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Readers write: Letters to the editor, April 25, 2018

Tue, 2018-04-24 22:07

Public schools need to be fully funded to succeed

This year again, "full funding," the legislative euphemism for flat funding, is steadily draining Alaska schools of teaching staff, counselors, support staff, programs, electives, curricular materials and extracurricular activities. Since 2013, Anchorage has seen 394 full-time equivalent positions laid off. This amounts to a 9.26 percent reduction in instructors (teachers and teacher assistants). Classes are fuller, and services to students, including those with the highest needs, and at the greatest risk, are stretched paper-thin. As former AEA President Brinna Langford eloquently explained in her opinion piece of April 18, Alaska's ability to attract and retain excellent personnel to fill even the positions that remain is severely compromised, as talented, dedicated, experienced educators come to the reluctant conclusion that Alaska cannot be where their professional future lies.

Recently, the House has passed legislation (HB 339) that could help make a real difference. I urge the State Senate to take up House Bill 339, which would responsibly increase state funding. With an addition of $100 to the base student allocation, Anchorage would receive a desperately needed additional $7.3 million to invest in the district's classrooms, support programs, staff, and instructors.

Anchorage has always been a good place to live, work and raise a family. Solid public school funding is essential if it is to remain so.

— Barb Clark
Anchorage

Protect fish habitat by backing salmon initiative

I am a University of Alaska student who will be interning at the Tongass National Forest over the summer of 2018, working directly with fish habitats and waterways. As a resident of Alaska, salmon habitats are important to me both for state pride and revenue, as seafood account for about 20 percent of the state's income. There is an initiative called Stand for Salmon that will update and reinforce habitat permitting laws, in an attempt to strengthen the protection of habitats and give Alaskans a voice in what happens in our great state.

With large projects like the Pebble mine, there are minimal requirements for developers to provide habitat impact analysis and even less oversight. The ecological impact these projects can have on the salmon habitats, which are paramount to Alaska's economy, are incredible and permanent. Stand for Salmon is pushing for ecological impact surveys and defined penalties for ignoring or failing the standards set forth. It also supports different permits for projects of different scales, something the current permitting laws do not provide. It is through this initiative that we Alaskans can protect our marine resources.

By supporting Stand for Salmon, you can help ensure that Alaska's fish habitats are sustainable and protected from encroaching development. There needs to be a change to ensure that we can maintain our status quo, and not see the same negative impacts that the Lower 48 have experienced. We need to learn from their example.

— Charles Cowley
Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Anchorage police search for armed robbery suspect in Spenard

Tue, 2018-04-24 21:36

Officers with the Anchorage Police Department searched for a suspect who they say was involved in the robbery of a Spenard business Tuesday evening.

Police were "on the scene of an active suspect search" in the Wiley Post Loop and Wisconsin Street area, the agency said in an alert.

An officer at the scene told an ADN photojournalist that they were looking for two males involved in a robbery. One man was detained, and police were still searching the area as of 8:15 p.m. Tuesday.

"Residents are asked to stay indoors and call 911 if they see anything suspicious. Drivers are asked to avoid the area," police said Tuesday evening.

The search was in relation to an armed robbery at Smoker's Choice, 3600 Minnesota Drive, at 6 p.m., police said.

Sen. Sullivan’s right, the tax bill will deliver some short-term benefits. But what happens down the road?

Tue, 2018-04-24 19:39

I read with interest the commentary by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, "Relief for
Alaskans on Tax Day," touting the benefits of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. I do not disagree with the senator's comments regarding the immediate impact on the average family. But unfortunately, that commentary does not present a complete picture. Specifically, it doesn't fully illustrate the effect that the "historic tax reform" and current federal spending will have on future generations, particularly in 10 years when the individual tax cuts are programmed to expire.

What the senator neglects is that three months after passing the tax act, reducing government revenue, Congress passed a budget that increased spending. This places the proverbial cart before the horse: decreasing income, then increasing expenditures, which inevitably increases debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that in the next 10 years, the new tax scheme would singlehandedly increase the national debt by more than a trillion dollars. To that, one must add the likelihood that, politics being as they are, federal spending is more likely to remain constant or increase than to substantially decrease.

Add to that the projected increase in the interest rate by the Federal Reserve Bank, which determines interest paid on federal borrowing. Net result: a probable increase in national debt as measured against all three yardsticks. According to data published by the federal government, in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017, the national debt increased from just less than $9 trillion to more than $20 trillion. To put the increase in perspective: (1) As a percentage of annual Gross Domestic Product, the debt grew from 61.8 percent to 105.6 percent; (2) If the debt were divided among U.S. residents, each person's share climbed from $29,756 to $62,230; and (3) As a percentage of median annual household income, the debt grew from 60 percent to 108 percent. During part of that same 10-year span, the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 reduced taxes from 2008 to 2013. The effect of ESA was a decrease in median household income from $56,076 in 2007 to $55,214 in 2013, rebounding in 2017 to $57,617.

As noted above, in 10 years, the individual tax "relief" provisions expire. What then? Experience has shown that it is human nature to spend according to one's disposable income. Take the average family of four making $73,000 per year, whose after-tax income will drop by a little over $200 per month. Where will that deficit be felt: a rainy day or retirement account; a college savings plan; the family vacation or everyday household/living expenses? It will will hurt somewhere, somehow.

As noted above, 10 years from now, the national debt will more likely be greater than at the end of the last fiscal year. What about the cost of the increased national debt? It took four years after the end of World War II, the only other time national debt exceeded GNP, to get the national debt below GNP. Do tax rates go back to those postwar levels? Do we make cuts to federal spending, which will certainly cause pain to those on the receiving end? Or do we just continue to kick the proverbial can down the road and leave it to our progeny to deal with?

What we'll do then is a question we should all be asking. By the way, don't look to me for definitive answers: As I used to tell my clients, my crystal ball blew a fuse when I first plugged it in and it hasn't worked since.

As an octogenarian (I prefer that term to "old geezer"), the ramifications of the tax bill are unlikely to impact me personally, but they will certainly impact my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their progeny.

Tom Yerbich is a retired bankruptcy and tax attorney in Anchorage.

Photos: Gusty winds damage structures and topple trees across Anchorage

Tue, 2018-04-24 18:28

Tuesday's wind event in Southcentral Alaska damaged buildings and trees, and left thousands without power.

Read more: Windstorm slams Anchorage, Southcentral Alaska with gusts over 80 mph

Government must resume DACA and accept new applications, federal judge rules

Tue, 2018-04-24 17:58

In the biggest setback yet for the Trump administration in its decision to end a program that protects undocumented young adults from deportation, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the government must resume accepting new applications.

