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Updated: 11 min 23 sec ago

60 people in 7 states charged in illegal prescription opioid crackdown

Wed, 2019-04-17 11:58

Principal Deputy Inspector General Joanne Chiedi of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General speaks beside members of Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, during a news conference, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Cincinnati. Federal authorities have charged 60 people, including 31 doctors, for their roles in illegal prescribing and distributing millions of pills with opioids and other dangerous drugs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo/)

CINCINNATI — Federal authorities said Wednesday they have charged 60 people, including a doctor accused of trading drugs for sex and another of prescribing to his Facebook friends, for their roles in illegally prescribing and distributing millions of pills containing opioids and other drugs.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman of Cincinnati described the action, with 31 doctors facing charges, as the biggest known takedown yet of drug prescribers. Robert Duncan, U.S. attorney for eastern Kentucky, called the doctors involved "white-coated drug dealers."

Authorities said the 60 includes 53 medical professionals tied to some 350,000 prescriptions and 32 million pills. The operation was conducted by the federal Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, launched last year by the Trump administration.

Authorities said arrests were being made and search warrants carried out as they announced the charges at a news conference. They didn't immediately name those being charged.

U.S. health authorities have reported there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, for a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 people. West Virginia and Ohio have regularly been among the states with the highest overdose death rates as the opioid crisis has swelled in recent years.

Among those charged was a Tennessee doctor who dubbed himself the "Rock Doc" and is accused of prescribing dangerous combinations of drugs such as fentanyl and oxycodone, sometimes in exchange for sex, authorities said

Others include a Kentucky doctor who is accused of writing prescriptions to Facebook friends who came to his home to pick them up, another who allegedly left signed blank prescriptions for staff to fill out and give to patients, and a Kentucky dentist accused of removing teeth unnecessarily and scheduling unneeded follow-up appointments.

A Dayton, Ohio, doctor was accused of running a "pill mill" that allegedly dispensed 1.75 million pills in a two-year period. Authorities said an Alabama doctor recruited prostitutes and other women he had sexual relations with to his clinic and allowed them to abuse drugs in his home.

Most of those charged came from the five strike force states of Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. One person each was also arrested in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

"The opioid crisis is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement in Washington.


Associated Press journalist John Minchillo contributed to this report.

Trump orders new restrictions on travel to Cuba, limits on money sent to families there

Wed, 2019-04-17 11:25

The Cuban flag is raised over Cuba's new embassy in Washington, Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration is reimposing limits on the amount of money Cuban Americans can send to relatives on the island and ordering new restrictions on U.S. citizen, nonfamily travel to Cuba, national security adviser John Bolton said Wednesday.

The new measures, outlined by Bolton in a Miami speech, follow an announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the administration will lift restraints that have prevented lawsuits from U.S. citizens seeking compensation for property expropriated by the Cuban revolutionary government that seized power there more than six decades ago.

Bolton also announced new sanctions against Venezuela and Nicaragua that will bar parts of their banking systems from U.S. dollar transactions.

The actions are the latest move in President Donald Trump's efforts to roll back the Obama administration's openings to Havana, and to punish Cuba for its support for the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Trump, with the support of most governments in Latin America, has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate interim president and charged that tens of thousands of Cuban military and intelligence agents are enabling Maduro to stay in power.

New sanctions against Venezuela's Central Bank, Bolton said, should also be a "strong warning to all external actors, including Russia," which has provided financial support to Venezuela, sold military equipment to its government, and last month deployed about 100 military personnel there.

"The United States will consider such provocative actions a threat to international peace and security in the region," he said.

In a fiery speech to the Bay of Pigs veterans group, on the anniversary of the failed CIA-orchestrated invasion of the island in 1958, Bolton said, "Today, we proudly proclaim for all to hear: the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well." The 1823 doctrine holds that the United States will not tolerate foreign intrusions anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.

"The walls are closing in," Bolton said of pressure against Maduro. "There is no turning back. The people will prevail. And when they do, we know that Cuba will be next. And soon after, we pray, the third member of the Troika, Nicaragua, will also at last be free."

In a Miami speech last November, just before the U.S. midterm elections, Bolton referred to the three countries as the "Troika of Tyranny." On Wednesday, he called them "the three stooges of socialism."

Quoting Trump, who has made accusations of Democratic "socialism" a key component of his 2020 reelection campaign, Bolton said that "the twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere."

The new Cuba restrictions are likely to provoke a strong reaction from Cuban Americans, which polls indicate are closely divided between those who support the Trump crackdown and those who advocate widening the Obama opening.

Pompeo announced earlier Wednesday that the administration will end waivers, activated by five presidents over the past 20 years, of a 1996 law allowing compensation lawsuits by U.S. citizens against any entity or person "trafficking" in confiscated property in Cuba. The expansive legislation includes foreign companies and persons, and plans to remove the waiver has already brought sharp criticism and threats of countermeasures from the European Union and Canada, which have extensive investments in Cuba.

In a joint statement, the EU and Canada said they "consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law." The measure also permits the United States to deny and revoke U.S. visas to any person deemed to be utilizing confiscated property, and their family members.

About 6,000 potential lawsuits, by both native-born Americans and naturalized Cuban Americans, have already been certified as valid by U.S. government and can proceed to litigation. Administration officials estimated that claims eventually could total tens of billions of dollars.

Sitka and regional health consortium agree to hospital purchase

Wed, 2019-04-17 11:13

SITKA - The city government has approved agreements allowing a regional health consortium to take over operation of its community hospital, officials said.

The City and Borough of Sitka Assembly voted 5-2 Monday to approve asset purchase and facilities lease agreements so Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium can operate Sitka Community Hospital, The Daily Sitka Sentinel reported Tuesday.

The consortium's board will consider approval of the agreements April 26, with a likely June 30 closing date, the newspaper reported.

The consortium will take over operations at the hospital and its health care business after the summer closing, the newspaper reported.

The consortium will pay about $16.7 million, including $1.3 million payable upon closing and $700,000 annually for 22 years, officials said.

Before discussion began, Assembly member Kevin Knox disclosed his wife had been offered a job by the health consortium, but Mayor Gary Paxton ruled there was no conflict of interest or need for his recusal from the proceedings, the newspaper reported.

“My God,” Paxton said. “This is my hometown. It is our hometown. We have got to trust each other. I think everybody on the Assembly values that and is doing our best to be committed to that.”

Scientists restore some brain cell functions in pigs four hours after their death

Wed, 2019-04-17 11:09

Bloomberg photo by Balint Porneczi (Balint Porneczi/)

The brain is fragile, and if deprived of oxygen - for example from a massive heart attack, or through drowning - it will quickly and catastrophically degrade, leading to irreversible brain death. And that’s it - the end.

But that medical orthodoxy now must contend with a major report published Wednesday in the journal Nature that is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing: Researchers at Yale School of Medicine say they have restored some cellular function in pig brains from animals decapitated four hours earlier at a local slaughterhouse.

Over the course of a six-hour treatment, the brains were infused with a cocktail of synthetic fluids designed to halt cellular degeneration and restore cellular functions, such as metabolic activity. It worked: The brains continued to consume oxygen and glucose. Many brain cells, including neurons, which send messages within the brain and to the rest of the body, ceased decaying and appear to have been revived in dramatic and detectable ways.

The scientists detected "spontaneous synaptic activity," which means the neurons were capable of sending out signals, and the cells responded to external electrical stimulation. Cells removed from the treated brains and examined under a microscope had regained the shape of living cells, noted lead author Zvonimir Vrselja, a Yale neuroscientist.

The pig brains remained, by any traditional definition, dead. The researchers detected no signs of consciousness or any other "global" mental activity. But the study suggest that brain cells are hardier than previously thought, said study co-author and Yale neuroscientist Nenad Sestan.

"The death of a cell, or in this case, organ, is a gradual, stepwise process," Sestan said. He stressed that the revivifying system the researchers developed, which they dubbed BrainEx, may not reverse cell death and restore brains to what would be considered a stable, living state. It's possible, he said, that "we are just postponing the inevitable."

