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Disgusted by Brexit hard-liners, 3 lawmakers abandon Theresa May’s Conservative Party

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:44

LONDON - With Britain's chaotic departure from the European Union just weeks away, three prominent lawmakers abruptly resigned Wednesday from Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party, saying the government has surrendered control to reckless, hard-line Brexiteers who are endangering the country's future.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London recently. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham/)

The Conservative members of Parliament who resigned will join a new “Independent Group” of lawmakers formed earlier this week by eight legislators who quit the opposition Labour Party.

The creation of a small but potentially powerful independent bloc of 11 - now composed of moderate rebels from both parties - suggests that seismic forces are at work in British politics.

These forces have been unleashed by Brexit and the bitter divisions over how and whether to leave Europe behind. Pollsters now report that it is more likely for voters to self-identify as "leavers" or "remainers" than to don traditional party labels.

The three departing Conservatives, who heaped scorn on the British prime minister for what they called her "disastrous handling of Brexit," all favor remaining in the European Union.

At a news conference after their defection, they said others were likely to join them.

While this new Independent Group on its own will not be able to stop Brexit, analysts say, it may play an outsize role in stopping a so-called "no-deal Brexit," under which Britain would crash out of the continental trading bloc without any transition period or trade deal.

The defectors left their parties for different reasons, but opposition to Brexit unites them. The centrist members who abandoned Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party say their movement has swung too far left. When they resigned on Monday and Tuesday, the eight Labour defectors complained about Corbyn's handling of Brexit and his inability to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party.

The three Conservatives, or Tories, who broke away on Wednesday blamed their party's "failure" to stand up to zealous Brexiteers, specifically the gathering of approximately 60 backbenchers known as the European Research Group, or ERG, who are pushing for a complete break from the European Union. The leaders of the ERG, who have failed to topple May, say they would rather see a "no-deal Brexit" than preserve the relative compromise and closer ties that May seeks on rules and regulations.

The Tory defectors also complained about the disproportionate power of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, which is propping up May's minority government after her disastrous showing in the 2017 snap elections. The DUP - dominated by Protestant loyalists - rejects any compromise that would threaten Northern Ireland's position in the United Kingdom.

Announcing their resignations, the three Tories - Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry - told the prime minister in a statement, "We no longer feel we can remain in the Party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP."

They wrote: "Brexit has redefined the Conservative Party - undoing all the efforts to modernize it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy."

At a news conference, Allen complained that May and the Conservative Party were being "bullied into submission" by hard-line Brexiteers such as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

Wollaston said the Conservatives were no longer the "tolerant, moderate, openhearted" party of the past, but have been taken over by the hard right, which she claimed "is marching us toward the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit."

In announcing her resignation, Soubry said, "The right-wing, hard-line, anti-EU squad are now running the Conservative Party, from top to tail."

Soubry said this "purple movement" - blending the colors of "two broken parties," red Labour and blue Conservative - would likely attract more converts and may someday become its own political party rather than a voting bloc.

"Please, come join us," she said, predicting that more ministers in May's cabinet would soon resign their posts - if not their parties - over the prime minister's handing of Brexit.

The resignations came as May prepared to shuttle to Brussels on Wednesday evening for another round of talks on how Britain could leave the EU but preserve open borders in Ireland.

May said she was "saddened" by her colleagues' decision to leave the party. "These are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it," she said.

The prime minister acknowledged, too, the obvious, that Brexit is painful and hard. "Of course, the U.K.'s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time," May said. "Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy."

But May said she and the government would press on and deliver the Brexit that the country voted for in a June 2016 referendum.

Tony Travers, a politics professor at the London School of Economics, noted that the Independent Group now rivals in size the Democratic Unionist Party and Liberal Democrats party.

The new bloc "slightly reduces the power of both the government and the opposition," Travers said. "It makes an accidental no-deal Brexit fractionally less likely, too."

How this changes the dynamics of upcoming votes on Brexit is unclear. It remains possible that Britain will crash out with no deal, or that Britain will seek a delay beyond the March 29 deadline, or that more negotiations will be undertaken, or that citizens will be asked to vote again on whether - now knowing all they know - they really, really want to leave the EU.

Western Alaska village in ‘dire need’ of a postmaster

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:20

BETHEL - Residents in the Western Alaska village of Napakiak are getting desperate for mail because the village postmaster has been on maternity leave for two weeks.

A view of Napakiak on the Kuskokwim River.

The village post office has been closed and the U.S. Postal Service has yet to find a replacement postmaster, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

"You might say we're in dire need for a postmaster," Napakiak City Administrator Leo Kusayak said.

Residents can’t get medications that are flown out from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., pay bills through the mail or get checks to pay for basic needs, he said.

The Anchorage USPS headquarters tried to fly out replacements from other villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, but bad weather canceled those trips, Kusayak said.

A postal service spokesperson said they are trying to get a replacement out on Wednesday.

"We will continue to do so twice a week, weather permitting, until our staffing is back to normal," the spokesperson said in an email.

Kusayak said it is unclear when Napakiak residents will be able to get their mail.

North Pole man sentenced to 15 years for child pornography

Wed, 2019-02-20 08:20

A 43-year-old North Pole man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for distribution and receipt of child pornography.

Eric Whitebread also faces 35 years of supervised release.

Federal prosecutors say Whitebread in 2015 distributed files of child pornography through an online file-sharing network.

Investigators seized his computer and found 618 images of child pornography that had been downloaded through the file-sharing network in July and August that year.

Whitebread and others testified at his trial in June that multiple people had access to the computer and its password.

A Fairbanks jury convicted Whitebread in June.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline at sentencing Friday described the evidence as “overwhelming,” commented that Whitebread had attempted to obstruct justice with false testimony and said Whitebread had shown no remorse.

A family escaped civil war in Syria - only for a fire to kill all 7 of their children

Wed, 2019-02-20 06:48

When Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho landed at Halifax Stanfield International Airport with their children in September 2017, strangers lined up to give them a round of applause. The Syrian refugee family had survived civil war and the near-total destruction of their hometown of Raqqa, and then, in a stroke of luck, had been sponsored for resettlement in Canada.

As they rode down the escalator to the arrivals area of the airport, smiling with undisguised joy, their new neighbors cheered and waved giant maple leaf cutouts. “Aren’t they precious?” one woman could be heard saying as the wide-eyed toddlers, dressed in beanie hats and ski coats in anticipation of the Canadian cold, clutched tight to their parents’ arms.

It seemed like a happy ending - until early Tuesday morning, when a fire tore through the family's new suburban-style home on the outskirts of Halifax, Nova Scotia, leaving it a charred wreck. All seven children, ranging in age from 4 months old to 15, died.

