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The rise and fall of an Eagle Scout’s deadly fentanyl empire
By CLAIRE GALOFARO and LINDSAY WHITEHURST | Sun, September 15, 2019 05:23 EDT
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The photo that flashed onto the courtroom screen showed a young man dead on his bedroom floor, bare feet poking from the cuffs of his rolled-up jeans. Lurking on a trash can at the edge of the picture was what prosecutors said delivered this death: an ordinary, U.S. Postal Service envelope.
It had arrived with 10 round, blue pills inside, the markings of pharmaceutical-grade oxycodone stamped onto the surface. The young man took out two, crushed and snorted them. But the pills were poison, prosecutors said: counterfeits containing fatal grains of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that has written a deadly new chapter in the American opioid epidemic.
The envelope was postmarked from the suburbs of Salt Lake City.
That’s where a clean-cut, 29-year-old college dropout and Eagle Scout named Aaron Shamo made himself a millionaire by building a fentanyl trafficking empire with not much more than his computer and the help of a few friends.
This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
For three weeks this summer, those suburban millennials climbed onto the witness stand at his federal trial and offered an unprecedented window into how fentanyl bought and sold online has transformed the global drug trade. There was no testimony of underground tunnels or gangland murders or anything that a wall at the southern border might stop. Shamo called himself a “white-collar drug dealer,” drew in co-workers from his time at eBay and peppered his messages to them with smiley-face emojis. His attorney called him a fool; his primary defense was that he isn’t smart enough to be a kingpin.
How he and his friends managed to flood the country with a half-million fake oxycodone pills reveals the ease with which fentanyl now moves around the world, threatening to expand the epidemic beyond America’s borders. It is so potent, so easy to transport, experts say, large-scale traffickers no longer require sophisticated networks to send it to any corner of the globe. All they need is a mailbox, internet access and people with an appetite for opioids. And consumption rates are rising from Asia to Europe to Latin America as pharmaceutical companies promote painkillers abroad.
The case against Shamo detailed how white powder up to 100 times stronger than morphine was bought online from a laboratory in China and arrived in Utah via international mail; it was shaped into perfect-looking replicas of oxycodone tablets in the press that thumped in Shamo’s basement and resold on the internet’s black markets. Then it was routed back into the postal system in thousands of packages addressed to homes across this country awash with prescription painkiller addiction.
When Shamo took the stand to try to spare himself a lifetime in prison, he began with a nervous chuckle. He careened from one topic to the next in a monologue prosecutors would later describe as masterful manipulation to convince the jury he thought his drug-dealing was helping people. Customers wrote thank you notes because their doctors refused to prescribe more painkillers, he said. It felt like “a win-win situation” — he got rich and his customers got drugs.
One of them was a struggling 21-year-old named Ruslan Klyuev who died in his bedroom in Daly City, California, the envelope from Utah at his feet. Shamo was charged in connection to that overdose alone, but when investigators scoured the list of customers they said they counted dozens more dead.
The question before this jury is being debated all across America: Two decades into the opioid epidemic, is there such a thing as justice for 400,000 lost lives?
The largest civil litigation in history is testing how the pharmaceutical industry should be held accountable for inundating the country with billions of addictive pain pills. Purdue Pharma, seen by many as the primary villain for deceptively pushing the blockbuster drug OxyContin, reached a tentative $12 billion settlement this week with about half the states and roughly 2,000 local governments. Attorneys general who didn’t sign on say the figure is far too low. A trial of other pharmaceutical companies is scheduled for next month, in which communities will contend that their mass marketing of prescription painkillers sparked an epidemic.
This crisis began in the 1990s and has since spiraled into waves, each worse than the one before: Prescription opioids spread addiction, then a crackdown on prescribing paved the road to heroin, which led to fentanyl — a synthetic opioid made entirely in a laboratory. Traffickers added it to heroin to boost its potency and profitability. That transition happened slowly at first, then with extraordinary ferocity.
