've always had a better team than us, so to win this, it's amazing."

Buckets that teams get to paint in school colors are the prizes in the annual dual meet between West and Dimond. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Latva-Kiskola teamed up with Noah Hoefer, Santiago Prosser and Fred Rygh to win the 4×2.2.-kilometer race in 28 minutes, 27.5 seconds. The West A team of Everett Cason, Isaac Dammeyer, Ben Post and Ethan Davis was next in 29:16.8.

Cason gave West an early lead by running the opening leg in 6:55, but Dimond took the lead for good on the next leg when Prosser clocked a 6:46, the fastest time of the day.

By the end of the race, the Lynx had a big enough lead that Latva-Kiskola was able to celebrate as he crossed the finish line, going through a bit of choreography borrowed from his other life as a soccer player.

"That's my old goal celebration," he said of the twirling of an index finger followed by the cupping of his ears with his hands. "It was fun to have a little leeway to do something like that."

It'll be just as fun to take the bucket away from West and recast it in Dimond colors, he said: "We'll put a lot of jokes on it that only West people will get."

Niko Latva-Kiskola celebrates at the finish line after anchoring the Dimond boys relay team. (Marc Lester / ADN)

West won the girls race behind a strong opening leg from Payton Smith, a freshman who is quickly learning about the tradition of the Steel Bucket Relay.

"What I did know was we didn't have the bucket, and my coach really wanted the bucket," Smith said. "She promised donuts if we won. So I ran for the donuts."

Smith teamed up with Natalie Hood, Ryann Dorris and Lily Slatonbarker to win the girls relay on 34:57.0. The Dimond A team of Delainey Zock, Kylie Judd, Annika Ostberg and Mary Reinbold finished second in 35:14.3.

Smith's opening leg of 8:21 gave West a big lead, but Judd ran 8:13 for Dimond on the second leg to make things close. Judd's split was the fastest of the day and Smith's was the second-fastest.

West was ahead by about seven seconds going into the final 2.2 kilometers, and any chance the Lynx had of coming from behind was negated by Slatonbarker's solid anchor effort — and Reinbold's loose shoelace.

Dimond’s Delainey Zock leads a line of runners through the Kincaid Park woods. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Reinbold, a junior, ran nearly her entire race while carrying one of her shoes. She kicked off the shoe when her heel came out after about 500 meters.

"I'm kind of obsessed with tying my shoes, so I never thought I'd lose a shoe," she said. "Once my shoe fell off, I lost my race mentality."

Little wonder there. Reinbold said she spent much of the race with her head down, looking at the ground so she didn't injure her foot on a rock or a root.

Tuesday was the 21st running of the Steel Bucket Relay, the brainchild of former coaches John Clark of Dimond and Joe Alward of West. It started out as a pursuit race, with runners going out in intervals, but the next year it became a relay race and has been popular with kids ever since, Alward said.

It's one of a handful of offbeat cross-country races that precede the high-intensity region and state championships at the end of the season. Another is next month's Skinny Raven New Balance 3K, which typically includes hay bales for runners to vault over.

"I like these kind of races," Prosser said. "There's less pressure. You can come out here and be friends with the West guys, but at the same time, it's for the buckets."

A moose cow and calf pass the race course before the girls race begins. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Cason, who had Tuesday's second-fastest time, said it's always fun to race when there are trophies at stake.

"This makes you want to win things all through the season," he said. "If we didn't have races like this, you could wait to peak at state."

The Steel Bucket Relay is particularly motivating because it's the same two teams every year, fighting for the same two buckets.

"Last year when it was over we were like, 'OK, what's it gonna be like next season?' '' Cason said.

He said they talked about seniors who wouldn't be back, underclassmen who might come back stronger and incoming freshmen who might make an impact.

"You can talk about it all you want," he said, "but then it's time for less talking and more doing."

And in this case, more painting.

West’s Ceyda Ertekin races through the Kincaid Park woods. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Boys 4×2.2-kilometer relay

1) Dimond (Noah Hoefer, Santiago Prosser, Fred Rygh, Niko Latva-Kiskola) 28:27.5; 2) West (Everett Cason, Isaac Dammeyer, Ben Post, Ethan Davis) 29:16.8; 3) Dimond (George Cvancara, Noah Rygh, Nick Jablonski, Cameron Sheldon) 30:24.4; 4) West (Sawyer Barta, Sam Lebo, Skyler Parks, Harrison Sturm), 31:26.4; 5) Dimond (Ian Cruickshank, Kurtis Brumbaugh, Adrian Velasco, Dastzeni Tibbits) 32:03.1; 6) West (Leo McNicholas, Mason Schrage, Quinn Smith, Charlie Rush) 33:41.9; 7) West (Diego Jenkins, Billy Mueller, Solomon Shepherd, Talis Colberg) 33:51.1; 8) Dimond (Zachary Williams, Nicholas Prosser, Aiden Gannon, Ronnie Fiscus) 34:06.9; 9) West (Diego Jenkins, Beau Brown, Max Embree, Aidan Flannigan) 35:41.6; 10) Dimond (Jaden Nakata, Jared Gardiner, James Tatakis, Preston Skeete) 37:14.2; 11) Dimond (Owen White, Hunter DeWall, Joseph Jablonski, Bret Brumbaugh) 38:04.2; 12) Dimond (Andy Campbell, Markus Latva-Kiskola, Benjamin McCormack, Alex Fiscus) 38:10.5.

Girls 4×2.2-kilometer relay

1) West (Payton Smith, Natalie Hood, Ryann Dorris, Lily Slatonbarker) 34:57.0; 2) Dimond Delainey Zock, Kylie Judd, Annika Ostberg, Mary Reinbold, 35:14.3; 3) West (Hannah Yi, Frida Vargus, Anika Colberg, Kelsey Johannes) 36:38.4; 4) Dimond (Sophia Cvancara, Maria Cvancara, Kaley Fleming, Haille Rogers) 37:01.1; 5) West (Quincy Donley, Lorien Kauffman, Afton Milliman, Ivy Eski) 39:05.7; 6) Dimond (Renee Wilcox, Savanna Maxon, Ailan Johnsen, Carli Walch) 40:39.0; 7) West (Camas Oxford, Valerie Brudie, Amber Draayer, Beatrix Brudie) 40:57.6; 8) Dimond (Katie Puls, Xiomara Chavez, Kierstyn Scarpella, Alexis Black) 41:52.9; 9) Dimond (Lauren Madden, Sarah Lowry, Liz Engle, Hailey Rose) 42:29.3; 10) West (Ceyda Ertekin, Lucy Dammeyer, Shelby Bates, Adira Lawrence)  43:13.1; 11) West (Talya Barnes, Liza Lebo, Ada Lawrence, Kate Becia) 49:04.9; 12) Dimond (Hannah Gross, Emma Montagna, Audrey Pepe-Phelps, Annika Enkvist) 51:01.3.

