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He threatened to kill himself. So the police took his guns.

Sat, 2018-03-17 17:16

LISBON, Conn. – John McGuire was inside his house with 81 guns when five state troopers were dispatched to investigate a threat he had reportedly made. They drove past a series of frozen lakes and up an unplowed driveway to a house set back in the Connecticut woods. The shades were drawn. A tattered mattress wasted away on the front porch, and boxes of medical equipment cluttered the entryway.

McGuire, 76, came to the door wearing a stained sweatshirt and uncombed gray hair. He hadn't dealt with police in the two decades since he retired from the force himself, but he still knew the legal statutes and understood his rights. He asked the police if he was under arrest, and the officers said he was not. He asked if he had broken any laws, and they said he hadn't. They told him he wasn't being charged, or investigated, or even accused of any crime. Instead, they had come to search his house this winter evening based on a controversial type of warrant, one that represents the United States' latest piecemeal attempt to prevent gun violence.

"Person Posing Risk to Self or Others," read the bold lettering on top of the warrant.

Probable cause: "McGuire stated to a medical technician that . . . he was going to kill himself by burning his house down and blowing his head off with a revolver."

Number of registered firearms: "38 or more."

Purpose of search: "Take any and all firearms to prevent imminent personal injury."

In the polarizing gun debate, here was the latest attempt at a solution: civil seizures that allow police to temporarily take guns from at-risk owners without consent after a credible threat is reported. Gun-control advocates say it is a common-sense way to prevent suicides, murders and mass shootings. The National Rifle Association says it is the manifestation of a gun owner's greatest fear, in which the government confiscates legal guns from the homes of law-abiding citizens. Five states have passed versions of the law. Eighteen more and the District of Columbia are considering doing so.

Nowhere is the approach used more than in Connecticut, which instituted the country's first "red flag" law in 1999 and where each year about 200 cases tell the story of a nation always on the precipice of the next shooting. An opioid addict threatened to show his "favorite semi-automatic" to a nurse who refused to provide more pills. A fired parking attendant told his co-workers that he would "give a whole new meaning to going postal." A mother discovered her 19-year-old son in his bedroom writing a suicide note. "Three guns to choose from. Which does the job?"

Each time a threat is reported, police can seize a person's guns for up to two weeks before a court decides if and when those firearms will be returned. Case by case, judges weigh questions at the heart of the United States' complicated relationship with guns. When does the right to public safety eclipse the right to bear arms? Out of the country's estimated 95 million gun owners, which tiny fraction might be dangerous?

In the case of McGuire, the gun owner was a recent widower who had been diagnosed with melanoma. He let the officers into his house, walked them to his bedroom and began handing them guns stacked in his closet, guns lying under his bed and a gun sitting beside his nightstand. There were antique rifles, semiautomatics and miniature pistols still unopened in their boxes. "My babies," was what McGuire sometimes called his guns, which he had been collecting for five decades since he joined the Army.

"Will I get them back?" he asked as the officers carried guns out by the armful, and an officer said there would be a court hearing in a few weeks. McGuire tried to explain that his threat was actually a misunderstanding – a heated comment made after a series of horrible events. First his daughter had died in 2015, and then his wife had died two days earlier while in hospice care in their living room. A medical technician had come to take away her hospital bed early the next day, and McGuire told the man he wanted to burn down his house and shoot himself. "What else do I have to lose?" he remembered saying.

A few officers continued to search his house while another drove McGuire to the hospital for a voluntary mental-health evaluation. His blood pressure was dangerously high. He was agitated and tearful. A doctor handed him an intake form, and for the first time McGuire began to consider the questions that would determine so much about the next few weeks.

"How often are you angry?"

"Do you ever have feelings of losing control?"

[In Alaska, a high bar for taking guns from the mentally ill]

He returned home from the hospital that night with a prescription for antidepressants, a booklet labeled "Tips for Self Care" and a three-page printout of the guns no longer in his house. The list included Winchesters, Remingtons, Rugers, Berettas, Colts and Glocks – a high-end collection that McGuire considered one of his biggest investments.

"Obviously there's the sentimental value, but this is also a major part of my savings," McGuire said later that week to a lawyer who had agreed to represent him in the case. The lawyer, Chuck Norris, was an old friend from the police force, and he explained to McGuire that to get his guns back at the upcoming hearing they would need to prove he was neither a threat to others nor a risk to himself.

"They see 81 guns, and alarm bells are going off," Norris said. "We need to show that you're responsible and that you're someone who only uses these guns the right way."

In truth, McGuire could barely remember the last time he fired one of his guns. Had it been three years? Or maybe five? He'd long ago dropped his membership to the small shooting gallery near his house. He'd never discharged his weapon during 17 years on the police force, and his only shots in the Army had come during occasional training exercises. On his last hunting trip, he'd somehow managed to stalk and kill a beautiful moose in Maine, and the guilt that followed made him give much of the meat away to a local food bank. What he said he loved most about guns was not the hunting, or the culture, or even the thrill of pulling a trigger. It was the way that holding a weapon in his hand could make him feel in control when so many other aspects of his life did not.

He'd begun collecting guns in the late 1970s, not long after his only child was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare cancer. His wife, Bridie, started spending her evenings in a Catholic church, but McGuire wasn't ready to pray to a God who'd given his 11-year-old daughter a degenerative cancer. He started lifting weights to deal with his anger, and soon he was dead-lifting 580 pounds.

All three of them coped with the disease in part by starting their own collections. His daughter bought refrigerator magnets to commemorate each place she visited, from Ireland to Dollywood to Nova Scotia, a reminder of life beyond the disease. His wife stockpiled Hummel figurines, because she liked seeing hundred of idyllic porcelain children all over the house. And McGuire bought guns, because he said they made him feel as if he was protecting his family, even as his daughter's cancer rendered him powerless. His daughter started chemotherapy, and he bought four revolvers from the Norwich police department. She started radiation, and he purchased a combat rifle from a dealer in Florida. Doctors removed a kidney, and he bought a .44 magnum. They took out part of her intestines, and he bought a pistol that looked like one made famous by James Bond. His collection grew over three decades of his daughter's health emergencies – through 11 surgeries and dozens of infections, until the one that killed her at age 46 in the spring of 2015.

His wife had never seen the point of owning so many guns, especially when the only intruders on their property were raccoons and deer. She wanted him to get rid of them, McGuire said, but in the months after their daughter died, he was increasingly grief-stricken and angry, and he felt convinced that much about the United States was coming dangerously undone. He watched TV each night as the news cycled through stories about opioids, illegal immigration and the shrinking white middle class. "It could reach the point where there's another civil war," he told Bridie, so he bought more ammunition and promised to protect her.

By then she had started to forget little things, sometimes leaving the stove on after she cooked or making wrong turns on the way home from the grocery store. She blamed her lapses on the fog of grief, but before long doctors had diagnosed her with advanced dementia. Within a few months she entered hospice care, spending every moment in a hospital bed in their living room as McGuire taught himself to become a caretaker. He spoon-fed her three meals each day, applied her makeup because it made her feel better about herself, and changed her sheets and diapers each night. He slept next to her in a recliner facing the door with a pistol near his side, just in case. The gun couldn't protect her from rapid memory loss. It couldn't protect her from the nightmares that sometimes left her shouting and grasping in the night at imaginary objects in front of her head. She said she was scared. She said she didn't want to die by herself. She said she wanted McGuire to come with her. And then he was alone with a medical technician who came to clean and prepare the body, using a string to slide a wedding ring of 53 years off his wife's swollen finger, and McGuire's thoughts had gone back to the one thing that gave him a sense of control. A gun. He was ready to end it.

"She wanted me to go with her," he remembered telling the technician that day, and then hours later the police were at his door.

Now empty gun boxes left over from their search were strewn around his house, and a holster dangled on the bedroom doorknob. He hadn't washed dishes or done laundry in a week. The kitchen table was cluttered with 19 prescription bottles of his wife's medications, and McGuire wondered why the police hadn't taken those, too. "Pills, knives, ropes, belts, cars – there are so many other ways, if I really wanted to do it," he said.

His daughter's travel magnets were still on the refrigerator. His wife's Hummel figurines remained on their shelves. On the table in front of him was the self-care booklet, which suggested that one way to take back control was to begin by asking for support.

He reached for his cellphone and called a friend.

"Can you come get me?" he asked. "I probably need to get out of here."

[Study confirms what gun rights advocates have said for a long time about crime]

A few hours later a pickup truck pulled into McGuire's driveway, and Rich DeLorge rolled down his window and leaned hard against his horn. "Hurry up!" he shouted, and eventually McGuire walked outside holding both of his middle fingers high in the air.

