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Trump slams congresswomen at rally; crowd roars, ‘Send her back!’

Wed, 2019-07-17 17:37

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Going after four Democratic congresswomen one by one, a combative President Donald Trump turned his campaign rally Wednesday into an extended dissection of the liberal views of the women of color, deriding them for what he painted as extreme positions and suggesting they just get out.

"Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down," Trump told the crowd in North Carolina, a swing state he won in 2016 and wants to claim again in 2020. "They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, 'Hey if you don't like it, let 'em leave, let 'em leave.'"

Eager to rile up his base with the some of the same kind of rhetoric he targeted at minorities and women in 2016, Trump declared, "I think in some cases they hate our country."

Trump's jabs were aimed at the self-described "squad" of four freshmen Democrats who have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and distaste for Trump: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family.

Taking the legislators on one at a time, Trump ticked through a laundry list of what he deemed offensive comments by each woman, mangling and misconstruing many facts along the way.

Omar came under the harshest criticism as Trump played to voters' grievances, drawing a chant from the crowd of "Send her back! Send her back!"

[Democrats divided as House votes to kill resolution on Trump impeachment]

Trump set off a firestorm Sunday when he tweeted that the four should "go back" to their home countries — though three were born in the United States. Trump has accused them of "spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician."

Before he left Washington, Trump said he has no regrets about his ongoing spat with the four. Trump told reporters he thinks he's "winning the political argument" and "winning it by a lot."

"If people want to leave our country, they can. If they don't want to love our country, if they don't want to fight for our country, they can," Trump said. "I'll never change on that."

Trump's harsh denunciations were another sign of his willingness to exploit the nation's racial divisions heading into the 2020 campaign.


People in the audience cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

His speech was filled with Trump's trademark criticisms about the news media, which he says sides with liberals, and of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Mueller had been scheduled to testify Wednesday on Capitol Hill, but it was postponed. Trump brought him up anyway. "What happened to me with this witch hunt should never be allowed to happen to another president," he said.

He also talked about illegal immigration, a main theme of his first presidential bid that is taking center stage in his re-election campaign. He brushed off the criticism he has gotten for saying that the congresswomen should go back home. "So controversial," he said sarcastically.

The four freshmen have portrayed the president as a bully who wants to "vilify" not only immigrants, but all people of color. They say they are fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs and pass a Green New Deal addressing climate change, while his thundering attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of America values.

The Democratic-led U.S. House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump for what it labeled “racist comments,” despite near-solid GOP opposition and the president’s own insistence that he doesn’t have a “racist bone” in his body.

Trump hasn't shown signs of being rattled by the House rebuke, and called an impeachment resolution that failed in Congress earlier Wednesday "ridiculous." The condemnation carries no legal repercussions and his latest harangues struck a chord with supporter in Greenville, whose chants of "Four more years!" and "Build that wall!" bounced off the rafters.

Vice President Mike Pence was first up after spending the day in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and visiting troops at Fort Bragg. "North Carolina and America needs four more years," Pence said.

It was Trump's sixth visit to the state as president and his first 2020 campaign event in North Carolina, where he defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Before Trump arrived, Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, spoke at a rally in Greenville and called Trump "just another corrupt snake oil salesman."

“From sparking a harmful trade war that puts our farmers in the crosshairs, to giving corporations a billion-dollar giveaway at the expense of our middle class, to repeatedly pushing to end protections for pre-existing conditions and raise health care costs, his broken promises have hurt hard-working families across North Carolina,” Goodwin said.

Legislature should compromise, fix spending problem

Wed, 2019-07-17 16:37

Empty seats are seen at a joint session of the Alaska Legislature, called to consider overriding Gov.Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes Wednesday, July 10, 2019, Juneau, Alaska. Nearly a third of lawmakers were absent from the session at the Capitol, opting to meet in Wasilla instead, leaving only 38 members meeting in Juneau. It would take 45 votes to override the vetoes. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP) (Michael Penn/)

I have been a keen observer of the Alaska political scene for more than five decades, including 15 years as an elected official. The recent special session debacle represents perhaps the most dysfunctional several weeks of our state government in ‘'inaction'’ as I have ever witnessed. Unlike many pundits and editorial writers, who try to lay the blame on the 22 legislators who convened in Wasilla, the real problem was with the majority of legislators who decided to ignore the governor’s proclamation declaring a special session and identifying the location outside of Juneau, as he is allowed to do by statute.

What could possibly have been accomplished by convening in Juneau? The majority lacked the 45 votes necessary to overturn vetoes. The majority even lacked the 40 votes needed to call their own special session. Clearly, the cards were held by the minority and the governor, and they were in Wasilla, ready to work with the majority on possible compromise solutions. The majority members were like my friend Bob, who went to Vegas and promptly sat down at an empty poker table and demanded to play. He was politely informed that you have be at a table where the cards are being dealt.

It is my belief that if the majority had gone to Wasilla and engaged with their colleagues, they would have likely agreed on restoring certain budget items through veto overrides and could have likely got the governor’s concurrence as well. Instead, they engaged in what I consider to be a childish power play, essentially saying, ‘‘We’ll meet where we damn well please, even though we will accomplish nothing in the process.’’ Many members of the majority group are friends and people I have politically supported over the years. It is time for these folks to swallow a little pride and work with the other 22 members for the good of Alaska.

Therein lies the rub, of course. What is best for Alaska and in particular, what is the fate of the Permanent Fund dividend? The people of Alaska have diverse opinions on this hot topic and legislators are clearly torn about the path forward as well. Is it the people’s money, the rainy-day fund or some combination of the two? Many Alaskans are clearly skeptical of letting government get its hands on another source of revenue, and given the unsustainable spending of the past 15 years or so, it’s not hard to sympathize with that position. This is even more evident when the spending over the last few years has been funded by using our savings accounts to pay for recurring costs. It’s not how any of us would ideally fund our household budgets.

What has been lost in the discussion is the fact that Alaska has been in this position several times in the past few decades, generally as a result of crashing oil prices. We survived these down times by tightening our belts and becoming more efficient. We survived without once tampering with the statutory formula for calculating dividends. In good times and bad, the formula has worked for Alaskans.

Like the price of oil, the investment returns that fund the PFD has had its highs and lows and Alaskans have seen dividends as low as $600 and as high as $2,200. Alaskans accepted the dividends, both high and low, because they believed in the fairness and honesty incorporated into the formula. We accepted the results because we knew that politicians wouldn’t be able to access the fund and spend it like they have done with the Constitutional Budget Reserve. Armed with a court ruling, our legislators and the previous administration have broken that trust and the money grab is on.

