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Avenatti arrested on suspicion of domestic violence

Wed, 2018-11-14 17:16

Michael Avenatti speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York on Aug. 2. Bloomberg photo by Mark Kauzlarich (Mark Kauzlarich/)

Michael Avenatti, a Democratic lawyer whose public profile exploded this year when he sued President Donald Trump on behalf of an adult-film star and flirted with a 2020 presidential bid, was arrested Wednesday in Los Angeles on suspicion of domestic violence.

The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed the arrest, which was first reported by TMZ, in a tweet late Wednesday.

"We can confirm that today LAPD Detectives arrested Michael Avenatti on suspicion of domestic violence. This is an ongoing investigation and we will provide more details as they become available," the department wrote, without providing further detail.

Avenatti is known for his aggressive media presence as he represents Stormy Daniels in two lawsuits against Trump. He has vowed to depose the president and said he is considering running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 in order to challenge him politically.

Avenatti did not answer his cellphone or return messages late Wednesday. His law office in Newport Beach, California, automatically directed phone calls to an answering service.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

It was unclear who was involved in the alleged incident. TMZ initially reported that Avenatti was arrested after his "estranged wife" filed a felony domestic violence report, but a lawyer for ex-wife Lisa Storie Avenatti told BuzzFeed News that the article was not true. TMZ later amended its story.

Avenatti's political celebrity has grown thanks to a continuous cycle of media interviews and an active Twitter presence that he uses to challenge Trump. He launched a political action committee and has spoken at Democratic events around the country.

The Vermont Democratic Party announced late Wednesday that it was canceling events scheduled with Avenatti in light of his reported arrest.

"The Vermont Democratic Party has cancelled Mr. Avenatti's forthcoming scheduled appearances in Vermont, and will be refunding all ticket sales," party spokesman Christopher Di Mezzo said in a statement.

Avenatti is representing Daniels in two lawsuits against Trump, with whom she claims to have had an affair. One, claiming Trump defamed her, was recently tossed in federal court; Avenatti is now appealing the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The other seeks to formally invalidate a 2016 nondisclosure agreement that prevented Daniels from discussing her alleged affair with Trump in the lead-up to the election. Trump, who denies having an affair with Daniels, has said he will not enforce the agreement.

Trump lawyer Charles Harder noted that three legal motions in the cases are scheduled for oral arguments in a Los Angeles federal court on Dec. 3.

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The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez contributed reporting.

Dunleavy taps Feige to be Alaska Natural Resources head

Wed, 2018-11-14 16:21

Alaska Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy addresses the Alaska Miners Association annual conference at the Dena'ina Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) (Mark Thiessen/)

JUNEAU — Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy has named a former director of Alaska’s Division of Oil and Gas to be his Natural Resources commissioner.

Corri Feige has spent her career working in the energy sector, including as a geophysicist and consultant and in management-level positions.

Feige worked as director of the Division of Oil and Gas from April 2015 to October 2016. The division falls under the Department of Natural Resources.

During her tenure, the state maintained its push for more information from top North Slope companies on plans to support a future potential major gas sale. Gov. Bill Walker has been pursuing a major gas project.

Dunleavy made the announcement Wednesday in Anchorage. Feige's appointment is subject to legislative confirmation.

She is married to former state Rep. Eric Feige of Chickaloon.

Judge agrees to trial date in Anchorage transgender case

Wed, 2018-11-14 16:18

The downtown soup kitchen Hope Center provides a women's shelter, job skills training, meal, launcry and clothing to people in need. (Anne Raup / ADN)

A federal judge in Alaska has agreed to a 2020 trial date for a lawsuit filed by a faith-based Anchorage women’s shelter against the city over a requirement that it accept transgender women.

In an order filed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason said she accepted a trial date starting April 8, 2020. That date was requested by the parties.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm, previously sought an injunction to stop the city from applying its gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter.

The lawsuit also names the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, which became involved after a transgender woman said she was denied entry at the shelter.

An attorney for the city has said the commission’s investigation hasn’t been concluded, largely because of the shelter’s noncooperation.

[Discrimination complaint against downtown Anchorage women’s shelter opens up political front]

In defense of Alaska polling

Wed, 2018-11-14 16:11

Voters enter the Region II Elections office at 2525 Gambell Street in Anchorage as early voting began for the general election on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. (Bill Roth/ ADN) (Bill Roth/)

Pollsters don’t make predictions. We just show how things are at a given moment in time. It’s such a simple concept, but one that is routinely misunderstood, mostly deliberately and for partisan purposes. Whether it’s to score political points or get a few clicks on a blog, criticizing pollsters has become the new blood sport.

OK, bring it on. But here’s a story to illustrate how challenged and baseless these attacks are.

Back in 2002, I was lucky enough to work on Fran Ulmer’s campaign for governor. She had served as Alaska’s lieutenant governor for the previous eight years under Tony Knowles and was the Democrat in the governor’s race. She was up against Sen. Frank Murkowski, who had returned from Washington, D.C., to run as the Republican candidate.

In late August, just after the primary election was complete and the contests were determined, our poll results showed Ulmer in a 3-point lead, 46-43. Ulmer’s positive-negative rating was 63-27, Murkowski’s 56-36. My candidate was very well liked and respected. In early October, a month out from the Nov. 5 election date, we did another survey that showed Ulmer with a four-point lead, 47-43. I remember another Alaska pollster did a survey for KTUU at the exact same time and showed an essentially identical result, Ulmer in the lead by 3-4 points.

As we went through October, the race tightened up. Ulmer’s positive rating was dragged back into the 50s, by mid-month the race was tied, and by the third week of October, Ulmer had fallen two points behind. In the final 10 days before the election, we started nightly tracking. On the Monday eight days out, we were four points down, by Wednesday it was 7, and by the time the weekend arrived, it was 10.

Murkowski won the following Tuesday by 15 points.

Of course, nothing’s worse on a campaign than having cratering internal numbers like those taking the wind out of your sails. But our obligation was to put on happy faces and go out there and finish it up. If memory serves me, I don’t think there was even full disclosure with our client, such was the need to maintain morale and get to Tuesday.

In the 16 years since, if I had a dollar for every time some armchair quarterback had criticized me for “getting Ulmer-Murkowski wrong,” for crying out loud, I’d have a very large wad of cash in my pocket right now. The fact was, my polling wasn’t wrong. It matched up with other poll results at critical points during the campaign, and then I watched it shift, gradually at first, but then suddenly and precipitously at the end, in front of my eyes, because Alaskans decided (to their cost, as it turned out) that they were more comfortable with Frank.

Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com claims that Alaska “is difficult to poll,” like he thinks we live in igloos or something and don’t have phones. The reality is, there’s nothing difficult to poll about Alaska itself. It’s Alaskans who are difficult to poll, because we change our minds.