"What the hell took you so long?" DeLorge asked as McGuire climbed into the passenger seat.

"Screw you," he said.

"Are we angry and depressed again?"

"What do you think?"

"Well, you're still breathing, so at least you haven't gone off and done it yet."

"You're an asshole," McGuire said, but then they both started to laugh. DeLorge was McGuire's oldest friend – one of the few people who had regularly come to visit during Bridie's final weeks – and seeing him usually improved McGuire's outlook more than the antidepressants or the bereavement group he'd tried joining at the hospital. He had no energy for making small talk with strangers, which was one of the reasons he had decided against holding a wake for Bridie. He didn't want to hear people tell him that they understood when in fact they didn't or that things would get better when he felt certain they never would. He had no patience left for pretending. He wanted to be honest – which often meant being sulky, angry, bitter or mean – and for that he had DeLorge.

They had met 30 years earlier, when McGuire was investigating a tip about a fight involving DeLorge's motorcycle club. McGuire had interviewed DeLorge and found him to be honest, funny and apologetic, so instead of arresting him, McGuire had let him off with a warning. That was how he liked to police – paying less attention to the letter of the law than to the nuances of each situation. Sometimes the drunk at the bar just needed to take a walk, or the driver had a good reason for speeding.

"You only bring in the courts if it's the absolute last resort," he said now in the car, thinking again about his guns. "If it had been me on the other side of that door, no way would I have started seizing property. I would have sat the guy down, bought him a cup of coffee, maybe asked about his family, checked up on how he was doing."

"It's not about people anymore," DeLorge said. "It's all about rules and regulations."

"Maybe I was just blowing off steam," McGuire said. "Maybe I'd been through hell for the last two years. They ever stop and think about that?"

"So you collect guns. What's the big deal?" DeLorge said, because even if he thought McGuire was depressed, he didn't consider him dangerous or suicidal.

"I don't bother anybody," McGuire said. "I don't break the law. I don't even drink. And then they come and do this to me at the worst possible time."

They didn't have any place in particular to go, so DeLorge drove for more than an hour to the far northern corner of the state, and then he stopped at an abandoned gas station where people had gathered for a small auction. There were 30 folding chairs set up around a small space heater. The room smelled of marijuana, and a food vendor sold expired bags of chips for 25 cents. People rotated to the front of the room to take turns selling off their items. "Who will give me three bucks for this nice candle, guys?" the first auctioneer began. "Warm vanilla. Two bucks? A dollar? Anyone for a dollar?" Next it was miniature teddy bears, camouflaged umbrellas, Second Amendment T-shirts and coffee mugs with handles shaped like guns. There were six auctioneers and nine potential customers, at least one of whom wasn't bidding.

"Congratulations on finding the one place even more depressing than my house," McGuire told DeLorge, and a few minutes later they were headed home.

They drove back across the railroad tracks and past a row of decaying textile mills. "This state's going to hell for the working class," McGuire said. They passed through a tiny town called Canterbury, where McGuire said there had been an armed robbery two nights before. "Heroin addicts everywhere," he said. "Everyone out for themselves, just no regard for human life." They drove by a 19th-century mansion that had fallen into disrepair and been subdivided into multifamily homes. "Probably all immigrants now," he said. "Probably on welfare." They drove through Jewett City, where an atheist had filed a noise complaint against the Baptist church on Main Street for ringing its hourly electronic bell. "Goddamn nanny state," he said. "They just passed a law that says I can't take a piss in my own yard. Can't burn your trash. Can't keep my own damned guns."

"All right, sunshine. Take it easy," DeLorge said.

"This whole country's going to hell," McGuire said, and now there were tears in his eyes, and he was thinking about the thing that had been troubling him most during the past few days. His wife was a loyal Catholic who knew exactly where she was going after death, and lately McGuire thought he knew where he might be going, too.

"I have so much hate in my heart," he said.

"Yeah, you're a real asshole," DeLorge said, laughing, but this time McGuire didn't laugh. They pulled into his driveway, and he opened the passenger door to get out.

"You OK?" DeLorge asked.

"Terrific," he said.

"Hey. I'm being serious," DeLorge said, but McGuire was already out the door and walking up the driveway toward his house.

[Rep. Don Young says he isn't bothered by controversy over his remarks about gun control, Jews and Nazi Germany]

Was he OK?

That was the question again one morning later that month at the small courthouse in downtown Norwich. Norris, McGuire's attorney, had pushed back the hearing by a few weeks to better prepare his case, and when the court date finally arrived McGuire decided not to attend. It was a civil case, so he had no legal obligation to appear. He knew almost everyone at the courthouse from his time as a police officer and a marshal, and he didn't want to run into dozens of former colleagues on his way to a risk warrant hearing.

"I'm still not ready to deal with condolences and questions from all those people," he said, so instead he hoped Norris would relay a message to the court: that it was being without his guns that made him feel "stressed, vulnerable and at risk," he said, and that he was sorry for "saying something dumb."

"Tell them I got caught up in the heat of the moment," McGuire told Norris, and then he stayed alone in his house and waited near the phone as the hearing began.

"This is a good man who's gone through an incredibly difficult time," Norris told the court.

"There is compelling evidence here that Mr. McGuire's threat was likely situational," the prosecutor agreed, because he knew and trusted McGuire's attorney, and also because he had been provided with a doctor's report that said McGuire was "healthy" and "grieving."

And then it was up to the judge. She thought McGuire's circumstances seemed potentially volatile. She also said she empathized with him. Connecticut had ruled in hundreds of risk warrant cases during the past decade, with an average of seven guns seized each time. In most cases, judges ordered that the guns would remain in police storage for a year. Ten percent of the time, the guns were returned to owners immediately. In 14 percent, the guns were taken away permanently and then sold or destroyed.

The judge looked again at McGuire's file. He had no history of violence. He had admitted making a threat, but now he said the threat had passed.

"The guns are to be returned immediately to John McGuire," the court ruled, and a few minutes later Norris called McGuire to tell him. He said it was the best news of his year. He said he would once again feel whole and safe. "I can finally calm down and breathe," he said, and a few days later he was carrying 81 guns back up the long driveway and into his house.

Consultants for Trump misused Facebook data of millions

Sat, 2018-03-17 17:08

LONDON — As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 U.S. midterm elections, it had a problem.

The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of U.S. voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.

So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network's history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the U.S. electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Donald Trump's campaign in 2016.

An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica's drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: "Rules don't matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it's all fair."

"They want to fight a culture war in America," he added. "Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war."

Details of Cambridge's acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm's psychographic modeling techniques.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm's emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but also still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

"This was a scam — and a fraud," Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. "We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties," Grewal said.

Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Kogan for violating Facebook's rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the Brexit campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was "illegally acquired and used."

In the United States, Mercer's daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Bannon and Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.

Congressional investigators have questioned Nix about the company's role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department's special counsel, Robert Mueller, has demanded the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.

While the substance of Mueller's interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm's British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users' identities, friend networks and "likes." Only a tiny fraction of the users had agreed to release their information to a third party.

"Protecting people's information is at the heart of everything we do," Grewal said. "No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked."

Still, he added, "it's a serious abuse of our rules."

Reading voters' minds

The Bordeaux flowed freely as Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.

Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Barack Obama's campaigns. Wylie was interested in using inherent psychological traits to affect voters' behavior and had assembled a team of psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.

The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.

Then a chance meeting bought Nix into contact with Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser; and with Mercer, one of the richest men on earth.

Nix and his colleagues courted Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter, who shared his conservative views. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America's culture and rewire its politics, recalled Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Bannon and the Mercers declined to comment.

Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia's gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fundraiser. Although Cuccinelli lost, Mercer committed to moving forward.

The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Nix was eager to win.

When Wylie's colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Neugebauer, Nix castigated them over email.

"ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??" he wrote.

Wylie's team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.

But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.

Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University's Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew — a claim that has been disputed.

When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Wylie found someone who would: Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs — more than $800,000 — and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.

All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was "a very standard vanilla Facebook app."

He ultimately provided more than 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million — a number previously reported by The Intercept — contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.

Wylie said the Facebook data was "the saving grace" that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.

"We wanted as much as we could get," he acknowledged. "Where it came from, who said we could have it — we weren't really asking."

Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Kogan's contributions as "fruitless."

An international effort

Just as Kogan's efforts were getting underway, Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL's elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new U.S. company, owned almost entirely by Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Wylie's team, according to company documents. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.

The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Wylie, or European.

