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Body recovered in hurricane-stricken town as storm death toll rises to 14

Sat, 2018-10-13 02:35

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Search-and-rescue teams found at least one body in Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael, an official said Friday as the scale of the storm’s fury became ever clearer.

The death toll across the South stood at 14 including the victim discovered in Mexico Beach.

Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, leader of a search-and-rescue unit that went into the flattened town, said: "We have one confirmed deceased and are working to determine if there are others." Zahralban said searchers were trying to determine if that person had been alone or was part of a family.

Zahralban spoke as his team — which included a dog — was winding down its two-day search of Mexico Beach, the town of about 1,000 people that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there Wednesday with devastating 155 mph winds.

Blocks and blocks of homes were demolished, reduced to splintered lumber or mere concrete slabs by the most powerful hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in nearly 50 years.

As the catastrophic damage across the Florida Panhandle came into view 48 hours after the hurricane struck, there was little doubt the death toll would rise.

How high it might go was unclear. But authorities scrapped plans to set up a temporary morgue, suggesting they had yet to see mass casualties.

State officials said that by one count, 285 people in Mexico Beach defied mandatory evacuation orders and stayed behind. Some of them successfully rode out the storm. It was unclear how many of the others might have gotten out at the last minute.

[‘It was life or death’: Face to face with Hurricane Michael’s fury]

Emergency officials said they have received thousands of calls asking about missing people. But with cellphone service out across vast swaths of the Florida Panhandle, officials said it is possible that some of those unaccounted for are safe and just haven’t been able to contact friends or family.

Across the ravaged region, meanwhile, authorities set up distribution centers to hand out food and water to victims. Some supplies were brought in by trucks, while others had to be delivered by helicopter because of debris still blocking roads.

Residents began to come to grips with the destruction and face up to the uncertainty that lies ahead.

"I didn't recognize nothing. Everything's gone. I didn't even know our road was our road," said 25-year-old Tiffany Marie Plushnik, an evacuee who returned to find her home in Sandy Creek too damaged to live in.

When she went back to the hotel where she took shelter from the storm, she found out she could no longer stay there either because of mold. "We've got to figure something out. We're starting from scratch, all of us," Plushnik said.

President Donald Trump announced plans to visit Florida and hard-hit Georgia early next week but didn't say what day he would arrive.

"We are with you!" he tweeted.

Shell-shocked survivors who barely escaped with their lives told of terrifying winds, surging floodwaters and homes cracking apart.

Emergency officials said they had completed an initial "hasty search" of the stricken area, looking for the living or the dead, and had begun more careful inspections of thousands of ruined buildings. They said nearly 200 people had been rescued.

Gov. Rick Scott said state officials still "do not know enough" about the fate of those who stayed behind in the region.

"We are not completely done. We are still getting down there," the governor added.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said he expects to see the death toll rise.

"We still haven't gotten into the hardest-hit areas," he said, adding with frustration: "Very few people live to tell what it's like to experience storm surge, and unfortunately in this country we seem to not learn the lesson."

Long expressed worry that people have suffered "hurricane amnesia."

"When state and local officials tell you to get out, dang it, do it. Get out," he said.

On the Panhandle, Tyndall Air Force Base "took a beating," so much so that Col. Brian Laidlaw told the 3,600 men and women stationed on the base not to come back. Many of the 600 families who live there had followed orders to pack what they could in a single suitcase as they were evacuated ahead of the storm.

The hurricane's eyewall passed directly overhead, severely damaging nearly every building and leaving many a complete loss. The elementary school, the flight line, the marina and the runways were devastated.

"I will not recall you and your families until we can guarantee your safety. At this time I can't tell you how long that will take, but I'm on it," Laidlaw wrote. "We need to restore basic utilities, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and assess the structural integrity of our buildings."


Contributors in Florida include Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Panama City, Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, and Jennifer Kay and Freida Frisaro in Miami. Others include Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, Darlene Superville in Washington, and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland.

‘It was life or death’: Face to face with Hurricane Michael’s fury

Sat, 2018-10-13 02:25

Hector Morales sits on a debris pile near his home which was destroyed by hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. "I have nothing else to do. I'm just waiting," said Morales as he wonders what he will do next. "I lost everything." (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — Tom Garcia watched in terror as fingers of water pushed inland across the beach and began filling up his home.

His wife handed him a drill and Garcia used screws to pin his front and back door shut. But soon the storm surge from Hurricane Michael was up to his chest. His dogs sat on his bed as it floated. He said it took all of his strength to hold his sliding door shut as the waters outside the glass rose higher than those flooding the house.

"It was life or death," Garcia said through tears Friday as he walked amid the destruction in Mexico Beach.

Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the U.S., and this Gulf Coast community of about 1,000 people was in its bullseye Wednesday. While most residents fled ahead of the storm's arrival, others stayed to face the hurricane.

They barely escaped as homes were smashed from their foundations, neighborhoods got submerged, and broken boards, sheet metal and other debris flew through the air.

Hector Morales, a 57-year-old restaurant cook, never even thought about evacuating. He grew up in Puerto Rico, where he said "you learn how to survive a storm."

His mobile home isn't on the beach. But the canal lined with boat docks behind his home quickly overflowed as the hurricane came inland. Soon, Morales said, his mobile home started floating.

"The water kept coming so fast, it started coming in from everywhere," he said as he sat outside on a broken set of stairs lying atop a mattress and other storm debris. "I had about 3 feet of water in my house. That's when I decided to jump."

[‘Apocalyptic’: Inside a Florida town demolished by Hurricane Michael]

He got through a window of his home on to the top of his car outside when Morales saw two neighbors wading through the rushing surge. He swam out and grabbed a utility pole, then reached out and helped steady the wading couple. They fought their way onto a fishing boat that had been tied to a palm tree and climbed inside.

Morales left his neighbors in a bathroom below the boat's deck, while he sat in the captain's chair. He said they stayed in the boat for six hours before the winds calmed and the surge receded.

"I lost everything — my clothes, wallet, credit cards," he said. "But I made it."

Hector Morales, left, is hugged by friend Matthew Goss, a fisherman, as they reunite after Hurricane Michael which destroyed Morales' home and Goss' boat in Mexico Beach, Fla., Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)

Bill Shockey, 86, refused when his daughter pleaded with him to leave Mexico Beach. He said he didn't want to leave behind his collection of "Gone with the Wind" dishes and antique dolls. So he stashed those valuables up high in a closet before heading to his daughter's newly built two-story home next door.

With a pocket full of cigars and his cat named Andy, Shockey watched the hurricane roll in from an upstairs bedroom. The wind shredded the roof of his single-story home. Water rose nearly to the top of his garage door. A neighbor's home across the street got shoved off its foundation.

Was he scared? "Worried, I think, is more like it," Shockey said.

His daughter's home took in some floodwaters downstairs, but was otherwise unscathed. Shockey's own home of 24 years didn't fare so well, though his collectibles survived.

"It's a wipe out," he said, adding that he plans to sell his property rather than rebuild. "Whenever they want, I'm going to move in with my son in Georgia."

For years, Hal Summers has managed Killer Seafood, a Mexico Beach restaurant known for its tuna tacos. Michael destroyed the eatery as well as Summers' townhome on the beach. Summers rode out the storm at his parent's house nearby. They had evacuated, but an elderly friend was staying there and Summers promised to watch him.

Summers knew they had to get out when, about 30 minutes after the storm made landfall, water surging into the home's kitchen rose up to his neck. He opened the front door and fell in deeper when he tried to step onto front stairs that had washed away.

Summers said his parents recently added a large, outdoor bathroom onto their home and he saw the door was open. The large sink was still above the water. He grabbed a bench that was floating by, and shoved it into the open bathroom to give them something to stand on. Then he helped the elderly man inside.

"I knew we could sit on the sink or we could stand on the sink if we had to," Summers said. "I had to hold the door shut or it would just keep flooding. There was a little crack and I could just see everything flying. I thought, 'Oh my God.'"

They never had to stand on the bathroom sink. Finally, the flooding receded.

While Garcia and his wife survived the hurricane's wrath, he was out Friday searching for his daughter and mother. Kristen Garcia, 32, and her 90-year-old grandmother, Jadwiga Garcia, were staying in a second-floor beachfront apartment Wednesday as the storm came ashore.

Garcia said his daughter called him to say the apartment was flooding and they had taken shelter in the bathroom. He hadn't seen them in the two days since the storm passed, and hadn't been able to gain access to their apartment.

He had tears in his eyes recalling their last conversation.

“She said, ‘Dad, get down here,’” Garcia said. “I said, ‘It’s too late.’”