What I was coming to understand prior to that campaign in 2002, and have learned since, is that this movement is an Alaska Shift, a systematic surge in Republican vote that has happened countless times before. It happened the first year I worked in politics, in 1990, when John Devens had Don Young’s campaign on the ropes and convinced they were going to lose, but come election day, Young pulled out a miraculous recovery to win by 4 points. It happened in 1994, when Tony Knowles managed to lose a double-digit lead in the final days of the campaign and only scrape home by 500 votes. More recently, it happened in 2008 and 2014, when Don Young was challenged by Ethan Berkowitz and Forrest Dunbar, both of whom led in polls but lost hard on election day, by 5 and 10 points respectively. And it has happened again this year, with Begich-Dunleavy and Galvin-Young.

All the Democrats I’ve mentioned, perhaps none more so than Fran Ulmer, were likable, accomplished and qualified candidates, and all of them made good initial impressions in their races. But there’s a sizable subset of the Alaska electorate who, while they’re predisposed to personally liking the Democrat in a race, at least at first, get their amygdalas lit up when campaign messaging turns, as it inevitably does in Alaska, to fear-based, nonsense talk about the things Democrats will do if we’re stupid enough to elect them. Messages that Democrats will raise taxes, grow government, spend uncontrollably and steal your Permanent Fund dividend are principal among them. At the same time this is going on, the pleasure centers of those same voter brains are rendered awash with serotonin with promises of the continuation of the free ride. That was the case with Murkowski in 2002, and this year’s promise of a bumper dividend is a repeat performance.

The final poll I did in the governor’s race this year was done the penultimate weekend, about 10 days out from Election Day. It showed Begich and Dunleavy well matched and in a close race. That poll was perfectly representative of likely Alaska voters, by party affiliation, by age, by ethnicity and by geographical region. In the 10 days that followed, we saw the ritual demonization of the Democrats on the ballot reach a full crescendo. We saw Francis Dunleavy drop a chunk of his Alaska investment into the final week in support of his brother, we saw the oil industry spend untold millions promoting and getting out the “No on 1” vote and, like the cherry on top, we had Mike Dunleavy’s promise of a $6,700 payday and a restoration of the old PFD formula.

Who wouldn’t expect the race to fundamentally shift after all that?

Listen, is every poll that I do bang on target? Of course not. Like any survey measurement, we are approximating the characteristics of the population we’re studying, and it is by definition inexact. Have I had outlier polls before that I would take back if I could? Sure, every pollster has. But outliers are a different thing. They occur because of random variation and don’t demonstrate the kind of systematic consistency I’ve described here.

Don’t worry, be happy. No taxes. Free money. Alaskans simply like that message and instinctively respond to it with their votes. Over and over again.

Ivan Moore is a longtime Alaska pollster and the owner of Alaska Survey Research in Anchorage.

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

Raccoons drunk on crab apples cause false rabies scare in West Virginia

Wed, 2018-11-14 16:02

A drunk raccoon in Milton, W.Va. Photo handout from Milton Police Department (Milton/)

Rabid animals are, of course, no laughing matter. The rabies virus can infect the central nervous system, resulting in disease and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that happens after a host of increasingly scary symptoms: partial paralysis, agitation, hallucinations, hydrophobia. A British man and two children died in Morocco after they were bitten by a rabid cat.

So it was not surprising that when people in the city of Milton, West Virginia, saw raccoons behaving weirdly, they involved the local police.

Officers staked out the area where the suspect animals were hanging out, looking for any signs of the masked perpetrators.

But when they caught two of them, they realized they were dealing with a different kind of issue.

The raccoons weren't rabid. They were drunk.

The raccoons, apparently, had been feasting on crab apples that had fermented on the tree, causing the small animals to walk around "staggering and disoriented," police said.

"Turns out they appear to be drunk on crab apples," police said in their official statement to the community.

The apprehended animals were held in custody and allowed to sober up in what can only be deemed a raccoon drunk tank.

Then they were released into the wild, but not before some enterprising officer took a picture of the animal, showing it to be dazed, woozy, more than a little out of it. They named one drunk raccoon Dallas and released both near the woods.

And with that, Dallas joined a long line of animals that have made headlines for public intoxication.

Officers in Gilbert, Minn., for example, received reports of under-the-influence birds "flying into windows, cars and acting confused," Police Chief Ty Techar wrote. An early frost meant that berries had fermented before the birds flew south for the winter, according to The Washington Post's Antonia Noori Farzan, and birds were eating them and getting drunk.

But all birds weren't equally affected, the chief wrote: "It appears that some birds are getting a little more 'tipsy' than normal," he wrote. "Generally, younger birds' livers cannot handle the toxins as efficiently as more mature birds."

Residents who thought that perhaps they were in a 21st-century remake of an Alfred Hitchcock film were amused but also relieved:

"This explains why I have hit 7 birds with my car this week," one person commented on the chief's post.

And in Wayne Township, Indiana, in the spring, a frantic woman walked into a fire station and told firefighters that her pet raccoon was "lethargic" and possibly severely stoned after getting into someone else's pot, according to The Washington Post.

High animals are more common as more jurisdictions legalize marijuana and people plop the drug into tasty edibles that also appeal to their pets, who can't read warning labels and don't typically have the impulse control to stop at one, Brulliard reported.

Although most of the calls involve dogs chomping on marijuana edibles, Brulliard wrote, “veterinarians also cited examples of chihuahuas lapping up bong water, cats being exposed to vaping, and even rabbits, ferrets and birds getting accidentally stoned.”

Settlement allows campaign signs on private property near Alaska state roads

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:10

Political signs that were removed by the Alaska Department of Transportation sit in a DOT complex in Anchorage on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. The signs were removed because they were illegally placed along road rights-of-way and posed a safety concern. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Alaska residents can voluntarily display small, temporary political campaign signs on private property along state roadways, contrary to past interpretations of state and federal law, a new legal settlement says.

Political campaign signs are still illegal in highway rights-of-way, though campaigns and supporters regularly flout that rule during election season. The state Department of Transportation can clear those signs without any notice to sign owners.

But those removals must be done in an “equal, content-neutral manner,” according to the Tuesday order from Anchorage Superior Court Judge Herman Walker -- an apparent reference to complaints that political signs were being unconstitutionally targeted.

Those complaints were central to the lawsuit filed in August by an independent expenditure group supporting now-governor-elect Mike Dunleavy; a private resident, Eric Siebels, who said he was worried about his right to display a sign on his property; and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The lawsuit specifically targeted a state law that barred outdoor advertising on private property 660 feet from the edge of state rights-of-way. The law also said signs couldn’t be installed or positioned on private property so the message could be read from state roadways.