Ebraheim Barho, 39, was badly injured while trying to rescue the children from the burning building and is in critical condition, according to the group that sponsored the family for resettlement. Kawthar, 40, survived with minimal injuries but was said to be in shock after losing her children.

"It is very hard for her," an imam from the mosque that the family attends told the Globe and Mail. "She doesn't have anyone left. So pray for her and for her husband to survive."

Authorities are currently investigating the cause of the fire, which was reported at 12:41 a.m. Tuesday, but Halifax Fire Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum told the Globe and Mail that there was no sign of suspicious activity so far.

A neighbor told reporters that she had heard a loud bang, followed by the sound of a woman screaming, and had rushed outside into the freezing night with her children to see what was going on. What she found was a harrowing scene.

"There was just flames just roaring out of their back doors, back windows, everything," neighbor Danielle Burt told CTV. Kawthar Barho was prostrate on the grass with her head bowed as if in prayer. She begged Burt to call 911, telling her that their kids were still inside.

"The dad was sitting on the steps," Burt added. "I think he had gone back in because he was really burnt. It was just awful."

Another neighbor, David Beaton, told the Globe and Mail that neighbors had to pin back Barho's arms and hold the mother in place to prevent her from running inside the burning house. "She was totally hysterical," he said. "It is something that will forever burn in my brain."

The Barho family had fled Syria's civil war before coming to Canada less than two years ago, Imam Wael Haridy of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre told the Chronicle Herald. Raqqa, the once-prosperous city where they lived in northern Syria, was captured by opposition fighters in 2013. Over time, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, took control of the city and began forcing local children to join their army. A scorched-earth campaign led by the United States eventually forced ISIS to abandon its self-proclaimed capital, but by then, repeated airstrikes had reduced the city to rubble.

Haridy told HalifaxToday that Kawthar Barho’s parents are still in Syria, leaving her to face the loss of her seven children alone. “Her mother called her and she was crying telling her mom, ‘I lost all of my kids, mom. We escaped the war and tragedy in Syria to come here to die,’” he said.

The Barhos had been sponsored by the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team Society, or HEART Society, which was founded in the fall of 2015 as hundreds of thousands of migrants fled war-torn Syria. Under Canadian law, groups comprised of five or more Canadian citizens can raise money to sponsor refugees who then are resettled in their local community. Those volunteer coalitions work to help the newly-arrived refugees learn English, enroll in school, get jobs, and adjust to life in their new homes, while also assisting with practical necessities like finding furniture and warm clothing.

"Many people, far too many to name, helped bring the Barho family to East Hants and get settled," the group said in a statement expressing "deep heartbreak" on Tuesday. "For the past year and a half, the children have been able to enjoy life as kids should be able to - going to school, riding bicycles, swimming, having friends, running in the yard, celebrating birthday parties and hanging out with the neighbours on their porch swing. They loved every minute of it, and it seems impossible we won't hear their laughter and feel their hugs again."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed condolences to the family on Twitter. "Words fail when children are taken from us too soon, especially in circumstances like this," he wrote.

The Ummah Masjid and Community Center, a mosque where the family worshiped, identified the seven children who died as Abdullah, 4 months; Rana, 3; Hala, 4; Ghala, 8; Mohammed, 10; Rola, 12; and Ahmed, 15.

“It’s devastating to think this is a family that came to potentially to Canada for a better life,” Brendan Maguire, who represents Halifax in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, told the CBC. He added, "I can’t even imagine what they’re going through right now. "

Putin warns new weapons will point toward US if missiles are deployed in Europe

Wed, 2019-02-20 06:40

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a state-of-the-nation address in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying that Russia will retaliate by fielding new weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (Alexander Zemlianichenko/)

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying Wednesday that Russia will retaliate by fielding new weapons that will take just as little time to reach their targets.

While the Russian leader didn't say what specific new weapons Moscow could deploy, his statement further raised the ante in tense relations with Washington.

Speaking in his state-of-the-nation address, Putin charged that the U.S. has abandoned a key arms control pact to free up its hands to build new missiles and tried to shift the blame for the move to Russia.

"Our American partners should have honestly said it instead of making unfounded accusations against Russia to justify their withdrawal from the treaty," Putin said.

The U.S. has accused Russia of breaching the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty by deploying a cruise missile that violates its limits — the accusations Moscow has rejected.

The INF treaty banned production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 310 to 3,410 miles.

The intermediate-range weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they take shorter time to reach their targets compared to the intercontinental ballistic missiles. That would leave practically no time for decision-makers, raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

Putin reaffirmed that Russia will not be the first to deploy new intermediate-range missiles but warned of a quick retaliation if the U.S. puts such weapons in Europe.

"They will only take 10-12 minutes to reach Moscow," he said. "It's a very serious threat to us, and we will have to respond."

He didn't directly mention the U.S., but noted that the Russian response will be "asymmetrical" and involve new weapons will reach the enemy's decision-making centers just as quickly.

"Russia will be forced to create and deploy new types of weapons that could be used not only against the territories where a direct threat to us comes from, but also against the territories where decision-making centers directing the use of missile systems threatening us are located," he said. "The capability of such weapons, including the time to reach those centers, will be equivalent to the threats against Russia."

The president didn't specify which of the prospective Russian weapons will do the job, but he reported a quick progress on an array of new weapons presented a year ago.

The Russian leader said the first batch of Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles will be deployed this year. Putin said the development of a vehicle that the military said is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound was a technological achievement comparable to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite.

He added that the tests of the new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile and the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone have been progressing successfully.

Putin said the first submarine equipped to carry the Poseidon will be commissioned later this year. Shortly after Putin's speech, the Defense Ministry released a brief video showing a test of the Poseidon, which can target coastal areas with a heavy nuclear weapon, causing a devastating tsunami wave.

Putin also announced the coming deployment of the new Zircon hypersonic missile for the Russian navy, saying it's capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound and will have a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

He said the Zircon program will not be too costly as the missile has been designed to equip Russia's existing surface ships and submarines.

Putin added that the military will deploy more Kinzhal airborne hypersonic missiles, which entered service last year. The Defense Ministry said Wednesday the Kinzhal has been successfully tested at a range exceeding 620 miles against both sea and land targets.

Putin urged U.S. officials to take into account the "range and speed of our prospective weapons" before making decisions that will threaten Russia.

"We are only asking about one thing: Do the count first before making decisions that could create new serious threats against our country and would trigger retaliatory measures," he said.

While issuing a tough warning to the U.S., Putin also claimed that Russia still wants friendly relations with Washington and remains open for arms control talks.

"We don't want confrontation, particularly with such a global power as the U.S.," he said.

At the same time, he criticized what he described as "destructive" U.S. policy of targeting Russia with sanctions.