The researchers are mindful that this is controversial territory with great potential to stoke outrage, or simply the heebie-jeebies. Such a head-snapping experiment inevitably generates nightmarish scenarios involving live brains in vats, brain transplants, the Zombie Apocalypse, and other mad-scientist story lines (brilliantly crafted, somehow, by neurons firing away inside the skulls of conventionally living human beings).

The findings also lead to ethical quandaries, some of which are outlined in two commentaries simultaneously published by Nature. The ethicists say this research can blur the line between life and death, and could complicate the protocols for organ donation, which rely on a clear determination of when a person is dead and beyond resuscitation.

This startling research provides the latest reminder that science and medicine continuously create innovations that offer hope for treating dreaded diseases (such as Alzheimer's or other brain disorders) while simultaneously raising head-scratching issues about how to apply transformative technologies and procedures.

The National Institutes of Health helped fund this research as part of the BRAIN Initiative, a major research effort started during the Obama administration. The human brain is often described by scientists as the most complex object known to exist in the universe, and brains in general remain rather mysterious. Many basic questions - how does a brain create a thought? - are hard to answer.

The researchers knew they were on delicate ground. A presentation they made at the National Institutes of Health in 2018 so astonished their colleagues that word of the experiment leaked to a journalist at MIT Technology Review, and the ensuing story generated a great deal of controversy. Animal rights activists protested. Other researchers wondered why the Yale team was venturing into this edgy territory.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday in advance of publication, the Yale researchers addressed some of the objections. They pointed out that the experiment did not use live animals. These were pigs slaughtered as part of food production. They were completely dead, for hours, before their brains - drained of blood and largely removed from their skulls - were treated with the fluids.

Moreover, the experiment employed a chemical that inhibited overall brain activity. The scientists say that helped brain cells avoid stress. But the blocker also ensured the pig brain would not have any risk of awareness.

As an additional cautionary procedure, the researchers monitored the brains continuously for electrical activity that would indicate global mental operations and were prepared to chill the brains and apply anesthetic if they saw such activity. They did not.

"This is a clinically dead brain," Sestan said. He told reporters that it is premature to conjure scenarios of reviving dead people or using this technique on people who have paid to have their heads cryogenically preserved.

"I don't think it's changing anything at the moment," he said.

But this is still a big deal, to judge by the reaction of the scientific community.

"This is a huge breakthrough," said Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and co-author of one of the commentaries in Nature warning of the ethical complications from such research. She also has served on a bioethics advisory panel for NIH. She said the research offers hope for therapeutic innovations but also raises ethical and legal challenges.

"We've built our assumptions on something that's proven to be false," she said. "Our belief was there's a point of no return. Certainly we would have believed that four hours after being decapitated, that was a point of no return. It turns out it's not."

The alive/dead divide is never simple or abrupt at the cellular level. What a molecular biologist sees is a halt in the normal flow of oxygen and other molecules that drive metabolism. Soon the whole carnival of biochemistry shuts down, and the cell loses its normal shape. But it's not like throwing an on-off switch.

Farahany said the research field needs to be careful going forward to ensure that animals studied in laboratories - even dead animals by traditional definitions - do not suffer: "Given that there's this gray zone between dead and alive we need to divine what is the appropriate use of animals in that context, to ensure that there isn't pain or distress."

Stuart Youngner, a professor of bioethics and psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University and co-author of another one of the ethics commentaries in Nature, agrees with Farahany that this is a significant breakthrough.

"What's unnerving about it is, it has really challenged assumptions that I was raised with as a physician about the fragility of the brain. It appears from this study that it's not as fragile as we thought it was," Youngner said.

He brought up the possibility of brain transplants someday:

“This is certainly not about to happen. But this study brings up possibilities that we didn’t think about before except in the most wild Sci-Fi imagination. This is a breakthrough in understanding preservation of the brain.”

Anchorage pedestrian struck by vehicle and badly hurt near Merrill Field

Wed, 2019-04-17 10:30

Anchorage police officers investigate an accident on Fifth Avenue near Concrete Street that sent a pedestrian to the hospital with serious injuries on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Madeline McGee / ADN.) (Madeline McGee/)

A man suffered injuries police described as “life threatening” early Wednesday after being hit by an SUV near Merrill Field in Anchorage.

The pedestrian, whose identity hasn’t been released, was struck on Fifth Avenue between Orca and Concrete streets just after 5 a.m., police said.

He and another man had been crossing the six-lane divided highway from south to north when he was hit by a tan or gold SUV, Anchorage police spokesman MJ Thim said. The other pedestrian had already finished crossing and wasn’t struck.

Both men were wearing dark clothing, and there wasn’t a crosswalk where they were crossing, police said.

The driver of the SUV, a man, was alone in the vehicle, Thim said. He and the pedestrian who wasn’t hit both remained at the scene.

Police were still investigating the cause of the crash, though Thim said the driver’s speed doesn’t appear to be a factor. Alcohol and drugs have not yet been ruled out, he said.

No one — driver or pedestrians — has been arrested or charged with a crime.

Visibility on the road was poor at the time of the crash because of rainy conditions, Thim said, and the road was wet. Police issued a warning while officers were still on the scene about icy conditions on the Glenn Highway.

The crash closed all westbound lanes on Fifth Avenue, halting commuter traffic coming in from the Glenn Highway for about two hours. The road reopened just after 8 a.m.

In January, a man was found dead on Fifth Avenue near Tetlin Street, two blocks from the scene of Wednesday’s crash, after apparently being hit by a snowplow.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Dunleavy picks would restore balance to Board of Fish

Wed, 2019-04-17 10:27

The Alaska State Capitol is seen at sunset Wednesday, March 6, 2019 in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

Alaska’s diverse salmon fisheries need to be carefully managed and fairly balanced among competing interests. Unfortunately, that is not happening. The current Board of Fisheries is skewed in favor of commercial fishing interests, which creates significant disadvantages for families that depend on personal use fishing to put food on the table and sports fishermen. It’s time to correct this imbalance.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is working to restore balance to the board, and we congratulate him for it. His recent nominations, if confirmed, will ensure that Alaska’s personal use and sport fishing interests enjoy as much representation as commercial fishing interests.

Why does this really matter? Ask any Alaskan who has been forbidden in recent years to fish for famous Kenai River kings, or who has witnessed what once was a productive fishery in the Matanuska Valley declining almost to the point of disappearing. These Alaskans will gladly relay their opinions about how the current Board of Fish has managed the resource, and it won’t be pretty.

One of the governor’s nominees, former judge Karl Johnstone, exemplifies the type of person Alaskans need on the Board of Fish. Karl served on the Board of Fisheries from 2008 to 2015. His work was so admired across all user groups that the Alaska Legislature honored him in 2015, saying in part, “Mr. Johnstone’s record on the Board represents the gold standard of public service.” A resident of Alaska since 1967, Karl has experience as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay and in Southeast, and today is an avid fly fisherman.

Perhaps Karl’s greatest asset is the respect he has earned from diverse fishing stakeholders for his actions on the Board — fighting against federal overreach, opening new commercial opportunities, and balancing the needs of passionate, competing interests. In fact, just a few days ago, well-respected former senators Clem Tillion and Mike Szmanski testified in support of Johnstone’s nomination. Both Tillion and Szmanski are commercial fishing advocates, but are familiar enough with Johnstone’s evenhanded reputation to strongly support his nomination.

We at the Kenai River Sportfishing Association understand that our fisheries must be managed with equal consideration for competing interests, but that cannot happen with a Board that favors one user group over the needs of the others. Moreover, we adamantly believe that only a balanced board can address the very real and complex challenges facing the state’s fisheries. We strongly encourage members of the public to contact their state legislators immediately to urge their support for Karl Johnstone and the governor’s other Board of Fisheries nominations. The Legislature has the power to restore balance to the board and, by doing so, serve the needs of all Alaskans. Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.

Ben Mohr is the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit fishery conservation organization that works to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of fish resources in the Kenai River and elsewhere in Alaska.

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.

The Anchorage election is certified. Here are the final results.

Wed, 2019-04-17 10:07

Election workers Bonnie Jack, left, and Ember Jackinsky place ballot envelopes in boxes for storage on April 5, 2019 at Anchorage's Election Center. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The final results are in for Anchorage’s vote-by-mail election.

