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Red tide algae’s deadly trail of marine animals has triggered a state of emergency in Florida

Tue, 2018-08-14 15:48

Biologists perform a necropsy on a whale shark that died in Florida waters. MUST CREDIT: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conser/)

Florida’s governor this week made official what residents of Southwest Florida already knew: The bloom of toxic algae that has darkened Gulf waters is an emergency. The red tide has made breathing difficult for locals, scared away tourists, and strewn popular beaches with the stinking carcasses of fish, eels, porpoises, turtles, manatees and one 26-foot whale shark.

Gov. Rick Scott, R, late Monday declared a state of emergency in seven counties stretching from Tampa Bay south to the fringe of the Everglades. Scott promised $1.5 million in emergency funding.

The governor is facing Sen. Bill Nelson, D, this fall at the ballot box in a contest for the senate seat Nelson has held for three terms. Each man has accused the other of failing to tackle the red tide calamity and the simultaneous bloom of a different type of algae that is clogging rivers and canals and putting a scum on top of Lake Okeechobee.

Citizens in retirement communities are reporting respiratory distress from the vapors of the microscopic red tide organism called Karenia brevis. A recent study found a 50 percent spike in hospital visits due to respiratory problems during red tide blooms.

The red tide has been gradually moving north, to the mouth of Tampa Bay, according to state tracking data. For many places, the daily reports continue to say "Water Color: Dark" and "Respiratory Irritation: Intense." Worst of all are the reports that state "Dead Fish: Heavy."

Rick Bartleson, a research scientist with the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, said water samples offshore show lethally high concentrations of algae.

"There's no fish left. Red tide killed them all," he said. "All of our concentrations of red tide are still high, and would still kill fish if they were out there."

The algae lurk in seawater for most of the year, but the past two months have produced a nonstop assault of high concentration for reasons that have eluded researchers, said Kelly Richmond, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

[‘Something needs to be done’: Anchorage Assembly looks at tightening city laws around trash to reduce bear problems]

The toxins can aerosolize in the wind that drifts ashore, triggering respiratory problems or worsening conditions such as asthma. That has incited many tourists and some locals to flee.

Sea turtles have been hit hard, with more than 300 dead from the red tide in the affected counties, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Scott's declaration came one day after thousands of Floridians engaged in a grassroots collective action on Florida beaches. At 10:15 a.m. Sunday they lined up at the water's edge and held hands, an image captured by drones. They were trying to grab public attention.

"I can't even let my cats out on the lanai," said Amy Ernst, a Sarasota printmaker who lives near the beach. "Eyes burning, throat burning, sinus problems."

Adrienne Miceli-Trask, 52, a salon owner who helped organized the Hands Along the Water protest in Sarasota, said, "It's not just on the beach, it's in our intracoastal waterway. It's in the air. It's toxic. Somebody's backyard on the intracoastal is totally filled with dead fish. It's disgusting."

Scientists are trying to figure out why, exactly, the current red tide along the Gulf Coast has been so protracted and deadly. State officials and scientists point out that, at base, this is a natural phenomenon. Fish die-offs were noted by Spanish explorers in the 1500s and have been well documented since the 1840s.

But the incidences of red tides seem to have increased since the 1950s and 1960s. Climate change could be a factor: warmer waters, up to a certain point, are congenial to algal growth. The Gulf's surface temperature has warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1977.

There's a more direct human handprint on the current crisis: Florida's landscape and the flow of water have been radically altered by agriculture, canals, ditches, dikes, levees and the sprawling housing developments that have sprouted as the state's population has boomed. Bartleson said Lee County used to be 50 percent wetlands and is now about 10 percent wetlands.

In the old days, he said, rainwater slowly filtered into the aquifer or seeped into estuaries. Now it rushes rapidly, unfiltered, into rivers and bays and into the Gulf, typically loaded with agricultural nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which feed the algae.

Hurricane Irma struck the state head-on last September, and the red tide bloom began about a month later. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was forced to release massive amounts of nutrient-laden water from Lake Okeechobee to prevent the overtopping of the venerable Hoover Dike. Those nutrients fueled green algae in the inland canals and rivers and flowed through the Caloosahatchee River into the shallow waters along the Gulf Coast. That plausibly fueled the red tide bloom. Some scientists hesitate to declare a direct cause and effect, though Bartleson says of the current red tide, "It's on steroids with our nutrients."

Researchers have experimented with ways of killing the toxic algae, but they are proceeding cautiously because they don't know what effects it could have on the ecosystem.

The Karenia brevis algal bloom is made up of millions of tiny, single-celled plant-like organisms. Like many plants on land, they produce chemicals as a defense. One of these weapons is the brevetoxin compound.

"The ocean has thousands of species of algae. Really only a little bit more than a hundred that produce toxins that are dangerous to us. Algae in general are hugely important to marine life," said Don Anderson, the Director of the United States Office for Harmful Algal Blooms, based at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Historically, algal blooms become more prevalent in the fall and decline in late winter and spring. Less rainfall and increased wind could potentially ease this deadly red tide. For now, there’s no end in sight.

Garbage from Washington state’s booming pot industry clogs gutters, sewers and landfills

Tue, 2018-08-14 15:37

SEATTLE - Washington state's penchant for getting high is trashing the place.

Plastic "doob tubes" and small Mylar bags used to package pot are moldering in gutters, bleaching out in landfills and bobbing in waterways.

Concentrated nutrients and fertilizers left over from cannabis growing operations are being dumped in public sewers and making their way past wastewater treatment plants into Puget Sound. And millions of pounds of weed harvest waste that could be composted are instead getting trucked to landfills.

This, in a part of the country that prides itself on being environmentally friendly.

"We're seeing a lot of marijuana packaging in our public spaces," said Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, which organizes litter cleanups. "Cannabis packaging is adding to our load, which then gets washed into our lakes and Puget Sound."

It's all an increasingly big challenge for the state, which collected $315 million in taxes on retail marijuana sales of $1.4 billion in fiscal 2017. But in some ways, the problems start small.

Pre-rolled joints, for example, spiked in popularity by 67 percent in just one year, according to BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry data firm. They are sold for as little as $2 and come in small plastic containers. But doob tubes usually cannot be recycled, even when made of recyclable plastic, because their small size means that they fall through the grates of the recycling machines.

[In about-face, regulators say shuttered Anchorage marijuana shop can reopen]

"The historical cannabis community is environmentalist, but green rushers" - as some cannabis entrepreneurs are known - "aren't, necessarily," said Danielle Rosellison, president of the Cannabis Alliance, a nonprofit group of cannabis stakeholders dedicated to sustainability. Rosellison, who owns the pot farm Trail Blazin' Productions in Bellingham, Washington, said she "looked high and low for a bag that had a shelf life and was recyclable - and nothing."

Meanwhile, industrial composters say few of them have received significant business from Washington growers. "We haven't had any producers sign on," said Scott Deatherage, an operations manager for Barr-Tech, a large industrial composter in Eastern Washington. "We have the proper permits to accept the materials - we just haven't had any."

Every marijuana harvest generates plant matter that cannot be used commercially.

The state requires that landfill-bound harvest leftovers be ground up, mixed with other garbage, bagged and held for days to render it unusable by scavenging smokers. Some rural growers compost their plant waste on site, but Trail Blazin' Productions is in an urban environment near a methadone clinic. On-site composting is not feasible.

"We keep our garbage in our facility until collection day so the addicts can't get at it," Rosellison said. "We grind it up, mix it 50 percent with stuff like our office garbage and pour bleach or contaminant in there, as well."

When Rosellison first inquired with her local composter, "they didn't want our waste," she said. "To some of them, we are selling the devil's lettuce."

Initiative 502 legalized marijuana for adults in Washington state through a 2012 popular vote. To create an industry easily overseen by existing governmental structures, the initiative's drafters modeled their regulation of cannabis on the tiered system used to monitor the manufacturing, distribution and sales of liquor.

The state achieves a safe cannabis supply chain by regulating the packaging, with strict controls on labeling, but otherwise has shown little interest in environmental sustainability. "Bottom line, our minimum requirement is meeting goals for public safety and avoiding contamination," said Joanna Eide, the policy and rules coordinator for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

That means it is up to individual farmers to decide whether they can afford to go green. The Hollingsworth Cannabis Co. sells about 40 pounds of marijuana per month, whether as flower or oil. While it uses solar power and compost its plant waste on site, it cannot pay more for packaging. Consumers balk at paying the retail markup.

