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Veto to Medicaid dental coverage leaves some Alaskans without teeth and others likely to lose them, providers say

Thu, 2019-07-18 17:58

Michael Shelden, who had all his teeth pulled last month, was one week away from getting dentures when Gov. Dunleavy vetoed Medicaid dental coverage for adults from the state operating budget. Shelden said he tells his kids all the time to brush their teeth, "or you're going to look like me." Photographed Thursday. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Under a budget veto by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that eliminated Medicaid dental coverage for adults from the state operating budget, some Alaskans are going without teeth and others may become more likely to lose them, dental providers and health advocates warn.

Michael Shelden, a 50-year-old Chugiak resident, was expecting to have a mouth full of teeth by now. Shelden, who had been dealing with chronic dental pain, had all 16 of his remaining teeth pulled last month. His plan was to replace them four weeks later with dentures.

One of the 182 line items Dunleavy vetoed from the budget passed by the Alaska Legislature, however, was $27 million in Medicaid coverage for adult preventive dental care. The plan covered services like regular cleanings, fillings and, as Shelden found out too late, dentures.

The veto left Shelden unable to afford the second half of his procedure, just one day before he was scheduled to be fitted for his new teeth.

Unable to pay the $2,000 expense out of pocket and unable to work because of multiple disabilities, he’s limited his diet to soft foods like baked potatoes, rice, soup and taco meat. He sometimes eats just one meal a day, and he turned down a friend’s invitation to visit Texas because, he said, he couldn’t bear to go if he couldn’t eat barbecue. Anchorage television station KTUU initially reported on Shelden’s plight.

Dental providers, who have criticized the veto as “shortsighted,” warn that Shelden may be among the first of many people to see their dental care suffer because of it.

Tammy Green, CEO of Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, said her clinic has already seen a handful of people who are in the same boat as Shelden — they had teeth pulled before the vetoes, but can’t afford to replace them now.

“You can imagine as a provider how awful that feels,” Green said.

The chief dental officer at Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center has even scaled back on that particular procedure, fearing her patients might become stuck in that same toothless limbo, Green said.

[Alaska hospital group sues Dunleavy administration over Medicaid cuts]

Without cleanings and other preventive care, though, even people who still have all their teeth will likely see long-term health consequences, dentists warn.

“If someone has not been having preventative health and they have cavities or things like that, they can get inflammation, and that inflammation can exacerbate other chronic conditions,” Green said.

That can affect everything from your kidneys to your heart, said David Logan, executive director of the Alaska Dental Society.

Barring preventive dental care, Logan said, all Medicaid will cover is emergency care, which usually means a tooth extraction. And because of what he called a “domino effect,” people who lose one tooth are more likely to lose additional teeth.

He said under Dunleavy’s veto, Medicaid patients will likely delay treatment until they have no choice but to go to hospital emergency departments, which are often not equipped to provide dental care.

In the end, that means much higher medical bills and teeth lost that could have been saved, he said.

“Small problems are going to go untreated until they become big problems, and big problems are going to be dealt with by extraction,” Logan said.

Because of that, some providers encouraged their patients to have as much work done before July 1 as they could, Logan said.

That’s bought the dental community some time, but given another month or two, community clinics like Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center — one of few providers in Southcentral Alaska that offers a sliding pay scale — may soon be stretched thin.

“Our hope is that we will stand together and do whatever we can to try to serve our patients, but there will be a limit to what we can do with our current and internal resources,” said Green.

Some providers are already feeling the squeeze. Royann Royer, who runs dental clinics at two Anchorage nursing homes, pays for most of her operating expenses through Medicaid.

“It’s going to be devastating for us,” Royer said.

About 95% of the patients she sees rely on Medicaid for their dental coverage, which means the cut may leave her unable to care for her patients all together.

[Providers await impacts of Medicaid cuts; dental services axed]

That’s a social problem for many of the patients Royer sees, some of whom refused to come out of their rooms to interact with others until their teeth had been restored. It’s especially problematic, though, for medically vulnerable patients who, given an infection, could aspirate the bacteria into their lungs and trigger pneumonia, she said.

For Royer, the loss would be a personal one. Her organization, Healthy Smiles Forever, has been treating patients at Prestige Care & Rehabilitation Center for three years, but it opened the clinic at Pioneer Home just last month.

“It’s just so sad, especially when we were just making a positive effect," Royer said.

With few other options, Royer, like many providers, said she’s hoping for a solution from the Legislature. Although lawmakers failed to override the vetoes before last week’s deadline, legislators in Juneau have introduced a bill to restore the $444 million back to the budget.

Shelden, the Chugiak man whose coverage lapsed before he could be fitted for dentures, said after trying to call his representative and getting nowhere, he’s not holding his breath.

“There’s too many people squabbling for power at the top to care about the people at the bottom,” he said.


Michael Shelden who had all his teeth pulled last month was one week away from getting dentures when Gov. Dunleavy vetoed the Medicaid dental coverage for adults from the state operating budget. Shelden said he tells his kids all the time to brush their teeth, "or you're going to look like me." Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Trump to nominate son of Scalia to be next labor secretary

Thu, 2019-07-18 16:41

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he plans to nominate Eugene Scalia, the son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as his next secretary of Labor.

“I am pleased to announce that it is my intention to nominate Gene Scalia as the new Secretary of Labor. Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience working with labor and everyone else,” Trump said Thursday night in a pair of tweets. “He will be a great member of an Administration that has done more in the first 2 ½ years than perhaps any Administration in history!”

I am pleased to announce that it is my intention to nominate Gene Scalia as the new Secretary of Labor. Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2019

If confirmed, Scalia would succeed Alex Acosta, who resigned from the position last week after a fresh round of scrutiny over a years-old plea deal he struck with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted earlier this month on federal sex trafficking charges. Politico first reported that Scalia is under consideration.

The White House has been asking senators, who would be tasked with confirming his ultimate nominee, what they think of Scalia for the job, according to one person familiar with the conversations. Trump and Scalia met privately on Thursday afternoon at the White House to discuss the post, another person familiar with the deliberations said.

The White House began considering Scalia for the job as the scrutiny over Acosta's plea deal intensified last week, according to one of the people, as the administration searched for a fallback option to Acosta should he leave his post.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

Scalia, a veteran attorney well-versed in deregulation policies, is currently a partner at Washington law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher; he previously served as solicitor of labor during the George W. Bush administration.