Judge John D. Bates of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said that the government's decision to end the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was predicated on the "virtually unexplained" grounds that the program is "unlawful."

The judge stayed his decision for 90 days, giving the Department of Homeland Security the opportunity to better explain its reasoning for canceling the program.

The department, the judge wrote in his decision, "must accept and process new as well as renewal DACA applications."

DACA was officially rescinded by the government in March but the program has continued to accept renewals after previous court orders. About 700,000 unauthorized immigrants, the majority of them brought to the United States as children, had signed up for the Obama-era program since it was created in 2012.

Advocates hailed the ruling, saying it highlighted the failure of the administration to justify terminating the program.

"This decision verifies the Trump administration failed to prove the DACA program is illegal," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington, D.C. advocacy organization. "Either President Trump finds another way to end the program, tossing hundreds of thousands of young people into deportation proceedings, or he works with Republicans and Democrats to find a legislative solution that secures our border and ensures Dreamers continue contributing to our economy."

How connections trumped qualifications to be Alaska’s new federal judge

Tue, 2018-04-24 17:45

Jon Katchen's connections rather than qualifications seem to have won his nomination be a federal Alaska District Court judge.

Katchen may turn out to be a good judge. I think he probably will. But at 42, his limited record doesn't establish he is the best candidate.

Alaska's U.S. senators over the last 15 years have used a merit process to pick judges. This time they did not. Katchen was rated near the bottom of a poll of lawyers. And the senators have kept details of that poll secret.

Katchen has connections to President Trump's family, he worked as a special assistant to Sen. Dan Sullivan in state government, and he is married to Sarah Rabinowitz, whose father, Jay, was an Alaska legal giant, with the courthouse in Fairbanks named for him.

In fact, I have many connections with Katchen, too. We're both well connected.

We met when he emailed to disagree with my columns on oil taxes. He defended Gov. Sean Parnell's SB 21 tax, which he worked on. I invited him to coffee and we hit it off. He's likeable and seemed open to different points of view.

[Katchen writes: SB 21 has fired up investment in Alaska's oil and gas]

But local lawyers are grumbling about the appointment. Federal judges have immense power and serve for life. They can be removed only by congressional impeachment.

"We should be taking the very best we have, and he may be decent, he may be very good, but he's not the best we have," said retired Superior Court Judge Elaine Andrews, who was the presiding judge of the Anchorage courts.

"They should be selected on merit, and not ideology or political affiliation. That history has served the Alaska state court well and has served to guide the selection of federal nominees," Andrews said.

I spoke to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, former Sen. Mark Begich, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, although Sullivan would not make comments on the record because the nomination is before the senate. Katchen said the White House told him not to comment.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates judges and the Senate confirms, but in practice the White House accepts names from the senators of each state who are members of the president's party.

Murkowski said that Alaska's senators have asked the Alaska Bar Association to poll its members on federal judicial applicants since she took office in 2002. Sen. Ted Stevens was reluctant to do the poll, she said.

The process mirrors the merit selection for state judges called for in the Alaska Constitution, in which surveys and research by the Alaska Judicial Council produce nominees from whom the governor may select.

U.S. Senators can send any names they please to the president. In most states selection is entirely political. The White House usually picks from among the names.

The American Bar Association rates candidates as qualified or unqualified before their confirmation vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, a process Katchen hasn't yet faced.

Senators picked highly rated candidates for the Alaska District Court appointments of Tim Burgess in 2005, and Sharon Gleason in 2011, and Morgan Christen for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011. Their qualifications were superb.

Begich and Murkowski said they agreed on Gleason and Christen and submitted those names as first choices with only one or two others.

But in Katchen's case, the senators submitted five names, an unusually large number. Begich suggested that might have happened if Murkowski and Sullivan disagreed on who to send forward.

Murkowski essentially confirmed that theory with a diplomatic remark.

"We put forth a longer list in an effort to align our priorities," she said.

Katchen ranked 13th out of 20 applicants on the bar association poll, with the bottom five getting almost no support. Just 31 percent rated him "extremely qualified" or "well qualified," compared to 66 percent who gave those ratings to the top applicant, Eric Aarseth, a highly rated state judge since 2005.

The bar did not release scores below "well qualified," nor the comments of raters, nor the number of people who voted on each person, which Andrews said made the poll difficult to analyze. It's unclear how many negative votes the candidates received or how many attorneys knew them.

That information was withheld at the request of the senators' offices, said Deborah O'Regan, executive director of the Alaska Bar Association. The senators' offices did not respond to my inquiry about why they kept the information secret.

[Katchen writes: Attack failed to damage Sullivan's record atop Alaska Department of Law]

How did Katchen jump the list?

Katchen grew up in one of the most affluent communities in the country, in Gladstone, New Jersey, the son of an attorney, and attended excellent private schools.

He first worked in Alaska on a summer internship during law school at the University of California. Two law school summer jobs are the only criminal law experience on his résumé.

After graduating in 2004, he worked for a year as a legal clerk for President Trump's sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a well-respected judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Jersey.

In 2006, Larry Ostrosky hired Katchen to work in the Oil, Gas and Mining section of the Alaska Attorney General's Office.

"I hired him because I thought Jon was really smart," Ostrosky said. "He met and exceeded our expectations. I think he's a great lawyer."

In that job, Katchen came to the attention of Sullivan, who was in his own résumé-building period as Attorney General and Commissioner of Natural Resources. He made Katchen his special assistant.

In 2012, Katchen went into private practice specializing in natural resource law.

Hiring according to merit can be tough. The senators themselves got their jobs through connections.

Murkowski was appointed by her father. Sullivan comes from a wealthy Ohio family and had senior jobs in Washington before coming to Alaska.

Most likely, Sullivan knew Katchen and his work, liked him, was impressed with his abilities, and thought he would make a good judge based on that personal knowledge.

That's how it usually works. You pick people like yourself. It's a big reason why we have one social class, race and gender running most things.

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

Yukon Quest bans two-time champ from 2019 race after necropsy reveals dead dog had preventable health problems

Tue, 2018-04-24 17:40

Yukon Quest organizers have banned two-time champion Hugh Neff from the 2019 race after a necropsy on his dog revealed just how sick the animal was when it died during this year's competition.

The medical exam showed that Neff's dog, named Boppy, suffered from stomach ulcers, a whipworm infestation and severe weight loss, among other health problems, the Yukon Quest said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This dog was already in a low-body state, if you will, trying just to keep itself alive without even running a race," said Kathleen McGill, a veterinarian and the chair of the Quest's rules committee.

Neff, 50, is a long-time musher who has a sled dog kennel in Tok and who regularly competes in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, both annual 1,000-mile races.