"I am sitting here looking at all the packaging that goes into weed. Put a pound of weed into a jar, break it down into one-gram units - that's 454 single jars, tubes, bags," co-owner Joy Hollingsworth said. "I don't think there is any true way around this problem, the way the laws were produced in Washington" - specifying the weights in which marijuana can be sold.

Alex Cooley is co-founder of cannabis operation Solstice and founding president of the Cannabis Alliance. He said the sustainability focus of many cannabis companies has waned as competition has increased. "I've never sold so much cannabis for so little money," he said. "As a result, we're focused on pennies, and packaging is a big area that is easy to be cut."

In Washington state, there are more than twice as many producers and processors as retailers, leading to intense competition for shelf space in shops that display marijuana products in glass cases like jewelry.

[At George Washington’s Mount Vernon, a luscious crop of cannabis nears harvest time]

Consequently, "the packaging is as important to consumers as the product itself," said Jason McKee, general manager of Ganja Goddess, a retail pot shop in south Seattle.

Therein lies the problem. Many states are studying Washington's laws to create a safe supply chain. But they, like consumers, are not focused on the combined effect of sending hundreds of millions of plastic tubes and Mylar bags into landfills every year. What's more, many consumers mistakenly try to recycle that packaging.

"We have all these materials coming online that are not recyclable, and they're causing contamination in the recycling system," Trim said. "People assume that they are recyclable and feel that they should be recyclable. But they are not."

The only viable option, Cooley said, is to make sustainable, recyclable packaging a regulatory requirement for the industry. But some fear that legislating higher production costs could bankrupt cannabis farmers who have difficulty accessing capital.

Jason Lammers is general manager for, a division of McCallum Packaging. As chair of the Cannabis Alliance’s packaging committee, Lammers is working to develop biodegradable and recyclable options with color printing, clear plastics and bright labels. “The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic from our industry,” Lammers said, noting that hemp-based alternatives are not yet comparably priced.

Alli Kingfisher, Washington state's lead recycling official, has not had time to consider the cannabis industry's waste, in part because she is so busy dealing with a bigger problem. China no longer accepts most mixed paper and scrap plastic from the West, because of policies meant to preserve that country's environment.

Down tumbled the price of paper, whose marketability as a recycled product has sustained the recycling industry for decades. Bales are piling up at many West Coast recycling facilities forced to send that carefully collected and sorted recycling to landfills. In those vast waste fields, decomposing garbage generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that heats the planet.

“It’s incredibly painful,” Kingfisher said, “especially for Washingtonians, who are passionate, avid and committed recyclers.”

FBI task force arrests ‘well-known member’ of Hells Angels with 12 pounds of meth

Tue, 2018-08-14 15:22

Two separate drug busts in Anchorage and Juneau netted about 15 pounds of methamphetamine, according to federal charges filed Monday.

A "well-known member" of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang was arrested with his wife in South Anchorage on Friday after an FBI drug task force found 12 pounds of methamphetamine and almost $25,000 in cash at their apartment and a nearby shipping container, according to a complaint filed with charging documents in U.S. District Court. Most of the cash was found in $1,000 increments, divided using rubber bands and stored in a locked, airtight plastic container.

Along with much of the meth, inside the shipping container investigators found a backpack with a ledger listing money and quantities, and a sheet "listing names of Hells Angels prospects throughout the state of Alaska," wrote Curtis Vik, an Alaska State Trooper and task force member. A witness told investigators they saw both 42-year-old Charles Phillips and his wife, Lois, entering the container within a week before the arrest.

The container was located near a dog kennel business with no apparent connection to the crime.

Vik described Charles Phillips, who goes by the name "Pup," as a well-known member of the "outlaw" motorcycle club who has an "HA" tattoo next to his left eye.

An Anchorage chapter is one of roughly 444 Hells Angels chapters in 56 countries, he wrote. The "outlaw motorcycle gang" is known to traffic drugs in Anchorage and elsewhere.

Charles Phillips is on federal probation for drug possession and in 2006 was convicted on state drug charges for manufacturing meth, according to the document.

Both Phillipses remained jailed on Tuesday.

In the other bust, two Juneau residents were arrested Friday after a package carrying nearly 3 pounds of meth as well as other drugs arrived at a Juneau post office, according to documents filed in that federal case.

The package from an address in California held almost 3 pounds of meth, more than 5 ounces of heroin and an ounce of cocaine, U.S. Postal Inspector Kevin W. Horne said in a sworn affidavit filed with the complaint Monday. All of it was taped inside a speaker.

Horne posed as a mail carrier and delivered the package to Epstein's home after law enforcement swapped out the drugs for "representative samples" and inserted various tracking devices into the speaker, he wrote.

Authorities arrested Kevin Dominique Leonard and Chantel Jalynn Epstein after tracking the package to the Baranof Hotel in downtown Juneau, Horne said. Surveillance teams followed Leonard and Epstein into a room when a device indicated the package had been opened.

The team arrested them both after finding them in the room with multiple firearms, the document said. The window was broken and the speaker was found on a roof below.

Epstein said she was a former heroin user who had been clean for more than five years in 2015 when she was interviewed for a story on six overdose deaths in about three months in Juneau. She had an infant son at the time.

Epstein, now 28, was in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center on Tuesday afternoon.

State joins Alaska moose hunter in U.S. Supreme Court case — again

Tue, 2018-08-14 15:20

John Sturgeon deals with his Hovercraft on the Nation River. The river is quite shallow at this point.John Sturgeon used a hovercraft in the upper Yukon basin to hunt moose. His case is now being heard in the US Supreme Court. (Photo provided by John Sturgeon )

The state on Tuesday once again joined an Anchorage moose hunter's fight to get the U.S. Supreme Court to back his claim the federal government had no right to kick him off a remote river.

John Sturgeon, 72, was ordered off the Nation River in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in 2007 as he worked on repairs en route to hunting grounds. Sturgeon sued the National Park Service in 2011.

The case centers on whether the state, which allows hovercraft on waterways, has authority over the Nation River or whether the National Park Service which bans them oversees that stretch.

The Supreme Court in 2016 rejected a lower court's reasoning for barring Sturgeon's hovercraft use and sent the case back for reconsideration.

A three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in October 2017 that the park service has authority over the river within the preserve.

The nation's highest court agreed in June to reconsider the case.

Alaska's attorney general for the second time filed an "amicus" brief Tuesday on behalf of Sturgeon. Other entities filing briefs in support of Sturgeon included Safari Club International and Ahtna Inc.

The state is urging the Supreme Court to overturn the 9th Circuit decision, arguing the appeals court broadly applied a federal reserved water rights doctrine. The doctrine was previously used in the Katie John cases, as applied to rural subsistence priority for fishing.

The bid has led to calls that Sturgeon's case could lead to state regulation of subsistence fishing rights. State officials and Sturgeon's lawyer say that's not true.

Sturgeon said in an earlier interview he expends to spend about $1 million fighting the federal decision.

Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in an interview Tuesday she couldn't provide an estimate of state costs on the case to date.

"It's been a significant investment because we spent attorney time on it but not one  of those cases where we've engaged expensive outside counsel," Lindemuth said.

The state didn't hesitate to join the case a second time, she said.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the fall, with a decision expected by next June.

Officials raise silver salmon limit in Ship Creek through rest of the year

Tue, 2018-08-14 14:59

Anglers try their luck fishing for coho salmon during an incoming tide at Ship Creek near downtown Anchorage on July 30, 2017. (Bill Roth / ADN archive)

Anchorage anglers have a silver lining to an otherwise gloomy salmon season.

On Tuesday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game raised the bag limit on coho — also known as silver — salmon in Ship Creek from three to six fish per day starting Wednesday and lasting through the rest of the year.

Anchorage area management biologist Jay Baumer said fish have been moving into the downtown Anchorage stream in large numbers.

"The recent rain has brought in a good slug of coho salmon in local streams," Baumer said in a Tuesday press release.

According to the department, 1,689 coho have been counted upstream of the fishery — enough to allow for the higher limits.

"This escapement is anticipated to fulfill the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery coho salmon broodstock goals and natural spawning requirements for Ship Creek," the department wrote.