An Anchorage cab driver’s grief

Fri, 2018-10-12 18:53

Jorge Rea-Villa Sr., holds a photo of his oldest son Jorge Rea-Villa, after attending the arraignment of Trayvon Morrissette on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his son during a barbecue on the Fourth of July. (Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)

On a gray, wet morning, I made my way to the Nesbett Courthouse and rode an elevator to a fifth-floor courtroom. I had come to see a man sentenced for first-degree murder. I didn't know the convicted murderer nor did I know the man he shot multiple times at a Fourth of July barbecue in 2016, Jorge Rea-Villa, 30. An hour and a half after the clerk of court called "All rise," Judge Catherine Easter sentenced 35 year-old Trayvon Morrissette to 99 years.

Murder is in the news every day. What murder does to the survivors of the victim is not.

I attended the sentencing because I know the victim's father, Jorge Rea-Villa Sr. He is a cab driver whom I met through his work.

Jorge Sr. spoke at sentencing, before maybe 30 people, muted grief struggling to be heard. He finally said "It has been 822 days since my son died," a numbing revelation. I imagined him waking up every morning adjusting the count.

Apparently the shooter, Morrissette, is a meth user who, while mortified by what he had done, could not explain why he had killed someone he knew a year or more and had no beef with. The two men were at a gathering of friends. Morrissette, a stocky man in yellow prison garb, didn't look or sound like a murderer when he spoke to the court. But then what does a murderer look like? In the late 19th century, police officials believed murderers could be spotted by the shape of their heads, gleam in their eyes — physical type. If you gave officers a box of photographs, they would find the murderer as well as the "sneak," another identifiable type.

Judge Easter was firm when imposing the sentence: "No drugs, no firearms, no murder." She said versions of this phrase at least three times.

People often obtain a firearm to protect themselves from danger. Some never understand reality — they are the danger, and they endanger themselves and others the moment they enter a room.

After the younger Rea-Villa died, I rode with his father a number of times. He took me to my office, home, to a store and so forth. During the rides, he would update me on the murder case. I can't recall how I indicated I was a listening ear, but I did, probably by asking a few questions. Jorge Sr., a medium-build man apparently in his fifties, spoke in two voices. The broken voice of the bereft father, and the frustrated voice of the survivor cast adrift in the criminal justice system.

From his perspective, the criminal justice system was unsympathetic, unresponsive, and above all, slow. Not everyone in the system, not always, but too often. " 'Why does it take so long?' he asked wearily. My halting explanation — really a guess — about due process, the rights of the accused to muster a defense and the bureaucracy associated with courts, left him shaking his head.

A broken heart doesn't want to hear about due process, rights of the accused and bureaucracy.

Not only was the subject matter of our conversations unusual, so was the setting. When he was driving the cab and I was in the back seat, he was talking to me over his shoulder, and I was responding to the back of his head.

After the court system set the date for sentencing, I told Jorge Sr. I would be there.

Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story about a cab driver's grief.

The setting is 19th-century St. Petersburg. An elderly cab driver's son has died. The man is in despair, but he continues to drive. It's Russian winter so his cab, pulled by a horse, is a sleigh. The driver picks up fares like any other day but unlike any other day, he attempts to tell the fares about his loss. The passengers want to go to their apartment or a shop or a government ministry or a fashionable hotel for a tryst. They blow him off.

The story has an ending the reader cannot see coming. After his shift, the driver takes the horse and sleigh back to the stable where he keeps them. He puts the horse away in a stall, feeds him, and before leaving for the night, wraps his arms around the horse's neck and weeps. Only the horse will listen, and the horse, while uncomprehending, is alive and warm.

Tolstoy has shown us how indifferent to suffering the world can be. But his story is fiction. There was no St. Petersburg cab driver. This cab driver lived in Tolstoy's head. But the Anchorage cab driver is real — counting the days of a tragedy that, unlike Tolstoy's, never ends.

The Irish writer Benedict Kiely said "The dead hover over the living." There is no way to prove this. But I am certain, absolutely certain, Kiely is right.

Michael Carey is an Anchorage Daily News columnist.

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

Anchorage man arrested after shooting at 2 workers he mistook for burglars, police say

Fri, 2018-10-12 18:26

An Anchorage man was arrested early Friday after he shot at two workers whom he had mistaken for burglars, according to Anchorage police.

The shooting happened at a business park and industrial lot at 7260 Homer Drive, police said in an online statement. The area is along the Seward Highway just north of Dimond Boulevard.

Police were alerted around 2:30 a.m. of shots fired in the area. No one was injured, police said.

Two men had been working outside on a delivery truck, said police spokeswoman Kendra Doshier.

Joshua Groghan, 40, approached the area, assuming the men were burglars, police said.

"The suspect was standing on top of a front-end loader tractor carrying a handgun and making verbal threats at the two males," police said. "The suspect then fired multiple rounds in their direction."

Doshier said police continued to  investigate the circumstances of the shooting, including why Groghan was in the area. It appeared Groghan didn't know the two men, though police were still investigating, she said.

Officers arrested Groghan Friday without incident, according to police. He was taken to jail. He faces multiple charges including two counts of third-degree assault, tampering with physical evidence and criminal trespassing.

"Reminder: If you see or hear anything suspicious, call 911 for emergencies and 311 for non-emergencies," police said.

North Dakota Native Americans fight voter ID limits

Fri, 2018-10-12 18:15

Native American voting rights activists in North Dakota have launched an audacious plan aimed at pushing back against a Supreme Court ruling that threatens the reelection of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., - and that could decide the fate of the Senate in the process.

The high court decided 6 to 2 Tuesday to leave in place a state law that requires residents to provide an ID displaying a residential address rather than a P.O. box number to vote. Republican lawmakers who pushed for the measure say the rule is designed to combat voter fraud.

But tribal officials and Democrats say it appears aimed at making it harder for thousands of Native Americans to vote, particularly those who live on reservations without conventional street names. The law specifically bans the use of P.O. boxes as an alternative form of address, rendering many tribal ID cards invalid.

Native American activists have responded with plans to create addresses on the spot for those who need them on Election Day.

Tribal officials will stand outside polling stations on Nov. 6 with laptops and access to rural addressing software and a shared database of voter names. North Dakota is the only state that does not require voter registration, meaning eligible voters can generally show up at the polls and cast a ballot so long as they have proper identification.

O.J. Semans, chief executive of Four Directions, a national Native American voting rights group, said the strategy was "legally watertight" and necessary to counter the "devastating" court ruling.

"Even if it doesn't change the overall result, it's about fighting back," Semans said. "We have to fight back."

In one of the country's least-populous states - and where Heitkamp, one of the Senate's most endangered Democratic incumbents, eked out a victory of fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012 - the Supreme Court ruling could prove decisive.

Native Americans were widely credited with delivering Heitkamp's last win, which set in motion a six-year legal war of attrition pitting the GOP-run statehouse in Bismarck against tribal leaders and voting rights groups. Census Bureau records show 46,000 Native Americans live in North Dakota, including 20,000 on tribal reserves. According to court filings, at least 5,000 of those on reservations do not have conventional addresses.

North Dakota has become a high priority for Republicans as they seek to retain their slim majority in the Senate. In television interviews this week, President Donald Trump, who won the state by 36 percentage points in 2016, touted polls showing Rep. Kevin Cramer, R, leading Heitkamp by double digits. Republicans have made Heitkamp's vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh a centerpiece of their effort as the campaign enters its final straight.

Native American voting right groups described this week's Supreme Court ruling, in which Kavanaugh did not participate, as the latest ploy to depress already-low turnout among tribes.

"It is a partisan and intentional effort at targeting native voters," said Matt Campbell, attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, who represented a group of military veterans as plaintiffs in the case. He cited official figures indicating that in 2012 there were just nine cases of potential voter fraud out of 325,862 votes cast. "Voter fraud is not a problem," he said.

Al Jaeger, North Dakota's secretary of state, did not respond to a request for comment. However, in a reply to Four Directions obtained by The Washington Post, Jaeger warned that the activists' plan could cause confusion among voters. He cited the example of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Tribe, which he said was already bound by an agreement delegating authority for erecting road signs and assigning street addresses to Rolette County.

In a 2017 letter to Trump's now-defunct Commission on Election Integrity, Jaeger also laid out his views on the need for stricter voter ID requirements.

"While some individuals argue that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, there are others who argue the exact opposite," Jaeger wrote. "Regardless, the truth is that under the current forms of election administration, it is not possible to establish whether widespread voter fraud does or does not exist because it is difficult to determine either way when proof is not required of voters when registering or before voting."

In a dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that the North Dakota ID law presented a "severe" risk of "grand-scale voter confusion." Her opinion noted different ID rules were in place during the state's primary election this spring, meaning some voters might show up at the polls with ID that falls short or simply stay at home in November.

"Reasonable voters may well assume that the IDs allowing them to vote in the primary election would remain valid in the general election," Ginsburg wrote.

