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Updated: 18 min 53 sec ago

When an animal dies mysteriously in Alaska, this woman gets the call

27 min 40 sec ago

When they captured her off Cohen Island in the summer of 2007, she weighed 58 pounds and was the size of a collie. The growth rings in a tooth they pulled revealed her age — eight years, a mature female sea otter.

They anesthetized her and placed tags on her flippers. They assigned her a number: LCI013, or 13 for short. They installed a transmitter in her belly and gave her a VHF radio frequency: 165.155 megahertz. Then they released her. The otter was now, in effect, her own small-wattage Alaska radio station. If you had the right kind of antenna and a receiver, you could launch a skiff into Kachemak Bay, lift the antenna and hunt the air for the music of her existence: an occasional ping in high C that was both solitary and reassuring amid the static of the wide world.

Otter 13, they soon learned, preferred the sheltered waters on the south side of Kachemak Bay. In Kasitsna Bay and Jakolof Bay, she whelped pups and clutched clams in her strong paws. She chewed off her tags. Some days, if you stood on the sand in Homer, you could glimpse her just beyond Bishop's Beach, her head as slick as a greaser's ducktail, wrapped in the bull kelp with other females and their pups.

"They're so cute, aren't they?" said the woman in the gold-rimmed eyeglasses. She was leaning over 13 as she said this, measuring a right forepaw with a small ruler. The otter's paw was raised to her head as if in greeting, or perhaps surrender.

"They're one of the few animals that are cute even when they're dead."

Two weeks earlier, salmon setnetters had found the otter on the beach on the far side of Barbara Point. The dying creature was too weak to remove a stone lodged in her jaws. Local officials gathered her up, and a quick look inside revealed the transmitter: 13 was a wild animal with a history.

This made her rare. She was placed on a fast ferry and then put in cold storage to await the attention of veterinary pathologist Kathy Burek, who now paused over her with a sympathetic voice and a scalpel of the size usually seen in human morgues.

Burek worked with short, sure draws of the knife. The otter opened.

"Wow, that's pretty interesting," Burek said. "Very marked edema over the right tarsus. But I don't  see any fractures."

The room filled with the smell of low tide on a hot day, of past-expiration sirloin.

A visiting observer wobbled in his rubber clamming boots.

"The only shame is if you pass out where we can't find you," said Burek without looking up. She continued her exploration. "This animal has such dense fur. You can really miss something."

She made several confident strokes until the pelt came away in her hands, as if she were a host gently helping a dinner guest out of her coat. The only fur left on 13 was a small pair of mittens and the cap on her head, resembling a Russian trooper's flap-eared ushanka.

Call it an Unusual Mortality Event

It had been nearly a year since Burek's inbox pinged with notice of a different dead sea otter. Then her email sounded again, and again after that. In 2015, 304 otters would be found dead or dying, mostly around Homer and Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula. The number was nearly five times higher than in recent years. On one day alone, four otters arrived for necropsy. Burek had to drag an extra table into her lab so that she and a colleague could keep pace — slicing open furry dead animals, two at a time, for hours on end.

As they worked, an enormous patch of unusually warm water sat stubbornly in the eastern North Pacific. The patch was so persistent that scientists christened it the Blob.

Researchers caught sunfish off Icy Point. An unprecedented toxic algal bloom, fueled by the Blob, reached from Southern California to Alaska. Whales had begun to die in worrisome numbers off the coast of Alaska and British Columbia — 45 whales that year in the western Gulf of Alaska alone, mostly humpbacks and fins. Federal officials had labeled this, with an abstruseness that would please Don DeLillo, an Unusual Mortality Event. By winter, dead murres lay thick on beaches.

The Blob would eventually dissipate, but scientists feared that the warming and its effects were a glimpse into the future under climate change.

What, if anything, did all this have to do with the death of 13? Burek wasn't sure. When sea otters first began perishing in large numbers around Homer several years ago, she identified a culprit: a strain of streptococcus bacteria that was also an emerging pathogen affecting humans.

But lately things hadn't been quite so simple. While the infection again killed otters during the Blob's appearance, Burek found other problems as well. Many of the otters that died of strep also had low levels of toxins from the Blob's massive algal bloom, a clue that the animals possibly had even more of the quick-moving poison in their systems before researchers got to them. They must be somehow interacting. Perhaps several problems now were gang-tackling the animals.

Burek's lilac surgical gloves grew red. She noted that the otter had a lung that looked "weird." She measured a raspberry-size clot on a heart valve using a piece of dental floss. Then she started working in the abdomen.

"Huh," she said. She'd noticed that the lower part of the otter was filled with brown matter and bits of shell: the nearly digested remains of the animal's last meals had spilled into its pelvis and down into a leg wound. This could have caused an infection and led to blood poisoning. But where was the injury?

"The colon got perforated. I have no idea how," Burek said. She probed further until she found a pocket of something like pus at the top of the femur. She eventually separated the femur from the body, and her assistant placed the bone in a Ziploc bag.

By now it was past lunchtime. Burek had been at the necropsy table for more than three hours without pause. She looked a little weary. What caused the otter's death would remain, for the moment, unresolved. The not knowing seemed to displease her, though Burek was accustomed to mystery. The frozen north was always shifting; you took it as you found it.

Burek straightened stiffly. "I'm hungry," she said across the bloody table. She removed the otter's head and reached for the bone saw. "Who likes Indian?"

Important work in Alaska

Burek often spends her days cutting up the wildest, largest, smallest, most charismatic and most ferocious creatures in Alaska, looking for what killed them. She's been on the job for more than 20 years, self-employed and working with just about every organization that oversees wildlife in Alaska. Until recently, she was the only board-certified anatomic pathologist in a state that's more than twice the size of Texas. (There's now one other, at the University of Alaska.)

She's still the only one who regularly heads into the field with her flensing knives and vials, harvesting samples that she'll later squint at under a microscope.

Nowhere in North America is this work more important than in the wilds of Alaska. Scientists say 2016 was the planet's hottest year on record, beating out 2015.

As human-generated greenhouse gases continue to trap heat in the world's oceans, air and ice, and carbon dioxide reaches its greatest atmospheric concentration in 800,000 years, the highest latitudes are warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

Alaska was so warm last winter that organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race hauled in snow from Fairbanks for the traditional start in Anchorage (though the snow was never used). The waters of the high Arctic may be nearly free of summertime ice in little more than two decades, something human eyes have never seen.

If Americans think about the defrosting northern icebox, they picture dog-paddling polar bears. This obscures much bigger changes at work. A great unraveling is underway as nature gropes for a new equilibrium.

Some species are finding that their traditional homes are disappearing, even while the north becomes more hospitable to new arrivals. On both sides of the Brooks Range — the spine of peaks that run 600 miles east to west across northern Alaska — the land is greening but also browning as tundra becomes shrub-land and trees die off. With these shifts in climate and vegetation, birds, rodents and other animals are on the march. Parasites and pathogens are hitching rides with these newcomers.

"The old saying was that our cold kept away the riffraff," one scientist told me. "That's not so true anymore."

During this epic reshuffle, strange events are the new normal. In Alaska's Arctic in summertime, tens of thousands of walruses haul out on shore, their usual ice floes gone. North of Canada, where the fabled Northwest Passage now melts out, satellite-tagged bowhead whales from the Atlantic and Pacific recently met for the first time since the start of the Holocene era.

These changes are openings for contagion. "Anytime you get an introduction of a new species to a new area, we always think of disease," Burek told me. "Is there going to be new disease that comes because there's new species there?"

A lot of research worldwide has focused on how climate change will increase disease transmission in tropical and even temperate climates, as with dengue fever in the American South. Far less attention has been paid to what will happen — indeed, is already happening — in the world's highest latitudes, and to the people who live there.

Put another way: The north isn't just warming. It has a fever.

She'll see epidemics first

This matters to you and me even if we live thousands of miles away, because what happens in the north won't stay there. Birds migrate. Disease spreads. The changes in Alaska are harbingers for what humans and animals may see elsewhere. It's the front line in climate change's transformation of the planet.

This is where Burek comes in. Fundamentally, a veterinary pathologist is a detective. Burek's city streets are the tissues of wild animals, her crime scenes the discolored and distended organs of tide-washed seals and emaciated wood bison.

"She's the one who's going to see changes," says Kathi Lefebvre, a lead research biologist at Seattle's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. "She's the one who's going to see epidemics come along. And she's the one with the skills to diagnose things."

As the planet enters new waters, Burek's work has made her one of the lonely few at the bow, calling out the oddness she sees in the hope that we can dodge some of the melting icebergs in our path.

It's a career that long ago ceased to strike Burek as unusual, and she moves without flinching through a world tinged with blood and irony. The first time we spoke on the phone, Burek offhandedly said of herself and a colleague, "We've probably cut up more sea otters than anybody else on the planet."

"Congratulations," I said.

"We all got to brag about something," she replied.

From Midwest to Eagle River

Summer is the season when Alaskans at play under the undying sun tend to come across dead or stranded animals and call a wildlife hotline. The call starts a chain of events that often ends at Burek's family home, which is made of honey-colored logs and sits on an acre and a half in Eagle River. The rough peaks of the Chugach Mountains, still piebald with snow in midsummer, lean overhead. Moose occasionally carry off the backyard badminton net in their antlers.

In July, I spent a month with Burek as she worked. She's 54 but looks a decade younger, with long brown hair and appled cheeks that give her the appearance of having just come in from the icicled outdoors. Her voice has an approachable Great Plains flatness, the vestige of her Wisconsin birth and an upbringing in the suburbs of Ohio. Burek ends many sentences with a short, sharp laugh — a punctuative caboose that can signal either amusement or bemusement, depending. Growing up in the Midwest, she didn't see the ocean until high school. "But I was always fascinated by whales," she told me. "And I always wanted to be a vet or a wildlife biologist — Jane Goodall or something." She laughed. "Lots of kids wanted to be vets. They outgrow it."

Burek was intrigued by the biology — how bodies worked and how, sometimes, they didn't. After college she went to veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin, later moving to Alaska to see how she would like working in a typical vet practice.

One year she lived outside Soldotna, in a one-room dry cabin, with no running water, while writing her thesis for a master's degree in wildlife disease — virology. Alaska agreed with her. "I like the seasons. I like the wilderness. I like the animals," she said.

Burek met her future husband, Henry Huntington, on the coast of the Chukchi Sea in the high Arctic, during the Inupiat's annual spring bowhead whale hunt, when breezes pushed the ice pack together and forced a pause in the whaling. They now have two teenage sons.

"I tell the boys they're the product of persistent west winds in May of 1992," said Henry, a respected researcher and scientist with the Pew Charitable Trusts' Arctic conservation campaigns.

Surprisingly little is known about the diseases of wildlife. As a result, many veterinary pathologists end up focusing on a few species. Thanks to Burek's curiosity and her gifts, and to a necessary embrace of the Alaska virtue of do-it-yourself, her expertise is broad. "Anyone who gets into this kind of thing, you like a puzzle," she told me. "You have to pull together all kinds of little pieces of information to try to figure it out, and it's very, very challenging."

Over the years, Burek has peered inside just about every mammal that shows up in Alaska field guides. One morning, as we drank coffee at her kitchen table, she rattled off a few dozen examples. Coyotes. Polar bears. Dall sheep. Five species of seals. Many whales, including rare Stejneger's beaked whales.

As we talked, I wandered into the living room. On a wall not far from the wedding photos hung feathery baleen from the mouths of bowhead whales and the white scimitars of walrus tusks. Upstairs in a loft lay an oosik — the baculum, or penis bone, of another walrus. It was as long as a basketball player's tibia. Atop the fireplace mantel, where other families might display pictures of wattled grandparents, grinned a row of skulls: brown bear, lynx, wood bison. Burek tapped one of the skulls in a spot that looked honeycombed. "Abscessed tooth," she said. "Wolf. One of my cases."

Working on wild animals, often in situ, routinely presents her with job hazards that simply aren't found in the Lower 48.

Anchorage sits at the confluence of two long inlets. When Burek performs necropsies on whales on Turnagain Arm, she has to keep a sentry's eye on the horizon for its infamous bore tide, when tidal flow comes in as a standing wave, fast enough that it has outrun a galloping moose. Knik Arm is underlain in places by a fine glacial silt that, when wet, liquefies into a lethal quicksand. Burek's rule of thumb in the field is never to sink below her ankles. Not long ago, while taking samples from a deceased beluga, she kept slipping deeper. Exasperated, she finally climbed inside the whale and resumed cutting.

Then there's the problem of the whales themselves. "Whales are just like Crock-Pots," Burek said. "They're kind of encased in this thick layer of blubber that's designed to keep them warm. They might look OK on the outside, but inside everything is mush."

Decay is the nemesis of the pathologist. Decay erodes evidence. "Fresher is always better," Burek said, sounding like a discerning sushi chef. It isn't possible every time.

Colleagues told me about a trip with Burek to a remote beach outside Yakutat, to do a postmortem on a humpback. There were several in the group, including a government man with a shotgun to keep away the brown bears that sometimes try to dine on Burek's specimens. It was raining and cold, and the whale had been dead for a while. Inside, the organs were soup. The pilot who retrieved them had to wear a respirator.

"My wife," Henry told me, "has a high threshold for discomfort."

Dead baby moose

One morning in Anchorage, my phone buzzed. To get a text from Burek is to gain new appreciation for the cliché mixed emotions. Often it's a chirpy message notifying you that another of God's creatures has expired and would you like to come see the carcass?

Burek picked me up at a coffee shop on Northern Lights Boulevard, driving the family's Dodge Grand Caravan with a cracked windshield. Outside it was sunny and warm; just two days earlier, it hit 85 in Deadhorse, the highest temperature ever recorded on the North Slope.

Burek's eyeglasses were covered by sun blockers of the type sold on late-night television. She was wearing summer sandals, her toenails painted what a saleswoman would call "aubergine." Her foot pressed the gas. We were going to pick up a dead baby moose.

"Fish and Game wants to know why it died, if it's a possible management issue," Burek said. Last year an adenovirus, which is more commonly seen in deer in California, had killed two moose in Alaska. Officials wanted to know how common adenovirus was in the state.

As work went, it was an unremarkable day. The past several years had presented Burek with a string of cases that were more intriguing and odder and more frustrating for their open-endedness. In 2012, Burek and others observed polar bears that had suffered a curious alopecia, or hair loss, but they were unable to pinpoint the reason. In 2014, Burek described a sea otter that had died of histoplasmosis, an infection caused by a fungus that's usually found in the droppings of midwestern bats. The infection will sometimes afflict spelunkers, which is where it gets its common name: cave disease. The finding was a dubious first, both for a marine mammal and for Alaska. But, again, why? What was a midwestern fungus doing inside an otter splashing off the coast of Alaska?