One thing I have learned about government is that it will spend every dime you give it, justify it, and ask for more. I urge our legislators, particularly the rogue majority, to sit at the table where the cards are being dealt, and work with the governor and minority members to correct the spending problem that is threatening Alaska’s financial future.

Dan Sullivan served as mayor of Anchorage from 2009-2015.

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.

Alaska public schools will continue to receive state funding amid lawsuit, judge orders

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:37

State funding for Alaska public schools will continue uninterrupted despite a recent lawsuit, a superior court judge ordered Wednesday.

Schools should receive their first monthly payments within the next week, according to assistant attorney general Maria Bahr.

Meanwhile, the dispute continues between the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy over whether legislators can legally fund schools for multiple years. The courts are expected to resolve the fight. The Legislature on Tuesday sued Dunleavy over the school funding issue.

The issue stems from 2018 when legislators approved two years of education funding, for school years 2018-19 and 2019-20. They said at the time that they wanted to provide schools with some stability. For 2019-20, they agreed to fund schools at the same level as the prior year, with an additional $30 million, one-time grant. Then-Gov. Bill Walker approved the budget.

But Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his administration say the Legislature’s funding appropriation for 2019-20 is unconstitutional and violates the annual budgeting process mandated by the state constitution.

Since the funding isn’t legal, schools aren’t funded in the current fiscal year, the administration says. On Monday, the state didn’t issue its first round of funding checks to schools. That triggered the lawsuit.

Legislators say the funding for 2019-20 is legal. The governor, by withholding the money, is failing to follow a constitutional appropriation by the Legislature, they say.

Attorneys for Dunleavy and the Legislature filed a joint motion in court Tuesday asking the judge to order school funding to continue amid the lawsuit. Superior Court Judge Daniel Shally signed the order Wednesday.

The monthly payments will not include the one-time $30 million. Whether that funding is paid will depend on the final court ruling in the case, Bahr said.

Restore reasonable funding for the University of Alaska

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:28

Todd Paris / University of Alaska Fairbanks A crowd gathered in Cornerstone Plaza on the UAF campus for the formal rededication of the UAF cornerstone, originally laid in 1915 by Territorial Judge James Wickersham. (Todd Paris / University of Alaska Fairbanks/)

I am shocked and disappointed at the callous manner in which Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration and the Legislature have let down Alaska’s brightest and most promising students. The administration’s $135 million in cuts to the University of Alaska affected students’ scholarships and academic programs, and the Legislature’s failure to re-appropriate funds swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) on June 30 may have drained Alaska’s Higher Education Investment Fund of nearly $350 million.

The administration has failed to explain its reasons for the cuts or its vision for the role of the University in Alaska after the cuts. The legislators who failed to vote for the so-called “reverse sweep” have failed to justify the impact of their vote on Alaska’s Higher Education Investment Fund or the impact of their vote on the students who have lost their scholarships or academic degree programs.

Merit-based performance scholarships were granted to 3,270 Alaska youths, at a cost of $10.8 million annually. Nearly 1 in 5 students seeking degrees had qualified for a scholarship. The other program, needs-based education grants, or financial aid, were granted to 2,030 degree-seeking students. More than 1 in 10 received financial aid, which cost $4 million annually.

Altogether, the two programs support more than 5,000 students annually with financial aid of approximately $15.2 million, or about 30% of university degree-seekers.

Precipitously cutting these scholarships is a significant violation of trust. These students were awarded their scholarships on which they charted their educational plans in good faith, only to have the state government snatch them away.

Similar consideration must be given to the impacts of the Legislature’s and administration’s cuts on non-scholarship University of Alaska students. In many cases, the academic degree programs they have been pursuing will be discontinued and they will be forced to go to school out of state and at higher cost.

When I was governor, we supported a program, the Alaska Scholars program, offering financial aid and or scholarships to the top 10% of the graduates from every high school in the state. Our objective was not only to keep our students in Alaska, but to cause students from one part of Alaska to meet and appreciate students from other parts of the state. For these reasons, we gave the scholarship program a much higher priority than the Permanent Fund dividend.

One can only speculate on the impact the administration’s and Legislature’s actions may have on the university’s students’ future educational dreams, and most disturbing, their faith in state government. I strongly urge the governor and the Legislature to quickly restore these funds for the future leadership of Alaska.

Frank Murkowski formerly served as Alaska’s governor from 2002-2006. Prior to his service as governor, he was a U.S. senator from Alaska.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)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.

Mountain biking — try it, you might rock it

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:12

Bikes rest on the sign noting the location of Devils Pass near the Resurrection Trial. (Anne Raup / ADN archive)

I am not a religious person. Yet, I come pretty close to proselytizing when I preach the virtues of mountain biking.

I feel strongly about it because at one point I thought I wasn’t capable of it, but little did I know: there are these things called gears that make it easy to crawl up hills on two wheels. The feeling of racing along a path on a bike is, for me, a high.

Still, my path to fully embracing mountain biking was rocky. Literally rocky.

My lowest low with mountain biking was in my early 20s. It was my second time on a mountain bike. It was ill-fitting, and I didn’t understand how clip-in pedals worked. I was riding with a boyfriend through a network of trails near a saltwater marsh in Massachusetts, and we got lost. The path was full of boulders (giant in my memory, but probably actually not that big) and I wasn’t adept enough to navigate them so I had to walk my bike.

Given it was a sticky, midsummer day and we were in a marsh, the mosquitoes took notice. At one point as I pushed my bike toward what I hoped was the car, a mosquito clung to my eyelid. My eyelid!

I remember screaming in frustration. When we eventually made it back to the car, I swore off mountain biking. It was too hard; it was one of those outdoor activities that other people were capable of, but not me. I’d stick to the slower activities like hiking, running and swimming, thank you very much.

Fast forward many years later to Alaska, where the fat-tire bike was gaining popularity. I eyed these bikes suspiciously at first, but with a secret thrill. Sure, I thought the people that rode them around the urban trails of Anchorage in the summer looked ridiculous. Why do you need all that tire to ride on pavement? Are you just showing off? Then again, it seemed amazing and magical to float on snow in the winter.

I rented fat bikes a few times with friends and, especially as winters ceased to sustain my favorite activity, cross-country skiing, I finally made the leap to buy one.

Here’s the thing: a fat tire bike doubles as a mountain bike in the summer.

Yes, there are bells and whistles on “real” mountain bikes that the fat-tire bike doesn’t have: full suspension, for instance. But my bike, a Salsa Mukluk I picked up during an end-of-season sale at the Bicycle Shop in Anchorage in 2016, has served me just fine for three full summers and counting.

