Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared on The Conversation.
As you read this, a strange object that looks like a 2,000-foot floating pool noodle is drifting slowly through the central north Pacific Ocean. This object is designed to solve an enormous environmental problem. But in so doing, it brings attention to a number of others.
There are an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic floating on and in the world’s oceans. The massive pool noodle will move through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, driven by the wind and currents and picking up the plastic it encounters along the way. Ocean Cleanup, the organization that developed the device, promises “the largest cleanup in history.”
FILE- This Aug. 11, 2009 file image provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows a patch of sea garbage at sea in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/ Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Mario Aguilera, File) (Mario Aguilera/)
If it works, the device – blandly named System 001 – could make a dent in the enormous amount of ocean-borne plastic. But once that plastic is collected the options are not good. That’s where an environmental ethicist like me starts thinking about where this plastic will end up next. The ocean is better off without it, of course, but the plastic problem has many more layers than it first appears.
The struggle of sorting
Recycling plastic is only possible if it can be meticulously separated into its various chemical types. What people generally describe with the single word “plastic” encompasses seven main types of materials – the ones used to make soda bottles, trash bags, cling wrap, shopping bags, yogurt containers, fishing nets, foam insulation and non-metal parts of many household appliances. Recycling each of these types, which you might know by their acronyms – such as PETE, LDPE, PVC, PP and HDPE – requires a different chemical process.
That’s why many household recycling programs ask residents to sort their plastics – and why communities that let people put recyclables of all types into one big bin employ people and machines to sort it after it’s collected.
Sorting won’t be easy with the plastic in the ocean. All the different kinds of plastic are mixed up together, and some of it has been chemically and physically broken down by sunlight and wave action. Much of it is now in tiny pieces called microplastics, suspended just below the surface. The first difficulty, but by no means the last, will be sorting all that plastic – plus seaweed, barnacles and other sea life that may have attached itself to the floating debris.
Recycling or downcycling?
Ocean Cleanup is working on how best to reprocess, and brand, the material it collects, hoping that a willing market will emerge for its uniquely sourced product. Even if the company’s engineers and researchers can figure out how to sort it all, there are physical limitations to how useful the collected plastic will be.
The act of recycling involves grinding up materials into very small pieces before melting and reforming them. An inescapable part of that process is that every time plastic is recycled, its polymers – the long chemical sequences that provide its structure – become shorter.
Generally speaking, lighter and more flexible types of plastic can only be recycled into denser, harder materials – unless large amounts of new virgin plastic are added to the mixture. After one or two rounds of recycling, the possibilities for reuse become very limited. At that point, the “downcycled” plastic material is formed into textiles, car bumpers or plastic lumber, none of which end up anywhere else but the landfill. The plastic becomes garbage.
What if there were a way to ensure that plastic was genuinely recyclable over the long term? Most bacteria can’t degrade plastics because the polymers contain strong carbon-to-carbon chemical bonds that are different from anything bacteria evolved alongside in nature. Fortunately, after being in the environment with human-discarded plastics for a number of decades, bacteria seem to be evolving to use this synthetic feedstock that pervades modern life.
In 2016, a team of biologists and materials scientists found a bacterium that can eat the particular type of plastic used in beverage bottles. The bacteria turns PET plastic into more basic substances that can be remade into virgin plastics. After identifying the key enzyme in the bacteria’s plastic-digestion process, the research team went on to deliberately engineer the enzyme to make it more effective. One scholar said the engineering work has managed to “overtake evolution.”
At this point, the breakthroughs are only working in laboratory conditions and only on one of the seven types of plastics. But the idea of going beyond natural evolution is where the ears of an environmental philosopher go on alert.
Synthetic enzymes and bacteria
Discovering the plastic-eating bacterium and its enzyme took a lot of watching, waiting and testing. Evolution isn’t always quick. The findings suggest the possibility of discovering additional enzymes that work with other plastics. But they also raise the possibility of taking matters into our own hands and designing new enzymes and microbes.
Already, completely artificial proteins coded by synthetically constructed genes are acting like artificial enzymes and catalyzing reactions in cells. One researcher claims “we can develop proteins – that would normally have taken billions of years to evolve – in a matter of months.” In other labs, synthetic genomes built entirely out of bottles of chemicals are now capable of running bacterial cells. Entirely synthetic cells – genomes, metabolic processes, functional cellular structures and all – are thought to be only a decade away.
This coming era of synthetic biology not only promises to change what organisms can do. It threatens to change what organisms actually are. Bacteria will no longer just be naturally occurring life forms; some, even many, of them will be purpose-built microbes constructed expressly to provide functions useful to humans, such as composting plastic. The border between life and machine will blur.
The plastics polluting the world’s oceans need to be cleaned up. Bringing them back to land would reinforce the fact that even on a global scale, it’s impossible to throw trash “away” – it just goes somewhere else for a time. But people should be very careful about what sort of technological fixes they employ. I cannot help but see the irony of trying to solve the very real problem of too many synthetic materials littering the oceans by introducing to the world trillions of synthetically produced proteins or bacteria to clean them up.
Christopher J. Preston is a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
Sen. Lamar Alexander listens as Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks to students at Sevier County High School, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Sevierville, Tenn. The pair spoke about the newly launched myStudentAid mobile application. (Robert Berlin/The Daily Times via AP) (Robert Berlin/)
WASHINGTON - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is set to release a sweeping overhaul of how colleges and universities must handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment, giving new rights to the accused, including the ability to cross-examine their accusers, people familiar with the matter said.