But in July 2014, a U.S. election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in U.S. elections.

In a memo to Bannon, Mercer and Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Nix would have to recuse himself "from substantive management" of any clients involved in U.S. elections. The data firm would also have to find U.S. citizens or green card holders, Levy wrote, "to manage the work and decision-making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures."

In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the U.S. midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all "personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders." Nix "never had any strategic or operational role" in a U.S. election campaign, the company said.

Whether the company's U.S. ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees' roles in each campaign and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.

Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Cruz and then Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.

Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Trump's digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fundraising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Trump should travel to best drum up support.

Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Nix has said that the firm's profiles helped shape Trump's strategy — statements disputed by other campaign officials — but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.

In a BBC interview in December, Nix said the Trump efforts drew on "legacy psychographics" built for the Cruz campaign.

After the leak

By early 2015, Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.

Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Wylie and other former "contractors" as engaging in "what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company."

Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was "carefully investigating this situation" and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.

Facebook verified the leak and — without publicly acknowledging it — sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. "This data was obtained and used without permission," said a letter that was obtained by The Times. "It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately."

Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Kogan and "SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question."

But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook's control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.

While Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.

Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.

All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica's political business. No U.S. campaigns or super PACs have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Trump's re-election campaign.

In the meantime, Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a "Math Man," he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev but has not signed them on.

Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr reported from London. Gabriel J.X. Dance contributed reporting from London, and Danny Hakim from New York.

Our relationship is miserable, but when I tried to break things off my boyfriend threatened to kill himself

Sat, 2018-03-17 17:00

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I am currently struggling with my boyfriend and I am in desperate need for help. It all started early last year. I was having problems with my parents (they even threatened to throw me out of the country) and my boyfriend asked me to move in with him. Tired of the daily arguments with my parents, I moved in with him and his family.

He promised me that within three months, we would get our own apartment, and I believed it. The first couple of months were fine. We were getting situated, we were looking for apartments and I was trying to fix things with my parents. As the months went by, my boyfriend was trying less and less. He started gaining weight, he started acting like a jerk, he would never help take care of our dog. Every apartment I brought up, he believed he had a good reason for why it was not a good fit for us.

All he does on his days off is play video games. By now I have fixed my relationship with my parents and yet my boyfriend never wants me to make the 15-minute drive from where we currently live to my parents' house. He just can't stand my parents. There is a language barrier but that had not been a problem at the beginning of our relationship and now, for some reason, that is a big problem.

I tried to break it off with him, giving him all the reasons why it's not working anymore and he threatens to kill himself and promises to make things better. It's fine for a couple of days and then he goes back to the same thing he's been doing. He hasn't even attempted to get a driver's license, so my commute to work is 20 minutes longer because I have to drop him off first. I'm so close to losing my job because of how often I've been late. He doesn't even offer to pay for gas anymore. What do I do?

Wanda says:

First of all, your boyfriend threatening to harm himself should be taken seriously and treated as urgent. For professional guidance on how to proceed and support him, call the Alaska CARELINE (1-877-266-4357/HELP), Mental Health Emergency Counseling line (907-563-3200) or Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), and definitely reach out to your boyfriend's parents to tell them what is going on. Even if you think he's just saying these things to scare you and keep you close, his words should be taken seriously.

That serious issue aside, you've still got a tremendous amount on your plate — and all of it points to a draining, unhealthy relationship, where this man is taking extraordinary advantage of your vulnerabilities and your kindnesses. I didn't hear you name one positive benefit to you through this relationship. Instead, I heard you explain a dynamic where you're consistently neglected and taken advantage of by a person who sounds very depressed and in need of professional support.

It's very hard when we care about someone and see them spiraling to walk away. We feel responsible and we want to do something to help, to fix them. But sometimes these problems are bigger than us and we must reach out to our support networks and professionals to muddle through. I urge you to not try to manage this massive bundle of dark, confusing issues by yourself. Reach out to someone who can provide support and guidance for your boyfriend, and who can support you in breaking the dysfunctional cycle and you untangle yourself from this unhealthy dynamic and break away to start fresh — and single.

Wayne says:

Fully agree with Wanda and completely confirm your intuition — it's time to stop worrying about everyone else and time to start focusing on your own happiness and welfare. And, as you already know, what's best for you is to quickly exit this mess — your relationship with your boyfriend and his parents' home.

I know — it's really hard to end things. And your probably depressed, definitely manipulative boyfriend isn't going to make it easier. But remember: You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be around people who love and support you. You deserve the opportunity to have your hard work translate into success and independence.

Your boyfriend and your current living situation are preventing you from thriving and growing. So break up with him, leave his place and don't look back. Don't reply to his calls or texts. And don't feel guilty for taking care of yourself. You gave him more than enough chances to be a better partner and he's let you down and dragged you down every time.

Hopefully your parents will let you move back in with them, but don't view that as a permanent fix. Use the free (or cheap) room to save your money while you continue looking for an apartment of your own. Embrace this moment of growth and keep the momentum going. Months and years from now, you'll look back on this with pride for the way you stood up for yourself, for doing what was best for you, and you'll remember this as the start of your journey down the road of adulthood.

Good luck.

Want to respond to a recent column, point out a dating trend, or ask Wanda and Wayne for wisdom regarding your love life? Give them a shout at

[Wayne and Wanda: When casual dating gets complicated]

[Wayne and Wanda: Looking for Mr. Right by dating Mr. Wrongs]

Readers write: Letters to the editor, March 18, 2018

Sat, 2018-03-17 16:32

Not only is Prop. 1 unfair, it's written in a confusing way

Besides its inherent unfairness and immorality, there is another major reason to vote no on Proposition 1; it is drafted in a confusing way.

Look at it in the City's Ballot Review. It starts by saying that "This proposition enacts a law that, among other things, would enact …" (Italics added.) It then lists in six paragraphs what the law would do. It finishes with the question "shall this proposition become law?"

So the questions are:

Where do we find this law which we are enacting? Is it in a city ordinance or an initiative petition? If so, what is the number of the ordinance or where do we find the petition? And finally, what else is the in the law since the proposition says that there are "other things" in it besides the six paragraphs?

— Eric Wohlforth

Let's insist on compromise to resolve our pressing issues

In light of another recent mass shooting, there are many additional shots being fired by people from both sides of our political spectrum. It's concerning that most people, regardless of political leaning, party affiliations or social class, are so caught up in trying to push their particular agenda to "solve" this issue. On the right we have people proclaiming guns aren't the issue, stuff like mental health, or societal influences like violent video games, and lack of godly morals are what is creating these tragedies. The left is pushing heavier gun regulation in multiple ways, and that is scary to many people, especially those ardent about the Second Amendment to our constitution. Like most issues that divide the parties, such as gay marriage, immigration laws, and abortion, the real answer usually lies somewhere in the middle. There are valid points from both sides on all of these issues, and instead of headway being made, we simply argue and fight just to get our point validated and "win."

I truly believe that if we insisted that our political leaders come to compromise to get real solutions accomplished, we would see true resolution and improvement in all of our tough issues. In any relationship it takes compromise, and resolve to get change, and harmony. People get so overwhelmed trying to get things done their way that we end up getting nothing accomplished. Think of our state budget issues, or the national healthcare situation. We need to learn to respect each other's opinions, to listen, not to find a hole in someone's argument, but to learn their viewpoint and see if there is validity and solutions in their views. When we approach these issues in that way we end up learning, caring and getting some real solutions implemented. As for the mass shooting solution, the answer is complicated, and I don't claim to have it.

In my opinion, guns obviously play a role in these incidents. I have heard guns are a tool, not the cause. That's valid, because if a gun is just sitting there it doesn't kill anyone; it takes someone pulling that trigger. In saying that, if we make the process to get guns more difficult, or more regulated, we inherently make mass shootings less likely.

Mental health also plays a major role. We need to change the stigma on mental health and how we care for and approach people in those situations. Societal norms also contribute to this horrible trend. The media, electronics, and frankly our numbness to violence make the choice to commit a mass shooting easier. Now, because of how many shooting have occurred, when someone has been bullied, or isn't accepted, or is just plain crazy, they feel like going out and climbing the proverbial watchtower is acceptable. Education about violence, guns, the media, etc., needs to be a part of the conversations we all have with our children.

I'll leave you with this: Without compromise, listening, political accountability and multi-faceted approaches, we will still be talking about these same issues for many years to come. I encourage everyone to have conversations with people that think differently than yourself and see if you can find some common ground. I bet the answer is yes.