By 2017, deaths from synthetic opioids had increased more than 800 percent, to 28,466, dragging the United States’ overall life expectancy down for a third consecutive year for the first time in a century. Fentanyl deaths have been reported abroad, in Canada, Sweden, Estonia, the United Kingdom. Countries with surging prescription opioid addiction, like Australia, fear they are on the brink.
“Fentanyl will be the bubonic plague,” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, warning that any country with a burgeoning prescription opioid problem could soon find itself following American footsteps. “It’s just a matter of time.”
No one can say exactly how or why fentanyl, first synthesized in 1959 as a powerful painkiller, entered the modern illicit drug market, said Bryce Pardo, a researcher at the Rand Corporation. In 2013, people began overdosing on heroin laced with fentanyl in New England and Ohio, and it spread from there. Shabbir Safdar, the Partnership for Safe Medicines’ executive director, said the first known death from a fentanyl-laced pill was in San Francisco in October 2015.
It was a frightening development: The DEA estimates 3.4 million Americans misuse prescription painkillers, compared to 475,000 heroin users — meaning the pool potentially exposed is 10 times bigger.
There are two sources of supply. Mexican cartels and packages shipped direct from China, where it is produced in a huge and under-regulated chemical sector. A Senate investigation last year found massive quantities of fentanyl pouring in from China through the Postal Service. The report largely blamed dated technology that left customs inspectors sifting through packages manually looking for “the proverbial needle in a haystack.” The Postal Service wrote in a statement to The Associated Press that it is working hard with its international counterparts to close those loopholes, and is improving its technology to intercept fentanyl shipments.
By the time a seized package heading from China to Utah led investigators to Shamo, he had already turned fentanyl into at least 458,946 potentially poisonous pills, the government said. There are many more like him, officials say, upstart traffickers pressing pure Chinese-made fentanyl into pills in their basements and kitchens with unsophisticated equipment. In a single batch, one pill might have no fentanyl and another enough to kill a person instantly. One agent at Shamo’s trial compared it to making chocolate-chip cookies, only if too many chips ended up in a “cookie,” whoever ate it dropped dead.
For traffickers, the profit margins are irresistible: The DEA estimates a kilogram of fentanyl synthesized for a few thousand dollars could make a dealer more than $1 million.
“Any moron can basically become a major drug kingpin by dealing in fentanyl,” said Vigil. “You can have somebody with an IQ minus 100 who becomes an overnight multimillionaire.”
Aaron Shamo dreamed of entrepreneurial riches. He idolized Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and studied self-improvement books like “Think and Grow Rich.”
He and a longtime friend, Drew Crandall, worked at eBay after failed stints in college. But Crandall was fired and Shamo decided it was “unfair” that he still had to work, so he quit. They wanted easy money.
Shamo grew up in Phoenix with three older sisters. As a teenager, he started smoking pot and refusing to attend services with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His parents sent him to boarding school in Utah, where he earned his Eagle Scout badge. He later met Crandall through their shared love of longboarding and they moved in together. Crandall was awkward and shy; Shamo was charismatic, and prided himself on helping his friend talk to girls.
The pair concocted a plan to sell their Adderall, prescribed for attention deficit disorder, on the dark web — a wild, unregulated layer of the internet reached through a special browser. There are underground marketplaces there that mimic Amazon or eBay, where guns and drugs and pirated software are traded. Money is exchanged anonymously through cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
They learned what they needed on the web, searching with queries like “how to ship drugs.” It was so easy. They expanded, ordering drugs in bulk, breaking them down and selling at a mark-up, all while barely having to leave the house.
They used the postal system like a drug mule, peddling the club drug MDMA, magic mushrooms, date rape drugs — they once bought a kilogram of cocaine from Peru. They recruited friends, offering them $100 to have parcels mailed to their homes, no questions asked.
But the profit margins were slim and their ambitions were greater: They bought a pill press, ordered the sedative alprazolam online from India and watched YouTube videos to figure out how to turn it into fake Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication. Crandall, math minded, created the recipe. They mixed it up by shaking it in mason jars.
Then Crandall fell in love.
His new girlfriend grew suspicious when he would sneak away to package drugs. When she confronted him at a party, he tearfully confessed. She forgave him, if he promised to leave the business. They bought one-way tickets to New Zealand.
