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Letter: The Great Land garbage dump

Alaska News - 27 min 7 sec ago

I fell in love with Alaska more than 30 years ago upon my first visit. As with many other people, that first visit led to many subsequent visits until we moved here.

Like thousands of others, we drove an RV from the Lower 48 and through Canada to arrive at our beloved state. While traveling through British Columbia and the Yukon, we found bear-proof trash containers about every 20 kilometers. Often, there is a clean outhouse at the same rest stop.

Rarely did we find trash on the roadside on our road trips, except when we crossed the border into Alaska. Over the years, we have witnessed the systemic removal of Alaska roadside trash containers and subsequent increase in roadside garbage.

It’s now rare to find a rest-stop trash bin in Alaska. But it’s not rare to find an abundance of trash where they used to be. Just take a look over the edge of that rest stop and you’ll be disgusted to find plenty of trash and garbage.

One of the basic duties of government is sanitation. It may come as a surprise to those making these decisions that removing road-side garbage containers does not eliminate roadside garbage. In the name of short-term “budget constraints,” our leaders are trashing the state.

The British Columbia and Yukon governments have figured out how to keep their roadsides pristine and beautiful. Will Alaskans demand the same before we are known as the Great Land Garbage Dump?

— Mitch Sayegh

Copper Center

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Letter: Wrong approach on reading

Alaska News - 32 min 50 sec ago

I agree with Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop on two statements in her recent op-ed: “Alaska’s approach to teaching reading is not working,” and “Literacy is … a cornerstone of our democracy.” What she seems to be missing is first, her own contributions to the problem, and second, the best way to develop young readers — young lovers of reading.

Years ago, when she was Director of Instruction in Mat-Su, and after I had retired from a 20-plus year career teaching children ages 5-9, including eight years working with special needs kids in Kenai and Talkeetna, I listened with horror as she introduced a new, highly scripted reading curriculum adopted by the school district.

She described how wonderful it would be, for instance, in a school with more than one first grade, to walk past one door and hear a teacher begin a sentence, then pass the next room and hear another teacher finish that sentence. (In other words, she adopted the approach she now says is not working.)

Children are not automatons; they are not all the same, nor do they all learn in the same way. Yes, “phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension” are important. But reading is so much more than the sum of those parts, and so much more than what standardized tests can measure. Children need meaningful content and a connection to stories from their own experience in order to care about learning to read.

Ms. Bishop’s one-size-fits-all approach could improve test scores — or shall I say ‘outcomes’ — for some average students. If you believe as I do, that the ultimate goal of reading instruction is to develop inquiring minds capable of the critical thinking needed in a vibrant democracy, we need a much more creative, student-centered approach. Show me a standardized curriculum that has that outcome while respecting children’s innate curiosity and imagination and maybe I’ll get on board.

— Cari Sayre

Talkeetna

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Letter: Murkowski’s character

Alaska News - 37 min 16 sec ago

How, as a woman, an Alaskan, a veteran politician and a decent human being, can Sen. Lisa Murkowski stomach the corrupt, unethical and possibly treasonous actions of our president? Enabling a bully is being complicit with his acts. Our president is a bully.

I remember the terror inflicted by intimidation when I was young. All public schools have counselors trained to recognize and deal with predatory students. I hope that many more than these professionals recognize what is required — intervention or maybe impeachment. Selfish fears challenge our souls.

I ask Sen. Murkowski to please speak honestly, ignoring political threats and acting from her heart and soul. Lasting respect requires extraordinary courage. I expect no satisfaction from her fellow carpetbagger, but as she is a true Alaskan, I ask her to define this moment in history.

— William P. Beltz

Anchorage

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Letter: Practice carbon offsets

Alaska News - 39 min 38 sec ago

There is a lot of talk these days about climate change. In Alaska, we have begun to experience direct and indirect impacts from a warming climate. With less skepticism about the reality of climate change, there is an increasing debate about what can be done about it.

Each of us face choices every day that determine how much carbon our lifestyle contributes to the environment. To have the best chance of avoiding a two-degree rise in global temperatures, the average individual global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under two tons by 2050. Individual choices alone will not solve the climate crisis. Systemic changes are needed, but individual action is important.

For Alaskans, travel within and outside the state requires a great deal of time in airplanes. Most of us travel often and are happy to earn frequent flyer miles. I don’t want to give up my lifestyle, but I have become aware of the size of my own carbon footprint. What can one do other than not travel?

Carbon offsets are “financial contributions to projects that help reduce CO2 emissions in various industries, or encourage new sustainable energy projects in an effort to balance out the damage your flight does to the planet.” While these projects do not entirely counteract the CO2 emitted, they are a means of contributing to conservation efforts and green research. Carbon offsets are not ideal, but for now, they are an imperfect solution to an enormous and complicated problem.

— Cami Dalton

Anchorage

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Letter: Rightful anger

Alaska News - 42 min 47 sec ago

It was perfectly accurate for Tuesday’s headline to read ”Alaska Division of Elections rejects recall petition for Gov. Mike Dunleavy.” They most assuredly did it for him. An equally accurate alternative heading could have read “Political appointees fulfill their personal loyalty oaths to Gov. Dunleavy.”

And no, the tough tall-guy shtick doesn’t induce “stress” in others. The governor’s outright duplicity during the campaign and his ill-conceived, dismally executed and imperious actions after entering office are why so many Alaskans are angry with him. Not “stressed.” Angry. Rightfully so, in my opinion.

