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Death of bullied Utah girl draws anger over suicides, racism

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 09:21

Brittany Tichenor-Cox, holds a photo of her daughter, Isabella "Izzy" Tichenor, during an interview Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Draper, Utah. Tichenor-Cox said her 10-year-old daughter died by suicide after she was harassed for being Black and autistic at school. She is speaking out about the school not doing enough to stop the bullying. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) (Rick Bowmer/)

DRAPER, Utah — When her 10-year-old daughter tried spraying air freshener on herself before school one morning, Brittany Tichenor-Cox suspected something was wrong with the sweet little girl whose beaming smile had gone dormant after she started the fifth grade.

She coaxed out of Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor that a boy in her class told her she stank after their teacher instructed the class that they needed to shower. It was the latest in a series of bullying episodes that targeted Izzy, who was autistic and the only Black student in class. Other incidents included harassment about her skin color, eyebrows and a beauty mark on her forehead, her mother said.

Tichenor-Cox informed the teacher, the school and the district about the bullying. She said nothing was done to improve the situation. Then on Nov. 6, at their home near Salt Lake City, Izzy died by suicide.

Her shocking death triggered an outpouring of anger about youth suicides, racism in the classroom and the treatment of children with autism — issues that have been highlighted by the nation’s racial reckoning and a renewed emphasis on student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Utah, the suicide also intensified questions about the Davis School District, which was recently reprimanded by the Justice Department for failing to address widespread racial discrimination.

The district, where Black and Asian American students account for roughly 1% of the approximately 73,000 students, initially defended its handling of the bullying allegations but later launched an outside investigation that is ongoing.

“When I was crying out for help for somebody to do something, nobody even showed up for her,” Tichenor-Cox said this week in an interview with The Associated Press. “It just hurts to know that my baby was bullied all day throughout school — from the time I dropped her off to the time I picked her up.”

Being autistic made it difficult for Izzy to find words to express what she was feeling, but her mother sensed her daughter was internalizing the messages from school. She asked her mother to get rid of the beauty mark and shave her unibrow. Her mother told her those features made her different and beautiful. She told her mother her teacher didn’t like her and wouldn’t say hi or help with schoolwork.

Izzy’s mother, 31, blames the teacher for allowing the bullying to happen. Prior to this year, she said, Izzy and two of her other children liked the school.

Tichenor-Cox has also called out deep-rooted racism in the predominantly white state of Utah, where she said the N-word that kids called her when she was a child in the 1990s is still hurled at her children three decades later.

But she doesn’t want fury to be her only message. She vows to make Izzy’s life matter by speaking out about bullying, racism and the importance of understanding autism so that no other parent has to suffer like she is.

As she looked at a picture on her cellphone of Izzy smiling with fresh braids in her hair last May, Tichenor-Cox teared up as she realized that was her last birthday with her dear daughter who dreamed of being a professional dancer.

“No parent should have to bury their 10-year old,” she said. “I’m still in shock. ... This pushes me to get this out there like this. Mommy is pushing to make sure that this don’t happen to nobody else.”

Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams did not answer questions about the investigation, the employment status of Izzy’s teacher or about any direct accusations. He instead referred back to a Nov. 12 statement in which the district pledged to do an outside investigation to review its “handling of critical issues, such as bullying, to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all.”

The Justice Department investigation uncovered hundreds of documented uses of the N-word and other racial epithets over the last five years in the district. The probe also found physical assaults, derogatory racial comments and harsher discipline for students of color.

Black students throughout the district told investigators about people referring to them as monkeys or apes and saying that their skin was dirty or looked like feces. Students also made monkey noises at their Black peers, repeatedly referenced slavery and lynching and told Black students to “go pick cotton” and “you are my slave,” according to the department’s findings.

The district has agreed to take several steps as part of a settlement agreement, including establishing a new department to handle complaints, offering more training and collecting data.

Tichenor-Cox told the AP she doesn’t trust the district’s investigation and said the district has zero credibility. Instead, her attorney, Tyler Ayres, hired a private investigator to do their own probe as Tichenor-Cox considers possible legal action.

She and Ayres also said the Justice Department is looking into what happened with Izzy. The agency would not say if it’s investigating what happened to Izzy at the school but said in a statement Wednesday that it is saddened by her death and aware of reports she was harassed because of her race and “disability.” The department said it is committed to ensuring the school district follows through on the plan established in the settlement agreement.

Youth suicides in Utah have leveled off in recent years after an alarming spike from 2011 to 2015, but the rate remains sharply higher than the national average. The state’s 2020 per capita rate was 8.85 suicides among 10- to 17-year-olds per 100,000, compared with 2.3 suicides per 100,000 nationally in 2019, the latest year with data available.

Tributes to Izzy are scattered on social media under #standforizzy. The Utah Jazz basketball team honored her at a recent game, and players Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, who has an autistic son, both expressed dismay over what happened, calling it “disgusting.” Other parents from the school district have sent letters to the school board calling out the district’s “dismissive actions.”

Tichenor-Cox and her husband, Charles Cox, have five other children to focus on, so they’re doing all they can to handle the grief while trying to remember the sparkle Izzy brought to their lives for a decade.

“I want her to be remembered of how kind she was, how beautiful she was, how brilliant she was and intelligent she was,” Tichenor-Cox said. “Because if I keep thinking of what happened, it’s just going to put me back, and I’m trying to be strong for her.”

Former Anchorage Sen. Cathy Giessel, defeated in 2020, will run again in 2022

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 09:13

In this Jan. 15, 2019, file photo, Anchorage Republican state Sen. Cathy Giessel is shown after being elected Alaska Senate president in Juneau, Alaska. After being defeated in the 2020 election, Giessel has registered as a candidate for 2022. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) (Becky Bohrer/)

Former Alaska Senate President Cathy Giessel will run for her old Senate seat in next year’s election, two years after losing narrowly in the Republican primary to a political newcomer.

Giessel did not announce her candidacy but on Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections reported that she had filed as a candidate. She confirmed her candidacy Wednesday morning by text message and said she would be able to talk later in the day.

Roger Holland, the incumbent who defeated Giessel in 2020, has filed as a candidate with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which regulates campaign fundraising.

Holland defeated Giessel in the 2020 Republican primary amid a wave of Republican dissatisfaction over the handling of the Permanent Fund dividend. Giessel was one of seven legislative Republicans who lost primary elections that year.

Since then, Alaskans have approved a new election system that allows four candidates, regardless of party, to advance to the November general election, where a winner will be chosen by ranked-choice voting.