Walker’s order essentially threw out those provisions, as part of a settlement announced Wednesday. It resembles a September order saying temporary signs no larger than 32 square feet are allowed on private property outside highway rights-of-way.

In a statement, the ACLU of Alaska cheered the settlement as a victory for free speech.

“Everything outside of the right-of-way has been knocked down if it’s political speech,” said Casey Reynolds, a spokesman for ACLU of Alaska.

The state of Alaska also said it was happy with the settlement, which it has said clarifies state law. Michael Schechter, a state attorney, said in an email that it allows DOT to enforce the state’s longstanding prohibition on billboards, while still allowing small political campaign signs on private property.

As part of the settlement, the state must also pay $15,000 in attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs, according to Walker’s order.

State officials and attorneys said the intent of the private property section of the sign law was to comply with a 1998 voter initiative that banned billboard advertising along Alaska roads. Schechter has said there was no evidence DOT had ever physically removed signs from private property.

In a previous order, however, Walker cited “threatening letters” that some private property owners had received about the placement of signs.

One DOT official acknowledged in an August interview the state did enforce the provision about signs on private property, though she said it was “very uncomfortable.” The official, Heather Fair, said the state generally sent a letter to property owners asking for signs to be removed voluntarily, and most did.

Though the plaintiffs had further legal questions about rights-of-way, Reynolds said the group felt it had won on most of the issues, avoiding the need for a trial. He also noted that the urgency had passed, with election season over.

He said the plaintiffs agreed the state DOT needs authority within the public rights-of-way when it comes to public safety issues.

Victim in ‘one free pass’ case files civil lawsuit against Justin Schneider

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:00

The 26-year-old victim in a notorious “one free pass” case has filed a civil lawsuit against Justin Schneider, the Anchorage man who received a no-jail sentence for assaulting her.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Anchorage Superior Court.

In September, Schneider, a 34-year-old former air traffic controller from Anchorage, pleaded guilty to choking and masturbating on the victim, who has not been publicly named. The plea agreement did not call for any jail time.

Activists angered by the deal campaigned to vote the Anchorage judge who approved the agreement out of office.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Corey was ousted by voters last week.


Eagle River resident Justin Schneider appears in Anchorage District Court on Aug. 17, 2017. (Kirsten Swann/Alaska Star archive) (Kirsten Swann/)

The victim, who is named as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit, was outraged by the outcome of the criminal case and wants to pursue justice through the civil system, said her attorney, James Davis of the Northern Justice Project.

“She wanted to signal to other victims ... even if the criminal justice system lets you down, you have a right to other remedies you might pursue," said Davis. "And to the perpetrator, the civil system might still pursue even if you got off easy in the criminal system.”

Nicole Borromeo of the Alaska Federation of Natives is also involved in the lawsuit as an advocate for the victim.

The civil lawsuit filed Tuesday represents the first time the victim has publicly shared her views on the events of the Schneider case.

The lawsuit directly challenges statements by the prosecutors that the victim was unreachable and unwilling to cooperate in the legal process.

“That’s just bogus and she wants the truth,” Davis said.

The victim gave the district attorney “multiple telephone numbers and an e-mail address," the filings say.

“Jane Doe is -- and was always -- reachable and she is -- and always was -- willing to be a witness,” the lawsuit says.

Attorneys made the plea agreement that allowed Schneider to walk away from the case without jail time without “input or approval” from her, the suit says.

The suit asks for unspecified damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and negligence.

Schneider has not responded to the suit.

Judges and prosecutors have legal immunity from civil lawsuits.

Steep drop in oil prices brings both good, bad

Wed, 2018-11-14 13:43

The swift drop in oil prices in recent weeks may have motorists cheering, but the financial world is in a tizzy over whether there is a larger meaning behind the shocking plunge in the commodity that greases the global economy.

"The thing you have to worry about when you have a precipitous drop like this is it could be signaling bad things for everybody," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Chicago-based Price Futures Group. "That's the big concern."

American motorists are saving about $80 million a day, thanks to a 20-cent-a-gallon drop in the price of regular gasoline since Oct. 1.

Business like lower oil prices, too. But if companies think the decline portends an economic slowdown, the firms may rein in spending and hiring. Those fears can spread into recession.

The long-running bull market is already under pressure from the Federal Reserve raising interest rates, from tariffs between the United States and China, and from a sell-off in technology stocks.

Continued pressure on oil prices could drag stocks even deeper.

Stocks declined again Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 205 points. The blue-chip barometer is 7.48 percent off its all-time high on Oct. 3. The Nasdaq composite is down 12.7 percent from its Aug. 30 peak. The S&P 500 is 8.7 percent below its Sept. 21 record.

Flynn rated the six-week oil price pullback "a minor bust."

Benchmark Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate both saw price increases on Wednesday, snapping a 12-day losing streak. Brent was $65.70 per barrel, up 0.41 percent on the day. West Texas Intermediate closed at 55.86, up 0.36 percent. Each is down more than 20 percent from their highs in the beginning of October.

The magic number is $50 per barrel.

"We are clearly in the 'danger zone,' " said Frank Verrastro of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "For U.S. producers, sustained prices below $50 would undoubtedly be problematic for all but the most efficient operators."

The International Energy Agency two days ago issued a report that trimmed its forecast for oil demand growth in 2018 and 2019, citing weaker economic outlook, a China slowdown, trade concerns and even higher oil prices.

Several experts echoed Flynn, saying said the current oil price pullback is temporary and they expect Brent and WTI to settle in a range of $50 to $80 longer term.

"That is the band where neither consumers nor producers are hurt," said Bob Tippee of Oil & Gas Journal. "There is some of a swoon right now. This is the kind of gyration that is part of market psychology. The market is fundamentally softening. Demand growth has slowed."

Energy analyst Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James sees oil prices toward $100 a barrel by 2020.

"The big picture is very bullish," Molchanov said in a recent interview.

The current surplus is largely attributed to a miscalculation between demand and major producers, including Iran. A strong dollar is also weighing on oil prices because it makes oil more expensive to much of the world. Oil prices tend to fall as a result.

Oil is a boom-and-bust business. The price drops when supply exceeds demand. Producers pull back and slow production as a result of the price squeeze. When demand exceeds supply, producers start drilling again and the cycle picks up again.

The rub is the length and depth of the downcycle. The Houston oil crash of the 1980s after a collapse in oil prices is often cited for its severity. It flattened the city's economy, vaporized more than 200,000 jobs and emptied office buildings and wreaked havoc in the financial sector. The region took years to recover.

The United States is the world's biggest oil consumer at about 21 million barrels a day of 100 million barrels produced daily across the globe. It is also a top oil producer, thanks to the shale oil renaissance over the last half-decade.