— Ken Higgins

Anchorage

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Letter: Making good on pledges

Alaska News - 58 min 46 sec ago

“With liberty and justice for all.” These are the last six words of the Pledge of Allegiance. We say the pledge every morning from kindergarten through high school, ending with those words. We say them at the beginning of some meetings as adults. We should have them engraved in our very essence as American citizens.

Thousands of Alaskans choose jobs where liberty and justice are central to their personal and professional goals — attorneys, judges, clerks, police, troopers, VPSOs, parole officers, guards. Yet our system has failed because those at the top — those who make the ultimate decisions and budget choices — have decided that investigating and prosecuting rapists is not an issue.

We all know that there are hundreds or more untested rape kits sitting on the shelves with the police, some have sat for decades, while vicious predators have gone free, perhaps becoming serial rapists. Their victims live huddled and sometimes broken. This affects our daughters, sons, wives, mothers, sisters and friends. This affects our whole society because we do not have “liberty and justice for all” in Alaska.

The governor, the attorney general, and those at the top are simply public servants, like any clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles. If they’re not doing their jobs, we, as citizens, must get rid of them.

This is not a game. This is not a party issue. This is a central issue of what it is to be a citizen of the United States of America, who has pledged — more than once — to respect and abide by our laws.

— Denise K. Yancey

Anchorage

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Letter: Governor’s Outside hypocrisy

Alaska News - 1 hour 13 min ago

Just finished reading the article in the Nov. 4 edition of the ADN related to the John Sturgeon hovercraft case. For the most part, the article was very uplifting regarding agreement by diverse entities of the political spectrum in support of Mr. Sturgeon. Of course, the mainstream bias of the Washington Post had to come screaming through with the quote from Gov. Mike Dunleavy regarding Mr. Sturgeon’s persistence.

In reference to the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision, Gov. Dunleavy is quoted as saying he was fighting the idea that, “folks thousands of miles away know what’s better for Alaska than the people who live here, the idea that folks thousands of miles away believe that we don’t know how to live in Alaska, that we don’t know how to take care of Alaska, we don’t know how to appreciate Alaska and we need to be managed.” Very informative. I assume Gov. Dunleavy was quoted in opposition to Outside influences on the affairs of Alaska.

After reading Gov. Dunleavy’s statement, I wonder if he feels the same way about all of the Outside money from Texas he received for his gubernatorial campaign, all of the reckless Outside consulting he received on budgets, and now currently his tour to collect Outside money to defend the in-state campaign to recall him. Or maybe his actions speak much taller than his words. Or maybe the partial quote is the truth.

Still waiting on my full Permanent Fund dividend, Gov. Dunleavy — and the past owing.

— Jon Stewart

Palmer

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Letter: It’s income tax time

Alaska News - 2 hours 24 min ago

It’s been a while since I last heard from some former Alaska legislators and some former Alaska governors, and in particular from a former Bush governor, the late Jay Hammond, who was very instrumental in pushing for the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. and which he stated that it was “a mistake for Alaska legislators to repeal the state income tax.”

I agreed with him and I still do. When former Gov. Bill Walker inherited more than $1 billion dollars in state deficit, it was very alarming when we Alaskans first learned that the Alaska legislators had raided billions of dollars in savings during short span of three years to fund state government services, which forced the Walker administration to cut the people’s Permanent Fund dividend distribution by roughly half.

Alaska legislators, regardless of their party affiliation, must reimpose the state income tax, for three reasons: One is because Alaska is such a huge state, with ever-increasing demands for services in the rural and urban areas; the second is that the state will continue to be in a never-ending fiscal crisis, and third, without a constitutional protection of the Alaska Permanent fund dividend, Alaska legislators will continue to raid the fund until it’s all gone.

I am hoping the people of Alaska will continue to voice out their opinions and demand their legislators do what’s best for all the people of Alaska.

— Homer Hunter, Jr.

Scammon Bay

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Letter: Help with taxes

Alaska News - 2 hours 26 min ago

Free tax prep is an important boost for individuals and families in Alaska working to improve their financial stability. Sometimes a higher refund means keeping the heat on or helping with rent for our most vulnerable residents. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is now recruiting for volunteers for the 2020 season.

Becoming a volunteer tax preparer is easier than you think. No prior tax experience is necessary, and all the training materials are provided. Volunteers should enjoy talking to people and feel comfortable asking questions, have basic computer literacy, and be willing to refer to resource materials for tax law. Training starts in December and tax-aide sites are located in several communities around the state.

If you have any questions about becoming a volunteer, please visit the AARP Foundation website to fill out a volunteer application or learn more about the program.

Thank you for making a difference!

— Joan L. Fisher

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer

Anchorage

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Letter: Debt plan

Alaska News - 2 hours 28 min ago

I have a foolproof plan to eliminate the U.S. national debt. We should institute a national lottery with a $1 million first prize, five second-place $200,000 winners, 40 third-place $50,000 winners and 100,000 $1,000 winners.

We should also sell marijuana like a commodity on a national level. We also need to institute red-light districts, because they could save lives by eliminating pimps.

We would eliminate the debt in no time.

— Clifford Farmer

Anchorage

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Letter: Civics lessons

Alaska News - 2 hours 31 min ago

In junior high school civics, we were required to study how our government works. After that, I never even thought about it. I thought there would always be a Constitution. I thought only lawyers needed to know about all that.