— Hunter Joy

LeDoux keeping smoking bill from going to floor for vote

This week I watched a local news station on which a story was aired about Senate Bill 63. This bill aims to regulate smoking in public places statewide. In essence, this bill would disallow smoking in public places statewide, similar to how smoking is regulated in Anchorage. Simply put, this bill is a public health bill, ensuring that workers in public places will not be subject to secondhand smoke as they earn a living.

I don't know about you, but I don't believe that a worker should be subject to secondhand smoke and risk getting cancer later in life simply because someone who smokes won't be inconvenienced by having to step outdoors. This bill ensures that these workers will not have to be subjected to the effects of secondhand smoke and its later effects on their health.

I was appalled to hear that Rep. LeDoux, from Anchorage, where such a ban is in place, has prevented this bill from reaching the House floor for a vote, where according to many the bill would pass easily. She is using her authority as the chair of the House Rules Committee to block this bill from reaching the House floor for a vote.

While this is action in itself is appalling enough, Rep. LeDoux would not make herself available to the press to answer questions as to her reasons for blocking the bills movement. We know that this is not because she is shy for press time, as she routinely makes herself available for numerous House Majority press conferences on the budget where she opines for a state tax to pay for such things as increased public spending for public health programs.

As such I find it perplexing why Rep. LeDoux and her ruling majority coalition party would not support a bill to improve public health. Rumors are that the bill is being held to be used as leverage in future bargaining with the Senate. If this is true, shame on them. It is unthinkable how anyone can justify putting public health at risk simply to have a bargaining chip at their disposal.

I ask these people to introspectively ask themselves how they would feel if a loved one got diagnosed with cancer caused by second hand smoke or how they could live with knowing that they could have prevented someone, a fellow Alaskan, from getting cancer because they failed in acting.

If you believe regulating secondhand smoke is the right thing to do, I urge you to contact Rep. LeDoux and Speaker Edgmon to allow a floor vote on this issue. If we can't agree on an issue as simple as protecting public health, we stand no chance in tackling the even-tougher issues facing our state.

— Doug Vincent-Lang

No facts to support Prop. 1

Homophobic Prop. 1 backers are doing their best to confuse Anchorage voters and make us afraid that preserving equal rights for our transgender friends and neighbors will somehow make women and girls vulnerable to increased attacks in public bathrooms.

But if bathroom equality really leads to increased violence, there would be facts to support that claim, since Anchorage's equal rights ordinance has been in place since 2015. In fact, no such evidence exists. If it did, don't you think the Prop. 1 backers would have provided us with all the gory details by now? The Anchorage Police Department is opposed to Prop. 1, which is also puts the lie to this scare tactic.

I've traveled quite a bit in Europe, where unisex public bathrooms are the norm. No one hesitates to use them or shows the slightest fear of being attacked. Human beings in Europe are quite capable of sharing bathroom facilities without assaulting each other or worrying about what kind of genitalia are in the stall next to the one they're in.

Are Alaskans with male genitalia somehow different, more predatory or aggressive, than Europeans? I think Alaskan men would be offended by such a suggestion, and so should Alaskan women.

Feeling uncomfortable sharing a bathroom someone who's a bit different doesn't mean you're actually unsafe.

Please vote no on Prop. 1 on April 4. Keep Anchorage fair and safe for all of us.

— Patti Saunders

Follow the rules in ML&P sale

Mayor Berkowitz wants the voters to approve the sale of ML&P to Chugach Electric and, oh by the way, amend the City Charter so that the whole process is really legal in the first place. Yup, nothing to see here, we offered the city-owned utility for sale, supposedly had a sealed-bid process, selected a winner, and now just have to deal with that pesky City Charter to make the process legal.

Once upon a time, the city had a phone company. To sell the utility required that the member owners, aka the city residents, approve the city soliciting bids. We did and the Anchorage Telephone Utility was offered for sale via sealed bid and sold. That's right, the City Charter requires that to sell off a city-owned utility that the voters approve it prior to offering it for sale. I am not an advocate of cities owning utilities in the first place, nor am I an advocate of doing an end run around the rules and having the voter approve it so it's all legal in the end. I'll be voting no on the sale of ML&P.; Mr. Mayor, if you want to sell it then do it via the rules, don't try an end run and then ask the voters to make the action legal after the fact.

— Benjamin E. Sherburne

Once about safety, NRA now lobbies for weapons sales

Thanks, NRA! You have bought and paid for our right to own our own personal WMDs and put them in the hands of people who shouldn't be allowed to own a pocket knife. I support the Second Amendment, but not the right to own weapons capable of firing an insane amount of rounds per minute. There is no logical reason for these types of weapons to be in the hands of private citizens. I believe that public safety outweighs the "need" or "right" to own semiautomatic weapons. I realize that even if illegal, these weapons would still be bought and sold on the black market, but keep in mind that the vast majority of mass shootings have occurred with weapons that were purchased legally by individuals who should not have been allowed to do so.

The NRA used to be about gun safety and responsible gun ownership. It has mutated into an immoral lobby for the unrestricted selling of weapons, with our members of Congress as complicit lap dogs. As citizens, we have the right to vote, but once elected, our "representatives" owe their allegiance to their political donors, whose agendas have little to do with public safety, consumer protection or the preservation of our planet's ecology.

Unless we can elect representatives who have the courage of their convictions, and can as citizens speak out in a loud enough voice to be heard over the rustling of donors' dollars, we will passively bear witness to the devolution of our society. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not the pursuit of money at the expense of others) should be our moral compass, and not just a hollow phrase.

— Richard Hedman

Legislation must be passed to protect PFD for the future

I hope that the PFD bill gets passed by both houses and is signed by the governor. As I understand it, the PFD created by Jay Hammond and many others was not imagined only as an emergency reserve to rescue legislators unwilling to develop a realistic revenue source for our needs as a state. All other states pay for their costs by income or sales taxes or both; Alaska is the only exception.

We are special, but not that special. The Permanent Fund Dividend is in a class by its own: it is justified because it distributes for us and posterity the proceeds of the resources intrinsic to the state. In addition, the PFD has the effect of equalizing incomes in the state, rather than creating more disparity.

This is not ordinary tax revenue — it is our inheritance and should be preserved for following generations. Neither the Earnings Reserve Account or the Corpus should be spent to justify the failure of some legislators to allow us to pay as we go (a laudable conservative mantra).

— Steve Gibson

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to

These days, if you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu

Sat, 2018-03-17 15:47

If you're paying any attention to what's happening in Juneau or Washington, D.C., well, it may remind you of breakfast. When you're looking at the chaotic situations, can you determine who is the bacon and who is the eggs?

Wait. Get another cup of coffee and bear with me.

In the great metaphor of "politics is a blue plate breakfast special," ask yourself, who gives the most to be on the plate? See, the chicken gives eggs, and keeps going to donate another day. The pig? Well, the pig has given everything. There's no going back. While the chicken is scratching for another speck of whatever chickens eat, the pig has been fully committed.

OK, you get it and now you may want oatmeal, but that's not an option in our little parable. Someone has to give, and a pain-free option doesn't easily present itself when it comes to public policy. I'm sure this isn't news to our leadership, but they seem to have no problem ordering ham, sausage and a side of bacon while barely squeezing out an egg of contribution themselves.

Hey, Alaska, we're going to take your collective PFD and tax your income, and then we'll spend it. Are we good? Um, not really. We're going to give all the bacon we can back to oil companies, because they're bacon producers and we really should be just so happy they are here at our farm, killing our pigs.

In Washington, D.C., it's worse. On the backs of the sick, hungry, poor and inmates (you know, all the people Jesus seemed most fond of) we are enriching the already rich. It would be great if the rising tide did float all boats, but too many Americans are being left drowning in debt.

It seems like every part of government is making it harder for the general public. Under the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations to require hard-rock mining companies to prove they are financially sound enough to clean up their mess have been dropped. So mines who extract gold, silver, copper or lead no longer have to put up a bond or have insurance to cover contamination. Maybe they should call it the "Sorry about your Salmon!" rule. Or, "Remember when you could drink your water without consuming enough mercury to take your own temperature?" clause.

The protections for streams having coal mining waste dumped in them have been swept away. Again, the full weight of this decision is on the people who live downstream, and not the with the producers. I realize this is part of some campaign promise to raise the coal industry like Lazarus from the dead. Maybe this administration can bring back Beta video tapes too. Now that would be an accomplishment.