In addition, the boundaries of Giessel’s former district have been changed by redistricting, and the politics of the Permanent Fund dividend have changed, with more legislators advocating a new long-term formula.

This article is developing and will be updated.

Volcanic lava threatens church, more homes on La Palma

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 07:46

A fissure is seen next to a house covered with ash on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Wednesday, Dec.1 2021. A fissure that volcanologists believe spouted a gusher of lava left a gaping hole in front of house whose bottom floor was completely covered by a mountain of ash. A fresh stream of lava from volcano on Spain's La Palma threatened on Wednesday to engulf a parish church that has so far survived the eruption that shows no signs of relenting in its tenth week. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Canary Islands — A fresh river of lava from the volcano on Spain’s La Palma island threatened Wednesday to engulf a parish church that has so far survived the eruption that shows no signs of relenting after 10 weeks.

The nearest lava flow to the Los Llanos de Aridane church has slowed down since it started over the weekend but it is still only 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away.

Molten rock from the Sept. 19 eruption on La Palma, part of Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago, has consumed over 1,500 buildings and covered over 1,130 hectares (2,800 acres) including banana farms, the island’s main source of revenue along with tourism.

A nearby cemetery has been completely covered, burying for a second time the remains of 3,000 people. A fissure that volcanologists believe spouted a gusher of lava has also left a gaping hole in front of a house whose bottom floor was completely covered by a mountain of ash.

“The lava is flowing mostly on top of previous flows that have hardened,” Noelia García, the mayor of Los Llanos de Aridane, told Canary Islands Television. “But we won’t dare make a prediction (about its course).”

The volcano is going strong and seismic activity in the area has increased in recent days. Spain’s National Geographic Institute registered 341 earthquakes over the past 24 hours.

Thousands of residents have been displaced by the eruption, which has not claimed any lives on the westernmost member of the archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa.

Firefighters look at lava flowing from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
A house is covered by ash from a volcano as it continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. The erupting volcano continued to emit vast amounts of magma, gases and ash, after days of intense seismic activity and more than five weeks since it first erupted. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Ash covers the graves at the La Palma cemetery as volcano continues to erupt on this Canary island, Spain, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. The quick relocation of over 7,000 people has prevented the loss of human life. At cemeteries, though, the occupants go through a second burial by ash, a burial that will wipe away the markers that note the place where they were put to rest. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava from the volcano advances destroying houses as it continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Ash covers chairs on the terrace of a house as volcano continues to erupt on this Canary island, Spain, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Scientists estimate the volcano also has ejected over 10,000 million cubic meters of ash. The ash is jettisoned thousands of meters into the sky, but the heaviest, thickest particles eventually give way to gravity. They accumulate into banks that slowly cover doors, pour into windows, make rooftops sag. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava from a volcano flows covering the cemetery of La Manchas on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Wednesday, Dec.1 2021. A fresh stream of lava from volcano on Spain's La Palma threatened on Wednesday to engulf a parish church that has so far survived the eruption that shows no signs of relenting in its tenth week. A nearby cemetery has been completely covered, burying for a second time the remains of 3,000 people. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava from a volcano flows destroying a house on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Lava flows as volcano continues to erupt on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma on Sunday, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)
Smoke rises from a volcano on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Several new volcanic vents opened in La Palma, releasing new lava that flowed fast down a ridge and threatened to widen the impact on evacuated land, infrastructure and homes. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti/)

Omicron? Many Americans give it a shrug

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 07:25

Air China flight crew members in hazmat suits walk through the arrivals area at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong/)

Donna Smith was vaccinated, booster shot and all, and ready to travel.

Then came reports a new fast-spreading COVID-19 variant, Omicron, raising the specter of a new wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

There was a time when such news might have alarmed her. But not now.

She has no intention of changing her plans to spend Christmas with her kids in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and then taking off in her motorhome on a tour of the Southwest.

“You have to live life,” said Smith, 53. “The virus is with us forever; we have to adjust.”

As financial markets shuddered and global leaders contemplated new travel restrictions in response to reports of the variant, many Americans had a much different reaction: ho-hum.

After nearly two years and 780,000 U.S. deaths, fatigue and fatalism have become as much a part of pandemic life as booster shots. The emergence of a new variant — at least one as poorly understood as Omicron — seems unlikely to change that.

“I cannot believe we are still going through this,” said Lisa Cotton, 56, who owns a shoeshine stand in downtown Minneapolis.

She is vaccinated and exhausted. Business has been slower than in years past but is picking up as offices reopen.

Her level of caution? Unchanged.

Cotton said she plans to work through the holidays and also do catering gigs on the side.

“Hopefully the cases don’t surge too much,” she said.

Little is known about Omicron, whose discovery in South Africa was announced last week. The variant has since been detected in Europe, Asia and Canada. The World Health Organization says that it poses a “very high” risk of global spread, and that based on its mutations could be less susceptible to the current vaccines.

As of Tuesday, it had not been found in the United States, but the White House’s top pandemic adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said he “would not be surprised” if it were already here.

Experts said figuring out Omicron could take months. Its effects could be catastrophic and set the nation and world back in the battle against COVID-19. Or it could be a relatively benign variant that spreads quickly but causes little harm.

“Really too early to tell what it means,” said Georges Benjamin, president of the American Public Health Association. “The fact that it has so many mutations is of real concern, but it will depend on how easily it evades the vaccine, if at all.”

“It is very infectious by all accounts, but in a part of the world” — Africa — “with very low vaccination rates, so its impact in high-vaccination populations is untested,” he said.

Americans appear to be heeding calls to avoid panic. A poll released this week by YouGov found that 21% of U.S. adults were “very concerned” about Omicron.

Some 33% were “somewhat concerned,” while the remaining 45% were “not very concerned,” “not concerned at all” or “not sure.”

For many, the early days of the pandemic — the confusion about how the coronavirus spreads, the shutdowns, the run on toilet paper — have been relegated to distant memory by surge after surge.

This December was supposed to be a holiday season for the vaccinated. The experts had cleared the 59% of Americans who are vaccinated to return to a semblance of pre-pandemic life — to board flights and cram into homes without masks for long-overdue reunions.

And that is exactly what many plan to do.

“I am over it,” said Soffia Wardy, 54, who runs a gift store in Aspen, Colo., and writes books about food.

“They sound the alarms so loudly about Omicron because they don’t know how bad it is or isn’t,” she said. “So what are we to do?”

Her answer: Host dozens of people this month at several Christmas parties.

“I just wish we had a crystal ball to tell us what happens now with Omicron and this pandemic, because it seems we go in circles,” she said.