Cramer has not publicly responded to the Supreme Court ruling, and his campaign did not reply to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Julia Krieger, communications director for the Heitkamp campaign, declined to comment on the plans by Native American activists but described the voter ID law as a partisan move aimed at lowering turnout among Heitkamp's voters.

"Passed by North Dakota's Republican-majority legislature almost immediately following Heidi's victory in 2012, it's no secret that North Dakota's hyperpartisan voter ID laws target student and Native communities because they prefer Heidi in the U.S. Senate," Krieger said.

While North Dakota has voted Republican in 19 out of the past 20 presidential races, the state was long represented by two Democratic senators, Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad. Heitkamp ran in 2012 after her mentor, Conrad, encouraged her; she has remained popular in part by distancing herself from national Democrats, although the state has been trending to the right in recent years.

The first flash point in the legal battle over voter ID laws came in 2013 in the wake of Heitkamp's election, when the state legislature argued the system in place at the time facilitated voter fraud. Legislators banned alternatives for those without ID, including affidavits signed under penalty of perjury or tribal officials testifying that a voter was a local resident. They then removed college and military cards from the list of acceptable documents and passed another law requiring that a person's ID contain a current residential address.

Jim Silrum, North Dakota's deputy secretary of state, a proponent of the efforts to tighten voter rules, said at the time the measure was drafted after "concerned citizens" and state representatives raised fears about the possibility of voter fraud.

Activists say a succession of laws put in place since 2012 have disenfranchised thousands of tribal voters, especially those who lived on reservations or in wilderness areas. During the 2014 midterms in Rolette County, home to the Turtle Mountain tribal reservation, turnout plunged from 45 percent to 33 percent, while neighboring non-tribal areas saw no comparable decline.

“We’ve been dealing with suppression of our political rights and voice for decades,” said Wizipan Little Elk, who led Barack Obama’s Native American outreach effort during the 2008 presidential election. “This is just one more example.”

More Alaska psychiatric patients may be held in jail cells due to hospital staffing shortage

Fri, 2018-10-12 17:33

Workplace safety fears and staffing shortages at the state-run psychiatric hospital has the Alaska prison system bracing to house more and more psychiatric patients in jails.

In a two-week period from the end of September to early October, reports of patients injuring staff at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute doubled, said Cynthia Montgomery, the acting director of nursing. At that point, Montgomery said, the hospital decided it could not safely take on more patients without additional staff.

This is not the first time API has been at capacity and could not take more patients, said Duane Mayes, the director of API. He said he expects to hire close to 50 new psychiatric nurse assistants in the next three to six months, which will allow the hospital to open all 80 of its beds.

At the moment, amid the employee shortage and safety concerns, API is now using only about 50 of its beds.

If there isn't room for a patient at API, the next step is placement at another treatment facility, like a local emergency room. And Anchorage's hospital emergency rooms have been overflowing this year with psychiatric patients, in part because of API staffing shortages.

Without hospital beds available, some potential API patients are expected to find themselves held in a jail mental health ward, even if they are not accused of a crime.

Staff with the Disability Law Center of Alaska visited Anchorage Correctional Center Friday morning and confirmed that two psychiatric patients were currently being held at the jail that should have been evaluated at API, said Dave Fleurant, the executive director of the center. Megan Edge, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said two psychiatric patients were being held at the Anchorage jail, a third is at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and a fourth had been released to a group home. She said the patients had been coming since Oct. 5.

One of the patients had been waiting at the jail for almost a week, Fleurant said. He criticized the state for a lack of transparency.

"This has happened in the past, but never at this level, and never for an indefinite period of time," Fleurant said.

[Alaska's only psychiatric emergency room is overflowing. It's a sign of a system breaking down.]

In an internal memo Tuesday, a senior Department of Corrections official said the prison system anticipated it would soon be housing more psychiatric patients who pose a danger to themselves or others. In the memo, Laura Brooks, DOC's health and rehabilitation services director, said psychiatric patients who are waiting for a bed in API can be placed on what's known as a "mental health hold" under the state's involuntary commitment law, Title 47.

That law allows the person to be held at a local hospital or correctional facility until the patient can be brought to a treatment facility, Brooks wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Anchorage Daily News. Once a patient arrives at a treatment facility such as API, he or she must be evaluated within 72 hours, under state law.

But there is no time limit for those who are waiting to begin the evaluation process, according to Brooks' memo.

"With bed space at API extremely limited, and local hospitals resistant to taking (Title 47 holds), we can expect many of these individuals who are awaiting API commitment to end up in our facilities," Brooks wrote to colleagues. "I do not know how many (Title 47) detainees we will see or how long they may remain with us."

The memo said the number of beds at API had dropped to 36, though Brooks later said in a later phone interview the number was incorrect and should be 49.

The memo prompted alarm among public defenders and advocates for the mentally ill in Alaska. While it isn't unheard of psychiatric patients to be placed in jail cells when hospitals are full, that has been regarded as the option of last resort, said Quinlan Steiner, the head of the state public defender agency.

"What appears to be happening is that this is just going to be standard procedure," Steiner said.

Mike Abbott, the chief executive of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, said Friday his agency was aware of the challenges in the system, and knew many people were working hard to make sure appropriate care was available for people with serious mental illnesses.

"But putting people in jail — because there's not a better therapeutic option — is generally not acceptable," Abbott said.

Patients who are committed to API may be experiencing a range of conditions that cause them to pose a danger to themselves or others, from an acute crisis such as a suicide attempt to the psychotic effects of drugs to the chronically mentally ill.

In her memo, Brooks, the corrections official, described the possible rise in commitments as a fresh challenge facing the prison system.

"This is new to all of us so please be patient as we work through a new process," she wrote to fellow corrections officials.

Her memo outlined a series of procedures for jails and prisons to follow, including an immediate referral to a mental health clinician and a warning for staff not to use restraints unless a detainee was actively harming themselves and all other de-escalation attempts had failed.

In a phone interview Thursday, Brooks said psychiatric patients who come to the Department of Corrections would be placed in specialized psychiatric care wards in the downtown Anchorage jail, Hiland Mountain Correctional Center or Goose Creek Correctional Center in Knik. The patients will not be placed with the general jail population, she said.

She said the patients would be prioritized by the acuteness of their illness.
As of Thursday, Brooks said she didn't have any data on the number of patients actually being housed at DOC. She said she was trying to be proactive, but noted that her facilities are not meant to treat psychiatric patients.

"The bottom line is, these are jail cells, these are not hospital rooms," Brooks said.
The shortfalls in staffing at API, which officials characterized as short-term, is the latest crisis for an institution that has been struggling for years with management and safety. A September report by attorney Bill Evans corroborated concerns about an unsafe working environment at API, and shortly after, then-director Ron Hale and two top health department officials resigned.

Hayes, who was appointed API director after Hale's resignation, said the Evans report heightened his level of concern about patient and staff safety. He said he was working "aggressively" to fill the new nursing jobs in the next few months. Some patients need two nurses and full-time monitoring.
He said the state has boosted nurse salaries and is also offering a $10,000 signing bonus.

Montgomery, the acting director of nursing at API, said the recent spike in staff injuries was the main factor in the decision to turn away patients. She said there were 22 staff injuries by patients in a two-week period from the end of September to early October, compared to 11 injuries over the same period in August and July.

Laura Russell, a behavioral health policy adviser with the state Division of Behavioral Health, said API is constantly assessing the number of people it can safely care for.

"We are at the capacity that our resources can handle at this time," Russell said.

But so are local emergency rooms. An Anchorage Fire Department website that shows hospital status listed the emergency rooms at all three major hospitals as "closed" to psychiatric patients. That means the hospitals have alerted police and paramedics that it is no longer safe to continue delivering patients to the emergency rooms, and officials should seek other treatment facilities first.

Steiner, the public defender, said the short-term question is whether hospitals can somehow accommodate these patients so they don't have to go to jail. In the long term, other advocates said the solution is not a bigger hospital but better supports and care for people with mental illness to avoid crises in the first place.

Fleurant, the executive director of the Disability Law Center, said in a Friday statement that detaining civilly committed individuals in jails was unconstitutional. He said the prospect of a lawsuit was being researched.

"This is how we buy ourselves, as a state, some time," said David Fleurant, an attorney with the Disability Law Center who was monitoring the situation. "We lock up our patients. And I can't believe there isn't another alternative out there."

Faith Myers, a longtime advocate for the mentally ill in Alaska, said Thursday she had not heard of psychiatric patients being placed in jail because there wasn't room elsewhere. She said that concerns about patient safety have taken a backseat to concerns about staff safety in recent years.