Voters rejected a local alcohol tax, with 54% opposed to it and 46% in favor. They re-elected a substantial Anchorage Assembly majority that is generally aligned with Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. They sent political newcomer Margo Bellamy and incumbent Starr Marsett to the Anchorage School Board.

A majority of voters also said yes to nearly all of the bonds, including a $59.1 million school bond package. They approved a proposition to make it easier for the city to negotiate lease-to-own agreements for rented real estate like City Hall, as well as one that will expand the enforcement of laws related to junk and abandoned vehicles.

The 11-member Anchorage Assembly certified the election results at its Tuesday evening meeting and welcomed the newly elected Crystal Kennedy, Kameron Perez-Verdia and Meg Zaletel to the governing body. Assemblymen John Weddleton and Forrest Dunbar ran unopposed this year and sailed to victory.

Also Tuesday, the Assembly selected Felix Rivera as its new chair and Suzanne LaFrance as its new vice chair.

School Board candidate Margo Bellamy and School Board president Starr Marsett, who was up for re-election, pose for a photo at Election Central after the polls closed on Election Day, April 2, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

With 65,100 ballots cast in this year’s election, the final voter turnout was 28.65%, according to the Anchorage clerk’s office. That’s higher than the turnout in the past two non-mayoral elections at 23.2% in 2017 and 24.77% in 2016. But it’s lower than the turnout in last year’s mayoral election at 36.31% — a record for a regular municipal election.

The preliminary costs for this year’s election total $646,230, down from $944,000 for Anchorage’s first vote-by-mail election last year, according to the clerk’s office. The 2017 poll-based election cost $670,000.

“We followed the Assembly’s direction to monitor costs and I think we did that,” said Anchorage Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones.

Election officials had about 1,458 challenged ballots this year, Jones said. They sent letters to hundreds of voters and worked with the state of Alaska to correct signatures and other issues.

By the end, officials returned 20 ballots and rejected 822 ballots, most often because the voter failed to provide identifying information or the envelope was postmarked after Election Day, April 2, or there was no signature match on the return envelope, the clerk’s office said.

Check the final vote tallies here.

Legislature votes on Dunleavy appointees today as uncertainty surrounds 3 cabinet officials

Wed, 2019-04-17 10:01

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak (left) speaks to Frances Leach, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Stutes is among the lawmakers opposing the appointment of Karl Johnstone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — The next major test of legislative support for Gov. Mike Dunleavy arrives at 1 p.m. today when members of the Alaska Legislature meet in joint session to vote on the new governor’s picks for his cabinet and for the state’s multifarious boards and commissions.

Lawmakers typically defer to the governor when it comes to cabinet officials — there is a widespread belief that the governor should be allowed to pick his own team — but three of the governor’s picks this year are drawing significant opposition: Amanda Price for the Department of Public Safety, Jason Brune for the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adam Crum for the Department of Health and Social Services.

“Every joint session, there’s always at least a couple candidates who seem to engender a lot of controversy, and this year’s no exception,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said Tuesday.

The selection of Karl Johnstone for the Alaska Board of Fisheries and Vivian Stiver for the Alaska Marijuana Control Board have also drawn opposition.

Brune, a former mining executive with ties to Pebble, is being opposed by critics of that project who say he is too friendly to the mining industry.

"This is not a process that we can have confidence in, and putting Brune at the helm here in Alaska will make it impossible for Alaskans to trust that fair, science-based and honest decisions will be made in permitting for Pebble,” Lindsey Bloom of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay said in a prepared statement.

Crum is supervising extensive changes to the state’s Medicaid program and the privatization of the state’s only public psychiatric hospital, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

For Price, questions have been raised about her qualifications, experience and background as an adviser to former Gov. Bill Walker.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, said he doesn’t have “any predetermined notions on who I’m going to support or not,” but “people are trying to lobby me on various folks.”

Fisheries groups have been particularly active in the Capitol this week as the United Fishermen of Alaska and other commercial fishing groups are opposing the appointment of Johnstone, who formerly served on the board and previously was a state judge.

Frances Leach, executive director of UFA, said Johnstone has “proved himself to have a complete disdain toward the commercial fishing sector” and favors sportfishing interests.

As she’s gone door to door in the Capitol, she said, “A lot of people want to support the governor and his appointees, and that’s what we’re hearing."

Former Peruvian president reportedly shoots self before arrest

Wed, 2019-04-17 07:02

FILE - In this July 11, 2011 file photo, Peru's outgoing President Alan Garcia, left, ride the soon to be inaugurated Line 1 electrical train system in Lima, Peru. A lawyer for the former Peruvian President Alan García said Wednesday, April 17, 2019, the leader shot himself before being detained by police amid allegations he received illegal payment from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, File) (Anonymous/)

Alan Garcia, the former president of Peru, shot himself early Wednesday as police officers arrived at his home in Lima to arrest him in connection with a bribery investigation, according to local media reports.

Garcia was taken to the Casimiro Ulloa hospital in the Peruvian capital, where he was in critical condition, according to reports.

Garcia, 69, served twice as president of Peru - first from 1985 to 1990 and again from 2006 to 2011 - as the leader for the center left Aprista Party. He ran again for president in 2016, but won less than 6 percent of the vote.

In November, a Peruvian court barred Garcia from leaving the country amid an investigation into allegations that he received illegal payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. The former president fled to Uruguayan embassy in Lima and sought political asylum, but his request was refused.

Supporters of former Peruvian President Alan Garcia gather outside the hospital where Garcia was taken after he shot himself, in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. García shot himself in the head before being detained by police amid allegations he received illegal payment from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, his lawyer said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia) (Martin Mejia/)

A tornado was bearing down on a Mississippi bar packed with college students. Its owner explains why they were kicked out.

Wed, 2019-04-17 06:19

Robert Scott looks through a family Bible that he pulled out of the rubble Sunday, April 14, 2019, from his Seely Drive home outside of Hamilton, Miss., after an apparent tornado touched down Saturday night. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle) (Jim Lytle/)

Bin 612 -- a popular pub a quarter mile from the campus of Mississippi State University in Starkville -- weathered two storms this week: once when an EF-1 tornado whirled a mile and a half east of the restaurant late on Saturday, and an internet firestorm in the days since.

The reason for the digital frenzy? Bin 612 -- and nearly half a dozen nearby restaurants in the area’s Cotton District -- shut their doors as soon as the tornado warning was issued. Those already inside were asked to leave. And it didn’t go over well.

Video posted to social media Saturday night showed a cacophony of dumbstruck students as chaos ensued following the evacuation notice. "Get the [expletive] out!" a voice can be heard shouting - later revealed to be a third-party security guard. The original poster removed the video hours later.

The backlash on social media was swift. Some faulted Bin 612's decision to shut down, especially when it had a basement where people could shelter. Others felt the onus was on patrons, citing the importance of having individual severe weather plans.

A conversation with a spokesman for Bin 612 owner and chef Ty Thames offers some insight as to what went on.

"The basements can only hold about 40 to 60 people at most," said Ty Thames in a phone conversation. "Ordinarily we have about 40 or 50 people in a given night. But because it was Super Bulldog Weekend, we were pushing 250 or 300."

Fifteen people were relocated to the cellar, but it was "impossible to pick and choose more." Thames cited the basement - primarily used for storage - as "very dangerous," since it was "primarily used only for storage."

"We use it for alcohol and nonperishable goods," Thames said. "You need to use a ladderlike thing to get into it. Last week we had an insurance claim when a beer delivery guy slipped on his way down."

Recent university graduate Dillon Richmond and friends headed to Bin 612 for drinks around 8 p.m. "Around 9 it started to rain," he wrote in an email, "so everyone came inside to stay dry."

Thames and his team said they notified patrons as early as 9:45 p.m. that the restaurant would be closing. Richmond recalls things escalated in a hurry. "While we were sitting in the backroom around 10 p.m. A security guard walked up to us and said we needed to close our tabs and leave. He never gave us a reason."