It's unusual for race officials to punish a musher for a dog death on the trail. But in this case, McGill said, a medical examination on 5-year-old Boppy's body showed the dog suffered from some health problems that Neff could have prevented.

"These are not things that just happened in the race," McGill said.

Neff did not return to messages Tuesday.

He dropped out of this year's Yukon Quest in February after Boppy died while the team was on its way to Dawson City, the halfway point of the race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse.

In news articles earlier this year, Neff mourned the dog's death.

"He was a special dog," he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner soon after he scratched from the Quest. "He meant a lot to us, and he was one of my main leaders. He was one of my wife's favorites. I don't know. Sometimes you wonder what we're doing out here. Is it really worth all the anguish we sometimes have to go through?"

The medical examination on Boppy's body indicated the dog died from aspiration pneumonia, caused by inhaling vomit, which can happen unexpectedly to the best-cared-for sled dogs, McGill said.

However, on top of that, the exam showed that Boppy had mild stomach ulcers, moderate intestinal inflammation, mild whipworm infestation, skeletal muscle necrosis and severe weight loss, according to the Quest's statement. The dog's muscles had started to waste away, it said.

McGill said those results indicate Boppy was likely not on the proper schedule for deworming medication. Neff told race officials he had not given the dog medicine to prevent stomach ulcers, McGill said. She said mushers are strongly urged to use that medicine.

She said Boppy also lacked fat around its internal organs, including its heart.

"It's really hard for an animal to use up all of its body fat around its heart and its kidneys," she said. "Maybe the feeding schedule wasn't appropriate, maybe conditioning wasn't as good as it should have been prior to the race."

Quest head veterinarian Nina Hansen told KUAC, the public radio station in Fairbanks, that Boppy should not have continued down the trail beyond Eagle, the last checkpoint before it died.

"It was a failure on the vet team, and I'm going to admit that," she told the radio station. "That dog was looked at in Eagle, and it was recorded to have a poor body condition. And that was not brought to my attention. It is noted in the vet book. I had left Eagle before Hugh got there so that it something I need to evaluate on the vet team as well."

The Anchorage Daily News could not reach Hansen Tuesday.

McGill said the seven-member rules committee, which she chairs, reviewed the full findings from Boppy's necropsy and unanimously agreed that Neff should not be permitted to sign up for next year's 1,000-mile and 300-mile Yukon Quest.

The committee forwarded its recommendation to the race's Board, which agreed, she said.

"Someone has to speak for the dogs and that comes down to the veterinarians and in this case, the rules committee," McGill said.

"This is a new day and age, I think, of just doing what all the other big public races with a public following and social media do — the Tour de France, the gymnasts on the Olympic Committee — you can't hide these things," she said.

McGill said if Neff wants to run the 1,000-mile Quest again, after 2019, he will have to first compete in the 300-mile race. He will also have to submit test results to prove his dogs are not infected with worms and attend a vet check before the race.

"We just don't want him running the Quest until things get better," McGill said. "He's been racing a long time. It's not like this was a rookie running."

Neff has 30 days to request in writing an informal hearing with Quest organizers, she said.

McGill said race officials have alerted the other 2018 Yukon Quest mushers as well as the communities the race passed through about the presence of whipworms on the trail, urging them to talk to a veterinarian about deworming protocols.

"It became a public health issue," she said.

Since 2000, Neff has started 18 1,000-mile Yukon Quest races, finishing 14 of them and placing first twice, in 2016 and 2012.

He has competed in 14 Iditarod races, placing 21st this year.

Chas St. George, an Iditarod spokesman, said he learned Tuesday that Neff was banned from the 2019 Quest. He said the Iditarod did not immediately have comment.

In a statement Tuesday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for the Quest and Iditarod to ban Neff from the races for life.

PETA has long protested the Iditarod, saying it's cruel to dogs. But its calls for the end of the race loudened this year, in part fueled by the Iditarod's announcement that dogs on four-time champion Dallas Seavey's team tested positive for tramadol, a prescription drug the race prohibits. Seavey has denied giving the drug to his dogs.

McGill said that based on her 15-year involvement with the Quest, she does not believe Boppy's condition is indicative of a widespread issue with sled dog care.

"I think 99.9 percent of all the mushers treat their dogs like family and do a really good job of it," she said. "And I'm not saying Hugh is a bad musher either, but in this situation with this dog, it raised enough concern that we felt we had to do something."

Fresh Alaska vegetables are a ways off, but local eggs and seafood are here to tide you over

Tue, 2018-04-24 17:16

Alaska's growing season is still in the future.

But the state is still producing plenty of fresh dining options—from eggs to seafood. Here's a look at what's available from local growers, producers and fishers.

From the sea

Dannon Southall of 10th & M Seafoods says Alaska's waters are producing beautifully right now.

"Fresh Prince William Sound shrimp is the buzz right now in the seafood world," Southall says. "Prince William Sound opened a little over a week ago to target fresh spot and side stripe shrimp.

"This week we will have fresh spot shrimp tails in house. These large sweet shrimp tails are an amazing treat coming out of winter. Side stripes are a few weeks out."

Southall says halibut are coming in regularly and 10th & M will have fresh headed and cleaned 10- to 20-pound halibut available for $9.50 per pound. He says halibut fillets, steaks and cheeks are also available. Other seafood choices include live Alaska oysters from Simpson Bay just outside of Cordova, along with fresh rockfish, sole and cod.

Center Market

Alex Davis of AD Farm will have a huge selection of eggs at the market this week. It's quite a variety of eggs.

"We have five types of eggs from our farm," he says. So. if you're interested in chicken, duck, goose, turkey or guinea hen eggs, Davis has you covered.

"When the guinea and turkeys start laying well we will start hatching, but until that day we will offer them as delightful treats," Davis says.

Davis still has some storage crops from last autumn available, including orange and purple carrots, along with German butterball and fiesta potatoes. He has his large selection of pork cuts (chops, loin roast, fresh side, ground pork, sausage and other cuts), along with raspberry jam, pumpkin butter and apple butter. Davis is at all three markets this week.

Monica's Confection Connection will be at all three markets with a variety of sweet treats. The gourmet brittle options include peanut, cashew, pecan, almond, jalapeno peanut, cayenne cashew and "bear mace" (habanero jalapeno cashew). Other treats include caramels, salted caramels, gummies and fudge.

Rempel Family Farm will be at Saturday's market with organic seed potatoes, along with some storage crops—nine varieties of potatoes, carrots, four varieties of beets, green cabbage and purple onions. The Rempels also have yak meat.