I’ve ridden the Denali Park road to Wonder Lake, fully loaded with gear for three nights of camping. I rode Devil’s Pass to Resurrection Pass and out to Cooper Landing on an electric fall day; shuttling back to the car with a friend.

Kincaid, Far North Bicentennial, Mirror Lake, Matanuska Lake and Government Peak Recreation Area have amazing trail networks, and the latter two in particular are my go-to trails here in Palmer. I’m excited to head into Anchorage this weekend to try the new Hillside trails.

I know my limits. I’m still not great at the technical sections of trails, where things get too rocky or steep. A friend encouraged me recently to practice sitting backward behind my seat to balance my weight properly for steep drop-offs, and I realized that maybe that’s where I am OK with my expertise ending. Like downhill skiing, I think I’m fine being a blue-square-trail person, not a black diamond. I get thrills from whizzing through the woods, not the adrenaline rush of flying downhill. I’ve always been like that. I’m OK with it.

Sharing that personal limitation here is part of my plea for other would-be mountain bikers to give it a try. I spend entire sections of my rides thinking about the people I love, near and far, and wishing I could share part of the feeling of mountain biking with them.

I always thought the bar was too high for me to ride a mountain bike. The term itself is intimidating. I assumed I’d need sausage-thighs and aggressive gear. A solid mountain or fat-tire bike (I’m biased against hybrid bikes, which I think are compromise bikes and perform on neither road nor mountain particularly well) is designed to enable its rider to, well, ride trails.

Even someone like me — lacking in grace, balance and poise — has eventually learned how to navigate trails with more confidence. It is absolutely thrilling to see how far I’ve come on the trails I ride frequently, based on what I couldn’t do before that I can now.

The draw is a mini-vacation wrapped up in a bike ride. When I’m on the trail, my focus is taken up by powering myself up and over hills and taking in the amazing scenery. I find myself focusing on how fortunate I am to be healthy and alive, to be outside and capable.

Yes, the experience is intense, but that intensity matches the rest of my life and pulls me back into myself when I’m feeling stressed or consumed by other factors. This summer, for me, mountain biking is respite. I write this in hopes that others will also give it a try; the experience is meant to be shared.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

Netflix reports drop in U.S. subscribers, its first ever, raising concern about its future

Wed, 2019-07-17 14:14

In recent months questions have arisen about Netflix's future as it faces a growing list of streaming competitors. The future could be coming sooner than expected.

Netflix reported subscriber numbers far lower than even its own estimates for the second quarter, causing a Wall Street sell-off and fears the streaming service's dominance could be weakening.

The company's number of U.S. subscribers dropped by 126,000 in the second quarter; analysts had expected them to increase by 352,000 and Netflix had projected growth of 300,000.

It was the first time the company has seen a quarterly drop in domestic subscribers since it began its explosive growth earlier this decade.

And while earnings and revenue were largely as expected by analysts - $4.92 billion compared to an expected $4.93 billion on the latter - Netflix's international subscribers grew by just 2.83 million compared to the 4.81 million analysts had predicted. Netflix had given guidance of 4.7 million new international subscribers for the quarter.

Investors sent the stock down 11% in after-hours trading.

Netflix still boasts some 150 million subscribers globally and remains the service of first resort for many consumers. But the prospect of a subscriber slowdown is compounded by the launch of new services, including Disney+ in the fall and HBO Max next year, competing for viewers' dollars.

In an investor letter, Netflix explained the bleak numbers as part of a "pull-forward" effect from the first quarter, when subscriber additions nearly totaled 10 million worldwide.

The streamer also saw lower subscriber figures in the second quarter last July, which is attributed to seasonality and expected a bounceback in future quarters, which largely happened.

But the coming months could be trickier. WarnerMedia recently decided against renewing its deal for Netflix to air "Friends" as it prepares to launch its own service, and NBC Universal is doing the same for "The Office." Both shows are very popular, and their departure could lead, investors fear, to mass subscriber exits.

Netflix has been ramping up its original content to combat these departures and keep its service a must-have. Executives in the letter pointed to the debut this month of the new season of "Stranger Things," which according to Nielsen garnered 26.4 million viewers in its first four days of release.

In a note last week, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachte said that despite the popularity of these originals, it “is unclear whether Netflix can replace it with quantity and quality sufficient to keep its current subscriber base loyal.”

Democrats divided as House votes to kill resolution on Trump impeachment

Wed, 2019-07-17 14:07

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON - The House on Wednesday voted to kill an impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump, a move likely to rankle the Democratic Party’s liberal base clamoring for the ouster of the president.

The vote was 332 to 95 as House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined with Republicans to stop the measure. It was a surprising turn and created the unusual optic of the Democratic leader working with the GOP a day after a divided House voted to condemn Trump's racist remarks.

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, had put Democratic leaders in a bind Tuesday night by filing articles of impeachment accusing Trump of committing high crimes and misdemeanors. His resolution, which cited Trump's racist comments singling out four minority congresswomen, was privileged, requiring that the House act within two days.

"It's time for us to deal with his bigotry," Green told reporters Wednesday. "This president has demonstrated that he's willing to yell fire in a crowded theater, and we have seen what can happen to people when bigotry is allowed to have a free rein. We all ought to go on record. We all ought to let the world know where we stand when we have a bigot in the White House."

Pelosi, who has been reluctant to launch an impeachment inquiry, backed a procedural vote to table, or effectively kill, the resolution, avoiding a direct vote on the impeachment articles. Republicans supported Pelosi's effort, receiving the sign-off from the White House, according a Republican congressional aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

"With all the respect in the world for Mr. Green . . . we have six committees who are working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest that the president may have engaged in," Pelosi told reporters when asked about Green's efforts. "That is the serious path that we are on - not that Mr. Green is not serious, but we will deal with that on the floor."

Any vote is politically fraught for Democrats as the party's liberal base pushes for Trump's impeachment, and several 2020 presidential candidates have urged the House to move swiftly to force him out of office. So far, 86 House Democrats favor launching an impeachment inquiry, though several were reluctant to endorse Green's effort.

Liberal groups pressured Pelosi to allow a direct vote on the impeachment articles. CREDO Action, a group that says it has 5 million activists, said in a statement that the House needed to begin proceedings “immediately” because “Trump is a racist who has repeatedly abused the powers of the presidency to harm black and brown communities and to make a quick buck for billionaires off the backs of working families.”

The vote split Democrats, with 137 voting to effectively kill the resolution and 95 opposing the move.