Then there was the strange case of the ringed seals. In the spring of 2011, Native hunters in Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), the northernmost town in the U.S., started finding ringed seals that didn't look right. The animals had lesions around their mouths and eyes, and ulcers along their flippers. Some had gone bald. A handful died.

Soon, down the coast at the major walrus rookery at Point Lay, ulcers started turning up on walruses both living and dead. The number of sightings on spotted and bearded seals increased and spread south into the Bering Strait as the summer progressed. In time, a few ribbon seals were also affected.

Federal officials labeled it another Unusual Mortality Event, a signal of concern and a call for more study. Burek led the postmortems, opening up dozens of animals. Researchers sent samples as far away as Columbia University, in New York, for molecular work. They tested many ideas, but the cause eluded them.

Was climate change a factor? The evidence intrigued Burek and her colleagues. Seals molt during a brief span of time in the spring. According to Peter Boveng, the polar ecosystems program leader at NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the longer days and rising temperatures likely cue the animals to climb onto the sea ice, so their skin can warm up and start the process of dropping old hairs and growing new ones. Having ice present is probably crucial for this molting process to happen, Boveng and others believe.

But what if a warming north meant less ice for the seals to use, interfering with their molt? That would explain why the animals showed lesions in the same places on their bodies where the molt begins — the face, the rear end. And when the skin is unprotected by fur, Burek told me, "it may be susceptible to secondary infections" from bacteria and fungi.

Nature, alas, is messy and confusing. Though the reasoning seemed plausible, there was no widespread lack of spring ice in 2011 in the areas where the diseased seals were found. Deepening the mystery, lesions in walruses all but vanished in subsequent years, even as some seals continue to have them.

"It's very frustrating — very frustrating," Burek said of trying to tease out an answer. A lot of her work remains unresolved. Burek knows that this is the reality of doing her job in the 49th state. It is a vast place and expensive to do research; scientists often haven't been able to do enough baseline studies to know what's normal and expected, versus new and worrisome, in a given population. Still, the inability to give answers to concerned Natives concerns Burek. "I have enough self-doubt that it's like, well, maybe it's because I'm not working hard enough, or I haven't done the right thing to figure it out."

Not so cold, not so remote

To be sure, the far north isn't collapsing under contagion caused by climate change. And Burek is careful about drawing connections. Still, a good detective doesn't need a smoking gun to know when a crime has been committed.

Circumstantial evidence, if there's enough of it, and the right kinds, can tell the story. "It seems hard to believe," Burek told me, "that a lot of these changes aren't related to what's going on in the environment. The problem is proving it."

There's a larger question, too, about what these developments augur for humans. The answer, researchers are finding, is that it's already starting to matter.

Time was, the cold and remoteness of the far north kept its freezer door closed to a lot of contagion. Now the north is neither so cold nor so remote. About 4 million people live in the circumpolar north, sometimes in sizable cities (Murmansk and Norilsk, Russia, as well as Tromso, Norway, have populations between 72,000 and 300,000). Oil rigs drill. Tourist ships cruise the Northwest Passage. And as new animals and pathogens arrive and thrive in the warmer, more crowded north, some human sickness is on the rise, too.

Sweden saw a record number of tick-borne encephalitis cases in 2011, and again in 2012, as roe deer expanded their range northward with ticks in tow. Researchers think the virus the ticks carry may increase its concentrations in warmer weather.

The bacterium Francisella tularensis, which at its worst is so lethal that both the U.S. and the USSR weaponized it during the Cold War, is also on the increase in Sweden. Spread by mosquitoes there, the milder form can cause months of flu-like symptoms.

Last summer in Russia's far north, anthrax reportedly killed a grandmother and a boy after melting permafrost released spores from epidemic-killed deer that had been buried for decades in the once-frozen ground.

Alaska hasn't been immune to such changes. A few months ago, researchers reported that five species of non-native ticks, probably aided by climate change, may now be established in the state. One is the American dog tick, which can transmit the bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can lead to paralysis in both canines and humans. In 2004, a bad case of food poisoning sent dozens of cruise-ship passengers running to their cabins. The culprit was Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a leading source of seafood-related food poisoning.

V. parahaemolyticus is typically tied to eating raw oysters taken from the warm waters of places like Louisiana. Why was it infecting people 600 miles north of the most northerly recorded incident? Health officials later teased out the reason: Summer water temperatures in Prince William Sound, where the oysters are farmed, now get warm enough to activate the bacterium.

Earlier in 2016, Burek and NOAA's Lefebvre coauthored a paper about their discovery of domoic acid in all 13 species of Alaska marine mammals they examined, from Steller sea lions to humpback whales, in waters as far north as the Arctic Ocean. Domoic acid is naturally produced by some species of algae, and it moves through the food web as it accumulates in the filter-feeding animals that dine on it — anchovies, sardines, crabs, clams and oysters. Scientists knew the algae that makes domoic acid were present, but never had a report of a bloom that far north before 2015. The hunch is that warming waters may boost the toxin's presence in Alaska.

"What's going to happen to these 100-year-old whales when they get hit by these neurotoxins three years in a row?" Lefebvre said. "And it's not just mortality. It's sub-lethal neurological effects."

A study published in 2015 in the journal Science found that harmful algal blooms off the California coast have caused enough brain damage to California sea lions that they lose their way and have trouble hunting. "This is a shot across the bow," Lefebvre said of the algal blooms. "It's the type of thing that could happen and become more common."

'A pathologist's wonderland'

Here's the broader lesson: if the animals can get sick, we can get sick, whether it's from invigorated pathogens in the environment or ailing animals themselves. Three in four emerging infectious diseases in humans today are zoonotic diseases — illnesses passed from animals to humans.

This is one reason Burek has a soft spot for sea otters like 13: they are excellent sentinels for what's happening in the world. Otters splash in the same waters where humans live, work and play. They eat the same seafood humans do. "I call them a pathologist's wonderland, because they get all the fantastic, extreme infectious diseases — not to sound too unpleasant," Burek said.

There are other reasons to pay attention to animals like otters. Mike Brubaker, director of community environment and health at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, points out that traditional foods — everything from salmonberries to moose meat — still make up 80 percent of the Native diet in some remote Alaska communities. If animals suffer, then traditional diets suffer, and so do the cultures that revolve around hunting, fishing and foraging.

Making Burek's job even more complicated, animals frequently die from mysterious causes that may have nothing to do with climate change. As she pokes through the bones, her constant challenge is to discern what's notably weird from what's simply everyday and unfortunate.

Near the airport, Burek turned into Alaska Air Cargo, backed up to a loading dock, and parked the van. "It's surprising how often they can't find the carcass," she said. We went inside. Burek handed a tracking number to an agent behind the counter. A man driving a forklift soon appeared at the loading dock. The forklift was freighted with a 31-gallon blue Rubbermaid Roughneck Tote labeled UNKNOWN SHIPPER. Burek opened the hatchback of the minivan and pushed aside pairs of Xtratuf rubber boots. The tote weighed a lot, but one man could lift it.

We drove east through the sunny noonday traffic of Anchorage with a dead baby moose in the rear of the minivan. Burek was in a good mood, as she usually is. Years of working in close proximity to death had resulted in a sort of over-the-fence neighborliness with the macabre. She told me how area hospitals occasionally helped her determine cause of death by performing CT scans of dead baby orcas or by putting the heads of juvenile beaked whales into their MRI machines to look for acoustic injuries from Navy sonar or energy exploration.

"I'm surprised this car doesn't smell worse for all the things that have been in it," she said. "I had a bison calf delivered to me, and it was in a tote like that, but it didn't fit — so these four legs were sticking out."

We arrived at a lab at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where Burek is an adjunct professor. The room was small, with white walls, a steel table at the center, and a drain in the floor. Burek pulled on a pair of rubber Grundens crabbing bibs the color of traffic cones, stepped into the tall boots from the minivan and pulled her hair back. She could have been headed for a day of dipnetting for sockeye salmon on the Kenai.

An assistant laid out tools. A big pair of garden shears sat on the counter.

"You're probably gonna want to put on gloves for this," she said.

Turned out of the tote onto the steel table, the moose calf was the size of a full-grown Labrador. It lay with its legs folded, as if it was just bedding down in soft lettuce. Burek flipped the calf onto its left side, which was how she liked to work on ruminants. Then she began, calling out information. Sex: female. Weight: 74 pounds. Death: July 13. Length: 116 centimeters. Auxiliary girth: 76 centimeters. She swabbed an obvious abscess, open and draining, on the right shoulder. She noted the pale mucus membranes. She inserted a syringe into an eyeball to sample the aqueous humor. She returned to the shoulder, to the painful-looking abscess, and removed a piece of it for later examination on a glass slide under a microscope. Then Burek pressed her fingers into the wound.

"Oh, that's kind of gross," she said. "There's a comminuted fracture in there." When not using a scalpel and forceps, Burek often uses her fingers. After years of practice, her touch serves almost as a caliper and gauge. She will bread-loaf a liver and pinch the sections, probing for hardness. She will run her fingers along a wet trachea in search of abnormalities.

"Oh, feel that," she will say to anyone willing to feel that.

Burek cut deeper to expose the wound. "Oh. Oh. Poor thing. It probably got nailed," she said. The detective was hitting her stride now. Searching the exterior of the calf, Burek quickly found what she was looking for — a second puncture wound, this one also badly infected. She measured the distance between the wounds: 5.5 centimeters, or the approximate distance, she estimated, between a bear's canines. "So that's cool."

Seen it all before

In an interesting coincidence, Burek later would tell me she suspected that, for all the other abnormalities she found inside 13 — the clot, the weird-looking lung — perhaps the otter was ultimately done in by something as mundane as a predator. Blunt-toothed young killer whales will sometimes grab otters without killing them, she explained; they sort of play with their food. Burek had seen it before. Intrigued, she telephoned the Museum of the North in Fairbanks and asked colleagues to measure the skull of a juvenile orca for an estimate of the diameter of its bite. The measurement perfectly fit the damage. "Of course, we'll never know for sure," she said. Still, there was a trace of satisfaction in her voice.

Now, using a No. 20 scalpel, Burek quickly skinned the moose calf and opened the stubborn clamshell of the rib cage. An unwelcome visitor wafted into the room. Burek, however, no longer seemed to notice odors that, were they canistered and lobbed across international borders, would swiftly be outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.

As she worked, the gore took on a practiced orchestration. Burek cut triangles of beet-colored liver and dropped them into pre-labeled bags with a pair of medical tweezers. She took samples of lung and lymph node and gall bladder. She squeezed the descending colon and collected the pellets. She filled vials and syringes.

Some of the bits she did not even bother to label; after decades, Burek could recognize them by sight. With a few slices, she opened the firm dark knot of the heart like a chapbook and removed what resembled red chicken fat. At home Burek would spin the stuff in a centrifuge. Stripped of its red blood cells, the clear blood serum was an excellent way to see which infectious agents the animal had been exposed to in the past. "Diagnostic gold," Burek called it.

Horse head in the freezer

The table took on the appearance of a Francis Bacon canvas: A smear of blood. An ear divorced from a head. The sprung cage of the moose's body exposing its soft, translucent clockworks. The open mouth mutely horrified. Burek noted a hemorrhage on the surface of the pancreas and fibrin on the peritoneal cavity, and she moved on. The door of the lab stood open to the smiling July afternoon. Sunlight caught on aspen leaves. One of the two young women who were assisting Burek had just returned from her first year of veterinary school. Burek was her inspiration, she said. As the women laughed and worked, Burek quizzed her on biology and she told stories.

"I had a horse head in my freezer one time."

"Bears smell absolutely horrible. I did a bear necropsy in our garage once, and my son Thomas said I could never do that again."

"Can I get some muscle?"

"Those large whales? Holy cow. It's so confusing: Where the heck is the urinary bladder?"

"For a while, I had a big colony in my garage of those flesh-eating beetles that museums use to clean skulls. But a couple of the beetles got out. That's when Henry put his foot down."

"Where'd my duodenum tag go? Anyone seen it?"

"I don't think rumens smell that bad. But I went to vet school in Wisconsin."

The steel table slowly emptied. The blue Rubbermaid bin filled. In went a foreleg. Intestines. The ear.

Now another assistant lifted the garden shears. She squeezed and sliced through the ball joint of the calf's femur, which is one of the best places on a young animal for Burek to see evidence of troubles, such as rickets, that would affect its growth plates. Burek, meanwhile, opened the skull to sample the brain.

"It's a bit of a mystery," she said as she worked, meaning the cause of the moose's death. Her initial guess: the bite led to septicemia, which led to encephalitis. "It's a story that kind of makes sense," she said. "I'd like to see more pus." Later she added: "But in this job you have to be willing to look dumb and be wrong and change your story."

Burek asked for the time. When I told her it was after 4 p.m., her good humor slipped. "I've got to get to the dump."

What was the hurry?

There was a new movie she wanted to see at seven, she said. She would have to race home to shower — to wash off the day, to wash off the smell, the blood, the moose.

"It's a Disney movie, I think," Burek said.

A film about animals run amok. "It's called 'The Secret Life of Pets.' " She loaded the moose in the back of the minivan and reached for the bleach. "It looks cute."

Christopher Solomon is a Seattle-based freelance writer and a former Seattle Times reporter. The story first appeared in Outside magazine and was supported by a grant from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources.

[Reporting for this story: http://niemanstoryboard.org/stories/annotation-tuesday-christopher-solomon-and-the-detective-of-northern-oddities/]

'Wampum' exposes the dark side of Indian reservation gambling

47 min 48 sec ago

Wampum: How Indian Tribes, the Mafia, and an Inattentive Congress Invented Indian Gaming and Created a $28 Billion Gambling Empire

By Donald Craig Mitchell; The Overlook Press; 2016; 392 pages; $29.95

"Wampum" author Donald Craig Mitchell could not have chosen a better title.

Originally a type of bead fashioned by Native Americans in the northeastern United States, it was used as currency and eventually became a slang term for money. And big money, too. As the subtitle to his book says, it's "How Indian Tribes, the Mafia, and an Inattentive Congress Invented Indian Gaming and Created a $28 Billion Gambling Empire."