Davis says these items or vendors will also be at the market on various days: Alaska Sprouts with micro greens, sprouts, tofu and basil; Alaska Flour Co.'s barley products; Evie's Brinery items, including krauts; Wild Child fermented salsa; Far North Fungi's mushrooms; Mosquito Mama balsamic vinegar; Windy River Farm grass-fed beef; Tonia's Biscotti; Jonsers' hand-crafted nectars; and Doggy Decadence treats.

Thankful Thursdays

Duane Clark will be at the market with his products, along with select items from Farm 779 and Rosie's Pasta from Sterling. Clark will have Alaska seafood, grass-fed beef, salsa, jams, zucchini relish, glacier water, honey and birch syrup. He'll have a limited supply of Farm 779's coconut kefir, kraut and kvass.

Canine treats

Daisy Nicolas and Drool Central will be at Alaska K9 Aquatics, 549 W. International Airport Road, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. both Wednesday and Saturday.

"I have Earth Chips made from mainly Alaska Grown root vegetables, potatoes, red beets, carrots and Outside sweet potatoes," Nicolas says. "They can be eaten as snacks or rehydrated and added to meals."

Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at akmarketfresh@gmail.com.

Local farmers markets

Wednesday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Saturday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave

Sunday in Anchorage: Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Climbers’ human waste is making a Denali glacier toxic. The park service is demanding change.

Tue, 2018-04-24 17:13

TALKEETNA — About 1,200 climbers from around the world congregate on North America's tallest peak every year, drawn to Denali's popular West Buttress route.

They spend days in alpine camps dotting the Kahiltna Glacier that underlies the route: eating and resting, sorting gear, readying for the high, frigid summit — and, naturally, creating excrement.

Tons of it.

Now, for the first time, the National Park Service is requiring climbers below 14,000 feet on Denali's western flank to carry all human waste off the mountain in small portable toilet cans.

Above that level, climbers can dump feces and toilet paper in just one designated crevasse below a camp at 14,200 feet, the next to last camp before the push to the 20,320-foot summit.

Rangers say the route's popularity is leaving a growing and potentially health-threatening legacy in the Kahiltna: literally tons of poop that began accumulating nearly 70 years ago and could start surfacing at any time.

"The emphasis is just trying to get as much waste off Denali as possible — safely," said Roger Robinson, the Park Service clean-climbing ranger who has spearheaded waste changes at Denali for years.

Gearing up

The 2018 season is already underway for some.

An Australian who reached Denali's summit on April 3 with a Welsh climbing partner made the first successful climb of the season. He reported minus-40 temperatures at the top.

[Aussie conquers Denali, then heads to Everest in effort to set Seven Summits speed record]

A handful of Denali climbing teams were scheduled to arrive this week, with the initial big wave of check-ins scheduled for the first week of May, park spokeswoman Maureen Gualtieri said. There were nearly 800 people registered to climb Denali so far this season, but rangers expect that number to rise.

Under the new waste policy, teams must carry Clean Mountain Cans that resemble small bear-proof food canisters with straps that lock the lids down tight.

Full cans get carried down to base camp at 7,200 feet and flown via air taxi off the mountain for disposal at the National Park Service visitor center in downtown Talkeetna. A Valley company picks them up for disposal.

Until now, climbers had to carry the cans but tossed the waste in crevasses except on the very highest parts of the mountain.

Rangers patrolling this season will watch for violations, which could cost $100 to $250, officials say.

'Only fair'

Terrell Moore and Jack Bynum — 22-year-old redheads who dubbed their team the Ginger Geminis — were expected to be the second team on Denali but climbing via the technical Cassin Ridge route that follows a 9,000-foot spine of rock and ice.

Along with the electric socks Moore hopes will save their feet — Bynum already has frostbitten his — and the high-tech GPS gear, the expedition includes a half-dozen green Clean Mountain Cans for use once the duo are back on the West Buttress.

The new waste rules are a good idea given the sheer number of people on the mountain, Moore and Bynum said later.

"It seems only fair that we try not to cover the mountain in poop with our weird superfluous desire to climb something," Bynum said.

Many metric (bleep) tons

The changes are based on fecally stunning research.

There are 68 to 103 metric tons (2,200 pounds per ton) of human waste on the West Buttress route, according to a 2013 technical report by National Park Service glaciologist Mike Loso and several others. An elephant weighs about one metric ton.

Dumped in pit toilets or in scores of crevasses or on the surface up high by altitude-fatigued climbers, the poop doesn't decompose or get ground down by glaciers, said Loso, a geologist at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

The human waste in Denali's western glaciers is expected to start surfacing in 70 years and continue for more than 200, the research shows. Rangers say old garbage from prior climbs is already coming out now, so poop may be soon to follow.

Bradford Washburn, the renowned explorer and photographer, pioneered the West Buttress Route in 1951.

That's when the waste calculations began, Loso said.

"It's like cryogenics. You freeze stuff and it doesn't die. It just hangs out," he said. "The waste is still gonna be nasty when it comes to the surface decades later."

'Piles of it'

The waste-hauling policy isn't the first for the National Park Service on the mountain: The park began requiring climbers to bring all waste down from high camp about a decade ago but still allowed crevasse dumping. Other changes date back decades.

Robinson, the clean-climbing guru, first attempted to climb Denali in 1975. He saw garbage everywhere: tents left behind, trash and worse tossed in crevasses.

"The human waste was just shameful. People would just go wherever they wanted. It was just piles of poo in lots of locations," he said. "At base camp by mid to late summer, unsuspecting climbers were getting intestinal issues from contaminated water because the waste was percolating."

The park service implemented a series of changes to address accumulating waste, including unwieldy bags and pit toilets, as far back as the 1980s. The cans came into use in 2001 and until now were used in most places to store waste before it was dumped in crevasses.

Robinson said the "incredible melt year" of 2005 put an end to the latrines when they all surfaced in disgusting piles.

"We just said, 'That's it!'" he said.

Zero tolerance to come?

The new policy requires each team on the mountain's West Buttress to take one green can — 12 uses each, on average — per person plus one extra. Other backcountry users on non-Denali climbs are given gray-colored cans.

About a third of Denali's West Buttress teams last year voluntarily participated in a trial run last season. Most of participants raved about the concept but some had issues with the practical aspects of what one dubbed "the luggable loo." Many cached full cans at an 11,000-foot camp to pick up on the descent, something the park service is recommending.

The agency is allowing dumping at 14,200 feet for now because of a difficult traverse around Windy Corner at 13,000 feet. Sleds loaded with heavy cans could pull inexperienced climbers off the trail toward open crevasses, rangers say.

Yes, Robinson noted, the dumped waste will migrate to a 300-foot ice cliff below and tumble 3,000 feet down to the East Fork Kahiltna. But at least exposure to the elements will help break it down.