The announcement comes as welcome news on Ship Creek, where chinook salmon fishing was closed in June due to extremely poor returns.

Fishing for coho salmon in the Anchorage area has reportedly been strong, with the department reporting good catch rates in Ship and Bird creeks, as well as fish moving into Campbell Creek with the recent rains.

On Tuesday, the department also liberalized the coho salmon fishery on the Susitna River drainage by increasing the daily bag limit from two to four fish per day and eight in possession.

"ADF&G; has received positive reports from sport anglers and guides that they are experiencing above average catch rates across all clear water tributaries in the Susitna River drainage," area management biologist Sam Ivey said in a Tuesday press release.

Only three fish per day and six in possession may be pink, chum and sockeye in combination, the department said.

Ivey said the sustainable escapement goal for coho salmon has already been met on the Deshka River. The run is trending up, according to the department, meaning the river will likely exceed its escapement goal. As of Aug. 13, more than 11,000 coho had been counted above the Deshka weir. The river has a sustainable escapement goal of between 10,200 and 24,100 coho. Through Aug. 13 last year, the Deshka had seen 8,550 coho; by the end of the season nearly 37,000 had been counted.

The Deshka makes up between 7 and 17 percent of the total Susitna River run.

"Given this information, it is likely the Susitna River is experiencing a well above average run of coho salmon," Ivey wrote.

1 dies in motorcycle-vehicle collision in Wasilla

Tue, 2018-08-14 14:33

A passenger on a motorcycle died in a fatal collision Tuesday in Wasilla, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers said they first got the call at 11:18 a.m. about the collision involving a motorcycle and a vehicle near the intersection of Knik-Goose Bay Road and West Commadore Lane in Wasilla.

The passenger on the motorcycle died in the collision, and the driver was flown to an Anchorage hospital, said troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters. The deceased's next of kin has not yet been notified, Peters said.

Mat-Su emergency responders were called around 12:45 p.m., said Ken Barkley, Matanuska-Susitna Borough deputy director of emergency services. Barkley said the two vehicles had gotten into a "T-bone accident."

When medics arrived, bystanders were already performing CPR on one of the people involved in the crash, Barkley said. He said a Jeep Compass compact SUV was involved in the collision.

Alaska State Troopers had re-routed traffic in the area, Barkley said.

It’s fretting season for Alaska hunters. At least some of them.

Tue, 2018-08-14 14:09

Colt helps Steve Meyer eat his camp meal. (Photo provided by Christine Cunningham)

There are five English setters in the yard that are the same age, but only one of them has mastered the order of the day as well as celebrates it.

If I could put a dog's movement to music, there is only one dog in the family that has a song in his heart all day long. It starts with a trumpet-sound of bark around breakfast time or walking time. All the other dogs join in the choir, but Colt outlasts them all for his next chance at a solo.

Long after the others have calmed and their eggs and meat are cooking on the stove, Colt keeps a steady beat of tail-wags. He runs up and down the stairs, across the deck, into the house to jump on a chair and returns just as fast to the far corner of the yard. He does it so many times he has developed a "stairclimbers" physique and stride, while the other dogs stretch out their movements like the strings of a violin.

I'm often comparing the dogs to various things. Their personalities are so unique, I think of new ways to differentiate them by comparing and contrasting.

If they were cars, Hugo would be a Ferrari and Cogswell would be a Mustang. If they were horses, Hugo would be an Arabian and Cogswell would still be a Mustang. As a litter, they were all named after gunmakers, so it follows that I ponder the character attributes of other sets of proper nouns.

Colt paying more attention to dinner preparation than all the exciting things a dog might find in the great outdoors. (Photo provided by Christine Cunningham)

"What are you thinking?" Steve asked just as I was thinking about what kind of musical instrument each of the dogs would be.

"What should I be thinking?" I said. It bought me time to answer a question with a question so I could think of a less embarrassing answer.

"Well, I would think you would be fretting about planning for the Sitka black-tail hunt this October."

It had not once occurred to me to fret about the trip. "What would be an example of something I should fret about?" I asked.

The look on his face told me it could not be true I had not done any fretting at all. In his book, checking and double-checking is part of the ritual of hunting.

On rare occasions, I have hunted by myself, but most of the time we hunt together. As hunting partners, he frets enough for both of us, with plenty of room for me to invite others to join.

"Imagine if you were hunting by yourself," he said, "What would you think about?"

I would think about who else I might get to go with me, I thought, but did not say.

I knew I wasn't ready to hunt a big game animal by myself, yet no matter how many years I had been hunting, I only felt confident in field dressing and transporting waterfowl and upland birds alone. I had never hunted Sitka deer.

"What's going to be foremost on your mind," he said, "is how you are going to take care of the meat and get it back without spoiling."

He waited for my response, but I did not realize he was not speaking hypothetically.

When I did answer, it was another stall tactic, like when a teacher asked me in elementary school what the "D" in Franklin D. Roosevelt stood for, and I said, "his middle name."

The answer to how I was going to take care of the deer meat and get it back without spoiling was, "Put it in a cooler." Steve shook his head and gave me another question so I could at least get two out of three correct.

"What kind of ammunition and gun should you choose for deer hunting on Kodiak?" Then he hinted that I might think about bears.

I had already picked out a rifle – a .300 Weatherby – and we had worked up a non-toxic load and been to the range a few times.

My knowledge of deer and how to take care of them in the field was from books and classes, but I had never shot one. The same went for my knowledge of Kodiak. I had never been there.

I relied on Steve to help me, but I had expected to learn once we were there. I did not realize that proper pre-hunt fretting was an aspect of the hunt in and of itself.

Steve told me he had known people who plan a hunt, put down a deposit for a transporter, buy all the gear and set everything out. They spend months fretting, and then something comes up and they can't go. But they are not too upset because they enjoyed the planning so much.

This was all news to me.

"Help me fret this out right," I said. What might I not have thought through all the way?

He asked if I could drag a deer off a mountain. My answer was a too-quick, yes. He looked doubtful. I had never dragged a deer, but I had witnessed it. You would grab it by the horn, I thought. Unless it didn't have horns.

The average October weight of a Sitka black-tailed buck is 120 pounds. "Let's go out in the yard," I said. "Apparently, I need to find out if I can drag you across the yard."

This was some excellent fretting, I thought.

He allowed the test to be performed with him lying on a blanket on a linoleum floor because, he granted, grass could be slick. I was relieved that I could drag him through the kitchen without difficulty.

"Now try using one hand," he said.

That's enough, I thought. I had fretted enough for one night and could hear Colt sounding the dinner call. He had been planning on it all day long.

Christine Cunningham of Kenai is a lifelong Alaskan and avid hunter. Contact her at

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is an escapist rom-com delight, but it’s also a lot more than that

Tue, 2018-08-14 13:15

From left, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu star in "Crazy Rich Asians." (Sanja Bucko, Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Crazy Rich Asians,” the hotly anticipated film based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel, won’t disappoint fans who have been counting down the days till its arrival, like so many daisy petals. What’s more, it will more than satisfy the sweet tooth of romantic comedy fans everywhere who have lately despaired that the frothy, frolicsome genre they adore has been subsumed by raunch and various shades of gray.

On the surface, there are no permutations to speak of in a story whose formula is instantly familiar: After a brief prologue, set in 1995, when a prosperous Chinese family is snubbed at a London hotel, the action zips ahead to New York City, where the little boy of that preamble, Nick Young (Henry Golding), has grown up to become an economics professor and is dating a bright, attractive colleague named Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). He's invited her to attend his Best Friend's Wedding back in Singapore, which will entail the ritual of Meeting the Parents, meaning that Things Are Getting Serious (is that even a movie yet?).

While the two are out on a date, a stranger snaps an iPhone pic that goes viral before the second drink is served. Nick, it turns out, is a multi-multi-millionaire, and Rachel is the mystery girl who has finally managed to snag him.

That sequence, filmed with alacrity and flair by director Jon M. Chu, asks the audience only to believe that someone as smart as Rachel would not know who Nick is, in an age of Google and Instagram. But with disbelief duly suspended, "Crazy Rich Asians" whisks its characters and the audience to Singapore for a delicious, visually vibrant dive into the sensory delights of its streets, historic homes and gaudy, nouveau riche McMansions.