The proposal is set for release before Thanksgiving, possibly this week, and replaces less formal guidance issued by the Obama administration in 2011. The new rules would reduce liability for universities, tighten the definition of sexual harassment, and allow schools to use a higher standard in evaluating claims of sexual harassment and assault.
The rules stem from a 1972 law known as Title IX that bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. Most of the attention is on higher education, but the rules also apply to elementary and secondary schools. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open for public comment before being finalized.
The regulation lands amid a national debateover sexual assault, including whether Brett Kavanaugh should have been elevated to the Supreme Court after allegations surfaced that as a teenagerhe sexually assaulted a girl. He denied the accusation and was confirmed. Defending Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump declared it "a very scary time for young men in America" who faced the possibility of false claims.
Last year, DeVos rescinded the 2011 Obama guidance, denouncing it as overly prescriptive and lacking due process for the accused. She promised to write a regulation to replace it.
In a 2017 speech, she offered several examples of students she said were wrongly accused of wrongdoing under the old rules. She also said the rules poorly served survivors who were forced through multiple appeals because the system had "failed the accused."
"Schools have been compelled by Washington to enforce ambiguous and incredibly broad definitions of assault and harassment," she said. "Institutions must be mindful of the rights of every student."
The rules come after years of rising pressure on universities to better respond to allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct, and the proposal is likely to anger those who fear victim claims will be ignored or minimized. But the new direction has been welcomed by men's rights groups, who say the Obama guidelines were weighted in favor of the accusers, and by some university administrators who found the Obama version overly prescriptive and confusing.
The proposed rule will dodge a related controversial matter regarding the rights of transgender students. The Department of Health and Human Services had urged the Education Department to include a provision defining gender as someone's biological sex at birth. The DeVosproposal does not include that idea.
But several people said it is possible the Education Department will later issue a letter or fact sheet that asserts sex discrimination does not include complaints related to gender identity.
People with direct knowledge of the rules and others briefed on them spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the proposal. The department declined comment.
A leaked draft of the Title IX rules was published online in September, and five people familiar with the planning said this week only a handful of changes have been made to the rules since then.
The most significant change would guarantee the accused the right to cross-examine their accusers, though it would have to be conducted by advisers or attorneys for the people involved, rather than by the person accused of misconduct. If requested, the parties could be in separate rooms during the cross-examination, an administration official said. They said this was done to bolster the due process rights of the accused while assuring that victims are not directly confronted by their assailants.
The Obama guidelines had strongly discouraged use of direct cross-examination. The earlier DeVos draft allowed cross-examination but did not require schools to offer it as an option.
Recent court decisions requiring public universities to allow the accused the right to cross-examination when credibility is an issue figured in the administration's reasoning, two people said.
Some White House officials urged going further to include a mandatory cross-examination provision, two people familiar with internal discussions said. They said others in the administration argued that mandatory questioning was ill-advised, potentially traumatic for victims and not required in court hearings.
The proposal will include language barring questioning about an accuser's sexual history, one administration official said.
Jess Davidson, executive director of the advocacy group End Rape on Campus, said she made the case to the White House against allowing the parties to directly cross-examine each other, decrying it as "an extraordinarily cruel process" that would discourage victims from reporting assaults.
"Most survivors would be unwilling to go through a process that allows the person who sexually assaulted them to cross-examine them, and rightfully so," she said.
Others argue that colleges failed to protect the rights of the accused under the Obama guidelines. For instance, many schools used a single investigator to gather evidence and decide the case, without an opportunity for the accused to confront their accusers, said Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which supports more robust due process procedures.
"That leaves a huge window of opportunity for the biases of the adjudicator to make themselves felt," he said.
In another change, the proposal will allow both sides to appeal an adverse ruling, and not just the accused.
The rules will also give universities more flexibility in offering supportive measures to victims, for instance schedule changes or housing reassignments, in a change requested by survivor groups.
The most consequential provisions are unchanged since September.
The biggest may be the standard of proof required in assessing claims. Under the DeVos proposal, schools will be allowed to choose between "preponderance of the evidence" and the higher bar of "clear and convincing" evidence. The Obama guidelines had directed schools to use the "preponderance of the evidence" standard.
The regulation also will require schools to use the same standard in these cases as they use for other complaints, including those against employees and faculty. Many union contracts and other agreements with faculty mandate the use of a higher "clear and convincing" standard, several people said. So as a practical matter, most schools may be forced to apply the same higher bar for student complaints.
"It's intentional," said one person briefed on the rules. "It's DeVos saying, 'Yeah, you have a choice, but you can't have a higher burden of proof for unionized faculty.' "
In another major change from 2011 Obama guidelines, the new rules more narrowly define sexual harassment. It must be "unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school's education program or activity." Under Obama, harassment was "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature."
And the rules raise the bar for when an institution can be held legally responsible for failing to investigate a complaint. Under the new version, the school must have "actual knowledge" of the allegation, made to an official who has the authority to "institute corrective measures." That means reporting the allegation to a professor or resident adviser is not sufficient to prove the university was aware of the matter because those people are not in a position to formally handle complaints.
Under Obama, the government expected schools to investigate if they knew or "reasonably should" have known about an incident. Universities thought that was overly broad.
Universities appreciate that the new rules will offer more clarity on their responsibilities, said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president for the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents. “What you want is schools being able to act in good faith without hearing that they’re going to be second-guessed by government bureaucrats later on,” he said.