Vegetables are mature earlier than farmers have ever seen; flowers are ready to go

Thu, 2019-07-18 16:28

Bouquet from Brown Dog Farm.

Want potatoes? Got them. Full-sized carrots? Yep, those too. How about beans, or sugar-snap peas or cauliflower? No problem.

It’s that already time of the year at farmers markets. The abundance is a little unprecedented.

“Alaskan farmers have always benefited from Alaska’s high-latitude agriculture, which gives us our long day lengths and moderate temperatures,” says Arthur Keyes of Glacier Valley Farm and the South Anchorage and Midtown farmers markets. “This recent sustained spike in extremely hot, sunny weather has compounded our already long days and given us even more amazing crop production than we normally receive. The growth-cycle this year is unprecedented.

“I think I’ve seen potatoes before in mid-July, so I don’t think it’s a first. However, the size and quantity of the potatoes at this time in the season are what makes this so noteworthy. These spuds are early, large, plentiful. And they taste great!”

Anchorage Farmers Market: Sarah Bean of Arctic Organics says the summer heat put “a lull in lettuce production, which is a result of the heat wave. The current stand has bolted, and the next planting is not ready yet.” But other than lettuce, look for lots of fresh crops, including loads of basil, which Bean says is “big and lush and vibrant.”

Ben Swimm says the market saw its first carrots last week and vendors are bringing more this week, along with strawberries, rhubarb, onions, green onions, radishes, lettuce, zucchini, herbs and more.

Swimm’s Brown Dog Farm has flower bouquets, including a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on its $10 bouquets, and Hatcher Pass Dahlias has blooms starting to arrive, too.

Muldoon Farmers Market: Jerrianne Lowther says the Muldoon market is the full of “carrots, beets and oh-so-delicious local strawberries.” The produce continues with “broccoli heads as big as a platter from Dinkel’s Veggies or petite ones from Arctic Wonder Marketplace.”

Dinkel’s also has full-sized carrots, tomatoes, snap beans, potatoes and pickling cucumbers.

South Anchorage and Midtown farmers markets: Barb Landi says the “vegetable production coming in greater amounts now with bigger sizes. We are seeing the first cauliflower and red cabbage. Beautiful beets in various colors are good size now. Tender green beans are available from several farmers — earlier than ever.”

And there are plenty of flower options, too. Brown Dog Farm is offering a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on its $10 bouquets at the Midtown market on Saturday. Peonies from several vendors are at the market and Landi says Opa’s Garden, a new vendor at Midtown, has peony plants and roots for the gardeners.

At South, Rempel Family Farm will have its first-of-the-year sugar snap peas, along with plenty of other items, including lettuces, greens, baby carrots, squash blossoms, zucchini and herbs.

Center Market: Lots of new items at the indoor market this week. Alex Davis says for the first time this year he has red and green Romaine lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi, three varieties of beets, zucchini and sugar snap peas.

Mat-Su Farm Bureau Farm Tour

The 10th annual Mat-Su Farm Bureau Farm Tour is just around the corner. The tour is Aug. 1 and this year’s theme is Meet Alaska’s Livestock.

“This full-day tour is highlighting the livestock industry that is growing and thriving in and around Palmer,” says Margaret Adsit of Alaska Farm Tours. “You’ll visit the last remaining dairy cattle farm in Alaska and learn about their milking operation, visit a bison farm to learn about these uniquely beautiful animals, and visit an elk and dude ranch where you’ll learn about what it takes to run an elk operation.”

The tour starts in Anchorage and includes transportation to the Valley farms and lunch. Cost is $75 per person. For more information, visit http://www.alaskafarmtours.com/tour/farm-bureau-farm-tour/.

Local farmers markets:

Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall

Friday outside of Anchorage: Palmer Friday Fling, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., South Valley Way

Saturday in Anchorage: Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 15th Avenue and Cordova Street; Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Anchorage Midtown Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., BP Alaska; Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Midtown Mall; Jewel Lake Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., 8427 Jewel Lake Road; Muldoon Farmers Market, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Chanshtnu Muldoon Park; South Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., O’Malley Sports Center; Spenard Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 2555 Spenard Road

Saturday outside of Anchorage: Healy Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Mile 249.2 Parks Highway; Highway’s End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Ocean Drive; Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks

Sunday in Anchorage: Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets

Tuesday outside of Anchorage: Food Bank Farmers Market, 3-6 p.m., Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, 33955 Community College Drive, Soldotna

Wednesday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall; Northway Mall Market, 9a.m.-4 p.m., 3101 Penland Parkway; South Anchorage Wednesday Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., near Dimond Center Hotel; Wednesday Market at Airport Heights, 3-7 p.m., Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop, 2530 E. 16th Ave.

Wednesday outside of Anchorage: Highway’s End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 2-5 p.m., Ocean Drive; Soldotna Wednesday Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Soldotna Creek Park; Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks; Wasilla Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Iditapark/Wonderland Park

Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Midtown Mall

Thursday outside of Anchorage: Peters Creek Farmers Market, 3-7 p.m., American Legion Post 33, 21426 Old Glenn Highway

When we say we’re free in America, what do we mean?

Thu, 2019-07-18 16:22

A bicyclist crosses Front Street in Nome on Friday, June 28, 2019. The U.S. Flags lining Front Street have been up since Memorial Day as residents got ready to celebrate Independence Day with a parade on the 4th of July. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Often heard this past Fourth of July was country singer Lee Greenwood’s patriotic song “God Bless the USA,” with its iconic line, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” For many, the song elicits an emotive pride.

But what we mean by freedom is often a generalized notion: being able to go where we like, say what we think. It’s worth examining more deeply what it means to be a free American.

Franklin Roosevelt laid out one meaning in his “four freedoms” speech of Jan. 6, 1941. Everyone, he said, has a right to freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God in their own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, by which he meant living without the threat of war or terrorism.

If that’s what freedom means, it’s not anything that distinguishes America. People in the western European social democracies enjoy all of these freedoms; so do people in many other nations: Canada, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, for example. It can be argued that people in these countries actually enjoy more freedom than Americans. In these countries, high taxes provide government subsidized child care, health insurance, education and retirement benefits, as well as unemployment insurance and aid for dependent children and mothers. This takes away a great deal of fear about the future that Americans must live with daily, freeing people in those countries to think about community. Most have longer life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates than the United States.

Another meaning links freedom to property. John Locke argued that all people are entitled to property ownership; it reduces one’s vulnerability to manipulation by others. Jefferson took this up, urging that American democracy should rest on independent small land-owners who would be the best guardians of their and their country’s best interests.