I have since learned that the Constitution is not a given. It might not always be there. It can be corrupted. It can be abused by foreign governments as well as citizens of the U.S. who allow it to remain vulnerable. It can be abused by neglect.

One thing that the current administration has done for me, is that it has reignited my junior high civics class. I never thought we could lose our rights. I never worried until the past three years. So, I began studying how our government works. I began studying the Constitution. I began listening to all sides of the the issues, not just my own.

I invite you all to do the same. Read the Constitution. Study how the government works. Embolden yourselves with knowledge. Ask questions of your representatives. I have written to Sens. Dan Sullivan, Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young and I have always received answers that tell me my letters were read.

I seldom agree with them, but I am always impressed how my opinions are taken seriously.

— Spruce Lynch

Anchorage

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Letter: Who’s the extremist?

Alaska News - 2 hours 33 min ago

I wonder if op-ed writer Rick Whitbeck appreciates the irony of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s gloom-and-doom scenario about the effects of the Green New Deal on the Alaska economy. The governor reportedly commented “Alaska’s population would plummet,” after his proposed budget would have cost hundreds of state worker and teaching jobs. After labeling people who agree with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “extremists,” Whitbeck quotes the governor predicting, “Oil would disappear. Gas would disappear. Coal would disappear.” Talk about extremist.

Whitbeck and the governor employ the familiar “set foot” card and invite Rep. Ocasio-Cortez to Alaska. I wonder if he and the governor have ever set foot in her congressional district and looked into the eyes of the restaurant workers forced to subsidize oil companies with their taxes? Members of Congress legislate issues affecting the whole country, including Alaska. Get over it.

I wonder if Whitbeck and the governor would live a couple of years in Arctic Village, Chalkytsik or Venetie before supporting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or living in Newtok, Kivalina or Shishmaref before concluding there’s no global warming.

Whitbeck claims Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will cost me $170,000 in two years. If true, that could pay for one Dunleavy crony job.

— Geoff Kennedy

Anchorage

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Unprecedented, ‘catastrophic’ fire danger in Australia as bush fires rage amid bone-dry conditions, high winds

Alaska News - 3 hours 9 min ago

Firefighters work to contain a bushfire along Old Bar road in Old Bar, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Wildfires razing Australia's drought-stricken east coast have left two people dead and several missing, more than 30 injured and over 150 homes destroyed, officials said Saturday.(Darren Pateman/AAP Image via AP) (DARREN PATEMAN/)

On Tuesday, millions of Australians in and around Sydney all the way north to the Gold Coast face the highest wildfire risk predicted for the region, as an outbreak of deadly bush fires continues to scorch more than a million acres of the unusually hot and drought-stricken country.

Gusty, fickle winds, bone-dry air, dozens of already burning blazes and unusually high temperatures will combine to elevate wildfire risk to “catastrophic levels,” according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and the country’s Bureau of Meteorology.

A state of emergency is in effect for all of the state of New South Wales for Tuesday as bush fires rage on.

Complicating matters in the Sydney region will be hot temperatures and winds from the northwest for part of Tuesday, before a "Southerly Buster" moves through as a cold front sweeps in from south to north, shifting winds and causing them to crank up to potentially damaging levels of 50 mph. Any bush fires would then shift their movement and could spread quickly and across large distances, raising the risks of hasty evacuations from extraordinarily rapid fire spread. Temperatures are forecast to get into the upper 90s, or upper 30s Celsius before the cold front moves through.

Conditions in New South Wales on Tuesday are being compared to one of the darkest days in Australia bush fire history, known as "Black Saturday," when an outbreak of bush fires killed 173 in Victoria, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in February, 2009.

In this bush fire outbreak, three people have been killed, and hundreds of structures lost in New South Wales and Queensland.

Hundreds of schools are expected to close preemptively due to the fire risk, according to Australian media reports. Air quality is predicted to be poor in the Sydney area on Tuesday, as smoke from nearby fires carries a dangerously high amount of fine particulate matter into the region. These particles can get lodged in peoples' lungs, where they can aggravate asthma and lead to other health concerns, particularly among the ill, very young, and elderly populations.

Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers told reporters that the situation is as bad as any he's ever seen, or imagined.

"I've got to tell you, I've been in this industry for 40 years and I have not seen a scenario like this before, I really haven't," Rogers said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. "If someone came to me and said 'let's do one of the scenario role-plays,' I would be saying, 'lets try to keep this a bit more realistic' ... you just would not expect it."

Firefighters were urging people in risky areas - such as close to the so-called wildland-urban interface where homes and farms jut up against forested areas, to evacuate preemptively since they could not promise enough firefighting assets to dispatch them to every home, farm or office in danger.

The fires are sparking political battles over the role that climate change may be playing in the bush fire crisis. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has championed Australia's coal industry and carved out a more contrarian position on climate change, has downplayed any ties to climate change, while environmentalists and opposition parties who contend these fires are in part the consequence of global warming. Australia is one of the world's top coal producers.

On Monday, in an appearance on ABC Radio, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, blamed "raving inner-city lunatics" for linking the fires to climate change.

However, in the climate research literature, the links between a warming climate and increased bush fire risk in Australia are robust and uncontroversial. The scientific evidence shows clear links between trends in Australian climate and fire danger over time the likelihood of an escalation in fire risk in years to come, although natural climate variability, such as El Niño and other cycles, as well as development patterns play a role as well.