Then a local drug dealer made a suggestion to Shamo that would change the course of his life: There was a fortune to be made in producing fake oxycodone.
Shamo enlisted his gym buddy, Jonathan Luke Paz, to help him. Shamo ordered fentanyl online from China, set up the pill press in the basement and bought dyes and stamps to match popular pharmaceuticals. Then they handed them over to the local dealer, who tested them on his own customers. The first batches were weak or speckled in color, he told them, or didn’t react like real oxycodone when users heated it on tinfoil to smoke it.
But they were getting better.
“Close to being money in the bank,” the dealer messaged Shamo. “You did it, bro.”
On the first day of 2016, Shamo wrote out his goals for the upcoming year: He would be rich. All the girls would want him.
“I will overachieve,” he wrote. “I will overcome.”
He went online with his products a month later. Some were specified as fentanyl, but some weren’t, purporting instead to contain 30 milligrams of oxycodone. Shamo named this new store Pharma-Master.
As winter turned to summer, sales skyrocketed. Pharma-Master started selling thousands of pills a week, charging around $10 each.
On June 6, a relatively small order came in: 10 pills, to be shipped to an apartment house in Daly City, a working-class suburb of San Francisco.
Like every order, it was sent in an encrypted email to two former eBay co-workers in charge of distribution. Alexandrya Tonge and Katherine Bustin counted out the pills in their suburban condo, packaged the shipments and dropped them in the mail.
The envelope arrived at the doorstep at 3 p.m. on June 11.
Under different circumstances, Shamo might have been friends with the 21-year-old man who lived there. Ruslan Klyuev, a Russian immigrant, was also an aspiring tech entrepreneur interested in the dark web. He had a baby face: rosy cheeks and curly hair. Klyuev loved to cook and would make extravagant meals for the house.
But his relationship ended, his web design business sputtered and he became estranged from his family, said Barry, a roommate who spoke on the condition that his last name not be published. His emotions toggled between sorrow and elation, and he struggled with substance abuse.
After drinking vodka, Klyuev crushed two of the pills with a battery and snorted the powder with a rolled-up sticky note, according to testimony. He started drifting in and out of sleep. He couldn’t stand up.
He was found dead the next day, with fentanyl, alcohol and a substance associated with cocaine in his system.
His was the only death with which Shamo would be charged. His defense attorney, Greg Skordas, argued that neither his death nor any others can be definitely linked with Shamo’s operation.
But in documents, prosecutors connected Shamo to a veritable slaughter:
A 24-year-old man in Seattle overdosed three weeks after he bought pills from Pharma-Master in March 2016.
Later that spring, 40 pills were shipped to a 21-year-old in Washington, D.C. He died in his dorm room 11 days later.
In Utah, a 29-year-old software analyst named Devin Meldrum had been searching since he was a teenager for a cure for cluster headaches that felt like knives stabbing his skull, said his father, Rod.
Doctors had prescribed opioids but limited the dosage, so he bought a backup supply from Pharma-Master. On Aug. 13, 2016, he ran out of pills days before his refill. As he got ready for bed, he texted his fiance and took a pill from his reserve for the first time, his father said.
He was dead before she arrived to say goodnight, blue on his bathroom floor.
His father isn’t sure Shamo even now understands the magnitude of what happened: “Does he even comprehend how many families have had their hearts torn out?”
Online, Pharma-Master was getting rave reviews.
“These will make u a millionaire in under a year, guarantee,” wrote one shopper who called himself “Trustworthy Money.”
He was a dealer in Portland named Jared Gillespie. He bought 80,000 pills from Pharma-Master, according to documents filed against Gillespie in Oregon. He knew he was buying fentanyl pills, the Oregon prosecutors alleged, but the people buying from him had no way to know that. They are unknown and uncounted.
Shamo offered steep discounts for bulk buyers. Tonge, one of his distributors, testified that she began to question Shamo’s claim that he was helping patients who couldn’t get medication: Why would one person need 5,000 pills?