Fans cheer as racers pass. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Boys individual times

1, Santiago Prosser, D, 06:46.8;
2, Everett Cason, W,  06:55.6;
3, Niko Latva-Kiskola, D, 07:09.0;
4, Ethan Davis, W, 07:11.5;
5, Fred Rygh, D, 07:12.9;
6, George Cvancara, D, 07:14.9;
7, Noah Hoefer, D, 07:18.8;
8, Ben Post, W, 07:32.9;
9, Noah Rygh, D, 07:32.9;
10, Cameron Sheldon, D, 07:36.1;
11, Isaac Dammeyer, W,  07:36.9;
12, Harrison Sturm, W, 07:44.4;
13, Kurtis Brumbaugh, D, 07:49.6;
14, Skyler Parks, W, 07:50.1;
15, Dastzeni Tibbits, D, 07:53.1;
16, Sam Lebo, W, 07:53.3;
17, Sawyer Barta, W, 07:58.5;
18, Nick Jablonski, D, 08:00.5;
19, Ian Cruickshank, D, 08:06.2;
20, Leo McNicholas, W, 08:08.2;
21, Diego Jenkins, W, 08:09.2;
22, Nicholas Prosser, D, 08:11.3;
23, Adrian Velasco, D, 08:14.2;
24, Quinn Smith, W, 08:17.1;
25, Billy Mueller, W, 08:18.8;
26, Ronnie Fiscus, D, 08:25.0;
27, Aiden Gannon, D, 08:33.5;
28, Talis Colberg, W, 08:36.7;
29, Mason Schrage, W, 08:37.6;
30, Charlie Rush, W, 08:39.0;
31, Diego Jenkins, W,  08:40.1;
32, Max Embree, W, 08:42.1;
33, Joseph Jablonski, D, 08:42.6;
34, Beau Brown, W, 08:45.1;
35, Solomon Shepherd, W, 08:46.4;
36, Bret Brumbaugh, D, 08:55.7; ,
37, Zachary Williams, D, 08:57.1;
38, Markus Latva-Kiskola, D, 09:00.4;
39, Hunter DeWall, D, 09:04.6;
40, Jared Gardiner, D, 09:12.6D,
41, James Tatakis, D, 09:14.2;
42, Preston Skeete, 09:18.1;
43, Evan Silcox, W, 09:27.2;
44, Jaden Nakata, D, 09:29.3;
45, Elias Darrell, D, 09:31.6;
46, Aidan Flannigan, W, 09:34.3;
47, Elias Lindemuth, W, 09:34.4;
48, Andy Campbell, D, 09:34.6;
49, Benjamin McCormack, D, 09:35.2;
50, Wayne Koelsch, v09:54.7;
51, Alex Fiscus, D, 10:00.2;
52, Levi Brown, W, 10:10.0;
53, Lawton Skaling, D, 10:25.5;
54, Owen White, D, 11:21.3;
55, Adisak Prasannet, W, 14:30.9.

Girls individual times

1, Kylie Judd, D, 08:13.4;
2, Payton Smith, W, 08:21.1;
3, Donley Quincy, W, 08:26.3;
4, Lily Slatonbarker, W, 08:40.4;
5, Mary Reinbold, D, 08:50.3;
6, Natalie Hood, W, 08:51.2;
7, Ivy Eski, W, 08:55.6;
8, Maria Cvancara, D, 08:55.9;
9, Delainey Zock, D, 09:00.3;
10, Sophia Cvancara, D, 09:03.9;
11, Ryann Dorris, W, 09:04.2;
12, Frida Vargus, W, 09:04.4;
13, Hannah Yi, W, 09:07.1;
14, Annika Ostberg, D, 09:10.3;
15, Kelsey Johannes, W, 09:11.4;
16, Anika Colberg, W, 09:15.5;
17, Kaley Fleming, D, 09:21.4;
18, Haille Rogers, D,  09:39.8;
19, Renee Wilcox, D, 09:47.2;
20, Ailan Johnsen, D,  09:56.8;
21, Alexis Black, D, 09:59.2;
22, Camus Oxford, W, 10:02.6;
23, Katie Puls, D, 10:12.4;
24, Savanna Maxon, D, 10:13.5;
25, Beatrix Brudie, W, 10:16.4;
26, Lorien Kauffman, W, 10:17.0;
27, Valerie Brudie, W, 10:18.0;
28, Amber Draayer, W, 10:20.6;
29, Shelby Bates, W, 10:20.8;
30, Sarah Lowry, D, 10:22.5;
31, Lucy Dammeyer, W, 10:22.7;
32, Liz Engle, D, 10:28.5;
33, Lauren Madden, D, 10:31.3;
34, Hannah Gross, D, 10:32.7;
35, Ceyda Ertekin, W, 10:33.7;
36, Carli Walch, D, 10:41.6;
37, Xiomara Chavez, D, 10:42.2;

38, Kierstyn Scarpella, D, 10:59.1;
39, Hailey Rose, D, 11:07.0;
40, Audrey Pepe-Phelps, D, 11:07.4;
41, Afton Milliman, W, 11:26.8; ,
42, Emma Montagna, D, 11:36.0;
43, Liza Lebo, W, 11:53.5;
44, Adira Lawrence, W, 11:55.9;
45, Kate Becia, W, 12:01.2;
46, Ada Lawrence, W, 12:21.7;
47, Talya Barnes, W, 12:48.6;
48, Annika Enkvist, D, 17:45.3.

West’s Talya Barnes smiles as she cheered by friends. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Transgender nominee Hallquist will face Vermont GOP Gov. Scott

Tue, 2018-08-14 18:46

Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman and former electric company executive, applauds with her supporters during her election night party in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Republican Gov. Phil Scott, despite a backlash from his base over gun restrictions he supported, won his party's primary to seek a second term and will face a former utility executive who on Tuesday became the first transgender candidate to win a major political party's nomination for governor.

Scott defeated a challenge from Springfield businessman Keith Stern. He will face Christine Hallquist, who won the Democratic primary to run for the state's highest office in November, when she would become the nation's first transgender governor if elected.

Hallquist has said she doesn't want Vermont residents to elect her governor because of her transgender status. Rather, she has said, she wants her candidacy to rise or fall on her plans to help state residents get higher-paying jobs, provide health care for their families and better educate their children.

She said she plans to appeal to voters with a progressive message that includes a livable wage, Medicare for all, free public college education and high-speed broadband access even to those who live on remote back roads.

Outside Vermont, though, she said she's happy to carry the standard as the candidate who, if elected, would be the nation's first transgender governor.