Oil and gas represent about 7.6 percent of gross domestic product. Oil prices touch everyone. Low oil prices have a salutary effect across the economy, including moderating the rate of inflation. By helping keep inflation low, oil can help stem the rise of interest rates, mortgage rates and auto loans.

"Energy costs have a pervasive impact across the entire value chain of the U.S. economy," said Dean Foreman, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute.

Some worry that the current cycle could be a replay of 2014 through 2016.

Starting in mid-2014, oil prices began dropping from $80 per barrel into the $20s after oil giant Saudi Arabia drove down oil prices, thereby squeezing U.S. producers.

"It was a major crash signaling a slowdown in the global economy," Flynn said. "We had Brexit, a slowdown in Europe. Big Oil had some of their worst years ever."

It took years for oil producers to exhaust the supply overhang with disciplined production limits. Only in the last year or so did prices recover to a level where producers could make healthy profits without incurring the wrath of consumers.

The good news is that pump prices have dropped 20 cents in the past six weeks, from $2.88 per gallon for regular gas to $2.68, according to the American Automobile Association.

That savings is fattening consumer pocketbooks as the holiday season approaches. Dollars that would have gone to oil and gas companies will instead be spent at retailers from home repair giant Home Depot to Macy’s to restaurants, hotels and online giant Amazon.com (led by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos).

“Today the national average is about 30-cents less than the summer’s highest pump price,” said Jeanette Casselano, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association. “Combine that savings with the sustained strong economy, and Americans will have more change in their pocket to spend around the holidays.”

Hunter dies after falling from canoe in Southeast Alaska

Wed, 2018-11-14 12:32

JUNEAU - A man hunting west of Juneau died when he fell from a canoe into the ocean.

The Juneau Empire reports the 60-year-old man died Tuesday near Young Bay off Admiralty Island. The bay is near the back side of Douglas Island.

Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Charly Hengen says the man was hunting with his son and another person.

The man fell 150 yards offshore. He wore a float coat and floated near shore, where his son pulled him out.

Hengen says it's not known how he fell or how long he was in the water.

The man's son administered CPR until Coast Guard responders took over. They flew him by helicopter to Juneau.

He was pronounced dead at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

The man’s name was not released.

Rising comedy star from Eagle River gets a national TV special

Wed, 2018-11-14 12:24

Becky Braunstein, who grew up in Eagle River, will be featured in the upcoming EPIX television special “Unprotected Sets,” which airs Nov. 16. (Photo by Hilary Sander)

Becky Braunstein's opening joke always gets a laugh.

"It's kind of weird being in America."

It's a line that gets a chuckle from people Outside and knowing nods from the handful of Alaska expats likely in the crowd on any given night in Braunstein's adopted home of Portland, Oregon.

Being from the mountains of Eagle River isn't just a part of the 2001 Chugiak High grad's shtick, it's a key piece of her identity.

"There's something about us, we're tough people," Braunstein said in a recent interview from Portland, where she's gone from just another Alaska transplant with a dream to the brink of a national breakout.

That toughness has served Braunstein well during her journey, a long, strange trip that began with a cancer diagnosis and is about to culminate in a national TV special on premium cable and streaming network EPIX.

"It's very exciting, and a little scary," she said. "You're now getting put out in front of the entire country."

Braunstein's overnight success story started like most people's — years of hard work.

Growing up in Eagle River, she learned perseverance and toughness in a place where snowstorms and bears were regular visitors to the family home.

"If something goes wrong, you just have to deal with it," she said.

Braunstein started her career in the entertainment business by acting in local theater productions and school plays at Chugiak High, which started her down the road to comedy.

"That was definitely the beginning. I really came out of my shell as a performer," said Braunstein.

As a young actress, she always wanted to play dramatic roles but found she couldn't help making people laugh.

"I couldn't do it — I was funny no matter what I was doing," she said.

What brought Braunstein to Portland was no laughing matter. In 2010 she was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer and went south to seek treatment. She beat cancer and in the process found a vibrant stand-up community that welcomed her with open arms.

"Coming into Portland I realized there was a great stand-up scene," she said.

Since moving to the Rose City, Braunstein has steadily climbed up the local comedy ladder, getting more attention and landing bigger gigs. In 2017, she was named one of the city's "Funniest Five" by Willamette Week and made the Portland Mercury's annual "Undisputable Geniuses of Comedy" showcase.

She recently got some national press when a Twitter thread she wrote about being overweight went viral. The thread — which urged people to focus on on elements of her life and personality other than "absolutely THE least interesting thing about me" — was picked up for a story in Teen Vogue.

Her thread noted that Braunstein is much more than her appearance, and noted that she's a former Alaska state spelling bee champion, has met the president of East Timor and can rap in German.

"TBH, each of those things deserve their own television show," wrote Teen Vogue's Brittney McNamara.

In addition to her stand-up, Braunstein has filmed her own specials — including one where she visited her old stomping grounds and managed to land an interview with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Berkowitz even invited her into his office and played along with the bit.

"That would not happen in any other major city," she said.

But her biggest break came when she landed a spot on "Undiscovered Sets," a weekly series executive produced by Wanda Sykes and Page Hurwitz that premiered Oct. 5. According to a press release about the show, "Unprotected Sets" follows several comedians "on the verge of becoming the next big name in comedy."

"My family is so pumped," said Braunstein, whose parents and brother still live in Alaska. "They're telling all their friends."

Braunstein said the show will include elements of her stand-up along with documentary footage of her life away from the stage. Episodes were filmed with a variety of comedians from Portland, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Atlanta.

"It's very cinematic the way it turned out," she said.

Braunstein has yet to see her episode — she'll be watching alongside everyone else when the show airs Nov. 16.

"I've been really happy with the episodes so far," she said.

Waiting to see herself on national television isn't just a little nerve-wracking, she said.

"It's a lot nerve-wracking."

EPIX can be found online at epix.com, where Braunstein said people who want to watch her episode can sign up for a free 14-day trial.

She hopes to get back to Eagle River soon, possibly next summer.

"I think the Third of July at Lions Park would be ideal," she said, giving a shout-out to one of Chugiak-Eagle River's favorite summertime bashes.

Braunstein said she's excited to take the next step on her comedy journey but will always be the girl who grew up with bears in her backyard, "hanging out in the Carrs parking lot" and neon bowling at the Eagle River Bowl.

"Eagle River is my heart and soul."

The world’s plastic problem is bigger than the ocean

Wed, 2018-11-14 11:45

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on The Conversation.

As you read this, a strange object that looks like a 2,000-foot floating pool noodle is drifting slowly through the central north Pacific Ocean. This object is designed to solve an enormous environmental problem. But in so doing, it brings attention to a number of others.

There are an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic floating on and in the world’s oceans. The massive pool noodle will move through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, driven by the wind and currents and picking up the plastic it encounters along the way. Ocean Cleanup, the organization that developed the device, promises “the largest cleanup in history.”


