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Garden Report: The art of bonsai at the <b>Alaska</b> State Fair

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 17:07
If you've ever been to the Alaska State Fair, then you've probably seen the exhibit a time or two. The Cook Inlet Bonsai Study Group has been ...

Oil partners in <b>Alaska</b> LNG pull out of project

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 16:45
The state's three oil partners on the Alaska LNG (AKLNG) gas line have pulled out of the project. In a Thursday briefing with law makers, oil companies ...

Federal officials seek ban on swimming with spinner dolphins in Hawaii

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 16:35

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Swimming among the dolphins in the clear waters off the Hawaiian coast has long enticed island visitors. But federal officials say the activity is harmful to the creatures when they are supposed to be resting and socializing, and they are proposing a ban on the popular tourism activity.

The proposed rules, announced this week by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, would prohibit swimming with or approaching within 50 yards of Hawaiian spinner dolphins. That would end many current tour group practices, which involve approaching dolphins in a boat and snorkeling in the water with them.

Dolphins typically forage offshore in the night for fish, shrimp and squid, then return toward land during the day to relax. They swim even when they're sleeping. But officials say the presence of boats and swimmers is disrupting their habits, causing "a departure from natural behavioral patterns that support the animal's health and fitness," according to the proposed guidelines.

The tours are popular with visitors, and the excursions are promoted on the Hawaii Tourism Authority's website.

"We think by identifying 50 yards as the minimum distance that there still can be a viable tourist industry in Hawaii," Ann Garrett, an assistant regional administrator for protected resources for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said this week during a conference call with reporters.

Reached by phone, two separate tour operators disagreed.

"It would be the end of legitimate dolphin swimming," said Kevin Merrill, the co-owner of Dolphin Discoveries in Kona, Hawaii. "We couldn't offer the people the quality interaction that they expect."

"It's kind of like asking people at a dolphin show to stay outside the gate," said Roberta Goodman, the owner of Wild Dolphin Swims Hawaii in Holualoa.

In a typical excursion, tourists would load into a boat early in the morning. Once dolphins are spotted, tourists would get out of the boat, wading in the waters nearby.

Merrill and Goodman said they were aware of tour operators who behave unethically or dangerously, but that most were responsible and mindful of not harming the dolphins. They said that they prohibit guests from touching the dolphins or swimming overhand, which can spook the animals.

Goodman, who has worked with dolphins since 1985, said she did not see signs that they were disturbed by the tour groups.

"We watch them nurse, and make love, and play, and travel and sleep," she said. "They continue with their natural behaviors while they're in the water with us. They've accepted us into their environment with them."

The Marine Mammal Protection Act already prohibits the harassment of dolphins, but the proposed rule would add the 50-yard barrier. It would make exceptions for those who inadvertently come within 50 yards of a dolphin, or if steering away from the dolphins would be unsafe. The restrictions would apply within two miles off the coast of the Hawaiian islands, plus an area between the islands of Lanai, Maui and Kahoolawe.

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment for 60 days. The final rule will most likely be decided within a year, according to a document created by the agency's Pacific islands regional office.

Merrill, who has been giving tours with his wife, Claudia Merrill, since 1992, said his groups are not in the water past 11 a.m., allowing the dolphins their resting time. It is among the guidelines recommended by the Coral Reef Alliance, which several tour operators voluntarily follow, he said.

When he started, there were just a few operators, who all cared deeply about the dolphins, but the industry has exploded in the past decade, he said. Merrill said he would prefer to see the Coral Reef Alliance guidelines made mandatory, arguing that there is little valid evidence that reputable tour operators have harmed the animals.

"You don't swim with the dolphins," he said. "The dolphins choose to swim with us."

Heroin cut with elephant tranquilizer may have caused 60 overdoses across 2 states in just 48 hours

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 16:19

Midwest health officials worried this would happen.

It's why they brought together a tri-state coalition – Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky – to talk about the dangers, and it's why they issued a stern, desperate warning last month to first responders and addiction counselors who patrol the front lines of the opioid war every day.

They said the situation was "dire." One Ohio coroner told users they were "literally gambling" with their lives.

But their public plea could not prevent the heroin on their streets from being cut and sold with a new opioid analog 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 stronger than morphine.

In chemical terms, it's called carfentanil. Colloquially, it's an elephant tranquilizer.

It's the most potent opioid used commercially, strong enough to knock out – or even kill – a 15,000-pound pachyderm, and used primarily to sedate other large animals, like ox, moose and buffalo.

Now drug dealers, in an attempt to stretch their supply and deliver a stronger, longer high, are cutting their heroin with carfentanil – which is far more dangerous than its already troublesome but less potent cousin, fentanyl.