Using helicopters to fly waste off at that altitude would be too risky, he said.

So Denali's rangers are still brainstorming new ways to treat waste at the 14,000-foot camp even as they prepare themselves for more surfacing waste to come.

"It's something we're going to be faced with for hundreds of years," Robinson said.

University provides Alaskans with affordable workforce training and certification

Tue, 2018-04-24 16:23

As the primary provider of the state's skilled workforce, the University of Alaska is identifying more affordable ways to educate Alaskans. Alaskans often think of our state as a place where we can secure a good-paying job without higher education credentials or certifications, but that's less and less often the case. By 2025, 65 percent of jobs in Alaska will require some post-secondary credential. Alaska's economy is changing and so is its university.
We're starting with the career and technical education opportunities available through the university for those looking for a job as a welder, a nurse aide, a corrections officer, to refine bookkeeping or basic carpentry skills or to fill other critical positions in Alaska communities. The University of Alaska's occupational endorsement programs are specifically designed to provide these skill-building courses.

To make these training opportunities more accessible and affordable, beginning in fall 2018, the university will reduce tuition by 25 percent in selected occupational endorsement programs and career and technical education  courses. The tuition reduction will apply to more than 300 courses in 50 programs at the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and University of Alaska Southeast, including community campuses. Open registration for fall 2018 began April 16 and continues throughout the summer. The reduced tuition is part of the university's plan to meet Alaska's workforce needs by growing enrollment and increasing degree completion.
The tuition reduction will be applied on a course-by-course basis. For example, if a lower division course's tuition is $212 per credit, the reduction will be $53 per credit. Anyone interested can find a complete list of eligible courses and programs across the university system at www.alaska.edu/starthere/cte.
Occupational endorsements are designed for students to develop industry-specific knowledge and skill sets in 30 credit hours or less. An occupational endorsement provides a short study track for a specific occupation and opens the door for students to decide whether to continue their education toward a certificate or more advanced degree.

These courses are designed to assist professionals in honing their current skill set or embarking upon new career paths. Many courses can be taken online to accommodate working Alaskans. Occupational endorsements are unique in that they do not require students to complete the entirety of the university's core course requirements, meaning students need fewer credits to finish a program.
Programs also provide high school students with opportunities for dual enrollment, education that can be a first step into the workforce or into a university program once a student graduates from high school. Through an occupational endorsement, high school students can graduate having also earned a recognition of achievement from the University of Alaska.

Local employers have many different needs, and in education or job training, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. Many occupational endorsement programs offered throughout the state are the product of direct collaboration with local employers and the Alaska Workforce Investment Board, reflecting industry priorities and regional training demands.
We value this type of collaboration to ensure newly trained or retrained workers learn the appropriate skills to move up within their companies or their industries. Collaboration allows the university to adapt to emerging industries and anticipate the training that will be needed for future projects and workforce needs.

The university continually is looking toward the future, adapting and finding ways in which to make education accessible and affordable. These programs are designed to fit the future needs of employers, wage earners and industry. The University of Alaska celebrated its centennial year in 2017, and we look forward to growing our state's skilled workforce for another 100 years and beyond.

Fred Villa is the associate vice president of workforce programs at the University of Alaska.

Arc of Anchorage to pay nearly $2.3 million in settlement over Medicaid billing

Tue, 2018-04-24 16:21

An Anchorage nonprofit that serves people with developmental or intellectual disabilities has agreed to settle allegations about false Medicaid claims.

The Arc of Anchorage will pay the Alaska Medicaid Program nearly $2.3 million, according to a statement the Alaska Department of Law released Tuesday.

"The state contends the Arc submitted or authorized the submission of false claims to the Alaska Medicaid Program," the statement said. "Specifically, the state contends the Arc billed for services not provided, and billed for overlapping services with the same provider. The state further contends that the Arc failed to repay money owed to the Medicaid Program identified in audits performed by the Arc."

The Arc received formal notice that an investigation was underway in May 2016, the nonprofit said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

The organization's current CEO, Barbara Rodriguez-Rath, was not in her current role when the billing problems occurred, the statement said. The billings in question happened between 2012 and 2016.

As part of the settlement agreement, the Arc of Anchorage is also required to enter into a five-year "corporate integrity agreement" with the Office of the Inspector General to prevent fraud, waste and abuse in the future.

"The board was fully informed about this issue and it has been a trying time, but we have confidence that our current leadership has initiated needed reforms," Wes Clubb, president of the Arc's board of directors, said in the statement. "The board and management are working as a team to preserve and protect the mission of The Arc."

The Arc has already taken steps "to improve internal financial management systems, including additional financial reporting and more frequent auditing of Medicaid billing practices," the nonprofit's statement said.

"The Arc acknowledges past billing errors that violated rules and procedures," the statement said. "The Arc would also like to make it clear that there was never any deliberate attempt to defraud the state by submitting information we knew to be inaccurate."

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Alaska Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the Office of Inspector General, the Alaska Medicaid Program and the Arc of Anchorage.

"The goal of this resolution was to make the Alaska Medicaid Program whole, keep the Arc in business, and send a strong message of deterrence to other providers. I believe the agreement accomplishes these goals," Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a written statement. The settlement also means avoiding prolonged litigation, she said.

Anchorage police release photos of man suspected of pepper spraying a group of people

Tue, 2018-04-24 15:21

Anchorage police on Tuesday released photos of a man suspected of pepper spraying a group of people over the weekend.

On its Facebook page, the police department asked for help identifying the suspect, who is described as a white man, 50 to 60 years old, with a long, white beard and stocky build. He was also described as wearing a black leather vest.

The man pepper-sprayed a group of people Saturday, police said. The group was gathered at the Anchorage Community House — a space co-located with the Church of Love on Spenard Road — for a training session on nonviolent protests.

[An activist group says it was holding a nonviolence training in Spenard when an intruder entered with pepper spray]

The man entered the room of about a dozen people, sprayed them, and then left, the Anchorage Daily News reported Saturday.

"All of the victims suffered varying degrees of discomfort and pain; medics responded and treated them for exposure," police said in Tuesday's Facebook post.

Police are asking people who recognize the man to call the non-emergency line at 311. To remain anonymous, people can contact Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP or go online at anchoragecrimestoppers.com.