Rather than tabling the resolution, several House Judiciary Committee Democrats tried to convince Pelosi and other leaders to refer the articles of impeachment to their panel. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a private supporter of impeachment, argued that that is how such matters are historically handled, but he was rebuffed, according to congressional officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal talks.

"If you are of conscience and see what is happening . . . one would have to vote to refer, and not to table," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a Judiciary Committee member.

But Democratic leaders were wary of headlines suggesting that Democrats are moving toward trying to oust Trump and worry that "referring" to committee may be spun by Republicans as a step in that direction. Indeed, even before the vote, Republicans were relishing the possibility of using the vote against their political opponents, with the office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., citing the vote in a news release and asking: "How many House Democrats support impeachment?"

In December 2017, when Green forced a vote on impeachment articles, 126 Democrats backed tabling while 58 Democrats fought for the resolution's consideration. In January 2018, when Green did it again, 121 Democrats voted to table while 66 Democrats rejected that move.

That's one of the reasons why Pelosi needs the help of Republicans to sideline the resolution, assistance that oddly comes a day after one of the most intense partisan fights on the House floor.

In a series of tweets and remarks, Trump targeted the self-described "Squad" - Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Trump told the four minority congresswomen to "go back" to their home countries - though all are U.S. citizens and three were born in the U.S.

[House condemns Trump ‘racist’ tweets in extraordinary rebuke]

Pelosi sought to swiftly deal with the uproar as the House voted Tuesday for a resolution condemning those racist comments. Some Democrats hoped the resolution would be harsher on Trump, Pelosi said - even as Republicans accused Democrats of harassing the president and breaking rules of House decorum.

"You have no idea the provisions that some people wanted to have in that resolution," Pelosi said Wednesday. "This was as benign - it condemned the words of the president - not the president. . . . We weren't saying that he was racist, we were saying that the words he used were racist."

Some Democrats find Green's timing peculiar, not only coming a day after the condemnation vote but ahead of a high-stakes hearing. Former special counsel Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify next week before two House committees on his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump obstructed justice, a session that lawmakers have been seeking for months.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Wednesday that the House is not ready to debate whether to impeach Trump.

“We may not ever be, but we aren’t yet,” he said.

Discovery of more earthquake damage adds to troubles at Port of Alaska

Wed, 2019-07-17 14:00

A recent examination of piles at the Port of Alaska petroleum and cement terminals revealed more extensive damage from the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck on Nov. 30, 2018. This photo shows the unraveling of a spiral weld on a pile supporting the terminal that has compromised its ability to carry vertical load and resist lateral seismic movement. (Photo courtesy Port of Alaska)

The primary users of Anchorage’s beleaguered port want city officials to delay the first major rehabilitation work at the port in years while port leaders continue to discover earthquake damage to critical infrastructure.

The eight companies that make up the informal “Port of Alaska Users Group” sent similar letters to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on June 28 and members of the Anchorage Assembly on July 12 urging them to stop advancing work to build a new petroleum and cement terminal.

They contend the municipality’s plan to start building the roughly $220 million petroleum and cement import terminal, or PCT, without having a way to pay for all of it would leave the city with a “trestle to nowhere,” according to the July 12 letter to the Assembly, and could invite tariff increases that would impact business at Anchorage’s other logistics hub.

“Fuel is a highly sensitive commodity and as the 5th busiest air cargo hub in the world, it seems imprudent not to conduct this type of analysis before proceeding down any path that might produce negative fiscal impacts to our fragile Alaskan economy. Ultimately, without knowing what the final cost of the project will be, it is impossible to determine what the appropriate tariff should be to underwrite the project, and by extension, whether the increased tariff is even feasible for the airport customers,” the July 12 letter to the Assembly states.

The port user group is composed of the general cargo shippers Tote Maritime and Matson Inc.; five fuel supplier and distribution companies; and Alaska Basic Industries, which is primarily a cement distributor.

The Anchorage Assembly officially changed the name of the city-owned port in 2017 from the Port of Anchorage to the Port of Alaska in an attempt to highlight its importance statewide and possibly drum up support for funding the rebuild.


This illustration created by the Municipality of Anchorage shows the scale of the work at the Port of Alaska compared to other landmarks. (Illustration courtesy Municipality of Anchorage)

Some sections of the pile-supported docks have been in place since 1961 and have far exceeded their initial 35-year design life. Studies indicate the pile maintenance program can keep the docks open for about another nine years before pervasive corrosion from seawater will start forcing closures.

Major construction at the port has been on hold since 2010 after major damage to the sheet pile then being installed to support new docks was discovered. The original port expansion project cost upward of $300 million but resulted in little usable infrastructure. The Municipality of Anchorage is engaged in a lawsuit against the federal Maritime Administration, or MARAD, which oversaw the failed work. The Federal Claims Court judge presiding over the lawsuit is scheduled to visit the port Aug. 1-2.

Additional quake damage discovered

Port officials stress rebuilding the docks is becoming more and more a time-sensitive issue. While the port survived the 7.1 magnitude Nov. 30 earthquake, it didn’t come out of the shaking unscathed, according to port spokesman Jim Jager.


A weld failure is seen on a pile supporting the petroleum and cement terminal at the Port of Alaska. The Municipality of Anchorage is considering a plan to start building a new terminal in 2020 if the Assembly approves the contract bid by Pacific Pile and Marine. (Photo courtesy Port of Alaska)

He said in an interview that post-earthquake inspections of the already corroded pilings supporting the docks conducted since breakup have shown the port’s two current fuel docks are the facilities most at risk of failure in another earthquake. This month, port engineers de-rated the load capacity of the Terminal 1 dock adjacent to petroleum, oil and lubricant dock No. 1 because of earthquake damage, according to Jager.

Additionally, roughly 20% of the pilings under petroleum dock No. 2 have failed, he said, and most of the damage is likely due to the earthquake.

“Engineers say that dock is vulnerable to progressive collapse. … Consequently, the dock is likely to function normally, until it doesn’t. Individual pile failures may not cause the overall dock to fail … until they create a failure that moves from one pile to adjacent piling (think of dominoes falling),” Jager added via email.

In February, city officials released a concept analysis that indicated the port’s import charges on fuels and cement would have to be increased five-fold or more if the municipality needed to sell $200 million worth of revenue bonds to pay for the new PCT.

At the time, Anchorage Municipal Manager Bill Falsey said the city was trying to spread the $60 million it has for the port modernization effort to support preconstruction work on other portions of the project; however, officials have since decided to put that $60 million toward a new PCT.