And in a 48-hour window this week, two counties near the Ohio-Indiana border may have been hit with a dangerous wave of it.

[Southwest Alaska village sees 3 overdoses, one fatal, in a few hours]

On Tuesday night, officers responded to at least 11 overdose cases in Jennings County, Indiana. That same day and into Wednesday evening, authorities in Hamilton County, Ohio – home to Cincinnati – received more than 50 heroin overdose calls, reported TV station WCPO.

In Ohio, the calls took first responders all over the city: a United Dairy Farmers bathroom, a McDonald's, the scene of a car crash and a Rally's parking lot.

The man at Rally's died, according to WCPO.

Just last weekend, only days before the 48-hour frenzy of calls, about 30 other overdoses were reported in Hamilton County, Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan told Fox 19.

Authorities have been careful not to speculate whether the overdoses across the two states are connected, or whether they all came from one particularly potent batch of heroin, but police told WCPO that is likely the case. It may have been mixed with fentanyl, carfentanil or even rat poison – making it that much harder to treat overdose patients.

That was a crucial part of the public health warning Hamilton County released last month.

"Take this as a dire warning to all, if you choose to purchase and use any forms of heroin," Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi K. Sammarco said. "No one knows what other drugs may be mixed in or substituted and you may be literally gambling with your life.

"Don't count on Narcan to be able to reverse the effects of carfentanil."

[Alaska's heroin death rate spikes, but prescription opioids take more lives]

Narcan is an FDA-approved nasal spray version of naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse the lethal effects of an opioid overdose. It was approved in November 2015, and has been credited with saving countless lives. Across the country, first responders are stocking up on Narcan and some agencies have even started training civilians on how to use it on each other.

Usually, one, maybe two, doses of Narcan will sufficiently help someone overdosing on pure heroin.

But when the drug is cut with other substances, especially carfentanil, it can take as much as a half-dozen doses, maybe more. Complicating matters is that law enforcement officers have no way of knowing on scene what kind of heroin cocktail the user has injected. Fentanyl and carfentanil are mixed into the heroin in nearly untraceable doses. Both are colorless and odorless.

Often, users don't even know until it's too late.

"It's not like they hand you your dope and say, 'Here's the carfentanil dope,' " former heroin user Jessica Sageser told WCPO. "You don't know. The seriousness of it has escalated so much more because this drug is, like, indescribable. It's a snap of the fingers and the blink of an eye, and you are done."

Carfentanil is not just dangerous to users, according to an Aug. 12 Washington Post story: Veterinarians who handle the drug wear protective gloves, aprons and masks, treating it "almost like uranium," in the words of one zoo veterinarian who spoke to Fusion. A dose the size of a grain of salt could kill a person, and carfentanil can even be lethal when absorbed through the skin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

[In 4 hours, a small city in West Virginia saw 26 heroin overdoses]

The DEA has warned narcotics officers, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has urged police in his state to stop field testing for fear that handling the substances without proper precautions could be too dangerous.

"It's just too high of a risk," DeWine said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. "This stuff is just now hitting. You're really not seeing [police] departments with any experience with it at all."

Earlier this month, prosecutors in Pennsylvania issued a warning on carfentanil, which may be responsible for some of the 200 recent overdoses in the area — 20 of them fatal.

It also has been linked to overdoses this year in Kentucky and Florida.

Last week, police in Huntington, W. Va., responded to 26 heroin overdoses in a span of four hours.

The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, which works with law enforcement officials in southeast Indiana and northern Kentucky, is still investigating the widespread spat of overdoses this week.

"I've got to say to whoever pushed this out on the street," Synan told WCPO, "this was the wrong thing to do."

[Will clean needles, Narcan and 'stabilization' centers solve the heroin crisis?]

What&#39;s your most memorable moment in an <b>Alaska</b> national park?

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 16:00
Alaska's eight national parks are tailor-made for memorable experiences, chock-full of epic vistas, opportunities for adventure and wildlife to encounter ...

What's your most memorable moment in an Alaska national park?

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:59

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Alaska's eight national parks are tailor-made for memorable experiences, chock-full of epic vistas, opportunities for adventure and wildlife to encounter.

Have you climbed Denali? Floated the Noatak River in Gates of the Arctic? Come face-to-face with a bear in Katmai? Have you simply found yourself savoring the solitude of a place far from the rest of civilization? Share your most memorable experiences with us in the comment section below.

RelatedThe National Park Service turns 100 today. Take a photo tour of Alaska's park gems

On immigration, Trump suddenly sounds like rivals he once ridiculed

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:42

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For more than a year, Donald Trump took the hardest line on immigration – vowing to deport 11 million illegal immigrants en masse and pillorying his GOP primary rivals as favoring "amnesty."