At 9:56 p.m., the National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi, issued a tornado warning for Oktibbeha County, which included the immediate Mississippi State campus. Less than a minute later - at 9:57 p.m. - they updated the warning, saying a "confirmed tornado . . . was located 12 miles southwest of Starkville." Barely three minutes after, the Weather Service blasted out a dire statement: "a confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado was located . . . 9 miles southwest of Starkville, moving northeast at 40 mph." The Weather Service said the tornado would arrive in less than 10 minutes.

And that's when all hell broke loose.

"People were too intoxicated to understand they were in danger there," explained Thames. "It's basically wall-to-wall glass on the front and the back of the building. The only non-glass walls we have are the interior room-to-room walls. And those are lined with glass rack to hold glasses, over 300 liquor bottles, and tons of serving glasses."

The nearly half mile-wide EF-2 tornado was about six miles away when the evacuation process started, which at most would correspond to a 10- to 12-minute lead time if the storm was moving at 40 mph. Fortunately, the funnel lifted.

Thames says the security guards - contracted from Average Joe's Security - had tried to direct patrons across Maxwell street, where a large underground parking garage was located a stone's throw from the restaurant. The security company does not have an online listing.

"The security guard was yelling and swearing, telling people to 'Get the [expletive] out,'" recalled Richmond. "A few moments later the side doors swing open (from security pushing people out). I saw a lot of people trapped in the middle of the tussle."

Police were called to the scene as “approximately one hundred people were trying to fight security,” the Starkville Police Department posted to Facebook.

"It was a tense situation for all," Richmond said. "I'm not upset about the situation - I just wish they would have handled it differently."

Thames said he's looking to hire different security staff for the future. "If nothing else, there will be a change in who we allow the security company to staff here. I don't want my customers seeing those guards again."

In the days since, social media users have been split dead center about where responsibility lies for customer safety: on the business, or on the individual.

"Maybe choosing a business that is 75 percent windows as the place you want to shelter from a tornado that you knew was coming 14 hours ahead of time wasn't the best idea?" wrote one Facebook user.

"Everybody knew for a week it was gonna get rough that night!" commented another. "'Hey let's go out to the bars during tornado weather!' Smart."

Saturday night's kerfuffle underscores the importance of knowing what to do before severe weather strikes. "I think having a severe weather plan falls on everybody," said Thames. "A business has to have a clear plan. Communication is the key for the future."

Thames plans to review severe weather procedures at his restaurants, and he has contacted the National Weather Service and several experts to help strengthen his severe weather plan.

“After that, I do think some responsibility falls on patrons. Everybody was at minimum 21. I consider them to be adults,” said Thames. “Everyone was well aware of mighty bad weather for days and the potential for tornadoes. You learn about tornadoes in grade school down here. Knowing what to do is severe weather 101.”

Barr to withhold bail from asylum seekers in latest border crackdown

Wed, 2019-04-17 06:09

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2018, file photo, Honduran asylum seekers are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents after the group crossed the U.S. border wall into San Diego, in California, seen from Tijuana, Mexico. Detained asylum seekers who have shown they have a credible fear of returning to their country will no longer be able to ask a judge to grant them bond. U.S. Attorney General William Barr decided Tuesday, April 16, 2019, that asylum seekers who clear a "credible fear" interview and are facing removal don't have the right to be released on bond while their cases are pending and will have to wait in detention until their case is adjudicated. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File) (Moises Castillo/)

Migrants who come to the United States seeking asylum may instead wind up jailed indefinitely while they wait for their claims to be processed, the Trump administration ruled Tuesday in its latest crackdown at the border.

Attorney General William Barr's written decision, a policy reversal, applies to migrants who have already established "a credible fear of persecution or torture" in their home country.

Barr ordered immigration judges to stop allowing some asylum seekers from posting bail while they wait the months or years for their cases to be heard - a system that President Donald Trump has derided as "catch and release."

But advocates criticized the policy change and said it would lock up people who are simply looking for safety.

"Unless stopped, this decision will result in the unlawful jailing of thousands of people who should not be behind bars," said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, in a tweet.

Barr said the order wouldn't go into effect for 90 days, a three-month time frame that will probably see rights groups challenge the ruling in court.

"We will see the administration in court on this latest unlawful & inhuman attempt to deter and punish asylum-seekers," Jadwat wrote.

Barr's ruling reversed the decision in a 2005 case in which an Indian man entered the United States from Mexico and requested asylum. Parole, granted solely and sparingly by the Department of Homeland Security, will be the only way asylum seekers who crossed the border illegally can be released once the order goes into effect.

Barr's decision to withhold bail from asylum seekers comes as record numbers of Central American families are crossing into the United States, many of whom are fleeing violence and poverty. These migrants know they can seek asylum under federal law and be released into the country pending court hearings about their claims, The Washington Post reported earlier this month.

Trump has expressed frustration with the asylum system, alleging that U.S. laws protecting immigrants from persecution obstruct his ability to safeguard the country.

He has implored Congress to change these laws and has made numerous attempts to stymie immigration, most notably separating children from their parents at the border last year. These policies have outraged Democrats.

"From separating families to attacking asylum seekers, this administration's bottomless cruelty has failed time and time again," said Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential candidate. "We need compassion, not cruelty, in our immigration system."

In November, a federal judge blocked Trump's asylum ban, which would have prevented asylum for migrants if they crossed into the United States illegally. And earlier this month, a judge shut down a proposed experimental policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols, which would have required migrants to stay in Mexico while awaiting their hearings.

The judge ordered the program suspended and granted entry to the plaintiffs, a ruling Trump dubbed a “disgrace,” adding, “we have the worst laws of any country in the world.”

Trump vetoes resolution to end US participation in Yemen’s civil war

Wed, 2019-04-17 06:05

FILE - This April 10, 2019, file photo shows a view of the site of an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen. President Donald Trump on Tuesday vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File) (Hani Mohammed/)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Tuesday vetoed a resolution that would have ended U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

The move, which had been expected, marks the second veto of Trump's presidency.

"This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future," Trump said in a statement.

The measure had passed the House on a 247-to-175 vote this month and was approved by the Senate last month with the support of seven Republicans.

This month's House vote marked the first time both chambers had acted to invoke the same war-powers resolution to end U.S. military engagement in a foreign conflict. It also represented the latest instance of Congress's challenging Trump's decisions as commander in chief.

The veto means the United States will continue its involvement in Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign against Yemen's Houthi rebels, waged in the name of holding back Iran's expansion in the region.

But the Saudi-led effort, which has at times targeted civilian facilities and prevented aid shipments from getting to Yemenis, has been faulted by human rights organizations for exacerbating what the United Nations has deemed the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe.

A senior administration official said that Trump was involved in drafting and editing the language of Tuesday's veto statement and that he had told senators for some time he was going to issue a veto.

"It should come as a surprise to nobody," the official said.

Trump viewed the Yemen vote as a rebuke of his administration after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and urged some senators not to go along with it, according to White House and congressional aides.

The CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto ruler, ordered Khashoggi's killing. Even so, Trump has resisted holding Mohammed responsible and has continued to embrace him and other Saudi leaders.

The president has grown frustrated with Congress for some of its votes that seemed designed to admonish him, such as the decision to remove sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska - who has ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort - and the pushback against Trump's declaration of a national emergency to secure funding for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump's first veto, issued last month, was of a congressional resolution disapproving of his emergency declaration. Trump spent more time whipping votes against that measure than against the Yemen resolution, aides said.

The decision to keep support for the war in Yemen is perplexing to some members of the administration, considering the president is usually inclined to remove U.S. troops from all conflict zones.

In his State of the Union address in February, Trump declared, "Great nations do not fight endless wars."

At the same time, Trump continues to want to keep strong ties with Saudi Arabia and does not share the view of Congress that the kingdom needs to be punished for the killing of Khashoggi, aides said.

In his statement announcing the veto, Trump defended the U.S. involvement, arguing that "it is our duty to protect the safety of the more than 80,000 Americans who reside in certain coalition countries that have been subject to Houthi attacks from Yemen."

He also urged members of Congress to instead focus their energies on the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Syria.