According to a comprehensive 2015 federal climate report, the ongoing bush fires are burning in places in areas of Australia that are likely to see an uptick in the average forest fire danger index and the number of days with severe fire danger. The study pinned these trends on human-caused climate change, in large part because a warming climate can dry out vegetation faster, worsening the influence of droughts.

Studies published since have also warned that one of the clearest findings of climate research is that the fire season will lengthen in large parts of Australia, and that conditions will become more conducive to severe fires as the climate warms and vegetation dries out faster and more extensively.

Australia's fire danger has increased since 1950 across most of the eastern part of the country, the Bureau of Meteorology has found. These trends include areas of southeastern Queensland and parts of northeastern New South Wales, and capture an increase in the frequency and severity of dangerous fire weather.

"Trends towards a lengthened fire season have already been discerned in some areas of the country, with the fire season typically starting earlier in the year in southern Queensland, inland and southern New South Wales, and Victoria," the bureau stated.

The United States is also grappling with the ramifications of climate change when it comes to wildfires, particularly in the West, as spring snow cover melts away earlier in the year, and summers become hotter and drier, particularly in California.

In Australia, winter and spring rainfall was well below average across parts of the country. This is a trend that is related to a predominantly natural climate cycle known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, which involves a pattern of air and moisture transport across the Indian Ocean.

Many locations in coastal New South Wales, for example, saw January to August rainfall totals that were 50% below average, according to the BOM. In some places, drier than average weather dates back to 2017.

A positive Indian Ocean Dipole the past two years has meant drier-than-average conditions in much of Australia, and El Niño, which was present for part of the period between 2017 to 2019, also influenced precipitation patterns. The BOM found that it's unusual to have back-to-back years with a positive dipole pattern, which helps dictate precipitation patterns across South Asia and Oceania.

A positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) occurs when the water is cooler than average off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, leading to reduced atmospheric lift there and reduced rainfall over Australia. At the same time, positive Dipole events feature warmer-than-average waters off the coast of Africa, which enhances atmospheric lift and leads to above average rainfall there.

Importantly, this climate cycle, along with El Niño, is evolving as ocean and air temperatures increase in response to growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the air due to human activities, namely the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, for energy.

Climate trends in Australia show sharp warming and an increase in extreme events. Last summer, for example, was the country’s hottest on record, and the BOM found that climate change exacerbated extreme heat events as well as droughts during the year.

After push from Energy Secretary Rick Perry, his backers got a huge gas deal in Ukraine

Alaska News - 4 hours 51 min ago

In this Nov. 12, 2018, photo provided by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Energy Secretary Rick Perry talks with Michael Bleyzer during a speech in Kyiv, Ukraine. Bleyzer and Alex Cranberg, two political supporters of Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil-and-gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government soon after Perry proposed one of the men as an adviser to the country’s new president. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv via AP)

KYIV, Ukraine — Two political supporters of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government soon after Perry proposed one of the men as an adviser to the country’s new president.

Perry's efforts to influence Ukraine's energy policy came earlier this year, just as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's new government was seeking military aid from the United States to defend against Russian aggression and allies of President Donald Trump were ramping up efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Ukraine awarded the contract to Perry's supporters little more than a month after the U.S. energy secretary attended Zelenskiy's May inauguration. In a meeting during that trip, Perry handed the new president a list of people he recommended as energy advisers. One of the four names was his longtime political backer Michael Bleyzer.

A week later, Bleyzer and his partner Alex Cranberg submitted a bid to drill for oil and gas at a sprawling government-controlled site called Varvynska. They offered millions of dollars less to the Ukrainian government than their only competitor for the drilling rights, according to internal Ukrainian government documents obtained by The Associated Press. But their newly created joint venture, Ukrainian Energy, was awarded the 50-year contract because a government-appointed commission determined they had greater technical expertise and stronger financial backing, the documents show.

Perry likely had outsized influence in Ukraine. Testimony in the impeachment inquiry into Trump shows the energy secretary was one of three key U.S. officials who were negotiating a meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian leader.

The sequence of events suggests the Trump administration's political maneuvering in Ukraine was entwined with the big business of the energy trade.

Perry made clear during trips to Kyiv that he was close to Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American investor and longtime Perry supporter who lives in Houston, and Cranberg, a Republican mega-donor who provided Perry the use of a luxury corporate jet during the energy secretary's failed 2012 presidential bid.

Perry's spokeswoman said Wednesday that the energy secretary has championed the American energy industry all over the world, including in Ukraine.

"What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company," said Shaylyn Hynes, the press secretary for the Energy Department.

Jessica Tillipman, who teaches anti-corruption law at George Washington University, said even if Perry did seek to influence foreign officials to award contracts to his friends, it is likely not illegal.

"My gut says it's no crime," she said. "It's just icky."

Zelenskiy's office did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to AP, Bleyzer denied that Perry helped his firm get the gas deal.

"I believe that Secretary Perry's conversations with Ukrainian government officials, if they in fact took place, did not play any role in Ukrainian Energy winning its bid," Bleyzer said Tuesday. He said the process was competitive and transparent and "will hopefully serve as an example of how the Ukrainian energy market can be opened for new investments."

Amy Flakne, a lawyer for Cranberg's company Aspect Holdings, said Wednesday that Perry and other U.S. officials supported "a fair, competitive process to bring foreign capital and technology to Ukraine's lagging energy sector."

"Aspect neither sought, nor to our knowledge received, special intervention on its behalf," Flakne said.