Like the finest forebears of the rom-com genre - including its urtext, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" - "Crazy Rich Asians" indulges in the escapist pleasures of aspirational wealth, obscene consumerism and invidious judge-iness. Nick's family, led by his imperious mother Eleanor (the magnificent Michelle Yeoh), is one of the oldest in Singapore, and their material surroundings show it, from their sumptuous, impeccably tasteful home to their subtly elegant wardrobes. The more arriviste environs of Rachel's friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) are pointedly more gauche, gilded to resemble Versailles crossed with Donald's Trump's bathroom. But it's the Goh house, overseen by Peik's manic dad (Ken Jeong) that's more comforting, which will come in handy when Rachel experiences the inevitable rejection from Nick's hyper-protective mom.

Awkwafina, left, with Constance Wu in "Crazy Rich Asians." (Sanja Bucko, Warner Bros. Pictures)

Along the way, the down-to-earth Rachel will suffer mean-girl bullying, cultural misunderstandings and hurtful put-downs regarding her own background. (“I’m so Chinese,” Rachel says at one point, “that I’m an economics professor who’s lactose intolerant.”)

"Crazy Rich Asians" possesses a sprightly, optimistic tone that pushes every pleasure-button of inveterate rom-com fans, including a fabulous soundtrack of Chinese language pop covers, homages to mouthwatering excess, the requisite fashion-show montage and hilarious comic relief by way of Awkwafina and her co-sidekick, Nico Santos. But it turns out that the movie has layers of meaning and nuance that give it added richness, including a respectful critique of the Chinese tradition of filial loyalty, a withering look at intra-community prejudices that coexist with external racism, skeptical digs at unbridled materialism and sometimes stingingly on-point acknowledgment of China's rising strength as a global economic and cultural force.

"Crazy Rich Asians" - the first Hollywood movie to feature an all-Asian cast in more than 20 years - is itself an expression of that power, as is Papa Goh's admonition to his son over dinner early in the film. "Eat your nuggets," he tells the young man. "There's a lot of starving children in America."


Three stars. Rated PG-13. Contains some suggestive material and coarse language. 121 minutes.

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.

Biologists survey invasive crawfish in Kodiak Island lake

Tue, 2018-08-14 13:04

KODIAK — A team of biologists is surveying a lake on Kodiak Island for crawfish, an invasive species in Alaska that has been observed in higher frequency over past several years.

The biologists working for the Sun'aq Tribe of Kodiak began the three-year project this spring, analyzing the distribution, movement and diet of crawfish in Buskin Lake, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Monday.

Documentation of the crawfish began in 2002. Evidence appeared in 2015 indicating that the population was breeding, said Kelly Krueger, a biologist for the tribe. Since then, the tribe has been making efforts to study if the population is increasing and if crawfish are affecting native wildlife.

[On the menu for northern snowshoe hares: Dirt]

The previous research was conducted under a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs' invasive species program and was largely "to test what measures worked best for catching them," Krueger said.

For the new survey, which is being funded through a $200,000 grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the team is examining 30 sites in the lake.

"It's repeated sampling, so we're seeing how many crawfish we catch within this one area and then if it's being repopulated when we come back to the same spot," Krueger said. "We've found the crawfish in areas where we didn't think they would be."

The team dives to the lake spots, often finding the crawfish in sandy or plant-filled areas. They take note of the gender, size and other specifications.

The team will work on the project into the late summer.

The Great Recession never ended for college humanities

Tue, 2018-08-14 12:48


Humanities education in the U.S. is in free fall. And the decline probably shows that the nature of what American students want out of college education is changing – more young people are in it for the money.

University of Washington history professor Benjamin Schmidt recently wrote a long blog post in which he showed, very convincingly, that the number of American undergraduates majoring in the humanities has dropped in the last decade. Five years ago, Schmidt thought that it might be a temporary blip after the Great Recession. But now he has changed his mind:

"The last five years have been brutal for almost every major in the humanities … there is, in the only meaningful sense of the word, a crisis … Rather than recover with the economy, (the) decline accelerated around 2011-2012."

Schmidt documents the decline with a number of data points. From 1990 through 2008, degrees in English, history, foreign languages and philosophy represented about 8 percent of all U.S. college degrees; today, it's just under 5 percent. Classical studies, the arts, religion and comparative literature have all shared in the decline to varying degrees. Only communications, ethnic and gender studies, and linguistics appear to be holding steady, though the latter two represent only about 0.3 percent and 0.12 percent of all degrees, respectively. Humanities degrees haven't just fallen in percentage terms, but in absolute numbers as well.

Why is this happening? Schmidt lists some theories, but the timing of the downturn seems to make it clear that economics plays a role. The job market was tough for much of the decade after Great Recession. More than that, the aftermath of the financial crisis likely dealt a permanent blow to many Americans' expectations of smoothly rising prosperity and wealth; for the generation that came of age during and after the recession, the knowledge that economic disaster could strike at any time is now seared into their worldview.

That feeling of permanent danger and scarcity means that young people probably no longer feel as if they can afford to major in whatever strikes their fancy. Instead, they feel like they have to take the safe path and go for the money. And they can't help but notice that – with some exceptions – the chances of finding a job generally tend to be higher for science, technology, engineering and math graduates than humanities graduates. Also, students with STEM and economics degrees tend to earn more money than their peers in the humanities.

The theory that college kids are going for the money is bolstered by several other trends that Schmidt reports. As would be expected, STEM and economics majors have gained market share, as have professional-oriented majors in areas like health. Soft social sciences like sociology and anthropology, which often don't yield great results in the job market, are also on the decline. A third fact that supports the theory is that humanities majors enjoyed a huge spike in popularity in the economically booming 1960s, only to fall in the 1970s when the economy slowed.

So whatever other reasons are leading students to ditch the humanities and soft social sciences for STEM and economics, money seems to be part of the story. The job market has now recovered from the Great Recession, but it will be several years before a generation goes to college whose formative years weren't shaped by bad economic times.

So will the humanities recover? If the 1970s plunge in humanities degrees is any indication, the drop in humanities majors could be long-lasting. Humanities departments are likely to shrink in response to lower undergraduate enrollment. That, combined with a dearth of older humanities graduates to serve as role models, will probably mean less student interest for a long time.

Meanwhile, money might not be the only reason students are fleeing the humanities and soft social sciences. The rise of graphics software, spreadsheets and statistical software means that we live in an increasingly data-driven age. It's noteworthy that Schmidt, a historian, makes his argument that his field is in decline using graphs and numbers rather than flowery prose.

One force might help humanities education to recover – the rise of machine learning. Many who follow the rapid progress of machine learning – sometimes labeled artificial intelligence – believe that soft skills will become increasingly important to the job market in the coming decades. With machines doing much of the technical work now done by engineers, the theory goes, companies will need humans to interact with other humans – providing customer experience, making strategic decisions and building business relationships.

Those are all tasks that the humanities, with their emphasis on empathy, persuasion and human emotion, are well-equipped to provide. Even if machines don't end up taking engineers' jobs, a greater focus on persuasive writing and constructive relationship-building interaction in college humanities courses – rather than close reading of texts or other academic-style activities – would probably make these majors seem more practical and career-oriented to prospective students. Instead of hectoring students to focus on personal well-roundedness and general education, the humanities would be well-served by touting the practical benefits of the soft skills they impart.

Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.

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.

More than 300 accused priests listed in Pennsylvania report on Catholic Church sex abuse

Tue, 2018-08-14 12:09

Cardinal Donald Wuerl at a 2015 news conference at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, announcing Pope Francis would visit Washington that fall. Photo by Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post. (Brittany Greeson/)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday released a sweeping grand jury report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church, listing more than 300 accused clergy and detailing a “systematic” coverup effort by church leaders over 70 years.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference Tuesday that more than 1,000 child victims were identified in the report, but the grand jury believes there are more.

The investigation is the most comprehensive yet on Catholic Church sex abuse in the United States. The 18-month probe, led by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, on six of the state's eight dioceses - Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg - and follows other state grand jury reports that revealed abuse and coverups in two other dioceses.

Shapiro said that the report details a "systematic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican."

The nearly 1,400-page report's introduction makes clear that few criminal cases may result from the massive investigation.

"As a consequence of the coverup, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted," it reads.

"We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church's own records. We believe that the real number - of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward - is in the thousands."