Something quite interesting happened to this argument in the modern era. First, it was converted into a defense against taxation, the notion arising that taxes are an immoral seizing of an individual’s freedom. This claim is often made against the income tax, generating challenges to the constitutionality of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; those challenges have failed.

But that argument took a pernicious turn in the hands of a 1986 Nobel laureate economist not widely known, James Buchanan. He reasoned that the dominant motivation for people’s economic actions is self-interest. This was not new, but Buchanan adapted it to the modern age, arguing that those who seek free government services, and those who advocate for such services, are pursuing their own self-interest at the cost of those whose wealth and taxes make those services possible. In his view, the government functions as an instrument to take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who have not, and who therefore do not deserve it. Buchanan regarded this as immoral.

He proposed a remedy for this situation: Cripple or destroy such programs. It would not be enough, he reasoned, to vote into office those who oppose government largesse. A better strategy, he urged, is to block the programs from functioning in the first place. This could be done by legislation starving or eliminating the programs, by judicial action declaring the programs constitutionally flawed, or by executive action blocking their operation.

A number of wealthy individuals who agreed with Buchanan (who died in 2013) established several organizations designed to persuade politicians to adopt his ideas and strategy. These include the State Policy Network, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity.

Buchanan was wrong. Economic self-interest is not the only motivator of human action. People frequently, sometimes routinely, display altruistic behavior, helping others with no expectation of reward. In fact, there is a veritable cottage industry of researchers studying altruistic behavior in human beings.

It seems there are those in America’s wealthy class who do not care about this, or find it mysterious. They should recognize that they depend on those they disparage and denigrate. And there are politicians, some in Alaska, who join them in seeking freedom from participating in the larger society of which they’re all a part.

It’s not a freedom any American should be proud of.

Steve Haycox is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Legislators, restore funding to homeless aid

Thu, 2019-07-18 16:06

A group of campers protesting Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes gather on the Delaney Park Strip Thursday, July 18, 2019. The city has posted notices informing the campers that the camps are illegal and must be removed by Friday. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

In May 1983, with rising deaths in the homeless population and unsafe conditions, Archbishop Francis Hurley worked with two of the Servant Brothers, named Brother Bob and Brother Dave, to find a safe place for unhoused communities: the Rose Garden on the Delaney Park Strip. Anchorage’s new mayor, Tony Knowles, as well as the head of the police and fire departments, worked to help find a more permanent solution. And so Brother Francis Shelter was founded.

The Brother Francis Shelter protest is the starting point for the snowball effect of a budget cut for the state of Alaska if this Legislature does not act.

Camp Here: Occupy to Overcome is just a glimpse of what the future of these cuts will mean to Alaska as a whole.

Throughout this camp display, gracious volunteers have served: two-parent families, single working-parent and single student-parent families, the working handicapped, mentally handicapped, working disabled, mentally disabled, scholars of all ages, pre-school through master’s degree studies, as well as couples and singles all across the board.

Legislators: To sit back and do nothing without exercising your right to represent your people and families that had voted you into office will lead to the snowball effect of a total “economic genocide."

You, as legislators, will have a member or several members of your immediate and extended families affected by your choice not to exercise your right to represent those you elected to serve.

We from Camp Here: Occupy to Overcome ask you, our chosen representatives, to look at your photo albums, Facebook pages, friends and family pictures and take a moment to reflect on the effects of this economic genocide.

Now take a moment to ask yourselves, “Will I represent not only myself, but my friends and family as a whole?”

The courts and correctional systems already have a heavy burden to bear on a day-to-day basis, as well as those who have chosen to wear fire and police badges.

Now take a moment to realize that if these budget cuts take place, the entire Park Strip will be filled with tents occupied by your family and friends that you were elected to serve.

Not only will the Park Strip and other parks within Anchorage be filled with those who will be struggling, but parks and parking lots within your communities and regions which you serve as legislators.

Qaay’aq Qaay’aq Steven Moses, originally of Bethel, is a currently unhoused resident of Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Analysis: You downloaded FaceApp. Here’s what you’ve just done to your privacy.

Thu, 2019-07-18 16:00

FaceApp, which uses artificial intelligence to "age" people, has gone viral. Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler tried it himself - and explored the privacy implications. (Washington Post photo by Geoffrey Fowler) (Geoffrey A. Fowler/)

When an app goes viral, how can you know if it's all good fun - or covertly violating your privacy by, say, sending your face to the Russian government?

That's the burning question about FaceApp, a program that takes photos of people and "ages" them using artificial intelligence. Soon after it shot to the top of the Apple and Google store charts this week, privacy advocates began waving warning flags about the Russian-made app's vague legalese. Word spread quickly that the app might be a disinformation campaign, or secretly downloading your entire photo album.

I got some answers by running my own forensic analysis and talking to the CEO of the company that made the app. But the bigger lesson was how much appmakers and the stores run by Apple and Google leave us flying blind when it comes to privacy.

[Panic over Russian company’s FaceApp is sign of new distrust of Internet]

I raised similar questions a few weeks ago, when I ran an experiment to find out what my iPhone did while I slept at night. I found apps sending my personal information to all sorts of tracking companies I'd never heard of.

So what about FaceApp? It was vetted by Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store, which even labeled it an "Editors' Choice." They both link to its privacy policy - which they know nobody reads.

Looking under the hood of FaceApp with the tools from my iPhone test, I found it sharing information about my phone with Facebook and Google AdMob, which likely help it place ads and check the performance of its ads. The most unsettling part was how much data FaceApp was sending to its own servers, after which . . . who knows what happens. It's not just your own face that FaceApp might gobble up - if you age a friend or family member, their face gets uploaded, too.

In an email exchange, FaceApp's CEO Yaroslav Goncharov tried to clarify some of that.

These five questions are basics we ought to know about any app or service that wants something as personal as our faces.

1) What data do they take?

FaceApp uploads and processes our photos in the cloud, Goncharov said, but the app will “only upload a photo selected by a user for editing.” The rest of your camera roll stays on your phone. You can also use FaceApp without giving it your name or email - and 99% of users do just that, he said.

2) How long do they hold on my data?

The app's terms of service grant it a "perpetual" license to our photos. Goncharov said FaceApp deletes "most" of photos from its servers after 48 hours.

3) What are they doing with my data?

Is FaceApp using our faces and the maps it makes of them for anything other than the express purpose of the app, like running facial identification on us? "No," said Goncharov. Legally, though, the app's terms give it - and whoever might buy it or work with it in the future - the right to do whatever it wants, through an "irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferrable sub-licensable license." (Clear as mud?)