Her vacuum cleaner would become a critical piece of evidence. Its dust bin was filled with pills. The operation had grown so frantic, pumping out tens of thousands of tablets a month, that when they spilled onto the floor, they weren’t worth saving.
Tonge and her partner complained that the orders were coming too quickly, so Shamo hired a “runner” named Sean Gygi to pick up the packages and drop them in the mail, dozens of them a day.
Drug manufacturing became routine: Shamo once wrote himself a to-do list, and included a reminder to “make blues,” the street name for oxycodone, along with getting a haircut, washing his sheets, cleaning the kitchen. And Shamo planned to expand. He bought another press so big agents would later need a tow truck to drag it out of his garage.
The money was pouring in, and out.
Shamo hired a personal assistant; she did his shopping, had his car detailed. He stuffed a duffel bag with $429,000 cash and asked his parents to hold it. He bragged to friends about VIP bottle service at clubs and gambling in Las Vegas. He shopped for real estate in Puerto Rico; took photos sipping champagne on a cruise ship; bought designer jeans, an 88-inch television, a boat and a BMW.
Crandall and his girlfriend posted photos on Instagram of trips to Laos, Thailand, Singapore, kayaking and partying. But he was running out of money and agreed to become a remote customer service representative. The list of people accepting packages from China ballooned to more than a dozen. Everyone was making easy money and getting text messages from Shamo dotted with “lol” and “awesome!”
Shamo penned another note: “I am Shamo. I am awesome. My friends love me. I created an empire.”
But even as he cheered himself on, there were signs of danger.
One customer reported an overdose death. Shamo scanned obituaries, then declared it was a fake, Crandall said. Then a message said pills were making people sick.
Crandall forwarded it to Shamo with a dismissive question: Should he tell them to “suck it up?” Or send more pills to pacify them?
They didn’t know it, but a suspicious customs agent at the Los Angeles International Airport had flagged a box from Shanghai, China, pulled it off the belt and looked inside. The agent found 98.7 grams of fentanyl powder — enough to make almost 100,000 pills. The box was destined for Utah.
Agents looked for more packages making their way from China to Utah, and eventually one arrived, said an agent with Homeland Security Investigations who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect ongoing investigations. On Nov. 8, 2016, postal inspectors seized a box en route from a port city in China known to law enforcement as a fentanyl-trafficking hub. It was addressed to Gygi, Shamo’s “runner,” so agents arrived at his house with a search warrant.
Gygi said he thought the hundreds of envelopes he’d put in the mail contained the party drugs he sometimes took himself. Told it was fentanyl, the agent recalled, Gygi drooped.
He agreed to wear a wire while he picked up the packages, like he did every day. But instead of dropping them in the mail, he delivered them to police.
This single day’s shipment contained 34,828 fentanyl pills destined for homes in 26 states.
Four days later, on Nov. 22, 2016, agents stood on Shamo’s stoop, shouted through a bullhorn, then broke the door down with a battering ram. They were dressed in neon-orange hazmat suits with clear bowls around their faces that made them look like astronauts.
Shamo came up the stairs in a T-shirt and shorts, a mask and gloves in his pocket. A pill press downstairs was running, in a room with powder caked on the walls and the furniture.
Others were raiding the stash at Bustin and Tonge’s condo. Veteran vice officers would say they had never seen so many pills, even in international operations. In total, they packed up over 74,000 fentanyl pills awaiting distribution.
In Shamo’s sock drawer, agents found stack after stack of cash. There was more money in a safe in the closet. Agents totaled up more than $1.2 million, not including the money he had tied up in Bitcoin or bags he’d stashed with his family. Investigators eventually caught up with Paz, whom Shamo paid around a dollar per pill, and he surrendered $800,000 more.
Crandall was in Laos, still traveling with his girlfriend, when he heard the news. He stored his drug-related data on a flash drive, threw it down a storm drain and sent an email to the dark web marketplace: “This account has been compromised.” After a few months, he figured he was in the clear. He and his girlfriend planned their wedding and invited guests to meet them in Hawaii for the big day: May 12, 2017. They bought rings, and a dress.