Some details and names that might reveal the clergy listed have been redacted from the report. Legal challenges by clergy delayed the report's release, after some said it is a violation of their constitutional rights. Shapiro said they will work to remove every redaction.

The report has helped renew a crisis many in the church thought and hoped had ended nearly 20 years ago after the scandal erupted in Boston. But recent abuse-related scandals, from Chile to Australia, have reopened wounding questions about accountability and whether church officials are still covering up crimes at the highest levels.

The new wave of allegations has called Pope Francis's handling of abuse into question as many Catholics look to him to help the church regain its credibility. The pope's track record has been mixed, something some outsiders attribute to his learning curve or shortcomings and others chalk up to resistance from a notoriously change-averse institution.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report follows the resignation last month of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a towering figure in the U.S. church. The former archbishop of Washington, D.C., was accused of sexually abusing minors and adults for decades. Both have further polarized the church on homosexuality, celibacy and whether laypeople should have more power. It has also triggered debate about whether statutes of limitations should be expanded.

"We're dealing with a long-term struggle not only about the meaning of justice, but about the meaning of memory," said Jason Berry, a reporter and author who has covered the sexual abuse crisis for decades. "And how honest church has been about this crisis. Most bishops, besides apologies, have not been on the cutting edge of change."

Church officials have already begun bracing for the aftermath of the report. On Monday, Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former longtime leader of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, warned his priests in a letter that the probe will be "profoundly disturbing."

Harrisburg's bishop Ronald Gainer said earlier this month that he'd remove the names of all accused bishops from diocesan buildings and rooms. Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico last month told, a digital news site based in central Pennsylvania, that the report will be "sobering" and "is rather graphic."

"While I expect that this report will be critical of some of my actions" in Pittsburgh, "I believe the report also confirms that I acted with diligence," Wuerl wrote to Washington's clergy. Wuerl is one of Pope Francis's closest U.S. advisers, and sits on the Vatican's bishop oversight committee. The bishop is expected to retire in the next few years.

The investigation took about two years. The report's length is expected to be from 8oo to 1,000 pages, the Post-Gazette reported. It covers all dioceses except the two already studied - Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown. Pennsylvania is believed to have done more investigations of institutional child sex abuse than any other state.

Berry said the report - coupled with the McCarrick scandal and others - shows the church needs a major overhaul in how it polices itself. He said the church needs a "separation of powers, an independent oversight."

"Canon law is not equipped for this kind of thing. It's an enormous criminal sexual underground. It's been surfacing like jagged parts of an iceberg for 30 years," Berry said.

Yet others fear the progress made by the church since the early 2000s is being overlooked. The number of new allegations is down, and the vast majority took place decades ago.

"The church has done things right since 2002 - Dallas was a game-changer," said Nick Cafardi, former dean of Duquesne University School of Law, a Catholic school in Pittsburgh, referring to the city where the church passed its crackdown rules on child sex abusers in 2002. "But what was done before Dallas is indefensible."

Yet the fact that such a small number of high-level clerics - as opposed to parish-level priests - have been held responsible is glaring to many Catholics.

The question of whether the church's sins have been confronted remains raw. Wuerl in an interview earlier this month with the Catholic station Salt & Light said he doesn't think "this is some massive, massive crisis." He then suggested the creation of an oversight board of bishops. Some critics saw his comments as tone-deaf.

That same week, Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger said the slew of recent scandals signals a new phase.

"While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations . . . I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer," he wrote.

Worldwide, the Vatican is dealing with law enforcement targeting abuse with in the church. In Chile, prosecutors and police are staging raids on church offices, confiscating documents and looking for evidence of crimes that went unreported to police. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported a prosecutor said authorities were raiding the headquarters of Chile's Catholic Episcopal Conference.

As part of the probe, a prosecutor's office has summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to testify amid accusations that he was involved in the coverup of abuse.

"People are basically revolting against what had been these sacred cows," said Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean abuse victim who earlier this year spent several days with the pope. "In the 1970s and 1980s, the church was a lighthouse for the country. And it's incredible to see this 180-degree turn. People who venerated the church, now they actually despise what they're doing."

The crisis in Chile is just one case in a new wave of abuse-related revelations that have raised pressure on Pope Francis to deal more forcefully with abuse. In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is facing an upcoming trial on criminal charges for not reporting sexual abuse. In Australia, one archbishop was recently convicted in a criminal court for concealing sexual abuse, and a top Francis lieutenant, Cardinal George Pell, will soon stand trial on charges related to sexual offenses.

“Accountability from inside the church is not happening,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, which that tracks sexual abuse cases. “But secular society is beginning to affect the most change.”

Doyle said the Pennsylvania grand jury report could also lead the way for the state to reform statute of limitations laws related to abuse.

Todd Frey, 50, who says he was abused when he was 13 by a priest in Lancaster County, spoke to the grand jury. He said he told church and law enforcement officials over the years, but nothing was done. The report will be his first opportunity to see if the priest is accused of abusing others, and who in the church knew.

“Who else did he pick?” Frey said Monday, as his lawyer David Inscho listened in. Survivors like Frey, who is unable to work, “know their little part,” Inscho said on the phone call, “what they saw through eyes of a 12- or 13-year-old and now they can see everything. And that is really, really important - the validation of it. The having been heard by law enforcement. Actually caring makes a big difference instead of saying ‘We can’t do anything.’”

White supremacy has no place in Louisiana’s constitution

Tue, 2018-08-14 10:19


It's been a year since I traveled to Baton Rouge to support a series of reforms to reduce the incarceration rate in Louisiana. Many of those reforms – such as the overhaul of the state's parole system and modifications to sentencing for less serious offenses – have already proved effective.

But the work is far from over. Still lingering in the state's constitution is a 120-year-old measure put in place to suppress the rights of African-Americans: non-unanimous juries.

Louisiana is one of only two states – the other is Oregon – in which a person can be convicted of a felony and sent to prison without a unanimous vote of the jury. As a result, Louisiana prosecutors do not truly have the burden of proving their case "beyond a reasonable doubt." They only need to persuade 10 of 12 jurors to send a defendant to prison, even for life.

The result? A state justice system in which felony trials are held without the full participation of African-Americans.

Here's why: During Louisiana's all-white constitutional convention in 1898, delegates passed a series of measures specifically designed to "perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana." Non-unanimous juries were one of those measures, and the intent was clear: If the federal Constitution required that African-Americans be allowed to serve on juries, the state constitution would make sure that minority votes could be discounted.

In a review of nearly 1,000 felony trials in the state, the New Orleans Advocate determined that 40 percent of jury verdicts were not unanimous. They also found that the combination of prosecutorial strikes of African-American jurors and the 10-2 jury rule has sharply diminished the participation of African-American jurors. It's hard to have faith in a criminal-justice system that treats members of the community differently based on race.

Take Kia Stewart, an African-American man who was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. At 17, Stewart was found guilty based on an anonymous tip, the testimony of a single mistaken eyewitness anda 10-2 jury decision. Of the two jurors who refused to convict, at least one was black. Stewart was exonerated and released after spending 10 years in prison once the Innocence Project New Orleans found 18 witnesses who either saw the crime and confirmed Stewart was not the shooter, heard the real perpetrator confess or proved Stewart's alibi.

We are at a crossroads, with an opportunity to right this long-standing wrong. This year, the Louisiana legislature is putting a question on the November ballot asking voters whether they support a constitutional amendment to require unanimous jury verdicts in all criminal cases starting next year. Come November, voters will have the opportunity to strike down the discriminatory rule and uphold justice for all.

The ballot question is entirely nonpartisan. The Louisiana Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties have all endorsed the passage of a constitutional amendment requiring jury votes to be unanimous. Even so, powerful forces in the state are resistant to change, with some district attorneys fighting to hold on to the jury rule because it makes it easier for prosecutors to get convictions.

Now, after 120 years of this oppressive rule, people are canvassing door to door and phone banking to explain to voters how Louisiana's jury rule undermines the presumption of innocence and runs counter to 48 other states and the federal government.

The reforms passed after my trip to Baton Rouge have already pushed Louisiana from being the nation's leader in incarceration to the No. 2 spot. I urge Louisiana voters to continue this downward trajectory. Ending the 10-2 jury rule in Louisiana will not solve the issue of mass incarceration or dismantle white supremacy, but it will deal a significant blow to both.