A puzzling maneuver, then freefall: NTSB report provides new details in Southeast Alaska helicopter crash that killed 3

Fri, 2018-10-12 17:20

The helicopter that crashed in Southeast Alaska in late September, killing three people, entered a 500-foot freefall before dropping to a Glacier Bay National Park beach, according to a report released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The crash killed Anchorage business owner Josh Pepperd, 42, and his 11-year-old son Andrew as well as Palmer air service owner David William King, 53, from Chickaloon.

Another of Pepperd's sons, 14-year-old Aiden, survived with serious injuries and talked with investigators about what happened.

Pepperd and Andrew remain missing. King's body was found three days after the crash about three-quarters of a mile from the crash site, near Lituya Bay.

Pepperd, owner of Davis Constructors and Engineers, had just bought the Airbus Helicopters AS350-B3e helicopter, and was flying it home from Texas.

Pepperd was sitting on the right side of the helicopter, piloting the craft. King sat in the left-hand seat as co-pilot with his own controls; he was along because of insurance policies requiring a pilot have a certain amount of flight time.

"We don't know if he was instructing. We don't know if they were doing flight training on the way up," said Clint Johnson, Alaska chief for the NTSB. "That's an unknown."

The helicopter left Juneau, flew over the mountains at 3,000 to 4,000 feet, then north along the coast.

The surviving teen told Alaska State Troopers that the pilot "reached down and rolled the throttle off" and left the collective up, NTSB investigator Joshua Lindberg wrote in the report.

The throttle controls engine speed. The collective, a lever next to the pilot's leg, controls the pitch angle of the rotor blades.

If the throttle is rolled back without decreasing the collective, the helicopter can lose rotor speed, according to a veteran Alaska helicopter pilot who asked not to be named. That, in turn, could lead to what happened next.

The helicopter entered a freefall from about 500 feet off the ground, the report states. The pilot increased the throttle again about 30 feet off the ground, but the teenager felt the helicopter hit the water and noticed it splashing in the cabin before he lost consciousness.

Investigators recovered an Appareo Vision 1000 unit, which was immersed in saltwater but should provide valuable information, Johnson said. The device is like a small flight-data recorder that takes images at a fast rate and records pitch, roll, acceleration, altitude changes and GPS coordinates.

The crash occurred about 60 miles northwest of Gustavus as the group flew from Juneau to Yakutat. The plan was to drop King off in Wasilla before heading to Anchorage.

Pepperd graduated from Wasilla High School in 1994, the same year he started his construction career as a union laborer, according to his obituary. He started full-time at Davis in 1999 and never left, founding sister company Mass Excavation Inc. Pepperd is survived by a large family including his four children and his wife, who is pregnant.

His memorial service was scheduled for Friday at Anchorage Bible Fellowship.

King started flying when he was 16 after graduating from Bettles High School, his obituary said. He flew solo cross-country to college in South Carolina and bought his first PA-20 at 17 with money made from Alaskan scene artwork.

King and his father founded Kingdom Air Corps, a missionary pilot and mechanic training program. He and his wife operated Last Frontier Aviation Group.

The preliminary NTSB report released Friday offers no official probable cause. That determination won't be made until next year at the earliest.

Officials consider asking parents to make dire border choice: detention or separation?

Fri, 2018-10-12 16:02

Two young mothers from Honduras and their children are detained by Border Patrol after rafting across the Rio Grande in Granjeno, Texas, in June. Photo for The Washington Post by Jahi Chikwendiu (Jahi Chikwendiu/)

WASHINGTON - The White House is actively considering plans that could again separate parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to reverse soaring numbers of families attempting to cross illegally into the United States, according to several administration officials with direct knowledge of the effort.

One option under consideration is for the government to detain asylum-seeking families together for up to 20 days, then give parents a choice - stay in family detention with their child for months or years as their immigration case proceeds, or allow children to be taken to a government shelter so other relatives or guardians can seek custody.

That option - called "binary choice" - is one of several under consideration amid the president's frustration over border security. President Donald Trump has been unable to fulfill key promises to build a border wall and end what he calls "catch and release," a process that began under past administrations in which most detained families are quickly freed to await immigration hearings. The number of migrant family members arrested and charged with illegally crossing the border jumped 38 percent in August and is now at a record level, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.

Senior administration officials say they are not planning to revive the chaotic forced separations carried out by the Trump administration in May and June that spawned an enormous political backlash and led to a court order to reunite families.

But they feel compelled to do something, and officials say senior White House adviser Stephen Miller is advocating for tougher measures because he believes the springtime separations worked as an effective deterrent to illegal crossings.

At least 2,500 children were taken from their parents over a period of six weeks. Crossings by families declined slightly in May, June and July before surging again in August. September numbers are expected to be even higher.

While some inside the White House and DHS are concerned about the "optics" and political blowback of renewed separations, Miller and others are determined to act, according to officials briefed on the deliberations. There have been several high-level meetings in the White House in recent weeks about the issue. The "binary choice" option is seen as one that could be tried out fairly quickly.

"Career law enforcement professionals in the U.S. government are working to analyze and evaluate options that would protect the American people, prevent the horrific actions of child smuggling, and stop drug cartels from pouring into our communities," deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in an emailed statement.

Any effort to expand family detentions and resume separations would face multiple logistical and legal hurdles.

It would require overcoming the communication and data management failures that plagued the first effort, when Border Patrol agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and Department of Health and Human Services caseworkers struggled to keep track of separated parents and children.

The Trump administration believes it is on solid legal ground, according to two officials, in part because U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the government to reunite separated families in June, approved the binary-choice approach in one of his rulings. But a Congressional Research Service report last month said "practical and legal barriers" remain to using that approach in the future and said releasing families together in the United States is "the only clearly viable option under current law."

Administration officials said the CRS report cited earlier legal rulings. But the American Civil Liberties Union, which launched the separations lawsuit, disputed that interpretation and said it would oppose any attempt at expanded family detentions or separations.

"The government need not, and legally may not, indiscriminately detain families who present no flight risk or danger," ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said in an email. "It is deeply troubling that this Administration continues to look for ways to cause harm to small children."

Another hurdle is that the government does not have detention space for a large number of additional families. ICE has three "family residential centers" with a combined capacity of roughly 3,000 parents and children. With more than four times that many arriving each month, it is unclear where the government would hold all the parents who would opt to remain with their children.

But Trump said in his June 20 executive order halting family separations that the administration's policy is to keep parents and children together, "including by detaining" them. In recent weeks, federal officials have taken steps to expand their ability to do that.

In addition to considering "binary choice" and other options, officials have proposed new rules that would allow them to withdraw from a 1997 federal court agreement that bars ICE from keeping children in custody for more than 20 days.

The rules would give ICE greater flexibility to expand family detention centers and potentially hold parents and children longer, though lawyers say this would be likely to end up in court.

Officials have also imposed production quotas on immigration judges and are searching for more ways to speed up the calendar in its courts to adjudicate cases more quickly.

Federal officials arguing for the tougher measures say the rising number of family crossings is a sign of asylum fraud. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has blasted smugglers for charging migrants thousands of dollars to ferry them into the United States, knowing that "legal loopholes" will force the administration to release them pending a court hearing. Federal officials say released families are rarely deported.

Advocates for immigrants counter that asylum seekers are fleeing violence and acute poverty, mainly in Central America, and deserve to have a full hearing before an immigration judge.

"There is currently a crisis at our southern border," DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said in a statement, adding, "DHS will continue to enforce the law humanely, and will continue to examine a range of options to secure our nation's borders."

In southern Arizona, so many families have crossed in the past 10 days that the government has been releasing them en masse to shelters and charities. A lack of available bus tickets has stranded hundreds of parents and children in Tucson, where they sleep on Red Cross cots in a church gymnasium.

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., told Nielsen that migrants were "flooding into the community" and that authorities there had "no ability to do anything about it."

Nielsen said lawmakers needs to give DHS more latitude to hold families with children in detention until their cases can be fully adjudicated - a process that can take months or years because of huge court backlogs.

DHS officials have seen the biggest increase this year in families arriving from Guatemala, where smugglers called "coyotes" tell migrants they can avoid detention and deportation by bringing a child, according to some community leaders in that country.

On Friday, Nielsen called for a regional effort to combat smuggling and violence in the region and to "heighten our penalties for traffickers."

"I think there's more that we can do to hold them responsible, particularly those who traffic in children," she said in a speech in Washington at the second Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America.

More than 90,000 adults with children were caught at the southwest border in the first 11 months of fiscal 2018. The previous high for a single year was 77,600 in 2016.

How do you solve weird Alaska fish mysteries? This Sitka woman has a Facebook group for that.