The Anchorage election and clean energy

Tue, 2018-04-24 15:20

In the recent Anchorage election, voters sent a strong message about the future they want: one that is secure, just and thriving. Climate change poses one of the greatest threats to that future, and we need leadership that will dare to tackle it head-on. Right now, Anchorage has an urgent and exciting opportunity to address this challenge and set the trend for the state of Alaska to follow.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has embraced climate change as a reality and has articulated a vision of Anchorage becoming one of the most energy-efficient cities in the nation. The Municipality of Anchorage is in the process of adopting a climate action plan that is serious about reducing harmful emissions. Our city has revised land management plans to factor in climate change impacts, worked to improve green spaces and stream buffers to help reduce damage from floods and launched programs to help residents improve access to healthy foods and affordable energy. You've probably seen or ridden the electric bus throughout Anchorage, as the city tested it in our winter conditions.

In his second term, Mayor Berkowitz should establish hard target goals for clean energy, and set benchmarks to achieve these goals.  Many cities in the Lower 48 have established 100 percent clean energy goals.  The City and Borough of Juneau recently adopted an aggressive plan of 80 percent clean energy by 2045.  As the largest city in the state most immediately impacted by climate change, Anchorage can and should do something similar.

Setting energy targets and timelines can drive innovation and spur job creation, which we desperately need. In setting these goals, Mayor Berkowitz can also help ensure that the transition to clean energy is equitable with regard to job distribution, access to new renewable energy sources like solar and prioritizing investments in low-income neighborhoods.

In this election, Anchorage voters also supported Proposition 10, authorizing city leaders to pursue the sale of Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric Association. While it will not be easy or quick, the sale will likely increase efficiency in Southcentral Alaska, make it easier to integrate renewable energy into the grid (such as future wind and solar) and lower costs for ratepayers over time. This merged utility could serve as a model for the rest of the Railbelt.

Beyond re-electing our mayor and supporting the consolidation of utilities, Anchorage residents have demonstrated their desire for a clean energy future by initiating neighborhood-driven projects like Solarize Anchorage. And Anchorage youth, along with young Alaskans in villages and cities throughout the state, have made it abundantly clear that inaction by elected officials on climate is unacceptable. The Berkowitz administration has the support to lead, knowing the members of a broad and diverse Anchorage community will roll up our sleeves and help.

The time to lead locally is now, as our state leaders are stuck grappling with our fiscal crisis due to our over-reliance on oil, giving little airtime to fresh approaches that could move us to a brighter future.

If we act with intention, we can have an Anchorage energy policy that leads the way for a state renewable energy mandate. This kind of policy could lead to programs in major municipalities to support business-led clean energy, more energy efficiency projects by tribal, municipal and state-owned facilities that decrease diesel generation, and more renewable energy projects along the Railbelt. We could see employment in the clean energy economy increase significantly with an equitable distribution of jobs among all Alaskans.

Together, the Berkowitz administration and the Anchorage community can demonstrate that a just, economically viable, clean energy economy is not only possible but within reach for all of Alaska. Let's get to work!

Polly Carr is executive director of The Alaska Center. The Alaska Center's mission is to engage, empower and elect Alaskans to stand up for clean air and water, healthy communities and a strong democracy.

Alaska Legislature’s ethics committee says Anchorage Democrat broke law by helping organize street fair

Tue, 2018-04-24 15:18

JUNEAU — Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr broke legislative ethics laws by asking her employees to help organize a non-legislative street fair in the Mountain View neighborhood, a legislative ethics committee said Tuesday.

One of Tarr's part-time aides spent more than 120 hours planning the Mountain View street fair with other members of the street fair's organization, according to the House subcommittee of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics.

State law bars legislators from using government assets and resources for non-legislative purposes. The committee found that Tarr's office's activities provided a "private benefit" to the street fair, though the annual event is free.

The committee decided "no corrective action is warranted," it said in a Tuesday announcement, though it added: "To prevent possible future violations, the committee strongly recommends Rep. Tarr seek guidance of the (Legislature's) ethics office before committing government resources to a project which would provide a clear private benefit in violation of the Legislative Ethics Act."

Tarr responded to the committee in a 430-word statement in which she said Tuesday's findings overestimate the time spent by her office and incorrectly imply that it had a more direct role in fundraising for the fair. But she also acknowledged that "there is no question that we were actively involved in putting this event together."

In the future, she added, "I hope that in interpreting the definition of 'legislative purpose' in the ethics statutes, the committee will recognize the importance of the legislative purpose of legislators' and staff participation in community organizing in our districts."

"An overly-restrictive view of legislators' role in community organizing activities could have a chilling effect on legislators working with local leaders in the community, particularly with community councils," she said. "I believe this work is the heart of the Legislature's purpose."

Juneau lawmaker says he won’t run for re-election, endorses former aide

Tue, 2018-04-24 15:17

JUNEAU — A first-term Juneau state House member says he won't run for re-election and has instead endorsed one of his former aides for the job.

Justin Parish, a Democrat who narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2016, announced his decision in a Tuesday morning Facebook post. He said his former aide, Juneau Assembly member Robert Edwardson, would be an improvement.

"I have promised to run again unless I can find someone who will do better," Parish wrote. "I believe I have, and so, to keep my word and to serve my community, I am supporting Robert Edwardson for state House."

Edwardson worked for Parish at least through March, according to a directory of legislative employees. He was elected to the Juneau Assembly last year and has worked in the U.S. Coast Guard and for the state departments of natural resources and environmental conservation.

Parish narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz in 2016.

His District 34 includes the Mendenhall Valley area north of downtown, which leans conservative; District 33, which includes downtown, is more reliably Democratic.

Parish was already facing at least one Republican challenger in Jerry Nankervis, another Juneau Assembly member, in the November election.

Parish's announcement means that Juneau's entire three-member delegation in the Legislature will be gone when lawmakers return to the Capitol next year. Sen. Dennis Egan and Rep. Sam Kito III, both Democrats, are also not seeking re-election.

Ruffled feathers: Rep. Young bill aims to protect Native crafters from federal restrictions

Tue, 2018-04-24 15:15

WASHINGTON —  Legislation aimed at protecting the rights of Alaska Natives to use protected bird parts in craft work, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, advanced out of committee last week, the first step to becoming law.

It now has to advance to the House floor and make it into Senate legislation too — most likely as an amendment to a larger bill. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has introduced a Senate version of the bill.

The 100-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits Native Alaskans from selling traditional artwork that includes feathers, beaks or other parts from certain birds. Other similar animal protection laws offer exceptions for Alaska Native artwork — the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act have exceptions for American Indian and Alaska Native uses.

But in 2012, Tlingit carver Archie Cavanaugh made a "shakee.át," a carved headdress that includes the wings and tail of a raven, as well as feathers from a flicker bird, unaware that it was against the law. Soon after, he advertised that and other items for sale online and then he heard from the federal government. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees told him that he had violated federal laws and could face years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines, according to Worl and Young.

"We weren't aware that we could not sell them," said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl.