Russia's relations with the U.S. have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, its support for the Syrian government in the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The menacing talk about new weapons and the tough warnings aimed at the U.S. followed a speech that mostly focused on domestic issues.

Putin promised Russians that he would raise welfare payments, improve education and the struggling health care system and remove toxic dump sites from cities. Similar goals have been set before, but the progress has been slow as Russia has been buffeted by economic shocks caused by a drop in oil prices and Western sanctions.

‘Enjoy your life’: Trump puts new attorney general in an awkward position from the start

Wed, 2019-02-20 06:34

Attorney General William Barr listens to President Donald Trump speak in the Rose Garden at the White House on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford) (Jabin Botsford/)

WASHINGTON - On William Barr’s first full day as attorney general, President Donald Trump singled him out during remarks in the Rose Garden after signing a national emergency declaration aimed at building his long-promised border wall.

"I want to wish our attorney general great luck and speed, and enjoy your life. Bill, good luck," Trump told him at Friday's ceremony, drawing light laughter from others in attendance, who surely remembered the many ways the president tormented Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions.

In the days that followed, Trump sent more than a dozen messages to his 58 million Twitter followers reviving his critiques of the Justice Department, which Barr now helms, or the officials who came before him. The president called the Russia investigation a "witch hunt" that is "totally conflicted, illegal and rigged!" He assailed former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe as "disgraced." And he said McCabe's claim that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein broached the idea of using the 25th Amendment to oust Trump amounted to treason - while quoting a Fox News Channel pundit describing it as a "coup" attempt.

McCabe "and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught," Trump tweeted Monday. " . . . This was the illegal and treasonous 'insurance policy' in full action!"

Although Trump's animosity was not aimed at Barr - in fact, he has praised him - it nonetheless puts the attorney general in a particularly awkward position as he begins his job.

Barr, people who know him say, is laboring to maintain his reputation as a relatively independent and principled leader while simultaneously reacting to pressure from his boss, who demands loyalty from his appointees and nominees and frequently disparages the Justice Department as it investigates his campaign and conduct.

"William Barr has been attorney general before, but no attorney general in our history - literally - has been under a president who has such contempt for the rule of law, the judicial process and law enforcement generally," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It's: 'Buckle in, because it's going to be a wild ride, Mr. Barr. You ain't seen nothing yet.' "

So far, Barr has kept a low profile, spending most of his time getting up to speed on how the department he led more than 25 years ago, in the George H.W. Bush administration, operates today.

He has not publicly addressed Trump's running commentary of the past few days. But soon after he was confirmed by the Senate last week, he wrote in a memo to Justice Department employees that times have changed not just in the threats that federal law enforcement has to respond to, but in the microscope the department is now under.

"Advances in technology have given rise to new threats but also new tools to meet those threats, as well as new opportunities," Barr wrote. "And the Department has faced ever-increasing scrutiny from all quarters as news cycles have shrunk from days, to hours, to nanoseconds."

The memo's only reference to Trump was Barr expressing gratitude "to the President for his confidence in me and for the opportunity to lead the Department and to serve the Nation once again."

On Tuesday, Barr invited Justice Department employees to stop by his office for an open house of sorts, and aides said he paid for refreshments out of his own pocket. Some department employees said Barr's confirmation had buoyed spirits, which had sunk after Trump asked Sessions to resign and replaced him with Matthew Whitaker, whose qualifications to be acting attorney general were doubted by some in the building.

Whitaker remains at the Justice Department as a senior counselor in the associate attorney general's office, though it is expected that he will depart soon, people familiar with the matter said.

"It's a new day over here," said one Justice Department official who was not authorized to talk on the record and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Barr is viewed internally as a "lawyer's lawyer," the official said, and is seen as less politically minded than Sessions or Whitaker. He is well respected in the department as well as in conservative legal circles, having worked extensively as a corporate lawyer and in the Justice Department previously as attorney general, deputy attorney general and head of the Office of Legal Counsel.

"He runs a very efficient and principled organization, and I fully expect people will respond very positively to that," said George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general and close friend of Barr's.

Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney in the Obama administration and a Trump critic, said Barr will be tested early on.

"Barr, if he wants to be the people's lawyer and not the president's lawyer, is going to have to walk the high ground, not just in his private dealings inside of the Justice Department but publicly," Vance said. "He's going to have to set a clear example that when it comes to individual criminal investigations he's independent from the White House, and that's not what this president wants from an attorney general."

Complicating Barr's position is the fact that his son-in-law, Tyler McGaughey, a Justice Department lawyer, recently began working in the White House Counsel's Office. McGaughey, who had been prosecuting major crimes in the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, was among several lawyers there who have been detailed to the White House. McGaughey sought the assignment before Barr's nomination to be attorney general, according to people familiar with the situation.

Barr also took over as attorney general just as McCabe was on a media blitz to promote his new book, "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump."

McCabe has been airing unflattering, behind-the-scenes details of his discussions with and about Trump. In recent interviews, he has described how he opened an investigation into Trump personally after the president fired James Comey as FBI director in May 2017 - and how officials contemplated even more dramatic steps. McCabe singled out in particular Rosenstein, the current No. 2 Justice Department official. McCabe says Rosenstein raised the question of which Cabinet member might support using the 25th Amendment to oust Trump, as well as the idea of wearing a wire into the White House to secretly record what the president was saying.

The allegations first emerged late last year and nearly cost Rosenstein his job at the time, and McCabe's television tour this past week seemed to inflame those old wounds. On Twitter, Trump lashed out at both McCabe and Rosenstein. He quoted conservative commentator Dan Bongino saying Monday on "Fox & Friends," "This was an illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States." And he cited the current criminal investigation into McCabe over allegations that he lied to investigators exploring a media disclosure.

"Wow, so many lies by now disgraced acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe," Trump tweeted. "He was fired for lying, and now his story gets even more deranged."

While Trump's comment about Rosenstein might be perceived as pressing Barr to remove him as deputy attorney general, that die already had been cast. Rosenstein has been saying for weeks that he planned to step down soon after Barr was confirmed, and Barr - as a condition of taking the job - insisted on selecting his own top deputy.

A Justice Department official said Monday that Rosenstein planned to step down in mid-March for reasons unconnected to McCabe's allegations. The administration on Tuesday announced that Trump is nominating Jeffrey Rosen - the deputy secretary of transportation, who worked previously at Kirkland & Ellis, the firm where Barr also previously worked - to replace him.

Barr said in a statement that Rosen is a "distinguished lawyer who has served at the highest levels of government and the private sector," and he thanked Rosenstein for serving the Justice Department "over many years with dedication and distinction."

Trump's recent comments foreshadow what is likely to be a tense reality for Barr: The president could attack him or the department he leads in ways that defy historical norms.