Fri, 2018-10-12 13:57

A pyrosome found while longlining near Sitka in March 2017. “They came up at night in large numbers so I used a bucket to catch some,” said Karen Johnson. (Photo courtesy Karen Johnson)

Karen Johnson's brother brought home a pyrosome last January that he'd picked up in the waters off Sitka. In his decades of fishing, he hadn't seen anything quite like it. It looked like translucent, floating pickle. He asked Johnson if she knew what it was.

Johnson, who has fished those waters herself for 45 years, didn't. But after a search on the Internet, she came up with the name of the gelatinous creature: It was a pyrosome — an organism that typically lives in tropical waters and that started showing up in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. She sent photographs to a state fisheries biologist who confirmed the identification.

That interaction got Johnson thinking: How could she help connect scientists with the fishermen who are regularly out in Alaska waters, plucking all kinds of underwater creatures from the sea? As the climate changes, she said, it felt especially important.

"I started thinking: How do we reach fishermen? Because I know we see interesting things all the time and there's not the connection between scientists and what we see," said Johnson, 51, of Sitka

So Johnson did what any Facebook user can do: She started a group on the social media platform. She titled it "Unusual Marine Life of Alaska: Report, Identify and Learn." She encouraged people to share photographs of any new or unusual ocean dwellers they found in Alaska.

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In the past year, Johnson's group of just over 1,200 people has become a hub for photos and conversations about Alaska's sea creatures — the unusual, the slimy and the sometimes grotesque. People find the sea life in all sorts of ways, spotting them in tide pools, pulling them up in nets. The group has also become a place where people post photographs of the unknown sea creatures they've found and, more often than not, get a quick identification from a scientist. Other times, scientists put out requests for observations.

"It's been a really fun group that brings together some experts and hobbyists and commercial fishermen," said Ryan Fields, who grew up fishing in Kodiak and currently lives in California. Fields posted a photograph this summer of an orange-brown fish caught in 2014 near Kodiak Island. Within hours, a biologist identified it as a buffalo sculpin.

Earlier this month, Johnson asked group members to consider reporting any signs of sea star wasting syndrome. Before that, a University of Alaska Fairbanks associate professor asked if anyone had recently seen or caught any juvenile black cod near Sitka.

Government agencies have long relied on people — citizen scientists — to volunteer their time and help with monitoring, said Terry Thompson, statewide communications and outreach coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish. The explosion of social media has expanded the opportunities for people to report wildlife sightings. People can now take a picture with their phones, immediately post it on Facebook and get feedback, he said.

A giant wrymouth caught in 2017 near Kodiak while halibut fishing. (Photo courtesy Peter Longrich)

"There's way more science than can be done by agencies, so what is happening now is more and more citizen science monitoring is going on, and then agencies like Fish and Game will take that information," he said.

There are Facebook groups in Alaska for an array of wildlife sightings, from moose to bears to belugas. Thompson said the more structured the monitoring program, the better. But, he said, the sightings reported online still contribute valuable information that's "added to the knowledge bank."

"It puts things on our radar that we may or may not be aware of," he said.

Aaron Baldwin, a fisheries biologist with Fish and Game in Douglas, said he checks Johnson's marine life group often. Government agencies don't have the resources for around-the-clock field work, he said. The online group allows him to easily and cheaply monitor what's going on in Alaska's waters. It's a space for observations that are new or possibly ecologically important, he said. He also helps identify the creatures, including the pyrosome found by Johnson's brother and the fish posted on the Facebook group by Fields.

A North Pacific armorhead caught while fishing for salmon in the Resurrection Bay near Seward. (Photo courtesy Andy Mezirow)

"It's a great way to see what's going on — to see these observations right away," he said.

Johnson said she hopes to keep the group going. She credited its growth to the people who take time to share their discoveries and the scientists and others who take time to identify the creatures.

"I can only hope it will continue on as it becomes even more important as climate change and other factors affect the environment," she said.

More Alaska psychiatric patients may be held in jail cells due to hospital staffing shortage

Fri, 2018-10-12 13:20

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale listens to a question during a news conference prior to a workout at Fenway Park, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, in Boston. The Red Sox face the Houston Astros in Game 1 of baseball’s American League Championship on Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It’s Friday. Here’s a video of a pygmy goat jumping around the Anchorage animal shelter.

Fri, 2018-10-12 12:58

A pygmy goat was jumping around the Anchorage Animal Care and Control shelter on Friday morning and, well, it was adorable.

Someone spotted the tiny goat this week wandering around Reka Drive in East Anchorage, said Laura Atwood, spokeswoman for Anchorage Animal Care. The goat was taken to a veterinarian and then to the shelter.

It didn't have ID tags and no one claimed it, so it went up for adoption Friday, according to Atwood.

Photographs of the goat got a lot of attention on Facebook, and it quickly found a new home. An animal control officer decided to adopt it, Atwood said.

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Update: this little guy (found out he's a boy) has been adopted! Our little goat is available for adoption! We'll be happy to see him (her?) go home but Officer Winn will miss her morning cuddles.

Posted by Anchorage Animal Care and Control on Friday, October 12, 2018

Oil flowing from Alaska federal reserve means big money for North Slope communities

Fri, 2018-10-12 12:46

People walk on Stevenson Street in Utqiagvik on December 13, 2016. (Marc Lester / ADN)

A federal grant program aimed at helping North Slope communities offset the impacts of oil development is about to become flush with money.

ConocoPhillips' Oct. 9 announcement that oil began to flow from its Greater Mooses Tooth-1 project in the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska also marked the start of consistent revenue to the NPR-A Impact Mitigation Grant Program.

Written into federal statute, the money it disperses is the State of Alaska's 50 percent share of oil royalties, drilling lease rentals and bonus bids from the reserve; the North Slope communities of Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut, Wainwright and Utqiagvik as well as the North Slope Borough are eligible for it.

While based on higher-than-current oil prices, the GMT-1 project, expected to peak at roughly 30,000 barrels per day, was estimated to generate more than $1 billion in royalty revenue over its life in the project's final environmental impact statement; half of that would go to the mitigation grant program. The federal royalty in the reserve is 16.67 percent of the wellhead value of the oil.

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. also holds subsurface rights to a majority of the oil-bearing leases, but the project is the first of three progressively larger oil developments ConocoPhillips is working on.

About eight miles farther into the reserve from GMT-1, Greater Mooses Tooth-2 — largely expected to be sanctioned by the company this winter — is expected to peak at upwards of 38,000 barrels per day. ConocoPhillips Alaska officials have said it could produce oil in 2021 if it's greenlit soon.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack said the largest influx of grant revenue would come from the $4 billion to $6 billion Willow project, not only because it is pegged to peak at upwards of 100,000 barrels per day but also because the Bureau of Land Management controls the mineral rights there.

The North Slope Borough is projecting there will be about $17 million available to fund grants in fiscal year 2019, according to NSB Deputy Finance Director Fadil Limani. He said that's a purposefully conservative estimate that does not include production from GMT-1 or the annual fall NPR-A lease sale.

Revenue generated from the lease sales is generally unpredictable. BLM netted $18 million in the December 2016 NPR-A sale but that fell to just $1.1 million — all from ConocoPhillips — last year despite the agency opening all available tracts to leasing and strong indications that there is a lot more oil in the reserve than previously thought.

ConocoPhillips discovered the Willow prospect, which is largely a Nanushuk oil play, at a time when the most current U.S. Geological Survey mean estimate for recoverable oil in the reserve was less than 900 million barrels.

"Now we're suddenly looking at another area that has billions of barrels of oil," Mack said in an interview.

The USGS subsequently updated its mean NPR-A oil projection to more than 8.8 billion barrels for the reserve and adjacent state lands late last December. If remotely accurate, most of that oil is expected to come from the geologically related Nanushuk and Torok formations that are driving what ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders are calling a "renaissance" on the Slope.

BLM allocates funding for the grant program to the state twice per year. That money is then appropriated by the Legislature to the communities, which submit grant proposals to the state Department of Commerce Community and Economic Development.

The amount of money available for the grants has varied widely since 2002 mostly due to lease sale results. It peaked at $25 million in 2004 when 30 projects were funded; however, most years it has been in the $2 million to $5 million range.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Navarre said during a joint House and Senate Resources committee meeting in September that $13.5 million had been deposited in the state's account for the program so far in fiscal year 2019.

An annual report to the Legislature on the grant program issued in January listed 16 applications totaling $11.6 million for the current fiscal year 2019, but Navarre said his department could make a mid-year supplemental budget request if more money is available than first thought and more proposals are submitted.

"It's fairly broad funding in order to make sure that the communities that are affected (by development in the NPR-A) — their concerns and the impacts are addressed," he told legislators.

The current year projects recommended for funding are for community and youth center upgrades in several of the villages, a new John Deere loader tractor for Utqiagvik and a youth program in Wainwright, among others. The borough requested funds for fish, wildlife, water and air quality studies as well as $3.5 million for a winter trail network.