4) Who has access to my data?

Do government authorities in Russia have access to our photos? "No," says Goncharov. FaceApp's engineers are based in Russia, our data is not transferred there. He said the company also doesn't "sell or share any user data with any third parties" - aside, I pointed out, from what it shares with trackers from Facebook and AdMob. (Another exception: Users in Russia may have their data stored in Russia.)

5) How can I delete my data?

Just deleting the app won’t get rid of the photos FaceApp may have in the cloud. Goncharov said people can put in a request to delete all data from FaceApp’s servers, but the process is convoluted. “For the fastest processing, we recommend sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using ‘Settings->Support->Report a bug’ with the word ‘privacy’ in the subject line. We are working on the better UI (user interface) for that," he said.

Why not post this information to FaceApp's website, beyond the legalese? "We are planning to make some improvements," Goncharov said.

Same question for the app stores run by Apple and Google. Those giant companies make money from a cut of upgrades you can purchase in the app. We're literally paying them to read the privacy policies - and vet that companies like FaceApp are telling the truth. Why not better help us understand right where we download what's really going on? Neither company replied with an on-the-record comment.

Much better to help us sort through all of this before millions of us upload our faces somewhere we might regret.

Panic over Russian company’s FaceApp is sign of new distrust of Internet

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:59

FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in New York. The popular app is under fire for privacy concerns. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane) (Jenny Kane/)

Shortly after the playful photo-transforming FaceApp went viral Wednesday as the most-downloaded smartphone app in America, a nationwide panic began to set in: Who was this shadowy Russian tech firm everyone had been sending their photos to? And what did they want with millions of people’s faces?

But some of the darkest fears of a Russian connection, researchers and technical experts said Thursday, appeared to have been overblown: The photos are stored on conventional servers run by American companies, and no evidence has surfaced that the company has ties to the Russian government. Technical analyses also found that the app does not, as some rumors stated, swipe a person's entire cache of photos or open their data to unlimited surveillance.

Still, experts said, the FaceApp anxiety highlighted how quickly public attitudes about the Internet have changed amid a widespread reckoning over data privacy and election interference, with more people beginning to think twice about the personal data they freely give up - and the companies they decide to trust.

[Analysis: You downloaded FaceApp. Here’s what you’ve just done to your privacy.]

FaceApp allows anyone to morph their face into a vision of their future self, and social-media feeds quickly filled with computer-generated portraits marked with wrinkles and graying hair. But the app's development by a largely unknown Russian firm, and its widely permissive rules for how people's photos could be used, triggered alarms in Washington and beyond.

The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday sent an alert to 2020 presidential campaigns, state parties and others in the "Democratic ecosystem," urging everyone to delete the app "immediately," citing concerns that whatever the photo-morphing app was doing with people's data wasn't worth the risk.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., followed shortly afterward with a letter to the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission, calling for officials to launch a national-security investigation into the app and potentially to take steps "to mitigate the risk presented by the aggregation of this data."

"It would be deeply troubling if the sensitive personal information of U.S. citizens was provided to a hostile foreign power actively engaged in cyber hostilities against the United States," Schumer wrote.

Burned by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential race, the party has taken an aggressive stance toward cybersecurity, investing in nationwide education and training programs to boost people's online defenses and prevent a damaging repeat.

But Wednesday's alerts weren't based on any intelligence reports of secret dangers, officials said. Instead, they were a reaction to the broader anxiety swirling across social media and news reports - and a proactive, if evidence-light, response over the possibility that another online fad could turn dangerous.

FaceApp's terms of service grant the company a "perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free (and) worldwide" license to use people's photos, names and likenesses - a wide-open allowance that some worried could erode people's data privacy or control.

But experts said many other apps, from social-media giants like Facebook to pregnancy-tracking apps, carve out the same perpetual corporate rights to user data.

Joseph Jerome, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, described the intense reaction to FaceApp as a "perfect storm" of colliding factors: a general distrust of Russian and Chinese tech companies driven by political turmoil; heightened concerns over the use of facial data; and growing worries over a lack of privacy protections online.

"This is not the exception. This is the rule," Jerome said of the app's terms of service. "Privacy policies are not readable. They are broad (and) they don't actually tell you what companies do and don't do with your information."

Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the panic around FaceApp reflects a broader frustration from people about how their data can be misused, in large part because federal privacy laws can do little against invasive terms of service or privacy policies.

"People shouldn't have to rely on a fine-print privacy policy to protect them," she said. "What you are seeing is a reaction to the fact that we don't have laws that do enough to place guardrails on what a company can do with your data."

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, a small-business law attorney in Silicon Valley, told The Washington Post that she also worried about where that user data would go if the company's fortunes changed.

"They could go under and all their data and all their assets could get bought by somebody that is nefarious or could get appropriated by somebody in the national government," she said. "We in the United States don't have jurisdiction over them."

Before its whirlwind rise, FaceApp was started by Wireless Lab in early 2014, according to a LinkedIn post by its chief executive, Yaroslav Goncharov.

Goncharov studied computer science at one of Russia's largest universities, Saint Petersburg State University, before moving to Redmond, Washington, where he spent three years as a technical lead at Microsoft. He later co-founded a software company that was acquired in 2011 by the search firm Yandex, which many call Russia's Google.

Goncharov told the Moscow publication Afisha.ru in 2017 that he was inspired during his time at Microsoft to design FaceApp, by applying the latest in artificial-intelligence and machine-learning techniques to the mass processing of digital photos. That idea is now commonplace in apps such as Snapchat and Instagram, which use AI software to instantly contort images of cats, nature scenes and people’s faces, often with convincing results.

Goncharov said he spent his evenings writing code for projects, including an automated bot he could play poker with. He called the bot's "neural network" - an AI term for how it processes information - "the simplified analog of the human brain implemented in computer code."

An early version of Goncharov's company was incorporated in Delaware in 2014 as "Hotel WiFi Test Inc," referencing a separate service built to help guests judge hotels based on the speed of their Internet connection, company filings show. The start-up reported about $43,000 in sales for 2017.

That year, the company launched FaceApp and saw it explode across the Web - gaining attention both for its photorealistic results and widely criticized design choices, including "ethnicity filters" that some said were tantamount to virtual blackface. The app has been since been used more than 80 million times.