Ted Cotrotsos, a graphic designer in Seattle, said he worried about how well the current vaccines would match up against Omicron.

“It’s the unknown that’s really troubling,” said the 65-year-old. “We just don’t know how much protection we truly have.”

Still, he and his wife, both vaccinated, plan to vacation with friends this month in Southern California.

“It seems like we are steadily making our way through the Greek alphabet,” he said about the latest variant. “At some point, I just hope we can get ahead of this virus.”

Others, including people who have been on the front lines of the pandemic, are less relaxed about the new variant.

Dr. Ivan Melendez, the top health official in Hidalgo County, Texas — where COVID-19 took a heavy toll on Latino families that gathered for previous holidays — predicted Omicron infections could follow the same course as the Delta variant.

That strain drove average daily infections in his region from 48 to 600 over the summer. Now the average is back to 48 — 90% of them among the unvaccinated.

His advice: “Assume that [people] have COVID unless proven otherwise.”

Priscilla Garcia, a 40-year-old nurse in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, has spent most of the pandemic doing just that.

After both of her parents died of COVID-19 last year — she was also infected — she appeared in public service announcements urging people to take the pandemic seriously.

Only recently did her caution begin to ease.

“I did go to the mall the other day. It was in the morning, so there were not a lot of people,” Garcia said. “Then I heard about Omicron, and I was like, ‘Oh, not again!’”

“I’m kind of at a point where I don’t know what to think anymore,” she added. “Since I’ve had COVID and dealt with loss from it — what more can happen?”


(Kaleem and Lee reported from Los Angeles and Hennessy-Fiske from Houston. Times staff writers Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta and Emily Baumgaertner in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

Trump tested positive for coronavirus before first debate with Biden, former chief of staff says

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 07:10

President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, on Marine One helicopter after he tested positive for COVID-19. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is at second from left. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus days before his first debate against then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in September 2020, a former top aide says in a new book.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows writes that Trump tested positive for the virus on Sept. 26, 2020, three days before his Sept. 29 debate with Biden, according to the Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book ahead of its official release next week.

The White House did not reveal the positive test at the time, and Trump received a negative result from a different test shortly thereafter, Meadows writes.

It was not until Oct. 2 that Trump revealed that he and his wife, then-first lady Melania Trump, had tested positive for the virus. Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment later that day. By that point, a host of White House officials had also tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Trump denied Meadows’s account of events.

“The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News,” Trump said. “In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”

According to the Guardian, Meadows writes that “nothing was going to stop (Trump) from going out there” at the first presidential debate in Cleveland, even though the debate rules required candidates to have tested negative for the virus 72 hours ahead of the start time.

In addition to attending the debate, Trump participated in a number of other events after his positive diagnosis - including a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, an indoor news conference at the White House and a close-quarters exchange with reporters aboard Air Force One - potentially putting dozens of other people at risk.

“Hours after he received the call from Meadows informing him of a positive test, Trump came to the back of AF1 without a mask and talked with reporters for about 10 minutes,” New York Times White House reporter Michael Shear said in a tweet Wednesday morning. “I was wearing a mask, but still got COVID, testing positive several days later.”

Meadows writes that Trump acted as though he had “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened” upon receiving the negative test after his initial positive test Sept. 26 - but Meadows “instructed everyone in his immediate circle to treat him as if he was positive,” according to the excerpts reported by the Guardian.

“I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks, but I also didn’t want to alarm the public if there was nothing to worry about - which according to the new, much more accurate test, there was not,” Meadows writes, according to the newspaper.

Jan. 6 panel to vote on contempt against former DOJ official

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 06:27

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Oct. 21, 2020. . (Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP, File) (YURI GRIPAS/)

WASHINGTON — The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection will vote on pursuing contempt charges against a former Justice Department official Wednesday as the committee aggressively seeks to gain answers about the violent attack by former President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The vote to pursue charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer who aligned with Trump as he tried to overturn his election defeat, comes as Trump’s top aide at the time, chief of staff Mark Meadows, has agreed to cooperate with the panel on a limited basis. Clark appeared for a deposition last month but refused to answer any questions based on Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation.

If approved by the panel, the recommendation of criminal contempt charges against Clark would go to the full House for a vote as soon as Thursday. If the House votes to hold Clark in contempt, the Justice Department would then decide whether to prosecute.

Lawmakers on the Jan. 6 panel have vowed to hold any witness who doesn’t comply in contempt as they investigate the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries. The Justice Department has signaled it is willing to pursue those charges, indicting longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon earlier this month on two counts of criminal contempt.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said then that Bannon’s indictment reflects the department’s “steadfast commitment” to the rule of law after Bannon outright defied a subpoena from the committee and refused to cooperate.

Clark’s case could be more complicated since he did appear for his deposition and, unlike Bannon, was a Trump administration official on Jan. 6. But members of the committee argued that Clark had no basis to refuse questioning, especially since they intended to ask about some matters that didn’t involve direct interactions with Trump and wouldn’t fall under the former president’s claims of executive privilege.

Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” the morning of Jan. 6, has sued to block the committee’s work and has attempted to assert executive privilege over documents and interviews, arguing that his conversations and actions at the time should be shielded from public view. As the current officeholder, President Joe Biden has so far rejected Trump’s claims.

In a transcript of Clark’s aborted Nov. 5 interview released by the panel on Tuesday evening, staff and members of the committee attempted to persuade Clark to answer questions about his role as Trump pushed the Justice Department to investigate his false allegations of widespread fraud in the election. Clark had become an ally of the former president as other Justice officials pushed back on the baseless claims.

But Clark’s attorney, Harry MacDougald, said during the interview that Clark was protected not only by Trump’s assertions of executive privilege but also several other privileges MacDougald claimed Clark should be afforded. The committee rejected those arguments, and MacDougald and Clark walked out of the interview after around 90 minutes.

According to a report earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed several of Clark’s colleagues, Trump’s pressure culminated in a dramatic White House meeting at which the president ruminated about elevating Clark to attorney general. He did not do so after several aides threatened to resign.

Despite Trump’s false claims about a stolen election — the primary motivation for the violent mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory — the results were confirmed by state officials and upheld by the courts. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, said in December 2020 that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the results.

The Jan. 6 panel’s chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, wrote in Clark’s subpoena that the committee’s probe “has revealed credible evidence that you attempted to involve the Department of Justice in efforts to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power” and his efforts “risked involving the Department of Justice in actions that lacked evidentiary foundation and threatened to subvert the rule of law.”