It's time to come together, reject prejudice in all its forms and build a future in which everyone is valued and supported. The 1898 constitutional convention was about denying voice to the expression of all of Louisiana's citizens. This ballot question in November is about giving Louisiana her voice back.

John Legend, a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer, is founder of FreeAmerica, a criminal-justice reform advocacy group.

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.

Manafort’s defense rests after calling no witnesses

Tue, 2018-08-14 09:48

Members of the defense team for Paul Manafort, including Thomas Zehnle, left, Richard Westling, and Kevin Downing, walk to federal court as the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman continues, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. The focus in Paul Manafort's fraud trial shifts to the defense after prosecutors rested their case. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort’s defense rested its case Tuesday without calling any witnesses in the former Trump campaign chairman’s tax evasion and fraud trial. Manafort himself chose not to testify.

The decision by Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, not to call witnesses clears the way for the jury to hear closing arguments in the trial, now in its third week.

Manafort is accused of hiding millions of dollars in income he received advising Ukrainian politicians. The defense has tried to blame Manafort's financial mistakes on his former assistant, Richard Gates. Defense attorneys have called Gates a liar, philanderer and embezzler as they've sought to undermine his testimony.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Asked by Judge T.S. Ellis III whether he wished to testify in his defense, Manafort responded: "No, sir." The decision came after a more than two-hour hearing that was closed from the public.

The judge has not given any explanation for the sealed proceeding, only noting that a transcript of it would become public after Manafort's case concludes.

Manafort's decision not to testify and not to call witnesses came after Ellis rejected a defense motion that the case should be dismissed on grounds the government failed to meet its burden of proof. Manafort's lawyers asked the judge to toss out all the charges against him, but they focused in particular on four bank-fraud charges.

The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising the money he earned advising politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.

Manafort's lawyers argued that there is no way that one of the banks, Federal Savings Bank, could have been defrauded because its chairman, Stephen Calk, knew full well that Manafort's finances were in disarray but approved the loan to Manafort anyway. Witnesses testified at trial that Calk pushed the loans through because he wanted a post in the Trump administration.

Ellis, in making his ruling, said that the defense made a "significant" argument, but ultimately ruled the question "is an issue for the jury."

Prosecutors rested their case on Monday, closing two weeks of testimony that depicted Manafort as using the millions of dollars hidden in offshore accounts to fund a luxurious lifestyle — and later obtaining millions more in bank loans under false pretenses.

The trial is the first to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but it does not relate to any allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Neither Manafort nor Gates have been charged in connection with their Trump campaign work.

Still, the proceedings have drawn President Donald Trump's attention — and tweets — as he works to undermine the standing of the Mueller investigation in the public square.

Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who led the campaign from May to August 2016 — with Gates at his side. Gates struck a plea deal with prosecutors and provided much of the drama of the trial so far.

Gates said he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to lower his tax bill and fund his lavish lifestyle. During testimony, Gates was forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.

The prosecution has introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they’ve sought to prove Manafort committed 18 separate criminal counts. Along the way, they’ve not only faced an aggressive defense team but tongue-lashings from the judge, who pushed the government to speed up its case.

APD: Fairview homicide ‘isolated incident of domestic violence’

Tue, 2018-08-14 09:43

A man who was shot and killed at a Fairview residence Monday night died as the result of a fight with a family member that escalated into violence, police say.

The man, whose name has not been released, was at another person's home in the 1000 block of East 20th Avenue when he got into a verbal altercation with a male family member, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Kendra Doshier said.

The other family member produced a gun and shot the victim, Doshier said in an email Tuesday morning, describing the incident as an "isolated incident of domestic violence."

Multiple people were inside the residence when the shooting occurred, she said. A family member reported it around 7:30 p.m. Officers responding to the call found the man dead inside.

The shooting marks the thirteenth homicide in Anchorage this year.

Alaska Senate candidate charged with felony theft over food stamp benefits

Tue, 2018-08-14 09:30

A candidate for Alaska Senate is facing felony charges that she and her husband defrauded the state of six months' worth of federal food stamp benefits.

Rebecca "Bekah" Halat is running in the Republican primary against Chris Birch, a state House representative, for an open South Anchorage Senate seat. Halat is a former Mrs. Alaska who has been branded as an up-and-coming voice in the Republican party. In her campaign, she's pitched herself as a successful businesswoman who would be tough on crime, cut the state budget and restore the Permanent Fund Dividend.

In an Aug. 6 criminal complaint, prosecutors accused Halat and her husband, Jarek, of knowingly misleading the state about their finances when seeking food stamp benefits. Investigators reviewed bank records and concluded the couple failed to report multiple bank accounts and did not disclose Jarek Halat's employment as a Lyft driver, according to the Office of Special Prosecutions.

As a result, the couple was "well above" the income threshold limit for roughly $5,000 in food stamps they have received since January, according to the charges.

The Halats face one count each of second-degree theft, a class C felony, and falsification of documents, a class A misdemeanor. They are scheduled to make their first court appearance Aug. 24, a few days after next week's primary.

Halat's campaign activity — and an anonymous tipster — sparked the investigation, prosecutors say.

In an emailed statement Monday, Rebecca Halat said she and her family had had a difficult year. She said her her husband was laid off from AT&T; last year at the same time that she was struggling with health problems and a miscarriage.

She called the criminal charges "false allegations from those trying to steal the election."

"Boy, have I learned a lot in the last 74 days! People have learned a lot about me, but there's a lot more they have to learn if they think I'm going to just curl up in a ball and let someone else represent me and my district through attacking my family," Halat wrote.

Her opponent, Chris Birch, said he had read the charges against Halat but that neither he nor anyone he knew had anything to do with the allegations.

"It's unfortunate that she's trying to deflect her own, what I would characterize as shortcomings, and try to redirect that at somebody else," Birch said in a phone interview Monday. "I think she needs to be held accountable, and her family, for their own actions."

Halat declined to comment beyond her initial statement, saying she would address the criminal charges "in the proper venue."

The 33-year-old mother of two has attracted attention from conservatives in the primary races. A recent front cover of The Eagle, a conservative alternative magazine, called her a "Republican rock star."

The charging documents indicate it was Halat's campaign activity that triggered the state's fraud investigation.

On June 20, an anonymous citizen contacted the fraud control unit in the state Division of Public Assistance to say they were concerned the Halats were committing welfare fraud, Charles Agerter, the assistant attorney general, wrote in the charges.

"The anonymous citizen became concerned when Rebecca solicited political support at the citizen's residence," Agerter wrote.

According to the charges, the Halats began receiving food stamp benefits in March 2017. Jarek Halat did the eligibility interview with the state, Agerter wrote in the charges. He said he lived with Rebecca Halat and their two minor children in Anchorage, and that they had one bank account, Agerter wrote.

Jarek Halat said he had just been laid off by AT&T; and that he had applied for uninsurance benefits but hadn't yet received them, the charges say. Rebecca Halat had no reportable income, according to the charges.

The Halats were supposed to let the state know if their monthly income exceeded about $2,700, according to the charges. The state warns public assistance recipients that false or misleading information, or a failure to report an income change, could lead to criminal prosecution.

In late January 2018, the Halats applied again for food stamp benefits. They said they owned a house worth $280,000 and paid $2,000 a month for mortgage. They also said they owned one bank account at Wells Fargo with a $1,000 balance, according to the charging document.

At that time, Rebecca Halat said she worked at the Business Boutique and made $20 an hour, and Jarek Halat said he was receiving unemployment benefits, the charges say. Jarek Halat also said he was no longer working for Uber and Lyft, the charges say, though it wasn't clear whether he had disclosed ride-sharing employment earlier.

An investigator assigned to the case, Dean Rogers, looked at Rebecca Halat's campaign website. Halat described herself as an experienced business owner, consultant and trainer for other businesses, and Rogers reviewed her business licenses, Agerter wrote in the charges.

Rogers also obtained bank records from Wells Fargo from December 2017 to June 2018. He found four separate bank accounts, according to the charges.

One account indicated that Jarek Halat actually was working as a Lyft driver when the family reapplied for food stamps in January, the charges say. Another account, owned by Rebecca Halat, had more than $4,700 in it; Rebecca Halat told investigators she wasn't aware of the account, according to the charges.