Agents were waiting when they stepped onto American soil in Honolulu.
When Crandall sat on the witness stand, he was slump-shouldered and shackled, clumsily trying to maneuver his handcuffs to pull a tissue out of the box to wipe his eyes. In the two years since his arrest, he has been imprisoned in a county jail and watched his fellow inmates suffer the brutal fallout of an opioid epidemic. They stole from their parents, cycled in and out of jail and shivered, sweated, sobbed through withdrawal.
He’d helped feed this, he realized. For money.
He and Shamo’s other ex-partners and packagers pleaded guilty, agreed to testify against their friend and hoped for mercy.
The story they told convinced the jury to convict Shamo of 12 counts, including continuing criminal enterprise, the so-called “kingpin charge” that is typically reserved for drug lords like El Chapo and carries a mandatory life sentence. The jury deadlocked, though, on the 13th count: the death of Klyuev.
The bust was one of the largest operations in the country in 2016. But the fentanyl trade has only grown more sophisticated since. By comparison, Shamo now looks “small-time,” said Safdar, with the Partnership for Safe Medicines. The most notorious Mexican drug cartels have transitioned to fentanyl, even as homegrown upstarts like Shamo’s proliferate.
Seizure data in the United Nations World Drug Report shows trafficking quickly expanding worldwide. In 2013, four countries reported fentanyl seizures. By 2016: 12 countries. In 2017, 16 countries reported seizing fentanyl.
There is no reason to believe it will not spread further. In Africa and the Middle East, the synthetic opioid tramadol is widely abused, much of it illicitly manufactured in Asia. If that market transitions to fentanyl it would be catastrophic, said Scott Stewart, a former agent with the State Department. In Australia, prescription opioid consumption has quadrupled. Marianne Jauncey, medical director of a Sydney harm-reduction center, can’t think of any reason fentanyl won’t soon arrive — all they can do is prepare for the day that it does.
As Shamo was convicted, a single dark web marketplace still had 32,000 listings for drugs, thousands of them claiming to be oxycodone. There was no way to tell whether they originated in a pharmacy or somebody’s basement.
One vendor even borrowed a version of Shamo’s name. Pharmamaster peddles oxys online, sold in bulk at a discount. It has, it boasts, an “unlimited” supply.
“Pharma-grade A++,” the listings promise. “24-hour shipping!”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
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France’s Macron tries the common touch to win back support
By SYLVIE CORBET | Sat, September 14, 2019 12:30 EDT
BONNEUIL-SUR-MARNE, France (AP) — The warehouse that French President Emmanuel Macron visited was hundreds of miles and a world away from the prestige of the G-7 summit he hosted a few weeks earlier.
And the people Macron was trying to win over this time weren’t heads of state like President Donald Trump but financially struggling workers — perhaps a much tougher task for the French leader, who is often seen as haughty and out of touch.
But Macron was the picture of empathy this week at the warehouse south of Paris, even as the 41-year-old former investment banker stood in a tailored suit amid workers in orange safety jackets.
“Everyone has someone in the family who is ending up by the wayside,” Macron said.
After his popularity was badly damaged by France’s often-violent yellow vest demonstrations against economic inequality in the last year, Macron is trying to remake his image halfway through his presidency and win back the hearts of the French now that his Group of Seven hosting duties are behind him.
He is clawing his way back by events such as the warehouse visit, during which he spent four hours Tuesday listening to the concerns of blue-collar workers — many of them newly arrived migrants — whose job is to package shoes or recondition computer equipment.
“Society is unraveling. That’s more or less what we are experiencing now,” he said. “If we’re not able to fix the problem of great poverty, it will keep fraying.”
Macron 2.0 is coming across as more caring, patient and attentive. Gone is the blunt manner of a year ago, when he admonished retirees to “stop complaining” and told an unemployed man that finding work was as simple as crossing a street.
“I’m fully ready to take a little more time,” Macron told the workers at the warehouse get-together, broadcast live on French TV. He asked them to share their “difficulties, sticking points, concrete issues, how we could do even better.”