___

‘FREEDOM GAS’

As Trump's energy secretary, Perry has flown around the globe to push for U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, which he calls "Freedom Gas." He's made multiple trips to Ukraine and other former Soviet-bloc nations, where shipments of American gas and drilling technology take on strategic importance as a potential alternative to continued dependence on imports from Russia.

Ukraine has long suffered from a reputation for political corruption, particularly in its oil and gas sector. In the chaotic days following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the newly independent Ukrainian government sold off many state-owned businesses worth billions to a cadre of well-connected oligarchs who amassed immense fortunes.

As Ukraine sought economic and security support from the U.S. and other Western democracies, those countries pressed it to put in place a more open and transparent process for awarding oil and gas exploration rights on state land.

At the urging of Western partners, Ukraine's government created a process requiring that exploration contracts be put out to bid and awarded following review from a selection board appointed by the president's cabinet of ministers. The board recommends the winners, pending final approval from the ministers.

Those Western partners also advised Ukraine to appoint an independent supervisory board at Naftogaz, the state-owned energy company, as a guard against corruption and self-dealing.

In February, the Ukrainian government opened up bidding for nine oil and gas blocks encompassing 4,428 square miles (11,469 square kilometers) of land. Ukrainian Energy, the joint venture between Bleyzer's investment firm SigmaBleyzer and Cranberg's Aspect Energy, submitted a single bid for the largest block, which covers 1,340 square miles (3,471 square kilometers).

Under the contracts, the winning bidder is awarded exclusive rights to extract petroleum for up to 50 years. After the initial costs are recovered, the company and the government split the profits.

An internal review of the proposals by the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining obtained by the AP show they were not the highest bidder.

The only competing bidder, UkrGasVydobuvannya, known by the acronym UGV, offered more than $60 million for the first phase of the project, compared with $53 million from Bleyzer and Cranberg, the document shows. UGV is Ukraine's largest domestic gas producer and is a subsidiary of Naftogaz, the state-owned company where Perry sought to replace board members.

Despite the lower upfront investment, the selection board gave the Americans higher scores for technical expertise and overall financial resources, according to the document reviewed by AP.

Of the nine gas deals awarded on July 1, Bleyzer and Cranberg's bid was the only one of the winners that didn't include the participation of a Ukrainian company. UGV won four of the remaining bids.

Two members of the board that helped select the bid winners told the AP that the process is designed to be difficult to improperly influence because it is a mix of government representatives and industry experts.

Roman Opimakh, a commission member who is the head of the State Service of Geology and Subsoil of Ukraine, said the government was looking for foreign investment, particularly U.S., and the board considered that as a factor. He said it's an advantage if a company is well-connected in Washington but added that he saw no indication that U.S. officials influenced the process.

Perry, who served 14 years as the governor of Texas, has publicly championed the potential of U.S. hydraulic fracturing technology to boost oil and gas production in Ukraine and pressed for the bidding process to be opened up to U.S. companies.

At an energy industry roundtable in Kyiv in November 2018, Perry said the potential for oil and gas development in Ukraine is "staggering." Ukraine, he declared, had a chance to become "the Texas of Europe."

At the same event, which was co-sponsored by the nonprofit U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, Perry plugged Cranberg's expertise. Both Cranberg and Bleyzer were in the room, along with several American and Ukrainian energy industry officials.

"You know, Alex Cranberg, who has been in this business a long time, can attest to this probably as well as anyone sitting around the table, that we have the potential to change the world," Perry said, according to a transcript released by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

During the same 2018 trip, Perry had a private meeting with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, where they discussed deepening the ties between the two country's energy industries, according to a U.S. Embassy summary of the meeting

Records suggest Perry has also met regularly with Bleyzer. Visitor logs released by the Energy Department through a public records request show Bleyzer entering through the VIP check-in desk at the building where Perry's office is at least three times, most recently on May 8.

Less than two weeks later, Perry was on a plane to Kyiv to attend the inauguration ceremony for Zelenskiy, who had defeated Poroshenko in an April election. It was during that trip that Perry presented his list of recommended advisers that included Bleyzer and remarked on their long friendship, according to a person in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Attendees left the meeting with the impression that Perry wanted to replace an American representative on the Naftogaz board with someone "reputable in Republican circles," according to the person who was there.

Bleyzer said Tuesday that he had been included in what he described as a brainstorming session with Energy Department officials about creating an informal group knowledgeable about Ukraine's energy industry to help develop U.S. strategy, but he had no idea his name would be forwarded to the country's new president.

"I was not aware at any time that my name was recommended by Secretary Perry to the Ukrainian government to act in any capacity," Bleyzer said.

Perry's work in Ukraine places him at the center of the House impeachment inquiry into efforts by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to press Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings with Burisma, another Ukrainian gas company.

Perry, who announced last month that he is resigning by the end of the year, has refused to cooperate with the congressional probe. In an Oct. 4 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that "as God as my witness" he never discussed Biden or his son in meetings with Ukrainian or U.S. officials.

But Perry was at the White House for a key July 10 meeting where senior Ukrainian officials were told continued U.S. support was conditional on Zelenskiy's government opening investigations into Democrats and Burisma, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an aide on Trump's National Security Council, testified last month.

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TEXAS TIES

Bleyzer and Perry's ties go back at least a decade. As governor, Perry appointed Bleyzer in 2009 to serve as a member of a Texas state advisory board overseeing state funding to emerging technology ventures. The following year, Bleyzer contributed $30,000 to Perry's 2010 campaign for Texas governor.