The couple also jointly owned an AlaskaUSA account with balances that totaled between $35,000 and $40,000 as of January, when the couple re-applied for food stamps, the charges say.

In May, Jarek Halat filed a change report form with the state Division of Public Assistance, saying he had started part-time construction work and that Rebecca Halat had been laid off due to a lack of work, according to the charges. He did not report ride-sharing income, the charges say.

In a July 24 interview, Rogers and another investigator asked the couple why they didn't report all their bank accounts to the state public assistance division, the charges say.

Jarek Halat said the couple's AlaskaUSA accounts were for their children's college savings and they didn't consider the AlaskaUSA account available for them to spend. Rebecca Halat said another account was for a business she owned several years ago and not for personal use, the charges say.

The investigators asked if they were able to withdraw from the accounts at any time, and both Jarek and Rebecca Halat said yes, the charges say. The Halats also both said the funds were available when they first applied for food stamps in March 2017.

At that point, the Halats asked how they could repay the food stamp benefits, the charges say.

Nebraska executes first inmate using fentanyl

Tue, 2018-08-14 08:47

FILE - This file photo provided by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services shows death-row inmate Carey Dean Moore. Nebraska prison officials are preparing to execute Moore on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, for the 1979 murders of two Omaha cab drivers. The execution comes three years after Nebraska lawmakers voted to abolish capital punishment, but did an about-face driven largely by the state's Republican governor. (Nebraska Department of Correctional Services via AP, File)

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska carried out its first execution in more than two decades on Tuesday by lethal injection of four drugs in a never-before-tried combination, including the powerful opioid fentanyl.

Carey Dean Moore, 60, was pronounced dead at 10:47 a.m. Moore, who had been sentenced to death for killing two cab drivers in Omaha in 1979, also was the first inmate to be lethally injected in Nebraska, which last carried out an execution in 1997, using the electric chair.

Witnesses said that there appeared to be no complications in the execution process, which used a four drug combination.

At one point while on the gurney, Moore turned his head and mouthed several words his family, including "I love you."

Moore's execution comes a little more than three years after Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty, only to have it reinstated the following year through a citizen ballot drive partially financed by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. The governor, a wealthy former businessman, has said he was fulfilling the wishes of voters in the conservative state.

According to prosecutors, Moore was 21 when he fatally shot Reuel Van Ness during a robbery with his younger brother, and used the money to buy drugs and pornography. Moore fatally shot Maynard Helgeland by himself five days later, saying he wanted to prove he could take a man's life by himself. Moore was arrested a week later. He was charged and convicted of first-degree murder, while his 14-year-old brother was convicted of second-degree murder.

Moore has faced execution dates set by the Nebraska Supreme Court seven times since he was convicted, but each was delayed because of legal challenges and questions over whether previous lethal injection drugs were purchased legally. For some relatives of Moore's victims, that was far too long — and they hope his name and crimes will finally vanish from headlines.

"We're sick of hearing about Carey Dean Moore," Steve Helgeland, one of Maynard Helgeland's three children, said ahead of the execution. "All we really want is for him to go away."

Helgeland said the numerous delays in executing Moore had left him ambivalent about whether his father's killer dies by lethal injection or spends the rest of his life in prison. Helgeland said he plans to be present at the prison for the execution to honor his father's memory, but that he won't witness it.

"There was a point in my life when I probably would have pulled the switch myself, but 39 years has a way of dissipating your anger," he said.

A Germany-based drugmaker tried to halt the execution last week, filing a lawsuit that alleged the state had illegally procured at least one of the company's drugs. The company, Fresenius Kabi, argued that allowing the execution to go forward would harm its reputation and business relationships.

But a federal judge sided with state attorneys , who argued that the public's interest in carrying out a lawful execution outweighed the company's concerns. The judge also noted that Moore had stopped fighting the state's efforts to execute him.

A federal appeals court upheld that ruling Monday, and Fresenius Kabi decided not to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sheriff called parking lot shooting legal under ‘stand your ground’ laws. Prosecutors disagreed.

Tue, 2018-08-14 08:24

Prosecutors have charged Michael Drejka - who shot and killed a man over a parking spot in July - in a reversal of the sheriff’s decision not to bring charges in the incident that prompted debate over “stand your ground” laws.

Drejka, 47, was arrested and charged with manslaughter Monday by the district attorney for Pinellas County in western Florida, authorities said. He is being held on $100,000 bond in the killing of Markeis McGlockton, 28, in Clearwater, Florida.

The July 19 shooting was the culmination of a heated but brief exchange between the two men. Drejka confronted McGlockton's girlfriend about her vehicle parked in a handicap spot at a convenience store while McGlockton was inside with their 5-year-old son.

McGlockton rushed to defend Britany Jacobs, his girlfriend, and shoved Drejka to the ground, surveillance video shows. Drejka pulled out a pistol and shot McGlockton in the chest. McGlockton staggered inside and collapsed. His girlfriend applied pressure to his wound. Their other children were in the car as the shooting unfolded. McGlockton died less than an hour later.

The next day, in a lengthy defense of his decision not to pursue an arrest, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a 30-minute news conference that Drejka acted within his right to defend himself with deadly force.

But prosecutors have since diverged from the sheriff's assessment. State Attorney Bernie McCabe said his office reviewed Gualtieri's investigation and conducted their own probe.

"We reached the conclusion that this is a charge we can prove," McCabe told The Washington Post on Monday. Drejka will appear in court Tuesday as he faces charges that could bring up to 30 years in prison, McCabe said. It is not clear whether he has retained an attorney.

Florida law says that people who think someone is trying to kill or seriously harm them don't have an obligation to retreat before using deadly force.

Drejka "felt after being slammed to the ground, the next thing was he was going to be further attacked by McGlockton," Gualtieri said in July. He has been sheriff since 2011 and also has a law degree.

The killing of McGlockton, and Gualtieri then declining to arrest or charge Drejka, has been among the most prominent incidents in the debate over "stand your ground" enforcement.

The state and its laws were highlighted after the 2012 slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, when jurors discussed the statute in their deliberations before deciding to find George Zimmerman not guilty.

Gualtieri's office declined to comment Monday. "I support the State Attorney's decision and will have no further comment as the case continues to work its way through the criminal justice system," he said in a statement.

In the past, defense attorneys had to explain why their clients deserved immunity in a killing. Now prosecutors have to prove that people who claim they were standing their ground are wrong.

Jacobs, 24, could not be reached for comment. But in the wake of the killing, she told "Good Morning America" that McGlockton's safety, as well as her children's safety and her own, should have also been considered.

“My man hears what’s going on, sees the guy yelling at me and I’m sitting in the car. My man is defending me and his children, so he pushes him down,” she said. “The guy is on the ground and he pulls the gun out . . . My dude steps back 'cause my dude is fearing for his life - all of us were,” she added.

UK police treat Parliament crash as terrorism, man arrested

Tue, 2018-08-14 07:48

Armed police on Victoria Embankment in Westminster, after a car crashed into security barriers outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. London police say that a car has crashed into barriers outside the Houses of Parliament and that there are a number of injured. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP) (Stefan Rousseau/)

LONDON — A car plowed into pedestrians and cyclists near the Houses of Parliament in London during the morning rush hour Tuesday, injuring three people in what police suspect is the latest in a string of attacks in the British capital that used vehicles as weapons.

A rooftop camera recorded the car driving past Parliament and suddenly veering sharply to the left, striking cyclists waiting at a set of lights before crossing the road and crashing into a barrier outside Parliament. Armed police surrounded the car within seconds, pulling a man from the vehicle.

Police said the driver, a man in his late 20s, was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offenses. He was alone and no weapons were found in the car.

"Given that this appears to be a deliberate act, the method and this being an iconic site, we are treating it as a terrorist incident," Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police told reporters outside Scotland Yard.

Police flooded the area after the incident was reported at 7:37 a.m., cordoning off streets surrounding the heart of Britain's government. The nearby Westminster subway station was closed, and police asked people to stay away from the area, which is filled with government offices and major tourist attractions including Westminster Abbey.

Most of the cordons were lifted by mid-afternoon, apart from a stretch of road right outside Parliament, where forensics officers in blue coveralls collected evidence from the crashed Ford Fiesta.