The U.S. Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, voted to roll back regulations on banks. It's as though there is a collective amnesia that struck all of them regarding the banking meltdown in 2008. Remember those "too big to fail" banks that had to line up in a breadline to take billions from American taxpayers? Well, rules had been put in place to create a threshold of who could get back in that line if they failed again. See, banks which have $50 billion or less in assets weren't on that list of "too big." That wasn't big enough for the Senate, so they've now set the bar at $250 billion. That's just an example of who gets protected. The result is there are only 12 banks left under the strictest regulations.

Dear America, Thanks for the bacon! Love, A bunch of banks.

Under the Department of Education, student loan borrowers are served up on a blue plate.  Several states sued lenders for illegal practices and harassment, and enacted new laws to protect students. The DOE stopped collaborating with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when they sued the largest servicer. This may be a fine time to let you know that nationally, there is more student loan debt than there is credit card debt. Read that again. Who could possibly get rich by getting rid of predatory student loan practices? Right. Got it. A collection company DOE Secretary Betsy DeVos formerly invested in. Mmmm. Bacon.

I know it's tempting for most of us to skip the "most important meal of the day." The truth is, if you aren't sitting at the table, you're on the menu.

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, emailcommentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Alaskans make new push to kill more sea otters, saying they’re decimating Southeast shellfish

Sat, 2018-03-17 15:34

Southeast Alaska's clams, urchins and crabs have fueled lucrative fishing industries and fed hungry families for decades.

They also feed sea otters.

And now, that human dependence on shellfish is clashing anew with a successful, state-sponsored restoration program that brought the adorable marine mammals' population back from near extinction a century ago.

The long-running conflict between otter conservation and Southeast fishermen and tribal groups has drawn new attention this year. State lawmakers and other policymakers have drafted letters asking the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress to loosen federal otter protections, and to grant local managers more power to cull the animals and leave more urchins, clams, crab and sea cucumbers for humans.

Federal action is far from certain, but those who depend on shellfish warn of an increasingly dire problem.

The story of sea otters in Southeast Alaska spans more than 150 years — from when Russians hunted them to near-extermination to the 1960s restoration, which relocated hundreds of animals from the Aleutians by cargo plane.

The otter restoration has been a success, with the Southeast population growing to more than 20,000. Scientists say the otters' resurgence is restoring the environment to the way it was before the Russians, but they also acknowledge that shellfish, which boomed in the otters' absence, are now being depleted.

"I think what we're headed toward is a return to normality," said Jim Estes, an ecology professor and otter expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "None of this was there, almost certainly, for a long time – until the otters were hunted to extinction."

But dive fishermen, who swim or walk along the ocean floor in search of seafood, describe areas carpeted with shellfish 15 years ago that are now completely devoid of them. One Southeast tribal leader, Joel Jackson, said he listens from his home to the sound of sea otters breaking open the same clams that residents of his village want to harvest themselves.

"That's the whole thing about sea otters: They're competing with us," said Jackson, president of the Alaska Native tribal government in the Southeast village of Kake. "We don't want to completely annihilate 'em. But we'd like to keep 'em under control."

The roots of the present conflict reach back to the mid-18th century, when Russian explorers found otters in the Aleutian Islands. The Russians harvested thousands of otters a year, selling their furs largely to Chinese markets.

By 1900, there were small numbers of otters left in just 13 places in Russia, Alaska and California. An international treaty in 1911 allowed some populations to rebound, but into the 1950s, they were gone from Alaska's Southeast coast.

In the 1960s, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began a transplant program to a half-dozen Southeast sites. The idea, Estes said, was both to restore the species to its former habitat and to give residents opportunities to sell furs.

The 400 otters came mostly from Amchitka Island in the Aleutians, where the federal government was doing underground nuclear tests.

Otters were caught in nets and flown to three Southeast Alaska airports in C-130 transport planes. They then were loaded into a Grumman Goose, an amphibious aircraft.

Otters awaiting pickup at the airports were doused with sea water by volunteers, to keep them from getting agitated, according to an account published by the state.

In the 50 years since, the otters have expanded their range far beyond the initial release sites, and their numbers are still growing. A 2008 federal assessment estimated 10,500 sea otters in Southeast Alaska, and that number rose to nearly 26,000 in the latest assessment, updated in 2014, which pegged the population's growth rate at between 12 and 14 percent a year.

Otters are effective predators; they have a high metabolism and lack blubber, eating about 25 percent of their body weight each day. In the areas where they've expanded, both researchers and fishermen say they can quickly deplete populations of abalone and sea urchins, then sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and Dungeness crabs.

Half of Southeast's urchin fishing areas have been closed, and 65 percent of areas have been impacted by "probable otter predation," according to state managers. For other fisheries, the effects are smaller, but still substantial.

One Ketchikan fisherman, Jeremy Leighton, said he used to earn as much as $100,000 a year just from gathering red urchins. He stopped a few years ago, when the urchins disappeared from his usual fishing area west of Prince of Wales Island.

He used to see "carpets" of urchins, where they'd be so close together that their spines would touch. After sea otters moved in, in spots where he used to see 100,000 pounds of urchins in a 500-foot-wide area, "you couldn't find one."

On his last urchin fishing trip, "we worked all the way down the coast for two days, didn't find any," said Leighton, president of Southeast Alaska's regional dive fishery association. "We just headed for town. We were like, 'that's it — ain't nothing left.' "

Jackson, the tribal leader, said otters are making it harder for residents to harvest clams and other shellfish in his village of Kake, where 20 percent of people below the poverty level.

"The economy's so bad here that we depend more and more on the land," he said. "There's still clams here, but they're becoming more scarce. Smaller."

Alaska lawmakers have been protesting the effects of sea otters' expansion for years. But they have been constrained by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, which placed sea otters off limits for hunting to everyone except Alaska Natives who live on the coast.

It also limits harvests to those for subsistence or clothing, which federal agencies have interpreted as barring the sale of otter pelts to non-Natives unless they've been "significantly altered" into handicrafts. And it only allows hunting by people who have at least one-fourth Alaska Native ancestry.

It also turned out that the fur market was smaller than expected, reducing the incentive to hunt, said Estes, the professor and otter expert.

Failed efforts to boost otter markets include when U.S. Rep. Don Young introduced a bill in 2011 to allow the sale of raw pelts to non-Natives. Two years later, Sitka Republican state Sen. Bert Stedman proposed legislation to offer a $100 bounty for each otter harvested. The bill didn't get a vote.

[Related: A bounty on sea otters?]

Stedman is leading another anti-otter push this year with Senate Joint Resolution 13. The measure isn't a bill — it has no binding effect and is more like a strongly worded letter to the federal government.

It contains a laundry list of requests to Congress and federal agencies: open otter hunting to any Alaska Native enrolled in a federally recognized tribe; allow raw otter pelts to be sold without restrictions; and delegate management to the state and tribes.

The state Board of Fisheries also sent a letter this month to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking for more flexibility for Alaska communities to manage sea otters. Local governments and fishing groups in Southeast Alaska have taken similar positions, according to Petersburg's public radio station, KFSK.

"The growth has continued and the harvest rate has been declining," Stedman said, citing federal data.

He added that he thinks there's a better chance of action in Washington, D.C., under Trump's administration. "Otherwise, it would be whistling Dixie in the wind," he said.

A spokeswoman for Zinke, Heather Swift, said the secretary strongly supports making fish and game management decisions at the local and tribal level. But she also suggested that the law provides federal agencies with only so much flexibility — pointing out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already places no limits on the number of sea otters that Alaska Natives can harvest.

"USFWS can work with interested parties to address conflicts, consistent with the law and available resources," Swift said in an email.

Any changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act will have to come through Congress.

Alaska's two Republican U.S. senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, are both interested in reviewing elements of the law, and Sullivan plans to hold a subcommittee hearing on the issue, a spokesman said.

But Murkowski, in a prepared statement, also hinted at the potential to provoke opposition if Alaska lawmakers are seen to be favoring a broad rollback of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

"I do not support stripping protections for marine mammals protected under the act," she said. "Rather, I support flexibility in the framework to allow accounting for the entire ecosystem."

In interviews, officials with Alaska Native groups said they support some changes to the existing system for managing Southeast sea otters, like changing the requirement that hunters have at least one-fourth Native ancestry.

But they so far have opposed Stedman's resolution in the Legislature.

Members of a statewide tribal sea otter commission voted unanimously against Stedman's proposal, saying they oppose the idea of giving the state of Alaska more management authority.

"If you go back and look at the reality between tribes and the state of Alaska, it's not a good history there," said Lianna Jack Peterson, the commission's director.

The outcome of the debate over Southeast Alaska's otters will likely depend on the value that policymakers assign to the industries and cultures that have sprung up in their absence, said Estes.