Goncharov told The Post that FaceApp photos are stored on servers run by the U.S. tech giants Amazon and Google, and that the company does not share or sell data with third parties. But a Post analysis found data flowing to the third-party Facebook and Google trackers that many apps use for online ads, and FaceApp's privacy terms state the company can save a user's uploaded photos and other data, even if a user decides to delete them.

Goncharov said the company deletes "most" photos from its servers after 48 hours, but wouldn't say which ones are stored, or for how long. No user data, he said, goes back to Wireless Lab's research-and-development team in St. Petersburg. A 2016 Delaware tax report for FaceApp listed another office about 50 miles west of its St. Petersburg headquarters, in the town of Sosnovy Bor.

The Russian connection was, to some experts, not as alarming as some in Washington first suspected. Russia's educational system has gained prominence for its burgeoning AI sector, and Google and other tech firms employ engineers and other technical positions in Moscow.

Samsung last year opened an "AI Center" in Moscow's White Square business district, home to the American corporate giants Deloitte and McKinsey & Company. This spring, AI engineers at the Moscow lab unveiled a breakthrough: a new style of "deepfake" technology that can automatically create convincing animations of a person's face from just a single photo.

FaceApp is also far from the only popular foreign-born app with curious data practices. The viral video-sharing app TikTok is owned by one of China's most valuable tech firms, Bytedance, now worth more than $75 billion. The Beijing-based app has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the U.S., and more than a billion times worldwide.

"I wouldn't look at a project and judge it based on the city of origin," said Oren Etzioni, the CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research center in Seattle. "I would judge it based on the quality of work and the particular application. Just because it's from St. Petersburg or Beijing does not at all mean it's bad. And just because it was developed by the NSA or the U.S. doesn't mean it's good."

The real issue, Etzioni said, was how the data was used - whether users understood how the photos might be used for different purposes, or what they were giving up. "That's a subject of concern for all of us. Not just, 'Oh my god, it's Russia,' " he said.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Natalia Abbakumova, Alice Crites, Magda Jean-Louis and Hamza Shaban contributed to this report.

Emmonak man defends himself in assault case, gets 17 years in prison

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:40

A 28-year-old rural Alaska man who acted as his own attorney in a felony domestic violence case, and cross-examined his ex-girlfriend on the stand for more than eight hours, has been sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Michael Redfox of Emmonak at a March trial in Bethel was convicted of three felony assault charges.

Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Peters sentenced him Wednesday. State prosecutors say Peters noted that Redfox's prospects for rehabilitation were poor based on past criminal history.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Redfox strangled his girlfriend several different times during the attack and at one point, she stabbed Redfox in the forehead with a screwdriver to make him stop.

Redfox at sentencing said he was a strong candidate for rehabilitation because he had completed substance abuse programs.

Alaska attorney general defends veto of court system funding over abortion ruling

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:38

This photo from Jan. 30, 2019, shows Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, right, during a news conference with state Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman, left, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, center, in Juneau. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)

Alaska’s attorney general says Gov. Mike Dunleavy was within his constitutional rights to cut the court system budget for a decision he didn’t like.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in a statement Thursday says a governor has line-item budget veto power over all appropriations, without exception.

Dunleavy's budget vetoes last month included a $334,700 cut to the court system, the amount spent on state-funded abortions.

The Alaska Supreme Court this year ruled that a state law defining what constitutes a medically necessary abortion was unconstitutional.

The ACLU of Alaska sued Wednesday, claiming Dunleavy’s budget reduction to the court system was a threat to judicial independence.

Clarkson says the lawsuit proposes that the judiciary control how the other two branches of government fund the courts.

[Alaska hospital group sues Dunleavy administration over Medicaid cuts]

Two big air cargo projects proposed for Anchorage International Airport

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:23

An Atlas Air Boeing 747-400 freighter taxis past one of two sites at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Tuesday, July 16, 2019, where proposed air cargo expansion facilities would be constructed. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Two projects proposed at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport would, if approved, bring hundreds of thousands of square feet of new warehouse and cargo space to what is already the fifth-busiest cargo airport in the world.

An Alaska investment firm is behind one of the projects, a warehouse with cold storage space, and a Lower 48 cargo facility company is behind the other, which would allow for faster cargo transfer between aircraft. The developments would be located on airport land that is currently occupied mostly by grass and shrubs — one next to the FedEx facility and the other on a piece of land across the north-south runway.

Cold storage at the airport would grow capacity for companies to ship seafood and other perishables to and from markets in Asia, or capitalize on Alaska’s growing peony industry, said airport manager Jim Szczesniak. The cargo transfer facility would allow aircraft to land, unload, and get going to their next destination, rather than wait on other planes to land.

Such additions to expand the airport’s cargo capacity are long overdue, said an architect on one of the projects. Both are still in a public comment period before they can officially move forward.

It has been more than 20 years since the last cargo facility was built at Ted Stevens, said Szczesniak. Last fall, the airport put out feelers to see if there were any businesses interested in pursuing such projects there.

The company that proposed one of the projects is 6A-XL Aviation Alaska, owned by Maryland-based company 6A Aviation Inc. That development would be 500,000 square feet of space to facilitate cargo transfers between aircraft. The other project, backed by Anchorage firm McKinley Capital through a company called Alaska Cargo and Cold Storage, would be a 700,000-square-foot cold storage and general warehouse space.

By comparison, the FedEx facility at the airport is 450,000 square feet, according to a spokesman from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

“These are pretty big developments,” said Szczesniak. The estimated value of the 6A project is $170 million and the estimated value of the other is $200 million, according to land lease applications filed with transportation department.

While the Anchorage airport is already the fifth-largest airport in the world by cargo throughput, according to the state, Szczesniak wants to add business opportunities for flights that already make stops here.

“So now not only do you have your stopover, but you have the ability to make revenue by swapping cargo, getting new stuff, dropping stuff off, that it makes Anchorage so much more attractive compared to competitors" such as Canadian airports in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, he said.

Anchorage International is unique among most airports because of expanded rights it has had for cargo transfers since 2004. That means flights with cargo going to or from an international destination can stop in Anchorage and transfer that cargo between aircraft without it being considered to have broken its international journey. That makes the facility all the more attractive for prospective freight business.

[Using fungi, UAA team develops biodegradable insulation for shipping Alaska seafood]

Right now, there’s not a facility for aircraft-to-aircraft cargo transfers on airport property. Having one will make the process more efficient and give planes a spot indoors to unload goods.