Airport cargo concerns

Port users immediately responded to the concept tariffs by stressing the cost increases would certainly have major negative consequences on their business and could also drive air cargo traffic away from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

The Anchorage airport is the fifth-busiest cargo hub in the world mainly because of its position between manufacturers in East Asia and consumers in North America, and that cargo business is a large reason the airport supports 10% of the jobs in the city, according to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Refueling in Anchorage allows carriers to fill aircraft with more cargo instead of carrying the added fuel that would be needed to reach refueling hubs or destinations to the south and east.

However, the economics of the cargo business model rely on a difference of pennies per gallon between hauling more fuel or hauling more cargo, industry experts note. As a result, any tariff change at the port could impact international business at the airport, according to fuel company representatives.

The PCT tariff analysis was largely an exercise to elevate the discussion about how the work most everyone agrees needs to happen should be paid for and less a step toward actually implementing large tariff hikes, city officials have said.

“We talked to people and we agree, a tariff of that rate would have negative impacts on cargo operations at the airport,” Falsey said during a July 12 Assembly work session on the matter, adding the city will won’t do anything to drive business away from the airport or port, which could end up reducing the tariff revenue to fund port improvements.

Still, he noted that some tariff increases on most cargo crossing the Anchorage docks are likely unavoidable as the overall port rehabilitation project continues.

Port managers received a $42 million bid last month from Seattle-based Pacific Pile and Marine to build the PCT access trestle and platform next year with cathodic corrosion protection. The bid would leave the city about $100 million short of finishing the PCT, which would still need piping, utilities and mooring dolphins to secure offloading vessels, Falsey said.

City officials initially expected the “phase one” PCT work to cost closer to $60 million, and delaying the work would likely push the cost back up, Falsey added.

While not ideal, building part of the PCT would give the port a new, seismically resilient “dock” that could be used to offload fuel and cargo if an emergency — such as another major earthquake — rendered the three existing cargo terminals unusable before they are rebuilt, according to Falsey.

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on funding the contract Tuesday.

Marathon Petroleum spokesman Casey Sullivan urged the Assembly to reject the PCT construction contract and other major port work until the city has an overall financing plan. Moving ahead without full funding and a more detailed economic impact analysis of tariff increases is a signal of uncertainty to the port’s customers who would still have to plan for the most severe tariff increases possible, he and other representatives of port user companies said.

“That (PCT) trestle is good but that trestle doesn’t ultimately fix the port,” said Lev Yampolsky of Petro Star, an Alaska fuel refining company.

However, Falsey said in a brief interview that city and port officials have not been able to get specific information from fuel companies engaged in a highly competitive industry as to what level of tariff increases they would be able to absorb. Other Anchorage economic experts have similarly said getting detailed information on what would deter air cargo companies from stopping here is virtually impossible.

The municipality is also concerned delaying the work could also hurt future logistics business prospects in Anchorage as companies could see slowing the work at the port as a signal the city has no plan to rebuild the docks before they deteriorate to the point of needing to be closed, he said.

According to Falsey, the Assembly needs to approve the contract by about Aug. 1 if the city is going to have the work done next summer to allow Pacific Pile and Marine to order long lead time items such as the steel piles that would support the PCT trestle and platform.

Building the PCT to the south of the current docks will also free up port frontage needed when the larger cargo docks are replaced, port officials emphasize.

Sullivan and Yampolsky said the user companies have ideas on how to substantially lessen the $1.9 billion cost estimate for the overall port modernization project, and taking the time to develop a new, comprehensive plan would help gain the support of all the stakeholders in the project. That support will be needed to obtain large sums of federal grants or other funding for the work, they said.

Falsey and port officials have stressed they will not build a $1.9 billion port; it’s simply unaffordable, and the Assembly has hired a consultant to review the high cost estimate and suggest lower-cost alternatives. That report is due in September and the port users encouraged the Assembly to hold off on any major decisions on the port at least until then.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Gov. Dunleavy calls lawmakers to Juneau in bid to end budget deadlock

Wed, 2019-07-17 13:57

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/)

They’re going to Juneau.

In an announcement Wednesday afternoon, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he is amending his special session agenda to call all 60 legislators to Juneau. In addition, the governor will expand the agenda of the special session by allowing them to consider “operating appropriations for certain state programs,” language that could reverse some of his vetoes. The new agenda also includes the state’s capital budget, which sets spending for road and airport projects among other major construction.

The new proclamation would end a week-and-a-half stalemate between two groups of legislators, each claiming that it is meeting in the rightful place for the special session. It also opens the possibility of further agreements on the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend and on reversing some or all of Dunleavy’s decision to veto $444 million from the state operating budget.

“In my daily discussions with legislators – those both in Wasilla and in Juneau – many have acknowledged that real progress needs to be made on the capital budget and that work cannot be completed until the legislature is meeting in one location,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “With sensitivity to the time that remains to capture federal funds, the Legislature will be able to quickly consider the capital budget, the PFD, and conclude this work for the people of Alaska before the end of July.”

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak and the House Majority Whip, called the governor’s decision “a beautiful thing.”

“I think it’s terrific,” she said. “It helps by bringing us all together in the Capitol where we have access and the public has access to what’s going on.”

In mid-June, Dunleavy announced that a special session would take place in Wasilla to address the Permanent Fund dividend. Almost two-thirds of the Legislature’s members objected to the governor’s decision, but that group lacked the 40 votes necessary to convene a special session of its own, with its own proclaimed agenda. Though they agreed they lack the ability to change the agenda, they convened the special session in Juneau on July 8, arguing that the Legislature’s constitutional rights allow lawmakers to set the location of their meetings.

Slightly more than a third of legislators, all Republicans, sided with the Governor’s interpretation of state law and the constitution, meeting in Wasilla instead.

With lawmakers in both Wasilla and Juneau, those in the capital city had enough votes to convene the special session but not enough to overturn Dunleavy’s vetoes. Doing so required the support of 45 legislators, and there were not even that many present.

They also lacked the votes to fix the state’s malformed capital budget because the 15-member Republican House minority has declined to vote for it until lawmakers approve a Permanent Fund dividend paid using the traditional formula in state law. That formula results in a $3,000 payment this year, which most members of the coalition House majority say is unaffordable.

As constructed, the capital budget requires a three-quarters supermajority of the Alaska House and Alaska Senate because it includes what’s known as the “reverse sweep," a procedural vote that prevents dozens of program-specific savings accounts from being automatically drained into the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The automatic drain has threatened more than $300 million in state programs above and beyond the budget vetoes approved by the governor, according to a preliminary estimate from Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, said that in light of the governor’s announcement, she is prepared to go to Juneau. Costello had been among six state senators who were either in Wasilla or otherwise absent from Juneau. One hour before the governor’s proclamation, Costello presided over a meeting of the Wasilla group and said the next meeting of that group would be at 11 a.m. Friday. That will no longer take place.