After Clark refused to answer questions, Thompson said it was “astounding that someone who so recently held a position of public trust to uphold the Constitution would now hide behind vague claims of privilege by a former President, refuse to answer questions about an attack on our democracy, and continue an assault on the rule of law.”

A lawyer for Meadows, George Terwilliger, said Tuesday that he was working with the committee and its staff on an accommodation that would not require Meadows to waive the executive privileges claimed by Trump or “forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress.”

Terwilliger said in a statement that “we appreciate the Select Committee’s openness to receiving voluntary responses on non-privileged topics.” He had previously said that Meadows wouldn’t comply with the panel’s September subpoena because of Trump’s privilege claims.

Thompson said that Meadows has provided documents to the panel and will soon sit for a deposition, but that the committee “will continue to assess his degree of compliance.”

Under the agreement, Meadows could potentially decline to answer the panel’s questions about his most sensitive conversations with Trump and what Trump was doing on Jan. 6.

Still, Meadows’ intention to work with the panel is a victory for the seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel, especially as they seek interviews with lower-profile witnesses who may have important information to share. The committee has so far subpoenaed more than 40 witnesses and interviewed more than 150 people behind closed doors.


Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Operation: Stocking Stuffer

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 06:19

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there,” the iconic line from Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” more commonly known as " ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” paints a vision of a popular holiday vignette and tradition.

The poem, originally published anonymously on Dec. 23, 1823, is cited as the first written mention of Christmas stockings. It’s notable because the origin story of how we came to display stockings on our mantles - and subsequently pack them with presents - has no clear single source. Historians simply can’t agree on where the tradition started, largely because there is little written that has survived the passage of time.

There are, however, a few theories, as well as similar traditions worldwide:

Theory 1

According to Gerry Bowler, a history professor at the University of Manitoba and author of “Santa Claus: A Biography,” the tradition began roughly 900 years ago.

“Starting in, we believe, the 1100s, nuns spread the notion of a magical night visitor who comes and leaves gifts for children,” Bowler said in a YouTube video made for the University in 2010.

That visitor, you may have guessed, was Saint Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus. However, the presents wouldn’t have been left on Christmas Eve - like we know today - but rather on the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas, celebrated on December 6 in most western European countries.

As Bowler explained, kids were encouraged to leave out their shoes so that little gifts would be left inside.

“So the shoe precedes the stocking as the receptacle for either gifts, toys, fruits, candies, that kind of thing, or something bad, if the kid has been bad,” Bowler said, adding that the undesirable leavings included coal, sticks, sawdust, oats and manure.

But, how the tradition evolved from leaving shoes outside to hanging socks - and later, oversized elaborately decorated socks often bearing the name or initials of the giftee - by the fire isn’t clear.

Theory 2

The most pervasive story is of a poor widower who worried that his three daughters would never be able to marry. Because there were no funds for their dowries, they were destined for spinsterhood.

Saint Nicholas heard of the family’s plight and, knowing that the father was too proud to accept charity, found a way to sneak the girls some gold coins.

In some versions, the former monk Nicholas shimmies down the chimney to deposit the gold in their drying stockings. In others, he’s caught lobbing the coins down the chute or through a window. There are even some iterations that claim he left three gold balls in each girl’s stocking, which is why, in some cultures, oranges are left in stockings to this day. There is one common element in every variation: the girls live happily ever after.

Theory 3

It’s also possible that the tradition stems from Norse mythology, specifically a tale relating to Odin, one of the principal gods. As the folklore goes, children would put carrots and sugar in their boots to leave out for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to snack on during the pagan Yule celebration - usually around Winter Solstice. In turn, Odin would pay back their kindness with gifts and candy.

It’s thought that elements of this Norse mythology have influenced the stories we tell today during the holidays. For instance, Odin’s eight-legged, airborne horse may be the inspiration for Santa’s eight reindeer. The carrots and sugar left out could be why children today leave out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk before they go to bed on December 24.

Stories Around the World

Aside from the ritual Moore wrote about, the tradition of receiving gifts from a magical man or creature in December has variations around the world:

In Holland, children leave wooden clogs by the fire, usually filled with straw. A man named Sinterklaas and his assistant Zwart Piet (Black Pete) land in port cities by boat and ride through town on a white horse and a mule under the cover of darkness to trade the grains for gifts. Similarly, in France, children put carrots in their shoes and leave them by the fire for Père Noël’s donkey. When they wake up, they find their footwear has been filled with candy and money.

In Ecuador, kids put their wish lists inside their shoes and Papa Noel brings new shoes, along with the gifts requested.

In Puerto Rico, tots put freshly cut grass in boxes underneath their beds on December 5. The belief is that the three wise men come in and take the food to feed their camels while leaving a small gift behind.

In Iceland, shoes are left on the windowsill for 13 nights. Each night, a different elf comes to leave them something.

Holiday Cheer Close to Home

Whatever the reason, stockings have remained a beloved holiday tradition and a way to spread joy.

This season, as decorations go up and stockings are hung around the house, there are many ways to share the tradition within your community. Local toy drives, including Denali Family Services and Catholic Social Services, in partnership with Anchorage Daily News’ Operation: Stocking Stuffer drive, are a great way to spread holiday merriment to local families.

Anchorage Daily News has partnered with Denali Family Services and Catholic Social Services to distribute small gifts to Anchorage families in need this holiday season. Drop any stocking stuffer donations off at our office, 300 West 31st Avenue, Anchorage, AK 99503, now until Dec. 10, 2021.

This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

Omicron keeps world jittery as more information drips out

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 06:17

People queue for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations in the Wizink Center in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Health authorities in the Spanish capital have confirmed a second case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a 61-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to South Africa on Monday. (AP Photo/Paul White) (Paul White/)

TOKYO — The omicron variant kept a jittery world off-kilter Wednesday as Japan further tightened travel restrictions, infections linked to the new version of the coronavirus popped up in more places and new evidence made clear the mutant strain was circulating weeks earlier than thought.

Much is still unknown about the new variant, including how contagious it is and whether it can evade vaccines, and the European Union chief acknowledged that waiting for scientists to tell the world more felt like “an eternity.” Meanwhile, many nations in Europe are still dealing with a surge in infections and hospitalizations from their old foe, the delta variant.

Japan continued its aggressive stance, asking international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December. The move by the world’s third-largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most severe anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbor China than with some other democracies in the region.

Many countries around the world, however, have barred travelers from southern Africa, and the U.S. is moving to toughen testing requirements for international arrivals.

South African researchers alerted the World Health Organization to omicron last week, but it is not known where or when the variant first emerged, and it’s already clear it was circulating in Europe before that alert. But Nigeria stretched the timeline back even further Wednesday, when its national public health institute said it detected the variant in a sample it collected in October — also its first known case of the mutation.