Mitchell, an Anchorage attorney, is a nationally recognized expert on Indian law. His previous two books concerning Alaska Natives before, during and after their fight for a land settlement in 1972 contain the same in-depth research and detail that you might expect from a lawyer preparing for trial.

You might wonder why a lawyer who so ably represented Native interests in Washington, D.C., a generation ago now exposes the dark side of what reservation gambling has become.

Perhaps, in his later years, he is warning what is coming to Alaska now that the taking of land into trust — reservations — has been approved in Alaska by a Washington, D.C., court.

In the first chapter, Mitchell explains how the doctrine of inherent tribal sovereignty was invented by a government lawyer, Felix Cohen, who was on loan from the Department of Justice to the Interior Department to write a handbook for superintendents of Indian reservations intending to advise them on legal matters. The unfinished book was scuttled by the Interior Department when it was discovered the project had gone into left field.

However, Cohen was allowed to finish his work when he returned to the Justice Department. It was published in 1938 under the title, "Handbook of Federal Indian Law."

The book was distributed around Washington, D.C., and into the hands of the Supreme Court. Within a few months, it became the basis of a decision handed down by Justice William O. Douglas. The doctrine has prevailed since.

When tribal sovereignty gradually became the accepted law of the land — without congressional approval — states were prevented from enforcing regulations and laws on reservations in their borders. This becomes the basis for cigarette sales out of a trailer on a Florida Seminole reservation, then eventually widespread gambling, often involving the mafia and billions of dollars.

Typically, Native Americans or their headmen were cut in on a small part of the profits. But many ways were found to siphon money into the hands of the operators.

When help was needed in Washington to move a reservation or help in other ways, the regional congressional representative was often glad to help. When it came to creating reservations where none existed or for "Indians" of dubious blood, such well-known names as Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut or Rep. George Miller of California, head of the House Committee on Resources, pop up (Miller was no friend of Alaska when the Congress was carving up Alaska in the ANILCA days).

In 375 pages, Mitchell provides a sad case of how Congress can be induced to pass laws that take care of special interests, especially the Indian gaming industry. As one reviewer has already pointed out, it's good intentions gone awry.

In one case, Congress appropriated money to buy land to create a reservation where none existed for the questionable Western Pequot Tribe in Connecticut.

Mitchell demonstrates numerous examples, whether it be the mafia moving from Florida to California, creating new reservations, creating new Indian tribes or Congress being duped into passing legislation it hasn't read. Some examples are so numerous one might tire and skip to the next chapter. If you do, you will miss how some of the same names surface time and again when new opportunities present themselves.

The author adds an epilogue after Donald Trump became a figure on the world stage, detailing how Trump got stung trying to expose fake Indian casinos.

Foxwood Casino in Atlantic City was grossing $40,000 per month in 1973 while three of the Trump casinos in the area were not profitable. Trump filed a lawsuit trying to prove Foxwood was not composed of real Indians. He told Don Imus on talk radio that none of them were Indians. Trump said one told him his name was Running Water Sitting Bull. When Trump questioned that, he told Trump to just call him Ricky Sanders. Trump then tried congressional legislation, but that didn't go anywhere either. Then, Trump "wised up" (those are the author's words) and got into the management end of an Indian casino in Palm Springs, California.

"Wampum" isn't a mindless, fun read. Neither is it a textbook. Mitchell deserves appreciation for shedding light for the first time on a subject that's a blight on America. Rewards to resident Indians are as low as $20 per year at Pine Ridge in South Dakota and up to as much as $12,000 per month in Florida. It depends on how many are in the tribe and how near the casino is to a metropolitan area.
While we aren't apt to see big casinos in Alaska for a while, we might see cigarettes, booze and pot sold from trailers.

Chuck Gray is publisher emeritus of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Anchorage Assembly candidates: How should we address homelessness in the city?

55 min 45 sec ago

Alaska Dispatch News asked candidates for the April 4 election to the Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of questions on the issues. We're publishing their responses daily. The answers were fact-checked when facts were cited and edited for length, spelling, grammar and writing style.

Question: Do you agree with the way the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is addressing homelessness?

District 1: Downtown

Mark Alan Martinson

In addition to a place to live, people also need to be part of something that they can work together at; so I think more people need to have activities along with just a place to lay their head. In a larger Alaska-wide view, we need to get more people moving back to rural communities, but that's another story. Perhaps the collective efforts of Alaska rural communities could assist with the problem. But meanwhile, the current way often encourages people to take advantage of the system.

Albert Langdon Swank Jr.

Chronic public inebriation, illegal drug use, property trespass, property crimes and other issues need to be addressed. I have observed similar problems in other states and locations with some addressing the issues more appropriately than others.

Warren West

No, but it is his vision and his administration can run it with his style.

Christopher Constant

I support the intensive focus of the Berkowitz administration and the Assembly on the issue of homelessness. The simplest answer of how to end homelessness is to provide housing. I have worked closely with the mayor — starting on his homelessness transition team — to ensure that the mix of Housing First units doesn't fall disproportionately on any one geographic area. While administrations for the past 40 years have been working on the issue, this mayor is taking a strategic and long-term approach to solving the problem. His efforts aren't without issue, but for the most part, he's right on track.

Christopher Cox

I have been in low income housing for 25 years. I have dealt with the homeless situation firsthand for all of these years. Throwing more money at this situation will never ever fix the situation. Creating new housing for the homeless will never solve the situation. Ethan Berkowitz with all of his plans to solve the issue will never ever work because he is not getting at the heart of the problem. The heart of this problem is not simply to build them a house or give them a job or a place to stay; it goes far beyond that. There are jobs available in this town. There are low-income housing units available in this town. Many, many, many of the people that are homeless will not take a job and certainly not pay their rent.

David Dunsmore

The mayor has done a good job at directing the resources available to immediately help the most vulnerable members of our community, but we need a long-term comprehensive solution to end homelessness in Anchorage. We need to build more transitional housing and increase our substance abuse and mental health treatment capacity. Right now we have fewer alcohol detox beds available than Fairbanks and our methadone clinic is so overworked the only new patients it can accept are pregnant women. I will craft a comprehensive bond package to build these new facilities and put us on the path to ending homelessness.

District 2: Chugiak-Eagle River

John Laurence Brassell

The issue of homelessness is complex and daunting. I believe in giving a hand up, not a hand out. Unlike the current administration, I believe the best way to address this problem is through the private sector. We need to encourage and engage with community partners to provide skills training and development opportunities for those willing and able to work to improve their circumstances.

Fred Dyson

The "homeless problem" is difficult and nearly impossible to solve. A significant portion of the homeless population has real mental health problems that take time and resources (read money) to solve. None of that will happen without the involved person being able to work diligently toward being clean, sober and mentally capable. The city spends enormous amounts of money keeping homeless people from freezing to death. Ethan's "housing first" plan has apparently been helpful in other states, but the published costs per apartment here appear to be way out of line and there is no ready sources of money to pay for it.

Gretchen Wehmhoff

Homelessness increases crime, addiction and, sadly, death in all areas of Anchorage. It has become more prevalent in Chugiak-Eagle River. We must find data-driven ways to help our homeless find help while maintaining public safety. Karluk Manor has shown a decrease in repeat police calls and has given those with alcohol addiction a chance to find recovery, although not all have found it. Still, every time a camp is displaced, lawn furniture and tarps go missing from nearby resident homes. Observing other city's successes and strategizing for our northern climate is important. We must continue to be vigilant.

Patrick Donnelly

Did not respond to questions.

District 3: West Anchorage

Tim Steele

Yes. The new mayor/administration and many other Anchorage groups have applied for, and obtained national grants. We are organizing and building a system that is flexible and comprehensive and has a great possibility of success for our residents in need.

David Nees

The expense of Housing First is prohibitive. The homeless count increased, and is concentrated mostly in one Assembly district. This has been a money windfall for nonprofits, and they are not motivated to reduce homelessness. I attended the Governor's Council on the Homelessness and was disappointed to learn the focus was on how to get more money from the feds, not on ending homelessness. I believe Anchorage needs to focus on helping working, low-income single parents find affordable housing; this is a better investment.

District 4: Midtown

Don Smith

Did not address the question in a factual way.

Ron Alleva

I totally disagree with the administration's addressing of the homelessness issue. For 36 years, I've opened my home and business, which are next to Brother Francis Shelter and Bean's, to the homeless. During any one of those years, I have employed over 150 homeless. I can tell you from my experience that programs like Housing First don't work and burdening Fairview with the heavy load of social services is wrong. Nothing is "first" in addressing this issue; it is complex and must be aggressively addressed from all avenues. Enabling the subculture of homeless to grow is not a solution

Felix Rivera

For years, Anchorage residents have called upon the municipality to take serious action to target and eradicate homelessness. I'm thankful that the Berkowitz administration is taking this call to action seriously and has devoted resources to these efforts, with the goal of eradicating chronic homelessness. We should be using innovative tactics and the leading research to address homelessness. That means supporting Housing First with a holistic approach that includes rehabilitative services. I have also been a proponent of looking at creative solutions, which have had a proven track record in the Lower 48 — for example, tiny home villages.

Marcus Sanders

Yes, I agree with and support any program that supports homeless people being housed. We could house every homeless person today. We have vacant rooms, apartment, and homes in Anchorage right now. As your assemblyman, I'm willing to work with private investment groups, real estate company's public, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and law enforcement to solve this problem.

District 5: East Anchorage

Pete Petersen

Yes, I agree with his homeless policies. The homeless problem was allowed to grow in past years and now it has become a much more difficult problem to solve. Several other cities around the country have successfully used the Housing First model to greatly reduce their number of homeless. In the last two years we've moved 180 people out of homelessness and many are now gainfully employed and living productive independent lives. There are still 200 or more homeless so we have more work to do but we are headed in the right direction.

Don Jones

Homelessness is an epidemic in our community, and I commend the Berkowitz administration for trying to solve the problem. I do disagree, however, with the notion that spending more taxpayer money will solve this problem. Our homeless men and women need opportunities to find work, and that happens when our economy is strong. I'll work with Mayor Berkowitz to solve this problem, but I won't rubber stamp tax increases that would only make Anchorage a more unaffordable place to live.

District 6: South Anchorage

Suzanne LaFrance

The transition to a Housing First model has created a more efficient and effective process toward self-sustainability. It is cheaper than emergency shelter and responses. It saves lives and saves the city money. I agree with the additional focus on data-driven homeless camp counts, as well as the camp cleanup programs that make our parks safer for everyone.

Albert Fogle

Homelessness is a chronic problem; the municipality must be innovative in addressing many complicated issues. I am in favor of the Housing First program due to the cost savings to the municipality, as long as their facility locations are close to the essential services residents may require in the respective area. Every neighborhood needs to do their part. The municipality needs to look beyond creating another government-run program to manage the homeless population. The city needs to work closely with the federal government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, the faith-based community and Native corporations to address this issue.

Tomorrow: Taxes and revenue. 

Hundreds jailed as Russia sees its biggest unsanctioned protests in years

1 hour 28 min ago

MOSCOW – A wave of unsanctioned rallies swept across Russia on Sunday to protest corruption in the government of President Vladimir Putin, in a nationwide show of defiance not seen in years, and one the Kremlin had tried in vain to prevent with bans and warnings.

Too angry to be cowed, they poured into the street, fed up with their country's wide-reaching corruption and a government unwilling, or unable, to stop it. Police responded with barricades, tear gas and mass arrests in cities across Russia.

By Sunday evening, riot police in body armor and helmets hauled in more than 700 demonstrators in central Moscow, as the crowd, numbering in the tens of thousands, cheered and whistled and chanted, "Shame! Shame!"

One of the first detained in Moscow was the chief architect of the rallies, Alexei Navalny, who called on people to come to protest in the wake of his allegations that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed vineyards, luxury yachts and lavish mansions worth more than $1 billion.

Authorities charged Navalny and other members of his Moscow-based Anti-corruption Foundation with extremism; one of his group was charged with broadcasting the rally illegally. If that's the case, a lot of people are going to be in trouble; thousands of iPhones recorded as police closed off central Pushkin Square, lined major streets and hauled anyone carrying signs into large buses. Also among the detained was American Alec Luhn, an accredited reporter for the Guardian.

A man with a sign that read "We Found Your Money" and depicted drawings of the luxury boats and estates mentioned in Navalny's report was dragged down and carried off by police seconds after he took the sign out.

"This is all about corruption, everyone here knows that all of our leaders are thieves," said Vitaly Kerzunov, a protester who had come to Moscow from Belgorod, about 400 miles to the south. He wanted to take out his own poster, wrapped in a black plastic bag, but he feared arrest.

Fear was one thing authorities were counting on to keep people away. On Friday, senior Russian police official Alexander Gorovoi warned that authorities would "bear no responsibility for any possible negative consequences" for people who do show up. Putin's spokesman said that even telling people to come to the rallies was "illegal."

Instead, the demonstrations appear to amount to the largest coordinated protests in Russia since the street rallies that broke out in 2011 and 2012 after a parliamentary election that opposition leaders decried as fraudulent.

State-run television was silent about the rallies throughout the day, but pictures posted on social media sites like Twitter suggested that sizable rallies were underway across the country, and unofficial news agencies like the Riga-based Meduza carried extensive updates.

The privately owned Interfax news agency reported on rallies across Siberia and in Russia's Far East, where it said two dozen protesters had been detained. The agency cited police as saying about 7,000 protesters gathered in Moscow, but the crowd, which lined Moscow's main artery, Tverskaya Street, on both sidewalks for more than a mile, and crammed the spacious Pushkin Square, appeared to be much larger than that.

For some time the protesters blocked the street, until Interior Ministry troops in combat gear pushed them off. An irritant gas similar to tear gas was fired off; police later reported that it was someone in the crowd. A loudspeaker for about an hour after the rally began asked protesters who came out "on this spring Sunday" to go "express their will as citizens" at a park away from the center. Later, as scores of riot police filled the square, the message became more strident.

"You are participants in an unsanctioned demonstration," the voice intoned. "Consider the consequences."

Protesters responded by the thousands in the 21st-century way: They bombarded officers with selfies and videos. One grim-faced lieutenant in urban camouflage cracked a grin as told the Post, "I must have been photographed 1,000 times today; no wait, much more than that." Then he posed for another.

The Moscow protest presented an odd juxtaposition of anger and outdoor party. High school age children danced and laughed at the long lines of police as the crowd cheered, then led everyone in a chant "You can't jail us all!" When a young man held up a pair of yellow rubber ducks – a reference to a detail in Navalny's report that ducks have their own house at one of the lavish estates allegedly owned by Medvedev – he was immediately dragged off.

