Home News Roundup News Roundup: March 28th, 2014

News Roundup: March 28th, 2014


News Roundup

This week in Alaska News:

The state marked the anniversary of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, which was the largest recorded earthquake in North America, at 9.2 on the Richter Scale. The devastation was spread across multiple communities, with several small villages wiped out, and severe destruction in almost all of Alaska’s major communities. Video footage of the quake’s aftermath compiled by the US Geological Survey highlighted the devastation.

Anchorage residents are fielding a proposal from their community councils to create a “no sell” list of chronic inebriates for that neighborhood’s liquor stores. The list would be created by police, and nearly 200 individuals would qualify. The funding from Juneau would also include programs to help them with caseworkers, in a model wherein chronic problems are treated from a community health perspective. The funding would come from the state’s $40 million alcohol tax revenues.

A national study found that Alaska’s healthcare prices were amongst the most expensive in the nation: four cities, Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kodiak were amongst the most expensive places to buy healthcare from a survey of 300 cities. Compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research, the study highlighted what many early studies had built on, including the complex drivers for healthcare costs.

Fairbanks legislators made some interesting contributions to the legislative process this week, floating proposals that included ‘doomsday’ power plants and ‘jury nullification’ bills opposed by Alaska’s Attorney General.

The legislature also heard contentious arguments over a proposed bill to allow concealed carry of firearms onto University of Alaska campuses, which is opposed by the University administration, including President Pat Gamble.

A citizen watchdog group in Washington, DC called for investigations into an Alaska politician, Wasilla State Representative Lynn Gattis (R). The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW, alleged that a deal where Gattis sold an easement of land bought from the state contravened the terms of the arrangement, and that any proceeds earned from the deal should be given back to the state.

The Anchorage Legislative Information Office could wind up costing the state nearly $100 million over two decades, if the currently proposed deal is accepted. Lawmakers are also considering an option to buy the building outright, but still lease the ground it sits on, for $28 million. The deal has come under criticism for its cost at a time when the Legislature is facing steep budget cuts.

The state Senate Finance Committee advanced a rough draft of the $9.2 billion operating budget, with amendments expected to be added before the bill can be placed in conference committee with one finalized by the Alaska House of Representatives. The bill includes funding for the University of Alaska Fairbanks heating needs, appropriations for State Troopers and Hot Shot firefighting crews.


National News:

Just after publication of the News Roundup last week, Michigan became the latest state to have its constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage struck down by courts. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, despite previous opposition to same sex marriage, said he would not appeal. Many couples got hitched after the Friday ruling, only to have a stay issued and then extended by the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is now pending before the Supreme Court. Snyder has said that while the marriages were performed legally, they would not be recognized by the state until the matter is clarified by the courts.

As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott campaigns for the Governor’s office in Austin, he has highlighted the dangers of voter fraud in elections. However, in the past thirteen years, his office was able to only show two instances of actual voter fraud. At the same time, nearly 800,000 Texans lack a form of photo ID.

School vouchers and school choice have become hot topics in state legislatures, with nearly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars being allocated to private schools which teach creationism. The criteria for private schools receiving state money is often lax, with one approach allowing states to create bank accounts which parents can use to pay for books, tutors and teachers, whether they’re homeschooled, religious or secular. Scientists worry that the rise of creationism in schools through vouchers will hurt students’ abilities in STEM fields. Private school defenders argue that parents deserve school choice, while critics point that when one controls for variables, there is no discernable advantage to education provided by a private school.

Georgia passed one of the nation’s most sweeping gun bills, allowing guns into bars, churches, schools, airports and restaurants. The bill was opposed by the state’s police chiefs organization, the TSA, and church groups as being unnecessary and overreaching. The bill allows those with permits to carry loaded weapons into bars, so long as they do not consume alcohol. Stricken from the bill (ironically, for Alaskans) were provisions allowing guns onto campuses.