The Ukrainian-born Texan cuts a flamboyant figure in the energy world. A 2012 profile in the Houston Chronicle is set in his modernist 15,000-square-foot mansion. In an accompanying photo, he stands next to his wife, a mane of gray hair to his shoulders, on a balcony overlooking a swimming pool.

A former engineer at Exxon, Bleyzer was born in Ukraine's Kharkiv region and trained in digital electronics and quantum physics. In 1994, he founded SigmaBleyzer Investment group, a private equity firm that specializes in developing corporate stakes in Eastern Europe. The company says it manages about $1 billion in assets.

Bleyzer also has ties to Giuliani. In 2008, Bleyzer's company hired Giuliani's former Houston-based law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, to help it acquire and consolidate cable holdings in 16 Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, according to an announcement at the time. The same year, Bleyzer donated $2,300 to Giuliani's presidential campaign.

Bleyzer's company is the primary funder of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, which promotes the interests of American businesses operating in Ukraine. According to tax records, the business council is run out of the Washington, D.C, offices of its president and CEO, Morgan Williams, who is also listed as the government affairs director for SigmaBleyzer.

The council, which sponsors events that feature senior U.S. and Ukrainian government officials, pushes for policy priorities that dovetail with Bleyzer's business interests — including lobbying to create the very process that opened Ukraine's state-controlled oil and gas fields to foreign investment, according to the webpage of the state geology service.

Days after the government in Ukraine posted the gas blocks for bidding in February, visitor logs show Williams accompanied Bleyzer through the VIP entrance at the Energy Department.

On May 28, the day the bids were due in Kyiv, Williams again accompanied Bleyzer, who photos show was sporting a Western-style shirt with a Stars and Stripes pattern, to the offices of Ukraine's energy ministry to submit their company's bid.

On June 5 — while Bleyzer and Cranberg's proposal was under review — Williams met with a key Zelenskiy adviser, Oleg Ustenko, and told him that significant expansion of oil and gas production in Ukraine could only be achieved with investments from private companies, including ones from the United States, according to a summary of the meeting posted on the business council's website.

In an apparent dig at the company competing against Bleyzer and Cranberg for the gas deal, Williams also told Ustenko that the "participation of the state monopoly player" undermined the chances of private companies to win, according to the summary.

What the council's media release failed to mention is that, like Williams, Ustenko serves dual roles. In addition to advising the Ukrainian president, the economist is the longtime executive director of The Bleyzer Foundation, a Kyiv-based nonprofit organization founded by Bleyzer in 2001. The group's website describes its mission as promoting private-sector investment in Ukraine.

Less than four weeks later, Ukraine Energy was named the winner of the Varvynska block over the Naftogaz subsidiary.

Bleyzer would not say whether he considered it a conflict for his employee to simultaneously be leading the international trade group while also advocating for his private business interests.

He said the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council is just one of many organizations that strongly support the participation of foreign companies in the bidding process "as one of the key factors in helping Ukraine achieve its energy independence from Russia."

As with Bleyzer, Cranberg also has longtime ties to Perry.

A graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, Cranberg was appointed by Perry in 2011 to serve a six-year term on the state university system's board of regents. He is a generous political donor, giving more than $3 million since the mid-1980s primarily to Republican candidates and fundraising committees, according to federal and state campaign finance records.

In the last 13 months, Cranberg has contributed just over $650,000 to two committees focused on electing Republicans to House seats, $637,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and $258,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. He and his wife each gave $50,000 last April to Trump Victory, the joint entity that funds the president's reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee.

When Perry campaigned for president in 2011, federal disclosures show his campaign paid more than $16,000 to a holding company for a private jet used by Cranberg.

Cranberg is also among those who entered through the VIP desk at the Energy Department, logging in with his wife for a visit in April 2018.

Last year, his company hired Perry's former campaign manager, Jeff Miller, as a lobbyist. Miller has been to the Energy Department's headquarters at least a dozen times since Perry became secretary, according to the visitor logs. He mostly signed in through the VIP entrance.

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Biesecker, Braun and Lardner reported from Washington.

Undersea drones solve the mystery of a WWII submarine missing for 75 years

Alaska News - 5 hours 9 min ago

The USS Grayback sank in February 1944 after a Japanese aircraft hit it with a 500-pound bomb. (Tim Taylor-Lost 52 Project)

Tim Taylor was about to end the mission. His team had scoured the seabed off Japan with autonomous underwater vehicles, which are essentially high-tech drones, without a hit. His ship now needed repairs, and a $7 million drone had just reported an error on its latest dive.

All that remained was to download the data from that drone before heading hundreds of miles back to shore.

That's when they spotted it: an unusual reading on the ocean floor, more than 1,400 feet deep. The next day, another submersible with high-definition cameras went to investigate.

The images it beamed back left no doubt about what Taylor's team had found: A hulking ship lay rusting in the pitch-black water. As the camera rounded the bow and panned to the bridge, an eerily preserved plaque came into view: USS Grayback.

"It was amazing. Everyone was excited," Taylor said in an interview with The Washington Post. "Then you realize there are 80 men buried there, and it's a sobering experience."

Taylor's discovery on June 5 solved an enduring 75-year-old mystery about the fate of the USS Grayback, one of World War II's most effective submarines. The U.S. Navy confirmed Sunday that Taylor's team, part of a group dedicated to finding the 52 American submarines lost in action during World War II, found Grayback's final resting place in the ocean off Okinawa, Japan.