But 11 weeks before the election, Trump is suddenly sounding a lot like the opponents he repeatedly ridiculed.

The nominee and his campaign aides are now talking openly about requiring illegal immigrants to pay back taxes and potentially allowing those without criminal records to stay in the country – lines that Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida repeatedly used in the GOP presidential primary. Trump also says that any softening of his position won't include a path to citizenship – consistent with the way former Florida governor Jeb Bush described how he would provide legal status for undocumented immigrants.

The shift, if it sticks, marks a dramatic turnabout for a candidate who repeatedly attacked Bush, Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other primary rivals as weak and spineless on immigration, and who repeatedly vowed that he would never waver in his push to deport everyone here illegally.

In a Thursday interview with WABC radio in New York, Bush said Trump's views seem to be constantly changing, making it difficult to read where he stands. But he said Trump seems to have turned his back on the positions that have defined his candidacy.

[Clinton and Trump battle over his appeal among racist voters]

"Sounds like a typical politician, by the way, where you get in front of one crowd and say one thing, and then say something else to another crowd that may want to hear a different view," said Bush, who has refused to endorse the GOP nominee. "All the things that Donald Trump railed against, he seems to be morphing into – it's kind of disturbing."

When pressed on the similarities between his position and Trump's new stance, Bush said with a laugh: "Well I'm sure I influenced his position."

Republican advocates of immigration reform came out of the woodwork Thursday to draw attention to Trump's changing stance. Former House majority leader Eric Cantor, who supported Bush's campaign, wrote on Twitter: "Pleased to see @realDonaldTrump embrace @JebBush's immigration plan." Cantor lost his seat in a 2014 primary upset in part because of his support for immigration reform.

Meanwhile, Democrats are in rare agreement with many Trump defenders in saying that the candidate has not actually flip-flopped. They argue he is merely trying to paper over ugly remarks that can't be taken back, like labeling illegal immigrants from Mexico "rapists" and killers bring drugs and crime into the United States.

"I don't think anything has changed," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a staunch immigration reform advocate.

Following a staff shake-up last week amid worsening poll numbers against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump has sought to move to the center at least rhetorically in a number of areas, including immigration. Although cagey on the details, Trump's remarks so far have borne remarkable similarities to the positions that Bush and others held on immigration reform.

For example, Bush wrote in a 2013 book on immigration reform that he supported "a path to earned legal status, not citizenship" where undocumented immigrants could obtain "a provisional work permit, where they pay taxes, they pay a fine, they learn English, they work." He advocated the same in the GOP primaries.

In a town-hall style interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity that aired this week, Trump described a similar set of policies. He said there would be "no citizenship" and "no amnesty," but at the same time he suggested that some otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants could be allowed to stay if they pay back taxes. "No amnesty, but we work with them," Trump said.

[Trump 'softening' on immigration? Many of his supporters don't seem to mind.]

In an interview on CNN Thursday morning, Trump's new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tried to distinguish what Trump is saying from what Rubio, Bush and others advocated.

"Senator Rubio is a particularly different case because he led the Gang of Eight with Chuck Schumer and – and I think Dick Durbin. The 'Gang of Eight,' their plan was amnesty," she said.

Rubio was part of the 'Gang of Eight' senators who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship in 2013. But he backed away from the sweeping approach by the time of his presidential campaign and repeatedly insisted that he did not support "amnesty."

The Florida senator also emphasized during his presidential campaign that he would not hesitate to deport illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. But he took a more tolerant attitude toward those who did not commit serious crimes.

"If you're a criminal alien, no, you can't stay," he said on NBC's "Meet The Press" in January, specifying that he meant those who committed felonies. He added: "I don't think you're gonna round up and deport 12 million people."

When he spoke to Hannity, Trump said he would deport illegal immigrants who are "gang members." But polling the audience, he seemed open to taking a different approach to those who have not broken laws aside from being in the country without proper documents.

"So now we have the person 20 years been an upstanding person, the family is great, everyone is great, do we throw them out or do we work with them?" Trump asked the crowd, which had a mixed reaction.

Trump said Thursday he will lay out an "exact plan" on immigration in an upcoming speech.

"I will be doing that I'd say over the next week or so," Trump told reporters at Trump Tower in New York. "I look forward to it."

He insisted that he is ""very strong on illegal immigration" and warned not to be fooled by the news media.

"You either have a country or you don't. We either have borders or we don't," Trump said, adding that he would still build a massive wall along the Southern border, and make Mexico pay for it, if elected president.