The worry and uncertainty about the new variant and the sometimes haphazard imposition of restrictions recalled the early days of the pandemic, as did the familiar realization that the virus had once again outpaced efforts to contain it.

In a sign of how difficult the virus is to control in an age of jet travel and economic globalization, Japan confirmed its second case of the variant — in a person who arrived from Peru via Qatar. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said Wednesday it had detected its first case of omicron, a day after Brazil reported cases of the variant, the first known ones in Latin America.

“I listen to my scientists, they all say we do not know enough now. Therefore, it is good that they take their two to three weeks,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “This is, in normal times, a short period. In pandemic times, it’s an eternity.”

While the world waited impatiently for more information, some countries were already struggling to beat back surges that predated the announcement of omicron.

Germany’s intensive care association warned Wednesday that the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care will hit a new high before Christmas — and that it expected the all-time high from last year to be exceeded.

The DIVI association called for national restrictions to slow the spread immediately. German federal and state leaders are expected to decide Thursday on new measures. Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz said he would back a proposal to mandate vaccinations for everybody next year.

Austria, meanwhile, extended its lockdown until Dec. 11 as planned amid signs that the restrictions are helping to bring down a sky-high coronavirus infections.

Germany and Austria are among several nations in Europe seeing surges — even some with relatively high vaccination rates. Portugal — with an 87% vaccination rate that is among the highest globally — tightened entry requirements and mandated masks indoors Wednesday to slow an upward trend. Until recently, the country was shielded from the spikes experienced by elsewhere on the continent.

South Korea is also seeing a delta-driven surge that has pushed hospitalizations and deaths to record highs. The country on Wednesday reported a daily jump in coronavirus infections that exceeded 5,000 for the first time — along with its first cases of the new variant.

The emergence of yet another variant has left the world once again whipsawed between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

In Singapore, which is trying a strategy of living with COVID-19 and has one of the world’s leading vaccine programs, cases are now dropping rapidly, and there’s cautious optimism that its widely watched plan has helped it turn a corner in the pandemic.

Fiji welcomed back its first tourists in more than 600 days on Wednesday after pushing ahead with reopening plans despite the threat posed by omicron.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, said much more will be known about omicron in the next several weeks, and “we’ll have a much better picture of what the challenge is ahead of us.”

Casert reported from Brussels. AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

Covid is set to cost the tourism industry $1.6 trillion this year. Omicron could make it worse.

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 06:12

FILE - Tourists seated on ski lifts arrive at Plan de Corones ski area, Italy South Tyrol, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) (Luca Bruno/)

The return of stricter covid restrictions to fight the latest variant, omicron, has already left some travelers stranded. For many tourism businesses, it’s also threatening hopes of an upcoming holiday boost this year - especially after last year’s shutdowns emptied out popular destinations from the Colosseum in Rome to the resort island of Bali.

“There was a kind of sunrise on the horizon” earlier this year, said Tobias Warnecke, the German hotel association’s economic adviser. Now, thanks to infections and rule changes roaring back, and fears over omicron, “we have a lot of cancellations, and we’re on our way down.”

With scientists rushing to better understand the variant and its high number of mutations, governments including in the United States have started tightening masking, quarantine or travel rules. Many have closed their borders to the southern region of Africa where scientists first detected the variant, though it has since popped up in more than a dozen countries, from Canada to Japan.

The timing also has the aviation industry worried. The president of Emirates airline has noted that a hit to the peak travel season in December could cause “significant traumas in the business,” which had been seeing a recovery.

The pandemic was already projected to cost the world’s tourism sector a loss of $1.6 trillion in 2021, the U.N. tourism body said, an estimate it made shortly before the discovery of the omicron variant, which the World Health Organization warns poses a “very high” global risk.

Revenue from global tourism and arrivals rebounded this year to some extent from 2020, while remaining below 2019 levels before the pandemic battered the sector, the United Nations World Tourism Organization said in a report published this week. Last year, the direct economic loss in tourism was about $2.0 trillion.

“Uneven vaccination rates around the world and new Covid-19 strains could impact the already slow and fragile recovery,” the U.N. body also warned.

Weeks before the spread of omicron, a wave of coronavirus infections had already prompted closures and curfews in much of Europe. Warnecke, from the German hotel association, described the new variant as “another bad news,” although he added it was too early to predict its full impact on hotels before it is clear how it interacts with existing vaccines.

For Golden Tours, a London tour operator that takes visitors to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour - where fans can see the sets from the Harry Potter films - trips are still going ahead but cancellations have started streaming in, according to office supervisor Frank Jacobs.

Britain’s high vaccination rates and the lifting of restrictions - including a mask mandate that has just come back - led to a rise in bookings since the summer and an expectation of booming business for the Christmas holidays, he added. “We had December completely booked up,” he said. “But now since last week, everything is changing.”

Berlin also saw “massive cancellations” in the last two weeks, according to Thomas Lengfelder, head of the city’s hotel and restaurant association. Employees were “once again very unsettled” about the possibility of a new lockdown cutting back work, he said, and called for the ramping up of vaccinations.

Still, some businesses remain optimistic about their Christmas prospects.

For Le Meurice hotel in Paris, as well as others the Dorchester Collection oversees in Rome, London and Los Angeles, omicron has yet to hit holiday bookings beyond a “slight” uptick in cancellations. “So far, despite news of the new variant, the end of this year is still looking positive for us,” the hotel operator said in an email. “2021 has definitely been a better year than 2020 and should remain so.”

Abortion rights at stake in historic Supreme Court arguments

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 05:49

People demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

WASHINGTON — Abortion rights are on the line at the Supreme Court in historic arguments Wednesday over the landmark ruling nearly 50 years ago that declared a nationwide right to end pregnancies and has forged one of the most enduring fault lines in American life and politics.

The stakes for the fate of the Roe v. Wade decision have never been greater as the most conservative court of the past 40 years weighs whether to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.

The state is asking the court to explicitly overturn the 1973 ruling. It’s possible the justices just uphold the Mississippi law and says nothing more, but abortion rights supporters say that would still effectively overturn the landmark decision.

Mississippi also is asking the court to overrule the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe. The arguments can be heard on the court’s website.

Supporters of both sides in the abortion debate filled the sidewalk and street in front of the court, their dueling rallies audible even from inside the building. Some carried signs reading “Her Body Her Choice” and “God Hates the Shedding of Innocent Blood.” The court stepped up security measures, including closing off some streets around the building.