"It's one thing to tell these people that you want to help them," he said. "But when it comes to actually sending an army of people out there to start shooting sea otters, will that happen?"

There are more than 600 active commercial permits in fisheries most affected by otters — urchins, geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and Dungeness crabs. Their gross earnings in 2016 topped $15 million.

But lawmakers also acknowledge that otters help boost Southeast's growing tourism industry. And scientists say that while the animals do deplete shellfish stocks, they can also help boost the presence of some species like kelp — which produces habitat for fish and can even trap climate-warming carbon from the atmosphere, Estes said.

"You could ask the question: What's the benefit of having kelp versus the cost of losing the shellfish, and how do these things balance out?" he said. "It's complicated. It's not a simple, little problem."

The thin line between Canada and Alaska

Sat, 2018-03-17 15:05

Marked by metal cones and a clear-cut swath 20 feet wide, Alaska's border with Canada is one of the great feats of wilderness surveying.

The boundary between Alaska and Canada is 1,538 miles long. The line is obvious in some places, such as the Yukon River valley, where crews have cut a straight line through forest on the 141st Meridian. The boundary is invisible in other areas, such as the summit of 18,008-foot Mount St. Elias.

In the early 1900s, workers cemented boundary monuments made of aluminum-bronze and standing 2.5 feet tall along much of the border's length.

The country that makes up the border is some of the wildest in North America. Spanning a gap equal to the distance between San Francisco and St. Louis, the border intersects only one settlement: Hyder in Southeast Alaska. Starting in 1905, surveyors and other workers of the International Boundary Commission trekked into this wilderness to etch into the landscape a brand-new political boundary.

The border was unknown in 1867, when the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for two cents an acre. An 1825 treaty between Russia and Great Britain, then the controlling power of Canada, described the boundary as following a range of mountains in Southeast parallel to the Pacific Coast, but in some places no such mountains existed.

The undefined border in Southeast became a problem during the Klondike gold rush of the late 1890s, when Canadian officials requested ownership of Skagway and Dyea, which would allow Canadians access to the Klondike gold fields without crossing American soil.

To settle the dispute in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt gathered a committee of three Americans, two Canadians, and England's chief justice. The British representative, Lord Richard Alverstone, sided with the three Americans, and the committee rejected the Canadian claims by a vote of four to two.

With a boundary agreed upon, the next step was the immense job of surveying and marking it. In 1904, crews with members from both the U.S. and Canada started work on the panhandle of southeast Alaska. They used boats, packhorses and backpacks to reach the remote mountains of the Southeast border.

In a typical effort, a Canadian crew led by H.S. Mussell in 1911 searched for a boundary point near Mount St. Elias. The crew landed a ship in the rough surf of Disenchantment Bay and transferred hundreds of pounds of gear to the foot of a glacier. Assisted by 10 Natives, the crew cut a trail across tangled brush and set up an aerial tramway across a glacial stream that the Natives thought too dangerous. Without local escorts, the crew made its way up Malaspina Glacier using sleds and identified the boundary point on an unnamed peak.

By 1913, crews farther north had marked the straight line of the 141st Meridian from the Arctic Ocean to the south side of Logan Glacier. They left behind 202 obelisks — shaped like tiny Washington Monuments — that now line the border.

Thomas Riggs was a crew chief for the International Boundary Commission. He spent eight summers, which he called the happiest of his life, marking the border. After his crew tied in the final section of border east of McCarthy in 1914, he described his feelings for the raw wilderness work with a short telegram to his supervisor at the end of August 1914:


Watch: From start to finish, fly along the 1,000-mile Iditarod trail

Sat, 2018-03-17 14:57

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an epic adventure that traverses nearly 1,000 miles across the remote Alaska landscape. See the 2018 race in a new way, from the viewpoint of a drone, as we fly from Anchorage to Nome.

In ‘Island of the Blue Foxes,’ the fraught, unruly mission that led to Russia’s discovery of Alaska

Sat, 2018-03-17 14:34

Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World's Greatest Scientific Expedition

Stephen R. Bown, Da Capo Press, 352 pages, 2017. $28

"The most eloquent pen would find itself too weak to describe our misery," wrote the famed naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller from aboard the Russian ship St. Peter in the North Pacific in the fall of 1741. Battered by storms and racing to find their way back to Siberia after sighting Alaska, the scurvy-ridden crewmen were dying in their bunks while the ship's commander, Vitus Bering, barely clung to life himself. Then they ran aground on an uncharted island.

It wasn't supposed to come to this, but the entire enterprise had been poorly planned from the start. It was in its time the greatest expedition for scientific and geographical knowledge ever assembled, tasked with exploring Russia's vast eastern frontier of Siberia and claiming land in the New World for the Russian throne. How it played out is the tale Canadian historian Stephen R. Bown tells in "Island of the Blue Foxes," a compact and highly engaging account of the events that resulted in the discovery of Alaska.

Bown, whose numerous prior works include biographies of Roald Amundsen and Knud Rasmussen, begins with Peter the Great. The first czar to orient the Russian empire toward Europe, Peter was a polymath driven to establish glory for his nation as a geographical and military force and a great center of learning. The pathway for that objective led directly through Siberia, which Russia held but knew little about, and onward to America.

Although Peter didn't live to see the expedition off, he did choose the man who would lead it. Bering, a Dane who had risen through the Russian navy, was placed in charge of what became known as the First Kamchatka Expedition, which departed St. Petersburg in 1725. The men blazed a path across the breadth of Siberia while dragging the goods to keep themselves alive and build a ship once they reached the shoreline. It was a brutal journey through land with no roads, wild tribes and only a few tiny settlements. They reached Kamchatka and built the ship, which they sailed north into the sea that now bears Bering's name. Their objective was to determine if North America was connected to Asia, a supposition they found no evidence for.

Bering returned to St. Petersburg after five years with thoughts of a second journey. Knowing the difficulties of crossing Siberia and the limited resources available along the way, he envisioned a lean and streamlined affair. But the government got involved, and despite his protestations it quickly grew into a massive expedition encompassing thousands of scientists, surveyors, military personnel, laborers and more, "all of whom had to be brought to the eastern coast of Asia across thousands of miles of roadless forests, swamps, and tundra, again hauling vast quantities of equipment and supplies," Bown writes. By horse, dogsled and foot, they would travel nearly halfway around the world.

Bown brings to life the unruly expedition and the internal frictions such a large contingent was bound to develop. Departing early in 1733, it was nearly five years before they began trickling into the tiny Siberian village of Okhotsk, where they first built shipyards and then built ships. Only in 1741 did two vessels, the St. Peter under Bering and the St. Paul captained by Aleksei Chirikov, set sail for America.

The story of Bering's journey across Asia has been told elsewhere, but this is the first account for to cover it in depth for a general audience, and that alone makes this a worthy addition to any Alaska history bookshelf. But Bown doesn't stop there. As the ships head to sea, the focus of his story shifts from Bering, who immediately took ill, to Steller, without whom probably none of the crewmen aboard the St. Peter would have returned alive.

The ships initially traveled south based on a mistaken map and squandered much of the short sailing season looking for America in the wrong direction, part of what led to the calamity. They became separated from each other early on, and both crews sighted Alaska within a day of each other, the first Europeans to do so. After an ordeal of their own, Chirikov's crew got back to Siberia before winter hit, but for Bering's men, shipwreck awaited.

First, however, nearly all took ill with scurvy. "Day by day," Bown recounts, "mariners perished with agony frozen on their ghastly countenances, and the living hauled the stiff corpses above deck and hove their erstwhile companions overboard."

Running aground proved a blessing, though not for Bering, who died soon after. Trapped on what is now Bering Island and beset by blue foxes that robbed them of goods and fed on their corpses, the men established a camp where Steller slowly nursed the survivors back to health.

Steller was brilliant but mercurial, often belligerent, and not particularly liked. But he was also a keen observer of both the natural world and its Native inhabitants, and in a time when the cause of scurvy was unknown, he would correctly surmise that diet was critical to preventing it (after all, the Natives didn't suffer the condition). He also devised a means of capturing the sea mammals that kept the men from starvation. While mostly known today for the many species he discovered, it's his humanitarian accomplishment that Bown celebrates most heartily.

The survivors built a smaller vessel from the wreck of the St. Peter and reached Kamchatka the following summer. Out of their sacrifice, Russia's empire reached its height and in their wake the first European colonists were soon arriving on Alaska's shores.