"Shame, shame," screamed the schoolchildren. "Shame!" joined in a small group of pensioners.

Official Moscow has dismissed Navalny, who has said he will run for president in 2018, as a widely reviled nuisance whose allegations are an attention-grabbing stunt. Putin, who almost certainly will run for reelection, is hoping for a landslide to validate his six years of authoritarian rule, during which time the economy has slid but Russia has asserted itself militarily in Syria and Ukraine.

One of the slogans for Sunday's rallies is "No one showed up," a reference to the dismissal by authorities of Navalny's popular support.

A young Muscovite couple, who gave only their first names, Alexei and Olga, had brought their 1-year-old daughter, Agata. Weren't they afraid?

"We wanted the leaders to see that we're here," Alexei said. "And we had no one to leave her with."

Navalny, who emerged as an anti-corruption whistleblower and took a leading role in the street protests that accompanied Putin's 2012 return to the presidency, has been the target of fraud and embezzlement probes he calls politically motivated. In 2013, he was convicted of siphoning money off a lumber sale, a verdict that the European Court of Human Rights declared "prejudicial," saying that Navalny and his co-defendant were denied the right to a fair trial.

In November, Russia's Supreme Court declared a retrial, and Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and handed a five-year suspended sentence in February, which by Russian law would prevent him from running for president.

Andrew Roth in Moscow contributed to this report.

Trump goes after Freedom Caucus, but its leader doesn't hit back

1 hour 36 min ago

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Sunday accused a pair of conservative organizations and a group of hard-right House lawmakers of being at least partially responsible for the collapse of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation's health-care law.

But the House group's leader and another member declined to respond to the criticism in a pair of television interviews.

"Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood& Ocare!" Trump tweeted Sunday morning.

Asked about the tweet on the Sunday news shows, two Freedom Caucus members appeared set on avoiding a confrontation with the president.

"If they're applauding, they shouldn't," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the head of the Freedom Caucus, said of the Democrats on ABC's "This Week." "Because I can tell you, conversations over the last 48 hours are really about how we come together in the Republican Conference and get this over the finish line."

"Instead of doing the blame game, let's get to work," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, another Freedom Caucus member, said on Fox News.

Jordan added: ""We did the country a favor. Because this bill didn't repeal Obamacare."

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended Trump's tweet, saying on Fox that the president "hit the bull's eye" with it.

The Freedom Caucus and the groups Trump mentioned opposed a House GOP health-care bill that leaders pulled Friday after concluding that it did not have enough Republican support to pass. The White House backed the bill and negotiated with the Freedom Caucus.

The Freedom Caucus wanted to amend the bill so that it would go even further in ending key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Priebus said some Republicans are "scrambling" this weekend, mentioning the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group, a coalition of moderate Republicans that also resisted the House bill.

"We can't be chasing the perfect all the time, " he said. The top White House aide repeatedly raised the prospect of potentially working with moderate Democrats on a health-care reform bill at some point.

"We are going to be prepared to lead again, and if Democrats come on board with a plan down the road, we'll welcome that," Priebus said.

But he also noted, "At the end of the day, I believe it's time for the party to start governing."

Democratic leaders say they will work with Republicans on health care only if they drop their efforts to undo the ACA.

"Stop undermining ACA, and we'll work with them," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said on ABC.

Gunfire in crowded Ohio nightclub kills 1, wounds 15

2 hours 11 min ago

CINCINNATI — Gunfire erupted inside a packed nightclub in Cincinnati, Ohio, early Sunday morning, killing one person and injuring 15 others, as an apparent argument that may have started earlier in the day turned violent, authorities said.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said there was no evidence of "a terrorist attack," as with last year's Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida that killed 49 people in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

"However to the victims, what difference does it make?" Cranley said. "People were just going to have a good time and ended up getting shot."

No arrests had been made hours after the shooting took place around 1 a.m. EDT as hundreds of people partied inside Cameo Nightlife. The club has a history of gun violence, including two shootings in 2015, City Manager Harry Black said in a statement.

Authorities believe multiple gunmen were involved in the Sunday morning shooting, which grew out of "some kind of dispute" inside the bar, Police Chief Eliot Isaac said.

The disagreement may have been started earlier in the day, Black said.

"At this point it's unclear exactly what instigated the shooting," police Captain Kimberly Williams said at a televised briefing. "Just a lot of chaos when the shots went off."

Four police officers, who were providing security in the parking lot when the shots rang out, ran into the club and treated victims, the chief said. In addition to those hit by gunfire, several people sustained minor injuries attempting to flee.

Police did not have a good description of the suspects, in part because witnesses were reluctant to cooperate, Williams told WCPO television.

The man who was killed was identified by authorities as 27-year-old O'Bryan Spikes. Two of the injured were in critical condition, a University of Cincinnati Medical Center spokeswoman said. The others hit by gunfire were in stable condition in other area hospitals, and some were treated and released.

Ohio Governor John Kasich sent his condolences and offered state help in the case.

"Saddened to learn about last night's shooting in Cincinnati," Kasich said on Twitter. "Our prayers are with the victims and families of all of those involved."

Cameo Nightlife's Facebook page says it features "College Friday's" for students 18 and older and "Saturday's 21+ grown and sexy night."

The club, a large single-story structure, is a 7-mile (11 km) drive from downtown Cincinnati near the southeast corner of the city, the heart of the second largest metropolitan area in Ohio with more than 2 million residents.

Additional reporting by Melissa Fares and Barbara Goldberg in New York.

Generation after generation, finding community at Eaglecrest Ski Area

2 hours 27 min ago

DOUGLAS — Tall, bald, wearing a semi-waterproof jacket from the 1980s and stretch ski pants from the 1960s, skis perched on his slightly hunched shoulder, Pete Huberth's bowlegged gait progressed through the Eaglecrest Ski Area parking lot on Douglas Island. In his early 80s, both knees, hips and shoulders replaced, our "bionic man" wouldn't miss a day of skiing for anything. And at the end of that day, his eyes gleaming under thick brows the color of fresh-fallen snow, his wide smile won't go away.

Back in early December 2016, on the first day of the ski season, Pete took a freak fall and broke his neck. Two months later, he passed on to the great ski run in the sky. "When I ski I want to ski deep, soft, powdery snow. It is as if you would ski in the sky amongst the clouds transported by the wind," a friend posted on his Facebook page.

Pete was among a long line of passing Eaglecrest elders — people who cherished nothing more than the glee of letting gravity carry them down a snowy slope on slidy things attached to their feet. Ski patroller Willette Janes loved skiing along the trees of a run called the Inside Passage. Poet and 10th Mountain Division veteran Sig Olson passed on the first day of winter in 2008, unable to squeeze in another season.

40th anniversary

People like this created Juneau's city-owned-and-operated ski area, which is marking 40 years in operation this ski season.

Eaglecrest was born at the behest of ski patrollers and Forest Service colleagues Bob Janes and Craig Lindh, the father of world champion and Olympic medalist Hilary Lindh. With a bit of air reconnaissance, they chose Fish Creek Basin as the ideal spot due to accessibility, variety of terrain, exposure and the potential for avalanche-free road access.

The terrain resembles a cross between coastal New Zealand and the Swiss Alps, with a vertical drop of about 1,400 feet. More than 30 trails spread over 640 acres, including open cruisers, challenging chutes, steep faces and bowls.

Our old friend Shaggy calls Eaglecrest a cherished  "community value," with inclusive programs that offer free season passes for all fifth-graders, learn-to-ski lessons for low-income families and programs that bring people living with disabilities to the mountain for lessons and activities.

Eaglecrest is much more than a recreational outlet. It's home of what we consider our extended family. We've seen snow-riding couples become snow-riding families. We've also lost people like Peter, the bighearted snowboard instructor who perished in a tragic kayak accident.

On Easter Sunday, kids on skis and snowboards chase a big purple bunny down trails of scattered candy. On Christmas Eve, a ski school Santa Claus shows up at the lodge and hands out gifts. Of course, in a close-knit community disconnected from the road system, we see the same people at the grocery store we see at the ski area. But Eaglecrest connects us in a special way.

"We so rarely get to see our friends engaged in what they are doing in such a dynamic and focused way," observes my ski buddy Beth. "I can spot someone from the lift and it brings me real joy to see them experiencing the present moment so intensely."

Thanks to climate change, we hadn't seen a lot of our friends at Eaglecrest during the past two years of scant snow. But this year, the snowpack is back — and so are skiers and boarders.

There is no bar at Eaglecrest, so the walk back to your vehicle at the end of the day is often through a gauntlet of gatherings, where the ubiquitous beverage of choice is Rainier beer. Leaning back on the tailgate of his truck, our friend Freddy refers to the tall Rainier in his hand as, "Cropley Lake swill water," for a small well-frozen lake at the base of steep chutes just out of the ski area boundary.

"I missed the family big time," he laments. "It's good to be back together." Steve stokes up his portable propane grill and offers me a fresh-cooked brat.

We moved to the city and borough of Juneau from California in 1992. Back there, a day of skiing could require rising in the middle of the night and making a four-hour drive through traffic. So we couldn't believe another world was a mere 20 minutes from our new Douglas home. It can be rainy, foggy and dark in downtown Juneau and Douglas the same time it's a snowy winter wonderland at Eaglecrest.

There's a bumper sticker: "A bad day of skiing is better than a good day of work."  Local diehards are on the hill even on days when the temperatures rise and the snow is extra heavy or, in lean years, when there's barely enough snow to cover the runs. They see only the good things about being in the mountains.

A standard saying is if you can ski Eaglecrest, you can ski anywhere. A friend who grew up in New York City and learned to ski at Eaglecrest was incredulous at the relatively easy "intermediate" level runs on a recent ski trip to Colorado.

Granted, Eaglecrest has some of the slowest chairlifts in the country and hit-and-miss snow conditions. Hit or miss depends on a narrow temperature gradient, due to our coastal mountain weather. Thirty-eight degrees and raining at sea level could be a 28-degree powder day at Eaglecrest, or a 33-degree mess.

This spring the snow is deeper, the avalanche risk hovering on high alert. Beth and I were recently descending the lower traverse in the West Bowl on what appeared to be fresh powder snow. With the temps just over freezing, we bordered on getting stuck in what's known as Sierra Cement in California. Still, you can't tell the ski conditions from town. You have to go up there.

Going "up there" is how my husband Karl and I and our two adult children, Kaitlyn and Kanaan, spend the better part of our winter weekends. I've taught skiing, my husband's a ski patroller and a Juneau Mountain Rescue volunteer, our daughter grew up on the race team, and our son and his buddies jumped and rode their way through homemade ski and snowboard movies.

The decade our daughter put in with the ski team made her one of the smoothest and most efficient skiers on the hill. In his post-college years, my dad raced a bit with ski clubs in Colorado. He taught me to ski in the Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our kids were 4 and 6 when we moved here, and had just learned to ski in California.

On a recent sunny, cold Saturday, Karl and I boot packed up to the ridge overlooking Admiralty Island, Stephens Passage and endless islands and inlets. There, perched on a rock and reminiscing about shared awkward moments in first grade were Kaitlyn, a nurse, and her friends Linda, a lawyer, and Marnita, a teacher. The Facebook caption of my snapped photo: "Twenty-five years of friendship."

That long ago, my son Kanaan and his good buddy Chris met when they literally collided into each other on the hill. They were 4 and 5. On a recent powder morning they took a break from their fishing and avalanche forecasting jobs and spent the morning together at Eaglecrest. Since middle school they've been part of a pack, one after the other heading downhill with speedy abandon, lining up at natural promontories to take turns launching themselves. "It's the feral method of learning to ski," remarked Sigrid, mother of Will, a mainstay of the gang.

In the years since we've witnessed countless groups of young feral skiers bombing down the hill beneath the chairlift — "little rippers" they're fondly called.

On March 10, North Douglas residents Pat Dryer and Jackie Ebert announced the arrival of their first child, Oliver. Pat is on the ski patrol and also serves as the president of Juneau Mountain Rescue. Jackie is an active skier and volunteer with the rescue group.

No doubt, Oliver is on his way to becoming a little ripper, with a shared love of community that finds joy in sliding on snow.

Freelance writer Katie Bausler is a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage MFA creative writing nonfiction program and a devoted resident of the island kingdom of rainy Douglas, Alaska.

'At the End of the World' tells a shocking tale of murder in the Arctic

3 hours 49 min ago

At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

By Lawrence Millman; Thomas Dunne Books; 2016; 208 pages; $24.99

The Belcher Islands lie in eastern Hudson Bay and are home to an Inuit group who call themselves the Qiqiqtarmiut. Surrounded by shallow waters with many rock outcroppings, they were avoided by mariners, who saw their dangerous shores as a graveyard for ships. Thus despite 300 years of British exploration in the bay, the Belchers remained untouched by Europeans until 1914 when the American Robert Flaherty, who later gained fame filming "Nanook of the North," came looking for ore.

He found little of value, but others followed, including missionaries who briefly alighted, offered lessons on Christianity, and departed.

Fatal seed

For Lawrence Millman, author of numerous books including the northern travel classic "Last Places," it was the missionaries who planted the fatal seed. To the Qiqiqtarmiut, Christianity was an entirely foreign concept. An apocalyptic faith was something they had no cultural ability to understand. What they did understand was that the winter of 1940-41 was a time of hunger. Seals, walrus and even arctic hare disappeared.  

So when an unusually intense meteor shower lit up the sky one night, a shaman named Ouyerack proclaimed himself Jesus Christ and declared the end of the world at hand. Then he announced that one Peter Sala, the best hunter in their midst, was God. Sala thought it over and decided it was true. A new cult was born. Within weeks, three residents who denied the divinity of Ouyerack and Sala were murdered. Six more Qiqiqtarmiut died in what could only be described as a negligent mass homicide tied to the new religion. It wasn't the apocalypse, but the Qiqiqtarmiut could have been forgiven for thinking so.

In "At the End of the World," Millman uses this event as a parable. The collision of European and Christian values with a culture wholly unprepared for them is but one of the stories he is telling. There is also his own time spent on the islands researching the story, which he did in 2001 when the Belchers were still unconnected to the internet and other modern communications systems. Then there's Millman's rage at modern technology itself, which he sees as demolishing our relationship with what remains of nature. But it's an addiction Millman is as hooked on as anyone; for all his condemnations of electronic devices, he repeatedly references his endlessly fruitless Google searches for background on the killings.