FILE--In this July 14, 2018, file photo, Kenny Still Smoking touches the tombstone of his 7-year-old daughter, Monica, who disappeared from school in 1979 and was found frozen on a mountain, as he visits her grave on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont. A study released by a Native American non-profit says numerous police departments in cities nationwide are not adequately identifying or reporting cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. (AP Photo/David Goldman, file) (David Goldman/)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Police departments nationwide are not adequately identifying or reporting cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls as concerns mount over the level of violence they often face, according to a study released by a Native American nonprofit Wednesday.
The report from the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute, the research arm of the Seattle Indian Health Board, was conducted over the past year amid worry in tribal communities and cities that Native American and Alaska Native women are vanishing in high numbers, despite a lack of available government data to identify the full scope of the problem.
Researchers said they identified some 500 missing persons and homicide cases involving Native American women in 71 cities after reviewing data obtained through media reports and public records requests sent to police departments.
They reviewed cases dating back to the 1940s, though roughly two-thirds were from the past eight years, according to Annita Lucchesi, a cartographer and descendant of the Cheyenne whose database of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada was the basis for the research.
In total, she has a list of some 2,700 names. Of the cases included in the report on U.S. cities, a quarter represented missing persons cases, and just more than half were homicides.
Researchers said they expect their figures to represent an undercount, in part, because some police departments in cities with substantial Native American populations - such as Albuquerque and Billings, Montana - did not provide figures in response to records requests, or because Native American victims may have been identified as belonging to another race.
"What it does show is, yes, this is happening," said Abigail Echo-Hawk, who is the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute. "But there has to be major changes to the way data is collected."
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined other lawmakers and representatives of the Urban Indian Health Institute to review the report's findings Wednesday in Washington. Its release comes as multiple bills at the state and federal level have been proposed to address the issue and improve data collection.
In Washington state, for example, a law was enacted in June that requires the State Patrol to conduct a study to examine how to improve the collection and sharing of information about missing Native American women. The study also will develop an estimate of how many Native women are missing in the state.
The state is home to 29 tribes. A report to the Legislature is expected in June.
In Congress, meanwhile, a bill to expand tribal access to some federal crime databases, establish protocols for handling cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, and require annual reports on the number of missing and murdered Native American women was set for a hearing Wednesday.
It was introduced last year by North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who lost her bid for re-election last week. She named the bill Savanna's Act in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a 22-year-old who was brutally killed in Fargo, North Dakota, in 2017 while eight months pregnant.
Her body was found in a river, wrapped in plastic and duct tape, after a neighbor cut her baby girl from her womb. The child survived and lives with her father.
Brooke Crews admitted to the killing and was sentenced to life in prison without parole earlier this year. Her boyfriend William Hoehn was sentenced last month to life in prison with a chance at parole for conspiring to kidnap the baby and lying to police about it.
Heitkamp has said that if authorities had more accurate statistics, they might be able to detect patterns to help solve more cases. The authors of the nonprofit's report share that opinion. But they also point out that the legislation's data collection mandates likely would not include LaFontaine-Greywind herself.
That's because the bill would largely set mandates for federal law enforcement, which has some jurisdiction over crimes on reservations and other tribal lands but not municipalities.
LaFontaine-Greywind had been killed in Fargo, a city beyond the boundaries of any of North Dakota's reservations.
The report underscores U.S. Census figures showing that a majority of Native Americans now live in urban areas. The study’s authors said that shows the urgent need for including cases stemming from cities in reforms.
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street heading to Parliament for Prime Minister's questions in London, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. May will try to persuade her divided Cabinet on Wednesday that they have a choice between backing a draft Brexit deal with the European Union or plunging the U.K. into political and economic uncertainty. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) (Matt Dunham/)
LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May said that she won her Cabinet’s backing for a draft divorce deal with the European Union after a “long, detailed and impassioned” marathon meeting Wednesday.
The breakthrough came as pro-Brexit lawmakers raged against a draft agreement they said would make the U.K. subservient to the bloc indefinitely.
May's Cabinet debated whether to support the deal after negotiators from Britain and the European Union broke a months-long logjam and reached agreement on divorce terms.
May referred to the support from her Cabinet as a "collective agreement," but didn't say whether the deal received unanimous backing.
She emerged from the five-hour meeting to tell reporters in Downing St. that the deal was "the best that could be negotiated."
She said approval by Cabinet was a "decisive step which allows us to move on and finalize the deal in the days ahead."
"I firmly believe, with my head and my heart that this is a decision which is in the best interests of the United Kingdom," she said.
Earlier, May told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the draft deal "takes us significantly closer to delivering what the British people voted for in the referendum" of 2016 that opted to leave the EU.
May said Britain would "take back control of our borders, our laws and our money ... while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom."
But pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's Conservative Party — a group that includes some members of the Cabinet — say the agreement will leave Britain tethered to the EU after it departs and unable to forge an independent trade policy.
Euroskeptic Conservative legislator Peter Bone warned May that she would "lose the support of many Conservative (members of Parliament) and millions of voters across the country" if she pressed ahead with the agreement.
May's supporters argue that the deal is the best on offer, and the alternatives are a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit that would cause huge disruption to people and businesses, or an election that could see the Conservative government replaced by the left-of-center Labour Party.
Former Foreign Secretary William Hague warned "ardent Brexiteers" that if they shoot down May's deal, it could lead to a change of government and a new referendum and "Brexit might never happen at all."