The case comes to a court with a 6-3 conservative majority that has been transformed by three appointees of President Donald Trump, who had pledged to appoint justices he said would oppose abortion rights.

The court had never agreed to hear a case over an abortion ban so early in pregnancy until all three Trump appointees — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were on board.

A month ago, the justices also heard arguments over a uniquely designed Texas law that has succeeded in getting around the Roe and Casey decisions and banning abortions in the nation’s second-largest state after about six weeks of pregnancy. The dispute over the Texas law revolves around whether the law can be challenged in federal court, rather than the right to an abortion.

Anti-abortion protesters surround abortion rights advocates as both groups demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)
Abortion rights advocates hold signs that read "Abortion is Essential" as they demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Washington, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik/)

Despite its unusually quick consideration of the issue, the court has yet to rule on the Texas law, and the justices have refused to put the law on hold while the matter is under legal review.

The Mississippi case poses questions central to the abortion right. Some of the debate Wednesday is likely to be over whether the court should abandon its long-held rule that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability, at roughly 24 weeks.

More than 90% of abortions are performed in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, well before viability, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mississippi argues that viability is an arbitrary standard that doesn’t take sufficient account of the state’s interest in regulating abortion. It also contends that scientific advances have allowed some babies who were born earlier than 24 weeks to survive, though it does not argue that the line is anywhere near 15 weeks.

Only about 100 patients per year get abortions after 15 weeks at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic. The facility does not provide abortions after 16 weeks.

But the clinic argues that the court doesn’t normally assess constitutional rights based on how few people are affected, and that the justices shouldn’t do so in this case.

Joined by the Biden administration, the clinic also says that since Roe, the Supreme Court has consistently held that the “Constitution guarantees ‘the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability.’”

Erasing viability as the line between when abortions may and may not be banned would effectively overrule Roe and Casey, even if the justices do not explicitly do that, the clinic says.

Justice Clarence Thomas is the only member of the court who has openly called for Roe and Casey to be overruled. One question is how many of his conservative colleagues are willing to join him.

Among the questions justices ask when they consider jettisoning a previous ruling is not just whether it is wrong, but egregiously so.

That’s a formulation Kavanaugh has used in a recent opinion, and Mississippi and many of its allies have devoted considerable space in their court filings to argue that Roe and Casey fit the description of being egregiously wrong.

“The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition,” Mississippi says.

The clinic responds by arguing that the very same arguments were considered and rejected by the court nearly 30 years ago in Casey. Only the membership of the court has changed since then, the clinic and its allies argue.

In its earlier rulings, the court has rooted the right to abortion in the section of the 14th Amendment that says states cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Same-sex marriage and other rights, based on the same provision but also not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, could be threatened if Roe and Casey fall, the administration argues. Mississippi and its supporters dispute that those other decisions would be at risk.

Abortion arguments normally would find people camped out in front of the court for days in the hope of snagging some of the few seats available to the public. But with the courthouse closed because of COVID-19, there will be only a sparse audience of reporters, justices’ law clerks and a handful of lawyers inside the courtroom.

A decision is expected by late June, a little more than four months before next year’s congressional elections, and could become a campaign season rallying cry.

Associated Press writer Parker Purifoy contributed from Washington.

How Mississippi ended up with one abortion clinic and why it matters

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 05:42

Jackson Women's Health Organization In Jackson, Miss., on Nov. 22. Photo by Emily Kask for The Washington Post.

When the abortion doctor lost his medical license in 2004, Nancy Atkins wasn’t sure how she could keep going. Malachy DeHenre had been the only doctor at the clinic Atkins owned in Jackson, Miss. Recruiting OB/GYNs to perform abortions anywhere was difficult, but in Mississippi, Atkins had learned, it was nearly impossible. The state had the toughest regulations and the most ardent antiabortion protesters. One activist even regularly told people that killing an abortion provider might count as “justifiable homicide.”

Seventeen years later, Atkins isn’t surprised that her state is the one that some legal observers believe is poised to overturn or seriously undermine Roe v. Wade. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to Mississippi’s law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. Roe protects a person’s constitutional right to abortion before viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

Antiabortion protesters outside Jackson Women's Health Organization. Photo by Emily Kask for The Washington Post.

For 25 years, lawmakers and antiabortion activists had worked tirelessly to put Atkins’s clinic out of business. When they succeeded in 2004, she knew she’d be leaving the state with just one abortion provider. Thousands of people would have a harder time accessing the procedure, but Atkins felt she’d fought as long as she could. She was tired, and the work had become too difficult.

As lawmakers passed increasingly stringent regulations in the decades after Roe, protesters grew more emboldened, and Mississippi was left with a patchwork of doctors, most of whom wound up in trouble with the law. Activists elsewhere dismissed the state as especially radical or backward, local abortion rights activists say, but the people on the ground knew that what happened in Mississippi could happen anywhere.

Now, the future of abortion access in the country could rest on the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the lone clinic that remains.

Mississippi has always been one of the hardest places to obtain an abortion, but the history of access there tells the larger story of what happened in America after 1973, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade guaranteed a person’s right to abortion. In the early days following the ruling, feminist-minded OB/GYNs rushed to provide the newly legal procedure. Some, like the young gynecologist who opened Mississippi’s first clinic in 1975, said they turned to the practice because they’d treated people who’d had botched abortions before the procedure was legal. Without safe access, they knew, people could fall gravely ill, or even die.

By the mid-1980s, Mississippi had more than a dozen abortion providers, and the country as a whole had close to 3,000. Then, in the mid-1980s, as antiabortion protesters began bombing clinics and threatening doctors, that number abruptly began to dip nationwide. By 1990, nearly 1,000 doctors had quit, and 84% of counties nationwide had no abortion clinic at all, according to surveys conducted then by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights.

Surveys of OB/GYNs from this time reveal a number of reasons doctors declined to offer abortions. Some, particularly younger doctors, were morally opposed or said they hadn’t learned the procedure in medical school. Most said they feared the wave of brash new protesters. And, on top of it all, work at abortion clinics typically didn’t pay as much as other medical jobs did.

The doctors who remained largely had their choice of clinics, and rural states were impacted the most.

By 1992, North Dakota had one provider, and West Virginia was down to five, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The decline was equally precipitous in Mississippi. The number of providers there declined throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, from 13 in 1982 to eight in 1992, Guttmacher reported. (Guttmacher surveyed clinics, hospitals and physicians’ offices.) And in 1993, the state had three registered clinics open, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

The state also led the way in passing abortion restrictions. In 1992, it became the first to require a 24-hour waiting period, and the following year, after a lengthy court battle, a law began requiring parental consent for patients under the age of 18.