In Florida, a review by the Tampa Bay Times found shocking discrepancies in the application and outcome of cases involving the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. That led a state Representative, Matt Gaetz, to propose a bill that would ‘expunge’ the court records of a person found innocent while using the law’s grounds for self defense in a murder trial.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lashed out at the Obama administration’s foreign policy, alleging that “a trained ape” had better diplomatic skills. Rumsfeld accused the administration of malpractice, driving Afghans to support Russian foreign policy in the Crimea.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report titled “Out of Reach 2014” where it laid out the costs of renting in today’s economy. The average individual would need roughly $18 an hour to afford a two bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. The report found that no worker who earned minimum wage could afford housing at Fair Market Rent by themselves: it would take a minimum of at least two persons working full time to earn the average Housing Wage, or the income needed to afford housing at Fair Market Rent.


The World and Solar System:

Delays and bad weather have prolonged the search for missing flight MH370, which disappeared after departing from its scheduled course from Malaysia to Beijing. The search for the plane has turned to the remote Indian Ocean west of Australia, known for its remoteness and vast size. There, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has said that the search has taken on a new area, following credible leads.

The UN’s General Assembly voted to declare Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula as illegal under international law. The vote comes after days of back-and-forth verbal threats between the United States, Europe and Russia over the annexation. Russian military forces remain heavily massed along Ukraine’s eastern border, stoking fears of an invasion.

Ukrainian armed forces pulled back from their bases in Crimea, following tense standoffs with Russian military forces and paramilitaries, as well as armed militias. The withdrawal was haphazard, with many bases being overrun and one soldier killed in such actions. For the most part, soldiers were allowed to leave peacefully: however, many complained of abandonment by Kiev.

A Ukrainian leader of the far right nationalist group Right Sector, key in the protests in Kiev last year, was shot during a police raid. Oleksandr Muzychko was a controversial figure: frequently violent and angry, he even fought for awhile in Chechyna against Russian forces. His death at the hands of police lead to demonstrations Thursday in Kiev for the resignation of the Interior Minister, which Parliament ultimately accepted on Friday.

A Danish zoo notorious for the killing of a healthy giraffe has attracted more attention, this time for the killing of a family of lions. In many European zoos, the point of zoos is healthy research: if there is no chance for a healthy genetic specimen to be promulgated, they frequently terminate the animals. However, their critics argue that there are many places they could have sent the animals, rather than destroying them.

Radio Free Asia reports that state guidelines in North Korea now require university students to have the same haircut as their leader, dictator Kim Jong Un.

A 19 year old activist in China is making waves as he sues the government. Xiang Xiaohan’s journey is remarkable in that he has made it so far in the courts, and that state press are giving his story attention. The activist is suing the government for refusing to register his activist group, which would campaign for LGBT rights. What’s more, his suit demands an apology from the local government for language used in the letter refusing to permit the group.

Twitter users took to their cell phones and the airwaves to mock the government of Prime Minister Erdogan after his government banned the social media service. The attack on the social media outlet began as leaked video and audio files, purportedly between Erdogan and top members of his cabinet, were repeatedly shared on the service. The files have been linked to an ongiong corruption scandal that has washed over several cabinet ministers. Erdogan also launched a ban on Youtube following similar disclosures of video and audio files.

The UN approved a document affirming the equality of women, their sexual and reproductive rights as well as calling for access to sexual education for all adolescents. The document will be a major plank in UN Development Goals to be confirmed next year. It’s positively draconian, and that is why Martin would love it.

A French school teacher created a novel system of punishment for students: “Behave, or I will release one spoiler from George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones”.” Season 3 of the popular series, based on the books by Martin, is due to begin shortly on HBO. (On that note, Game of Thrones also made the news as cast members called for more equality when it came to showing it all onscreen.)

Tokyo is planning on implementing a novel city greening program: by placing community gardens atop the city’s train stations. The gardens will create green space, healthy foods, community venues and add value to the urban landscape around them.

And finally, astronomers have identified one of the most distant objects in our solar system, dubbed VP113. It’s believed that it’s part of the Oort Cloud, and at its farthest point, this icy object strays 44 billion miles from the Sun.