Failure to secure Cabinet backing will leave May's leadership in doubt and the Brexit process in chaos, with exit day just over four months away on March 29.
If the Cabinet supports the deal, it still must be approved by leaders of the 28-nation EU. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said EU leaders had penciled in a Nov. 25 Brexit summit to discuss the deal — though he cautioned nothing was guaranteed and much could still go wrong.
Then May will need to win backing from Britain's Parliament — no easy task, since pro-Brexit and pro-EU legislators alike are threatening to oppose it.
The main obstacle to a withdrawal agreement has long been how to ensure there are no customs posts or other checks along the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit. Britain and the EU agree that there must be no barriers that could disrupt businesses and residents on either side of the border and undermine Northern Ireland's hard-won peace process.
The proposed solution involves a common customs arrangement for the U.K. and the EU, to eliminate the need for border checks, with some provisions that are specific to Northern Ireland.
The solution is intended to be temporary, but pro-Brexit politicians in Britain fear it may become permanent, hampering Britain's ability to strike new trade deals around the world.
Pro-Brexit former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the agreement would make his favored option, a loose Canada-style trade deal with the bloc, impossible. He tweeted: "Cabinet must live up to its responsibilities & stop this deal."
Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority government, said it would oppose any deal that leaves Northern Ireland subject to different rules to the rest of the U.K. after Brexit.
"We could not as unionists support a deal that broke up the United Kingdom," DUP leader Arlene Foster said.
May also faced disquiet from Scottish Conservative lawmakers, worried about what the deal means for Scotland's important fishing industry.
The party's Scottish legislators — including Scottish Secretary David Mundell, a Cabinet minister — wrote to May saying Brexit must mean "full sovereignty over domestic waters" and Britain must leave the EU's Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit.
May also faces growing opposition from pro-EU lawmakers, who say her proposed Brexit deal is worse than the status quo and the British public should get a new vote on whether to leave or to stay.
Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who is deputy to the legislature's Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt, said the real problem during the negotiations "lies within the U.K." because Britain doesn't know what relationship it wants with the EU.
“That is the real problem, because if the U.K. had a single agreed line, backed by the majority of parties and the majority of MPs, then the whole situation would not be so unclear,” she said.
Dunleavy declares Alaska open for business
Alaska Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy, center, leaves the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage on Nov. 8 after speaking at the annual conference of the Alaska Miners Association. During his address Dunleavy declared the state open for ...
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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to reporters as he arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, for the House Republican leadership elections. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Susan Walsh/)
WASHINGTON - Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California ascended to the top job in House Republican leadership on Wednesday, while Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming followed in her father’s footsteps by taking the party’s No. 3 spot.
McCarthy prevailed over Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 159-43, according to the House press gallery, while Cheney was elected by voice vote.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is stepping down at the end of his term in January. That opened up the top spot in House Republican leadership, which following the GOP's defeat in last week's midterms will be House Minority Leader.
Both McCarthy and Jordan, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had announced their bid for the position. McCarthy, who serves in the No. 2 spot as House Majority Leader, made a bid for speaker in 2015 but stepped aside amid pressure from conservatives. With Ryan's backing - as well as a close relationship with President Donald Trump - McCarthy triumphed over Jordan.
The California Republican has leveraged his alliance with Trump to his advantage on Capitol Hill, where the president looms large over the House GOP conference. Trump has referred to McCarthy as "my Kevin" since before his inauguration, and McCarthy has at times gone to great lengths to curry favor with Trump, both through legislation - such as by introducing a bill that would appropriate more than $23 billion to Trump's border wall plan - and other means, such as sending the president his favorite candies.
The No. 2 spot of House Minority Whip was claimed Wednesday by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who serves in the third-ranking role in House GOP leadership. Scalise had mulled a bid against McCarthy but announced last week that he was pursuing the minority whip spot instead.
Cheney, who first won election in 2016 and is the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, won the No. 3 spot of House Republican Conference Chair. Cheney launched her bid for the spot last Wednesday with a letter to colleagues in which she criticized Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who has held the position for three terms. McMorris Rodgers announced the next day that she was stepping aside from her leadership role and instead seeking to climb the ranks of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The elder Cheney, who served as GOP conference chair from 1987 to 1989, was present for Wednesday's vote for his daughter.
- - -
The Washington Post’s Elise Viebeck, Mike DeBonis and John Wagner contributed to this report.
About 100 people still on list of missing after Northern California wildfire that killed at least 48
Search and rescue workers search for human remains at a trailer park burned out from the Camp Fire, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)
CHICO, Calif. — Authorities searching through the blackened aftermath of California’s deadliest wildfire have released the names of about 100 people who are still missing, including many in their 80s and 90s.
As the names were made public late Tuesday, additional crews joined the search, and the statewide death toll climbed to at least 51, with 48 dead in Northern California and three fatalities in Southern California.
"We want to be able to cover as much ground as quickly as we possibly can," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. "This is a very difficult task."
Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the missing grew increasingly desperate. A message board at a shelter was filled with photos of the missing and pleas for any information.
"I hope you are okay," read one hand-written note on the board filled with sheets of notebook paper. Another had a picture of a missing man: "If seen, please have him call."
Some of the missing are not on the list, said Sol Bechtold, who is searching for his 75-year-old mother, Joanne Caddy, whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise, the town of 27,000 that was consumed by flames last week.