FILE- This Aug. 11, 2009 file image provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows a patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/ Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Mario Aguilera, File) (Mario Aguilera/)

If it works, the device – blandly named System 001 – could make a dent in the enormous amount of ocean-borne plastic. But once that plastic is collected the options are not good. That’s where an environmental ethicist like me starts thinking about where this plastic will end up next. The ocean is better off without it, of course, but the plastic problem has many more layers than it first appears.

The struggle of sorting

Recycling plastic is only possible if it can be meticulously separated into its various chemical types. What people generally describe with the single word “plastic” encompasses seven main types of materials – the ones used to make soda bottles, trash bags, cling wrap, shopping bags, yogurt containers, fishing nets, foam insulation and non-metal parts of many household appliances. Recycling each of these types, which you might know by their acronyms – such as PETE, LDPE, PVC, PP and HDPE – requires a different chemical process.

That’s why many household recycling programs ask residents to sort their plastics – and why communities that let people put recyclables of all types into one big bin employ people and machines to sort it after it’s collected.

Sorting won’t be easy with the plastic in the ocean. All the different kinds of plastic are mixed up together, and some of it has been chemically and physically broken down by sunlight and wave action. Much of it is now in tiny pieces called microplastics, suspended just below the surface. The first difficulty, but by no means the last, will be sorting all that plastic – plus seaweed, barnacles and other sea life that may have attached itself to the floating debris.

Recycling or downcycling?

Ocean Cleanup is working on how best to reprocess, and brand, the material it collects, hoping that a willing market will emerge for its uniquely sourced product. Even if the company’s engineers and researchers can figure out how to sort it all, there are physical limitations to how useful the collected plastic will be.

The act of recycling involves grinding up materials into very small pieces before melting and reforming them. An inescapable part of that process is that every time plastic is recycled, its polymers – the long chemical sequences that provide its structure – become shorter.

Generally speaking, lighter and more flexible types of plastic can only be recycled into denser, harder materials – unless large amounts of new virgin plastic are added to the mixture. After one or two rounds of recycling, the possibilities for reuse become very limited. At that point, the “downcycled” plastic material is formed into textiles, car bumpers or plastic lumber, none of which end up anywhere else but the landfill. The plastic becomes garbage.

Plastic composting

What if there were a way to ensure that plastic was genuinely recyclable over the long term? Most bacteria can’t degrade plastics because the polymers contain strong carbon-to-carbon chemical bonds that are different from anything bacteria evolved alongside in nature. Fortunately, after being in the environment with human-discarded plastics for a number of decades, bacteria seem to be evolving to use this synthetic feedstock that pervades modern life.

In 2016, a team of biologists and materials scientists found a bacterium that can eat the particular type of plastic used in beverage bottles. The bacteria turns PET plastic into more basic substances that can be remade into virgin plastics. After identifying the key enzyme in the bacteria’s plastic-digestion process, the research team went on to deliberately engineer the enzyme to make it more effective. One scholar said the engineering work has managed to “overtake evolution.”

At this point, the breakthroughs are only working in laboratory conditions and only on one of the seven types of plastics. But the idea of going beyond natural evolution is where the ears of an environmental philosopher go on alert.

Synthetic enzymes and bacteria

Discovering the plastic-eating bacterium and its enzyme took a lot of watching, waiting and testing. Evolution isn’t always quick. The findings suggest the possibility of discovering additional enzymes that work with other plastics. But they also raise the possibility of taking matters into our own hands and designing new enzymes and microbes.

Already, completely artificial proteins coded by synthetically constructed genes are acting like artificial enzymes and catalyzing reactions in cells. One researcher claims “we can develop proteins – that would normally have taken billions of years to evolve – in a matter of months.” In other labs, synthetic genomes built entirely out of bottles of chemicals are now capable of running bacterial cells. Entirely synthetic cells – genomes, metabolic processes, functional cellular structures and all – are thought to be only a decade away.

This coming era of synthetic biology not only promises to change what organisms can do. It threatens to change what organisms actually are. Bacteria will no longer just be naturally occurring life forms; some, even many, of them will be purpose-built microbes constructed expressly to provide functions useful to humans, such as composting plastic. The border between life and machine will blur.

The plastics polluting the world’s oceans need to be cleaned up. Bringing them back to land would reinforce the fact that even on a global scale, it’s impossible to throw trash “away” – it just goes somewhere else for a time. But people should be very careful about what sort of technological fixes they employ. I cannot help but see the irony of trying to solve the very real problem of too many synthetic materials littering the oceans by introducing to the world trillions of synthetically produced proteins or bacteria to clean them up.

Christopher J. Preston is a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana.

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

DeVos set to rewrite guidance on college sexual assault cases

Wed, 2018-11-14 11:34

Sen. Lamar Alexander listens as Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks to students at Sevier County High School, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Sevierville, Tenn. The pair spoke about the newly launched myStudentAid mobile application. (Robert Berlin/The Daily Times via AP) (Robert Berlin/)

WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is set to release a sweeping overhaul of how colleges and universities must handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment, giving new rights to the accused, including the ability to cross-examine their accusers, people familiar with the matter said.

The proposal is set for release before Thanksgiving, possibly this week, and replaces less formal guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011. The new rules would reduce liability for universities, tighten the definition of sexual harassment, and allow schools to use a higher standard in evaluating claims of sexual harassment and assault.

The rules stem from a 1972 law known as Title IX that bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. Most of the attention is on higher education, but the rules also apply to elementary and secondary schools. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open for public comment before being finalized.

The regulation lands amid a national debateover sexual assault, including whether Brett Kavanaugh should have been elevated to the Supreme Court after allegations surfaced that as a teenagerhe sexually assaulted a girl. He denied the accusation and was confirmed. Defending Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump declared it "a very scary time for young men in America" who faced the possibility of false claims.

Last year, DeVos rescinded the 2011 Obama guidance, denouncing it as overly prescriptive and lacking due process for the accused. She promised to write a regulation to replace it.

In a 2017 speech, she offered several examples of students she said were wrongly accused of wrongdoing under the old rules. She also said the rules poorly served survivors who were forced through multiple appeals because the system had "failed the accused."

"Schools have been compelled by Washington to enforce ambiguous and incredibly broad definitions of assault and harassment," she said. "Institutions must be mindful of the rights of every student."

The rules come after years of rising pressure on universities to better respond to allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct, and the proposal is likely to anger those who fear victim claims will be ignored or minimized. But the new direction has been welcomed by men's rights groups, who say the Obama guidelines were weighted in favor of the accusers, and by some university administrators who found the Obama version overly prescriptive and confusing.