FILE – In this April 11, 2018, file photo, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott speaks before signing a gun restrictions bill on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt. Scott, despite a backlash from his base over gun restrictions he supported, won his party’s primary to seek a second term as governor on Tuesday, Aug. 14. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter, File)

Scott, first elected in 2016, was facing a rebellion from his base due to his support for a series of gun restrictions that, while mild by national standards, angered many members of Vermont's avid hunting community. The restrictions, which Scott signed into law in April, came after the arrest of a teenager on charges he was plotting a school shooting.

Those measures included raising the age to buy firearms from 18 to 21, restricting the size of gun magazines and requiring background checks for most private gun sales.

Scott will seek re-election in November by continuing his pledge to make the state more affordable, not raise taxes or fees, foster a better environment for businesses and attract newcomers to the state.

Hallquist defeated environmental activist James Ehlers; dance festival organizer Brenda Siegel; and 14-year-old student Ethan Sonneborn, on the ballot because a quirk in state law doesn't require candidates to be of voting age. Democratic state Sen. John Rodgers, from Vermont's remote and conservative Northeast Kingdom, failed in his bid for a grassroots write-in campaign, largely motivated by his displeasure with firearms restrictions.

The Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointment would threaten Alaska Native subsistence

Tue, 2018-08-14 18:26

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan meets with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Sullivan’s Washington, D.C., office on Thursday, July 12, 2018. (Erica Martinson / ADN)

Brett Kavanaugh could cast the Supreme Court vote that takes away federal protection of subsistence fishing rights for Alaska Natives.

Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation will probably happen before the court decides a case called Sturgeon v. Frost, about control of Alaska's rivers. Sturgeon's states' rights argument is tailor-made for Kavanaugh, who President Trump picked from a list by the conservative Federalist Society.

Pressure on Sen. Lisa Murkowski to oppose Kavanaugh has focused on Roe v. Wade. After his confirmation, the court is widely expected to restrict or reverse women's constitutional right to abortion. Murkowski is a rare pro-choice Republican in the Senate.

But subsistence shines an even brighter light on the contradictions in Murkowski's party membership.

Alaska Republicans — and our independent governor, Bill Walker — carry the states' rights banner with insistence I've never been able to fathom. In this case, they are backing John Sturgeon's suit against the National Park Service, which blocked him from using a hovercraft in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Sturgeon claims the state, not the federal government, should control those waters.

Alaska's constitution prohibits giving preferential fishing rights to rural residents. So, if Sturgeon wins and the state takes over the rivers, Native subsistence fishing in navigable rivers could be lost.

"I think as soon as you back up the Sturgeon case, you're against the Native way of life," said Fred John Jr., of Mentasta. "That's what the state wanted all these years, the power to take subsistence back, which is for everybody. Once they do that, we've lost everything."

John, 75, is the son of the late Katie John, whose historic 30-year legal fight defended Native subsistence rights on Alaska's navigable rivers.

[When is a boat more important than a way of life?]

It's time for Republicans who claim to support subsistence to explain why states' rights are more important than the age-old rights of constituents who were on the land long before anyone thought of creating the State of Alaska.

On the one hand, they say they support subsistence. On the other hand, their actions are the biggest threat to subsistence rights.

When he was Alaska Attorney General, Dan Sullivan, now a U.S. Senator, tried to fight the Katie John case at the Supreme Court. Now he also supports Sturgeon. The nominee he put forward for the District Court in Anchorage, Jon Katchen, worked on that case.

[How connections trumped qualifications to be Alaska's new federal judge]

In a recent ADN opinion piece, Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said that the state could win management of rivers in the Sturgeon case and still protect subsistence.

Her Supreme Court brief, filed Tuesday, argues that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong to link the Katie John and Sturgeon cases. But the state's argument is complex and would require the high court to interpret certain words differently in different parts of the same federal law.

The risk to subsistence rights is great if Sturgeon wins. The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that the state can't protect a rural priority for subsistence.

"One has to question the state's position that they can manage hunting and fishing with a rural preference given that it's constitutionally illegal to do that," said former Gov. Tony Knowles.

As governor, Knowles declined to fight Katie John in court after visiting her fish camp. He pushed for a state constitutional amendment to allow a rural subsistence preference through a series of special sessions during his two terms, from 1994 to 2002.

Conservative Republicans narrowly defeated putting the amendment on the ballot, forcing the federal government to take over management to defend Native subsistence.

"Every poll indicated the public would overwhelmingly support a rural preference for subsistence, and yet those same people who are now demanding that the state manage fish and game are the ones who fought it," Knowles said.

The Walker administration worked with Murkowski recently to amend federal law to address the problem presented by the Sturgeon case—an implicit admission that Lindemuth lacks confidence in her argument that the Supreme Court can separate it from the Katie John case.

Murkowski's legislation specified that the federal government would manage subsistence in rivers but the state would control them. It failed. If Republicans lose the U.S. House in the coming election, a legislative solution becomes even less likely.

The states' rights crowd has tied themselves in a knot. Politically, Walker, Murkowski and Sullivan say they support subsistence, but their desire to rid rivers of federal environmental protections drives them to support suits that threaten it.

[Native memory: Rewriting Alaska history with the word 'genocide']

This fight is older than the state. In Alaska history, states' rights and Native rights have often been enemies.

Only one Alaska Native was elected to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955. Statehood in 1959 threatened Natives and spurred their land claims movement.

Responding to that movement, the federal government froze land transfers, forcing passage of the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act in 1971. But that law failed to protect subsistence.

"For myself, my family in Mentasta, we never did trust the state," John said. "Back in the 70s, when they say they will protect Native Alaska, after they passed land claims, they didn't for 10 years."

Sen. Ted Stevens fixed that in 1980, with passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act — ANILCA. It protects subsistence on federal land and waters many times. But the Sturgeon case would say the rivers aren't federal.

The banner of states' right is stained by racism. It was carried by proponents of slavery and opponents of civil rights. We finally reached a consensus that our rights as individual citizens of the United States come above states' rights.

That consensus is at risk in the Supreme Court Trump is creating.

The Supreme Court is no longer a court. It is a political body that votes along party lines. Conservative Republicans will control for many years.

The justices are American monarchs, like the old House of Lords in Britain. Members come from a narrow, elite world. All are graduates of either Yale or Harvard, all with similar urban legal careers. And they serve unaccountably, for life.

Alaska Natives, and all of us, should be afraid of what will happen to us under the rule of these ideologically driven, all-powerful lawmakers who understand so little of our lives here.

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(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Rising rivers, a flood warning and more rain to come for Southcentral Alaska

Tue, 2018-08-14 18:25

Southcentral Alaska's rainy weather is expected to hang around a bit longer, a meteorologist said Tuesday, as rising river banks prompted officials to issue a flood warning for the Yentna River, where cabins were being inundated with water.

On Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service put out a special weather statement saying that streams in the Susitna Valley – including Talkeetna, Willow and Cantwell – would likely be near bankfull through Wednesday morning.

The Yentna River had reached minor flood stage Tuesday afternoon, and water was inundating cabins at McDougall Lodge, the NWS said in a flood warning. The warning is in place for the Yentna River until 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Rainfall in the higher elevations of the Alaska Range and Talkeetna Mountains is driving the rising water levels, said David Kochevar, lead meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Anchorage office.

Those higher elevation areas had gotten up to an inch and a half of rain – not a whole lot, Kochevar said. But with a wet weather pattern holding steady for the more than a week, that water was flowing downstream.

"The ground is pretty saturated, and the water really doesn't have anywhere else to go," Kochevar said.

Cloudy and rainy weather is expected to hang around Southcentral Alaska through Friday, although heavy rainfall is not expected, Kochevar said.

Another wet weather pattern is heading toward Southcentral, Kochevar said, as remnants of Hurricane Hector move across the Pacific to Alaska's shores. That weather pattern is expected to arrive Saturday and continue into Sunday.

Farmers markets are ‘bursting’ with crunchy, colorful summer vegetables this week

Tue, 2018-08-14 18:08

Bob Shumaker, of Black Bear Farms in Palmer, makes a sale. The Mountain View Farmers Market, in its first year, operates on Thursdays through August along Mountain View Drive. It’s hosted by Anchorage Community Land Trust. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Sarah Bean of Arctic Organics sums up what it's like farming in Alaska in August this way: "Yet another week of strange weather, with strong winds testing the sheer strength of the crops. And rain!"

That's what happens when the remnants of a typhoon come north.

But Bean—and other growers—aren't complaining about some rain.

"We're are very happy to have rain, finally," she says. "Enjoying the break from irrigating. This will be the last week we put seeds in the ground for the season, which always feels like a turning point. Now we can focus on making a finite set of crops thrive, instead of a constantly increasing number of them."

And the farms keep producing—rain, wind or sunshine!

Lesley Dinkel of Dinkel's Veggies says they will have a huge selection of fresh vegetables this week at a variety of markets from Wasilla to Spenard. And she has a suggestion for using the zucchini, broccoli, onions, cauliflower and other veggies.

[It's the best time of year to visit an Alaska farmers market. Here are 9 items to check out.]

"It's soup season," Dinkel says. "Alaska grown veggies are excellent for soups with the flavor pop they add. The key to good soup texture and flavor is to not overcook the veggies. Work with your herbs, spices, meat and soup base to start, then add lightly steamed or sautéed veggies last."

Muldoon Farmers Market

Jerrianne Lowther says the "Muldoon Farmers Market is bursting with crunchy, colorful summer vegetables."

And she has a great suggestion of what to do with them: "Eat them raw (carrots, cabbage, sugar snap peas, salad mixes, heirloom tomatoes); cook them gently (beets, turnips, baby bok choy, new potatoes, zucchini), fill up the freezer (onions, broccoli, cauliflower) and enjoy summer crunch all year long!"

So, head to the market on Saturday and get your fill.

Anchorage Farmers Market

New this week at the Arctic Organics stand are celery, purple top turnips and beet greens—"with baby beets, perhaps," Bean says. The regular summer produce includes fennel, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, radishes, kohlrabi, cabbage, herbs, greens and other items.

Other vendors include: Brown Dog Farm, Happy Valley Chickens' eggs, Mom's Garden, Persistent Farmer, Seldovitsch Farm, Shaggy Mane Shroomery, Stockwell Farm, Sun Fire Ridge, Turkey Red Café breads and treats, VanderWeele Farm and Vang Family Garden.

Spenard Farmers Market

Mark Butler says the market is "absolutely stuffed with produce."

Among the highlights are squash blossoms and spicy pickled potatoes from Balesca Brother's Farm; Black Bear Farm's flat parsley, celery, king kohlrabi and New Zealand spinach; Chugach Farm with sorrel, huge rainbow chard, ferments and kombucha; Dinkel's Veggies with carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries; and Four Tern Farm's green beans and sugar peas.

Mountain View Farmers Market

The Mountain View market has plenty of veggies this week, including salad mix, beets, carrots, kale, chard, turnips, herbs and radishes.

And market manager Khalid Abdulahi says this week the market will have a "Kids Day" with games and candy for children.

South Anchorage Farmers Market

Barbara Landi says the produce at the market comes in "so many varieties and colors of each kind. More green beans and celery should be on board Saturday, plus more flowers too."

Daisy Nicolas of Drool Central has been highlighting Alaska seafood in her dog treats and meals since opening her business. This week, she's expanding the lineup to include Alaska-raised pig and goat treats.

And, with all of Nicolas' items, they have creative names. The pig and goat organ meat comes from a Kasilof farmer, and "Oinkwurst" includes Alaska-grown cabbage, while the goat "Ziegeburger" is served raw.

Rempel Family Farm will have a huge selection, including carrots, multiple varieties of new potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and herbs.

Arctic Choice will have seafood options, including red king crab, spot shrimp, scallops and ikura.

Thankful Thursdays

Elderberry Essentials and Farm 779 will be at the Thursday market.

Farm 779 is featuring beet kvass and beet kraut, along with triple-fermented oolong kombucha using chaga, peony, ginger and turmeric. Other items include coconut kefir and kefir reductions, fermented vegetables and krauts, body products and raw food meats and treats for dogs. Farm 779 also will be at Saturday's South Anchorage market.

Center Market

Alex Davis will have fresh produce, cuts of pork, eggs, jams and other items at the indoor Center Market.

Produce items include orange and icicle carrots, salad mix, kale, kohlrabi, snow peas, red and green romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, cabbage, new Yukon gold and German butterball potatoes, zucchini and rhubarb. AD Farm's pork cuts include chops, loin roast, ground pork, sausage and roast.

Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at

Local farmers markets

Wednesday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Farmers Market at Airport Heights, 3-7 p.m., 2530 E. 16th Ave.; Northway Mall Wednesday Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Northway Mall

Wednesday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 2-6 p.m., Ocean Drive; Soldotna

Wednesday Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Soldotna Creek Park; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks; Wasilla Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Iditapark

Thursday in Anchorage: Mountain View Farmers Market, 3-7 p.m., 3543 Mountain View Drive; Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday outside of Anchorage: Peters Creek Farmers Market, 3-8 p.m., American Legion Post 33

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

Saturday in Anchorage: Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 15th Avenue and Cordova Street; Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Midtown Mall, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.; Muldoon Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 1301 Muldoon Road; South Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., O'Malley Sports Center; Spenard Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 2555 Spenard Road

Saturday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Ocean Drive; Kenai Saturday Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center; Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., East Corral Avenue and Kenai Spur Highway; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks

Sunday in Anchorage: Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Sunday outside of Anchorage: Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks

It’s a dog-eat-dog White House

Tue, 2018-08-14 17:44

FILE - In this March 12, 2017 file photo, White House Director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison Omarosa Manigault, right, walks past President Donald Trump during a meeting on healthcare in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Manigault Newman, who was fired in December, released a new book "Unhinged," about her time in the White House. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/)

WASHINGTON -- No sooner had I ordered the 2011 book “Less Than Human” for a late-summer read than President Trump called Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” and a “lowlife.” Those two slurs fit nicely into author David Livingstone Smith’s philosophical study of man’s capacity to inflict cruelty by first dehumanizing the “other.”

Trump's personal template is familiar. He likes someone, then doesn't, then reduces the object of his scorn to something less than human. The mononymously known Omarosa, whose friendship with Trump began when she appeared on "The Apprentice," was fired last year from her job as a White House aide.

During the past few days, she has released secretly taped recordings of her firing as well as a later conversation with Trump, just published a tell-all account of her time in the White House, and told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that she's willing to cooperate with the Robert Mueller investigation. (Whether Mueller is interested in her input isn't clear.)

All things considered, it sounds as if Trump and Omarosa may deserve each other. Recording people without their knowledge, especially in the White House, is certainly un-kosher if not illegal. On Tuesday, The Trump campaign filed for arbitration against Omarosa for breach of a 2016 nondisclosure agreement. More important, however, is the risk of having exposed top officials to hackers if Omarosa used her cellphone to record these and other conversations.

Whatever her motivations, Omarosa seems set on exposing Trump as a racist. (Congratulations, Omarosa, you're the last to know. He's also a misogynist.) Trump may not be an N-word-hurling racist, though Omarosa claims to know of a tape from his reality-show days when he used the term. (Trump denies having used the epithet. But his pattern of speaking about African-Americans, among others not of his race or ethnicity, suggests that racism taints his mental processes.)

It's fair to say that most whites who are racist usually don't think they are. This is because they don't use the N-word or actively seek to bring harm to non-whites. But racism is a pernicious, passive plague. You don't have to burn crosses in people's yards. All you have to do is see African-Americans (or Asians or Latinos) in stereotypically demeaning ways. Thus, when Trump became angry with Omarosa, he didn't say she was a disgruntled former employee -- or make some other dismissively neutral comment. Instead, he tweeted:

"When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn't work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!"

Directing such vitriol toward any woman is repellant. But what makes the president's remarks especially repugnant is that they were aimed at a minority woman and followed a spate of similar insults targeting African-Americans: He recently said that Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, has a low I.Q., "somewhere in the mid-60s." In a twofer last week, he attacked both CNN anchor Don Lemon and Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, tweeting: "Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn't easy to do."

Granted, all of the above have been critical of Trump, but so what? Presidents are frequently under fire. Yet, through some strange reasoning, Americans are supposed to accept that, you know, Trump's a fighter. He always fires back, as though this were justification for the bile he releases into the atmosphere. In the process, he has offered aid to his enemies by displaying a pattern of racially charged commentary.

It's a simple matter of fact that certain insults have greater or lesser impact when applied to particular individuals or groups of people. Comparing Mitt Romney or Steve Bannon to a dog, as Trump previously did, obviously isn't the same as calling a black woman a dog. Questioning the intelligence of African-Americans is especially blistering.

Did Trump mean for us to treat his comments so literally? Who cares? He's the president of the United States and should be able to muzzle his schoolyard impulses. He should also know that dehumanization -- or "othering," to use current vernacular -- leads to marginalization, which can lead to cruelty (say, separating young migrant children from their parents), which can lead to far worse.

As Smith explains in his book, it's much easier to hurt, maim or kill another when you no longer see them as quite human. World history's catalogue of atrocity confirms this. Which is why no one living today should be comfortable with the language of dehumanization, no matter how relatively minor the degree.

Least of all, the president.

Trump administration, North Slope Borough eye protected Teshekpuk area for drilling

Tue, 2018-08-14 17:38

Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. (BLM photo by Richard Kemnitz, NFO hydrologist)

The Trump administration is taking steps to open millions of acres of protected lands to oil companies in Alaska's Arctic, including near a lake prized by conservation groups where new lands were put off-limits under former President Barack Obama, an Interior Department official said.

The agency has begun talks with the North Slope Borough and state officials aimed at updating the 2013 Obama-era management plan, which left about half the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska closed to drilling, said Joe Balash, Interior's assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

"The (management) plan really restricted a lot of acreage," Balash said in an interview last week. "A lot of people were unhappy about it. The borough was unhappy, the state was unhappy. So it's ripe for a review."

The integrated activity plan, among other sharply expanded protections, roughly doubled the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to about 3.6 million acres, closing most of that area to drilling. The lake and nearby wetlands are considered critical for caribou, polar bears, eiders and other migrating birds.

Susan Culliney,  policy director for Audubon Alaska, said the existing plan balances conservation and oil development, and doesn't need changing.

Industry activity, such as at ConocoPhillips' large Willow prospect, is moving ahead in part of the reserve, she said.

"For scientifically sound reasons, the other half is protected," Culliney said.

The borough, however, was dismayed by the 2013 plan's "overly expansive" protections, Mayor Harry Brower Jr., said in a letter in September addressed to the director of the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska at the time, Bud Cribley.

The BLM plan departed "dramatically" from a borough proposal at the time that sought far fewer restrictions, Brower said.

The borough, dependent on industry revenues, wants part of the 11 million acres that's now off limits to be opened to drilling, including areas with strong oil and gas potential, Brower said. Mitigation measures to protect wildlife and subsistence hunters can be implemented where needed.

That includes some of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area meriting unique protection, Brower said.

"Industry has long maintained, however, that the TLSA has high oil and gas potential, and we realize that industry must go where the oil and gas are located," Brower wrote. "We believe a compromise is possible, wherein more of the TLSA can be opened to leasing, and robust permit stipulations and best management practices would prevent significant impacts to wildlife."

Brower's letter came after an order last year by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, signed in Alaska, calling for a review and revision of the management plan.

Balash said the formal process to revise the plan has not begun. "We're still at the discussion level" with the borough and state, he said.

An updated management plan won't be completed in time for a 2018 lease sale in the petroleum reserve, he said. But millions of currently closed acres could be made available in time for a lease sale in late 2019, he said.

How much of the Teshekpuk area would be opened is uncertain. Whatever is proposed will be done with input from the borough, state and others, he said.

"The area has tremendous potential geologically, but supports a pretty diverse set of birds and caribou activity," he said. "It's going to be crafted carefully."