The title, then, is not simply stating the obvious, that the murders occurred at a place so remote it might well have been the end of the world. They also signaled the end of the world as the Qiqiqtarmiut had known it. Their cosmology and lifestyles were being replaced. Similarly, for Millman, our world is ending as we detach ourselves from nature and turn our full attention to screens. The thrust of this book is captured in a quote from the renowned Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz that Millman cites early on: "To kill a culture it is often sufficient to bring it into contact with another, particularly if the latter is higher or at least regarded … as higher."

There's a lot going on in this book, and since it spins out in so many directions at once, Millman has chosen to write it in a series of short paragraphs, each one double spaced from the next, each expanding on the previous one and setting up the next in quite logical fashion, despite the fact that a paragraph about the killings might be followed by one discussing the 9/11 attacks, or an examination of a local fungi might be followed by a paragraph concerning screen obsession.

Multi-focused and unfocused

What also sets each of these paragraphs apart is that each can stand alone, removed from the book, and still convey meaning. It makes for a book that flows quickly and seems at times simultaneously multi-focused and unfocused.  

Some sample paragraphs:

In 1910 the Belchers were unmapped, leading Millman to ask:  "Question: Of what value is a map that doesn't have a blank spot on it?"

Regarding an invasive species, Millman writes: "Originally from the Caucasus Mountains, giant hogweed is an alien plant that has outcompeted local plants in many parts of Canada … just as the Christian God, an alien deity in the Canadian North, has outcompeted local deities."

While strolling the beach, "I walked past drift logs lying askew, isolated, or piled high — the de-articulated bones of the sea."

This book is filled with loss. The loss of innocence that the arrival of Christianity brought to the Belchers. The loss of nature. The loss of face-to-face interaction in favor of social media. Even the loss of the culture of the Belchers themselves, which Millman witnessed as the internet arrived. In 2001 when he was doing his research, he learned of the Sept. 11 attacks two days after they happened, when news reached the islands. Now the Belchers are connected to the broader world and no longer so remote.

It's a flawed book. Millman seems ready to give up on us all as lost to our screens, yet as I type these words mushers and cyclists and skiers and walkers are all barreling down the Iditarod Trail. Plenty of people are still drawn to the great beyond. Our culture is changing as it always has, but we still have plenty of doers.  

Worse, Millman appears to wish the Inuit could stay locked in the way they once were. He asks a lot of important questions, but he never asks the people if they oppose the changes.  

He also ignores the obvious: today the Qiqiqtarmiut don't go hungry. Hungry people sometimes do horrible things. The newly introduced apocalyptic faith perhaps provided an easy scapegoat, but the temporary collapse of the subsistence economy that Millman celebrates created the existential fear that led to the murders.  

In this well-written and deeply philosophical book Millman seems to have missed this most elemental point. Hungry people do horrible things. The gods are indifferent.  

David A. James is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer and critic.

Parker, Osborne come up clutch to lift Dimond to 4A boys basketball glory

12 hours 47 min ago

In front of a raucous crowd of more than 4,000 fans, Dimond's Anthony Parker shut everything out, picked up the ball and sank the two biggest free throws of his life Saturday in the 4A boys basketball championship game.

The senior point guard made two free throws in the final 10 seconds to give Dimond its final lead over Wasilla. Parker and teammate Kylan Osborne scored Dimond's final 10 points to lift the Lynx over Wasilla 50-46 in Saturday's state championship at the Alaska Airlines Center.

"I just had to make them for my team," Parker said. "We worked hard all season. It's bringing me to tears I'm so happy right now."

For 10 Dimond returners, it was a second chance after last year's loss to Juneau in the championship. And for the nine Lynx seniors, the championship win was the culmination of a goal that began in middle school.

"We've just been waiting for this since seventh grade," said a teary-eyed Osborne. "Just really emotional right now. What a great season."

The end of the game had everything to be expected in a wild March Madness championship showdown: a comeback, a clutch 3-pointer and big-time free throws in crunch time.

Down by as many as eight in the second half, Wasilla slowly chipped away at Dimond's lead to make it close again in the fourth quarter.

An old-fashioned three-point play by Wasilla's Isaac Houck brought the top-seeded Warriors within three at 35-32 late in the third quarter.

The momentum carried over into the fourth and Wasilla took its first lead since early in the second quarter on a layup by Reilly Devine that made it 41-40 with four minutes to play.

[Wasilla girls use coach's 'bag of tricks' to repeat as 4A champions]

The teams traded free throws and Wasilla led by two when Osborne hit his biggest 3 of the game to halt Wasilla's surge and put Dimond up 44-43.

"I felt good all game, but I didn't get many looks," said Osborne, the son of UAA men's basketball coach Rusty Osborne. "They left me open on that one (and) I took advantage of it."

Parker followed up Osborne's triple with a steal and a layup that made it 46-43 Dimond with 60 seconds to go.

But Wasilla bounced back with a layup from Kobe Brown and they had a chance to take a lead when Dimond fouled Warriors guard Aeron Milliron with 12.5 seconds left on the clock.

Milliron made the first free throw to tie the game at 46-46, but he missed the second one coming out of a timeout.

The rebound went to Dimond, and Milliron intentionally fouled Parker by mistake, leading to Parker's go-ahead free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining.

Wasilla coach Ryan Engebretsen said Milliron's foul was a mistake in the heat of the moment.

"(He) just got caught up, missed the free throw and everything we had just talked about (was gone)," Engebretsen said. "It's really tough for him and I just want him to be strong and know that we still have a lot of confidence in him."

Parker said he was surprised when he got fouled.

"He was coming at me and I was just trying to blow past him," Parker said. "I was going to the hoop trying to get a bucket."

[Photos: 3A and 4A Alaska state championship basketball]

Wasilla had another chance to score with 9.6 seconds remaining, but the Warriors couldn't get the shot off. Dimond trapped Wasilla's Daniel Headdings in the corner and Osborne intercepted the pass and was fouled.

Osborne made two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining and Wasilla's ensuing full-court shot was well off the mark.

Tears streamed down faces of players on both teams after the buzzer sounded. Wasilla players consoled each other, while Dimond celebrated their victory with their fans.

Parker and Osborne each tallied 11 points for the Lynx. Parker added five rebounds and five steals and Osborne went 3 of 3 from beyond the arc.

Senior forward Eric Jenkins chipped in six points and six rebounds.

Wasilla was paced by Milliron (14 points), Devine (11) and Brown (10).

Dimond needed an overtime victory over East in the semifinals and some late-game heroics by a couple veteran players to secure their first title in five years.

"For so many to have been in the championship game a year ago, I think they came back determined," Dimond coach Brad Lauwers said. "East beat us twice and I think that motivated us a lot. Opponents like East and Wasilla, they really push you to be your best."

Ketchikan 79, East 71

Jake Smith and Brent Taylor combined for 52 points to propel Ketchikan past East 79-71 in the third place game.

The Kings trailed 39-37 at halftime but soared into the lead with a 27-11 advantage in the third quarter.

Smith scored 29 points and Taylor garnered 23 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. The Kings outrebounded the T-birds 36-27.

East was led by Jaron Williams (23 points) and Moses Miller (16 points, 9 assists).

Juneau 65, Bartlett 64

A big fourth-quarter comeback and 24 points from Bryce Swofford lifted Juneau over Bartlett in the fourth-place game.

The Crimson Bears, last season's state champions, overcame a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

Erik Kelly (14 points) and Ulyx Bohulano (11) joined Swofford in double figures for Juneau.

Anthony Camacho led Bartlett with 19 points. Latraviaus Kingsland added 14 and Ryan Trailer supplied 12.

All-Tournament team

Anthony Parker, Dimond
Trey Huckabay, East
Moses Miller, East
Brent Taylor, Ketchikan
Erik Kelly, Juneau
Eric Jenkins, Dimond
Reilly Devine, Wasilla
Jake Smith, Ketchikan
Anthony Camacho, Bartlett
Isaac Houck, Wasilla

Everything's coming undone for the Alaska Aces, winless in 6 straight

Sat, 2017-03-25 23:36

Everything's unraveling for the Alaska Aces, and their 5-2 loss to the Rapid City Rush on Saturday night was just the latest string to be pulled.

The Aces' loss at Sullivan Arena stretched their winless streak overall to six games (0-4-2). It also extended their franchise-worst, home-ice winless streak to 10 games (0-8-2), double the previous longest slice of home-ice hell, a five-game losing streak to start the 2014-15 season.

And their ECHL playoff positioning is tenuous. The Aces' defeat, combined with victories by the Missouri Mavericks and Utah Grizzlies earlier Saturday, reduced them to a fourth-place tie in the Mountain Division with Missouri and sliced their lead on Utah to one point.

Matters became more undone postgame. As coach Rob Murray walked across the rink toward the gate leading to a hallway and the team's dressing room, a man in the south stands shouted at him. Murray stopped, turned and exchanged words with the man.

Murray eventually continued toward the gate. A man in the north stands then shouted at him — witnesses said the man repeatedly called Murray an expletive. Murray eventually marched into the stands, apparently to confront the man, who descended a couple steps in Murray's direction. Murray's progress was stopped by Louis Mass, his former assistant coach and a current UAA assistant coach, and security intervened with the fan.

Murray could face discipline from the ECHL. Possible sanctions include a suspension and fine.

Murray declined comment about the confrontations.

It was less than three months ago — Jan. 2, to be exact — that the Aces, currently 30-25-10, were 18-7-5, one point out of first place and 14 points on the safe side of playoff positioning. But they've gone 12-18-5 since.

They enjoyed a strong road trip (5-3-2) directly after management last month announced financial losses will prompt them to fold the club at season's end after 14 seasons in the ECHL. Since that three-week, 10-game road trip, though, they are 0-4-1, all at home.

Granted, their leading goal scorer, Peter Sivak, missed 19 games with a lower-body injury and has only been back for the last four games. Stephen Perfetto, still their leading scorer, missed games with injury and is currently up in the American Hockey League. Top-six forward Tim Wallace is also up in the AHL, as is goaltender Michael Garteig.

Still, injuries and promotions hit most ECHL teams — that's life on the circuit two rungs below the NHL.

And it's not as if the Aces have lacked opportunity. They unleashed 50 shots Friday in a 2-1 loss to Rapid City, but Rush goalie Adam Morrison delivered his ECHL career-high for saves with 49. Saturday, Rush goalie Luke Siemens won his pro debut with 43 saves.

"Miserable, miserable,'' said Aces center Tim Coffman. "When you can't score, it just gets frustrating.''

Alaska has been held to two or fewer goals in five of six games in its winless streak. Their power play, which got a goal from Yan-Pavel Laplante on Saturday, has converted twice in 23 chances in that span.

"When you're outshooting teams 2-to-1 and only putting in one or two goals, that's tough,'' said Aces rookie defenseman Chase Van Allen. "Guys have to find a way to step up and get a greasy goal, myself included. I could have had two goals tonight.

"You get frustrated and it starts to build. We've got to find a way to alleviate that.''

Saturday marked the fourth time in Alaska's six-game winless skid that it never led. In that stretch, the Aces have also lost a shootout in a game in which they led for nearly 53 of 65 minutes played. And they've lost an overtime game in which they never trailed until Colorado plunged in the OT dagger.

Laplante's power-play goal cut Rapid City's lead to 3-2 with 2:53 to go.

But the Rush, who earlier received Geoff Fortman's first pro goal, Marcus Ortiz's first pro goal and a goal from Mike Monfredo, regained a two-goal lead on a strike from rookie winger Hunter Fejes of Anchorage with 1:08 to go. Fejes was also awarded an empty-net goal just before the buzzer.

"We weren't good enough,'' Murray said.

Rapid City's victory extended its faint playoff hopes for the second straight night. The next point the Rush surrender will eliminate them from playoff contention.

The Aces and Rush close their three-game series Sunday with a matinee at 3:05 p.m.

Now, the Aces are enduring a tenuous position in the race to the playoffs.

And they are not trending well.

Shuffling the deck

Murray pulled goaltender Kevin Carr after he surrendered Ortiz's goal midway through the third period, which furnished Rapid City a 3-1 lead. Into the game went Drew O'Connell of Anchorage, a firefighter who played at Colorado College and has occasionally worked for the Aces and for visiting teams in a pinch.

Rookie forward Jory Mullin made his pro debut after the Aces signed him out of Neumann College, where his 26 goals as a senior lead all Division III players.

Saturday's loss snapped a strong of five consecutive one-goal losses for the Aces.

Rapid City 0  2  3   5

Aces 0  1  1   2

First Period — None. Penalties – Walters, Rapid City (hooking), 8:37; Laplante, Aces (hooking), 18:38.

Second Period – 1, Rapid City, Fortman 1 (Walters, Horn), 1:36; 2, Aces, Moynihan 21 (Olczyk, Lake), 6:55; 3, Rapid City, Monfredo 4 (Horn, Wallin), 14:19. Penalties – Weselowski, Rapid City (hooking), 10:58; Cooper, Rapid City (tripping), 15:10.

Third Period – 4, Rapid City, Ortiz 1, 10:18; 5, Aces, Laplante 8 (Sivak, Coffman), 17:07 (pp); 6, Rapid City, Fejes 15 (Rothstein, Fortman), 18:52; 7, Rapid City, Fejes 16 (Cooper), 19:59 (en). Penalties – Grant, Rapid City (holding), 5:40; Navin, Aces (slashing), 7:42; Aces bench minor, served by Navin (too many men), 12:51; Descoteaux, Aces (tripping), 14:01; Fortman, Rapid City (hooking), 15:52.

Shots on goal – Rapid City 5-12-5—22. Aces 18-11-16—45.

Power-play Opportunities – Rapid City 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 4.

Goalies – Rapid City, Siemens, 1-0-0 (45 shots-43 saves). Aces, Carr, 16-19-5 (19-16); O'Connell, enter 10:18 3rd period (2-1).

A – 4,403 (6,399). T – 2:20.

Referee – Chris Pontes. Linesmen – Scott Sivulich, Josh Ellis.

Meals on Wheels panic: Give 'em hell, but do it with the facts

Sat, 2017-03-25 22:00

No, the president's proposed budget would not kill Meals on Wheels.

You've probably read headlines and social media posts in the past couple of days that said otherwise, and you may have joined the outraged wail.

There was the headline on the Occupy Democrats website: "Trump Just Announced Plan To End Funding For 'Meals On Wheels' For Seniors." The story described it as "a popular program facing elimination."

Several prominent websites, including msn.com, ran the headline: "Trump's Budget Would Kill a Program That Feeds 2.4 Million Senior Citizens."