At a Thursday afternoon rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump sought to project strength in his immigration positions, reiterating his commitment to building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But he did not offer any new details on his revised stance.

"We will end illegal immigration and we will restore the constitutional rule of law," Trump pledged.

The wavering marks a sharp departure from last year, when Trump said in television interviews on NBC and MSNBC that illegal immigrants "have to go" and he vowed to create a "deportation force." The tone he has adopted lately no longer includes that language.

As a candidate in the primary, Trump hammered Bush and Rubio for being soft on illegal immigrants.

The issue Bush and Rubio ran into with the GOP base was that many conservatives saw anything short of deporting all illegal immigrants as a form of "amnesty," which has become one of the most damaging words to be associated with in Republican circles.

Now, Trump risks having the same problem in the final stretch before the general election.

"So what's Trump going to call his amnesty plan: The 'Gang of One' proposal?" tweeted Mark Krikorian, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration.

Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.

Alaska State Fair gets underway in Palmer

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:41

The Alaska State Fair opened to the public Thursday, setting the stage for another year of concerts, rides, friendly competitions, Alaska vendors and a bounty of fair food, deep-fried and otherwise.

Georgia man gets 40 years in prison for throwing scalding water on gay men

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:30

As he waited for a pot of water to boil, Martin Blackwell had plenty of time to change his mind. But instead, he went ahead with what a judge in Georgia said was a "soulless" decision to throw the scalding water over two gay men sleeping on a mattress, burning them so severely that one was put into an induced coma at the hospital and both required skin grafts.

Noting the minutes Blackwell waited for the water to boil, the Superior Court judge, Henry Newkirk, told him, "You had so many outs where the voice of reason could have taken over," according to The Associated Press.

On Wednesday, a jury in Fulton County, Georgia, found Blackwell guilty of multiple counts of assault and battery for dousing the men in February. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, the maximum allowed under state law, Dontaye Carter, a spokesman with the district attorney's office, said Thursday.

In February, the two men, Marquez Tolbert, 21, and his boyfriend, Anthony Gooden, 24, were in bed together in the apartment of Gooden's mother in College Park, Georgia, when Blackwell walked into the room. Gooden's mother was Blackwell's girlfriend, whom he often stayed with.

Tolbert told a local television station in March that he woke up to Blackwell, 48, a long-distance truck driver, pouring the scalding water on them.

"Once the water hit, I smacked the wall and then shot out of bed," Tolbert said. He said Blackwell told them, "'Get out of my house with all that gay —,'" using an expletive. "I couldn't stop screaming."

A police report said Blackwell told investigators he had doused the men with the water about 9 p.m. because he wanted to stop them from sleeping together.

"They'll be all right," he told investigators. "It was just a little hot water on them."

Tolbert said he spent 10 days in the hospital, undergoing skin grafts for burns on his back, arms and neck. Gooden, who was also severely burned, received a month of treatment for his injuries, during which he had to be put into an induced coma.

Franklin Engram, the assistant district attorney, said in an interview that Blackwell had told officers just before his arrest that the two men were "hollering" and "moaning" and were "stuck together like two hot dogs."

Georgia is one of the few states that do not have a specific law governing hate crimes, so Blackwell was not charged with such a crime. And an FBI spokesman, Kevin Rowson, said Thursday that the agency was not pursuing a hate-crime investigation.

"We are aware of it, we have looked at it, but the bottom line is he is getting 40 years," Rowson said. "At this point, we are not pursuing it."

But officials at the district attorney's office said Thursday they recognized the impact the Blackwell case could have in setting a precedent in the handling of such crimes, where there was no provocation and the suspect's motives for inflicting serious injury involved bias.

"Clearly, a case like this does get a tag as a special case on a high-profile list, where it is such a heinous crime," Fani Willis, the Fulton County deputy district attorney, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Monique Walker, the public defender for Blackwell, told the court her client had merely been reckless.

"It's not about hate," she told the jury, according to The AP. "It's about old-school culture, old-school thinking."

Walker could not be immediately reached by telephone Thursday for comment.

An advocate for the LGBT community said the outcome of the Blackwell case was generally encouraging.

"The players involved took it very seriously with or without a hate-crime law," said Daniel W. Rafter, a spokesman for Freedom for All Americans. "But the big takeaway for us is, in a lot of states where there are no legal protections, things still happen every single day that necessitate those legal protections."

"This case is a painful reminder of that," he said.

<b>Alaska</b> Man Accused of Starting Fire in Mount Shasta

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:26
MT. SHASTA, Calif. -- An Alaska man is accused of starting a fire in Mount Shasta. The fire broke out this morning between homes and the Mount ...