“All along, I have supported the constitutional and statutory call made by the governor, and now it’s amended to call us into Juneau, I am going to obey that call and be consistent with the message that we need to do our work under the guidelines of our constitution and our statutes,” she said. “I will be in Juneau just like I was in Wasilla, ready to do the work of the state.”

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, also one of the legislators who went to Wasilla, said that with the state poised to lose more than $900 million in federal road construction aid without timely approval of the capital budget, action is needed.

“It’s time to get everybody in the same room and work this out. We don’t have the luxury of time or delay," she said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Bodies of mother and toddler found in East Anchorage were in apartment for weeks, police say

Wed, 2019-07-17 13:43

Thalia Severance, 2, was found dead along with her mother, 36-year-old Elva Salazar, in their Mountain View apartment on July 12, 2019. (Photo courtesy Nika Severance.)

The two people found dead in a Mountain View apartment last week were a mother and toddler, family members say.

Elva Salazar, 36, and 2-year-old Thalia Severance were found dead in their Price Street apartment on Friday, police said.

Police were still investigating how they died but said their bodies had evidently been in the apartment for several weeks before they were found.

“Due to the state of decomposition, that’s why we’re waiting on the medical examiner results,” said MJ Thim, a spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department.

Salazar and the child’s father, Sergio Severance, were in a custody battle over their daughter at the time, court records show. Each parent had filed for sole custody of the girl.

Both had recently filed competing protective orders against one another, each accusing the other of alcoholism and physical abuse.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Moody’s downgrades University of Alaska credit rating, citing financial challenges

Wed, 2019-07-17 13:34

The University of Alaska Anchorage campus, photographed on Friday, July 12, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

A major credit ratings agency downgraded the University of Alaska’s credit rating Wednesday and called the 41% state funding cut the university system faces “unprecedented.”

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded UA’s rating by multiple grades for general revenue bonds and lease revenue bonds, and the outlook for both is negative, the agency said in a report.

The downgrades reflect “the severity and magnitude of the financial challenges confronting University of Alaska” if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes stand, Moody’s said.

In dire language, the report warned that UA’s position has been “materially impaired by this funding reduction." Moody’s expects a multiyear negative impact on enrollment as well as on the “competitive position” of UA’s research enterprise.

“With this unprecedented single year cut in state appropriations, there is a high likelihood of a material reduction in the university’s liquidity over the next year as it uses cash to fund programs pending restructuring of operations, and for the associate costs of that restructuring,” the report said.

[University of Alaska governing board delays vote on whether to declare financial emergency]

The downgrade is a direct result of the state’s budget cut, UA President Jim Johnsen said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Today’s news just amplifies the impact of the state’s funding cut — Moody’s downgrade harms our ability to bond or borrow money at favorable interest rates and to be viewed as financially stable," he said.

UA, which includes three separately accredited universities in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, faces a loss of about $135 million in state funding this year. Dunleavy vetoed an unprecedented $130 million in funding for the university system atop a $5 million cut approved by the state Legislature. In total, that’s about a 41% cut to state funding and roughly 17% of its total budget.

[Budget veto could put University of Alaska at risk of losing accreditation, agency warns]

Moody’s downgraded UA’s general revenue bonds three notches, from A1 to Baa1, and downgraded its lease revenue bonds four notches, from A2 to Baa3. UA currently has financial indebtedness on several buildings. Ratings such as those from Moody’s gauge an entity’s creditworthiness.

Downgrading ratings by several notches at once is “not a frequent event,” Moody’s analyst Diane Viacava said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. She called the rating action on UA “extremely significant” for a university system with a high reliance on state funding.

Such a large state budget cut "is providing them a major blow to operations, requiring them to stop and think and look seriously at how they need to position themselves within the state to function at this type of revenue level,” Viacava said.

Demonstrated ability to quickly and sustainably respond to funding cuts without depleting liquidity could return UA’s outlook to stable, Moody’s report said.

Another major agency, S&P Global Ratings, put UA on watch with “negative implications” in a report issued July 9, the day before the Legislature’s effort to override Dunleavy’s vetoes failed.

“In our opinion, if the governor’s veto passes, the system will face significant operating pressures in fiscal 2020, which would likely require material expense cuts,” S&P’s report said.

The UA Board of Regents on Monday postponed a vote on whether to declare a financial emergency for the system.

Toddler dies after being reported missing near Palmer

Wed, 2019-07-17 12:52

PALMER -- A toddler died early Wednesday morning in Mat-Su after going missing, Alaska State Troopers say.

The child was reported missing Tuesday evening in the area of Butte, troopers spokesman Ken Marsh said.

The incident remained under investigation around noon Wednesday, Marsh said. He couldn’t provide any additional information.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Letter: Budget history lessons

Wed, 2019-07-17 12:47

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is all in for the Dunleavy vetoes. He says that “… my legislative colleagues and I struggled to bring spending back in line with income …” That is just plain wrong. What I remember is bloated legislative budgets with no vetoes from then-Gov. Sean Parnell. The hallmark of that Legislature and the Parnell administration was big cuts to revenue, with Mr. Meyer being one of the deciding yes votes. Then came another periodic crash in volatile oil prices, which should have surprised nobody. The Legislature subsequently cut the budget and spent down our savings. Eventually, Gov. Walker took the fall for cutting the Permanent Fund dividend when savings were running low, then Gov. Mike Dunleavy promised back PFDs and more.

Now Alaskans are looking at either a $3,000 PFD, which is almost twice as big as last year’s, or budget cuts to services to the people who can least afford those cuts. The governor’s plan is the same thing next year. The lieutenant governor is clear. He favors the cuts, as do Outsider budget architect Donna Arduin, Tuckerman Babcock, Alaskans for Prosperity and a minority of Alaskans. My overall impression is that big money talks big and has big influence.

— John Jensen

Anchorage

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Letter: More cuts, please

Wed, 2019-07-17 12:41

It amazes me to see all the crying and fear-mongering going on about the budget. The unions, contractors and special interests have spent the last years prying money out of Juneau with the lobbyist and union leaders. Now that the bank is broke, all they can say is it is doom and gloom time. People are going to do without, the sky is falling and hordes will do without or have to move. Nothing is positive or has a can-do attitude out of this crowd. They now want access to the people’s piggy bank to keep their fat salaries, benefits and projects to nowhere with vast overspending. We need to control this group or in a few years, the Permanent Fund dividend will be gone and they will still want more. We must bring the spending back to a real level.