Any additional money not consumed by the grants is split between state uses with 25 percent of what's left going to the Permanent Fund, 5 percent to the Public School Trust Fund and the remainder going to rural power programs, and, lastly the General Fund for public infrastructure appropriations, according to the Commerce Department report.

According to department officials, to date no funds have been left over for state purposes in the history of the program.

Whether or not that trend will continue to hold true when more money is available is unknown.

North Slope officials are also aware of the fact there is rarely enough money to go around statewide.

"There's going to be other municipalities, other regions, legislatures in the state that are certainly going to want to see opportunities for these resources but, as expressed in the federal statute, the intent of these resources is to be reserved for the impacted communities these (oil) resources are being extracted from," Limani said, adding the North Slope Borough "absolutely" expects to use all of the money available for the program.

The borough's longer term projections are for $40 million to $50 million per year to be available for grants, noting that the estimates could well be "on the lower end of the spectrum" if Willow comes online as expected in the mid-2020s, he said. The borough has yet to closely examine the large but early-stage project.

Regardless of exactly how much money is available in a given year, the North Slope Borough and the eligible communities within it will reliably find uses for it, according to Limani. He emphasized borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr.'s focus on community assistance and development, highlighting the fact that unemployment rates in the villages can be close to 40 percent in some cases.

The borough usually has a capital budget of about $80 million per year but gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million worth of project requests from its communities, according to Limani.

"A lot of the infrastructure out there is dilapidated, it's aged, so (Brower) wants to make resources available for that. While we focus on development of oil and gas resources, it does have impacts on the social side, too," Limani said. "I think that's another area he wanted to use resources to make sure that we're monitoring — knowing the drug and alcohol epidemic that's facing the state as a whole and especially the North Slope communities.

"The mayor's very sensitive to that; wants to deploy resources to be able to address that."

Longer term, borough officials are likely to look at transportation infrastructure, namely road development, which Gov. Bill Walker supports, and possibly getting natural gas from NPR-A oil developments to nearby communities as well as dealing with the impact of climate change.

Limani said money should eventually be made available to deal with coastal erosion in communities that might not be directly eligible for the grants but are within the borough boundaries.

And none of that addresses the omnipresent concern about the ability for residents to continue traditional harvests amid oil projects.

"Subsistence is the pillar of the culture, so when you're looking at all this one of the key components is make sure the development doesn't impact the subsistence way of living," he said.

Money talks

Mack noted that North Slope officials generally support offshore developments such as Hilcorp Energy's proposed manmade island Liberty oil project, which sits just beyond the state waters boundary.

As a result, the state would be eligible for 27 percent of royalties derived from Liberty, but the borough cannot levy its property tax on the offshore infrastructure as it does for other onshroe developments.

The North Slope Borough's oil and gas property tax is its primary revenue stream.

"They're a little uncomfortable because (Liberty) is placed outside their jurisdiction and even though the state gets 27 percent of the rents, royalties and bonus bids, the borough doesn't enjoy some of the property tax that it is accustomed to and in many cases is used to mitigate impacts," Mack said.

Borough and state officials have started having high-level conversations about the grant funds given the newfound abundance of oil in the NPR-A, according to Mack.

"We have to grapple with the issue that there is a bundle of great news and along with that great news comes great expectations and also at some point we have to talk about money. And right now, with respect to royalty in the NPR-A, the state is not a recipient of a significant amount of that. So at some level we're hoping that we can work with the North Slope Borough," he said.

The state can levy its oil production tax on NPR-A projects, but that tax revenue will likely be relatively minimal for years given the multi-layered deductions companies are able to apply to new projects.

Mack stressed that Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott both grew up in small Alaska communities and thus understand the realities and challenges of living outside the state's urban centers.

"We want a program that is sustainable, that allows for the communities to mitigate impacts and adapt to the change but honestly, we want a fair shake just like everybody else does," he said, adding there is ample time to find an amenable solution.

"We're not demanding anything; we're all similarly situated."

Resources Committee chair Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, noted during the September hearing that Rep. Don Young has a proposal in Congress to split Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas revenue 50-50 between the state and the feds, with 3 percent of the state's share then going to Alaska Native corporations. She speculated whether or not some sort of similar plan could work for the NPR-A.

In an interview, Giessel said more available money will always lead to more competing uses for it, adding any changes to how the NPR-A funds are distributed "would be up to Congress to thread that needle."

However, she also contended that resource development, at its core, is about improving people's lives, which the NPR-A Impact Mitigation Grant Program is intended to do.

"I just want to make sure it all balances out," Giessel said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at

Reservations aside, hotel-set ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is far out

Fri, 2018-10-12 12:19

Jon Hamm in “Bad Times at the El Royale.” (Kimberley French, Twentieth Century Fox)

The setup of "Bad Times at the El Royale" sounds familiar, even cliche: Seven strangers, each with a skeleton in the closet, find themselves thrown together at a hotel that has seen better days, and that itself hides a secret – one that is revealed in the short, wham-bam prologue that sets the stage for this 1969-set film, which is part B-movie sendup, part noirish hybrid of mystery and black comedy, and all original.

The name of its writer and director, Drew Goddard, may not mean anything to some. But anyone who has seen Goddard's only previous film, the meta-horror movie "The Cabin in the Woods," or who knows his work as a writer on such projects as "Lost," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the Oscar-nominated adaptation of "The Martian," will know to expect the unexpected.

Not all of its surprises are pleasant ones, but there is a certain satisfaction in experiencing a yarn that is so obstinately un-anticipatable.

Set in the titular hotel, a Lake Tahoe-area lodge that straddles the Nevada-California line, the action of the film takes place on a night when the front-desk clerk of the normally godforsaken inn (Lewis Pullman) is suddenly overwhelmed by small scramble for rooms. A traveling vacuum-cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm), a priest (Jeff Bridges), a lounge singer (Cynthia Erivo) and a hippie (Dakota Johnson) – or four people who claim to be those things – show up at about the same time, lugging more metaphorical baggage than the real kind.

It sounds like the prelude to a joke. And in some ways it is one. With a Tarantino-esque soundtrack of vintage R&B; and classic pop-rock tunes playing over much of this soon-to-turn-lurid-and-bloody tale, the film feels (and sounds) at times like a parody of something. But of what, it's not exactly clear.

"Bad Times" is period-perfect, with gorgeous production design (by Martin Whist) and a moody score (by Michael Giacchino), but it's also a little too perfect: a 21st-century wisenheimer's appropriation – and recapitulation – of an era that appears more vivid and colorful than the original ever was, because it's a fantasy.

Woven into this fantasy, over a slightly overlong running time, are narrative threads involving the Vietnam War, a Manson-like cult and the civil rights struggle. But Goddard never wields these themes to score difficult sociopolitical points. Rather, he seems more interested in the 1960s as an idea – a good-looking narrative device – rather than a real and turbulent time. It's a beautiful picture frame, surrounding a lot of ugliness and violence.

More indelible even than the art direction, however, is the cast, which is headed up by Bridges in the kind of tough-but-tender performance he seems capable of delivering with his hands tied behind his back (and, in fact, his character is bound in the film's crazy climax, which lurches hither and yon, for better and for worse). Paired off against him is Erivo's Darlene Sweet, a Reno songstress with the bluesy voice of a honky-tonk angel who is struggling to make it in the racist, sexist world of showbiz. Erivo, a 2016 Tony Award winner for the musical "The Color Purple," is the film's breakout star, making her upcoming role in "Widows" even more of a must-see.

Chris Hemsworth, who also starred in Goddard's "Cabin," compensates for getting dispatched relatively early in that film by showing up very late in the game here, in a darker role than fans of his "Thor" movies may know what to do with.

At least I didn't.

"Bad Times at the El Royale" certainly goes places you wouldn't predict, but it's not always evident why. Like the namesake hotel, which boasts a red line running through its lobby – one side the home state of Tinseltown, the other Sin City – "Bad Times at the El Royale" is a schizoid thing: terribly, terribly entertaining, and at times just a wee bit soulless.

Don’t take a leader like Lisa Murkowski for granted

Fri, 2018-10-12 11:22

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, speaks with reporters just after a deeply divided Senate pushed Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination past a key procedural hurdle, setting up a likely final showdown vote for Saturday, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Though we're now far from Alaska, the turmoil that gripped the Senate and, in turn, the country, over Justice Brett Kavanaugh, had the odd effect of drawing us back home. With friends knowing that we had lived in Alaska and had worked for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, nearly every conversation started with, "what do you think Lisa will do?"