Beyond hoping to consolidate his slow but steady rebound in opinion polls, Macron needs public support for his unfinished program of reforms, which have already sparked more protests.
A public transport strike in Paris caused widespread disruption for millions of commuters on Friday, giving just a taste of the resistance that lies ahead over Macron’s plans to standardize France’s pension system. The moves could make some employees like transit workers work longer before retiring but keeps France’s legal retirement age at 62.
French pilots, nurses and lawyers plan to strike and protest Monday and yellow-vest protesters are calling for a “big mobilization” on Sept. 21.
A City Hall employee, Catherine Reine, said Friday that she “is hoping there will be more strikes.” She said she supports the strikers “because they are very afraid for their future, and I think it’s normal.”
Having rebranded France a “startup nation” when he took power in 2017, Macron now acknowledges that his pro-business policies also have a human cost, including making it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits.
Last week, Macron visited a call center for abused women, listening in as a distraught woman pleaded for help from police. The French government, meanwhile, has appealed for feedback on its plans to regulate farmers’ use of dangerous agricultural chemicals and has promised also to consult the public on pension changes.
Macron’s efforts are being rewarded by rising approval ratings somewhere between 34% and 43% after they sank to record lows in the 20s during the height of the yellow-vest crisis, which started in November last year with protests against a fuel tax but grew into grab bag of grievances against government policies and Macron himself.
At the same time, Macron is pursuing a busy international agenda. He is pushing for diplomatic solutions on Iran, having successfully managed at the G-7 summit in August to steer Trump toward the idea of meeting his Iranian counterpart.
He is also on the front line of European Union efforts to stay united in the face of the Brexit crisis and deal with the expected economic shocks expected if Britain leaves the 28-nation bloc on Oct. 31 without an agreement to keep trade flowing smoothly.
But listening attentively to the warehouse workers, Macron made it clear that he realizes change can hurt.
Reforms “have made some people more fragile,” he said. “That is the reality.”
Associated Press writer John Leicester in Paris contributed to the story
EarthLink – News
Cleanup resumes in Bahamas as Humberto swirls away
By DÁNICA COTO | Sun, September 15, 2019 11:36 EDT
MCLEAN’S TOWN, Bahamas (AP) — Jeffrey Roberts lifted a mustard-yellow curtain from the ground to hunt for passports and other documents at the place where his family’s home stood before Hurricane Dorian blasted into Grand Bahama Island.
What was underneath was sodden and unrecognizable. He shuffled across a white tile floor, the only clear sign this had once been a house, and found a pair of rusty old pliers, only to toss them in frustration. They clattered across the tiles, breaking the silence that had enveloped the fishing community of McLean’s Town.
Roberts was one of thousands of people beginning to return to salvage what few scraps they can from the devastation of Dorian, even as the dark storm clouds of Tropical Storm Humberto hovered above to remind that that the storm season has not yet passed.
“We got to take what God gives us,” Roberts said.
In this case, at least, that was a break: Humberto narrowly missed the island over the weekend and was projected to curve north and then northeast, staying well off of Florida’s east coast.
By late Sunday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was located about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north-northwest of Great Abaco Island and was moving at 7 mph (11 kph) north-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph). It was still rousing gusty winds across the northwestern Bahamas
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said it would likely become a hurricane by Sunday night, but would remain far from the Bahamas and the U.S. coast by the time it reaches that strength.
The storm briefly shuttered a couple of small airports, sent people in damaged homes to seek shelter and threatened to interrupt the distribution of sorely needed supplies, including food and water.
As the storm passed, however, Roberts and others were already returning to the task at hand: resuming their cleanup and recovery efforts in communities such as McLean’s Town devastated by Hurricane Dorian two weeks ago.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the nearby island of Great Abaco on Saturday to support humanitarian efforts in the wake of the storm, which left thousands in need of food, water and shelter.
“Hurricane Dorian has been classified as Category 5. I think it’s Category Hell,” the secretary-general said, adding he was horrified by the “level of systematic devastation.”