Sidewalk counselors offer an outgoing patient of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., some anti-abortion reading material and information about adoption, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) (Rogelio V. Solis/)

Between the restrictions and the protesters, Atkins said, clinic owners in Mississippi had no choice but to accept any doctor who wanted to work for them. Because of Mississippi’s particular scarcity, those doctors often came with issues, setting them apart from the vast majority of abortion providers today. Some physicians cut corners; others broke the law or found themselves in malpractice trouble. One of the first abortion doctors Atkins employed was a brilliant man, “so smart you almost couldn’t talk to him,” Atkins said, but a few years after he started working for her, police arrested him on charges of mailing videotapes of child pornography. He pleaded guilty.

Atkins looked for a replacement, but by the early 1990s, abortion doctors “were few and far between,” Atkins said. “And there were no doctors beating down the door to work here.”

By the early 1990s, Mississippi had only a handful of abortion doctors. Just one - Tommy Tucker - performed between 60 and 70% of the procedures, according to news reports at the time. Tucker had started doing abortions in the mid-1980s, the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reported, after a “rift” with administrators at the hospital where he worked in Birmingham, Ala.

“I don’t want to do abortions, God knows,” Tucker told the paper in 1993. “I do it for the money.”

Tucker was known as a “circuit rider,” hopping between several clinics across Mississippi and Alabama. At the two Mississippi clinics he owned, Mississippi Women’s Medical Clinic in Jackson and Tri-State Women’s Clinic in Southaven, Miss., he was the only regular doctor.

At his clinics, Tucker had a reputation for cutting corners to make extra cash, multiple people said. By 1994, he was facing a 34-count complaint from the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure, which included allegations that he mishandled prescription drugs and allowed unlicensed staff to perform medical procedures. In the hearing before the medical board, a former employee accused him of fudging gestational ages so he could jack up his prices. The family of a woman who died after Tucker performed her abortion also accused him in a civil suit of medical malpractice.

When presented with a detailed list of the allegations in this piece, Tucker said, “75% of what you reported is a lie.” He did not elaborate.

Tucker was not the only abortion doctor in Mississippi to face malpractice claims in the 1990s and early 2000s. Because Mississippi was such a difficult place to be an abortion provider, clinics were often left with doctors “on the bottom rungs of the medical ladder,” said John Jones, who represented several clinics in the state in the early 1990s.

In the 1990s, abortion was considered a “rogue procedure” by much of the medical community, said Eve Espey, a spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and chair of the OB/GYN department at the University of New Mexico. Leading professional organizations like ACOG were “completely silent” on the issue, she said, and top-notch abortion training was hard to come by, leading to a scarcity of well-trained providers.

That changed in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Espey said, as ACOG and other organizations began to speak publicly on the importance of quality abortion care. Now, many OB/GYN residencies include abortion training as a standard part of the curriculum, especially in the northeast and on the West Coast, which has yielded a large group of highly qualified and committed abortion doctors, Espey said. While antiabortion activists still talk about the relative dangers of abortion, studies show it’s an extremely safe procedure. Major complications occur in less than a quarter of 1% of abortions, a frequency comparable to colonoscopies.

While abortion rights activists were troubled by the allegations about Tucker’s behavior, they felt they had to stick by him, said Gail Chadwick, the spokeswoman for the abortion rights group Pro-Choice Mississippi in the early 1990s.

“It was either the doctor or a coat hanger, is what it boils down to,” she said.

Allen Siders, an anti-abortion activist, preaches outside of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, a state-licensed abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. A small group of anti-abortion activists stood outside the clinic in an effort to dissuade patients from entering. On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) (Rogelio V. Solis/)

Jones said doctors in Mississippi were also “under a microscope,” with antiabortion protesters stationed outside of their clinics. When protester Doug Lane noticed a distressed-looking couple leaving Tucker’s clinic in the early 1990s, he said he followed them to the hospital, where he introduced himself and, hearing that the woman was experiencing complications, offered to help them contact a lawyer. The couple filed a lawsuit in April 1994, according to news reports. Lane said they won significant damages.

“These doctors were such sleazebags,” Lane said, referring to Tucker and others who practiced around the same time.

The medical board ultimately found Tucker guilty of 32 of the 34 complaints and suspended Tucker’s license for a year, which shuttered his two clinics. Eleven months later, the board permanently barred Tucker from practicing medicine in Mississippi. A judge ordered Tucker to pay $10 million in damages for the death of the patient whose family sued him for medical malpractice.

Lane was thrilled to see Tucker lose his license. Without Tucker’s two clinics, he added, far fewer people could access the procedure. Antiabortion advocates celebrated the “precipitous decline” in the number of Mississippi abortions, he said.

In 1993, 6,002 abortions were performed in Mississippi, according to the state health department. In 1995, the first full year without Tucker, that number fell to 3,563.

The protesters who scrutinized Tucker had always hindered clinic owner Atkins’s ability to attract abortion providers. In the 1980s, before her clinic’s first doctor went to prison, antiabortion activists stalked his neighborhood. Once, they even knocked on the doctor’s front door and presented a small casket and a jar of fetal remains they said they’d taken from outside Atkins’s clinic, according to news accounts and court records. By the time Tucker lost his license, they’d grown especially emboldened.

Jackson’s lead protester was a man named Roy McMillan. McMillan’s wife, Beverly, opened the first abortion clinic in Mississippi in 1975, but she left the business after converting to Christianity, and the couple began speaking out against abortion together. Roy McMillan, who died in 2016, carried graphic signs, and he used a childlike voice to scream at women, “Mommy, mommy, please don’t kill me.” Police arrested him dozens of times for trespassing and blocking the clinic.

An antiabortion protester walks past escorts waiting for patients outside Jackson Women's Health Organization. Photo by Emily Kask for The Washington Post.

McMillan made a national name for himself in 1993, after another abortion protester killed a doctor in Pensacola, Fla. McMillan and an activist and minister named Paul Hill began circulating what they called a “Defensive Action Statement.” In it, they declared that murdering an abortion doctor was “justifiable.” The next year, Hill shot and killed another doctor and an escort, and wounded a third person, in Pensacola. The Clarion-Ledger later reported that hours after the crime - for which Hill was executed in 2003 - McMillan went to Atkins’s clinic and confronted Joseph Booker, the lone doctor who worked there.

“Booker,” McMillan said. “You ought to stop this because someone’s going to terminate a terminator.”