"Congressional engagement in those endeavors would be far more productive than expending time and effort trying to enact this unnecessary and dangerous resolution that interferes with our foreign policy with respect to Yemen," he said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, responded Tuesday night that with his veto, Trump "shows the world he is determined to keep aiding a Saudi-backed war that has killed thousands of civilians and pushed millions more to the brink of starvation."

“I hope my colleagues will show we won’t tolerate the Trump administration’s deference to Saudi Arabia at the expense of American security interests by voting to override this veto,” he said.

Threat against Columbine High by woman with gun shuts Denver-area schools

Wed, 2019-04-17 05:46

School police officers look on as students leave Columbine High School late Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Littleton, Colo. Following a lockdown at Columbine High School and other Denver area schools, authorities say they are looking for a woman suspected of making threats. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski/)

LITTLETON, Colo. — Denver-area public schools will be closed Wednesday as authorities search for a young Florida woman who flew to the city and bought a gun after becoming “infatuated” with the mass shooting at Columbine High School.

This combination of undated photos released by the Jefferson County, Colo., Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 shows Sol Pais. On Tuesday authorities said they are looking pais, suspected of making threats on Columbine High School, just days before the 20th anniversary of a mass shooting that killed 13 people. (Jefferson County Sheriff's Office via AP)

The FBI said Sol Pais, 18, is “considered to be extremely dangerous” and “made threats to commit an act of violence in the Denver metropolitan area” just days before the 20th anniversary of the attack that killed 13 people.

All schools in the Denver area were urged to tighten security because the threat was deemed "credible and general," said Patricia Billinger, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Columbine and more than 20 other schools outside Denver lock their doors for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon before Wednesday's complete closures were announced.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the FBI say Pais traveled to Colorado from Miami on Monday night and bought a pump-action shotgun and ammunition.

Denver Public Schools said that all facilities and programs will be closed Wednesday, and there will be no afternoon activities or athletic competitions. The district said the decision to close campuses was in collaboration with other Denver metro-area school districts due to the ongoing safety concern.

On Tuesday, some schools released their students after additional security was called in and canceled evening activities or moved them inside.

"We always have heightened awareness close to high-profile anniversaries like this," Billinger said.

Authorities said Pais was last seen near Columbine -- in the Jefferson County foothills outside Denver -- wearing a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and black boots. They appealed for anyone seeing her to call an FBI tip line at 303 630-6227, and said she is too dangerous to be approached by civilians. The alert also said police who come into contact with her should detain her and evaluate her mental health.

"This has become a massive manhunt ... and every law enforcement agency is participating and helping in this effort," Dean Phillips, special agent in charge of the FBI in Denver, said late Tuesday night.

The FBI's Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force issued a notice Tuesday describing Pais as "infatuated with (the) Columbine school shooting."

Sheriff's spokesman Mike Taplin said the threats she made were general and not specific to any school.

The Denver Post reported that a call to a phone number listed for Pais' parents in Surfside, Florida, was interrupted by a man who identified himself as an FBI agent and said he was interviewing them.

Surfside Police Sgt. Marian Cruz confirmed that her parents last saw her on Sunday and reported her missing on Monday. The Miami Herald and WTVJ are reporting that neighbors say the teen is a senior at Miami Beach High School.

The Associated Press left messages at two numbers listed for Pais' relatives in Florida, while another number was disconnected.

Two teenage gunmen attacked Columbine on April 20, 1999, killing 12 classmates and a teacher.


Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed to this report.

‘His eyes were so sad’: Oil rig crew rescues a dog swimming 135 miles off Thailand

Wed, 2019-04-17 05:31

In this Friday, April 12, 2019, photo, oil rig crew pose with a dog after the dog was rescued in the Gulf of Thailand. Survivor" the dog is safely back on land after being found by oil rig workers swimming about 220 kilometers (135 miles) from shore in the Gulf of Thailand. Chevron Thailand worker Vitisak Payalaw posted on Facebook that the dog was sighted last Friday swimming toward the platform. Vitisak says the pup clung to the platform below deck without barking or whimpering. The workers think the dog fell off a fishing trawler. (Vitisak Payalaw via AP) (Vitisak Payalaw/)

Vitisak Payalaw and his crew were working on an oil rig 135 miles off the southern coast of Thailand on Friday when they spotted something unexpectedly bobbing in the gentle waves.

It was a dog.

The animal was fighting his way through the moving water, heading for the oil rig. As he approached the structure, Payalaw, an offshore planner for Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production, held out a pole after the animal had splashed his way to the platform below the rig’s deck. As a video Payalaw posted to his Facebook account shows, the pup was soaked, shivering and too exhausted to whimper or bark.

"His eyes were so sad. He just kept looking up just like he wanted to say, ‘Please help me,’ " Payalaw told CNN. “At that moment, whoever saw this, they would just have to help.”

In this Friday, April 12, 2019, photo, a dog is taken care by an oil rig crew after being rescued in the Gulf of Thailand. (Vitisak Payalaw via AP) (Vitisak Payalaw/)
A dog is taken care by an oil rig crew after being rescued in the Gulf of Thailand. (Vitisak Payalaw via AP) (Vitisak Payalaw/)

The crew, however, knew it had to act fast. The waves were kicking up, meaning the dog could be swept away soon.

"I thought that if we didn't move quickly, I would not be able to help him," Payalaw said. "If he lost his grip, it would be very difficult to help him."

Four members of the crew, including Payalaw, spent 15 minutes devising a way to pull the animal up to the rig, eventually slinging a looped rope around the dog's neck and hoisting it to the deck. Pictures from the offshore planner's Facebook account show the animal looking sapped after being taken aboard the rig.

According to NPR, the rig workers gave the dog water and pieces of meat. Then, they settled on a name: “Boonrod,” meaning “he has done good karma and that helps him to survive.”

"He looked extremely exhausted and ran out of energy. He didn't move much," Payalaw said to CNN. "He was shaking and he couldn't stand, he had to sit all the time."

How exactly a dog ended up paddling for his life in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand remains a mystery. According to the Bangkok Post, Boonrod may have jumped or fallen off another vessel in the water.

On Monday, Boonrod was transported back to the mainland, coming ashore at Songkhla, Thailand.

The dog is seen at Dog Smile House Clinic in Songkhla, southern Thailand. (Dog Smile House via AP)

According to Facebook pictures posted Monday by animal rights group Watchdog Thailand, when Boonrod stepped onto dry land, workers draped a garland of marigolds around his neck, a symbol of welcome and good fortune, the Times reported. The dog flashed a good-boy smile.

Boonrod’s happy ending story quickly went viral online. Payalaw’s original Facebook post had more than 23,000 shares and 7,300 comments by early Wednesday morning.

"Three cheers to #Boonrod," one user on Twitter said. "Simply amazing - we need a story like THIS on a day like today," another posted.

Payalaw told NPR he plans to adopt Boonrod if the dog is not claimed by an owner.

The Trump administration’s census question degrades our data — and our democracy

Wed, 2019-04-17 04:36

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who added a citizenship question to the 2020 census, testifies during the House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) (Jose Luis Magana/)

WASHINGTON — It’s not enough that President Trump and his advisers have been arguing for years that official government data is bad, untrustworthy, phony, manipulated for political gain. Now they are working to lend credence to these smears and conspiracy theories -- by making them true.

Unless, that is, the Supreme Court intervenes.

During the Obama administration, Trump repeatedly claimed that official numbers released by our independent federal statistical agencies — such as the unemployment rate — were fake. Legions of career civil servants were all cooking the books to make Democrats look better, he claimed. Trump’s economic advisers and boosters (including Stephen Moore and Herman Cain, whom Trump now plans to nominate for the Federal Reserve Board) joined in the baseless conspiracy theorizing. As did some other high-profile Obama critics who should have known better.

Troublingly, it turns out a lot of other Americans are on board with this numerical nihilism. In a poll last fall from Marketplace and Edison Research, about 4 in 10 Americans said they either completely or somewhat distrust data about the economy reported by the federal government.

And since Trump has taken office, he has worked to justify such distrust by actively degrading the quality of data -- specifically, by seeking to make the 2020 Census less accurate.

The Trump administration wants to add, at the last minute, a new question to the census. I say "last minute" because usually new survey questions go through years of research, field-testing and public comment, as required by law and federal regulations.