<b>Alaska</b> State Fair kicks off, what to know

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:15
The Alaska State Fair kicks off Thursday featuring food, performances, and entertainment, as it celebrates its 80th anniversary. Highlights to expect this ...

GCI expands its Pacific Northwest footprint with new Seattle office

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 15:06

The business division of Anchorage-based telecom company GCI has opened a new Seattle office, significantly increasing the company's footprint in the region.

The new Pacific Northwest headquarters for GCI Business, which opened this month, came around the same time that GCI announced its plans to slash capital expenditures company-wide.

The amount of office space the company has in Seattle grew from 4,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet, said GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside. It's part of an initiative to expand the company's services for business customers in the Pacific Northwest and Texas, GCI said in a press release.

Handyside said the company has had customers in the Pacific Northwest for more than a decade but is now "being more formal" with its expansion.

"I just wanted to emphasize, we're making that investment in the Pacific Northwest because we are broadening our customer base," Handyside said. "But we are also still making significant investments here in Alaska, still building out our TERRA network."

The TERRA broadband network stands for Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska.

In its second-quarter earnings report, filed earlier this month, GCI said it plans to cut its capital spending for 2017 by about a quarter because "the state government has not been able to adopt a workable long term fiscal plan in 2016." That means the company will allot about $158 million to $168 million for capital spending next year.

Handyside couldn't say which areas of the business those cuts might hit.

GCI employs about 2,300 people, with most of those in Alaska. Handyside said the Seattle office will have about 50 people plus "room to grow," but said there's no specific goal for how many people that office might hire in the future.

GCI expands its Pacific Northwest footprint with new Seattle office

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 14:56
GCI employs about 2,300 people, with most of those in Alaska. Handyside said the Seattle office will have about 50 people plus "room to grow," but ...

Report ponders future of University of <b>Alaska</b> athletics

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 14:52
“Look at ways to reduce expenses, reduce costs,” University of Alaska Anchorage athletic director Keith Hackett said. He's a member of the committee ...

<b>Alaska</b> State Fair kicks off it&#39;s 80th birthday in Palmer

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 14:41
It's that time of year again. Giant pumpkins, pig racing and the ever-popular upside down bungee ride make their annual appearance at the Alaska ...

What more kids showing up in schools says about Juneau&#39;s economy

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 14:07
“You can see that I'm kind of obsessed with all data about Southeast Alaska, with all numbers,” she said. “Tracking population is a really good way to ...

Young <b>Alaskan</b> blazing the trail for diversity in the great outdoors

Alaska News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 14:07
“One of the things Alaska Geographic recognizes is that there's a crisis of diversity in public lands, and that the vast majority of public lands' employees ...

Clinton and Trump battle over his appeal among racist voters

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 13:23

RENO, Nev. – The focus of the presidential contest turned Thursday to a blunt proposition: Do Donald Trump's views on race disqualify him from occupying the White House?

Hillary Clinton made that very argument in a blistering speech here that recounted Trump's racially inflammatory remarks and policies and highlighted his support with the "alt-right," a conservative movement associated with white nationalism.

"From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia," Clinton said. "He's taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican party. . . . A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far dark reaches of the internet, should never run our government or command our military."

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Though the Democrat stopped short of using the word "racist" to describe Trump, she questioned Trump's capacity to serve "all voters." Her aim was clearly to diminish him in the eyes of voters who would be uncomfortable voting for someone who appeals to racists. Prior to the speech, Clinton's campaign released a minute-long video with images of Trump interspersed with Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis touting his candidacy.

Trump, meanwhile, on Thursday continued a week-long appeal to minority voters by summoning black and Latino activists to Trump Tower in Manhattan and talking about ways to boost his low-standing in their communities. The previous day, Trump had called Clinton a "bigot" during a rally in Mississippi, suggesting she has taken minority voters for granted.

Trump held a Thursday afternoon rally in New Hampshire – where 94 percent of the population is white – and predicted that Clinton's speech later that afternoon would be "one of the most brazen attempts at distraction in the history of politics."

"It's the oldest play in the Democratic playbook," Trump said. "When Democratic policies fail, they are left with only this one tired argument: You're racist, you're racist, you're racist. They keep saying it: You're racist. It's a tired, disgusting argument and it's so totally predictable."

[Donald Trump's grandfather survived an Alaska shipwreck]

The fact that questions about Trump's credibility with minority voters dominated the day was by itself a victory for Clinton. She and her top aides have spent several days trying to fend off new questions about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

In a race in which both Clinton and Trump are viewed unfavorably by wide swaths of the public, both are seeking to make the election a referendum on the fitness of the other. Clinton's speech here was an attempt to put the spotlight back on Trump on an issue her camp hopes will continue to be a hot topic through November.