“This facility will handle the freight and keep it out of the elements," said 6A vice president of sales Lawrence Majewski.

In recent years, state and private entities have identified air cargo as one industry in Alaska that is ripe for growth, by leveraging its prime location between Asia and the Lower 48.

“We’ve already got the planes,” Szczesniak said. “Now, with these projects, we’ll have the infrastructure that makes that process efficient, which will strengthen our market.”

If approved, the projects are expected to be finished two to three years from when work starts. Both are privately funded, and would lease the land from the airport. The 6A Aviation facility has an airline or airlines involved on the project, but Majewski would not say who, citing confidentiality agreements.

The developments “are years overdue,” said Jason Gamache, principal architect on the project, at Anchorage firm MCG Architecture Design. “Our airport’s been hungry for it for quite a while.”

Following a period of challenges around the Great Recession, the U.S. aviation industry in recent years has rebounded some, thanks to e-commerce. While Alaska just weathered a three-year recession, “the overlapping aviation industry has continued to grow,” Gamache said.

“We have a huge resource here, and it’s not the resource everybody often thinks of,” he said. “In fact, a fairly invisible resource.”

The projects would be large investments in Anchorage at a time when some economists say the state may be poised to return to a recession if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s massive vetoes to the state budget stand. Szczesniak isn’t concerned by such forecasts.

[Dunleavy budget vetoes will result in Alaska job losses, economists say]

“I saw a great T-shirt back in 2008, and the T-shirt said, ‘I refuse to participate in your recession.’ And that’s kind of our attitude,” he said. “The governor says the state’s open for business, and we’re moving forward with it and I’m not worried about any external issues. We have a tremendous asset here. We’re maximizing that asset.”

Rob Gillam, CEO of McKinley Capital, said that while the firm historically has invested outside of Alaska, more recently it is investing here.

“One of the many things we think is a good idea is world logistics and transportation, which is a play on Asia,” he said. “(The Anchorage airport) is playing a central role in that.”

The demand for the cargo transfer facility is driven by e-commerce growth, said Majewski with 6A.

“Trying to get packages faster, that’s what’s really driving expansion,” he said.

Amazon recently announced its air cargo operation, Amazon Air, would start serving the airport as of last month. The two proposed warehouse projects are unrelated to that, Szczesniak said.

There’s more cargo expansion happening at the airport beyond these proposed projects. The FedEx Express facility there is set to upgrade gates to accommodate growth in Boeing 777F operations, the state transportation department announced last month.

Anchorage burn ban remains in place as state lifts campfire restriction

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:21

Although some campfires are now allowed in designated areas, Anchorage fire officials are stressing that the municipality’s burn ban is still in place.

A bout of lower temperatures and rainfall prompted state forestry officials to lift a campfire restriction for Southcentral Alaska early Thursday morning, meaning that campfires less than 3 feet in diameter are allowed again on city, state and private lands.

The restriction had been in place since July 9.

In Anchorage, though, those campfires are limited only to certain locations in state parks that fall within the municipality.

“While campfires will be allowed in designated fire pits and rings in state campgrounds within the Municipality of Anchorage, the Municipality is retaining its ban on outdoor fires within the rest of the Municipality,” the Division of Forestry said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

[Swan Lake fire smoke drifts back into Anchorage]

[Swan Lake Fire may have ruined a weekend, but there is relief that it finally happened]

In the nearly three weeks since Anchorage instituted its burn ban, the only fires allowed outdoors have been those contained in barbecue and pellet grills. Outdoor fireplaces, like chimeneas, were prohibited June 28, and burning yard debris and trash is already illegal.

Burn restrictions issued by federal agencies on federal land, as well as burn suspensions enacted by local forestry offices, were not affected when the state Division of Forestry’s campfire restriction was lifted. Burn suspensions remain in effect for the Kenai, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and Copper River areas as of Thursday.

On Thursday, 221 wildfires were burning statewide, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Smoke from the Swan Lake fire, which is burning 101,000 acres on the Kenai Peninsula, drifted into Anchorage on Thursday, leaving a distinctly smoky smell hanging around town. The air quality index remained moderate — below “unhealthy” levels, according to state air quality data — and a National Weather Service forecaster said that while smoke could be a problem again Friday morning, there’s a chance it could clear up by the weekend due to shifting weather conditions.

Letter: Remedial coursework

Thu, 2019-07-18 14:24

Note to legislators: Perhaps if you had paid attention in class, studied harder and completed your homework assignments, you wouldn’t have to attend summer school.

— David Falsey

Anchorage

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

Letter: Souls are born at conception

Thu, 2019-07-18 14:23

Abortion is a volatile and emotional issue, particularly now, with the recent changes a few states have passed restricting the act. I’ve read impassioned letters from women who claim their intractable rights when it comes to their bodies. I agree, if their rights include not having unprotected sex, avoiding risky behavior and dressing in an inappropriate way.

Much has been said about the unborn and when an abortion is justified. Remarkably, that includes partial-birth abortion, which I consider barbaric and, frankly, murder. It has been stated that abortion is OK up until a heartbeat is detected at about six weeks. Looking at this objectively picking a point where the child has a right to survive, I find that the point of conception is the most significant.

The moment of conception is miraculous, where the egg and the sperm join and a life begins. No other point in the nine months of development is as significant. It is my personal belief that point is where God imparts a soul. Not when breaching the birth canal or the moment when a heartbeat is detected. I know I’ll hear about rape, incest and the like, but those circumstances are in the minority and few courageous women chose to protect the innocent child, carrying it to term. In the final analysis, it comes down to taking responsibility for your actions by not putting the burden on the helpless, innocent unborn.

— William Ahrens

Eagle River

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

U.S. lawmakers propose ban on export of tribes’ sacred items

Thu, 2019-07-18 14:13

File - In this April 15, 2019 file photo, U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, left, and Debra Haaland of New Mexico speak at a field hearing of a House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources in Santa Fe, N.M. Lawmakers are making a renewed push in Congress to ban collectors and vendors from exporting Native American ceremonial items. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File) (Morgan Lee/)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A group of U.S. lawmakers made another push Thursday to ban collectors and vendors from exporting Native American ceremonial items to foreign markets, including Paris, where there has been uproar over auction houses listing tribal pieces for sale over the years.

The lawmakers introduced the Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, which would also increase penalties within the United States for trafficking objects that tribes hold sacred by increasing prison time from five years to 10 years for violating the law more than once.

At the same time, the bill would establish a framework for collectors to return protected items to tribes and avoid facing penalties.