The islands’ official death toll from the hurricane remained at 50 and the number of missing at an alarming 1,300 people, although officials cautioned the list is preliminary and many people could just be unable to connect with loved ones.
Meanwhile, detritus was piled high in the fishing village at the eastern end of Grand Bahama as neighbors tried to salvage what was left behind.
Patrice Higgs stood barefoot in her backyard with gray mud caked on her feet, staring listlessly at the horizon. She occasionally pointed at some of her belongings that remained tangled in the debris and out of reach, including a cream-colored loveseat.
She said she lost five relatives to Dorian.
“My sister, my niece, my nephew, my aunty and my cousin,” she said, as dark clouds threatening rain hung overhead.
The couple then took a break and sat outside as they watched a neighbor, Cecil Leathen, pry his boat out of fallen trees with the help of a backhoe operated by another neighbor.
Friends nestled a soggy couch cushion between the backhoe and the boat’s motor to protect it as they successfully pushed it onto a trailer.
Then Leathen raised his right fist into the air in celebration.
“It takes some time,” he said. “But we’ll get it back together.”
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Violence flares after protest march in downtown Hong Kong
By EILEEN NG and PHOEBE LAI | Sun, September 15, 2019 06:50 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — Police fired chemical-laced blue water and tear gas at protesters who lobbed Molotov cocktails outside the Hong Kong government office complex Sunday, as violence flared anew after thousands of pro-democracy supporters marched through downtown in defiance of a police ban.
A mixed crowd of hardcore protesters in black and wearing masks, along with families with children, spilled into the roads of the Causeway Bay shopping belt and marched for over 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to the central business district. Some waved U.S. and British flags, while others carried posters reiterating their calls for democratic reforms.
Police had turned down a request by the Civil Human Rights Front to hold the march, but the demonstrators were undeterred, as they have been all summer.
“I feel this is our duty. The government wants to block us with the ban, but I want to say that the people will not be afraid,” said one protester, Winnie Leung, 50.
The march disrupted traffic, and many shops, including the Sogo department store, closed their doors. Protesters burned Chinese flags and tore down banners congratulating China’s ruling Communist Party, which will celebrate its 70th year in power on Oct. 1. In familiar scenes, some protesters smashed glass windows and surveillance cameras at a subway station exit.
Hundreds of protesters later targeted the government office complex, throwing bricks and petrol bombs through police barriers. Police responded by firing volleys of tear gas and using water cannon trucks to spray chemical-laced water as well as blue liquid that helped them identify offenders, in a repeat of confrontational scenes from the last several weeks of the protests.
Protesters retreated but regrouped in the nearby Wan Chai neighborhood, setting a fire outside a subway station exit and on the streets. They fled again after riot police advanced.
Police had earlier warned in a statement that the assembly was illegal and urged protesters to “stop their illegal acts.”
The protests were triggered in June by an extradition bill that many saw as an example of China’s increasing intrusion and at chipping away at Hong Kong residents’ freedoms and rights, many of which are not accorded to people in mainland China.
Hong Kong’s government promised this month to withdraw the bill, which would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, but protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.
More than 1,300 people have been arrested amid increasing clashes between protesters and police, who demonstrators have accused of abuses.
The unrest has battered Hong Kong’s economy, which was already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war. It is also seen as an embarrassment to Beijing, which has accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds of protesters waved British flags, sang “God Save the Queen” and chanted “UK save Hong Kong” outside the British Consulate as they stepped up calls for international support for their campaign.
With banners declaring “one country, two systems is dead,” they repeated calls for Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler to ensure the city’s autonomy is upheld under agreements made when it ceded power to China in 1997.
Demonstrators held similar rallies Sept.1 at the British facility and last weekend at the U.S. Consulate.
Police also banned a planned Civil Human Rights Front march on Aug. 31, but protesters turned up anyway. Clashes erupted that night, with police storming a subway car and hitting passengers with batons and pepper spray.
On Saturday, pro-democracy protesters and supporters of the central government in Beijing clashed at a Hong Kong shopping mall and several public places. Police arrested more than a dozen people and hospital authorities said 25 were injured.