"Island of the Blue Foxes" moves quickly, and Bown does a fine job of giving readers a strong feel for both what the men endured and how the personal characters of the major players were tested by their tribulations. We come to know several of these people as complex, often flawed, but still admirably capable when necessary. For aficionados of the genre a friend of mine recently dubbed "armchair suffering," this is a must-read.

[Book review: In 'A Wretched and Precarious Situation,' a mission to a continent that didn't exist]

RACE UPDATES: Last Iditarod musher finishes, Dallas Seavey places 3rd in Norway race

Sat, 2018-03-17 13:21

Race comes to an end

The 2018 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race finished Saturday morning as Magnus Kaltenborn of Whitehorse, Yukon, crossed the finish line in Nome at 11:13 a.m. He claimed the Red Lantern award, given to the last finisher.

Kaltenborn's race time was 12 days, 20 hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds. This was his second Iditarod, after placing 33rd in 2011.

Fifty-two mushers made it to Nome in this year's race. Thirteen decided to scratch, and two were withdrawn for going too slow.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway won this year's race, the first musher other than Mitch Seavey or son Dallas Seavey to come in first place since 2011.

[Iditarod withdraws pair of last-place teams for lagging too far behind]

Dallas Seavey finishes third in Norway race

Meanwhile, four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey came in third in the Finnmarksløpet, a 750-mile dog sled race in Norway, the longest such race in Europe. Seavey finished the race in Alta, just before 1 a.m. Saturday there.

Seavey dropped out of the 2018 Iditarod in October in protest over how the race committee handled the results of his dog team's drug tests. In a series of press releases that month, race officials announced that urine samples taken from dogs on Seavey's 2017 Iditarod team tested positive for tramadol, a prescription painkiller the race prohibits. The dogs were tested in Nome after finishing the race.

Seavey has repeatedly denied giving the drug to his dogs. Instead of competing in the 2018 Iditarod, he announced he would compete in Norway's Finnmarksløpet this year.

His father, Mitch Seavey, placed third in this year's Iditarod. Mitch has won the 1,000-mile race to Nome three times before, including in 2017.

Fired FBI official McCabe is said to have written memos detailing his interactions with Trump

Sat, 2018-03-17 12:59

WASHINGTON – Former FBI official Andrew McCabe memorialized his interactions with President Donald Trump in contemporaneous memos, a person familiar with the case said, and they could become a key piece of evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Mueller has been investigating, among other things, whether Trump obstructed justice in his interactions with top law enforcement officials, including McCabe and his former boss, FBI Director James Comey. Comey also kept memos documenting his interactions with Trump, which Mueller already was reviewing.

The memos could help bolster McCabe's credibility, insulating him from allegations that he misstated or misremembered his interactions with Trump. On Friday, McCabe was fired from the FBI, about 26 hours before he was set to retire, over allegations from the Justice Department's inspector general that he authorized the disclosure of information to a reporter about an ongoing criminal investigation, then misled investigators about it. McCabe disputes that he misled anyone or did anything wrong.

[Former FBI deputy director fired just before retiring]

McCabe had been the FBI's No. 2 official until earlier this year, when he stepped down after FBI Director Christopher Wray was briefed on the inspector general's findings. He had remained an FBI employee until Friday when Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting on a recommendation from the FBI's disciplinary office, fired him over the allegations.

It was not immediately clear which interactions with Trump the memos detailed, or how specific they were. McCabe has now spoken publicly about a number of awkward conversations he claims to have had with the president.

In January, The Washington Post reported that Trump, during an Oval Office meeting in May, had asked McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election, then vented about hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations that McCabe's wife had received. His wife, Jill McCabe, a Democrat, ran for a seat in the Virginia State Senate in 2015, and the donations came from a political action committee controlled by Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Trump renewed some of those complaints on Saturday, writing in a tweet, "The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife's campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!"

Comey's lawyers declined to comment for this story. McCabe said Friday night Comey was "aware of the interaction" he authorized two other FBI officials to speak with a reporter. Comey wrote on Twitter just minutes after the Trump's tweet, "Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."

McCabe told CNN in an interview in advance of his firing that Trump was focused on his wife's campaign and alleged there were at least four times where Trump called it a "mistake" or "problem," or branded his wife a "loser." McCabe said he told the president he himself had not voted in the 2016 election.

Mueller has shown interest in McCabe's interactions with the president, though Comey's conversations might more squarely fit into a possible obstruction of justice case. Comey alleges the president asked him for a pledge of loyalty, and asked if he could let go an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as a part of Mueller's ongoing investigation. Trump fired Comey in May, and McCabe briefly took over as the FBI's acting director.

The president would later say in a television interview that he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" when he decided to remove Comey.

McCabe said Friday that his own firing was part of "this Administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day."

The move will likely cost McCabe significant retirement benefits, because he could not retire Sunday, when he turns 50. Perhaps more significantly, it again draws the federal law enforcement into a controversy at a time when those inside the bureau already fear the institution's reputation won't survive the near constant attacks from Trump and conservatives mistrustful of their work.

Wray, the current FBI director, has been trying to restore morale at the FBI by quietly installing his own people in top management positions and – though it has proven impossible – trying to stay out of the news.

"Certainly the FBI is in the barrel, and they badly want to get out of it – the workforce does," said former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko. "But headlines like this are not the way out."

[Trump's lawyer calls on Justice Department to immediately end Russia probe]

Several former federal law enforcement officials questioned the timing of McCabe's firing, as the president's lawyer seized on it to call for the shutting down of Mueller's probe.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who responded on Twitter to Trump, said, "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America … America will triumph over you."

Former Attorney General Eric Holder wrote, "Analyze McCabe firing on two levels: the substance and the timing. We don't know enough about the substance yet. The timing appears cruel and a cave that compromised DOJ independence to please an increasingly erratic President who should've played no role here. This is dangerous."

Inside the FBI, the mood was tense Saturday, but the reaction was somewhat mixed. Some agents exchanged messages about how they might be able to help McCabe and expressed anger at how he was removed so close to his retirement, people familiar with the matter said. McCabe, though, was not universally loved inside the institution, as some employees resented him for what they felt was a rapid rise through the ranks in his 22 years at the FBI.

Many at the bureau were saying, "This is crazy. I can't believe this is happening to him," while others expressed the sentiment, "That's kind of what you get," one law enforcement official said.

Current and former law enforcement officials noted that misleading investigators is a fatal offense – though they were curious the degree to which the evidence would show McCabe had done so. The inspector general has not yet released a report detailing the allegations against McCabe, though they have been generally described by people familiar with the matter.

"I got one comment from a McCabe critic that he got what was coming to him and has been coming to him," Hosko said. "But I've heard, too, from people who say they feel sorry for him. . . . Anybody who's had the retirement rug jerked out from him in this way is troubling. If it can happen to him, it can happen to you."

In the past year, the FBI fired 19 people for showing a lack of candor not under oath and 12 for showing a lack of candor under oath – though those figures might represent double counting if a person showed a lack of candor in both settings.

Trump’s lawyer calls on Justice Department to immediately end Russia probe

Sat, 2018-03-17 12:35

President Donald Trump's lawyer called on the Justice Department to immediately shut down the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, in the wake of the firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Attorney John Dowd said in a statement that the investigation, now led by special counsel Robert Mueller, was fatally flawed early on and "corrupted" by political bias. He called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees that probe, to shut it down.

"I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier," Dowd said in an emailed statement.

[Former FBI deputy director fired just before retiring]

Dowd told The Washington Post on Saturday he was speaking for himself and not on Trump's behalf. Earlier Saturday, Dowd told the Daily Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president and in his capacity as the president's attorney. (After the Daily Beast published its story, Dowd emailed the publication and said he was not speaking on the president's behalf.)

In a Saturday afternoon tweet, Trump reiterated his claim that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russians, and bemoaned what he described as "leaking, lying and corruption" in federal law enforcement agencies. But he stopped short of echoing Dowd's call for an end to the Mueller probe.

Trump tweeted: "As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State. #DrainTheSwamp."

Trump was referring to the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee's announcement this past week that they were concluding their investigation of Russian interference in the election, though a separate investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee continues, as does Mueller's probe.

Sessions late Friday night fired McCabe, a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire – a move that McCabe alleged was an attempt to "slander" him and undermine the ongoing special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign.

Sessions announced the decision in a statement just before 10 p.m., noting that both the Justice Department inspector general and the FBI office that handles discipline had found "that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions."

An inspector general raised questions about McCabe's discussions with reporters about a case related to Hillary Clinton.

If Dowd's statement reflected Trump's legal strategy, it would represent a significant shift in the president's approach to the Mueller investigation.