Clinton aides acknowledged that they were going on the offensive against Trump, after weeks of mostly lying low as the businessman endured a series of controversies and missteps resulting in unfavorable news coverage and a drop in national and state polls.

On CNN, Clinton chided Trump for having questioned the citizenship of President Obama, the first African American to hold the position; for having been sued by the Justice Department for alleged discrimination in rental housing; for questioning the impartiality of a judge of Mexican heritage; and for proposing to use deportation forces to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country – an idea from which Trump now seems to be backing off.

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Her speech Thursday afternoon, at a community college in this general election battleground state, was advertised as focusing on Trump's connection to the alt-right.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, the alt-right "is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces using 'political correctness' and 'social justice' to undermine white people and 'their' civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew 'establishment' conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value."

It's a movement that began with a speech by conservative writer Paul Gottfried in 2008, after the Republican Party's electoral wipeout. Gottfried called for an "alternative right" that could defeat "the neoconservative-controlled conservative establishment." That idea was soon adopted by the "identitarian" nationalist Richard Spencer, who founded an Alternative Right website, but it was also claimed by supporters of Ron Paul and conservatives who opposed multiculturalism.

But it was Trump's presidential campaign that brought the movement into the mainstream. From the moment he told a national audience that Mexico was sending rapists and drug-dealers across the border, Trump surged in the polls.

The movement has come under new scrutiny in the wake of a leadership shake-up in the Trump campaign that included the installation of Breitbart News head Steve Bannon as the campaign's chief executive.

[Trump softening on immigration? Many of his supporters don't seem to mind]

Bannon has described Breitbart News as "the platform for the alt-right." He has said that the movement is not inherently racist, arguing that its guiding philosophy is "nationalist" but not "white nationalist."

"The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the 'alt-right,'" Clinton said here. "A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican party. All of this adds up to something we've never seen before. Of course there's always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it's never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone. Until now."

On Thursday morning, the Trump campaign said in a statement said Clinton's planned speech was an attempt to "delete the single worst week of her political career."

For more than a week, Trump has been aggressively trying to shed the label of racist by appealing to minority voters in his speeches at rallies, messages that are often delivered to overwhelmingly white crowds -even when Trump appears in cities with large minority populations.

Trump has increased the number of minority surrogates speaking on his behalf on cable news and at his rallies, and he is planning to take trips into urban areas soon to visit churches, charter schools and small businesses in black and Latino communities.

The purpose of this pitch is not only to reach out to minority voters but to soften Trump's image among white moderates, notably women, who have been taken aback by Trump's rhetoric.

"Hillary Clinton is a bigot . . . who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future," Trump said at the rally Wednesday night in Mississippi. "She's going to do nothing for African Americans. She's going to do nothing for the Hispanics. She's only going to take care of herself, her husband, her consultants, her donors. These are the people she cares about. She doesn't care what her policies have done to your communities. She doesn't care."

Meanwhile, Trump's blunt pitch to minorities has been criticized by some for casting all blacks and Hispanics as impoverished, undereducated and underemployed.

"What do you have to lose?" Trump said at a rally in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon. "It cannot get any worse. And believe me, I'm going to fix it. I'm going to make it so good. . . . I'll be able to make sure that when you walk down the street in your inner city or wherever you are, you're not going to be shot. Your child isn't going to be shot."

During that same rally in Tampa, Trump claimed that his poll numbers with minority voters have dramatically improved over the past three weeks, although that trend has not been borne out in any major polls.

Trump's ongoing efforts to soften his image also carries some risk with his more fervent supporters.

Conservative activist and author Ann Coulter has been taking Trump to task on Twitter and talk shows in recent days amid reports that he is backing off his plan to remove all the roughly 11 million immigrants currently in the country illegally.

Although Trump has yet to clearly state what he now believes, he has made a series of comments that seem to echo the immigration reform stances of several of his former Republican rivals whom he once mocked for being "weak" on illegal immigration.

Nevada, the site of Clinton's speech Thursday and home to a burgeoning Latino population, is one state watching the immigration debate closely.

President Barack Obama carried the state against Mitt Romney in 2012 but recent polls here have showed Clinton with no more than a modest lead over Trump.

Shot fired out front door of Juneau home hits school bus

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 13:15

A Juneau school bus carrying students was struck by a bullet Wednesday afternoon after a handgun was accidentally fired from a nearby home, according to police.

Juneau Police Department Lt. Kris Sell said no injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred on Riverside Drive in Mendenhall Valley shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday. The First Student bus had a driver and an aide on board, as well as two students.