— Mark Elliott

Anchorage

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Letter: Shameful treatment of seniors

Wed, 2019-07-17 12:37

Seniors are citizens and cannot return to work. Do you want your parents and/or grandparents to move back in and live with you?Below poverty level, aging and ill seniors were cut from their senior benefits with no notice July 1. They are frightened on how they will pay their rent, dental care, medical and prescription co-pays and other living needs.

They were cut from dental care. How are they suppose to even pull an infected tooth? Go to Juneau?

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has cut resources for kids, seniors, and the most vulnerable Alaskans, but has actively opposed cutting the unnecessary $1.2 billion in oil tax credits to some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. Seniors paid business and property taxes and even personal state tax (before the Permanent Fund dividend) and are residents of Alaska and citizens of the U.S. They built Alaska decades before Gov. Dunleavy came to Alaska in 1983. Perhaps we need to cage them, because they can no longer work and are no longer of use to us.

— Mary Johnson

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.

Blackberries, shade gardening, snakes? Imagining a warmer climate for Alaska gardens

Wed, 2019-07-17 12:32

Wow, the record-setting heat has everyone talking. Is this the new “norm” or just a meteorological fluke? Is it over or will it go into the winter months? Will any more fans or sprinklers be delivered to our stores? And how could we have run out of ice?

First of all, let me opine that this is not the last such spell we will see. Global warming is really real. Alaska is one of the canaries in the mine and things are definitely headed warmer. We not only have to acknowledge it, we have to deal with it. And now.

It seems to me that one of the worst problems with having hot spells here in Alaska is that as gardeners we can’t prepare for them. They happen “unexpectedly” and we are suddenly impacted. As gardeners, our job is to safely solve problems that accompany the higher temperatures.

Yes, I am talking about things we didn’t know existed, like the lilac leaf roller we didn’t know about. We also need to be concerned about the things caused by what we used to call unseasonable warming spells, such as the spruce bark beetle kills. These are just the beginning, you can be sure. Here come new invasive weeds and pests. (Oh, please, hold off on the snakes!)

Then there is the use of clear plastic to heat up soil and all those makeshift cold frames we use here. It doesn’t take that much extra heat to cook your crop in situ. Using clear plastic will become a preferred method for ridding an area of weeds because it will get so warm underneath it.

Ah, but just as important, we must figure out how to use the extra heat to our advantage. It is a shame, perhaps even a crime, to let such warmth go to waste. If we knew it was going to be warmer, we would try okra; Alaska has been the only state gardeners can’t grow it outdoors because it is normally too cool.

Or, if you knew that we would reliably have long streaks of warm nights, you would plant tomatoes outdoors and be assured of fruit. (They drop flowers when night temperatures hits 55 degrees or so). Cucumbers and peppers without a greenhouse, anyone? At the same time, if you have a greenhouse, it might be time to put in a more powerful exhaust fan.

Hmm, longer growing seasons will allow for fruit trees and different kinds of berries. (Oh-oh, more invasives). And, we are going to have to rethink WHAT should be allowed to grow here. All of a sudden we are going to be able to plant new things. How about Metasequoias, chestnuts, Bing cherries, any manner of apple or pear or peach? I am drooling, but also a bit worried we will introduce spreaders and change things even more. (Agh, blackberries?). This is coming and we need to give it a lot more thought than we ever have.

Gee, we might even rethink our use of raised beds, needed in the past to warm the soil. That won’t be a problem much longer if predictions take hold. Given the duration of our sunlight, we will also definitely need to look into shade gardening. Wow.

Lawn care will be very different. If you knew it was going to be so hot and sunny, you might have listened to the advice in this column and watered your lawn BEFORE the extreme heat hit. And you already would have hoses and sprinklers that reach every part of your property, so shortages of such equipment be damned.

Mowing? Now is when you want to let the lawn grow out. No reason to live with that burned look. When we get the confidence that these spells are the norm, maybe Alaskan Yardeners won’t even put in lawns. Won’t that be a time!

Finally, it isn’t just practices that will change -- or rather, need to change now. Animals, insects and microbes will change as well. Gardeners need to keep vigilant. Observation is one of our best tools. Change is happening. Look for it. Share what you see. We are all in this together.

Jeff’s Alaskan garden calendar

Keep watering: Lawns should get 2 inches or so between you and Nature. Vegetable gardens as well. Shrubs and trees like a good deep soaking once or twice a week as well. Welcome to the new norm!

Potatoes: Hill yours again.

Raspberries: If they’re ripe in your neghborhood then it is time to pick them before the birds do.

Botanical sketchbooks workshop: With Ayse Gilbert, Sat.-Sun. July 20-21. $255 for members and $285 for non-members of the Alaska Botanical Garden. See alaskabg.org for details.

ABG shuttle: Shuttle service for Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally! The ABG now has a shuttle bus that goes from the Downtown Visit Anchorage Log Cabin to the Botanical Garden and back. Drop em off! See alaskabg.org for details.













Letter: The value of higher education

Wed, 2019-07-17 12:30

Alaska’s Legislature recognized the value of education and the cost of being untaught when they rejected the enormous cuts to the University of Alaska advanced in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal. Unfortunately, the governor returned to his drastic 40% cut in state support to the university by use of a line-item veto. So once again, it will be up to the Legislature to maintain a strong public university for the citizens and industry of the state. Effective colleges and universities are not built overnight. It takes decades of investments to establish the culture of learning and exploration that secures a modern economy and society. Investments in faculty and staff, in classrooms, laboratories and libraries, in students and alumni. The University of Alaska and the citizens of the state have benefited from more than a century of such investments. As the state’s legislators know, through its main campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, the university serves the entire state.

Instruction is a vital part of the university’s mission, but it is not the only part. The university’s research in oceanography, in fisheries, in arctic biology, in seismology and volcanology are not only of value to Alaska, but also to countries around the world, particularly fellow Arctic nations and those around the Pacific rim. Most of the research is supported by federal funds, an income stream that stimulates economic activity and brings distant scholars and visitors to Alaska. Cutbacks in state support to the university, and the loss of students and faculty cutbacks would entail, would severely threaten federal support and have a noticeable negative effect on the level of economic activity in the state. What takes decades to build can be rapidly shattered. Where building takes time, resources and devotion, destruction is quick and ugly and seemingly cheap. But only seemingly. In a short amount of time. the weakening of the university would become apparent across the state. Daughters and sons will be driven away, and most will not return. Businesses, hospitals and schools will find it more and more difficult to locate qualified employees. And the knowledge Alaskans will need to maintain the industries of the state and avoid the worst outcomes of a warming climate will remain more elusive.