The change was proposed by a group that includes Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Don Young, R-Alaska, and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

In 2016, Heinrich blamed federal legal loopholes for stifling efforts to retrieve a ceremonial shield from a Paris auction house that year.

“It is only right for other countries to respect ownership of the sacred treasures, artifacts and other items belonging to Native Americans,” Cole said Thursday. He and Haaland are among four Native American representatives in Congress.

“By protecting and repatriating tribal cultural heritage, we are also actively preserving the cultural identity and history of our Native populations," Murkowski said in a statement. "This process of returning stolen items back to their rightful owners in our Native communities aids in the process of healing from cultural oppression.”

Lujan, who is the assistant House speaker, said he was confident the bipartisan legislation would pass.

U.S. law prohibits the trafficking of certain items domestically but does not explicitly ban dealers from exporting them, according to lawmakers.

“The STOP Act is a critical step — the legal protection of our cultural heritage will help ensure the history of misappropriation of Native objects will not repeat itself,” Vivian Korthuis, CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said in a statement. “These objects belong to us — they are a part of the legacy we will always share with future generations.”

Collectors have expressed concern that the legislative efforts hurt the market for Native American artifacts.

Last year, a federal report found the number of Native American cultural items listed for bidding at five Paris auction houses declined after outcry led French dealers to halt the sale of the Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield in May 2016.

Tribal leaders said the circular shield was taken from their village in New Mexico decades ago before appearing for sale on the auction house's website.

In 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 220 items were listed in Paris auction catalogs with less than a third of the items marked as sold. By year's end, the number of items listed dropped 75 percent.

Last week, a settlement agreement in U.S. court in New Mexico called for the Eve auction house to release the shield to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, so it could be returned to Acoma Pueblo.

The agreement involved Acoma Pueblo and Jerold Collings, a resident of New Mexico who has said he inherited the shield from his mother.

The U.S. attorney’s office in New Mexico has sought to execute a warrant granted by U.S. courts for the return of the shield.

Its return to New Mexico would require cooperation from the auction house in Paris. Eve did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Thursday.

The heat goes on: June was the toastiest on record, and July may follow

Thu, 2019-07-18 13:18

People cool off in the fountains of the Trocadero gardens, in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. Schools are spraying kids with water and nursing homes are equipping the elderly with hydration sensors as France and other nations battle a record-setting heat wave baking much of Europe. On Thursday, July 18, 2019, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that June averaged 60.6 degrees (15.9 Celsius), about 1.7 degrees (0.9 Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average. It beat out 2016 for the hottest June with records going back to 1880. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly) (Lewis Joly/)

WASHINGTON — The heat goes on: Earth sizzled to its hottest June on record as the climate keeps going to extremes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday announced that June averaged 60.6 degrees, about 1.7 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

It beat out 2016 for the hottest June with records going back to 1880. NASA and other groups also concluded that last month was the hottest June on record.

Europe shattered June temperature records by far, while other records were set in Russia, Africa, Asia and South America. France had its hottest month in history, which is unusual because July is traditionally hotter than June. The Lower 48 states in America were near normal.

"Earth is running a fever that won't break thanks to climate change," North Carolina state climatologist Kathie Dello said in an email. "This won't be the last record warm summer month that we will see."

It seems likely that July too will be a record hot month, said Berkeley Earth climate scientist Robert Rohde.

The United States set a record for most precipitation. The 12-month period from July 2018 to June 2019 was the wettest on record.

The first half of 2019 is tied with 2017 for the second hottest initial six months of the year, behind 2016. So far the year is 1.7 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

This heat “is what we can expect to see with a warming climate,” said Freja Vamborg, a climate scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service in Europe.

Trump says not happy with backers’ ‘send her back’ chant

Thu, 2019-07-18 13:15

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Gerry Broome/)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday he was unhappy with his supporters chanting “send her back” after he assailed a young Democratic congresswoman who he’s suggested should leave the U.S.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump claimed he tried to stop the chant, which came after he recited a litany of complaints about Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who fled to the U.S. as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia. Video shows the president pausing his remarks, appearing to drink in the uproar and not admonishing his supporters as they chanted.

"I was not happy with it," Trump said a day later as some prominent Republicans criticized the chant at the president's re-election event. He said he "would certainly try" to stop the chant should it return at a subsequent rally.

So far, no GOP lawmakers are directly taking on Trump over the episode.

The muted reactions by congressional Republicans followed a pattern that's become familiar after numerous incidents in Trump's presidency when he's made antagonistic or racially provocative comments.

At the Wednesday campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump tore into four progressive freshman congresswomen who last weekend he tweeted should return to their native countries if they “hate America.” Of the four, who strongly oppose many of Trump’s policies, one is black, one is Hispanic and two are Muslim. All are American citizens, and three were born here.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters that such cries "have no place in our party and no place in this country."

But McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally, said the president's aversion to Omar is based on ideology, not race.

"This is about socialism vs. freedom," he said, a refrain Republicans are increasingly using as they begin trying to frame their offensive against Democrats for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that the "send her back" chant was "ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union."

Rep. Tom Emmer, who heads the House GOP's campaign organization, told reporters, "There's no place for that kind of talk. I don't agree with it."

But he defended Trump, saying there isn't "a racist bone in this president's body" and asserting that Trump "said wrong" what he actually meant.

"What he was trying to say is that if you don't appreciate this country, you don't have to be here. That goes for every one of us. It has nothing to do with your race, your gender, your family history. It has to do with respecting and loving the country that has given you the opportunities which you have."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Fox Business News that it's time to "lower the rhetoric" about racism. He did not mention the crowd's chants or Trump's acceptance of them.

Besides Omar, Trump has also been criticizing Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The Democratic-led House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump's tweets as racist. On Wednesday, it rejected an effort by one Democrat that was opposed by party leaders to impeach Trump.

___

AP writers Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed.

Alaska hospital group sues Dunleavy administration over Medicaid cuts

Thu, 2019-07-18 13:02

Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks and answers questions about his recent budget vetoes at the start of a meeting with members of his cabinet in Anchorage on July 15, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association has sued the state of Alaska and the Department of Health and Social Services, arguing that the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy improperly used emergency regulations to slash Medicaid payments to doctors, clinics and other health care providers. The administration has said it is seeking to make the regulations permanent.

The lawsuit and an accompanying motion for summary judgment claim the governor and his administration created an emergency by vetoing portions of the Medicaid budget, deliberately underfunding Medicaid in order to justify the reductions to doctors.