Kill. Feeds. Seniors. Those are potent words.

What decent person would allow the elderly to starve? What kind of devil would demand it? What good citizen wouldn't post news of the atrocity on Facebook, ASAP?

But the claim doesn't quite add up.

[Does Trump's budget gut Meals on Wheels? His budget director says no]

There are plenty of reasons to fear and protest the president's proposed budget. The plan is likely to hurt the young, the old, the poor, the sick, the arts, the lakes, the air, the rivers, every region and everybody but the zillionaires and drone makers. But there's no evidence it's going to kill Meals on Wheels.

And yet Meals on Wheels quickly became the rallying point in the protest against the budget's sweeping awfulness.

Why?

For starters, there are those overblown headlines and stories, like the one from the Dallas TV station that reported Meals on Wheels would lose "all of its federal funding."

That's false. At the same time, the truth is complicated.

True: The proposed budget would eliminate a federal block grant program that provides money to states. That's the budget cut that stirred up the storm. A small percentage of the program's money goes to Meals on Wheels.

Also true: The network of local Meals on Wheels providers gets most of its federal money — 35 percent of its budget — from a different program. The program also is targeted for Trump's cuts, but it's not going away.

Also true: Meals on Wheels gets significant money from sources outside the federal government. Losing a portion of its federal funds would be a heavy blow, but that's not the same as being killed.

I oppose almost everything this president stands for, and I, too, was startled by the Meals on Wheels death alarm when I first heard it. Thinking I might write a column about it, I went searching for verification.

Hmm. The New York Times hadn't reported it in such stark terms. Snopes, the fact-checking website, rated the claim as a mix of true and false.

And the widespread claim that the White House budget director said Meals on Wheels was "just not showing results"? After watching the video of the press briefing, I agree with the Washington Post's fact checker who wrote, "it appears his comments have been misinterpreted."

But the early, hyped headlines made instant believers out of many people, and Meals on Wheels — a worthy cause with a pithy name — made easy shorthand for the broader cruelties of the new budget.

As the dismay built — Meals on Wheels is axed! — we saw heartrending photos of the frail elderly sitting with meal trays. We saw photos of other senior citizens delivering their lunches and dinners. Stories were traded of what Meals on Wheels means to so many of us.

And that's another reason Meals on Wheels has taken on such symbolic power: Here's a cause millions of us can connect with. Not everyone would empathize with the homeless, but the recipients of Meals on Wheels? They look like our parents and grandparents. They are our parents and grandparents.

In my social media feeds, I heard tales of the program's great volunteers and appreciative recipients. I was going to add my story, how in the final weeks of the life of an old woman I loved, the highlight of her day was the 11 a.m. arrival of the Meals on Wheelsman. She perked up when she saw his van pull into the driveway, and though the food wasn't great, it was warm, and the deliveryman's daily appearance was a bright spot in her dimming world.

I still want to tell that story. It's a reminder that there are people who need our collective help, that Meals on Wheels is one of the services that provides it. The need for it is growing. I'd hate to see it take a big hit.

But when we protest, we're more effective when we're clear on what we're talking about. Good intentions don't validate bad information.

There is, however, some good to come from the confusion.

Donations to Meals on Wheels and volunteer sign-ups are reported to be surging.

Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Email, mschmich@tribune.com. Twitter.com/maryschmich; facebook.com/maryschmich.

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. 

Wasilla girls use coach's 'bag of tricks' to repeat as 4A champions

Sat, 2017-03-25 21:21

With a week left in the season, Wasilla Warriors girls basketball coach Jeannie Hebert-Truax introduced a couple of new defenses to her team.

"She threw some crazy new defenses at us," junior Azlynn Brandenburg said, "and I mean, they worked."

"She was spot on," sophomore Olivia Davies said.

And how.

Wasilla won its second straight Class 4A state championship — its fifth in seven years — by silencing the often explosive Dimond Lynx 51-34 in front of a noisy Alaska Airlines Center crowd Saturday night.

The Warriors (26-1) limited the Lynx (25-3) to two points in the second quarter and six points in the fourth quarter. They held the Lynx to 28 percent shooting, including 20 percent in the second half. They prevented 4A Player of the Year Alissa Pili of Dimond from operating with ease inside the paint, as she typically does, and held her to 13 points and seven rebounds, well below her averages.

For a span of eight minutes — roughly the last six minutes of the second quarter and the first two minutes of the third quarter — Wasilla didn't allow Dimond to score a single point.

Hebert-Truax said she added new defensive schemes last week in preparation for the state tournament, where Wasilla took down Ketchikan 53-31 in the first round and then survived a 46-38 battle against East in the semifinals.

"They said, 'Why are we doing this?' I said because I need a bag of tricks," Hebert-Truax said. She said she used some of them to get past East, and some of them to get past Dimond.

Dimond grabbed a 16-11 first-quarter lead behind an active offense that included two early layups from Victoria Johansen, sharp shooting from Janna Hajdukovich, who scored six of her 11 points that quarter, and six points from Pili.

Hajdukovich made it 18-11 with an 18-foot jumper to start the second quarter, and Wasilla came up empty on its first two possessions, the second of which ended with a block by Pili with about 5:30 left in the half.

It was nearly all Wasilla after that.

Pili picked up her second foul with five minutes before halftime and the Warriors went on a 9-0 run while she was on the bench to grab a 20-18 lead.

But even when Pili returned, Wasilla kept rolling. It held a 24-18 lead at halftime, at which point senior McKenna Dinkel decided it was time to remind her team about last year. In last season's state title game, Wasilla survived a big fourth-quarter rally by the Lynx to pull out a 44-40 victory.

"I told them we need to come out strong, because we know they can come back," said Dinkel, one of six seniors on the team.

Dinkel's halftime pep talk marked the second time the Warriors were inspired by locker room talk Saturday. Before the game, assistant coach and athletic director Stacia Rusted — the 1992 Player of the Year at Kenai Central — delivered a stirring speech about opportunities and not squandering them.

"It was really inspirational," Dinkel said. "She told us not to take where we were for granted. It was really special. Really emotional."

The Warriors learned throughout the season not to take anything for granted. Injuries and illnesses plagued them all season, and on Saturday two key players — seniors Willow Drorbaugh and Mallory Wheeler — were on the bench with injuries. Drorbaugh recently had surgery for a torn ACL and Wheeler suffered an ankle sprain in Thursday's game against Ketchikan. Brandenburg played despite a knee injury that will require surgery now that the season is over, Hebert-Truax said.

"We went from a rotation of nine to a rotation of six," she said. "The kids played great. I'm so proud of them."

Davies led Wasilla with a game-high 18 points, Dinkel was good for 11 points and eight rebounds, Catherine Baham scored 10 points and hit two big triples, Brandenburg turned in seven points and Cheyenne Green handed out five assists, including three on three straight possessions to help Wasilla build a 34-22 lead midway through the third quarter.

Though Dimond played some tough defense when Wasilla slowed down the game in the fourth quarter, the Warriors seldom turned over the ball. And when Dimond resorted fouling them in the final couple of minutes, the Warriors drained eight of 10 free throws in the final 90 seconds.

Two of them came from Wheeler, a senior who sat on the bench with her left ankle in a soft cast until she checked into the game with about 30 seconds left. "We wanted to be up by 10 points so she could come in," Dinkel said.

With 15.4 seconds left, Wheeler drew a foul and sank both free throws — the final points of the game.

"It's pretty painful," Wheeler said later as she received treatment for the injury. "But I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm so happy I could play in my final game and win with my teammates."

East 45, Colony 35

Tennae Voliva racked up 20 points and 10 rebounds to power the East T-birds to third place with a 45-35 win over Colony.

Voliva, who added four steals and two blocks, helped East outrebound the Knights 33-23.

Kali Bull paced Colony with 17 points.

Chugiak 44, Lathrop 41

Chugiak held on for a 44-41 victory over Lathrop to capture fourth place.

Ashlynn Burgess provided 11 points, 11 rebounds and three steals and Nicole Pinckney supplied 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals for the Mustangs.

Tyra Do's 17 points and seven rebounds and Cheyenne Dibert's eight points and 15 rebounds sparked Lathrop.

With healthcare bill dead, Republicans turn to taxes

Sat, 2017-03-25 20:02

WASHINGTON — After failing to repeal Obamacare, Republicans in the U.S. Congress quickly pivoted on Friday to President Donald Trump's next priority: overhauling the federal tax code, but their plan has already split the business community.

Division among Republicans was the chief cause of the embarrassing setback on Obamacare, and similar fault lines have been evident for months in the Republicans' tax plan, mainly over an untested proposal to use the tax code to boost exports.

House of Representatives tax committee Chairman Kevin Brady conceded the demise of a Republican plan to roll back Obamacare could make the path to tax reform harder. "This made a big challenge more challenging. But it's not insurmountable," he told Fox News after Ryan canceled a vote on an Obamacare rollback bill.

But Brady said he and House Speaker Paul Ryan are all-in on tax reform.

Brady said House Republicans plan to begin moving on tax reform this spring and to pass legislation before Congress's summer recess in late July.

"We're going to work with the administration to get this done," he said.

Trump has been unclear about his position on the most problematic feature of the House Republicans' tax "blueprint," a proposal known as the border adjustment tax that would cut taxes on exports and raise them on imports.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that tax reform in many ways is "a lot simpler" than healthcare reform.

"We're able to take the tax code and redesign things and I think there is very, very strong support," Mnuchin said at an event hosted by news website Axios.

Comprehensive tax reform is a policy goal so complex that it has defied successive Congresses and presidents since 1986 when it was last accomplished under former President Ronald Reagan.

The U.S. tax code is riddled with narrow subsidies and loopholes, many of them deeply embedded in the economy and defended by the interests they benefit, such as the mortgage interest deduction and the business interest deductibility.

Brady's panel has been working on a plan since mid-2016 that would cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, end taxing foreign profits for U.S.-based multinationals and cut other tax rates for businesses and investors.

The plan has divided businesses, prompting import-dependent industries to warn of higher prices for consumer goods from clothing and electronics to gasoline.

Brady has been adamant that border adjustment will be part of the House tax reform, saying earlier this week that the provision was "a given" for final legislation but would include a transition period for import-heavy industries.

She thought Trump would deport 'bad hombres.' Instead, he's deporting her law-abiding husband.

Sat, 2017-03-25 19:58

When Helen Beristain told her husband she was voting for Donald Trump last year, he warned her that the Republican nominee planned to "get rid of the Mexicans."

Defending her vote, Beristain quoted Trump directly, noting that the tough-talking Republican said he would kick only the "bad hombres" out of the country, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Months later, Roberto Beristain — a successful businessman, respected member of his Indiana town and the father of three American-born children — languishes in a detention facility with hardened criminals as he awaits his deportation back to Mexico, the country he left in 1998.

"I wish I didn't vote at all," Helen Beristain told the Tribune. "I did it for the economy. We needed a change."

Critics on the left have blasted Helen Beristain for not taking the president's rhetoric seriously and allowing his administration to plunge the country into what they consider a chaotic and inhumane immigration debacle. Critics on the right have inundated the family with racist threats and attacked Beristain for giving refuge to the love of her life, a man they consider a foreign interloper.

Caught somewhere in the middle of the fiery political clash are people like Roberto Beristain — individuals who have built a successful life inside the confines of the fuzzy, legal limbo in which they exist. Supporters say the 43-year-old has never broken the law and doesn't have so much as a parking ticket on his record. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the conservative community that the Beristains call home, called him "one of its model residents."

But Beristain's model citizenship didn't stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from arresting him when he showed up for his annual meeting with the agency on Feb. 6. Beristain — who had obtained a Social Security card, a work permit and a driver's license — was expecting to return home to his family and business.

Instead, he was taken into custody, setting off a last-ditch effort by family members and multiple lawyers to free him from ICE custody. Thus far, those efforts have failed. Family members told the Tribune that ICE officials had informed them that Beristain would be deported Friday.

Beristain has been in the United States since 1998, when he visited an aunt in California and decided not to return to Mexico, according to the Tribune. He would go on to marry his wife, start a family and put down roots in Indiana, where he is the owner of a popular restaurant called Eddie's Steak Shed, which employs 20 American citizens, advocates told The Washington Post. He has worked at the restaurant for the past eight years and bought it from his sister-in-law in January.

In 2000, the ICE spokeswoman said, a federal immigration judge granted him "voluntary departure" for a 60-day period. Because he didn't leave the United States during that 60-day period, Beristain's "voluntary departure order reverted to a final order of removal," the spokeswoman said.

And yet, by cooperating with ICE officials, Beristain was able to lead a normal life in plain view, one that included a work permit and a driver's license. He even has a Social Security number that says "Valid only with Department of Homeland Security authorization," the Tribune reported.

Jason Flora, an Indianapolis lawyer who has worked on Beristain's case, said that, under his previous agreement with DHS, Beristain had an "order of supervision," which allows immigrants with a removal order to remain in the country for a humanitarian reason, such as having sole custody of children or taking care of family members.

"Essentially," Flora said, "they're saying you're not bad enough to be deported."

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, the family's spokesman, Chicago lawyer Adam Ansari, told The Post that ICE officials had told him that Beristain would be moved from his current location inside a county jail in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to New Orleans, where he'll be held another two weeks before being deported to Mexico.

The situation is always fluid and accurate information is often hard to come by, Ansari said. What was clear, he said, was that the entire process since Beristain's arrest had been "inhumane" and that the Beristain family is "distraught."

"How do you explain this to children," he said, noting that Beristain's children are 15, 14 and 8 years old. "Trying to explain this to children from the immigrant community has been really hard. You're telling them that their loved one is in jail not because they did something wrong, but because of their country of origin and what they look like.

"This is hurting the entire community and people are scared," he added.

Reached by email, an ICE spokeswoman said Beristain "remains in ICE custody pending his removal to Mexico."

"For operational security reasons, ICE does not release information regarding upcoming removals," she added.

Stories such as Beristain's — in which law-abiding parents are deported because of their immigration status — have inundated the news media in recent months. The Twitter account "Trump Regrets" has amassed nearly 260,000 followers by retweeting disappointed and angry Trump voters.

"Previously," as The Post's Samantha Schmidt and Sarah Larimer reported last month, "the Obama administration prioritized the deportation of people who were violent offenders or had ties to criminal gangs. Trump's executive order on Jan. 25 expanded priorities to include any undocumented immigrants who had been convicted of a criminal offense."