The proposed rule will dodge a related controversial matter regarding the rights of transgender students. The Department of Health and Human Services had urged the Education Department to include a provision defining gender as someone's biological sex at birth. The DeVosproposal does not include that idea.

But several people said it is possible the Education Department will later issue a letter or fact sheet that asserts sex discrimination does not include complaints related to gender identity.

People with direct knowledge of the rules and others briefed on them spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the proposal. The department declined comment.

A leaked draft of the Title IX rules was published online in September, and five people familiar with the planning said this week only a handful of changes have been made to the rules since then.

The most significant change would guarantee the accused the right to cross-examine their accusers, though it would have to be conducted by advisers or attorneys for the people involved, rather than by the person accused of misconduct. If requested, the parties could be in separate rooms during the cross-examination, an administration official said. They said this was done to bolster the due process rights of the accused while assuring that victims are not directly confronted by their assailants.

The Obama guidelines had strongly discouraged use of direct cross-examination. The earlier DeVos draft allowed cross-examination but did not require schools to offer it as an option.

Recent court decisions requiring public universities to allow the accused the right to cross-examination when credibility is an issue figured in the administration's reasoning, two people said.

Some White House officials urged going further to include a mandatory cross-examination provision, two people familiar with internal discussions said. They said others in the administration argued that mandatory questioning was ill-advised, potentially traumatic for victims and not required in court hearings.

The proposal will include language barring questioning about an accuser's sexual history, one administration official said.

Jess Davidson, executive director of the advocacy group End Rape on Campus, said she made the case to the White House against allowing the parties to directly cross-examine each other, decrying it as "an extraordinarily cruel process" that would discourage victims from reporting assaults.

"Most survivors would be unwilling to go through a process that allows the person who sexually assaulted them to cross-examine them, and rightfully so," she said.

Others argue that colleges failed to protect the rights of the accused under the Obama guidelines. For instance, many schools used a single investigator to gather evidence and decide the case, without an opportunity for the accused to confront their accusers, said Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which supports more robust due process procedures.

"That leaves a huge window of opportunity for the biases of the adjudicator to make themselves felt," he said.

In another change, the proposal will allow both sides to appeal an adverse ruling, and not just the accused.

The rules will also give universities more flexibility in offering supportive measures to victims, for instance schedule changes or housing reassignments, in a change requested by survivor groups.

The most consequential provisions are unchanged since September.

The biggest may be the standard of proof required in assessing claims. Under the DeVos proposal, schools will be allowed to choose between "preponderance of the evidence" and the higher bar of "clear and convincing" evidence. The Obama guidelines had directed schools to use the "preponderance of the evidence" standard.

The regulation also will require schools to use the same standard in these cases as they use for other complaints, including those against employees and faculty. Many union contracts and other agreements with faculty mandate the use of a higher "clear and convincing" standard, several people said. So as a practical matter, most schools may be forced to apply the same higher bar for student complaints.

"It's intentional," said one person briefed on the rules. "It's DeVos saying, 'Yeah, you have a choice, but you can't have a higher burden of proof for unionized faculty.' "

In another major change from 2011 Obama guidelines, the new rules more narrowly define sexual harassment. It must be "unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school's education program or activity." Under Obama, harassment was "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature."

And the rules raise the bar for when an institution can be held legally responsible for failing to investigate a complaint. Under the new version, the school must have "actual knowledge" of the allegation, made to an official who has the authority to "institute corrective measures." That means reporting the allegation to a professor or resident adviser is not sufficient to prove the university was aware of the matter because those people are not in a position to formally handle complaints.

Under Obama, the government expected schools to investigate if they knew or "reasonably should" have known about an incident. Universities thought that was overly broad.

Universities appreciate that the new rules will offer more clarity on their responsibilities, said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president for the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents. “What you want is schools being able to act in good faith without hearing that they’re going to be second-guessed by government bureaucrats later on,” he said.

Report cites weak police documentation on missing and murdered Native women across U.S.

Wed, 2018-11-14 11:01

FILE--In this July 14, 2018, file photo, Kenny Still Smoking touches the tombstone of his 7-year-old daughter, Monica, who disappeared from school in 1979 and was found frozen on a mountain, as he visits her grave on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont. A study released by a Native American non-profit says numerous police departments in cities nationwide are not adequately identifying or reporting cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. (AP Photo/David Goldman, file) (David Goldman/)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Police departments nationwide are not adequately identifying or reporting cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls as concerns mount over the level of violence they often face, according to a study released by a Native American nonprofit Wednesday.

The report from the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute, the research arm of the Seattle Indian Health Board, was conducted over the past year amid worry in tribal communities and cities that Native American and Alaska Native women are vanishing in high numbers, despite a lack of available government data to identify the full scope of the problem.

Researchers said they identified some 500 missing persons and homicide cases involving Native American women in 71 cities after reviewing data obtained through media reports and public records requests sent to police departments.

They reviewed cases dating back to the 1940s, though roughly two-thirds were from the past eight years, according to Annita Lucchesi, a cartographer and descendant of the Cheyenne whose database of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada was the basis for the research.

In total, she has a list of some 2,700 names. Of the cases included in the report on U.S. cities, a quarter represented missing persons cases, and just more than half were homicides.

Researchers said they expect their figures to represent an undercount, in part, because some police departments in cities with substantial Native American populations - such as Albuquerque and Billings, Montana - did not provide figures in response to records requests, or because Native American victims may have been identified as belonging to another race.

"What it does show is, yes, this is happening," said Abigail Echo-Hawk, who is the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute. "But there has to be major changes to the way data is collected."

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined other lawmakers and representatives of the Urban Indian Health Institute to review the report's findings Wednesday in Washington. Its release comes as multiple bills at the state and federal level have been proposed to address the issue and improve data collection.

In Washington state, for example, a law was enacted in June that requires the State Patrol to conduct a study to examine how to improve the collection and sharing of information about missing Native American women. The study also will develop an estimate of how many Native women are missing in the state.

The state is home to 29 tribes. A report to the Legislature is expected in June.

In Congress, meanwhile, a bill to expand tribal access to some federal crime databases, establish protocols for handling cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, and require annual reports on the number of missing and murdered Native American women was set for a hearing Wednesday.

It was introduced last year by North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who lost her bid for re-election last week. She named the bill Savanna's Act in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old who was brutally killed in Fargo, North Dakota, in 2017 while eight months pregnant.

Her body was found in a river, wrapped in plastic and duct tape, after a neighbor cut her baby girl from her womb. The child survived and lives with her father.

Brooke Crews admitted to the killing and was sentenced to life in prison without parole earlier this year. Her boyfriend William Hoehn was sentenced last month to life in prison with a chance at parole for conspiring to kidnap the baby and lying to police about it.