"The bed was on fire when he got into it, so to speak," Blumenthal said.

When Sessions was the country's top law enforcement official, Trump undermined and diminished him relentlessly - even declaring at one point that he had no attorney general. Trump was incensed by Sessions' recusal from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation because of his conflict of interest as a top Trump campaign surrogate, a problem that Barr does not face.

Barr and the Justice Department have not responded to Trump's recent tweets, and in some ways, their hands are tied. In addition to facing possible criminal exposure, McCabe has said he plans to sue the department over his termination, which he believes was retaliation for having opened an investigation into Trump. Barr's commenting could affect both the criminal probe into McCabe and the litigation over his expected suit.

Some Justice Department officials were uneasy at the time about how quickly McCabe opened an investigation into Trump, people familiar with the matter have said. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowed to investigate the matter, using subpoenas if necessary.

If there was impropriety - by Rosenstein, McCabe or anyone else - it would be up to Barr to determine whether they should face discipline or whether department policies need to change.

"Obviously, those are matters that raise really serious concerns and questions about what was going on inside the FBI at the time," Terwilliger said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

US steps up winter-warfare training as global threat shifts

Wed, 2019-02-20 05:56

A group of U.S. Marines walk along a snow-covered trail during their advanced cold-weather training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Bridgeport, Calif. After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

MARINE MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. — Hunkered down behind a wall of snow, two U.S. Marines melt slush to make drinking water after spending the night digging out a defensive position high in the Sierra Nevada. Their laminated targeting map is wedged into the ice just below the machine gun.

Nearly 8,000 feet up at a training center in the California mountains, the air is thin, the snow is chest high and the temperature is plunging. But other Marines just a few miles away are preparing to attack, and forces on both sides must be able to battle the enemy and the unforgiving environment.

The exercise is designed to train troops for the next war — one the U.S. believes will be against a more capable, high-tech enemy like Russia, North Korea or China. The weather conditions on the mountain mimic the kind of frigid fight that forces could face in one of those future hotspots.

"We haven't had to deal with these things. We've been very focused on Iraq and Afghanistan," said Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, head of the Marines' Training and Education Command. "What we really have to do is wake folks up, expose them to things that they haven't had to think about for quite a while."

A U.S. Marine covers a machine gun in a trench while preparing for advanced cold-weather training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Bridgeport, Calif. After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. U.S. forces must be able to survive and fight while countering drones, sophisticated jamming equipment and other electronic and cyber warfare that can track them, disrupt communications and kill them — technology they didn’t routinely face over the last decade.

"If you were to draw a line from here to the DMZ between North and South Korea, both of these sites are on the 38th parallel. And so the weather here accurately replicates the weather that we would encounter in North and South Korea," said Col. Kevin Hutchison, the training center commander. "What you're seeing here is Marines fighting Marines, so we are replicating a near-peer threat."

As a snowstorm swirls around them, Mullen and Hutchison move through the woods, checking in with the young Marines designated as the adversary force of about 250 troops who must prevent more than 800 attackers from gaining control of nearby Wolf Creek Bridge. An Associated Press team was allowed to accompany them to the Marine Corps' Mountain Warfare Training Center south of Lake Tahoe and watch the training.

Lance Cpl. Reese Nichols, from Pensacola, Florida, and Lance Cpl. Chase Soltis of Bozeman, Montana, dug their defensive position a day ago, and they've been watching all night for enemy movement, while using a small burner to melt snow to stay hydrated.

The hardest part, said Nichols, is "boiling water 24/7. And the cold. It's cold."

A U.S. Marine sits in a trench during advanced cold-weather training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Bridgeport, Calif. After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

The cold and wet conditions force the Marines to use snowshoes and cross-country skis to get around. They wrap white camouflage around their weapons, struggle to keep the ammunition dry and learn how to position their machine guns so they don’t sink into the powdery snow.

"It's kind of overwhelming coming up here. Many of them have never been exposed to snow before," said Staff Sgt. Rian Lusk, chief instructor for the mountain sniper course. "You're constantly having to dig or move up the mountain range. So, it's physically taxing, but more than anything, I think, it's mentally taxing."

The Marine Corps has changed its training in the mountain course and at Twentynine Palms Marine base 400 miles south. Instead of scripted exercises, trainers map out general objectives and let the Marines make their own battle decisions, replicating a more unpredictable combat situation.

Rather than fighting from forward operating bases that stretched across Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with security forces and chow halls, troops now have to be more independent, commanders say, providing their own protection and support. And they must prepare for a more formidable, high-tech enemy.

Mullen recalled speaking to a commander in Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia's annexation of Crimea. "He said that within two minutes of keying his handset he had rockets coming in on his position," said Mullen, who spent two days at Twentynine Palms, watching a battlefield exercise, before flying to the Bridgeport base in California's Toiyabe National Forest.

The key in both places, said Mullen, is whether the Marines can stay undetected and adjust their battle plan quickly when faced with unexpected threats.

U.S. Marines gather for a debrief during advanced cold-weather training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Bridgeport, Calif. After 17 years of war against Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, the military is shifting its focus to better prepare for great-power competition with Russia and China, and against unpredictable foes such as North Korea and Iran. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

Back on the mountain, Mullen and Hutchison have seized on that issue. The attacking force, members of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, California, spotted one of the adversary’s fighting positions and fired on it. The simulated attack didn’t hurt anyone, but the competition is real for the defending forces from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, out of Twentynine Palms.

"You took casualties today, and you didn't respond to it," Hutchison told the platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Brendan Dixon of Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Why, pressed Mullen, didn't Dixon move his Marines to a safer location?

In the face of questioning from senior leaders, Dixon held his ground, confident his forces were in the right place to defend the bridge.

It turns out, he was right.

Moving toward the bridge, the attacking forces became trapped on a ridgeline, exposed to the enemy and unable to move through a ravine filled with snow. Gunfire exploded across the ridge.

The final assessment by the trainers was that the attackers suffered 30 to 40 percent casualties, while Dixon’s troops lost about 10 percent.

The attacking force, said Hutchison, made some decisions that would have resulted in Marine deaths in a real battle, but it's better to learn now, than in combat.

“In the Far East, whether it’s in northern Europe, etc., we’re replicating that here. And what we’re finding is, it’s an extremely challenging problem,” said Hutchison. “And it’s a problem that, frankly, if we don’t train to, it’s going to cost a lot of Marine lives.”

They were hiking in the Utah wilderness with no cell service. Then they fell into quicksand.

Wed, 2019-02-20 05:28

It was like a scene out of a horror movie: Two hikers, alone in the frigid wilderness with no cell reception, suddenly stumbled into a pool of quicksand.