Last December, the federal government offered half the petroleum reserve for leasing — every allowable tract — in an unusually large lease sale that adhered to the 2013 plan. Oil explorers showed little interest in the sale.

If an updated plan opens leasing in areas with strong potential for a discovery, including Teshekpuk, the industry will turn out, Balash said.

"As private industry has made clear, there's a definite demand from the market for this additional acreage," Balash said earlier this month, speaking at a Heartland Institute energy conference in New Orleans, as Alaska Public Media reported.

The conservative and libertarian think tank is recognized for raising doubts about man-made climate change.

Culliney, with Audubon Alaska, said the Teshekpuk area's globally important habitat means a full-scale environmental review and public comment are critical for any revision effort.

"Audubon will certainly be there to offer science and data" to show why strong protections are warranted, she said.

A note to my home

Tue, 2018-08-14 17:22

A plane flies over downtown Anchorage Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Several years ago, I spent time scrolling through microfiche in the library where I now live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I wanted to know the weather conditions my father found when he first arrived in the U.S. While I was born and raised in Anchorage, my father had a story that began in Kingston, Jamaica. In January 1967, he immigrated to New York City.

On page L55 of the January 1, 1967 edition of The New York Times, I discovered my father likely arrived to highs in the low 40s and lows in the low 30s. It was a very mild January day when set against the reality of my Anchorage childhood. Next to the weather report was a three-paragraph article with the headline, "'Seward's Folly' Observes 100th Year Since Purchase."

Seward's Folly. Alaska. My home state. A place that would entwine itself with the very life of both my father and the children he couldn't yet imagine. When I saw mention of Alaska alongside the New York City weather report, all I could do was grin. It was as if the universe already knew that this place would forever matter to my family.

It would be several more years before my father made his way to Anchorage, the move the result of a draft notice. He spent a handful of years at Fort Richardson repairing helicopter operating systems and experiencing his first deep winter cold. Somewhere in the timeline, he returned to Jamaica, married my mother, and brought her north to Alaska too.

It's been more than 20 years now since I first left Anchorage for college. While I've returned to live a handful of times, it's been 10 years since I last lived ordinary life there. I left with the dreams that so many young people have: see distant places, embrace the world, find myself. Now as the decade of my thirties begins to close, I often ponder the place I've always called home.

My Jamaican parents raised their daughters in Anchorage. I grew up with the conflation of two worlds: the slow-cooked oxtail and a freezer full of salmon. My sister and I are Jamaican Alaskans—if that could be such a thing. Nestled in the reality of a childhood in the Anchorage bowl, I grappled with being the black daughter of Jamaican immigrants raised so far from my parents' original home.

When people ask me what it was like growing up in Alaska, I answer with the nuanced view that I think is the hallmark of the writer I've become. I speak of fishing trips to the Kenai. I mention being the only black child in my elementary-school classroom. I highlight the strangers who embraced my parents as family.

With my stories, I offer the truth of what was beautiful and what was hard. I let these words sit in the realm of complexity rather than reducing them to the binary of "good" or "bad." In the acknowledgements section of my book of essays, "All the Colors We Will See," I thank Alaska. I write with a richness because of my life there.

At this point in time neither my father, mother, sister, nor I make our home in Alaska. And yet Alaska is there in the memories of our lives and the stories we tell. Anchorage grounds our particular creation mythology. This Jamaican family carving out a life in the 49th state becomes the foundation for who I am.

That long-ago article about the 100th anniversary of Seward's Folly whispered to me of the beginnings of my family's inevitable ties to Alaska. Those ties cannot be broken.

Patrice Gopo is the author of "All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way," an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging.

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(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

State alerts medical providers to measles case on Alaska-bound cruise

Tue, 2018-08-14 17:17

The state is warning medical providers to be on the lookout for patients who show symptoms of the measles after a teenager boarded an Alaska-bound cruise ship while suffering from the highly contagious disease earlier this month.

Alaska's state epidemiologist, Joe McLaughlin, said it's unlikely that others will contract the virus, but that the state agency issued an alert to warn health care providers to be alert for patients who present measles-like symptoms.

"This is really just to notify health care providers," said McLaughlin, chief of the section of epidemiology with the Department of Health and Social Services. "The probability is very low that we would see a secondary case in Alaska."

On Aug. 6, a teenager and her parents boarded a cruise ship in Vancouver, British Columbia, the state said in a public health alert.

The girl started experiencing measles symptoms while traveling in Thailand. McLaughlin said the girl had traveled through Tokyo to Oregon, before boarding the cruise ship in Canada.

Four days before boarding, the girl began suffering from a facial rash, red eyes and fever, the state said.

Within three hours of boarding the ship, the girl was placed in medical isolation, where she remained until she was taken to the Ketchikan Medical Center on Aug. 8, the state said.

She was discharged from the hospital Aug. 10; that same day, the patient was confirmed to have been infected with measles. She had never received the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, the state said.

[From February: Alaska updates vaccine guidelines as mumps outbreak swells with over 200 cases]

By the time the girl boarded the cruise ship, she had been been experiencing measles symptoms for four days, at which point the likelihood of spreading the illness is very low. Other passengers only faced potential exposure to the virus for three hours before the girl was put into medical isolation, McLaughlin said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the cruise ship to notify everyone on board who may have been exposed to the patient to be on watch for any symptoms of measles, according to the state.

Those cruise passengers disembarked in Seward on Aug. 13, the state said, and many are traveling through the state before heading home.

The potential dates when an exposed cruise ship passenger could start developing symptoms are Aug. 13 through Aug. 27, the state said.

Measles is a highly contagious virus. The virus was declared to be eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. The majority of U.S. cases of measles now come from unvaccinated travelers visiting from abroad, McLaughlin said.

Worldwide, about 90,000 people die from the virus annually, according to the CDC. The CDC says that one dose of measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective; two doses are 97 percent effective.

The last time Alaska saw a case of measles was in 2015, when a Fairbanks man returned from a trip to Mongolia. Before that, the most recent case had been in 2000.

As of 2016, Alaska was lagging behind the national median for vaccination, McLaughlin said. Eighty-six percent of children ages 19 to 35 months had received at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, and 89 percent of Alaskan kindergartners had received two doses. Nationally, those numbers are at 91 and 94 percent, respectively.

"It's critical that we get the message out about how important it is to make sure that children and adults are all up to date on their recommended vaccines," McLaughlin said.

According to the CDC, measles symptoms generally appear one to two weeks after a person is infected with the virus; symptoms usually start with a cough, fever, red and water eyes, and a runny nose. A few days after symptoms start, white spots, called Koplik spots, may appear inside the mouth. Between three and five days after symptoms manifest, a rash usually breaks out on the face, spreading down the body, along with a high fever.