Alaska is not a poor state. It is the opposite. In other states, government is supported by the taxes of the governed. In Alaska, the state sends its residents a yearly check generated by the Permanent Fund, a sovereign wealth fund worth more than $60 billion. Alaska is not a poor state, but it can be made poor by shrinking support for those institutions that make modern states and countries rich. The Legislature needs to protect the richness and vitality of the state by restoring the funds cut by the governor.

— Jerome B. Komisar

Former University of Alaska president

Silver Spring, Maryland

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Letter: Governor has the right idea

Wed, 2019-07-17 10:58

Here’s a perspective. After all the wailing and mashing of teeth over the governor’s budget cuts considering the University of Alaska system, he still has left the base student allocation at 145% of the national average!

Do I approve of all things the governor is doing? No, but at least we have an adult in the room who is willing to start the conversation that we don’t have a money problem, we have a spending problem!

— Bob Lopetrone

Anchorage

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ACLU sues Dunleavy for veto to Alaska court system over abortion rulings

Wed, 2019-07-17 10:42

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his veto to the court system budget over its rulings on abortions.

The lawsuit targets Dunleavy’s veto in June of $334,700 from the court system budget. That amount, he has said, is equal to the amount the state spent on “elective abortions” last year.

[Dunleavy vetoes $335,000 from Alaska judiciary budget over court’s abortion decisions]

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Superior Court in Anchorage.

Alaska conservatives have tried repeatedly to bar the state’s Medicaid program from paying for abortions outside of cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger. Each time, they’ve been blocked by the Alaska Supreme Court, which most recently declared two such laws unconstitutional in February.

The complaint in the lawsuit describes Dunleavy’s veto as an “unprecedented affront to the Alaska Constitution” and a “startling breach” of the separation of powers. His veto was meant to punish the court “for exercising its judicial power” and to threaten the court with further budget cuts for decisions he might disagree with, the suit says.

“Such actions, if left unchecked, threaten our democracy and the core system of check and balance,” it says.

A budget document from the Dunleavy administration says of the veto: “The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction.”

Bonnie Jack and John Kauffman are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Jack is described in the suit as a lifelong Anchorage resident and Kauffman as an attorney and Anchorage resident.

The lawsuit comes amid a flurry of legal actions in recent days. On Tuesday, the Alaska Legislature sued Dunleavy for not sending out the school funding this week that legislators had appropriated in 2018.

Read the ACLU’s complaint here.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Ebola outbreak in Congo declared a global health emergency

Wed, 2019-07-17 10:16

In this photograph taken Sunday July 14, 2019, an Ebola victim is put to rest at the Muslim cemetery in Beni, Congo DRC. The head of the World Health Organization is convening a meeting of experts Wednesday July 17, 2019 to decide whether the Ebola outbreak should be declared an international emergency after spreading to eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, this week. More than 1,600 people in eastern Congo have died as the virus has spread in areas too dangerous for health teams to access. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Jerome Delay/)

GENEVA — The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced on Wednesday after the virus spread this week to a city of two million people .

A WHO expert committee had declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, which other experts say has long met the conditions. More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.

This week the first Ebola case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border with an international airport. Health experts have feared this scenario for months.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

While the risk of regional spread remains high the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva. "The (international emergency) should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help," he said.

This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio eradication.

WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" which constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Last month this outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative. Even then, the expert committee advised against a declaration.

Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center, said Wednesday's declaration was long overdue.

"This essentially serves as a call to the international community that they have to step up appropriate financial and technical support," she said but warned that countries should be wary of imposing travel or trade restrictions.

"Those restrictions would actually restrict the flow of goods and health care workers into affected countries so they are counter-productive," she said. Future emergency declarations might be perceived as punishment and "might result in other countries not reporting outbreaks in the future, which puts us all at greater risk."


In this photograph taken Sunday July 14, 2019, a morgue employee walks with a cross past others disinfecting the entrance to the morgue in Beni, Congo DRC. The head of the World Health Organization is convening a meeting of experts Wednesday July 17, 2019 to decide whether the Ebola outbreak should be declared an international emergency after spreading to eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, this week. More than 1,600 people in eastern Congo have died as the virus has spread in areas too dangerous for health teams to access. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Jerome Delay/)
People coming from Congo have their temperature measured to screen for symptoms of Ebola, at the Mpondwe border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda Friday, June 14, 2019. In Uganda, health workers had long prepared in case the Ebola virus got past the screening conducted at border posts with Congo and earlier this week it did, when a family exposed to Ebola while visiting Congo returned home on an unguarded footpath. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi) (Ronald Kabuubi /)

WHO had been heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead. Internal documents later showed WHO held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies.

The current outbreak is spreading in a turbulent Congo border region where dozens of rebel groups are active and where Ebola had not been experienced before. Efforts to contain the virus have been hurt by mistrust by wary locals that has prompted deadly attacks on health workers. Some infected people have deliberately evaded health authorities.

The pastor who brought Ebola to Goma used several fake names to conceal his identity on his way to the city, Congolese officials said. WHO on Tuesday said the man had died and health workers were scrambling to trace dozens of his contacts, including those who had traveled on the same bus.

There was no immediate reaction to WHO's emergency declaration from Congo's health ministry, which had lobbied against it.

"Calling for a (global emergency) to raise funds while ignoring the negative consequences for (Congo) is reckless," the ministry tweeted following an editorial by Britain's secretary of state for international development in favor of a declaration. Rory Stewart announced earlier this week that Britain would donate up to another $63 million for the Ebola response and called for other countries, especially Francophone ones, to increase their support.

At a U.N. meeting on Ebola in Geneva on Tuesday, Congo's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga, said the outbreak was "not a humanitarian crisis" and that the risk of Ebola spreading to other cities or regions in Congo remained the same.

"Ebola is not rocket science, it's very simple," he said.

WHO has long called the regional Ebola risk "very high."

Earlier this week, Ugandan health officials said a Congolese fish trader had traveled to Uganda while sick and vomited several times at a local market. The woman returned to Congo last week and died after testing positive for Ebola. Ugandan officials estimate almost 600 people could be targeted for vaccination and follow-up.

Those working in the field say the outbreak is clearly taking a turn for the worse despite advances in this outbreak that include the widespread use of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

Dr. Maurice Kakule was one of the first people to survive the current outbreak after he fell ill while treating a woman last July before the outbreak had even been declared.

"What is clear is that Ebola is an emergency because the epidemic persists despite every possible effort to educate people," he told the Geneva meeting. "We have sufficiently informed them about the existence of this disease but there are still people who don't want to believe that it does."

___

Cheng reported from London. Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Beni, Congo contributed.

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