The news brought closure to relatives of the sailors lost that day.

"There's a book I read, and it said these ships are known only to God," Gloria Hurney, whose uncle, Raymond Parks, died on the Grayback, told ABC News. "But now we know where the Grayback is."


The USS Grayback was discovered off the coast of Japan in June by the Lost 52 Project, dedicated to finding all 52 U.S. submarines lost in action during World War II. (Tim Taylor-Lost 52 Project)

The Grayback’s final mission started on Jan. 28, 1944, according to the Navy’s official history, when it left Pearl Harbor on its 10th combat tour. Commissioned in 1941, the Tambor-class sub had spent the war patrolling the South Pacific and South China Sea, torpedoing numerous enemy vessels and rescuing downed American aviators. The Grayback sank more than a dozen Japanese ships in all, the New York Times reported.

On Feb. 24, 1944, the sub reported sinking two Japanese cargo ships days earlier and was ordered back to replenish its torpedo supply. But it never arrived in Midway.

After the war, the Navy used Japanese military records to try to piece together a history of its lost subs, and pinpointed the submarine's final resting place as about 100 miles east-southeast of Okinawa, the Times reported.

But its remains were never found - until Taylor took on the case.

In 2010, Taylor, an undersea explorer and CEO of a New York-based firm that provides autonomous underwater vehicles, discovered the USS R-12, which sank in an accident off Key West, Florida, in 1943. He set up a privately funded group called the Lost 52 Project, dedicated to using new technology to find long-lost World War II subs. Along with his wife, fellow explorer Christine Dennison, his team found three more vessels before tackling the Grayback.

In this case, he relied on a key discovery by Yutaka Iwasaki, a systems engineer in Kobe, Japan, who works with Taylor's team as an amateur researcher. Last year, while poring over original Japanese military documents, he found reports showing that on Feb. 27, 1944, a Japanese aircraft had dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Grayback. The coordinates given in that report suggested the Navy had made a crucial error when translating the coordinates where the sub was attacked.

"It was off by one digit," Taylor said. "That changed the location by more than 100 miles."

Armed with the correct information, his team journeyed in June into the open seas off Japan with a fleet of the latest submersible drones. The devices use sonar to create detailed images of the ocean floor, which are then sent back to Taylor's crew to search for any signs of wreckage, the Times reported.

The search team battled technical problems, though, and a broken refrigeration system on his boat would soon require a return to port for a fix. Some crew members were already packing up to return when the drone experienced an error a few hours into a 24-hour dive, Taylor said.


Tim Taylor and his team use unmanned undersea submersibles to locate the USS Grayback in more than 1,400 feet of water off Japan. (Tim Taylor-Lost 52 Project)

Instead, the data it returned led Taylor’s team directly to the sunken sub.

"The most compelling moment was when the camera went from the bow up to the bridge and we all saw the plaque," he said. "There was no doubt about it."

After the Navy verified the find, Taylor and Dennison informed relatives of the men lost on the Grayback that they'd found their final resting place.

Hurney and Kathy Taylor, whose uncle John Patrick King was on the sub, learned about the discovery live on camera on ABC's "World News Tonight" on Sunday. Both women wept and thanked Taylor's team.

"I committed from the very beginning when I was a little girl that I was going to find him or follow him or keep his memory alive, whatever I could do," said Kathy Taylor, who isn't related to Tim Taylor.

Navy officials hailed Taylor's discovery for closing a long-open chapter for the submarine and its crew.

"Each discovery of a sunken craft is an opportunity to remember and honor the service of our sailors," Robert Neyland, the head of the Naval History and Heritage Command's Underwater Archaeology Branch, said in a statement. "Knowing their final resting place brings closure, in some part, to their families and shipmates as well as enables our team to better understand the circumstances in which the boat was lost."

Taylor said he hopes his project casts more light on the thousands of sailors who died on submarines, many of whose heroic exploits were classified until decades after World War II.

“It’s a missing piece of their family stories and their legacy,” Taylor said. “It haunts these families for their whole lives. It’s very sad but rewarding to show these people finally where their loved ones sacrificed their lives.”

Some UAF undergraduates oppose mandatory purchase of meal plans

Alaska News - 6 hours 19 min ago

The University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, photographed Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

FAIRBANKS - A University of Alaska Fairbanks student has launched a protest campaign against the school’s mandatory meal plans for undergraduates living on campus.

Freshman Brennan Lippert, 19, said mandated meal plans are an extra financial burden for students who already pay high costs, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Sunday.

Lippert has carried a sign on campus reading, "Mandatory Meal Plans are a Scam," while gathering nearly 280 student signatures on a petition.

The university requires undergraduate students living on campus to buy a meal plan, with an exception for undergraduates in campus family housing, spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said. The school began requiring freshmen to live on campus this year.

The university's share of meal plan fees totaled $565,000 last fiscal year, which remains within what is intended to be a "self-supporting" dining services program, Grimes said.

This semester, 860 required meal plans were sold, she said.

"The money that the university receives as part of having dining on campus, that's going to go to help keep the facilities up to date," Grimes said.

Fairbanks offers eight dining plans for campus residents. Options include "block" plans covering daily meals and "Munch Money," which acts as regular money but can only be applied to dining services.

Freshmen must choose the Weekly 7 Block costing $2,695 per semester or the Weekly 5 Block for $2,450 per semester.