Tiny cod fish re-emerge around Kodiak, giving scientists a window into climate change effects

Tue, 2018-08-14 17:12

NOAA Fisheries biologists Chris Magel, left, and Paul Iseri show off their catch of age-0 Pacific cod at a Kodiak site covered in dense kelp. (Alaska Fisheries Science Center)

Tiny cod fish are reappearing around Kodiak.

Researchers aim to find out if it is a blip, or a sign that the stock is recovering after warming waters caused the stocks to crash.

Alaska's seafood industry was shocked last fall when the annual surveys showed cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska had plummeted by 80 percent to the lowest levels ever seen. Prior surveys indicated large year classes of cod starting in 2012 were expected to produce good fishing for six or more years. But a so-called "warm blob" of water depleted food supplies and wiped out that recruitment.

"That warm water was sitting in the Gulf for three years starting in 2014, and it was different than other years in that it went really deep and it also lasted throughout the winter. You can deplete the food source pretty rapidly when the entire ecosystem is ramped up in those warm temperatures," said Steven Barbeaux with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

This summer, researchers at Kodiak saw the first signs of potential recovery with beach seine catches of tiny first-year cod that are born offshore and drift as larvae into coastal grassy areas in July and August.

"A lot can happen in that first year of life that we would like to learn more about to predict whether or not these year classes are actually going to survive," said Ben Laurel, a fisheries research biologist with the AFSC based in Newport, Oregon, whose specialty is early survival of cold-water commercial fish species.

Laurel's team, which includes scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has been studying the early life history of Pacific cod in waters around Kodiak every year since 2005. They documented changes in what he calls "young of the year" fish throughout the warm water event through 2016. Right afterward, they saw no first-year cod — but Laurel said things might be taking a turn for the better.

"In 2017 the ocean temperatures started to get back to normal and we did see signs of some fish, which is good because we hadn't seen fish earlier," he said. "In 2018, we also are seeing some young fish. But again, we're just looking at one year in one area and it might not be reflective throughout the Gulf, so we are not sure what it means."

Laurel is taking the tiny cod back to the Oregon wet lab, where they will run tests on survival conditions.

"Do they have the likelihood of making it to adulthood just like those fish before the warm water blob? We just don't know," he said.

"We don't have much data on cod during the winter, and we can fill that gap in the lab. We can run them through a simulated over winter experience at different temperatures and see what the consequences are of them being a certain size or having certain food available, or what sort of conditions do they need to survive a whole overwintering experience," he said.

The cod study this summer also is expanding to more nearshore areas of Kodiak, along the Alaska Peninsula and the eastern Gulf. Laurel credited the AFSC with "really responsive reactions to this drastic reduction in the population," and adding "more eyes and effort" to understand what happened to the cod stocks.

The research, he said, will provide a window into what might be expected with a changing climate.

"It is kind of a dress rehearsal for what is to come," he said. "We can't expect things to stay as they are, and we need to understand these processes and be proactive. I'm encouraged but also nervous about what's in line for the future. Everybody should be braced for uncertainty."

Net hack challenge

An Alaska Net Hack Challenge is set for Sept. 8 and 9 in Kodiak and Anchorage. The goal is to identify potential opportunities for using the tons of old plastic fishing nets piled up in landfills and storage lots across the state, and developing new items from the materials. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each.

The challenge is based on the Circular Ocean program in the UK and Iceland that "aims to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realize the hidden opportunities in discarded fishing nets." The Alaska hack is sponsored by Grundens, Alpar and Saltwater Inc.

"The goal is to change how people look at nets and ropes, not as a waste material but as a raw material that can be used in many ways," said Nicole Baker, founder of and organizer of the event along with the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative.

"Socks, water bottles, cellphone cases, carpets, bathing suits, sneakers, sunglasses, skateboards, rugs, bowls, Frisbees, even 3D printing and injection molds. People are becoming so creative about finding ways to reuse these plastic products," Baker said.

The Alaska challenge is aimed at artists, students, designers, business owners, engineers, recyclers and anyone interested in designing new products out of the materials.

"On the first day of the challenge, we will show presentations about the context and scale of the issue, the type of materials available, and some businesses that have been implemented already," she said. "On the second day, teams will get together and use the material and design a prototype, either physically or on a computer, that will be presented to judges to get their feedback."

A video link will connect the two locations, and judges will score the projects on creativity, usefulness and scalability and follow the development over six months.

"That will be supported by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, which has several programs to assist with making small businesses and startups commercially viable," Baker said.

"If Alaska gets on board, it could be another revenue stream," added Brian Himelbloom, a retired University of Alaska seafood specialist who is organizing the Kodiak net hack challenge with an assist from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.

"There are a lot of creative people in Kodiak," he added, pointing to the Alaska Rug Co., which uses fishing nets and ropes to make handwoven doormats, pot holders, baskets, bowls, signs and more at their remote home at the decommissioned Port Bailey Cannery. The company was recently featured in HGTV magazine.

Himelbloom said the groups also will reach out to local schools to attract "youngsters who are thinking about going into business." They also are creating a net hack tool kit for remote communities interested in having their own challenges.

The events will take place at the Makerspace Building in Anchorage and at the Kodiak Marine Science Center. Visit to register to attend.

Meanwhile, Nicole Baker also will be in Kodiak in late August to coordinate a fishing net recycling program. It will mirror a first effort last year in Dutch Harbor that sent 40 nets weighing 240,000 pounds to a company called Plastix in Denmark where they were melted down, pelletized and resold to manufacturers of plastic products.

A second shipment is being planned at Dutch Harbor, and Baker said she also has been contacted by people in Juneau, Homer, Seward and other Alaska communities that want to develop net recycling programs.

The Alaska Net Hack Challenge and the recycling program have attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

"It was my first letter from a senator's office," Baker said. "I was very excited."

Fish watch

Alaska's total salmon catch has topped 88 million fish — over 48 million are sockeyes and nearly 42 million of the reds are from Bristol Bay. Fishing is winding down there, but lots of salmon is still being hauled in elsewhere, albeit slowly in most regions.

The Dungeness fishery in Southeast is ongoing with a summer harvest pegged at 2.25 million pounds.

Golden king crab opened along the Aleutians on Aug. 1 with a 6.3 million pound harvest.

Halibut fishermen have taken 56 percent of their nearly 20 million pound catch limit. For sablefish, 47 percent of the nearly 26 million pound quota has been taken. Both fisheries close Nov. 7.

Fishing for cod, rockfish, flounders, pollock and other whitefish continues in the Bering Sea; likewise in the Gulf, where pollock fishing will reopen Aug. 25.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has set an Aug. 15 deadline to receive agenda change requests for its upcoming meeting cycle.