The suspect was not cooperating with police, and officers were working to confirm his identity, said Basu, who oversees U.K. counterterrorism policing. No other suspects have been identified and police believe there is no further threat to Londoners, he said.

Basu said "we don't believe this individual was known" to police or Britain's intelligence services.

Eyewitnesses said the silver car was traveling at high speed when it hit pedestrians and cyclists, then crashed into a barrier designed to protect Parliament from vehicle attack. Two people were taken to local hospitals and another was treated at the scene. One woman remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon, but her injuries aren't believed to be life threatening, authorities said.

"The car drove at speed into the barriers outside the House of Lords. There was a loud bang from the collision and a bit of smoke," Ewelina Ochab told The Associated Press. "The driver did not get out. The guards started screaming to people to move away."

Jason Williams also saw a car moving at high speed.

"It didn't look like an accident," he said. "How do you do that by accident?"

Donovan Parsons, a cameraman for ITV's "Good Morning Britain," was filming outside Parliament when he heard a loud crash.

"I saw the car crash into the barrier outside Westminster Palace, with smoke coming out of the vehicle. Police were around it, telling people to get back. ... They dragged someone out of the car."

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: "My thoughts are with those injured in the incident in Westminster and my thanks to the emergency services for their immediate and courageous response."

U.S. President Donald Trump was less measured, tweeting that the crash was "another terrorist attack in London."

Trump added: "These animals are crazy and must be dealt with through toughness and strength!"

Trump has a history of tweeting about violence, or alleged violence, in London. He angered many when he said a London hospital was like a war zone because of knife violence.

Parliament has been a target for attacks several times over the years, and security has grown progressively tighter. Concrete and steel barriers protect against vehicle attacks, armed police officers patrol the grounds and visitors undergo airport-style security screening.

Since a series of vehicle attacks in London last year, concrete barriers or bollards have been erected along bridges and beside some major roads to prevent cars mounting the sidewalk to hit pedestrians.

The House of Commons and House of Lords are on their summer break, so lawmakers and some of their staff are not currently working in the building.

Parliament was the site of an attack in March 2017, when Khalid Masood ploughed a car into crowds on Westminster Bridge, killing four people. Masood abandoned his car and then stabbed and killed a police officer before being shot dead in a courtyard outside Parliament.

Less than three months later, a van rammed into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men abandoned the vehicle and attacked weekend revelers in the nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed and 48 injured in the attack.

On June 19, 2017, a man drove a van into a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque in north London, killing one man and injuring eight others.

The official terrorist threat level for Britain is “severe,” indicating an attack is considered highly likely.

Letter: Edna DeVries deserves your vote

Tue, 2018-08-14 07:27

Edna DeVries is a leader you can trust! She works to protect the rights of her constituents, the area of greater Palmer and Alaska as a whole to bring about positive change for the issues people are concerned about. She works to impact the legislative process and bring together the Republican Party to focus on what is important, because she cares!

She is conservative by definition and her character defines integrity. With many decades of experience in such roles as mayor of Palmer and the Mat-Su Borough, Alaska senator, Assembly member, chairwoman and vice-chair of committees and more than 25 years as a real estate broker and small business owner, she will take her proactive, no-nonsense leadership and fight to protect those she serves.

Pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, pro-PFD, she is in full support of repealing Senate Bill 91. We need safe communities and must stop the catch-and-release of criminals back onto our streets. She will also work to lower spending and limit government overreach.

Send your voice to Juneau by voting for Edna Devries in the primary for State House (District 11) on Aug. 21.
— Iris West

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

‘Video games’? Pilots wonder how plane thief learned to do aerial acrobatics

Tue, 2018-08-14 07:22

Richard “Beebo” Russell (Screenshot from YouTube)

The barrel roll that Richard Russell pulled off during his flight Friday evening looked sloppy to experienced pilots.

But the fact that the baggage handler completed the trick at all was evidence to some observers that Russell, who died when the Horizon Air plane he stole crashed into an island in South Puget Sound, may have taken lessons or otherwise prepared for his flight.

Stoking the speculation was Russell's response, captured in audio recordings posted online, to an air traffic controller asking if he was comfortable flying the twin-engine turboprop plane.

"I've played video games before," Russell said. "I know what I'm doing a little bit."

It's unclear whether the 29-year-old, a member of a generation that grew up around video games, was joking about his familiarity with a joystick, or leaving investigators a clue as to how he was able to start the aircraft, taxi onto a busy runway, take off and mix in aerial acrobatics for more than an hour before he went down.

Horizon Chief Executive Officer Gary Beck told reporters that Russell didn't appear to have a pilot's license. Yet aviation instructors, pilots and safety experts suspect that he had some sort of training, whether from a flight-simulator game or some form of lessons.

Mary Schiavo, an aviation attorney and former inspector general of the Department of Transportation, said video of some of his turns looked smooth, or "coordinated" in pilot parlance, keeping the plane's nose from veering to one side or the other.

"It looked like he had some skills," she said. "It looked like he had touched the controls of an airplane before."

[Related: Sea-Tac Airport's security challenge: 13,600 people have access to aircraft]

Though Schiavo and other experts think Russell's flying prowess indicated prior experience in the cockpit, one longtime family friend, who works for the Federal Aviation Administration, said that he did not have any knowledge of Russell going to flight ground school in Alaska, where Russell lived before moving to Oregon and, later, Washington. He also never saw Russell use a flight simulator and did not know how he figured out how to fly the Bombardier Q400 plane.

"For us it was a shock that he would be able to take off in that," Mike Criss, a resident of Wasilla, Alaska, who has known Russell for more than two decades, told the Anchorage Daily News on Monday.

Criss said that his son, Zac, and Russell were boyhood friends, and that Russell had a personality like a magnet.

"He had such a sense of humor. It drew you in," Criss said. "Everybody wanted to be around him. I've never met anybody like that before or since."

[Related: Man who authorities say took airliner and crashed was a standout athlete in Alaska]

A Horizon Q400 pilot, speaking on the condition of anonymity, listed some of the hurdles Russell would have encountered Friday. At the outset, the plane's controls would have been locked. Starting the engines requires a precise sequence of switches and levers. And during acceleration at takeoff, pilots steer left and right with rudder pedals, instead of the obvious control yoke in front of them.

Video games could have helped with some of that.

Games like Microsoft's Flight Simulator franchise, a favorite of computer desktop pilots for decades, are complex and realistic, rendering models of cockpits full of switches and instruments patterned after the real thing. Enthusiasts can add to the realism of that experience with hardware that replaces keyboards and mice with airplane-style controls such as rudder peddles or a steering-wheel-like yoke.

The main flight simulation games on the market don't feature the Canadian-built Q400 Russell flew among their default options for digital fliers, but a community of game developers has filled that gap. One modification, which makes the plane available for Microsoft Flight Simulator X, is listed online for $59.95, and YouTube videos offer tutorials on tasks like plane startup.
"You can learn procedures" from simulators, said Jim Grant, owner of Northway Aviation, which trains private pilots at Everett's Paine Field.

Beyond that, he said, their utility is limited.

Would-be pilots who come to Northway for training sometimes brag to instructors about familiarity with flight simulators, Grant said.

"We usually laugh at them," he said. "Flying an airplane is totally different than playing a game."
Russell may have picked up some knowledge of the aircraft over the course of his job.

In addition to baggage handling, his work as a gate-service agent included work on two-person tow crews responsible for moving aircraft around gates and maintenance areas. During that process, one gate-service agent sits in the cockpit as a second drives a tractor pulling the wheels below the plane's nose.
It's not uncommon in that environment, pilots and aviation experts say, for pilots to chat with ground-crew personnel curious about plane mechanics or cockpit controls.

Once airborne Friday, Russell showed off a basic familiarity with the cockpit, wearing the communications headset, watching the fuel gauge, and talking with an air traffic controller about how to pressurize the plane, a procedure he apparently did not know how to do.

He also pulled off a series of stunts, including the barrel roll, maneuvers that Beck, Horizon's CEO, called "incredible."

"On any other day that was windy, or that was cloudy, or had [bad] weather, I don't think he would've been able to pull a stunt like that," said Jeffrey A. Lustick, a Bellingham aviation lawyer and pilot.

Seattle Times staff reporters Hal Bernton, Lewis Kamb and Dominic Gates, and ADN reporter Zaz Hollander contributed to this story.