"The bus driver said a window of the bus shattered and two men in their twenties came running toward the bus" from a nearby home, Sell wrote. "One of the men, a 21-year-old man from Juneau, was identified as the man who shot a round from a Glock 9mm handgun through the front door of the home."

Sell said Thursday morning that the man was apparently "dry-firing" the Glock, pulling the trigger on an empty chamber, and pointing it out of the home at the time of the discharge. He immediately approached the bus and admitted what happened.

"He did not believe that there were rounds in the magazine," Sell said. "It's not an uncommon thing for gun owners to do but you have to be extremely careful that it's not loaded — obviously, the care to be sure it wasn't loaded did not happen."

The pistol round was found lodged in a window frame on the bus, Sell said.

"The bus driver did say that the kids were not scared and were not aware that something had happened," Sell said.

Police forwarded a misdemeanor charge of shooting a firearm within a quarter-mile of a roadway against the 21-year-old, who hasn't been identified pending formal charges, to local prosecutors. Sell said First Student didn't immediately press charges.

Juneau School District Superintendent Mark Miller said Thursday that the children on the bus were Mendenhall River Community School special-education students headed home for the day. He had harsh words for the man who fired the gun.

"By all accounts it was unintentional, but it's still irresponsible," Miller said. "You have to always treat a gun like it's loaded — that's the first thing they teach you in gun safety."

Sell expressed relief that nobody was struck — as well as amazement that the randomly discharged round hit a school bus.

"I don't know if this guy is the luckiest guy in the world or the unluckiest guy in the world," Sell said of the gun's owner.

Letters from a lawmaker, and the precarious power of elected officials as private citizens

Alaska Dispatch News - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 13:03

Alaska, wake up.

That an individual you elected to make laws and lead the state would defend the character of a convicted child sex offender and a woman who enabled another one is jaw-dropping. It's offensive. And yet, you are missing the point.

That sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach at Rep. Cathy Munoz's choice to write letters to judges urging leniency for Thomas Jack Jr. and, in a separate case, Mary Chessica Hauge, is apt revulsion.

Juneau Empire reporter Paula Ann Solis broke the story on Sunday.

Jack, 40, was convicted of sexually abusing a girl in his care. Facing a possible 40-year sentence, he has asked a three-judge panel to review his case.

Hauge was convicted of eight counts of child endangerment for allowing her husband, a convicted sex offender, access to girls he raped and used to make pornography. She was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

As distasteful as we may find Munoz's support for these individuals, it's her call. She gets to decide who she stands up for and when, just as any of the rest of us do. But can an Alaska lawmaker ever really be a regular citizen, free from their stature as an elected official? It's tricky territory.

When they're not holding hearings, crafting new laws or analyzing budgets and policy, our state's lawmakers are busy at regular year-round jobs. With a citizen Legislature called to duty for a 90-day regular session, we have entrusted our state with everyday people we can only hope relate to our everyday struggles and share our vision for the future.

Our representatives get to have private lives and private friendships, albeit with more scrutiny as a result of their decision to serve as elected officials. Ideally, we would embrace a lawmaker who stands with the outcasts, the marginalized, the disempowered, someone who makes difficult choices, criticism be damned.

But we want their personal decisions to reflect the same sound judgment we expect in their role as state leaders. Unpopular actions should be well-reasoned and defensible, and reflect a robust grasp on all that is at stake.

There are many reasons why Munoz's letters strike at the core of our sensibilities.

First, we don't like tangled webs. We like villains, victims and heroes. Munoz's support for Jack and Hague shatters the myth and reminds us real life is messy.

Next, we don't want to believe that we've been fooled, that people we think highly of are capable of despicable acts. It's easier to make sense of sexual assault if we allow doubt to creep in. Maybe they didn't do it. Maybe they didn't know. Maybe someone lied.

Finally, we don't like powerful people to improperly wield their influence. Intentional or accidental, the end result is the same.

It's not unlike when someone harms a child. The hurt is not undone by explanations, apologies or denials.

Munoz is not the first elected official to offer up a character reference for a child sex abuser.

Before there was a Cathy Munoz, there was Dan Coffey.

In 2005 Coffey, then an Anchorage assemblyman, swooped in with three pages of accolades for his drug-addled client, Josef "Joe Millionaire" Boehm, a wealthy businessman convicted in federal court of conspiring to commit child prostitution and supplying drugs to minors. Coffey pushed the court to sentence Boehm with a light hand.

In each case, Coffey and Munoz couldn't bring themselves in their letters to use the words "child rape" or "sexual abuse."

Coffey portrayed Boehm as a victim to "vultures" who preyed on the businessman with "drugs" and "other inducements." In other words, crack cocaine and sex with minors. As Coffey advocated for a light sentence, he also touted Boehm's history as a successful job creator within the community.