[How new rules could right an old wrong for Alaska Native artists]

Cavanaugh ended up having to hire a lawyer, and he paid a $2,005 fine.

He did not respond to a request for an interview.

In response to the incident, the Alaska Federation of Natives adopted a resolution about the matter, and "we ran right over to meet Congressman Young," Worl said.

"For thousands of years, the inclusion of bones and feathers in traditional handicrafts has been commonplace in Alaska Native cultures. For decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service largely did not take enforcement actions against Alaska Native craftsmen," Young said in a statement.

It is unclear whether anyone else has faced similar enforcement actions to those imposed on Cavanaugh in 2012.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, through media officials, said their law enforcement officials would not grant interviews on the matter, or provide statistics about enforcement actions. The agency did not have information available cataloging how many enforcement actions have been initiated under the law to protect migratory birds.

The Justice Department, which handles such enforcement actions for the agency, did not answer similar questions posed to a spokesman.

"I assume that there are others," Worl said, but she could not name any. "And I'm not surprised at the things I've seen our people go through — enforcement and charges that our people get," she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did change some of its regulations in 2017, allowing Alaska Natives "to sell authentic native articles of handicraft or clothing that contain inedible byproducts from migratory birds that were taken for food during the Alaska migratory bird subsistence-harvest season," according to a Federal Register notice published last July.

Those regulatory changes didn't include all feathers used by Alaska Native artists, Worl said. So they worked with Young to continue pushing his bill.

"Updating this policy protects Alaska Native artists who sell handmade art that includes non-edible bird parts, regardless of how the parts are found or what species they are from," Young said.

Though the issue has dragged on for years, Worl said she is "really happy that it's moving along."

Cavanaugh ultimately got his hat back from the federal officials, minus the feathers. Worl said they hope to one day hold a ceremony after legislation is passed and reinsert the feathers into Cavanaugh's hat.

‘Book of Mormon,’ OK Go, Tig Notaro and more on Anchorage Concert Association lineup

Tue, 2018-04-24 12:16

The Anchorage Concert Association released its 2018-19 schedule Monday, with Broadway's "The Book of Mormon" anchoring the season.

The Tony-award winning musical is set for a two-week engagement Oct. 19-28 in Atwood Concert Hall. Other musicals on the schedule include "The Sound of Music" (Feb. 19-24) and "Monty Python's Spamalot" (May 2019).

Of the 21 acts announced, almost half are returning performers. Coming back are storytelling collective The Moth (Feb. 13), South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela (Oct. 12), who performed at Nelson Mandela's presidential inauguration, and The Second City (Feb. 2), a Chicago-based improv group best known for being a springboard for future "Saturday Night Live" cast members. Comedian Tig Notaro, famous for her stand-up routine about her battle against breast cancer and creating Amazon Prime's "One Mississippi," is performing in Anchorage for the second time.

The concert association is also bringing up seven-time Grammy-nominated singer Joan Osborne (Feb. 22), who will sing the songs of Bob Dylan, OK Go (March 23), a rock band whose creative music videos went viral online and The Sweet Remains (Oct. 5), a three-piece folk band with a sound similar to Jason Mraz and The Lumineers.

The new season kicks off on September 21 with clown and singer Puddles Pity Party. Coming back to Anchorage after a show last March, Puddles made it to the quarterfinals on NBC's "America's Got Talent."

The full 2018-2019 schedule:

Puddles Pity Party (Sept. 21)

Ozomatli and Flor de Toloache (Sept. 29)

The Sweet Remains (Oct. 5)

Vusi Mahlasela (Oct. 12)

Tig Notaro (Oct. 13)

The Book of Mormon (Oct. 19-28)

Lucky Chops (Nov. 9-10)

The Nutcracker featuring Eugene Ballet (Nov. 23-25)

The New Standards Holiday Show (Nov. 30-Dec. 1)

Celtic Woman: The Best of Christmas Tour (Dec. 7-9)

International Guitar Night (Jan. 18-19)

The Second City (Feb. 2)

The Moth Mainstage (Feb. 13)

The Sound of Music (Feb. 19-24)

Joan Osborne Sings the Songs of Bob Dylan (Feb. 22)

The Texas Tenors (March 9)

JigJam (March 22)

OK Go (March 23)

Break of Reality (March 30)

Frogz (April 12-13)

Monty Python's Spamalot (May 2019).

For more information, visit anchorageconcerts.org.

Trump, French President Macron review the troops and enjoy the pomp before getting down to business

Tue, 2018-04-24 09:13

WASHINGTON – They kissed, chastely. They thrust their shoulders back for a 21-gun salute. And, yes, they shook hands – and even, at one point, held outstretched hands for a brief jaunt amid the columns.

President Donald Trump's review of the troops to celebrate the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron's arrival at the White House Tuesday was keeping with tradition, though the president – a self-proclaimed law-and-order leader with a professed weakness for military parades – couldn't help but wear the Cheshire cat look of man who got to gaze upon his military might by simply stepping onto his back portico.

Tuesday morning's breeziness on the White House South Lawn, however, belied tougher private discussions to come – on everything from the Iran nuclear deal to how to handle the aftermath of their recent joint strike in Syria.

But for at least an hour, Trump was able to offer Macron a slimmed-down version of last July's Bastille Day parade in Paris – an event Trump enjoyed so much that he ordered up his own military procession this coming Veterans Day.

After "Hail to the Chief," as well as both countries' national anthems, Trump and Macron stepped down off their podium to walk the line of the crisp troops – rarely directly facing them, but angling their heads slightly to take in the military tableau.

Both Trump's wife, Melania, and Macron's wife, Brigitte, also attended the ceremony, as silent – if arresting – partners. The first lady, in particular, cast a striking silhouette against the overcast sky – clad in a sleek, solidly white Michael Kors suit and white hat, which seemed to channel Olivia Pope, the heroine of ABC's political drama "Scandal."

At one point, a marching band clad in revolutionary gear – black tri cornered hats and red blazers – glided across the lawn, woodwinds in the front and percussion in the rear.

Though both leaders addressed the crowd, and one another, during the ceremony, the conversation turned tougher during a brief gathering after in the Oval Office, during which Trump was asked if he would be willing to stay in the Iran nuclear deal – something Macron is hoping to persuade him to do.

"We'll see," Trump said, before calling it "a terrible deal," "insane" and "ridiculous."

Still, in a possible olive branch, Trump declared, "It should never have been made. But we will be talking about it."

In literature announcing the arrival ceremony, the White House – in perhaps either an effort to emphasize United States' long relationship with France or a bit of a historical blunder – proclaimed the proud U.S. tradition of a military arrival ceremony dates back to the 17th century – at least approximately 76 years before the United States became a country.