Heitkamp has said that if authorities had more accurate statistics, they might be able to detect patterns to help solve more cases. The authors of the nonprofit's report share that opinion. But they also point out that the legislation's data collection mandates likely would not include LaFontaine-Greywind herself.

That's because the bill would largely set mandates for federal law enforcement, which has some jurisdiction over crimes on reservations and other tribal lands but not municipalities.

LaFontaine-Greywind had been killed in Fargo, a city beyond the boundaries of any of North Dakota's reservations.

The report underscores U.S. Census figures showing that a majority of Native Americans now live in urban areas. The study’s authors said that shows the urgent need for including cases stemming from cities in reforms.

Britain’s May secures Cabinet backing for Brexit deal as critics rage

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:45

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street heading to Parliament for Prime Minister's questions in London, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. May will try to persuade her divided Cabinet on Wednesday that they have a choice between backing a draft Brexit deal with the European Union or plunging the U.K. into political and economic uncertainty. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham/)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May said that she won her Cabinet’s backing for a draft divorce deal with the European Union after a “long, detailed and impassioned” marathon meeting Wednesday.

The breakthrough came as pro-Brexit lawmakers raged against a draft agreement they said would make the U.K. subservient to the bloc indefinitely.

May's Cabinet debated whether to support the deal after negotiators from Britain and the European Union broke a months-long logjam and reached agreement on divorce terms.

May referred to the support from her Cabinet as a "collective agreement," but didn't say whether the deal received unanimous backing.

She emerged from the five-hour meeting to tell reporters in Downing St. that the deal was "the best that could be negotiated."

She said approval by Cabinet was a "decisive step which allows us to move on and finalize the deal in the days ahead."

"I firmly believe, with my head and my heart that this is a decision which is in the best interests of the United Kingdom," she said.

Earlier, May told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the draft deal "takes us significantly closer to delivering what the British people voted for in the referendum" of 2016 that opted to leave the EU.

May said Britain would "take back control of our borders, our laws and our money ... while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom."

But pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's Conservative Party — a group that includes some members of the Cabinet — say the agreement will leave Britain tethered to the EU after it departs and unable to forge an independent trade policy.

Euroskeptic Conservative legislator Peter Bone warned May that she would "lose the support of many Conservative (members of Parliament) and millions of voters across the country" if she pressed ahead with the agreement.

May's supporters argue that the deal is the best on offer, and the alternatives are a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit that would cause huge disruption to people and businesses, or an election that could see the Conservative government replaced by the left-of-center Labour Party.

Former Foreign Secretary William Hague warned "ardent Brexiteers" that if they shoot down May's deal, it could lead to a change of government and a new referendum and "Brexit might never happen at all."

Failure to secure Cabinet backing will leave May's leadership in doubt and the Brexit process in chaos, with exit day just over four months away on March 29.

If the Cabinet supports the deal, it still must be approved by leaders of the 28-nation EU. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said EU leaders had penciled in a Nov. 25 Brexit summit to discuss the deal — though he cautioned nothing was guaranteed and much could still go wrong.

Then May will need to win backing from Britain's Parliament — no easy task, since pro-Brexit and pro-EU legislators alike are threatening to oppose it.

The main obstacle to a withdrawal agreement has long been how to ensure there are no customs posts or other checks along the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit. Britain and the EU agree that there must be no barriers that could disrupt businesses and residents on either side of the border and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace process.

The proposed solution involves a common customs arrangement for the U.K. and the EU, to eliminate the need for border checks, with some provisions that are specific to Northern Ireland.

The solution is intended to be temporary, but pro-Brexit politicians in Britain fear it may become permanent, hampering Britain's ability to strike new trade deals around the world.

Pro-Brexit former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the agreement would make his favored option, a loose Canada-style trade deal with the bloc, impossible. He tweeted: "Cabinet must live up to its responsibilities & stop this deal."

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority government, said it would oppose any deal that leaves Northern Ireland subject to different rules to the rest of the U.K. after Brexit.

"We could not as unionists support a deal that broke up the United Kingdom," DUP leader Arlene Foster said.

May also faced disquiet from Scottish Conservative lawmakers, worried about what the deal means for Scotland's important fishing industry.

The party's Scottish legislators — including Scottish Secretary David Mundell, a Cabinet minister — wrote to May saying Brexit must mean "full sovereignty over domestic waters" and Britain must leave the EU's Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit.

May also faces growing opposition from pro-EU lawmakers, who say her proposed Brexit deal is worse than the status quo and the British public should get a new vote on whether to leave or to stay.

Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who is deputy to the legislature's Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt, said the real problem during the negotiations "lies within the U.K." because Britain doesn't know what relationship it wants with the EU.

“That is the real problem, because if the U.K. had a single agreed line, backed by the majority of parties and the majority of MPs, then the whole situation would not be so unclear,” she said.


House Republicans elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy as party leader

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:42

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to reporters as he arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, for the House Republican leadership elections. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/)

WASHINGTON - Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California ascended to the top job in House Republican leadership on Wednesday, while Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming followed in her father’s footsteps by taking the party’s No. 3 spot.

McCarthy prevailed over Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 159-43, according to the House press gallery, while Cheney was elected by voice vote.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is stepping down at the end of his term in January. That opened up the top spot in House Republican leadership, which following the GOP's defeat in last week's midterms will be House Minority Leader.

Both McCarthy and Jordan, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had announced their bid for the position. McCarthy, who serves in the No. 2 spot as House Majority Leader, made a bid for speaker in 2015 but stepped aside amid pressure from conservatives. With Ryan's backing - as well as a close relationship with President Donald Trump - McCarthy triumphed over Jordan.

The California Republican has leveraged his alliance with Trump to his advantage on Capitol Hill, where the president looms large over the House GOP conference. Trump has referred to McCarthy as "my Kevin" since before his inauguration, and McCarthy has at times gone to great lengths to curry favor with Trump, both through legislation - such as by introducing a bill that would appropriate more than $23 billion to Trump's border wall plan - and other means, such as sending the president his favorite candies.

The No. 2 spot of House Minority Whip was claimed Wednesday by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who serves in the third-ranking role in House GOP leadership. Scalise had mulled a bid against McCarthy but announced last week that he was pursuing the minority whip spot instead.

Cheney, who first won election in 2016 and is the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, won the No. 3 spot of House Republican Conference Chair. Cheney launched her bid for the spot last Wednesday with a letter to colleagues in which she criticized Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who has held the position for three terms. McMorris Rodgers announced the next day that she was stepping aside from her leadership role and instead seeking to climb the ranks of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The elder Cheney, who served as GOP conference chair from 1987 to 1989, was present for Wednesday's vote for his daughter.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Elise Viebeck, Mike DeBonis and John Wagner contributed to this report.