The University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Southeast also require students in campus residence halls to purchase meal plans, but those are structured differently.

Acceptable changes, Lippert said, would include allowing Fairbanks students to opt out of meal plans and providing another campus residential option without a meal plan that provides more refrigerators and facilities for students to cook.

Hong Kong police shoot protester, man set on fire in new escalation in conflict

Alaska News - 9 hours 27 min ago

In this image made from video, a police officer, left, prepares to shoot a protester, center, in Hong Kong Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The police shot the protester as demonstrators blocked subway lines and roads during the Monday morning commute. (Cupid Producer via AP)

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong anti-government protester was shot by police Monday in a dramatic scene caught on video as demonstrators blocked train lines and roads in a day of spiraling violence fueled by demands for democratic reforms.

Elsewhere, a man was set on fire following an apparent dispute over national identity in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, which has been wracked by five months of protests. The man was in critical condition in a city hospital.

The violence is likely to further inflame passions in Hong Kong after a student who fell during an earlier protest succumbed to his injuries Friday and police arrested six pro-democracy lawmakers over the weekend.

Monday's video shows a police officer shooing away a group of protesters at an intersection, then drawing his gun on a masked protester in a white hooded sweatshirt who approaches him.

As the two struggle, another protester in black approaches, and the officer points his gun at the second one. He then fires at the stomach area of the second protester, who falls to the ground. The officer appeared to fire again as a third protester in black joined the tussle.

The protester in white manages to flee, bounding up a nearby stairway, and the officer and a colleague pin the two in black to the ground.

Police said that only one protester was hit and that he was undergoing surgery. A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong hospital authority said the person shot was in critical condition but gave no further details.

The incident marked the second time a protester has been shot since the demonstrations began in early June, although police have repeatedly drawn their firearms to ward off attacks. More than 3,300 people have been arrested in the protests.


Office workers and protestors who held a flash mob are seen running away from tear gas fired by the police in central Hong Kong on Nov. 11, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Nicole Tung.
A man is led away by the police during a protest in the Central district of Hong Kong on Nov. 11, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Nicole Tung.

Few details were available about the burning incident in the Ma On Shan neighborhood. Video posted online shows the victim arguing with a group of young people before someone douses him with a liquid and strikes a lighter.

Police fired tear gas and deployed a water cannon in various parts of the city on Monday and charged onto the campus of Chinese University, where students were protesting. Video posted online also showed a policeman on a motorcycle riding through a group of protesters in an apparent attempt to disperse them.

Police spokesman Tse Chun-chung said the shooting, burning and motorcycle incidents were all under investigation, but defended the officers' actions as necessary to safeguard their own safety. Tse said two people were arrested in the shooting incident, including the person shot, but no one has yet been detained over the burning.

Protesters built barricades and blocked roads at about 120 locations across the city of 7.4 million and demonstrations were still ongoing, Tse said.

"Continuing this rampage is a lose-lose situation for Hong Kong. Everyone is a loser," Tse said.

Rail service was partly suspended because of fires and obstacles on the tracks and windows smashed at a branch of the state-owned Bank of China. Large parts of the downtown business district were closed to traffic as protesters surrounded by onlookers engaged in a standoff with police.

The protests began over a proposed extradition law and have expanded to include demands for greater democracy and police accountability. Activists say Hong Kong's autonomy and Western-style civil liberties, promised when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, are eroding.

The video of Monday's shooting was posted on Facebook by Cupid Producer, an outlet that started last year and appears to post mostly live videos related to local news.

The shooting occurred in a crosswalk at a large intersection strewn with debris that had backed-up traffic in Sai Wan Ho, a neighborhood on the eastern part of Hong Kong Island.

Protesters blocked intersections around the city and disrupted subway and commuter rail service. The rail operator, MTR, suspended service on several lines, and public broadcaster RTHK reported that a fire had been set inside a train at Kwai Fong station.

In a news release, the Hong Kong government said police had been responding to vandalism and disruptions to traffic, including protesters throwing heavy objects onto roads from above.

"During police operations, one police officer has discharged his service revolver, one male was shot," the release said, adding that officers also drew their guns in the Shatin and Tung Chung neighborhoods.

The release denied what it called online rumors saying police had been ordered to "recklessly use their firearms," calling the allegation "totally false and malicious"

"All police officers are required to justify their enforcement actions," the statement said.

A patch of what looked like dried blood could be seen in a cordoned-off area after the shooting, as onlookers shouted insults at the police.

Masked protesters continued to try to block other intersections in the area. Police chased them away with pepper spray, hitting some bystanders as well.

On Sunday, police fired tear gas and protesters vandalized stores at shopping malls in anti-government demonstrations across Hong Kong. They targeted businesses whose owners are seen as pro-Beijing and also damaged the Sha Tin train station.

Police said they arrested at least 88 people on various charges, including unlawful assembly, possession of an offensive weapon, criminal damage and wearing masks at an unlawful assembly.

In a sign of growing frustration on behalf of Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, and her backers in Beijing, the administration on Saturday announced the arrest of six lawmakers on charges of obstructing the local assembly during a raucous May 11 meeting over the extradition bill. All were freed on bail.

The city has also been rocked by the death Friday of a university student who fell from a parking garage when police fired tear gas at protesters.

The territory is preparing for Nov. 24 district council elections that are viewed as a measure of public sentiment toward the government.

Pro-democracy lawmakers accuse the government of trying to provoke violence to justify canceling or postponing the elections.

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