This is to make sure that, among other things, any changes will not disrupt the accuracy of an enumeration mandated by the Constitution.

"It's pretty well known that when you change the context of a data-collection instrument, unexpected things can happen," said John Thompson, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau. "The only way to understand what's going on is to test it."

The question the administration wants to shoehorn in without this process turns out to be particularly disruptive: It asks about citizenship. Given rising levels of government distrust among immigrant and ethnic minority populations, the question could be reasonably expected to depress response rates among these groups and lead to significant undercounts or otherwise inaccurate data.

In fact, in unrelated survey testing in 2017, respondents told census workers that they fear how their data might be used against them or their loved ones. They expressed concerns about the "Muslim ban," anxiety over "registering" household members and the dissolution of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Some falsified their names, birth dates and other demographic information.

Despite such warning signs, as well as an explicit recommendation against inclusion of a citizenship question by experts within the Census Bureau and six former bureau directors appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike, the Trump administration barreled ahead.

Three federal courts have so far blocked the question, finding that the administration violated administrative law. Two of those courts also found it violated the Constitution. Next week, the issue heads to the Supreme Court.

So what happens if the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration instead?

In the near term, the consequences could be severe. Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated annually based on the decennial census. Congressional seats are apportioned, and districts are redrawn. Perhaps not coincidentally, blue states are likely to be the biggest losers in both dollar terms and political representation if, as expected, this new survey question results in significant undercounts of immigrant and Latino populations.

The decennial census data is also the baseline against which virtually all other surveys are calibrated. Which means that whatever its motives, the administration's innumeracy is likely to skew all sorts of other critical information that government agencies use to evaluate economic trends and health epidemics; that businesses rely on to decide how much to invest and hire and where; and that workers and families use to determine where to live, what to study, how much to spend on a home.

Even giving the public reason to believe the numbers have been either manipulated or mismanaged will cause people and businesses to make worse choices. Just like the Fed, our statistical agencies must be free of political influence both in practice and perception to be useful.

And that’s the longer-term risk here. One basis of a democracy is good official statistics so that the people and their representatives can make informed decisions. By throwing the numbers into doubt, the administration jeopardizes our democratic and economic health, not only today, but for many years to come.

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.

Bernie Sanders needs Fox News to court Trump voters

Wed, 2019-04-17 04:28

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at an Ohio workers town hall meeting, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Warren, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer) (David Dermer/)

WASHINGTON — That Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went on Fox News for a town hall Monday night was controversial among Democrats. As Sanders told hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, “Not everybody thought I should come on this show. Your network does not necessarily have great respect in my world, but I thought it was important for me to be here and have a serious discussion about serious issues.”

What Sanders painted as a magnanimous gesture was really a calculated move to boost his presidential prospects: He needs Fox viewers to win the White House.

According to the massive Cooperative Congressional Election Study, about 12% of Sanders primary voters cast their ballots for Donald Trump in the 2016 general election. These Sanders voters appear to have given Trump the margin of victory in the three states that handed Trump the White House. The Fox News town hall was held in Bethlehem, Pa., in a state where some 16% of Sanders supporters — about 117,100 people — voted for Trump; Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes. It was a similar story in Wisconsin, where about 9% of Sanders supporters — about 51,317 people — voted for Trump; Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes. And in Michigan, about 8% of Sanders voters — or about 47,915 people — cast their general election ballots for Trump; Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes.

If Sanders wants to win the Democratic nomination, he needs these Trump voters to support him in the primaries. And if he does win the nomination, he needs them to stay in his column and vote for him instead of Trump in 2020.

Can Sanders separate his former supporters from Trump? Going on Fox News and making his pitch that Trump has failed them is a smart way to do it. Indeed, Sanders not only participated in the Fox town hall, he published an op-ed on the Fox News website, in which he declared, "When Donald Trump ran for president he made a lot of promises to working families. He told them that he would protect their interests while standing up to the Establishment. Unfortunately, he did not tell the truth."

During his town hall, Sanders criticized Trump for proposing an $845 billion cut to Medicare and made an impassioned pitch for his Medicare-for-all plan. Selling a government takeover of the U.S. health-care system on Fox may seem counterintuitive, but many of those who defected to Trump in 2016 are nontraditional Republican voters who were attracted to Trump precisely because he promised not to touch Social Security and Medicare. So, Medicare-for-all is not anathema to them the way it is to conservatives. Indeed, when Baier asked the town-hall audience whether, with a show of hands, they would be willing to transition from their employer-provided insurance to the government-run system Sanders is proposing, the pro-Bernie crowd cheered and many hands went up.

The biggest challenge for Sanders in winning back Trump-Sanders voters is that Trump is delivering for these forgotten Americans. Since Trump took office, the United States has added 491,000 manufacturing jobs, the fastest pace of U.S. manufacturing growth in almost a quarter-century. The Wall Street Journal reports that "The unemployment rate for high school dropouts fell to 5% last year. In the past year, median weekly wages for the group rose more than 6%, outpacing all other groups." As MacCallum pointed out to Sanders, unemployment in Pennsylvania is down and wages in the state are up by 6.6%. "How," she asked, "do you convince those people in this area who you'd like to win over this time around that they should change horses and go with you when things are going well?"

It's a pivotal question. Sanders told her that Trump is not responsible for that progress -- it began under President Barack Obama -- and that most of the benefits of the global economic recovery and Trump's tax cuts have gone to the very wealthy, while Republicans refuse to give working families access to health care and a "livable wage." He is telling his former voters, in essence, Trump has failed you, and I can do better; Trump claims to be an outsider, but I am the real deal.

Will it work? Will these former Sanders voters, having helped put Trump in the White House, stick with the president, or will they switch back to their first love, Bernie Sanders? The answer may well determine who wins the Democratic nomination — and the presidency in 2020.

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.

Craftsmen built Notre Dame eight centuries ago. Now it may be up to robots to save it.

Wed, 2019-04-17 04:21

Debris are seen inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Firefighters declared success Tuesday in a more than 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers and the purported Crown of Christ. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP) (Christophe Petit Tesson /)

As the first images of charred wreckage inside the Notre Dame cathedral appeared online Tuesday, engineers around the world said one observation was already clear: To return the ancient structure to its glorious past, builders will likely have turn to cutting-edge technology that many associate with the future.

Even before engineers had been able to access the deepest corners of the still-smoldering structure, design experts, preservationists and engineers were contemplating which modern technologies might be brought to bear to restore one of Europe's most iconic structures to its fabled past.

It's a speculative exercise, they admit, but one that is to be expected with the future of a UNESCO World Heritage Site at stake.

The rebuilding effort will likely draw upon expertise gleaned from disasters like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan and the Brazilian National Museum fire, where experimental robots and new digital tools have been used to go places people cannot safely venture and replicate detailed artifacts lost to fire.

Throughout the rebuilding effort, experts say, engineers and preservationists will be forced to wrestle with an ever-present question.

"How do they meld brand new 21st century technologies with ancient craftsmanship and building trades in ways that keep the cathedral preserved and alive?" said Katherine Malon-France, the interim chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit based in Washington. "This is going to be a very interesting intersection of technology and craft, and the world will be closely watching how they pull it off."

Some of the technology that will be used to restore Notre Dame has already been on display. As a wall of orange flames roared across the cathedral's roof Monday, and hundreds of firefighters mounted their counterattack, high-tech machines had already been brought to the fight.

Hovering in the air above the cathedral, a pair of Chinese-manufactured commercial drones equipped with HD cameras - the Mavic Pro and Matrice M210, made by DJI - helped firefighters position their hoses to contain the blaze before it before it destroyed the cathedral’s two, iconic belfries, according to the French newspaper Le Parisien.

"It is thanks to these drones, to this new technique absolutely unavoidable today, that we could make tactical choices to stop this fire at a time when it was potentially occupying the two belfries," Paris firefighters spokesman Gabriel Plus said.

On the ground, Colossus, a robotic fire extinguisher, blasted the nave with water, lowering the temperature of the glass-filled room, the paper reported.

In the crucial months ahead, experts say, some of that same technology will likely be used to return the 13th-century cathedral to a place that last year drew 12 million visitors.