About 100 people still on list of missing after Northern California wildfire that killed at least 48

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:37

Search and rescue workers search for human remains at a trailer park burned out from the Camp Fire, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)

CHICO, Calif. — Authorities searching through the blackened aftermath of California’s deadliest wildfire have released the names of about 100 people who are still missing, including many in their 80s and 90s.

As the names were made public late Tuesday, additional crews joined the search, and the statewide death toll climbed to at least 51, with 48 dead in Northern California and three fatalities in Southern California.

"We want to be able to cover as much ground as quickly as we possibly can," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. "This is a very difficult task."

Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the missing grew increasingly desperate. A message board at a shelter was filled with photos of the missing and pleas for any information.

"I hope you are okay," read one hand-written note on the board filled with sheets of notebook paper. Another had a picture of a missing man: "If seen, please have him call."

Some of the missing are not on the list, said Sol Bechtold, who is searching for his 75-year-old mother, Joanne Caddy, whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise, the town of 27,000 that was consumed by flames last week.

Bechtold said he spoke with the sheriff's office Wednesday morning, and they confirmed they have an active missing person's case on Caddy. But Caddy, a widow who lived alone and did not drive, was not on the list.

"The list they published is missing a lot of names," Bechtold said. Community members have compiled their own list.

Greg Gibson was one of the people searching the message board Tuesday, hoping to find information about his neighbors. They've been reported missing, but he does not know if they tried to escape or hesitated a few minutes too long before fleeing Paradise, where about 7,700 homes were destroyed.

"It happened so fast. It would have been such an easy decision to stay, but it was the wrong choice," Gibson said from the Neighborhood Church in Chico, California, which was serving as a shelter for some of the more than 1,000 evacuees.

Inside the church, evacuee Harold Taylor chatted with newfound friends. The 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, who walks with a cane, said he received a call Thursday morning to evacuate immediately. He saw the flames leaping up behind his house, left with the clothes on his back and barely made it out alive.

Along the way, he tried to convince his neighbor to get in his car and evacuate with him, but the neighbor declined. He doesn't know what happened to his friend.

"We didn't have 10 minutes to get out of there," he said. "It was already in flames downtown, all the local restaurants and stuff," he said.

The search for the dead was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone's genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

"In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it's just such a lengthy process," said Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners' office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9/11.

Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.

At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures in Southern California.

The flames roared to life again in a mountainous wilderness area Tuesday, sending up a huge plume of smoke near the community of Lake Sherwood. Still, firefighters made gains.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke canceled a trip to Asia and planned to visit the fire zones Wednesday and Thursday.

The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place that two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.

People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not immediately returned.

Linda Rawlings was on a daylong fishing trip with her husband and 85-year-old father when the fire broke out.

Her next-door neighbors opened the back gate so her three dogs could escape before they fled the flames, and the dogs were picked up several days later waiting patiently in the charred remains of their home, she said.

After days of uncertainty, Rawlings learned Tuesday morning that her "Smurf blue" home in Magalia burned to the ground.

She sat looking shell-shocked on the curb outside a hotel in Corning.

"Before, you always have hope," she said. "You don't want to give up. But now we know."

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, and Sudhin Thanawala, Janie Har, Jocelyn Gecker and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco.


Letter: Ups and downs on Election Day

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:35

Election Day began wonderfully. It was great to see so many people at my polling station early in the morning. I entered with a smile on my face, greeting people leaving with a cheery “good morning.” No one made eye contact or returned my greeting. Most of them looked pretty serious. The machine was not accepting ballots so I had to put it in a slot in the side, but I slapped my “I Voted” sticker on my coat, happy I’d done my duty.

My wife reported that later in the day, she met a recently naturalized neighbor originally from the Middle East who was ecstatic about voting for the first time. On the way home from work, I passed my incumbent representative pumping his sign up and down on a busy corner, and I smiled and waved at him as I passed. He waved back enthusiastically, not knowing that I said a quiet “goodbye” as we passed.

Next morning, I realized I had probably waved goodbye to the $19 billion in the Permanent Fund earnings reserve account instead. Only most of the judges I had voted for had been retained. Otherwise, my votes had all gone into the minority columns. Disappointed? Yes. Disillusioned? Somewhat. Dispirited? Never!

— Jon Sharpe

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: We can do better

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:33

A congressman who body-slams a reporter is “my kind of guy.” Fans at rallies are encouraged to “knock the crap” out of protesters. Neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, include “some very fine people.” With such rhetoric doth our president inflame the surly lumpen.

Then people are shot, people are run over, and bombs are mailed. Yet 87 percent of Republicans — overwhelmingly good people — approve the president’s performance. Why? Because he appoints conservative judges, and the economy is booming.

This is not the America I know and love. We’re better than this. Good people need to stand up and say, “This is wrong.”

— Dale Gerboth

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Bigger fish to fry

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:32

I didn’t vote for Mike Dunleavy because I believe that we have bigger fish to fry. So if Mike got a bunch of votes to give out free money that the state doesn’t have, when do I get my check for $6,700? When do my children get their checks? Does the Legislature know? Promises and promises to get votes.

It’s kind of like people voting for Donald Trump, thinking that he will get them a job and they will make more money. No, voting for Trump means you will still not get a job, and if you do, you will not make enough to pay taxes. And your financial and standard of living will be no better. It’s called politics. I believe John Kennedy Toole explained that it is a “confederacy of dunces.”

I will, however, cash my checks if Mike makes right. He got elected, he will make more money, and my life will stay the same.

— Grant Hedman

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: ADN to blame for initiative’s failure

Wed, 2018-11-14 10:30

The ADN’s opposition to any and all changes proposed by Ballot Measure 1 is dead wrong. You tried to ignore the fact that the Board of Fish asked the Legislature for changes. Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak introduced such legislation but it was held up in committee. It is even more likely to be strangled up by the incoming Legislature.

Along with that, we are likely to have new commissioners of the departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Game who will have their own interpretation of what constitutes “proper protection” of fish habitat. That could be a negative for fish habitat.

As for the “resounding defeat,” the ADN helped with that. The $12 million opposition quoted the paper’s Oct. 28 editorial in its ads. One thing you said in that editorial was: “But biologists tell us that the problems affecting salmon returns lie in the Pacific Ocean …” This was deceptive to say the least and I expected better of you. Ballot Measure 1 was not about salmon survival at sea; it was about affording better protection for anadromous fish habitat in the waters that flow through the landmass of Alaska.

The opposition to Ballot Measure 1 did a ton of successful fear-mongering that ranged from a smaller dividend to having “… to fund a fish habitat study just to fix potholes,” as an Anchorage state senator claimed. You said that our 60-year-old law is just fine. Many reasonably think that it could be improved short of Ballot Measure 1.

— John Jensen

Anchorage

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