The creek where a hiker was rescued after being stuck in quicksand on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Zion National Park, Utah. (National Park Service via AP)

On Saturday, Ryan Osmun, 34, and and Jessika McNeill from Arizona were about three hours into the Subway trail route in Utah’s Zion National Park when their scenic walk took a turn. McNeill tripped, landing in quicksand. When Osmun attempted to rescue her, he too became trapped and buried up to his knee.

“There was no chance of moving it at all,” Osmun told CBS News. “The sand had surrounded the whole leg, and I couldn’t move it.”

Quicksand forms when water or air becomes trapped in sand. If exposed to a sudden shock or stress, like the weight of a hiker, it can become unstable. If something - like a limb - is submerged, it is incredibly hard to escape.

"Quicksand is not normally a problem at Zion, but it does happen if conditions are right," said Alyssa Baltrus, a spokeswoman for the park. "We have been unusually wet here this winter. The weather was most likely a contributing factor."

Despite what Hollywood might have you think, a 2005 study by researchers at the University of Amsterdam showed that it is not possible for a person to sink entirely into quicksand, because they are too buoyant. But that doesn't mean it can't be dangerous.

For Osmun, his predicament meant he was trapped in frigid water and exposed to the elements as winter storms hit the region.

A rescued hiker is treated after being stuck in quicksand Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Zion National Park, Utah. (National Park Service via AP)

Ultimately, McNeill left Osman to go look for help, or at least for a cell signal so she could call 911.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Scariest thing, I didn’t even know if I would be able to do that hike by myself,” she told ABC News. “There was a couple times I thought I might as well just turn back, and we can just be together for the last moments.”

"The water was so cold I thought for sure I'd lose my leg because there was no way she was going to be able to get there fast enough to have people come get me out," Osmun told ABC News.

After hiking alone for hours, McNeill was able to call for help, and rangers located her close to the trailhead, according to a news release from Zion National Park that detailed the rescue. A search-and-rescue team immediately set out to look for Osmun, whom they found several hours later. He was not freed from the quicksand until late in the night, forcing rescuers to stay with him as temperatures plummeted and the park received another 4 inches of snow.

One of the rescuers who found Osmun told him he was lucky to be alive.

"He said, 'I'll be honest with you, you should be dead or unconscious right now,' " Osmun recalled to ABC News.

The next day, a helicopter and rescue crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety was dispatched to lift them out, but weather and poor visibility hampered the efforts until a break in the weather allowed the rescue to be completed. He was taken to the hospital and is recovering.

Defending champions lead Iron Doggers into Nome halfway point

Tue, 2019-02-19 20:37

Defending Iron Dog champions Mike Morgan and Chris Olds start the Iron Dog in a snowstorm Sunday at Deshka Landing. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Iron Dog teams roared into Nome on Tuesday, where drivers will get a long layover and a chance to work on repairs before hitting the trail for the second half of the 2,000-mile snowmachine race across Alaska.

Last year’s champions are this year’s leaders. Mike Morgan and Chris Olds were the first to reach the halfway point of the race, driving their Polaris machines into town at 2:49 p.m. They averaged 52 mph over 1,089 miles.

Morgan and Olds were the first team to leave McGrath on Tuesday and they didn’t relinquish their lead on the ride to Nome, and for that they were handsomely rewarded with $10,000 from Donlin Gold for being the first team to reach the halfway points.

Arriving five minutes later in second place was the team of Casey Boylan and Brian Leslie, who collected a $2,000 prize. The third-place team of Adam Drinkhouse-Brad George, which arrived 10 minutes after Morgan and Olds, received a $1,000 prize.

About 22 minutes after the leaders arrived, 2016 champions Tyler Aklestad and Tyson Johnson reached Nome, the survivors of a scary wreck Sunday.

The Aklestad-Johnson team was part of a collision with 2014 champions Todd Minnick and Nick Olstad that sent Minnick to the hospital and knocked the Minnick-Olstad team out of the race. According to the Aklestad-Johnson team’s Facebook page, the wreck happened when Aklestad and Minnick were both breaking trail in poor visibility.

The Iron Dog rumor mill is in full swing so we thought we’d drop a line! Tyson and Tyler are okay, Tyler is a little...

Posted by Iron Dog Team 8 -Johnson/Aklestad on Sunday, February 17, 2019

Aklestad and Johnson were able to repair Aklestad’s sled and stay in the race, where they are making good time. The team said Tuesday on Facebook that it made the 75-mile run from White Mountain to Nome in less than 52 minutes.

By 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, 13 teams were in Nome and another three were on the trail to Nome. Eight of the 24 teams that started the race Sunday at Deshka Landing have scratched.

Teams will spend Wednesday in Nome, where a banquet is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Nome Mini-Convention Center. On Thursday morning teams will return to the trail for the second half of the race.

The winners will reach the Fairbanks finish line sometime during daylight Saturday.

Tuesday’s arrival times in Nome – Morgan-Olds 2:29 p.m., 2) Boylan-Leslie 2:54 p.m.; 3) Drinkhouse-George 2:59 p.m.; 4) Faeo-Schachle 3:05 p.m.; 5) Aklestad-Johnson 3:11 p.m.; 6) Lapham-Weisz 3:31 p.m.; 7) Cruise-Miller 4:33 p.m.; 8) Kleewein-Kleewein 4:45 p.m.; 9) Gumley-VanWingerden 5:48 p.m.; 10) Conner-Elder 6:06 p.m; 11) Barber-Barber 6:15 p.m.; 12) Miebs-Thibault 6:50 p.m.; 13) Boney-Unruh, 8:19 p.m.

En route to Nome – Levine-Levine, Mountain-Sommer, Krause-Lilly.

Scratched – Anselment-Baumgartner, Carlson-Masson, Huss-Selby, Oliver-Vaughn, Minnick-Olstad, Nikolai-Reader, Conlon-Menne, Berg-Chvastasz.

Lawsuit claims Mat-Su school district protected teacher after mom raised concerns about sexual abuse

Tue, 2019-02-19 19:44

PALMER — Attention turned this week from a Wasilla elementary teacher accused of sexually abusing multiple children over more than a decade to his employer: the Mat-Su school district.

Lukis Nighswonger, 36, was fired from his job at Iditarod Elementary School after his arrest in September on felony charges he sexually abused several students in his class and a teenage friend of the family at school. A grand jury indictment handed down in Palmer Superior Court earlier this month brought the number of Nighswonger’s victims to eight and charges against him to 19.

Three families on Tuesday filed civil lawsuits in Anchorage Superior Court blaming the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District for dismissing reports of potential abuse.

The district is legally responsible for Nighswonger because it provided him access to hundreds of children over the years and failed to take action on several reports of Nighswonger molesting his students, attorneys for the families say. District officials also failed to train and supervise other employees on their legal duty to report abuse.