The clashes amid the mid-autumn festival holiday came after several nights of peaceful rallies that featured protesters belting out a new protest song in mass singing at shopping malls. Thousands of people also carried lanterns with pro-democracy messages in public areas and formed illuminated human chains on two of the city’s peaks on Friday night to mark the major Chinese festival.
EarthLink – News
Email indicates former Alaska official invited woman to room
By MARK THIESSEN | Sat, September 14, 2019 01:19 EDT
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An email from Alaska’s former first lady sheds new light on the actions that drove Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott from office, suggesting he may have invited a woman into his room, newly released emails shows.
The revelation came in an email sent from former first lady Donna Walker to her husband, Gov. Bill Walker, just as he was about to announce Byron Mallott’s resignation Oct. 16. At the time, the governor said Mallott had made inappropriate comments.
“Does he explain the incident?” Donna Walker emailed her husband at his official state email account.
“I think that you describing it as ‘inappropriate comments’ is a huge understatement and you will be criticized for that,” Donna Walker wrote. “It was the conduct as well of inviting her to his room, and it sounds like there was some discrepancy as to how he greeted/touched her. I think you need to say inappropriate conduct.”
The emails were released Friday to The Associated Press under an open records request.
“I don’t have anything to add. I really don’t,” Bill Walker said when reached by cellphone Friday. “It was a very unfortunate situation all around.”
Walker and other officials have been tight-lipped about the incident that led Mallott to resign and, in part, helped doom Walker’s re-election bid.
In his resignation letter to Walker, Quote: : “It is a resignation compelled by inappropriate comments I made that placed a person whom I respect and revere in a position of vulnerability.”
Walker has refused to go into any further detail beyond saying: “Byron recently made inappropriate comments that do not reflect the sterling level of behavior required in his role as Lieutenant Governor. … Byron has taken full responsibility for his actions and has resigned.”
Other than the former first lady’s email, there’s few details about Mallott’s behavior in the released emails. But in the hours leading up to Mallott’s resignation, they show government officials doing normal things: making plans for that week’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage, refining speeches and making sure event organizers only use blue tablecloths to match state colors.
The emails show the first potential sign of trouble came the day before Mallott resigned, when Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Grace Jang, asked that mailboxes of staff members who have access to Walker’s calendar be searched. When asked when she needed the results, Jang responded: “As quickly as humanly possible.”
There was no further indication of what they were searching for or what the results were.
At 9:41 p.m. that night, Walker emailed Mallott, asking to meet with him at 8:30 a.m. the next morning.
Mallott responded at 10:25 p.m., “See you then. Trust you received my text that I have contacted my children and am now with Ben and Toni,” referencing his son and wife. Walker said he hadn’t received any texts.
Other emails contain various draft forms of Walker’s statement on the resignation, his selection of then-Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson as the next lieutenant governor and Mallott’s resignation letter.
Claire Richardson, Mallott’s chief of staff, sent Mallott and his son, Ben, a copy of statements from Walker and Davidson that would be released to the public. Ben Mallott then forwarded that to Anthony Mallott, who is chief executive officer of Sealaska Corp., the Alaska Native corporation for the Juneau area.
Anthony Mallott sent Richardson suggested edits.
“I don’t have his resignation statement to go along with this, but believe these statements stretch his action into a realm that is miles wide in this environment,” he wrote. “Given that we are discussing verbal comments I would suggest the changes within this draft. Take them as is, it is not my release and I’m not offering excuses, but gradients matter.”
Mallott has not spoken publicly since leaving office. Mallott didn’t immediate return a message left on his cellphone Friday evening.
Walker, an independent, was competing in a three-way race for re-election against former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, and Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who eventually won the race.
After Mallott’s resignation, Walker dropped his re-election bid two days later, saying he couldn’t win a three-way race.
Before Mallott’s resignation was made public, Jang, the deputy chief of staff, asked a member of the communications team for revisions on a social media post announcing his departure and Valerie Davidson’s selection as lieutenant governor.
“Can we please add a couple of details so people don’t think this is the result of a campaign-related deal with Begich?” she wrote.