"Personally, I think the president should be giving him a handshake," said Flora, the lawyer who had worked with Beristain. "Either Trump was lying when he said we were only deporting bad guys or Trump's view of bad guys is so expansive it can literally include every single immigrant."

Days after Beristain's arrest, Flora said, he filed a "stay of removal" to prevent deportation, but it was rejected March 15.

"Once the case is finalized and done, there's really no reason to keep him around in their eyes," Flora said, referring to ICE. "They think, 'Why take up jail space for no reason if all the legal options have been exhausted?' "

Flora said the decision to deport Beristain is a "wildly disproportionate" response when measured against the law he broke nearly two decades ago.

"If you asked 100 people to paint you a picture of a bad guy, no one would draw anyone remotely resembling Roberto," he said.

Helen Beristain told the Tribune that — in their effort to get her husband U.S. citizenship — the couple has had 10 attorneys over the past 18 years. Many of those attorneys, she said, told them that they had no choice but to wait for immigration laws to change.

Instead of changing in the couple's favor, the laws evolved to make her husband more vulnerable to deportation, a development the Beristains never expected. She told the Tribune that Trump's deportation measures — the ones she thought her family would be exempt from — are harming "regular people."

"I understand when you're a criminal and you do bad things, you shouldn't be in the country," Helen Beristain told the CBS TV affiliate WSBT. "But when you're a good citizen and you support and you help and you pay taxes and you give jobs to people, you should be able to stay."

"We were for Mr. Trump," she added. "We were very happy he became the president. Whatever he says, he is right. But, like he said, the good people have a chance to become citizens of the United States."

‘Fearless’ Grizzlies earn 1st 3A boys state title in 16 years over previously unbeaten Rams

Sat, 2017-03-25 19:42

The words "fearless joy" are printed across the warm-up jerseys of the Grace Christian basketball team — two words that embodied its first boys state championship in 16 years.

"Fearless" for how the Grizzlies played against unbeaten juggernaut, Monroe Catholic, and "joy" for the emotions that erupted in front of their bench when the final buzzer sounded Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center.

A year after losing in the title game, Grace Christian defeated Monroe Catholic 34-33 to wear its first state crown since 2001.

"Our mindset going in to this game was 'fearless joy,' " said Grace Christian senior Brogan Nieder, who finished with nine points. "We weren't afraid. We played our hearts out, we played for our God and in the end we got the win."

In a game with five second-half lead changes and no lead greater than four points, it came down to the final couple of possessions.

Grace's Tobin Karlberg took the ball to the rim for the go-ahead layup with less than three minutes to play. Then, Grace turned up its defense.

The Grizzlies' relentless zone kept Monroe out of the paint for the final 2 ½ minutes from the game, so the Rams resorted to shooting 3s. Monroe Catholic missed four contested shots from long range in the final 30 seconds, and the Grizzlies held on for the win by holding the Rams to three points in the fourth quarter.

"The last 30 seconds just felt like an eternity," said Karlberg, who finished with a game-high 17 points. "I'm just thankful that our defense was able to get it done."

Karlberg and Nieder were the workhorses for the Grizzlies, combining for 26 of Grace's 34 points. Nieder played the entire game and Karlberg, the Class 3A Player of the Year, sat only 25 seconds.

Karlberg was a perfect 7 of 7 from inside the arc.

[Photos from the 3A and 4A state championship games]

Ryan Brantley (14 points), Isaac Garcia (9 points, 3 of 5 from 3) and Divon Davis (8 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) propelled the Rams.

Surprisingly, neither team attempted a single free-throw. Neither team ever made it into the bonus and of the combined 17 fouls, none were committed in the act of shooting.

"We honestly did a terrible job getting to the line," Karlberg said. "We kind of had to work through that, but I'm just proud of these guys down the stretch getting stop after stop."

Monroe Catholic led for most of the first half, but never by much. Every time one team scored, the other answered.

The Rams led 23-19 at the half, which was largest lead of the game for either team.

The Grizzlies took their first lead of the game early in the second half on a steal and score by Karlberg that made it 24-23. But the Rams retook the lead minutes later on a Davis' score that gave them a 30-28 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Monroe Catholic's only field goal in the fourth quarter was a trey from Brantley that gave the Rams' their final lead at 33-32 with 3:47 to go before the Grizzlies took the lead for good.

"We just had to make one more play," Monroe Catholic coach Frank Ostanik said. "You hurt for your kids because they do everything you ask and they're wonderful."

Ostanik coached the Rams to three consecutive 3A state titles from 2012-14 and an undefeated 30-0 record heading into the championship.

"They just made one more play," he said. "I think Karlberg is the best player in the state. He dominated the game."

When the final buzzer sounded, the Grace players swarmed each other in front of their bench. Then, they lifted their manager/statistician Gergor Limstrom high in the air.

Once the celebration settled down, Boerger went down his line of players, addressing each one and shaking their hand.

"I was just telling them how proud I am, how they played with fearless joy, they played with full hearts and that I'm just so proud of the effort and the buy-in and how much they let me coach them," Boerger said.

The championship win was a long time coming for Grace's third-year head coach. Boerger was an assistant with the Grizzlies during their '01 title.

"That was a long time ago," Boerger said. "I'm so proud of this — it's kind of surreal actually.

"It's not really sinking in yet."

Barrow 57, Valdez 56

Four players reached double figures to help defending champion Barrow survive a late rally by Valdez and earn third place with a 57-56 win.

The Whalers outscored Valdez 21-9 from 3-point range, an effort led by Trevor Thomas, who hit four triples and finished with a game-high 17 points.

Travis Adams provided 11 points, seven assists and four rebounds to make up for nine turnovers and Anthony Fruean and Royhenry Snow each scored 10 points for Barrow.

Valdez, which outscored Barrow 20-11 in the fourth quarter to make things close, was led by Logan Heckathorn's 15 points and Seth Auble's 14.

ACS 52, Bethel 50

Collin Smallwood drained five 3-pointers to lift Anchorage Christian to a 52-50 win over Bethel in the fourth-place game.

ACS used a big fourth quarter to rally past the Warriors, who led 38-32 after three quarters.

Smallwood scored a team-high 19 points, Orlando Lozano chipped in 12 points and Frederick Onochie grabbed nine rebounds for the Lions.

Jayvin Williams led Bethel with 19 points and five rebounds.

ASAA March Madness all-tournament team

Micah Heklenn, Delta

Anthony Fruean, Barrow

Divon Davis, Monroe

Tobin Karlberg, Grace Christian

Seth Auble, Valdez

Jayvin Williams, Bethel

Brogan Nieder, Grace Christian

Travis Adams, Barrow

Izak Lohrke, Monroe

Danilo Guzman, ACS

Anchorage Assembly candidates: Size of police force

Sat, 2017-03-25 19:01

District 1: Downtown

David Dunsmore

I completely support bringing our police force back up to necessary staffing levels. With a fully staffed police force, officers will have time for community policing and being proactive in crime prevention instead of just running from one emergency to another. The best investments I've ever secured for our city have been support for our Community Patrol volunteers, and we should expand this program to neighborhoods throughout Anchorage. For very little capital we can create and support patrols where trained volunteers serve as visible deterrents and use their eyes and ears to prevent crime in their own neighborhoods.

Mark Alan Martinson

With crime on the increase and police response times often slow, we need to dedicate more time for our police to combat crime rather than acting as public-event police. We seem to be a city that celebrates having celebrations; and along with that economic model comes a requirement for more police time, particularly here in Anchorage where there is limited mass transit at later hours. The city also needs to coordinate the city and state agencies to help in the investigation of crimes, and communicate with the citizens who are the real "eyes on the street."

Albert Langdon Swank Jr.

Our local and state enforcement systems, courts, legal codes statutes and jail systems are all involved. Politicians like to state a simple solution for a complicated problem; this city administration is no different to thus obtaining votes. The object is to reduce crime and properly support the measure with its associated needs/changes as required that may include codes, statutes, jail systems, court systems, enforcement systems and the economics. Thus a simple statement is not as implied as stated and is intertwined and needs to be properly developed with the joint involvement of the other parties/agencies as needed with proper priorities.

Warren West

We need an adequate number of police to serve our city. I fully agree with reinstating the two-person downtown foot patrols. I believe each patrol car should have partners when responding to trouble. Right now there are too few covering an area too big.

Christopher Constant

I support Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's effort to bring the police force to a full complement. The problems we face today are byproducts of the strategic disinvestment of a previous administration. Until we get back to a full force, we won't have units for gang, drug and other specialized teams. We can make Anchorage safer by recognizing each of us is responsible for our own safety as much as possible. The best way for the public to ensure safety is to actively engage in our public spaces and also to be connected well with one's neighbors. Neighbors make the difference.

Christopher Cox

On the surface expanding the police force is a great idea. However, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has no idea how to pay for this. He will simply add more and more financial burden to the working man and woman. He will most likely create a new tax of some sort to pay for these officers, rather than cutting his frivolous and out-of-control spending. Instead of asking us to choose between police or snowplows, how about police or flowers? Hiring the new officers is only step No. 1. It is important to remove the ties that bind the police officers and allow them to do their job.

District 2: Chugiak-Eagle River

Gretchen Wehmhoff

Yes, I support increasing the number of police officers. The strain on public safety is real. With cooperation, APD and AST were able to reduce the dangerous influx of Spice last year. That epidemic alone overwhelmed our police, fire, paramedics and hospital emergency departments. We must support the pretrial revisions coming in January 2018 from the latest crime legislation and we need to give APD tools and staff to battle our opioid epidemic. Dealing with drug addiction in a strategy to combat recidivism should reduce the number of violent crimes committed due to illegal drug use and sales.

John Laurence Brassell

I am not against increasing our police force if it is necessary, but I would first like to look at other ways to bring safety and protection to our community before we commit to an increase in spending for additional officers. I am a huge supporter of our local law enforcement and they have my full and utmost respect. I would like to explore new and proven ways to increase security for our community, neighborhoods and schools, like Community Patrols and Neighborhood Watch programs that have training programs provided by law enforcement.

Fred Dyson

Our police force is inadequate for the present situation. The police dispatcher is flooded with calls and  the department is prioritizing calls and sending the available officers to situations where there is injury. Property crimes and nuisance issues get shifted to the bottom of the list. Some citizens have waited eight hours for an officer. The police force may be able to be more effective, but they must have more police on the street. It will take time to recruit and train them, but the real issue is finding the money. Other city services will have to be cut.

Patrick Donnelly

Did not respond to questions.

District 3: West Anchorage

David Nees

The police force numbers are not the issue, public safety is. The mayor and his police chief have not reduced crime nor contained it. If more police officers had made the city safer we would have evidence of that. The distribution of the police resource is the problem. Community policing needs to be implemented to stem crime and be proactive, not reactive. Our current model of police patrols is not effective. The goal should be to make Anchorage safer, not to count officers. When the police identify and then focus on the root cause of crime, our city is safer.

Tim Steele

I support the target of 450 officers. I hope we are able to hire, train and get them on the street while still responding to what has been a tough period of serious crime. We can all help by being vigilant and reporting crime. We have a right to expect safety and security.

District 4: Midtown

Marcus Sanders

It's better to focus on public safety and supporting families, first responders and marginalized communities than to focus on numbers. People want a person that really knows what it takes to make Anchorage a safer place. I've worn the uniform as an APD first responder, I work with our youth five days a week, I know what the concerns are and I can make a difference. It's not about numbers, it's about safety.

Don Smith

I believe that we must provide adequate police services for Anchorage's people and its businesses. Whether the police count should be 397 or 451 — I don't know. I will pledge to make sure everyone in Anchorage is properly served. Police protection is one of our most important public services.

Ron Alleva

I am against the expansion of the police department and I would not support that goal. I believe that Senate Bill 91, the criminal justice reform bill, needs to be repealed. The merry-go-round of "good" police ending with victim suffering and criminals going free has to stop. As for making Anchorage safer, residents must be involved more. More accountability and responsibility on the citizens of Anchorage — if they see it, report it. Crime prevention starts in the home and in our community, not a courtroom.

Felix Rivera

Yes, I support this goal. Based on our population and geography, 450 officers is a necessary force size and will give APD the capacity to be more strategic in how it fights crime. With increased capacity, our police force will be able to bring back foot patrol routes, specialized units, like theft, drug and traffic units, and focus on community action policing and building stronger relationships with neighborhoods. When I talk to my neighbors in Midtown, they are concerned about the quality of life in their neighborhoods. We can and will do better to keep our residents safe.

District 5: East Anchorage

Don Jones

Reducing crime comes down to proper deployment of our police resources and finding a district attorney who is willing to prosecute criminals. Last year there were 2,117 cars stolen in Anchorage, a 73 percent increase from the previous year. This increase is a direct result of provisions in SB 91, the criminal justice reform bill, that essentially gives criminals a pass when they commit certain crimes, such as theft or vandalism. As a city, we need to push back on those provisions, get tough on crime again, and empower our police officers with the tools they need to protect our community. That's what I'll bring to the Assembly.

Pete Petersen

Yes, I support rebuilding the police force to 450 officers and I have worked hard to put more cops on the street. When enough officers are on our police force we can add more people to our specialty units. The gangs, burglary, traffic, and drug units have been greatly reduced, because of too few officers on our force. With our current shortage of officers, they are only able to go from one 911 call to another. Additional officers will allow us to return to community policing to prevent crimes.

District 6: South Anchorage

Albert Fogle

When I speak with constituents from South Anchorage to Girdwood, their primary concern is public safety. The increase in crime is unacceptable to me.  I understand the importance of leadership and working with the public safety department and our citizens to promote safety and security in our neighborhoods. As an Assembly member, I want to use our limited tax dollars wisely and effectively to provide the safe and secure community Anchorage residents deserve. Increasing the number of officers is only part of the solution. During these challenging economic times, we do not need to choose between snowplowing and public safety.

Suzanne LaFrance

I support expanding APD. For a safer Anchorage, we must ask, what's behind the crime rate? Will community policing make a difference? If we don't fund education, then we'll end up funding jails. Strong public schools will help students gain the skills needed to work or continue their education. We need good jobs; we must be hospitable to business and provide an educated workforce. Another factor is drug use. Adults and kids need positive activities — both physical and mental — and places to engage in those activities. Recreation centers, trails and libraries are all necessary to make Anchorage safer.

Tomorrow: The candidates are asked about the way the Berkowitz administration is addressing homelessness.