Bechtold said he spoke with the sheriff's office Wednesday morning, and they confirmed they have an active missing person's case on Caddy. But Caddy, a widow who lived alone and did not drive, was not on the list.
"The list they published is missing a lot of names," Bechtold said. Community members have compiled their own list.
Greg Gibson was one of the people searching the message board Tuesday, hoping to find information about his neighbors. They've been reported missing, but he does not know if they tried to escape or hesitated a few minutes too long before fleeing Paradise, where about 7,700 homes were destroyed.
"It happened so fast. It would have been such an easy decision to stay, but it was the wrong choice," Gibson said from the Neighborhood Church in Chico, California, which was serving as a shelter for some of the more than 1,000 evacuees.
Inside the church, evacuee Harold Taylor chatted with newfound friends. The 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, who walks with a cane, said he received a call Thursday morning to evacuate immediately. He saw the flames leaping up behind his house, left with the clothes on his back and barely made it out alive.
Along the way, he tried to convince his neighbor to get in his car and evacuate with him, but the neighbor declined. He doesn't know what happened to his friend.
"We didn't have 10 minutes to get out of there," he said. "It was already in flames downtown, all the local restaurants and stuff," he said.
The search for the dead was drawing on portable devices that can identify someone's genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.
"In many circumstances, without rapid DNA technology, it's just such a lengthy process," said Frank DePaolo, a deputy commissioner of the New York City medical examiners' office, which has been at the forefront of the science of identifying human remains since 9/11.
Before the Paradise tragedy, the deadliest single fire on record in California was a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles that killed 29.
At the other end of the state, firefighters made progress against a massive blaze that has killed two people in star-studded Malibu and destroyed well over 400 structures in Southern California.
The flames roared to life again in a mountainous wilderness area Tuesday, sending up a huge plume of smoke near the community of Lake Sherwood. Still, firefighters made gains.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke canceled a trip to Asia and planned to visit the fire zones Wednesday and Thursday.
The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place that two utilities reported equipment trouble. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, sidestepped questions about what action should be taken against utilities if their power lines are found to be responsible.
People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not immediately returned.
Linda Rawlings was on a daylong fishing trip with her husband and 85-year-old father when the fire broke out.
Her next-door neighbors opened the back gate so her three dogs could escape before they fled the flames, and the dogs were picked up several days later waiting patiently in the charred remains of their home, she said.
After days of uncertainty, Rawlings learned Tuesday morning that her "Smurf blue" home in Magalia burned to the ground.
She sat looking shell-shocked on the curb outside a hotel in Corning.
"Before, you always have hope," she said. "You don't want to give up. But now we know."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, and Sudhin Thanawala, Janie Har, Jocelyn Gecker and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco.
Election Day began wonderfully. It was great to see so many people at my polling station early in the morning. I entered with a smile on my face, greeting people leaving with a cheery “good morning.” No one made eye contact or returned my greeting. Most of them looked pretty serious. The machine was not accepting ballots so I had to put it in a slot in the side, but I slapped my “I Voted” sticker on my coat, happy I’d done my duty.
My wife reported that later in the day, she met a recently naturalized neighbor originally from the Middle East who was ecstatic about voting for the first time. On the way home from work, I passed my incumbent representative pumping his sign up and down on a busy corner, and I smiled and waved at him as I passed. He waved back enthusiastically, not knowing that I said a quiet “goodbye” as we passed.
Next morning, I realized I had probably waved goodbye to the $19 billion in the Permanent Fund earnings reserve account instead. Only most of the judges I had voted for had been retained. Otherwise, my votes had all gone into the minority columns. Disappointed? Yes. Disillusioned? Somewhat. Dispirited? Never!
— Jon Sharpe
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A congressman who body-slams a reporter is “my kind of guy.” Fans at rallies are encouraged to “knock the crap” out of protesters. Neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, include “some very fine people.” With such rhetoric doth our president inflame the surly lumpen.
Then people are shot, people are run over, and bombs are mailed. Yet 87 percent of Republicans — overwhelmingly good people — approve the president’s performance. Why? Because he appoints conservative judges, and the economy is booming.
This is not the America I know and love. We’re better than this. Good people need to stand up and say, “This is wrong.”
— Dale Gerboth
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I didn’t vote for Mike Dunleavy because I believe that we have bigger fish to fry. So if Mike got a bunch of votes to give out free money that the state doesn’t have, when do I get my check for $6,700? When do my children get their checks? Does the Legislature know? Promises and promises to get votes.
It’s kind of like people voting for Donald Trump, thinking that he will get them a job and they will make more money. No, voting for Trump means you will still not get a job, and if you do, you will not make enough to pay taxes. And your financial and standard of living will be no better. It’s called politics. I believe John Kennedy Toole explained that it is a “confederacy of dunces.”
I will, however, cash my checks if Mike makes right. He got elected, he will make more money, and my life will stay the same.
— Grant Hedman
Have something on your mind? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.
The ADN’s opposition to any and all changes proposed by Ballot Measure 1 is dead wrong. You tried to ignore the fact that the Board of Fish asked the Legislature for changes. Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak introduced such legislation but it was held up in committee. It is even more likely to be strangled up by the incoming Legislature.
Along with that, we are likely to have new commissioners of the departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Game who will have their own interpretation of what constitutes “proper protection” of fish habitat. That could be a negative for fish habitat.