In her May 2016 letter in support of Thomas Jack Jr., who was convicted in 2010 of sexually abusing a girl in his care, Munoz starts by saying she is making a "personal statement" on behalf of Jack, a longtime family friend. No mention is made of his victim.

Munoz, like many other leaders and people of influence with ties to Hoonah, had been fretting over the "cold reality" that Jack may never see freedom again.

"He is a hard-working and honest person. He is not a violent person, and I believe he would respond well to rehabilitation," Munoz wrote.

But then, the seemingly personal letter takes a not-so-personal tone: "Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. Thank you, too, for your service to the State of Alaska."

This closing sentiment is an odd way to end a personal letter. "Thank you for your service to the state" is a well-worn phrase in the Legislature, offered to praise those giving testimony or to the recipients of honorable resolutions.

One month later, Munoz wrote a similar letter for a different defendant in a separate case.

This time, it arrived to the court on legislative letterhead.

Munoz penned the June 2016 letter in support of a fellow church member, and signed off as Cathy Munoz, Representative-District 34.

"Please accept my compassionate support for Chessica Hauge as she moves forward in her life under difficult circumstances," Munoz wrote, referencing how impressed she was with Hauge's "strong Christian faith."

Those "difficult circumstances" Munoz refers to are the consequences of knowingly leaving children you're responsible for in the hands of a sexual predator who took advantage of the opportunity to rape and exploit them.

Whether by oversight or by design, Munoz used her office to boost her credibility as a character witness on behalf of two people accused and convicted of heinous crimes against children.

A decision on whether Munoz did or did not technically violate any explicit ethics rules is moot. She was wrong to use her the influence of her office, in one case subtle, the other overt, and it is something entirely different than earnestly coming to the aid of a friend or following one's conscience.

As the Empire notes, Jack and many community members from Hoonah maintain his innocence, despite the trial and convictions. If Munoz, like them, believes there was a miscarriage of justice, she should have said so. She did not.
She did not raise the issue of innocence or guilt. She did not speak directly to the crimes for which Jack was convicted.

The closest she came to this was to suggest that a more lenient sentence promoting rehabilitation, instead of a life of confinement, would better reflect the state's contemporary views on crime and punishment.

The inability or unwillingness to acknowledge to the court an awareness that the Jack and Hauge cases involve child sexual abuse, and to fail to acknowledge the distress and life-long impacts to all involved, also feeds the discontent over Munoz's choices.

Rightly, we are left with a sense of disgust.

It's a gut instinct that demands us to stop bumbling about the topic of sexual assault with euphemisms, and to cease acting as apologists for otherwise good people who do bad things.

Businessmen, community providers, churchgoers — none are above the law and no level of community ties or investment should offset the harm abusers cause. Child predators rely on trust, on being sneaky and on keeping secrets. They choose easy targets, victims they hope no one will believe or on whom they can place blame. Teenage partiers. A troubled child.

A true commitment to protecting children and lowering the frequency of sexual assault demands we embrace the complexities of the problem and the people it afflicts, those it wounds and those who did the wounding.

A "lock them up and throw away the key" approach to the punishment of perpetrators won't work. Nor will blindly assuming that after the embarrassment of a trial and the ordeal of jail time, sexual offenders will magically change their ways.

To make the shift from someone who harms children to someone who controls themselves and makes better decisions takes rigorous intervention. The Alaska Department of Corrections itself told the Legislature so earlier this year.

"Intensity of treatment and length of supervision are the key factors associated with the successful management of sex offenders," the Department said in the five-page report it offered to the Legislature this spring, which noted that two-thirds of sex offenses in the state involve crimes against children.

While in custody and after release, offenders may receive years' worth of therapy, coupled with heightened monitoring by their parole officers and community members trained to be a "safety net" — people within the offender's circle trained to recognize "high-risk behaviors and warning signs of relapse."

Hiland Mountain's female sex offender program takes from 18 to 24 months to complete. Juneau's Lemon Creek Correction Center, where Jack is housed, has a sexual offender management program that takes two to three years to complete. Waitlists for such treatments are long.

On Wednesday, citing policy, the Department of Corrections would not say whether Jack and Hauge had or would receive treatment.

Alaska, wake up.

When used to shield assailants, power and powerful connections are in the long run nothing more than snake oil, flashy balms that falsely ameliorate wrongdoing.

To laud the good and ignore the bad perpetuates a permissiveness regarding sexual assault that should make us all feel ill; it minimizes the violence and harm, disempowers and silences victims.

Child sexual abusers are counting on you to look the other way.

Don't.

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The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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