One way to start, the experts said, will be to bring in other drones to survey locations inside the vast cathedral that are too dangerous or damaged for engineers to reach.

Jerry Hajjar, a civil engineering professor at Northeastern University, said drones can be equipped with sensors - such as small cameras and laser scanners - that will allow engineers to document fire damage and create highly accurate three-dimensional visions of specific locations inside the church.

Hajjar said other sensors may be able to peer inside the church's walls like an X-ray and estimate the mineralogical properties and the degree of stress the structure is under. But the documentation effort could prove more difficult than it sounds, Hajjar said, noting that the higher a drone must rise, the lower its the battery life and the amount of time it can stay in the air. That could prove especially challenging, he said, in a building that reaches 226 feet off the ground.

Another method for testing the cathedral's integrity could involve robots, Hajjar said, pointing out that research is already underway for using climbing robots to inspect and repair steel bridges.

"The value of using robots became very apparent after the Fukushima disaster," Hajjar said. "They didn't want to send people inside because it was too dangerous, but realized they could use crawling robots to go inside the site and get valuable images."

It's possible that much of the 3D mapping work engineers will be called upon to consult already exists. In 2015, Andrew Tallon, an associate professor of art at Vassar College who died last year from brain cancer, told National Geographic that he'd completed a comprehensive laser scan of the entire cathedral. Experts said Tallon's digital techniques could provide crucial information for any rebuilding effort.

There's only one problem: It's not entirely clear where Tallon's scans, which could be stored on a single hard drive, are currently located, according to The Atlantic.

A popular video game also could provide another source of digital information about the Notre Dame. In a 2014 article in the Verge, Caroline Miousse - an artist who worked on the video game Assassin's Creed - said she devoted two years to creating a model of the church that captured the inside and outside of the building.

Once engineers have a clearer sense of the church's structural integrity, experts said, they'll be able to design a suitable roof. They'll have to decide whether to rebuild the roof framing with timber. If they don't opt for a structurally engineered wood, which could reduce the roof's weight and offer artistic freedom, engineers could choose to work with steel.

Though it would depart from the church's original wooden roof, steel would allow engineers to use less material and be even lighter than wood, according to Gary Howes, COO of The Durable Group, a consortium of historic restoration companies.

Replacing what was lost may not be the biggest challenge, Howes said. Instead, he said, it will be marrying the old and the new, offering the building's worldwide admirers a window in the past that includes upgrades and meets modern building codes.

"This project is going to be more about emotion than structure," he said. "Everybody wants that cathedral to look like it has always looked, the way they remember it."

Fortunately, Howes added, France has an advantage over the rest of the world.

"Some of the best craftsmen in the world are located in France," he said. "Whether it's restoration or even contemporary work, they haven't lost the historic trades like we did here in the U.S. Each year, we go there to learn from them."

James Shepherd, director of preservation and facilities at Washington National Cathedral, where damage from a 2011 earthquake is still unrepaired, said the immediate days after an event like Monday's fire will be a critical time for the Notre Dame.

"They'll need expertise there to make sure that they're sorting through the rubble and pulling out things that are salvageable or not," Shepherd said. "You're talking about things that might be 700 or 800 years old that they're trying to pull out that might be partially burned or partially damaged by water."

In Brazil, where fire destroyed 90% of the national museum’s collection last year, preservationists have used 3D data to re-create precious objects lost in the fire. Assuming they have access to similar data, experts said the same technique could be used in Paris.

Panhandle communities turning old nets to new goods with recycling program

Tue, 2019-04-16 20:18

The Panhandle plans to be the next Alaska region to give new life to old fishing gear by sending it to plastic recycling centers. The tons of nets and lines piled up in local lots and landfills will become the raw material for soda bottles, cell phone cases, sunglasses, skateboards, swimsuits and more.

Juneau, Haines, Petersburg and possibly Sitka have partnered with Net Your Problem to launch an effort this year to send old or derelict seine and gillnets to a recycler in Richmond, British Columbia.

"We’re going to be working in a new location with a new material and sending it to a new recycler,” said Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem and the force behind fishing gear recycling in Alaska.

Baker, a former fisheries observer who also is a research assistant for Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington, jumpstarted recycling programs for trawl nets, crab and halibut line two years ago at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak quickly followed. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 25,000 tons and can cost $350-$500 per ton for disposal in landfills. The community/industry collaborations in both towns have so far sent 300,000 pounds of gear in seven vans to Europe for recycling.

"Each fishing port will have its own special logistics plan but the general role is the same,” she said. “You need somebody to give you the nets, truck them around, load them and ship them.”

No two plastics are the same, and the B.C. recycler opened the door for removals of seine and gillnets made from nylon. Baker said only gear that contains lead, such as longline gear or leaded lines, cannot be accepted for recycling.

"The recycler I have been using in Europe told me it is illegal to import lead into the EU. So that is something that is still a bit of a struggle,” she said. “But as far as polyethylene and polypropylene trawl gear, or nylon seine or gillnet gear, I can recycle all of those at the moment.”

The pace of the fishing seasons will determine the best time for the Southeast towns to begin collecting the nets from fishermen, Baker said, and she hopes to hear from other communities that have net pile ups.

“If you are dealing with this issue please feel free to reach out to me because I am happy to try to establish the logistics for a program in your community,” she said. “My goal is to expand slowly but surely and add one new location every year while still continuing support for recycling efforts at the previous locations.”

Baker will start off the Southeast tour in Haines during its Earth Day events on April 19.

Hatchery numbers

Salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries are maintaining a decade long trend of comprising one third of the statewide catch.

In 2018, a hatchery harvest of 39 million salmon — mostly chums and pinks — was 34 percent of the total statewide take, valued at $176 million to Alaska fishermen.

Forty one million adult salmon returned to Alaska’s 29 hatcheries last year, shy of the 54 million fish forecast, and below the 61 million 10 year average.

That’s according to the 2018 salmon enhancement report released each year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest hatchery salmon producer and last year’s catch of 19 million fish accounted for 76 percent of the region’s total, and 75 percent of the value to fishermen at $65 million.

Southeast is the second biggest hatchery producer. The 2018 catch of about 8 million fish was 46 percent of the region’s harvest, and 59 percent of the value to fishermen at $63 million. $53 million of that was from chums.

At Kodiak, just under four million fish from two hatcheries made up 42 percent of the Island’s total catch last year. The fish were valued at $7 million, 25 percent of the salmon value

At Cook Inlet, a catch of just over half a million hatchery salmon accounted for 26 percent of the total harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value of $5.3 million. About 70 percent of those fish were pinks.

Nearly 1.8 billion tiny salmon were released to the sea in 2018 from pink and chum salmon eggs collected in 2017, and from Chinook, sockeye, and coho eggs collected in 2016.

Alaska hatchery operators forecast a return of about 79 million fish in 2019. This includes returns of 54 million pink, 21 million chum, 2.5 million sockeye, 1.5 million coho, and 109,000 king salmon.

Almanac calls

Personal glimpses that chronicle the fishing life make up the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac and the call is out for submissions. The second version of the Almanac is in the works and sales of the first run last year were so good, it’s covering costs for the whole project.

"People loved it. They’d ask which submission is yours. And you’d be eternally flipping to the picture of the fillets and peanut butter you fed your crew all summer,” said Jamie O’Connor, a Homer-based fishermen and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “It’s a really fun way to communicate to people outside of this community about the culture of fishing, especially from the perspective of the young fishermen.”

Last year’s 141 page Almanac featured nearly 60 items from almost every region of the state. “Everything from essays to recipes to photos, poems and art. There’s also a lot of useful stuff in there. Plus, fun stories, a little bit of mischief, pro tips from more mature fishermen to people who want to get into the industry.”

The Almanac is styled similar to a younger version of a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792.

"It’s modeled after the Young Farmer’s Almanac as a way to share the culture and put out a touchstone every year that people can refer back to or share with their families,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do for young fishermen as well.”

"We’re looking for anything people want to send in. We’re hoping they really flex their creativity, she added.