One complaint charges that an Iditarod administrator several years ago dismissed sexual abuse concerns from the mother of a fourth-grader in Nighswonger’s classroom.

Lukis Nighswonger is arraigned on additional charges at the Palmer Courthouse in Palmer, AK on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Bob Hallinen/)

The civil lawsuit claims an unnamed child — an 8-year-old in 2015-2016 — told his mother Nighswonger was touching his legs and making him “feel weird." The boy was in the teacher’s class, but was also on basketball and track teams Nighswonger coached.

Upon hearing of the mother’s concerns, an administrator at Iditarod denied her request to move the boy out of Nighswonger’s class and told her the boy’s report “had no basis in fact,” according to the complaint.

Instead, the administrator vouched for the teacher as someone who wouldn’t pose a risk to children even as Nighswonger was putting his hands down the boys pants to touch him sexually, the lawsuit claims. The administrator didn’t report the mother’s concerns and it’s not known if Nighswonger was questioned about it.

The criminal case against Nighswonger accuses him of touching children’s genitals through their clothes, sticking his hands down their pants to touch them sexually, or stroking children on their legs towards their genitals. Alaska State Troopers say after his arrest, he told investigators he was a pedophile was had been attracted to children for as long as he could remember.

The case stunned the community at Iditarod, where Nighswonger was a beloved teacher known as “Mr. Nigh” who’d taught there since 2005 and received a BP Teacher of Excellence award in 2015, the same year several young victims say he abused them.

Several victims complained about his conduct for years before his arrest.

The child, now 12, who is described in the civil lawsuit is also one of the eight victims involved in the criminal case, according to Myron Angstman, one of two attorneys representing the boy’s parents. The other attorneys involved are Kramer and Associations and Greg Parvin.

The child’s parents are suing the school district on his behalf. A spokeswoman said the district had no immediate comment Tuesday afternoon.

The boy’s mother initially asked another teacher at Iditarod for advice, the complaint says. That teacher was “dismissive, telling (the mother) there was no way Nighswonger would behave inappropriately towards children, including her son, (her) concerns were unfounded, and the teacher vouched for Nighswonger as a popular and much-loved teacher."

The teacher discouraged the boy’s mother from doing anything about his report, didn’t disclose a teacher’s mandatory duty to report suspected child abuse to the state or procedures to investigate reports of harm at any level concerning a teacher and student, the lawsuit claims. Instead, the teacher acted as a “gatekeeper” to protect Nighswonger based on his reputation rather than responding to the child’s complaint.

The teacher did not report the mother’s concerns to the principal, the school district, the school board, law enforcement or the state, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also references signs posted for children at school: “Children Are ... BELIEVABLE, trust them” and “Children Are ... VULNERABLE, protect them.”

The teacher and the administrator are not named.

The boy’s mother said after the teacher discouraged her, her son continued to describe Nighswonger as “weird” and acted out, the complaint states. She noticed he got very upset if he couldn’t find his belt before school and only seemed comfortable going to school “if his pants were secured by a belt around his waist.”

That’s when she went to meet with the administrator.

State law imposes a mandatory duty on the school district to train teachers and administrative staff “on the recognition and reporting of child abuse and neglect,” the lawsuit states. Under mandatory reporting statutes, teachers and staff who have “reasonable cause to suspect” a child has suffered harm from child abuse or neglect are required to immediately report that harm to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

The lack of an immediate report to state authorities failed to “safeguard a vulnerable child” but also shielded Nighswonger from investigation and enabled him to further distress the boy, as well as provide the opportunity for continued abuse of him and potentially other elementary school children, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit seeks judgment to be determined by a jury, post-judgment interest, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Nighswonger, who remains jailed on $1 million bail, has entered not guilty pleas to the criminal charges against him in Palmer. His trial is currently scheduled for April.

The dates of the alleged abuse span 16 years, dating back to 2002.

In Senate hearing, University of Alaska president tries to hold the budgetary line

Tue, 2019-02-19 19:33

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower left, talks with University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen following a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed sweeping cuts to state support for the University of Alaska, but in testimony Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee, the university’s president warned that the governor’s cuts will create a ripple effect and an even greater fiscal shortfall.

Last week, as part of his proposed state budget, the governor suggested reducing state support for the university from $327 million to $193.1 million, a drop of 41 percent.

The governor’s proposal allows the university to make up that loss with tuition boosts, donations or additional research grants, but Johnsen said the cuts will make it impossible to keep what the university already has, let alone find new revenue.

“If our core funding from the state is reduced, as is proposed by the governor, I would actually predict an additional reduction,” Johnsen said.

He said potential students and researchers will “vote with their feet” if the university is required to cut research support and raise tuition.

“If I just applied the 1:2 ratio of general funds to non-general funds, we’d be talking about overall, a $400 million reduction,” Johnsen said, referring to the university’s standard funding.

The University of Alaska’s total budget, before the governor’s proposed cuts, stands at $888.8 million, according to figures supplied by the university.

Other universities are increasing their budgets and resources at the same time the University of Alaska is cutting its budget, he said. Over the past few years, the university has seen enrollment decline along with its budget.

According to Johnsen’s presentation to lawmakers, enrollment peaked at 21,674 full-time students in the 2011-12 academic year. That declined to 17,555 students in the 2017-18 school year, the latest for which figures are available.

The governor’s proposed budget cuts would require the university to double tuition to break even, and that projection only works if students don’t leave because of the higher costs.

If the university chose to cut instead of raising tuition, it would trigger another ripple effect, Johnsen explained.

Between 2014 and 2018, the university’s figures show 1,283 job losses, the equivalent of 15 percent of the university’s workforce.

Without tuition hikes, Johnsen said the state can expect at least that many job losses at the university in the coming year. After those losses, there will be fewer classes at the university and less reason to attend, Johnsen said. Researchers, with less support, will have less reason to stay.

“There’s no question it will have a negative impact. People vote with their feet,” he said.

Johnsen on Tuesday appeared to be entrenching to defend the university system. The university system’s board of regents has requested $351 million in state support, an increase of $14 million from the current year. Under questioning from lawmakers, Johnsen said, “I’m not here to negotiate. I’m here to advocate for the regents’ budget.”

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, asked why Johnsen isn’t willing to compromise.

“Why aren’t you willing to help us help you?” the senator said, insinuating that if they are able to identify the university system’s priority programs, senators might be more able to protect them.

Some senators suggested they might seek to target university administration during the budget subcommittee process. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, will be chairman of the university’s budget subcommittee.

After the meeting, Johnsen explained his steadfastness.

“I can’t negotiate my demise. Which limb am I going to give up?” he said, implying that further cuts represent amputation. “For me, limbs are people and students."