Even with the unusual vantage point of working so closely with Sen. Murkowski, as her communications director and press secretary on Capitol Hill and through two elections, we weren't certain of the outcome of her vote. With facts and impressions changing hour by hour, who could have been certain? But because of that time spent with the senator, we trusted that for her, it would be the right thing.

We've never worked with anyone more dedicated to soul-searching over their decisions. Her purposeful deliberation is a trait that can be frustrating for her staff when votes appear to be clear-cut. It's frustrating for the media and commentators who try to put her in a box. And, no doubt, she is frustrating to her voters from time to time as she takes positions they don't always agree with. In this age of tribal politics, unpredictability is a rare gift.

Sen. Murkowski refuses to be labeled by anything other than someone who will study the facts, make the case and then take a position. That's a notion we all need to respect, because it defies today's politics in many ways. It is the spirit and the perspective that Alaskans, and all of us, deserve from their representatives and it shouldn't be taken for granted.

[Sen. Murkowski's speech on why she opposed Kavanaugh]

Perhaps the most telling perspective of Sen. Murkowski can be seen in comparison to the way others behave. Consider the position she found herself in after her first two elections. In 2004, she came back to Washington, D.C., as an underdog victor with a semi-unicorn status – a western state, Republican, female senator, in a media-hungry city that loves rarity. Six years later, she cemented her potential political celebrity as the unheard-of winner of a general election write-in campaign. Her ability to leverage these positions was enormous. Most other senators wouldn't be able to return the television booking calls fast enough, yet notoriety and fame has never been Sen. Murkowski's motivation.

If she doesn't see something as advancing the interests of her constituents, of her state, or of her country, she's not interested. More than once, as Alaskans have come to know, that means she will take positions that cross party lines. That's a good thing. Even when we don't agree with it, we should appreciate the courage that requires. And now, with her Kavanaugh vote, she has once again put herself in the position where celebrity-minded Twitter politicos can easily attempt attacks.

If anyone thinks that this is the easier position, consider being on the other end of those tweets. Consider how easy it is to go along to get along.

We've been thinking of our years working in the Senate a lot lately. With each passing of one of the Senate lions — those like Ted Stevens, like John McCain —we say it's the end of an era. Maybe. But, at the same time, there are glimmers of what a new era could look like.

If more leaders would take the step of hard analysis and conscientious voting, our future would be brighter. If we take a step back from impugning the motives of those who we elect to serve, we'd inspire a whole new generation of public servants. And if we don't take for granted the few, like Lisa, who don't take the easy way in or out, we may all get the Senate we deserve.

Kristin and Elliott Bundy worked in the U.S. Senate for Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski from 2001-2006 in multiple capacities. Kristin also worked on Sen. Murkowski's write-in campaign in 2010. They now reside in New Canaan, Connecticut.

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

Facebook says millions of users had names, search history and location data stolen in recent hack

Fri, 2018-10-12 10:55

An online attack that forced Facebook to log out 90 million users last month directly affected 29 million people on the social network, the company said Friday as it released new details about the scope of an incident that has regulators and law enforcement on high alert.

Through a series of interrelated bugs in Facebook's programming, unnamed attackers stole the names and contact information of 15 million users, Facebook said. The contact information included a mix of phone numbers and email addresses.

An additional 14 million users were affected more deeply, by having additional details taken related to their profiles such as their recent search history, gender, educational background, geolocation data, birth dates, and lists of people and pages they follow.

Facebook said last month that it detected the attack when it noticed an uptick in user activity. An investigation soon found that the activity was linked to the theft of security codes that, under normal circumstances, allow Facebook users to navigate away from the site while remaining logged in.

The bugs that allowed the attack to occur gave hackers the ability to effectively take over Facebook accounts on a widespread basis, Facebook said when it disclosed the breach. The attackers began with a relatively small number of accounts that they directly controlled, exploiting flaws in the platform's "View As" feature to gain access to other users' profiles. (The "View As" feature is designed to allow users to view their own profiles as though they are somebody else.)

Facebook said it is cooperating with federal and other authorities on its investigation, but said the FBI had advised the company not to discuss who may be behind the attack.

The 29 million affected users, along with 1 million whose security tokens were taken but did not appear to have their data stolen, will be receiving customized messages from Facebook identifying specifically which types of information on their profiles, if any, were involved in the breach. Facebook executives told reporters Friday that the company will also try to reach affected users who have since deleted their Facebook profiles.

Facebook has also established a web page that will inform users who are logged in whether their accounts were affected.

What may have motivated the attackers is still unclear; despite mounting concerns about election security as U.S. officials count down to a highly contested midterm election, Facebook said there was no indication the hack was specifically related to the U.S. electoral process.

"We don't have a specific indication as to the intention of the hackers," said Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of product management.

Facebook's disclosure puts the company under even greater pressure as policymakers have taken the company to task over its approach to user privacy and data.

“The update from Facebook today is significant now that Facebook has confirmed that the personal data of millions of users was taken by the perpetrators of the attack,” said Ireland’s Data Protection Commission - the watchdog agency charged with monitoring compliance with the European Union’s new data privacy law. It said it was continuing an investigation into the breach.

Anchorage airport considers construction of ‘quick cargo’ warehouse

Fri, 2018-10-12 09:23

A Polar Air Cargo Boeing 747-400 freighter takes off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Sept. 5, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Anchorage airport is looking into building a large warehouse to allow for air cargo to be stored on-site, officials said.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport issued a formal invitation to companies Thursday seeking ideas for constructing and operating a "quick cargo" center, Alaska's Energy Desk reported.

"What we want to do is provide a facility where people can store stuff on a quick basis to keep things out of the elements and secure," said Jim Szczesniak, the airport manager.

The Anchorage airport ranks among the busiest cargo airports in the world. Air tonnage increased by 5.2 percent to more than 1.34 million metric tons of cargo during the first half of this year, according to data from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The warehouse would be situated near the cargo plane parking area, and it could house offices for shipping companies. The facility would allow layovers for cargo, so one plane could drop off a load from one part of the world and another plane could pick it up to continue the cargo's journey.

The airport is examining two possible sites. One would allow for a warehouse the size of six football fields.

Construction of the facility might be supported by the Alaska Economic Development and Export Authority, Szczesniak said.

The airport is seeking responses by mid-December.

Trump’s arm-twisting of the Fed is what’s truly ‘loco’

Fri, 2018-10-12 09:05

President Donald Trump and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Nov. 2, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer. (Andrew Harrer/)

WASHINGTON -- President Trump keeps saying that Democrats want to model the United States on Venezuela. But the only one actually trying to turn us into Venezuela is Trump.

As stock markets plummeted Wednesday and Thursday, Trump lashed out at the Federal Reserve. He blamed the central bank, and not his trade wars, for the bloodbath.

"The Fed is going wild. I mean, I don't know what their problem is that they are raising interest rates and it's ridiculous," Trump told Fox News. "The Fed is going loco, and there's no reason for them to do it. I'm not happy about it," he said.

While economists may disagree about the exact pace of interest-rate hikes, raising rates now -- gradually, after keeping them at historically low levels for more than a decade -- is hardly "loco."

We're in one of the longest expansions on record. Unemployment has touched 49-year lows. Inflation appears to be picking up. Plus, Trump recently passed $2.7 trillion of fiscal stimulus during a robust recovery, adding to inflation risks. Such unjustifiably loose fiscal policy only bolstered the case for tighter monetary policy.

You know what is "loco," though? The fact that Trump thinks it's appropriate to arm-twist the Fed, whose political independence is supposed to be sacrosanct.

There's good reason to safeguard central-bank independence: It's that we don't want to turn into Venezuela. Or Argentina. Or pre-euro Italy. Or basically any hyperinflationary basket case whose population doesn't believe that monetary policy is free of political influence.

As these economies have shown many times over, putting the money supply in political hands is disastrous.

Politicians are always tempted by easy-money policy, especially in an election year. Why? In the short term, at least, loose monetary policy can goose the economy. It squeezes out a little more growth, boosts asset prices (including stocks) and pushes down unemployment.

Which tends to be helpful for scoring votes. There's a trade-off, though.

Loose monetary policy can also lead to inflation, especially when the economy is already doing well. And inflation can be caused not just by policymakers actually printing money today, but also by the belief that they might do so in the future.

If the public doesn't believe the government is committed to keeping prices stable -- because, say, an election is coming -- businesses might start pre-emptively jacking up prices. Which leads customers to go out and buy up products before prices rise further, which can lead to further price hikes, and so on.

In other words, an inflationary spiral.

The solution is to shield decisions about the money supply from day-to-day politics. In the United States, we do this by outsourcing decisions about interest rates to the Federal Reserve.

As an independent institution, whose officials are nominated by the president but can be removed only for cause, the Fed is free to do unpopular things, even in election years: to "take away the punch bowl" just when the party gets going -- that is, to prevent the economy from overheating.