As for the “resounding defeat,” the ADN helped with that. The $12 million opposition quoted the paper’s Oct. 28 editorial in its ads. One thing you said in that editorial was: “But biologists tell us that the problems affecting salmon returns lie in the Pacific Ocean …” This was deceptive to say the least and I expected better of you. Ballot Measure 1 was not about salmon survival at sea; it was about affording better protection for anadromous fish habitat in the waters that flow through the landmass of Alaska.
The opposition to Ballot Measure 1 did a ton of successful fear-mongering that ranged from a smaller dividend to having “… to fund a fish habitat study just to fix potholes,” as an Anchorage state senator claimed. You said that our 60-year-old law is just fine. Many reasonably think that it could be improved short of Ballot Measure 1.
— John Jensen
Alaskans know how important it is to respect the sacrifice and service of veterans. We also know that when those who serve return home, they often face a new struggle: Many have a hard time finding work to support themselves and their families.
Fortunately, there are a number of programs that can help veterans get back on their feet. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, helps veterans afford groceries and make ends meet. Nearly 1.4 million veterans use SNAP, including roughly 4,000 in our state.
This program is a critical lifeline for many veterans, but its future is uncertain as farm bill negotiations continue. The House version of the farm bill includes cuts and harmful changes to SNAP, which would take food assistance away from 2 million Americans, including veterans, children, and seniors. Alternatively, the Senate version of the bill protects and strengthens SNAP, and ensures that struggling veterans can put food on the table.
We owe veterans more than just lip service. It’s time to support policies like SNAP that support them here at home.
— Jim Baldwin
Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation needs to be allowed to proceed without political interference, regardless of where it leads. I would expect our Congressional representatives to support the rule of law, as did our attorney general who was just fired.
— Jim Bailey
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The Anchorage Daily News seeks to publish a wide range of points of view and to be a town square of ideas on issues affecting Alaska and Alaskans.
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Candidate-written pieces: For state offices, starting on June 1 of the election year, ADN will consider publishing up to one commentary per month per candidate. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are considered separate candidates. Our strong preference is that commentaries be issue-focused and not a general 'Here's-why-I'm-running.' In general, we do not publish links to campaign literature in op-ed columns or letters to the editor.
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Letters to the editor: There's no limit on letters to the editor beyond our standard one-per-month-per-person limit, but we do not have space to publish all letters we receive. What we publish will be a representative sampling of what we receive.
Candidate endorsements: The ADN will consider endorsing candidates or positions on ballot measures that in the judgment of the Editorial Board have been deemed to be in the best interest of the state or city. Guests are invited to editorial board meetings and will be scheduled on an first-come, first-served basis with priority given to statewide elections and ballot initiatives. Candidates for statewide election will be allowed one ed-board meeting per election (once before the primary, once before the general). All other candidates are only eligible for one meeting. For more info, please contact Opinions Editor Tom Hewitt.
These undated images released by the Ohio Attorney General's office, show from left, George "Billy" Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. Authorities announced Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, that the family of four has been arrested in the slayings of eight members of one family in rural Ohio two years ago. (Ohio Attorney General's office via AP)
WAVERLY, Ohio - Prosecuting an Ohio family of four arrested in the gruesome slayings of eight people from another family could take years to conclude, a county prosecutor said as the first break in the more than two-year-old case was announced.
Tuesday's announcement marked the culmination of a massive investigative effort that began after seven adults and a teenage boy were found shot in the head at four separate homes in April 2016. The killings terrified local residents and spawned rumors that it was a drug hit, but prosecutors suggested the attack had stemmed from a custody dispute.
The investigation is one of the most complicated and extensive in state history, with enormous numbers of witnesses and a huge amount of evidence, said Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk.
"There is a lot of hard work ahead of us. I cannot emphasize that enough. An indictment is only the beginning of the case," Junk said Tuesday, adding that the case may have to be moved from Pike County because of the pre-trial publicity.
Other Pike County officials are concerned about the costs and other issues they will face in housing the suspects, such as added security and other needs. County Commissioner Blaine Beekman said Wednesday the county of 28,000 is already in a budget crunch and officials plan to meet with Junk and then reach out of state officials for help.
“Obviously, we are pleased that the arrests have been made and that if the evidence is there, the people will be brought to justice,” Beekman said. “But it’s a double-edged sword. ... Now comes the reality of how are we going to pay for this? We have no book to refer to. There are just so many unknowns.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said a grand jury indicted the four members of the Wagner family on aggravated murder charges. Police arrested George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; his wife, 48-year-old Angela Wagner; and his sons George Wagner, 27, and Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26. They could be sentenced to death if convicted, DeWine said.
DeWine gave scant detail about why the victims were killed, but said the custody of a young child played a role. Edward Wagner was the long-time former boyfriend of 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, one of the eight victims, and shared custody of their daughter at the time of the massacre.
Edward Wagner was also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Rhoden when she was 15 years old and he was 20 years old, DeWine's office said.
Tony Rhoden, who lost two brothers in the killings, said the family was still processing the news.
"We just don't know what to think," Rhoden told the Columbus Dispatch. "It's a lot to take in."
The Wagner family lived near the scenes of the killings about 60 miles south of Columbus. They moved to Kenai, Alaska, in June 2017, then returned to Ohio this past spring.
Kelly Cinereski, an Alaska pastor and friend of the family, told the Dayton Daily News he was shocked by their arrests.
"These people wept over dogs, I can't imagine them taking people's lives," he said.
The mothers of Angela Wagner and George Wagner also were arrested in Ohio and charged with misleading investigators.