Violent attacks occurred in other states, too. Between 1977 and 1994, there were 129 bombings and arson attacks at clinics. But few antiabortion activists were as blatant as McMillan was. The New York Times profiled him. He told Time Magazine in 1995, “It wouldn’t bother me if every abortionist in the country today fell dead from a bullet.”

Michelle Colon, an abortion rights activist who has worked in Mississippi and other southern states since the 1990s, said McMillan alone made doctors reluctant to work there.

“Other states, they didn’t have the name-brand antis,” Colon said. “We had someone who was friends with Paul Hill, who was outside our clinics all of the time, and that was huge. Our people celebrated him.”

The years Booker worked for Atkins were among the most violent in abortion rights history. Antiabortion activists followed Booker to the grocery store, and they huddled in the driveway outside his house. After Hill killed the abortion doctor and his escort, Booker began wearing a bulletproof vest and an Army helmet. Eventually, federal marshals began providing him around-the-clock security.

Atkins hadn’t wanted to hire Booker. The doctor had spent had spent a few years performing abortions on the Gulf Coast. He’d filed bankruptcy, and in the early 1990s, a patient won a lawsuit against him after she claimed that he’d botched her abortion. Still, Atkins hadn’t been able to find anyone else after her previous doctor went to prison for child pornography, she said, so she hired Booker. Eventually, though, his troubles caught up with him. In 2000, he went to prison for tax evasion for five months. (Booker died at home in 2013.)

Eventually, Atkins found another doctor, DeHenre, a physician who’d studied in New York then moved to Mississippi as part of a loan forgiveness program. Atkins said he was the most talented doctor she ever worked with, but in 2004, he lost his license in Alabama after a patient died. Mississippi officials revoked his license soon after. In 2008, he was convicted of manslaughter in the 1997 shooting death of his ex-wife.

Atkins considered looking for yet another doctor, but by that point, she’d run her clinic for 25 years, and she was tired of dodging McMillan every day on her way to work, she said. She had three kids, including a 4-year-old daughter with special needs, and the work had taken an emotional toll on her. For years, Atkins said, she was in the room for every procedure.

“I felt like I had had so many abortions myself from standing with patients and looking into their eyes and holding their hands,” Atkins said. “I had done my battle, I felt. I was ready to pass the torch.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization opened in 1995, less than a year after Tucker’s license was suspended. Now known as “the Pink House,” JWHO has been the sole abortion clinic in Mississippi since Atkins closed her doors in 2004.

At the time, JWHO founder Susan Hill owned eight other clinics across the country, many in cities with no other abortion provider. Like Atkins and Brown, Hill struggled to find local physicians “brave enough and willing to provide care,” she said in 1996, according to a Supreme Court filing for the upcoming case. As antiabortion protesters - including McMillan - continued to harass employees at her clinic, she paid to fly in doctors from other states, rotating between seven doctors who worked at her other clinics.

More than two decades later, JWHO still employs no doctors who live in Mississippi. Antiabortion activists have continued to vandalize the clinic and stalk its staff. JWHO representatives meet regularly with members of the FBI to discuss security concerns.

While Hill encountered fewer of the medical licensing issues that plagued many of the other Mississippi clinics, she had to contend with a steady barrage of government restrictions. In 2004, Mississippi passed more antiabortion legislation than any other state in the country.

In a state where abortion was a “political hot potato,” Hill realized she had to be “double careful,” said Ann Rose, who started JWHO with Hill. Their staff couldn’t “cut corners,” as some of the other Mississippi doctors had done, said Betty Thompson, a counselor who worked at the Jackson clinic when it opened and later became its director. From the beginning, Hill required her staff to undergo extensive training on every aspect of clinic operations, Thompson said, including equipment sterilization and waste management.

Betty Thompson, the former director at Jackson Women's Health Organization. Photo by Emily Kask for The Washington Post.

“You followed your protocol,” she said. “You didn’t deviate.”

That attention to detail has protected the clinic, Thompson said. They’ve come close to closing several times, most recently in 2012, when they were faced with new legislation requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A judge blocked the law the day it was slated to take effect.

The law before the Supreme Court wouldn’t necessarily shutter JWHO. The clinic only offers abortions up to 16 weeks, and the proposed law would ban the procedure after 15. But Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch has asked the court to use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade, and a subsequent 1992 endorsement of abortion rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. States should be free even to ban elective abortions so long as they show the prohibition promotes a legitimate government interest, Fitch wrote in her brief.

Lane, the Mississippi antiabortion activist, is hopeful that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe. While he’s glad that just one clinic remains open, he said, “they are still killing babies in Mississippi.” He won’t be satisfied until abortion is illegal in his home state, he said.

In their own amicus brief for the Dobbs case, advocates from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Organization for Women argued that a ruling in favor of Mississippi might reward the tactics that McMillan and others used, ultimately emboldening others to try similar acts of violence and intimidation.

Atkins shares those fears. She assumed, when she closed her clinic in 2004, that Jackson Women’s Health would persist and that Roe would protect it.

“I fought for so many years, and I believed,” Atkins said. “It will be a sad day to me if there are no clinics here. You start unraveling one thing, and you can unravel anything.”

Explosion of WWII bomb in Munich injures 4, disrupts trains

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-12-01 05:30

Firefighters, police officers and railway employees stand on a railway site in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Police in Germany say three people have been injured including seriously in an explosion at a construction site next to a busy railway line in Munich. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP) (Sven Hoppe/)

BERLIN — A World War II bomb exploded at a construction site next to a busy railway line in Munich on Wednesday, injuring four people, one of them seriously, German authorities said.

A column of smoke was seen rising from the site near the Donnersbergerbruecke station. The construction site for a new commuter train line is located on the approach to Munich’s central station, which is a bit over a kilometer (about a half-mile) to the east.

Trains to and from that station, one of Germany’s busiest, were suspended but service resumed in mid-afternoon. A few local trains were evacuated. The fire service said there was no damage to the tracks.

Unexploded bombs are still found frequently in Germany, even 76 years after the end of the war, and often during work on construction sites. They are usually defused or disposed of in controlled explosions, a process that sometimes entails large-scale evacuations as a precaution.

Bavaria’s state interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said the 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb was found during drilling work, German news agency dpa reported.

Herrmann said authorities must now investigate why it wasn’t discovered earlier. He noted that such construction sites are usually scanned carefully in advance for possible unexploded bombs.

Police calls for Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021

Juneau News - Wed, 2021-12-01 02:30

Juneau Empire
Juneau Empire - The Voice of Alaska's Capital Since 1912

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Police calls for Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021
Wire Service