You don't have to wait for spring to make something fresh

Sat, 2017-03-25 18:52

All the blue skies and daylight we've been having have been utterly cruel and deceptive, looking very much like the onset of a warmer season, until we step outside and realize it's just as cold and blustery as winter.

Sometimes, when the weather doesn't do what we want or expect it to do, we try to force it to comply by doing things like packing away our winter clothes and boots or changing over the tires on the vehicles earlier than we probably should. As if to raise our fists in resistance and say, "Get outta here, winter. We are done with you. Haven't you seen the calendar?!" And, not surprisingly, winter always overstays her welcome, dragging her feet and leaving a muddy mess on her way out the door.

Whether the weather cooperates with the calendar or not, our taste buds inevitably begin to switch over. And then we live in the tension of craving things that can't yet be reconciled with the temperature. It may be zero degrees outside when I step out the door to take the kids to school, but that doesn't stop me from wanting a cool smoothie for lunch or a fresh green salad with lean chicken and berries for dinner that same night.

Sometimes the weather dictates the food on our plate. Other times, we use the food on our plates to rebel against what we can't control and try to coax the weather along in the right direction. We also use the food on our plate to remind ourselves that winter won't last forever. Be encouraged, Alaskans, summer is coming. In the meantime, eat salad and dream of warmer days.

Chicken and blackberry spinach salad

Serves 2

5 ounces baby spinach

1/2 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled

2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, seasoned with salt and pepper, cooked and sliced

6 ounces fresh blackberries, divided

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta

1/4 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped

1 ripe avocado, sliced

For the blackberry balsamic dressing:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons dijon mustard

5 fresh blackberries

1 garlic clove

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

  1. To assemble the salad: Divide the spinach onto two large plates. Spoon half of the quinoa over top of the spinach on each plate. Lay the sliced chicken across the salads. Set aside 5 blackberries for the dressing. Sprinkle the remaining blackberries over the salad, followed by the cheese and the pecans. Add half of the avocado to each salad.

To a food processor, add the vinegar, oil, mustard, blackberries, garlic, salt and pepper. Whirl until emulsified. Drizzle the dressing over the salads. Serve.

Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email maya@alaskafromscratch.com and your inquiry may appear in a future column.

Hope springs in D.C.; now how about Juneau

Sat, 2017-03-25 18:46

It's been a big week. My heart goes out to newspaper editors. By the time a story is written, well, it's no longer the story.

It's still cold. If winter reads this column, a special note: Move on, good sir.

The longest serving Republican in the House of Representatives, Don Young, had a special moment when Speaker Paul Ryan got down on one knee to beg for his vote on Trumpcare. Whatever went down in the voting tally, the bill was aborted. That doesn't make me sad. I'm happy millions of Americans will continue with Obamacare until we can get something better.

Here's the best takeaway from these recent events: Your voice makes a difference. With a Republican House, Senate and White House, and after promising for seven years to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they failed. They failed because when push came to shove, people stood up in defense of what should be a right.

Oh, it's all been said, resaid, blah, blah, blah about what this all means for the political circus on a national level. All that and a dollar can get you a cup of coffee. I just keep shaking my head and widening my eyes as I begin to get it through my thick skull that CONGRESS ACTUALLY LISTENED! What could be next? What could we possibly do with this newfound superpower of being heard? Then, while watching the eagles chasing ducks, it occurred to me. Maybe, just maybe, if we paid attention to our lawmakers in Juneau we could have a similar result!

There's a lot happening in our state Legislature that would bore the gills off a halibut.

The House is humming along with their bipartisan attempts to fix some major crisis that could have been averted years ago. The Alaska Republican Party keeps throwing fits that Paul Seaton can't possibly be a real Republican because he doesn't come when they yank his chain. It's sort of adorable. The Senate? Wow. They are a hot mess.

[Alaska Senate passes bill paving way for Uber, Lyft; House vote comes next]

This week they tackled the pressing issue of Uber. Maybe it hasn't hit your radar, but Uber is one of the alternatives to taxis. Think of them as sort of an Airbnb of transportation. Their lobbyist sat in the Senate gallery pulling strings on their puppet senator regarding which amendments should be voted up or down. It wasn't subtle. Ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft have had a lot of problems in other parts of the country. Do you think we'd learn from them? The short answer is "no." The long answer is, "Not with this Senate." Solutions shot down included requiring Uber to keep customer information private. Worse, if there are any legal problems, they will have to be addressed in California, under California law. Yeah. Maybe you can Uber a plane ride to California to get your complaint heard. Towns and cities in Alaska that charge taxes on taxis won't be able do the same to Uber. Why? Because the Senate majority doesn't really walk that whole "local control" thing. Basically, thanks to Republicans in Juneau, a company has an invitation to operate in our state with no regulatory oversight or taxation and no penalties or fines if they break the law. It's a grand episode of "What Could Go Wrong?!"

Here's the deal, my dear Alaskans. The Senate figures they can sit in their chamber in all their power and glory, and have their strings pulled by lobbyists and that you're too busy figuring out what to do with all those garden starts in your window. They figure you have other fish to fry, and maybe this Uber fish wasn't one you even knew that you had caught in its migration up the Gulf Stream.

[Deceptive language in state oil tax law leads to constant argument about where credits are due]

We are going to have to come to terms with our broken oil tax structure. Yes, again. Bet your sweet Permanent Fund check that there will be more lobbyists than lawmakers when that day comes around.

Both party systems try to tell us that they know what's best for us, and most of us don't believe either one of them. Over half of us are independent or nonpartisan voters and we make up our own damn minds. It's not too soon for you to find your senator's email or phone number and let them know you're paying attention. If you want to be heard you have to be louder than the locust cloud of lobbyists.

It's good to take the wins where we can. They matter. Oh, look, the tiny marshmallows in my cocoa haven't completely melted yet. See? Win. I'm taking it.

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.

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. 

Angry over U.S. healthcare fail, Trump voters spare him blame

Sat, 2017-03-25 18:43

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — The day after the flaming out of U.S. President Donald Trump's first major legislative initiative, his supporters across America were lashing out – at conservatives, at Democrats, at leaders of his Republican Party in Congress.

Only Trump himself was spared their wrath.

Many voters who elected him appeared largely willing to give him a pass on the collapse of his campaign promise to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, stressing his short time in office.

"Being a businessman, he'll not take 'no' for an answer," said Tony Nappi, a 71-year-old from Trinity, Florida, one of the many disappointed Republicans on his weekend softball team. "He'll get the job done."

Support for Trump appeared unflagging, from the playing fields of a Republican stronghold in central Florida to the small town diners of North Carolina, the suburbs of Arkansas and the streets of working-class Staten Island in New York City.

Rebellion among members of his own party sealed the failure of Trump's effort to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – the signature domestic policy achievement of Democratic former President Barack Obama.

Despite casting himself on the campaign trail as "the best dealmaker there is", Trump could not save the healthcare bill yanked by Republican leaders in the House of Representatives on Friday in an embarrassing turn of events for them and Trump. Objections among Republican moderates and the party's most conservative lawmakers left leaders short of the votes needed for passage, with Democrats unified in opposition.

"He can't wave a magic wand," said Ramona Bourdo, 70, a retired nurse, eating breakfast at a McDonald's in suburban Little Rock, Arkansas. "I've not lost confidence in him."

Still, the barista at the Grind Cafe in Morganton, North Carolina, who cannot afford his own insurance and remains on his parents' plan, felt Trump shared responsibility in the debacle.

"I think it's partially his fault," said Joel Martin, a 21-year-old Republican and Trump supporter. "I don't think he has enough personal knowledge to do what he needs to do to get a healthcare bill through Congress."

His hometown, population 17,000, sits within the heavily rural congressional district of Representative Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican whose opposition as the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus helped sink the bill.

Sharing in the frustration of loyal Republicans was 82-year-old Jeanette Madison, a registered independent in the New York City borough of Staten Island, who voted for Trump.

"I blame the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. They are a bunch of bastards. I'm just fed up," she said, apologizing for colorful language as she walked her dog down a city street.

LESSONS TO LEARN

In Florida's Pasco County, where Trump's stronger-than-expected showing helped to seal his victory in the largest U.S. battleground state, some fans seized on the silver lining.

Neighbors Patti Niehaus, a Democrat, and Margie Hahne, a Republican, agreed that Trump may have needed last week's crash course in governing, having never before held elected office.

"You can't just go and tell people what to do like he's used to doing," said Hahne, 74. "Trump's got to learn a lot."

Bridging Tampa's booming suburbs and still rural parts of central Florida, Pasco County lies in a politically decisive swing region of the state along the Interstate 4 highway corridor linking Tampa and Orlando.

Trump won 58.4 percent of the vote in the mostly white, working- and middle-class county, surpassing the past two Republican presidential candidates by tens of thousands of votes.

His pledge to end Obamacare helped to sway Kelle DeGroat, a 37-year-old nurse, a Republican who is open to other parties.

"I thought there was a good plan the way he talked," said DeGroat, still confident in Trump's ability to make reform happen. "I was shocked that it didn't pass."

Other Republicans applauded their leaders for returning to the drawing board, with polls showing the derailed healthcare plan to be unpopular following predictions that it would jeopardize or increase the cost of insurance for millions.

Lisa Collins, a 53-year-old teacher with two adult children benefiting from Obamacare, for the first time started calling the region's elected representatives to voice her opposition.

"This is a success that the party listened," said Collins, a Republican who did not support Trump. "To me, that's amazing. They represented the average normal guy, the small guy."

A danger lies in dismissing Kim Jong Un as irrational

Sat, 2017-03-25 18:30

SEOUL – It's easy to write off Kim Jong Un as a madman. What with the colorful nuclear threats, the gruesome executions of family members, the fact that he's a self-appointed marshal who's never served in the military.

Indeed, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did it just this past week, calling Kim "this crazy, fat kid that's running North Korea." That came on the heels of a pronouncement from Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that "we are not dealing with a rational person" in Kim.

It's a relatively common view. World leaders, military chiefs and Hollywood have all painted him as an unhinged maniac.

But this is not just wrong, North Korea watchers and dictatorship experts say. It also risks dangerous miscalculation.

"North Korea has consistently been treated like a joke, but now the joke has nuclear weapons," said John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School. "If you deem Kim Jong Un to be irrational, then you're implicitly underestimating him."

[Could North Korea actually hit Alaska with a missile?]

Leaders throughout the centuries have realized it can be advantageous to have your enemies think you're crazy. Machiavelli once wrote that it can be wise to pretend to be mad, while President Richard Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese to think he was unstable and prone to launch a nuclear attack on a whim.

Writing off Kim Jong Un as a lunatic could equally be playing into his hands.

Want proof that he's no senseless madman?

Exhibit A: "He's still in power," said Benjamin Smith, an expert on regime change at the University of Florida. "He and his father and grandfather have stayed in power through a series of American presidents going back to Truman."

Longevity, of course, is the preserve of dictators, not democrats. Indeed, the 33-year-old has defied predictions that he would not be able to keep a grip on the authoritarian state that has been in his family's control since 1948. December marked his fifth anniversary in power – a milestone that the democratically elected president in the South did not reach.

In person, Kim is confident and well spoken, said Michael Spavor, a Canadian who runs Paektu Cultural Exchange, which promotes business, sports and tourism with North Korea. Spavor is one of the very few outsiders to have met Kim.

"He was acting very diplomatically and professionally," said Spavor, who accompanied Dennis Rodman, the basketball player, on his trips to North Korea. "He felt old beyond his years. He could be serious at times and fun at times but by no means did he seem weird or odd."

Smith pointed out that saying Kim is rational isn't the same as saying "he's a perfect guy who makes perfect decisions."

Kim's decisions to date have enabled him to achieve his primary goal – so far – of staying in power by staving off threats, real or anticipated, from the elite.

"He has reasons to be afraid of conspiracies in the top levels of his government, especially in the military and secret police," said Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar of North Korea who once studied at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. "You can buy these people off, but they can still betray you. You have to terrify them, and that's what he's doing."

Kim has sent a message to the elites who keep him in power through a series of executions and purges that keep everyone fearful that they will be next.

Kim has rid himself of 300-plus officials during his five years at the helm. He notably had his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, executed for disobeying orders and building his own power base.

Other high-level figures have been killed – a defense minister was reportedly dispatched with antiaircraft fire – or purged. The state security minister is said to be under house arrest.

"What's irrational about that? Irrational is going to the ICC and surrendering," Lankov said. A United Nations commission of inquiry has recommended referring Kim to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The assassination of Kim Jong Un's half brother, Kim Jong Nam, in Malaysia with a chemical weapon was a message to outside rivals that the young leader could hunt them down wherever they are, analysts say.

To deal with threats from "hostile powers," in North Korean parlance, having nuclear weapons makes sense for Kim, said Kongdan Oh of the Institute for Defense Analyses. "Steadily pursuing nuclear weapons is a very rational thing for him to be doing."

Kim has ordered three nuclear tests since he took power – claiming that one was a hydrogen bomb – and has overseen steady improvements in the missile program. North Korea has "entered the final stage of preparation" for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, Kim has said, referring to a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

North Korea was established in vehement opposition to the American "imperialist aggressors" and their "puppets" in South Korea. So maintaining a sense of threat from both provides a rationale for the state's existence and a shared menace to unite the elite and the common people.

Then there's the economy. The fact that it's growing is a sign that the leadership knows what it's doing, said Park of Harvard.

"There's a puzzle here: The regime is getting wealthier amid the increasing implementation of sanctions," he said.

While the North Korean economy is far from booming, it has been steadily expanding in recent years, as evidenced by all the construction in Pyongyang despite increasingly tight restrictions imposed by the outside world.

It has done this through state-run trading companies that form partnerships with entities in China, enabling them to circumvent sanctions.

"Look at the web of elite North Korean state trading companies. You can't be irrational or somehow crazy to consistently run this system to either make money off it or procure what you need for the nuclear weapons program," Park said. "That objectively shows that there is a game plan, and a pretty consistently implemented game plan."

But being rational is not the same as being predictable, and many analysts say that the youngest Kim appears to be temperamental and hotheaded.

That worries American military leaders. "Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong Un is a recipe for disaster," Adm. Harry Harris, the head of Pacific Command, said in December.

There is reason to be concerned about this factor, said Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist who founded the CIA's personality analysis center and has studied Kim and his father.

Kim's capacity for brutality and his apparent spontaneity could be compounded by President Donald Trump's own impulsive acts, he said.

"This is all about big boys and their big toys," Post said. "Will he actively threaten the U.S.? I tend to think not, but I must say I'm concerned about words leading to actions between him and President Trump."

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