Deadline to submit to the Almanac is September 1 at or via email at

Fishing watch

Lots of April fishing is underway all across Alaska.

One sad exception is the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound where seiners have yet to wet their nets. Typically the fishery has come and gone by mid-March and the harvest this year called for a nearly 13,000 ton haul. The herring, which are valued for their eggs, are showing up but they are too small to call an opener. The last time a fishery was called off at Sitka Sound was in 1977.

Golden king crab also has been slow going — ten to 15 crabbers have pulled up less than 50,000 pounds out of a 76,000 pound limit. The crabs have paid out at $11 per pound, making each worth $70 to $80 to fishermen, reported KFSK in Petersburg.

Southeast’s winter Tanner crab catch of 1.3 million pounds was the third best in 15 years. The month-long fishery was valued at $4.2 million for a fleet of 69 crabbers.

Divers are still going down for geoduck clams and Southeast’s spring troll fishery for Chinook begins on May 1 in some districts.

There’s lots of fishing action at Prince William Sound — a shrimp pot fishery opens April 15 through the 23rd. Ninety-nine boats will compete for 68,100 pounds of the popular prawns.

A sablefish season also opens on April 15 for 134,000 pounds. And due to weather, the Tanner crab fishery was extended in parts of Prince William Sound to April 18.

A one day a week herring fishery opens at Upper Cook Inlet on April 20 through May 31, and a small smelt fishery opens on May 1.

Kodiak’s herring fishery kicks off on April 15 with a harvest set at just over 1,400 tons. And spotters are already flying at Togiak looking for early herring arrivals there. That herring fishery, which should come in at around 23,000 tons, usually opens in May.

Halibut and sablefish are still crossing the docks and fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea.

Believe it or not, in just a few weeks Alaska’s salmon season will officially begin with runs of reds and kings to the Copper River in mid-May.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based journalist who writes a weekly column, Fish Factor, that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally. Contact her at

Service and South both remain undefeated in CIC boys soccer

Tue, 2019-04-16 20:08

The South Wolverines and Service Cougars boys soccer teams clashed on Tuesday night in a game that resulted in a tie, preserving undefeated Cook Inlet Conference records for both teams.

The teams were scoreless in the first half at Service High, with the Cougars applying offensive pressure and South defending well.

South (6-0-1 overall, 3-0-1 CIC) took a 1-0 lead four minutes into the second half when Alonso Ponce De Leon, the CIC scoring leader with 12 goals, scored on an assist from Blaine McElligott.

“That was the game we expected. It was pretty evenly matched," Service coach Dan Rufner said. " I gotta give it to Alonso, we had him shut down for all but one shot — he’s a great player.”

The Cougars (5-0-2, 3-0-1), whose other tie this season came against Inglemoor High School of Kenmore, Washington, knotted the score with Dipesh Tamang’s goal with 15 minutes left in the match. Airnoy Phonethipsavath assisted.

Neither team managed to score again thanks to a bevy of saves from goalkeepers Juan Ponce de Leon for South and Zion Jung for Service.

“I thought it was a great, fun game," Rufner said. "In some ways I’m OK with the tie because both teams I think are deserving.”

The teams will meet again at South on May 2.

CIC standings through Monday


South 6-0 overall, 3-0 conference

Service 5-1-0, 3-0

Dimond 2-2, 2-1

West 2-3, 1-2

Eagle River 1-1-1, 0-0

Chugiak 1-1-1, 0-0

Bartlett 0-1-4, 0-2

East 0-1-6, 0-4


South 5-1-0 overall, 3-0 conference

West 3-0, 2-0

Service 2-1-1, 2-1

Dimond 1-1, 1-1

Chugiak 1-1-1, 0-0

Eagle River 1-2, 0-0

Bartlett 2-3, 0-2

East 0-7, 0-5

Administration defends Price pick as confirmation vote nears

Tue, 2019-04-16 19:38

Amanda Price, second from left, Gov. Mike Dunleavy's pick to lead the Alaska Department of Public Safety, holds a news conference Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Juneau, Alaska. Pictured are, from left, Scott Carson with the Public Safety Employees Association, Price, Michael Duxbury, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, and Richard Boothby, Alaska state fire marshal. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration was making an all-out push Tuesday in its effort to win confirmation of his pick to lead the Department of Public Safety, who has been accused of chronic absenteeism in a prior position.

Amanda Price faces a confirmation vote Wednesday. She held a news conference Tuesday with members of her leadership team and a public safety employees' union official who praised her drive and approach to the job before she testified at a final confirmation hearing.

A Cabinet-level post has not been voted down by the Legislature since 2009, when lawmakers rejected then-Gov. Sarah Palin's choice of Wayne Anthony Ross for attorney general.

Price was a policy adviser to former Gov. Bill Walker and has said she was surprised by testimony from a former Walker chief of staff, Scott Kendall.

Kendall last week told the House State Affairs Committee that Price was chronically absent, which he said he witnessed, and said it had become almost a joke among staff. He also said allegations of plagiarism by Price were relayed to him.

Jim Whitaker, who preceded Kendall as chief of staff, and Marcia Davis, a former Walker deputy chief of staff, have defended Price. In a letter to the committee, they said during their time Price was not "disciplined or counseled for absenteeism, or plagiarism as none of these acts occurred."

The letter misspells Whitaker's name. Whitaker said Davis wrote the first draft, and he didn't catch the spelling error. "My concern was content correctness," he told The Associated Press by email.

Price has denied any plagiarism and said "there was no concern ever articulated to me about work performance."

She told reporters Tuesday the allegations had become a distraction from the department's work, and Matt Shuckerow, a Dunleavy spokesman, said the news conference was an effort to "dispel some of those things that have been put out there."

"We're looking forward to tomorrow," he said.

The administration has been running social media ads in support of Price, Shuckerow said, adding that less than $100 had been spent so far. Similar ads for other nominees were not being run, Shuckerow said.

Price isn't the first Dunleavy nominee to attract attention. Dunleavy's first pick to lead the Department of Administration resigned after being accused of lying about his business background and a Board of Regents nominee withdrew amid scrutiny over social media posts.

Rep. Laddie Shaw, an Anchorage Republican and a former director of the Alaska Police Standards Council, in an interview said he is approaching his review of Price the same as he would vet an Alaska State Trooper.

"I don't think she should live under any less of a standard," he said.

Price has not worked in law enforcement but her resume states she worked as an advocate for victims of sexual violence before joining Walker's administration, where it says she worked for two years. She later worked for a period on Dunleavy's campaign.

She said in Tuesday's hearing she worked odd jobs before working for nonprofits and once owned a baby boutique.

She said she did not get a college degree. She said she discontinued her schooling because she didn't have the money to continue and took a job instead.

She said she would not provide some documents requested through the committee by another member, including her attendance record while working for Walker, academic transcripts and a credit report. Price said those could contain sensitive and personal information and providing to the committee would make them public.

Kendall has said he gave Price the choice between resigning or being fired but said he didn't get into a substantive discussion with her on why because he thought it would be painful for her to hear and didn't think it would be productive.

Price previously told the committee she didn't leave the Walker administration of her own volition, saying she answered that way "because it was clear that it wasn't working." She said she and Walker weren't in lockstep on public safety policy, which caused a rub.

She said Tuesday she could have been clearer in discussing her departure. She said when she shared concerns with an effort to overhaul the criminal justice system, "I saw a shift in the way in which my work was received, approved and accepted within that administration. And given that no other input or feedback had ever been shared with me by any member of the administration, I made the assumption that that was where the break and the breach occurred."

Kendall has said he didn't know what Price's positions on policy were. The letter from Whitaker and Davis said Price spoke with Whitaker about concerns over law enforcement objections to the overhaul effort.

Earlier this year, Senate President Cathy Giessel said she traveled to Kotzebue with Price before session started and saw Price interact with law enforcement officers who were "very enthusiastic about her."

Giessel said Friday the recent confirmation hearings have caused her to take another look at the information on Price.

“You always have to weigh out, when someone is talking about another individual, whether they’re presenting hearsay or whether they’re actually presenting solid facts, whether it’s a personality conflict ... or whether it’s actually character issues,” she said. “So that’s what we all have to weigh out.”