Dear Starbucks: To avoid ‘unconscious bias,’ why don’t you just charge for table space?

Tue, 2018-04-24 09:07

Even if you don't like coffee, even if the mass-replicated pseudo-Italian slacker vibe makes you antsy, Starbucks is inevitable. It's inescapable. Death, taxes, Starbucks.

Ultimately, you will be seduced by its utility. I caved a long time ago, conceding that the chain's usefulness as a neutral meeting place or satellite office outpost sometimes outweighs its baroque overproduction of what ought to be an honest cup o' joe.

That said, its ubiquity (with 28,000 outlets worldwide, it approaches the golden arches as a globally familiar brand) creates a level of scrutiny a mom-and-pop diner doesn't expect in the event of a spectacular managerial screw-up.

Which is exactly what Starbucks got —  and richly deserved — when two black men at a Philadelphia outlet were arrested and hauled off in handcuffs for "trespassing," defined in this case as not ordering anything and asking to use a restroom.

What's absurd is that these two men, who were waiting on a third person for a business meeting, were doing exactly what Starbucks' corporate mission has purported it wants: For customers to use its stores as a "community space" or "third place" (in addition to home and work) to treat as a familiar, personal hangout.

Well, kind of. Maybe. Sometimes. And that's a problem.

A quick Wall Street Journal survey published over the weekend found that the chain doesn't have a consistent policy for handling people who take literally the invitation to treat Starbucks as their "third place" without seeing a cash transaction as part of the deal.

According to the Journal, Starbucks "guidelines for how to treat lingering non-paying customers in general are vague at best — if they exist at all."

The chain's founding billionaire, Howard Schultz, said the Philadelphia store manager (who seems to have vanished in a column of vapor since this incident became a viral PR calamity) was exercising "unconscious bias" in singling out black male customers. The corporation will shut down all of its company-owned stores for an afternoon next month to conduct "anti-bias training" for employees — sorry, "partners."

I certainly don't think this mystery manager needed to call the cops, and I don't think the cops needed to arrest these guys once they got there.

I also don't think it's wise to leave it on individual managers to make snap judgments over the difference between waiting for someone, lingering, and loitering; to decide who has had enough time to finish up and who hasn't; to make arbitrary judgments over who can use the bathroom and who can't.

All of this furor entirely sidesteps the fact that the central mission of Starbucks is not to provide a cozy "community hangout" or give you a place to revise your unpublished screenplay. It is to make money.

Pretending otherwise is what got them in trouble. It will keep getting them in trouble as long as they issue ambiguous and even contradictory statements about paying-versus-non-paying customers, and dumping the onus on individual managers to sort it all out.

A few weeks ago, I met a couple of former colleagues for a quick reunion. We chose a Starbucks near Love Field. I arrived first, and staked out a table, figuring I would wait for them to arrive to place an order; I didn't want to stand in line for something I didn't really want, anyway. It was probably 10 minutes or so, and nobody said a word.

Here is my suggestion: Rent table space. It would be easy to do: Install a meter on every table, where, with the swipe of a credit card or a cellphone app, you can claim the table for, say, an hour. You could charge more in busy, high-volume urban locations; less in low-traffic areas or during slow hours.

I would gladly have paid a modest fee to use the space late last year, when our home internet service was disrupted by an electrical storm and we had to wait a week for repairs. My neighborhood has plenty of Starbucks to choose from — they're in every strip mall and supermarket for miles around — so I spent a lot of time as a space-consuming, wifi-using, outlet-hogging table camper.

Figuring the polite thing to do was to order something, I got a bottle of water or juice, even though I didn't want it. I didn't even try ordering coffee, which according to some guides, requires eight separate decisions for every cup (no, you can't order "just coffee").

That was $3 or $4, plus a $2 tip for the person who sold it to me, which seemed fair. But if there are unwritten rules, how do you know what they are? How long did that entitle me to use the table? Should I have kept ordering more drinks, even if I didn't finish them? If there were plenty of empty tables, was I less obligated to buy than if there weren't?

I would have been happier just renting the table at an established price, leaving the server (can't bring self to use the psesudo-Italian "barista") a tip. Ordering would have been optional, and I wouldn't have had to worry about it.

Frankly, I didn't have much to worry about. Because the reality here is that a 50-something white woman in a prosperous suburb is a lot less likely to be ordered to move-it-along than a young black man in a downtown district.

I'm less likely to get pulled over for a minor infraction, or questioned about a holdup, or bawled out for jaywalking. The Philadelphia Starbucks incident just underscored the reality that the rules can vary, depending not always on what you do, but on who you are.

But thanks, Starbucks — and I mean this sincerely — for giving me an easy, predictable place to do a little work or meet friends. It would be easier, though, if you just charged me for using the space.

That way, we'd all know what the rules are. And they'd be the same for everybody.

Jacquielynn Floyd is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. 

Gusts to near 80 mph above Potter Marsh usher in Southcentral Alaska windstorm

Tue, 2018-04-24 09:07

A powerful storm pushing out of the Bering Sea was bringing wind gusts as high as 79 mph to the Anchorage area.

That gust at Paradise Valley above Potter Marsh was the highest recorded as of Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Anchorage. The reading was right on track with a Weather Service warning issued Monday for Turnagain Arm and upper elevations.

The high-wind warning for Anchorage, Eagle River, Indian and Eklutna will remain in effect until 7 p.m. Tuesday. The warning was expanded mid-morning to include areas of Anchorage near the mountains, including East Anchorage and the lower Hillside, with gusts to 60 mph through afternoon.

Reports Tuesday morning from Anchorage's Upper Hillside neighborhoods put gusts at 50 to 55 mph from Hillside Drive to Glen Alps, meteorologist Shaun Baines said. Gauges from the lower Hillside to East Anchorage registered 20 to 30 mph gusts.

Wind complicated the morning commute.

Reports put peak gusts at the Glenn Highway weigh station south of Eagle River at 40 to 45 mph, Baines said. "We just had one guy come in here saying it was hard to stay in your lane."

The setup behind the storm is classic, forecasters say, though the conditions usually arise in the fall and not the spring.

A storm out in the Bering is combining with a strong surface front approaching from the west, Baines said. That causes the pressure gradient — the difference between high- and low-pressure zones — to build over Southcentral Alaska.

Wind blows from higher to lower pressure, he said. And terrain like mountain gaps or Turnagain Arm serve as wind-intensifying funnels.

Winds are expected to move across Mat-Su throughout the day, forecasters say. Gusts at Palmer Airport were already hitting almost 40 mph by midmorning Tuesday.

The windstorm should peak later Tuesday, though gusty winds will continue for several days, the weather service says.

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