Or even to cause some near-term pain in service to longer-term price stability, as then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker famously did when he raised rates to tame out-of-control inflation.

The Fed hasn't always been free of political influence. The high inflation that Volcker doused has been blamed in part on political pressure placed on Fed chairmen by the Johnson and Nixon administrations. And occasionally since then, members of presidential administrations (including George H.W. Bush himself, as well as Bill Clinton's budget chief) have publicly jawboned the Fed.

But for the most part, for the past several decades, administrations have maintained a policy of not commenting on monetary policy. They understood that raising even the specter of a compromised Fed was just too risky.

Trump clearly has no such understanding. He wants more punch for everyone, at least while he's president, and he wants to be the one who serves it. In fact, in May, former Fed Gov. Kevin Warsh told Politico about his own interview for the Fed chairmanship, in which Trump did not seem to understand that the Fed is supposed to be independent.

While the Fed has undoubtedly made mistakes in the past, it has spent decades cultivating its reputation for independence, and independence has been crucial to its ability to make a credible commitment to stable prices and thus the long-term health of the economy. Trump would do well to remember that reputation -- fairly or not -- is always easier lost than won.

Trump could be the most honest president in modern history

Fri, 2018-10-12 08:50

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Erie Insurance Arena, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Erie, Pa. There's a lot of talk in Washington these days about whether that quaint politeness known as "civility" is possible — or even desirable — among the nation's political combatants. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history.

Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet). In part, it’s a New York thing -- everything is the biggest and the best.

But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness -- keeping his promises -- Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

Trump kept his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something his three immediate predecessors also promised yet failed to do. He promised to "crush and destroy ISIS," and two years later he is on the verge of eliminating the Islamic State's physical caliphate. He promised to impose a travel ban on countries that he saw as posing a terrorist threat, and after several false starts the final version of his ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. He promised to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons on its people, and, unlike his immediate predecessor, he followed through -- not once but twice.

Trump pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices "in the mold of Justice [Antonin] Scalia," and now Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh sit on the high court. Trump also pledged to fill the federal appellate courts with young, conservative judges, and so far the Senate has confirmed 29 -- more than any recent president at this point in his administration.

Trump vowed to pass historic tax reforms, and signed the first major overhaul of the tax code in three decades. He vowed an unprecedented regulatory rollback, with a strict policy to eliminate two existing regulations for every new regulation. In his first year, he achieved $8.1 billion in lifetime regulatory savings and is on track to achieve an additional $9.8 billion this year.

During the campaign, he told African American voters, "What do you have to lose? ... I will straighten it out. I'll bring jobs back. We'll bring spirit back." On his watch, African American unemployment reached the lowest level ever recorded, and his tax reform included a little-noticed provision creating "Opportunity Zones" to try to revitalize struggling towns and inner-city communities.

Trump promised to cancel President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, withdraw from the Paris climate accord, approve the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration. He fulfilled all of those pledges.

On trade, he kept his promise to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. He also committed to renegotiating NAFTA and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement -- and recently signed new deals with Mexico, Canada and South Korea. He committed to imposing tariffs on China to force it to open its markets and stop its theft of intellectual property -- and is following through on that pledge. Whatever one thinks of Trump's trade policies, he is doing exactly what he said.

The president pledged historic increases in defense spending, and delivered. He pledged to bring back manufacturing jobs, and manufacturing jobs are growing at the fastest pace in more than two decades. He pledged to sign "Right to Try" legislation to give dying Americans access to experimental treatments, and did. He pledged to take on the opioid epidemic, and will soon sign a sweeping bipartisan opioids package into law.

Where Trump has failed to keep promises, such as building the wall or repealing Obamacare, it has not been for a lack of trying. Only in a few rare instances has he backtracked on a campaign pledge -- such as when he admitted that he was wrong to promise a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and reversed course. I'm glad he did.

But whether one agrees or disagrees is not the point. When Trump says he will do something, you can take it to the bank. Yes, he takes liberties with the truth. But unlike his predecessor, he did not pass his signature legislative achievement on the basis of a lie ("If you like your health care plan, you can keep it") -- which is clearly worse than falsely bragging that your tax cut is the biggest ever.

The fact is, in his first two years, Trump has compiled a remarkable record of presidential promise-keeping. He’d probably say it’s the best in history -- which may or may not end up being true. It’s too soon to tell.

Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Suspect’s clothing catches fire after troopers shoot chemical agent into his pickup

Fri, 2018-10-12 08:48

A 35-year-old Fairbanks man exited a pickup with his clothes on fire after Alaska State Troopers fired a chemical agent inside the truck.

Troopers say Jeffery M. Whaley, a convicted felon, was treated for injuries. Troopers recommended charges including weapons misconduct to state prosecutors.

Troopers took a call Wednesday afternoon of a man slumped over his steering wheel outside a convenience store between Fairbanks and North Pole.

A witness said the man had a gun in his hand and a bottle of beer next to him. Troopers made verbal contact with Whaley, and when he refused to get out, they launched a chemical agent inside.

Troopers said Whaley sat on the nonlethal munition and exited with his clothes on fire.

Troopers extinguished the fire. Emergency responders transported Whaley to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Haley stepping down at just the right time

Fri, 2018-10-12 08:31

President Donald Trump meets with outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley surprised virtually everybody this week when she announced she’d be resigning from her post at the end of the year.

In doing so, Haley has managed something unique. She leaves the Trump administration with her reputation not merely undiminished but actually enhanced. She's popular with both pro- and anti-Trump factions on the right, and with shockingly high numbers of independents and Democrats. She has a long list of accomplishments under her belt and no embarrassments or scandals. She is almost certainly the most popular politician in America.

OK, full disclosure: I'm biased and conflicted. I'm biased because I am a fan of Haley. I'm also conflicted because my wife, Jessica Gavora, works for Haley as her speechwriter and adviser.

While I'm at it, let me also say that one of my wife's more admirable (and annoying) traits is that she never tells me the cool stuff. For all I know, she's got the 411 on what's going on at Area 51. So if there's some secret scandal or devious plan behind Haley's resignation, I don't know what it is and neither does Jessica -- unless she's lying to me.

Whatever Haley's thinking is, one thing is obvious: She has better political timing than anyone else currently in the business. She's not leaving until January, but by announcing it now, she can't be seen as deserting ship if the midterms go badly.

There's the old saying: "It's better to be lucky than good." Haley is both.

An outspoken Trump critic in the primaries, she was nonetheless Trump's choice for U.N. ambassador. There are many theories for why Trump wanted her for the job. Some argue this was the only way to get Haley out of the South Carolina governor's mansion to make room for her then-lieutenant governor, Henry McMaster, a far more full-throated Trumpist.

Also, Trump likes hiring prominent critics in order to make them acknowledge his victory over them. Others say he wanted to unite the party. Recall his overture to sharp Trump critic Ohio Gov. John Kasich to be his running mate. Trump ultimately picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who'd technically endorsed Ted Cruz in the 2016 primaries, even if he spent most of his time man-crushing on Trump.

Meanwhile, the timing was fortuitous for Haley to leave before the end of her second term as governor. She had recently handled both a particularly horrific church shooting and the subsequent wrenching debate about the Confederate flag flying at the state capitol nearly perfectly.

Even so, it was a big risk for Haley to take the U.N. job. She had little foreign policy experience to speak of, and the risk that she might be forced to either defend the indefensible or resign in protest was high. Only in retrospect does it seem obvious this was the best job in the Trump administration and that she was the best person for it.

First, the U.N. is the best arena in the world for picking the right enemies. Also, the U.N. ambassador is outside the snake pits of Washington while still at the center of the media world. Haley was also blessed to have a political nonentity, Rex Tillerson, working as secretary of state.

Because it's a foreign policy post, Haley didn't have to weigh in on every Trumpian controversy. But when she did -- on the "Me Too" movement, Russian meddling, etc. -- she did it in a way that differentiated herself from Trump and his sycophants without seeming disloyal or mealy-mouthed.

Haley made it all look easy, in part because she's a good politician -- a daughter of Indian immigrants in a state renowned for ugly politics who managed to win two governor's races.

But she's also willing to do something too few politicians with charm and luck on their side bother to do: her homework. After all, she started out as the family bookkeeper at 13.

The timing and manner of her decision was near perfect. Once again, she's not only leaving on a high note, she's leaving as the only prominent Republican around today who can simultaneously unite the party and also appeal to non-Republicans. (Which is why you can expect the knives to come out soon.)

If Trump runs in 2020, it's doubtful anyone could take the nomination from him. If he doesn't run, the Republicans could be in desperate need of a minority woman who's acceptable to a divided GOP and to voters repulsed by Trump.

It’s all about timing, and at 46, Haley’s got all the time she needs.