Both Edward Wagner and Angela Wagner previously told the Cincinnati Enquirer that they were not involved in the killings.
Angela Wagner said in an email to the newspaper that what happened was devastating and Hanna Rhoden was like a daughter to her. Wagner also told The Enquirer that her husband, George, and Christopher Rhoden Sr. were more like brothers than friends.
John Clark, a lawyer who has been representing the Wagners, has said previously that four of the Wagner family members provided laptops, phones and DNA samples to investigators, and agreed to be interviewed about the slayings.
"We look forward to the day when the true culprits will be discovered and brought to justice for this terrible tragedy," Clark said in a statement Tuesday.
The victims were identified as 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna; Clarence Rhoden's fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden. Hanna Rhoden's days-old baby girl, another baby and a young child were unharmed.
Welsh-Huggins reported from Columbus. Associated Press Writers John Seewer in Toledo and Dylan T. Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky, and AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
File -- A rocket leaves the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak (Alaska Aerospace Corp. handout photo)
KODIAK - Vector Launch Inc. is planning a commercial rocket launch at the Pacific Spaceport Complex, its first launch at the Alaska facility.
The company based in Tucson, Arizona, has applied with the Federal Aviation Administration for a launch license, aiming to test its Vector-R rocket by April 2019, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Tuesday.
"Vector is aiming to meet its goal of achieving the first orbital attempt of its Vector-R rocket," said Shaun Coleman, the company's chief sales and marketing officer.
The two-stage rocket would not carry a payload during the launch, according to the company's application. A little over two minutes after launch, the stages would separate and land off the coast of Kodiak.
The flight is expected to last less than 10 minutes, and the maximum operating time should be less than 3 hours from launch activities.
"This is an absolute worst-case estimate as operating longer than 30 to 60 minutes may require shut down of the transmitters due to thermal concerns," the document states.
Vector plans to conduct more launches from Kodiak Island if the test is successful, Coleman said.
"Part of Vector's strategy is to launch from multiple sites, not exclusively from Kodiak," Coleman said. "Within a few years, Vector envisions launches from Kodiak, as well as Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and Wallops Island in Virginia to name a few."
Vector has previously conducted various tests in Kodiak to prepare for a launch, said Craig Campbell, CEO of Alaska Aerospace Corp.
“They’ve been up here twice, doing pathfinders, bringing the rocket up and doing all the steps leading up to a launch,” Campbell said.
FILE - In this July 21, 2017, file photo, the sun sets over sea ice floating on the Victoria Strait along the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)
Scientists behind a major study that claimed the Earth’s oceans are warming faster than previously thought now say their work contained inadvertent errors that made their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are.
Two weeks after the high-profile study was published in the journal Nature, its authors have submitted corrections to the publication. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, home to several of the researchers involved, also noted the problems in the scientists' work and corrected a news release on its website, which previously had asserted that the study detailed how the Earth’s oceans “have absorbed 60 percent more heat than previously thought.”
“Unfortunately, we made mistakes here,” said Ralph Keeling, a climate scientist at Scripps, who was a co-author of the study. “I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them.”
The central problem, according to Keeling, came in how the researchers dealt with the uncertainty in their measurements. As a result, the findings suffer from too much doubt to definitively support the paper’s conclusion about how much heat the oceans have absorbed over time.
The central conclusion of the study - that oceans are retaining ever more energy as more heat is being trapped within Earth's climate system each year - is in line with other studies that have drawn similar conclusions. And it hasn't changed much despite the errors. But Keeling said the authors' miscalculations mean there is a much larger margin of error in the findings, which means researchers can weigh in with less certainty than they thought.
"I accept responsibility for what happened because it's my role to make sure that those kind of details got conveyed," Keeling said.
The study's lead author was Laure Resplandy of Princeton University. Other researchers were with institutions in China, Paris, Germany and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
"Maintaining the accuracy of the scientific record is of primary importance to us as publishers and we recognize our responsibility to correct errors in papers that we have published," Nature said in a statement to The Washington Post. "Issues relating to this paper have been brought to Nature's attention and we are looking into them carefully. We take all concerns related to papers we have published very seriously and will issue an update once further information is available."
The original study, which appeared Oct. 31, derived a new method for measuring how much heat is being absorbed by the oceans. Essentially, the authors measured the volume of gases, specifically oxygen and carbon dioxide, that have escaped the ocean in recent decades and headed into the atmosphere as it heats up. They found that the warming “is at the high end of previous estimates” and suggested that as a result, the rate of global warming itself could be more accelerated.
The results, wrote the authors, may suggest there is less time than previously thought to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The study drew considerable media attention, including from The Washington Post.
However, not long after publication, an independent Britain-based researcher named Nicholas Lewis published a lengthy blog post saying he had found a “major problem” with the research.
"So far as I can see, their method vastly underestimates the uncertainty," Lewis said in an interview Tuesday, "as well as biasing up significantly, nearly 30 percent, the central estimate."
Lewis added that he tends "to read a large number of papers, and, having a mathematics as well as a physics background, I tend to look at them quite carefully, and see if they make sense. And where they don't make sense - with this one, it's fairly obvious it didn't make sense - I look into them more deeply."
Lewis has argued in past studies and commentaries that climate scientists are predicting too much warming because of their reliance on computer simulations, and that current data from the planet itself suggests global warming will be less severe than feared.
It isn't clear whether the authors agree with all of Lewis's criticisms, but Keeling said "we agree there were problems along the lines he identified."