Alaska House’s new organization means an uphill climb for governor’s priorities, legislators say

Tue, 2019-02-19 19:16

JUNEAU — The fate of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposals to roll back a controversial overhaul of Alaska’s criminal justice system will be determined in part by one of the state Legislature’s most prominent advocates of data-based reform.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, has been named chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to consider the governor’s anti-crime bills if they receive the approval of the Alaska Senate. Claman is the chairman of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission.

The recommendations of that commission — before Claman joined — formed the basis of the criminal justice reform legislation known as Senate Bill 91. Subsequent recommendations contributed to legislative efforts to fix problems with SB 91.

“There’s an old rock ’n’ roll song that goes, ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,' ” Claman said.

Claman was one of many committee chairs announced Tuesday as the House continued to develop its 25-member coalition majority after last week’s election of Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, as House speaker. That coalition chose top leadership positions last week, but it had not selected the bosses of the Legislature’s standing committees.

Those bosses play a critical role in the legislative process. Without their support, legislation assigned to their committee typically doesn’t advance to a vote of the full House.

While the powerful 11-member House Finance Committee will have a significant Republican majority because many of the coalition’s Republicans have seats there, most other committees are headed by Democrats and have Democratic chairs.

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage and co-chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee with Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said that fact means Dunleavy will have a hard time accomplishing his legislative priorities.

To make his budget-cutting plan possible, the governor is expected to introduce more than two dozen pieces of legislation. Having Democrats involved in the process means the governor will be forced to compromise or abandon his plans.

The crime bills, though not budget-related, are examples.

“If there’s anything redeeming in (the governor’s bills), Matt will find it,” said Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage.

Claman declined to definitively say whether the governor’s four crime bills will be dead on arrival in his committee. Instead, he said only that he will subject those bills to the same fact-based, evidence-based consideration that he uses with all legislation.

“Every crime bill will get looked at with great detail and care,” Claman said.

As an example, he referred to the state’s pretrial release program, which deals with people who have been accused of a crime but have not yet faced trial.

One of the governor’s bills would revert that program to what it was before Senate Bill 91.

Claman said he would like to see the results of a recently commissioned University of Alaska Anchorage study examining whether the state’s changes to that system have reduced crime and improved results for Alaskans who are arrested.

“We should certainly see what that research shows,” he said, adding, “I expect it to be done in the May-June-July timeframe."

Barring extension, the Legislature’s constitutional adjournment deadline is May 15.

Other House committee assignments:

• In the labor and commerce committee, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, will serve as co-chairs. That committee is expected to consider alcohol legislation, including Senate Bill 16, which would allow the Alaska State Fair to continue to serve alcohol.

• In the resources committee, Rep. John Lincoln, R-Kotzebue, and Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, will be co-chairs. Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, will be vice chair. Lincoln represents the North Slope Borough and the Northwest Arctic Borough. Senate Bill 57, by the governor, would change the way the state handles petroleum property taxes, greatly affecting the North Slope Borough, and the resources committee may handle that bill.

“There’s areas where we agree, like with responsible resource development,” Lincoln said of his relationship with the governor. “And there’s areas where we disagree, as on the petroleum property tax, Senate Bill 57.”

• In the state affairs committee, Kreiss-Tomkins will be co-chair with Fields. The state affairs committee typically considers constitutional amendments, and the governor has proposed several dealing with taxation and spending.

“I’m certainly not going to support a constitutional amendment that would effectively guarantee ever-growing class sizes and ever-diminishing school quality,” Fields said. He did say he is in favor of constitutionalizing the Permanent Fund dividend.

• In the transportation committee, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, will be co-chair with Wool. Kodiak and the rest of Stutes’ coastal district is almost entirely dependent upon state ferries, but the governor has proposed slashing the ferry system’s budget.

“Well, I hope it means they’re not going away. That’s what I hope it means,” Stutes said when asked what her assignment means for state ferries.

• In the education committee, Drummond will be co-chair with Rep. Andi Story, D-Anchorage.

“I’ll be paying really close attention. I am concerned about the fate of our schools with this current administration,” Drummond said.

• In the community and regional affairs committee, Drummond will be co-chair with Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. Hannan said that committee typically fields any proposals to move the Capitol from Juneau.

• In the health and social services committee, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, will be co-chair with Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel.

“I think we can safely say I’m not a fan of Medicaid work requirements,” Spohnholz said.

Zulkosky said she intends to listen to the residents of her district, and many depend on state health and social services programs.

“I absolutely see one of my roles as making sure those programs are protected,” she said.

Midnight Sun volleyball team 17th among 176 teams in Vegas tournament

Tue, 2019-02-19 19:05

A Midnight Sun volleyball team with players from seven Alaska high schools placed 17th in a field of 176 teams at the 33rd annual SCVA Las Vegas Classic in Las Vegas.

It was one of the highest finishes for an Alaska team in the history of the tournament, coach Kim Lauwers said.

“We did great,” she said by text Monday night after the Alaska team won the silver bracket championship.

The Alaskans went 9-1 in the 18-year-old club division. Their only loss came in a challenge bracket match, where they lost 25-9, 25-15 to Hawaiian Style — a team that, according to Lauwers, included two players who are headed to UAA next school year to play for the Seawolves.

The loss to Hawaii sent the Midnight Sun team into the eight-team silver bracket, where the Alaskans won three straight matches, including a 25-0, 25-0 win in the championship match over the Renegades Volleyball Club of Texas.

The division’s top 16 teams played in the Gold bracket, where Hawaiian Style placed third.

From sacks to stones: Former Vikings star rides the bench for Fairbanks curlers at national championships

Tue, 2019-02-19 18:16

Jared Allen, shown here at a January practice, was a member of the second-place men's team at the national curling championships last week in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he played on a team with Greg Persinger and Colin Hufman of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) (Jim Mone/)

Fairbanks curlers Greg Persinger and Colin Hufman weren’t able to repeat as national champions last weekend in Michigan, but at least when they fell, the mighty fell with them.

Mighty as in 6-foot-6 Jared Allen, a former All-Pro defensive end who tormented quarterbacks during a 12-year NFL career.

Allen is 36 and doesn’t look less big or scary than when he was a 255-pound lineman racking up 136 career sacks.

In the years since he retired from football in 2016, he has taken up curling. He made his World Curling Tour debut in a December bonspiel in Eveleth, Minnesota, where Persinger and Hufman won the tournament championship along with skip Rich Ruohenen of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and Phil Tilker of Seattle.

The Ruohenen rink was playing without a fifth in Eveleth, and Allen was looking for a way to play more high-caliber curling. A match was made, and when the defending champs showed up at the national championships in Kalamazoo, they boasted the most famous alternate at the championships.