“As a matter of law, these emergency regulations and proposed permanent regulations are inconsistent with both state and federal law, are arbitrary, and violate due process,” states a motion for summary judgment filed by attorney Jahna Lindemuth on behalf of the association.

Lindemuth was attorney general under former Gov. Bill Walker.

The suit was filed July 12 in Alaska Superior Court at Anchorage. If the lawsuit is successful, it would require the state to reverse the cuts. The state could seek to reimpose them through the traditional regulatory process, which is slower.

KTUU first reported the lawsuit.

Under the emergency regulations, in effect from July 1 to Oct. 28, the state reduced payments to doctors by 5% and eliminated a scheduled inflation adjustment, further reducing payments.

Those regulations were announced June 28, following Dunleavy’s veto of $117 million from the state’s Medicaid program the same day.

In its lawsuit, the association says that the state’s “emergency” claim is artificial. In signing a justification for the emergency regulations, Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum wrote that the Medicaid program “will be significantly underfunded in fiscal year 2020.”

“Given the simultaneous nature of Gov. Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes and Commissioner Crum’s ‘Finding of Emergency,’ " reads the lawsuit, “it appears that the underfunding causing this emergency is not an ‘emergency’ at all. This underfunding is an occurrence entirely of the Dunleavy Administration’s own deliberate creation.”

The lawsuit claims that payments to doctors are now “below the reasonable cost of services” required by state law.

Almost 30% of Alaska’s population uses Medicaid for health care, according to the latest available statistics from the state.

“While DHSS purports to consider the short-term impact of the funding shortfall on care in its finding of emergency," the summary judgment motion states, “DHSS has not considered what the rate reductions will do in the longer term to access to care for all Medicaid recipients. If providers are underfunded, they will have to cut services and access to care will go down.”

The suit is one of several significant legal actions against the Dunleavy administration since it took office in December.

The administration has been accused of illegally vetoing money from the Alaska Court System budget, illegally firing state employees (two separate suits were filed), improperly seeking the privatization of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, failing to implement a school funding law passed by the Legislature, improperly delaying the distribution of school funds, and improperly setting the location of the ongoing special session.

One lawsuit backing the governor’s position on the special session has also been filed.

According to the Alaska Court System’s online database, former Gov. Walker did not face similar legal challenges during his first eight months in office. The first major lawsuit against his administration was filed nine months in, when the Alaska Legislature challenged his unilateral decision to expand the state’s Medicaid program. A judge later dismissed the lawsuit.

American warship destroys Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz

Thu, 2019-07-18 13:01

In this May 1, 2019, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) transits the San Diego Bay in San Diego, Calif. President Donald Trump says the USS Boxer destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Trump says it's the latest "hostile" action by Iran. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse Monford/U.S. Navy via AP) (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse Monford/)

WASHINGTON — A U.S. warship on Thursday destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship, President Donald Trump said. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike.

In remarks at the White House, Trump blamed Iran for a "provocative and hostile" action and said the U.S. responded in self-defense.

He said the Navy's USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, took defensive action after the Iranian aircraft closed to within 1,000 yards of the ship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.

"The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce," Trump said.

The Pentagon said the incident happened at 10 a.m. local time Thursday in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.

"A fixed-wing unmanned aerial system approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a written statement. "The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew."

The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it's not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship.

In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the U.S. ships.

Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from American warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard's small fast boats often cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into them in "swarm attacks." The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles.

Thursday's incident was the latest in a series of events that raised U.S.-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf. In response, the U.S. accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to the Gulf state of Qatar. It has since deployed additional Patriot air defense missile batteries in the Gulf region.

Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone aircraft on June 20, Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any U.S. lives.

Iran claimed the U.S. drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Thursday that Iran and the U.S. were only “a few minutes away from a war” after Iran downed the American drone. He spoke to U.S.-based media on the sidelines of a visit to the United Nations.

Zarif also blamed Washington for the escalation of tensions.

"We live in a very dangerous environment," he said. "The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss." Zarif accused the Trump administration of "trying to starve our people" and "deplete our treasury" through economic sanctions.

Earlier Thursday, Iran said its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports passes through the strait.

___

Associated Press writers Ian Phillips in New York and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Letter: Recall Dunleavy

Thu, 2019-07-18 12:59

I’ll be brief and not take up valuable space. It’s time to speed up the recall process for our governor, before he wreaks havoc on our state with his destructive budget cuts, with the resultant job losses and loss of educational opportunities, just to name two effects of his policies. He will damage this state more than our split Legislature can repair. Just as one doesn’t attempt to train a rabid dog, one doesn’t attempt to reason with or protest against a Koch-fueled ideologue. The recall must occur as soon as possible.

— David P. Werner

Palmer

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

Letter: Cancel the cuts

Thu, 2019-07-18 12:57

We implore legislators to restore funding and cancel the slashing cuts the governor has made. It serves no purpose to decimate groups and cause further hardships to citizens. We did not move to Alaska 35 years ago for the Permanent Fund dividend. We did not even know it was being considered when we decided to move here. We did not move here because it was tax free. We had paid our fair share of taxes in every other state in which we lived. We live in Seldovia, within the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and pay borough taxes as well as city taxes. We are definitely not opposed to a state income tax. We believe the entire voting block of the state should decide whether or not there should be a state income tax.

We thought Gov. Bill Walker did the right thing by limiting the PFD to help reduce the budget. In our own personal budget, we make gradual sacrifices to keep it in control. When things were tight we did not stop feeding our children so we could meet obligations. We did not kick our children out because they were too expensive to care for.

What really gets our goat is that Gov. Mike Dunleavy spent thousands of dollars to hire a budget slasher who has no sense of the reality of Alaska’s issues. We wonder if Dunleavy has any grasp on our issues if he thinks increasing our homeless population or causing people to leave the state is any solution. There are many qualified economists in Alaska who he could have consulted without bringing in a dummy to do his dirty work.

It also makes no sense to spend more money to have a special session in another location that is not equipped to handle it. Does Dunleavy think Alaskans are so stupid that we believe legislators will make a better decision in unfamiliar location?

Finally, we do not very often contact our legislators with issues, as we feel they don’t have time to answer our letters. Experience has shown us that those who agree with us will answer and those who oppose us just tend to ignore our opinions and don’t answer the letter.

We hope the Anchorage Daily News will publish this letter to everyone.

— Jan and Dick WylandSeldovia

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