Paul Durack, a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said that promptly acknowledging the errors in the study "is the right approach in the interests of transparency."
But he added in an email, "This study, although there are additional questions that are arising now, confirms the long known result that the oceans have been warming over the observed record, and the rate of warming has been increasing," he said.
Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, followed the growing debate over the study closely on Twitter and said that measurements about the uptake of heat in the oceans have been bedeviled with data problems for some time - and that debuting new research in this area is hard.
"Obviously you rely on your co-authors and the reviewers to catch most problems, but things still sometimes slip through," Schmidt wrote in an email.
Schmidt and Keeling agreed that other studies also support a higher level of ocean heat content than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, saw in a landmark 2013 report.
Overall, Schmidt said, the episode can be seen as a positive one.
"The key is not whether mistakes are made, but how they are dealt with - and the response from Laure and Ralph here is exemplary. No panic, but a careful reexamination of their working - despite a somewhat hostile environment," he wrote.
“So, plus one for some post-publication review, and plus one to the authors for reexamining the whole calculation in a constructive way. We will all end up wiser.”
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department released a memorandum Wednesday defending the legality of President Donald Trump appointing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general - rejecting criticism from some lawyers that the move violates the Constitution.
Since his appointment last week, some have charged that Whitaker, who served as the chief of staff to the previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is not legally eligible to serve as the head of the Justice Department because he is not a Senate-confirmed official.
On Tuesday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, asked a federal judge to block Whitaker from serving as acting attorney general, arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should instead take on the role.
The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal guidance to the federal government, said in a 20-page memo that past practice, court rulings, and legal analysis show that the Whitaker appointment is legal. In particular, it says the scenario is expressly authorized by the 1998 Vacancies Reform Act.
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braleys comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than an Iowa farmer like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowas open Senate seat on the GOPs list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) (Charlie Neibergall/)
The memo also notes that before Sessions was forced out of the job, the White House had sought advice from the OLC and was told Whitaker could be appointed.
"As all three branches of government have long recognized, the president may designate an acting official to perform the duties of a vacant principal office, including a Cabinet office, even when the acting official has not been confirmed by the Senate," the memo said.
The memo notes that Trump has now done it six times, and that then-president Barack Obama did it twice, and then-president George W. Bush did it once.
Interestingly, the legal opinion also concludes that even if Trump had fired Sessions, he could have replaced him with a non-Senate confirmed government employee for a period of up to seven months. By that reasoning, the president has the power to replace Cabinet-level officials at will and put them in charge of major government branches for half a year or more.
Critics of the Whitaker selection have argued the Vacancies Reform Act should not take precedence over other statutes and the Constitution's formula for replacing senior government officials.
"Few positions are more critical than that of U.S. Attorney General, an office that wields enormous enforcement power and authority over the lives of all Americans," Frosh, the Maryland attorney general, said in a statement Tuesday.
Trump tapped Whitaker to serve as acting attorney general last week after Sessions resigned at the president's request. Whitaker's elevation has raised concerns about his qualifications, his past statements as a U.S. Senate candidate and his business practices.
The legal challenge to Whitaker's appointment comes as part of Maryland's ongoing federal lawsuit that is trying to force the Trump administration to uphold a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Frosh's filing argues that Whitaker's promotion violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which requires "principal" senior officials, such as the attorney general, to be confirmed by the Senate. Maryland also contends that the appointment violates a federal statute that lays out the line of succession and gives authority to the deputy attorney general when the top job is vacant.
A number of current and former government lawyers have said that while elevating Whitaker to attorney general was unwise and unprecedented, it is not illegal.
A senior Justice Department official said the OLC’s legal analysis of the practice found 160 such instances in which a non-Senate confirmed official became the acting head of an agency, but the vast majority of those instances came before 1870.
The Signature Bridge is shrouded in smog on Nov. 8, 2018. (Bloomberg photo by Ruhani Kaur) (Ruhani Kaur/)
NEW DELHI - It took eight long years to build the new Signature Bridge. When it finally opened on Nov. 4, a minister called it the pride of the city and likened it to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Now, just days after it was inaugurated, the Indian government's flagship engineering marvel has become a site for dangerous selfies, piles of garbage and absurd traffic violations.
“We did not expect that there would be such a craze around this bridge,” said Shurbir Singh, managing director of the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corp., speaking to the Indian Express newspaper.November 10, 2018
The 2,214-foot asymmetrical bridge was built across the Yamuna River and connects north Delhi to Wazirabad, an increasingly populated area to its east. The cable-stayed structure also has a 505-foot-high viewing gallery.
According to the Express, in just two days, police recorded 53 cases of improper parking and 24 one-way violations, and they had to tow away 27 vehicles.
According to news reports in India, the bridge is littered with parked cars and thrill-seekers climbing the bridge's suspension cables to take hands-free selfies. Street hawkers have set up stalls to capitalize on the bridge's popularity.
“The government has done a great job, but people are making the bridge dirty. It is attracting a lot of tourists for sure, but it is disorganized,” said one visitor, Om Prakash Sharma, speaking to the Hindu newspaper.
India's rapid economic growth over the past three decades is finally starting to deliver long-awaited urban infrastructure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised flashy new transport links, including a $17 billion bullet train and 53,000 miles of new roads.
According to a recent study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, about half of the world’s selfie-related deaths between 2011 and 2017 happened in India.
The city of Mumbai has even introduced “no selfie zones” to prevent reckless selfie-taking.