The board will take up fisheries at Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, the Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim, Aleutian Islands and Chignik from November through March. A special two-day meeting on Pacific cod takes place in early October.

Finally, more genetically modified Atlantic salmon grown in Panama has made its way to undisclosed markets. Last summer, Massachusetts-based biotech firm AquaBounty sold its first 5 tons of the fish to undisclosed Canadian customers. The manmade fish grows three times faster than normal salmon.

AquaBounty received FDA approval this year to raise its AquAdvantage salmon at its new land-based Indiana facility, but is currently prevented from importing its genetically tweaked salmon eggs from Canada due to an "Import Alert" pending the issuance of final labeling guidelines.

"We anticipate the import alert to be lifted in the second half of this year," CEO Ronald Stotish said in a press release.

Alaska should rethink its approach on marijuana testing

Tue, 2018-08-14 16:53

The Veterans Health Administration is urging veterans and their physicians to open up on the subject of marijuana use. (Dreamstime)

A friend recently told me that her physical therapist recommended she try a salve containing THC and CBD in a 50:50 ratio. "But get it in Portland or Seattle," the PT said. "I don't trust the numbers on stuff up here."

This is just one example of how the problems plaguing Alaska's legal marijuana testing system, which I described in an April op-ed in these pages, are affecting the market. Those problems include inadequate sampling methods, imprecise testing and, most importantly, strong financial incentives for growers, retailers and test labs to inflate potency numbers. I reminded readers that the Marijuana Control Board and the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office have had evidence of inaccurately labeled cannabis and edible products as far back as Fall 2017. And I suggested that the testing working group appointed in January by the board to address these issues is unlikely to fix the problems anytime soon.

A few days after my op-ed appeared, marijuana board vice chair Brandon Emmett and AMCO director Erika McConnell responded with an op-ed of their own. They claimed my criticisms of their offices were unwarranted, and they asked for patience while the testing working group and an audit, being conducted by the state's Environmental Health Laboratory to review the procedures used by Steep Hill Alaska and Canntest to analyze samples sent to both labs by AMCO last December, moved toward completion.

Well, the audit report was released in early June, and the testing working group delivered its first public communication as part of director McConnell's June report. What, if anything, did we learn?

The auditors were unable to conclude which lab's results were more representative of the true potency. However, their report also states in several places that one of the two labs had not followed some of its own standard procedures and committed fundamental analysis errors. Unfortunately, even though the board received written comments highlighting these statements, discussion of the audit at the board's June meeting was confined to generalities, and the errors were never brought up.

The testing working group met in July to hear about the audit, but its discussion centered on more documentation, and efforts to discuss the identified laboratory errors were simply ignored. Just like the marijuana board, the testing group members ended their session with no better understanding of what the audit uncovered than when they walked in. Their months of phone meetings have resulted in some recommendations on sampling and labeling, and that's about it.

Those meetings make it painfully obvious that marijuana control office and the board lack the expertise or apparently even the interest to understand a technical report on lab operations. Although AMCO comes down hard on retailers who are caught for fairly minor infractions, when AMCO's own audit identifies lapses by a testing lab, there is silence.

A new testing lab has recently opened in Wasilla, and another to be located in Fairbanks is in the application process. The lessons that could have been learned from a thorough investigation of the Steep Hill-Canntest discrepancies have been lost, and thus procedures at these new labs will suffer from the same lack of effective oversight.

Pesticides and heavy metals are being considered as additional required cannabis tests in Alaska. Where will oversight for those more complicated tests come from? On top of all that, Alaskans will soon begin growing industrial hemp for CBD and other products. How will this new industry be regulated to ensure the plants contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the maximum allowed amount?

Other states with regulated cannabis industries are way ahead of us in addressing nearly every aspect of sampling, testing and reporting, and we can learn from their experience. Alaska's cannabis regulators must be mandated to pursue the best practices that are being developed nationwide and must be given the resources to function effectively, including hiring people with technical expertise. A complete solution to Alaska's marijuana mislabeling quagmire will ultimately require the state to conduct its own confirmatory testing of samples, probably through an arrangement with an existing state agency lab or the university. Marijuana tax revenues are growing rapidly, and this is where some of those funds should be directed.

Growers have their own issues with the current regulations and their enforcement. Consumers' obsession with high THC means that low-testing flower can't be sold profitably, so growers want to be permitted to re-designate it as trim, which is subject to a lower tax rate. Some also propose changing from the current per-weight tax to one based on percentage of price. If the state is going to change the marijuana tax structure, it should consider taxing in proportion to potency. This would address the growers' concern and also help counteract the market pressure for high potency numbers.

Alaska needs to rework its game plan for regulating the legal cannabis industry, and the governor and the Legislature need to take the lead. Whatever your views on legal cannabis, I think every Alaskan would agree that we should do it right or not do it at all.

Tim Hinterberger was chair of the Ballot Measure 2 campaign and scientific director of Steep Hill Alaska.

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Most older drivers outlive the age at which they can drive safely

Tue, 2018-08-14 16:48

Older drivers outlive the age when they're capable of driving safely by seven to 10 years, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said Tuesday, but more than 80 percent of them never talk with their family or doctor about it.

When they do have that conversation about driving safety, the AAA found, in 15 percent of cases it came after a crash or traffic infraction.

The AAA Foundation said that in 2016, more than 200,000 drivers over age 65 were injured in crashes and more than 3,500 of them died.

"The right time to stop driving varies for everyone," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety. "This research shows that older drivers can be hesitant to initiate conversations about their driving capabilities, so it is important that families encourage them to talk early and often about their future behind the wheel. With early discussion and proper planning, elderly drivers may extend their time on the road."

AAA found that only 17 percent of older drivers discuss driving issues with their doctor or family. When they do, the most common reasons are such things as falling asleep at the wheel or trouble keeping in a traffic lane.

"Because driving is closely tied to freedom and independence, it is hard for some adult children to talk to, or have a 'deep conversation' with their parents about driving safety," said John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Despite your best efforts to appropriately handle a conversation about driving, some older adults will respond with anger, denial or embarrassment."

Townsend advises avoiding unloving words or attitudes.

"Do not offend or lecture," he said. "Instead of saying 'We need to talk,' strive to be gentle, genteel, sincere, courteous and empathetic when initiating the conversation. Do not lecture or demand that an older driver give up the keys."

Earlier research by AAA found that older drivers who have stopped driving are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.

“The best time to initiate a discussion with a loved one about staying mobile without a set of car keys is before you suspect there is a problem,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Planning for personal mobility and independence should be done working shoulder to shoulder with the older driver. Talking sooner, rather than later, can help set mutual expectations and reduce safety issues or emotional reactions down the line.”