“We thought it would be fun and honestly, these week-long events get repetitive and sometimes a change, any change, can be the spark a team needs to win,” Hufman said by text. “So we got his contact info and asked if he’d be interested. He was in, and here we are."

Allen spent most of the tournament on the bench. “Hopefully I can be like the practice squad guy who gets the ring at the end,” he said in a story on last week.

He didn’t play in Saturday’s finals, where Olympic champion John Shuster led his team to an 8-4 victory over the Ruohonen team. But he did see action in round-robin play at the national championships.

Team Persinger poses on the ice at the 2019 Men's National Curling Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Members of the team, from left: Colin Hufman, Greg Persinger, Jared Allen, Rich Ruohonen. (Photo courtesy Colin Hufman) ((Photo courtesy Colin Hufman)/)

When Allen missed his first shot while filling in at lead near the end of a 9-2 round-robin win, Hufman, who grew up in Fairbanks and lives in Minneapolis now, made the most of a post-game interview.

“It was all his fault,” Hufman said in the story. “I told him, ‘Pull off a little bit,’ and he added way too much on his first one.

“… It was pretty embarrassing. We’re going to have a players-only meeting after this and discuss his future with the team.”

These days Allen lives in Nashville, where he put together the All-Pro Curling Team, which includes that former NFL players Marc Bulger, Keith Bulluck and Michael Roos. Their goal is to qualify for the Olympics, although they have a long way to go — their attempt to qualify for last week’s national championship came up short, according to a Reuters story.

Allen is hugely popular in Minnesota, where he played six seasons for the Vikings. He played for a couple of other teams in the final two years of his career, but after he announced his retirement in 2016, Minnesota signed him to a one-day contract so he could retire as a Viking.

Allen curls because he likes the challenge, he told WOOD-TV of Kalamazoo.

“I think as you get older, you have to always challenge yourself,” he said. “You never stop reading, right? People say that reading keeps your brain young. I know businessmen that are constantly saying, ‘You’ve made a bunch of money; why are you still working?’ It’s about the activity, you know, of challenging yourself with something new.”

Letter: UAA accreditation loss no surprise

Tue, 2019-02-19 17:37

For many years, I did testing in Anchorage. One of the tests was the PRAXIS, a test teachers must pass to be certified to teach. Many of the testers made us shake our heads and wonder what exactly the education department at the University of Alaska Anchorage was doing. I reached the conclusion that it was a mill that churned our “teachers;” people who wanted a degree and a profession, weren’t really able to cut it, but were pushed through anyway.

I remember one person who had failed the written portion of the test so many times, they had to go through a waiting period in order to take it again, and again failed. At one point, while very angry over having to take the test, they said they wanted to be a coach and didn’t need to know how to write for that. It was sad. A majority of these people had completed the UAA program and could not pass the PRAXIS.

Interestingly, people who came up from Outside who also had to take the test generally passed. It was also embarrassing knowing these people would be “educating” our youth when they were unqualified to do so. The fact that effectiveness in our schools is low should not be a surprise. Now everyone knows why.

I wonder if the Board of Regents are qualified to run a university and/or know what they’re doing? This can be fixed, but it will take a thorough overhaul of the UAA education department. My praise goes out to the good teachers who have a really tough job picking up the slack.

— Laurie Melander


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Up to 8 inches of snow expected for Anchorage on Wednesday night

Tue, 2019-02-19 17:21

Motorists traveling south on C Street in Anchorage drive through falling snow in 2017. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (Bill Roth/)

A winter weather system moving into Southcentral Alaska will drop as much as 8 inches of snow beginning Wednesday afternoon, according to a National Weather Service advisory.

Forecasters expect between 4 and 8 inches of snow to accumulate in Anchorage and the surrounding area, including Eagle River, Indian and Eklutna, beginning around 3 p.m. Wednesday. The snowfall is expected to taper off by 3 p.m. Thursday, forecasters said.

Patrick Doll, a meteorologist with the NWS Anchorage forecasting office, said people in the area can expect visibility to be reduced to 2 miles in most places. At some points, visibility may be reduced to as little as a quarter-mile, he said.

The weather service also urged commuters to expect slippery road conditions Thursday morning.

Doll said he doesn’t expect high winds to accompany the snow, though the wind may pick up on the back end after the system has passed, he said.

Wednesday will see temperatures in the mid-20s, peaking at a high of 25 before dropping down to a low of 17 overnight. Thursday will see a high of 27, which will fall to around 14 in the evening.

Forecasters expect mostly sunny skies Friday.

Letter: Thanks for diligent reporting

Tue, 2019-02-19 17:17

I’d like to thank the Anchorage Daily News for the excellent job it is doing providing both sides of opinions of the political spectrum. It’s easy to fall into the trap of fake news, as it seems to be easier to believe without doing the legwork to find the truth. You provide enough information for us to research the backstory.

— Linda McElmurry


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Letter: Enemies of public education

Tue, 2019-02-19 17:12

We need look no further than Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed state budget to see that Republicans have become enemies of public education. Their motive is clear enough. Like Donald Trump, Republicans “love uneducated people” because the ignorant are easier to hoodwink. This trend must be turned around soon, or our democratic republic will go down as a failed experiment.

— Lars Opland


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Letter: Start with rights for patients

Tue, 2019-02-19 17:08

I listened to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee meeting on Feb. 13. For two hours, senators, along with the Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner and representatives from the private company Wellpath Recovery Solutions, were discussing the future of acute care psychiatric patients with all the concerned passion of livestock farmers.

Disabled acute care psychiatric patients are mistreated because the Legislature never gave patients a right by law not to be. The Legislature never gave the disabled fair rights by law to file a grievance and appeal and to receive appropriate assistance and due process. In 2015, the legislative legal office said that the state is turning the disabled over to private facilities with an insufficient state standard of care. The Alaska Legislature could fix that.

For the state to search for more efficient ways to move a disabled psychiatric patient through a facility or unit is not good enough. First and foremost, the disabled need improved rights. The Legislature needs to give the disabled a right by law to be treated in a fair way.

— Faith Myers


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Letter: Bullying lessons

Tue, 2019-02-19 17:06

As teachers, we are vigilant in our efforts to spot bullying and to build relationships with our students that help them to feel safe coming to us for help if they feel they are being bullied. We fight the good fight every day, yet our young people are learning to be bullies from the masters.

Our president is a flagrant and unapologetic bully of the first order, and he resides at the loudest bully pulpit on earth. Close on President Donald Trump’s heels is our governor, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, another fine bully role model. In fact, he is currently bullying our students by continuing to cut already-allocated funds from our schools. I have been bullied by parents more this year than in any other during my decades of teaching. Point being: Our youth have the very best of role models in the fine art of becoming master bullies.

— Denise Roselle


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