Trump's lawyers and spokesmen have long pledged that he and his White House staff would cooperate fully with Mueller's probe. The White House has responded to requests for documents, while senior officials have sat for hours of interviews with the special counsel's investigators.

Asked Thursday whether the special counsel's subpoena of documents from the Trump Organization regarding its dealings with Russia crossed a red line in the view of the president, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it did not.

"As we've maintained all along, and as the president has said numerous times, there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia," Sanders told reporters. She added, "We're going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel."

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Saturday that there will be "severe consequences" for both Democrats and Republicans if Trump and his legal team take steps to interfere with or end Mueller's probe.

"Mr. Dowd's comments are yet another indication that the first instinct of the president and his legal team is not to cooperate with Special Counsel Mueller, but to undermine him at every turn," Schumer said.

[Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization, demanding documents about Russia]

McCabe's firing touched off a firestorm late Friday. The now-former No. 2 at the FBI, who is a witness in the Russia case, shot back immediately.

"This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally," McCabe said. "It is part of this Administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel's work."

His firing – which was recommended by the FBI office that handles discipline – stems from a Justice Department inspector general investigation that found McCabe authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to the media about a Clinton-related case, then misled investigators about his actions in the matter, people familiar with the matter have said. He stepped down earlier this year from the deputy director role after FBI Director Christopher Wray was briefed on the inspector general's findings, though he technically was still an employee.

Trump tweeted early Saturday morning, "Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"

When asked by The Post if he believed the Russia case was flawed because of new findings about McCabe or larger issues with the early FBI handling of the investigation, Dowd declined to elaborate.

"Just end it on the merits in light of recent revelations," he said. "My statement is clear."

Anchorage police investigating death of man found in car as homicide

Sat, 2018-03-17 12:08

Anchorage police are investigating the death of a man found Friday evening in a car "suspiciously parked" in the 8900 block of Dewberry Street blocking traffic, police said in a statement.

The death is being investigated as a homicide, police said Saturday morning.

The man was found inside a dark colored sedan, police said. Residents approached the vehicle, saw the body and called 911 shortly after 7 p.m. Friday, according to the police statement.

The victim, whom police did not identify, was shot in the upper body. Detectives believe the incident was a targeted, drug-related crime, police said.

Police are asking anyone with information about the investigation to call police dispatch at 907-786-8900 or anonymously call Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP.

Fred Meyer to phase out sales of guns and ammunition

Sat, 2018-03-17 11:42

Fred Meyer stores plan to stop selling guns and ammunition, the company said in a statement Friday.

The Portland, Oregon-based chain "has made a business decision to exit the firearms category," the statement said. The company didn't offer a timeline for phasing out such items.

"The company made the decision early last week after evaluating changing customer preferences and the fact that there have already been efforts to steadily reduce this category in Fred Meyer stores over the last several years due to softening consumer demand," the statement said.

Fred Meyer has already been transitioning away from its gun departments to "optimize space" in its stores, the statement said.

Earlier this month, the chain announced it would not sell guns or ammunition to people under 21, citing the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, which left 17 dead.

The firearms category represents about $7 million annually of Fred Meyer's revenue, and sales continue to decline, the company said.

Fred Meyer has 132 stores across Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Shop Talk: In the grimiest season, an Anchorage business that still washes cars by hand

Sat, 2018-03-17 11:29

This is an installment of Shop Talk, an occasional series of interviews with business owners and managers in Alaska, typically focusing on the state economy and how it is affecting them.

Hubcaps hang on the wall and colorful blinking string lights line the tunnel at the Big Corner Car Wash, located at the Shell station at Minnesota Drive and Northern Lights Boulevard.

This time of year, when melting snow makes Anchorage into one big, grimy slush puddle, vehicles line up for car washes done by hand. Big Corner has a staff of nine, and during breakup season they're ready for busy days.

Robert Webb, one of the managers, talked to the Anchorage Daily News about the business.

So it seems like it's probably a good season for you guys right now?

Yeah, right now it's just starting to pick up. We're pretty slow in the wintertime, but breakup season, we get real busy. We usually have about 100 to 200 cars a day.

Yesterday we only had, like, 11 cars the whole day. But now that it's sunny out we've had 11 already this morning since 8 a.m. (by 11 a.m.). Probably next week if the weather holds, all of the guys are going to be pulling 12-hour shifts, no days off. In breakup time we'll have cars that are lined up all the way around to Minnesota Drive.

So is the busiest season during March and April?

March, April, beginning of May, and it'll stay pretty steady throughout the summer. We get a lot of the tourists and people with classic cars and stuff that come in. We do interiors, too, so it's not just washing cars.

We had an old 1970s model Porsche come in the other day. We get Vipers, we get old Mustangs. In the summertime we get a lot of the Lexuses and BMWs and stuff. We pretty much rely on the tips. In the springtime, on a slow day, we'll go home with, like, $100 in tips in our pockets.

We only have one dryer at a time, and they've gone home with, like, $400 a day in tips. … When it's real busy, a lot of the guys will even forget to cash their checks because, in the breakup, they'll have so much money in their pockets.

How has the state economy (in the current recession) affected you guys?

Business — a few years back, it used to be a lot busier, more steady. With the way things are now, we, like I said, we get days like yesterday where we only had 11 cars. So, it affects us.

The owner used to have a mobile detailing business out of here and he did away with that because he just can't afford it anymore.

I'm curious how you guys compete with places like Alaska Laser Wash, places that are automated?

Our prices have been set for years. … When it's real busy, people that just want a quick wash, they'll go to the Laser and stuff. … A lot of people will take the time and just wait in line to come here if they want a good job.

So sounds like those types of places aren't that much of a threat to you guys?

No. I mean, we have, like, return customers that are here constantly, too, and we don't do really any advertising anymore. Everything is word of mouth.

Do people typically want more basic stuff, or more detailing?

It's a mixture. … A lot of people with kids and their kids have destroyed their cars. And they're like, "I just want it clean." … And like, we have a contract with the Municipality of Anchorage, they bring all their vehicles in, the police come in, the post office right behind us, their vehicles come in.

Right now, (people) are like, "We just want the basic wash because we'll be back tomorrow." During breakup time, they'll come in and by the end of the day, their car is so dirty that first thing in the morning, they're back again.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

On Prop. 1: What we have now is poorly crafted, poorly understood public policy

Sat, 2018-03-17 11:21

Voters in Anchorage's first-ever mail-in balloting are being asked, among other things, to change municipal code that provides anti-discrimination protection for transsexuals based on their professed "gender identity." It should, of course, be "sex identity," but that ship apparently has sailed.

Proposition 1 on the April 3 ballot is only the most recent iteration of a long, loud, bitterly fought battle to add or deny discrimination protections for transgender people in "the sale or rental of real property, financing practices, employment practices, public accommodations, educational institutions, and practices of the municipality."

The lengthy proposition does not mention sexual orientation. In the most general sense, it calls for biological guys to use guys' restrooms and facilities and biological girls and women to use restrooms and facilities designated for them. That does not sit well with some, who dismiss Proposition 1 proponents as ignorant rubes and religious zealots. Not everybody agrees.

In 2012, 40,223 voters trooped to the polls in an election that saw an unusually large turnout — 35 percent — and rejected Proposition 5, a ballot question that asked whether the city should include protection from discrimination based on "sexual orientation or transgender identity" in its civil rights ordinance.

[Friendships kill the myth of 'potty predators': Why I'm voting no on Prop. 1]

The Assembly three years later voted 9-2 to ignore that vote and amended the ordinance to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said at the time it was a move toward a "just" society.

There was an effort in 2016 to repeal the ordinance. Then-City Attorney Bill Falsey slow-rolled the referendum language and it died. And here we are again.

Part of the problem with what has become known in some circles as the "bathroom law" is that many fear its "gender identity" language. Nothing in it begins to assuage those fears.

The 2015 ordinance defines gender identity as "a person's gender-related self-identity, as expressed in appearance or behavior, regardless of the person's assigned sex at birth." In other words, you are, in large part, whatever you say you are if you stick to your story.

The ordinance stipulates gender identity can be "established by evidence of medical history, care or treatment of the gender identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender identity, or other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held, core to a person's gender-related self-identity, and not being asserted for an improper purpose."

For too many, all that is problematic, especially if you were, say, trying to decide — and right now — whether to allow a person who looks very much like a man but who says he "self-identifies" as a woman to enter your daughter's locker room.

How in the blink of an eye do you know what is true and what is not; how are you expected to weigh the likelihood of "improper purpose"? All you know is that you have someone you think is a guy trying to go into the girls' locker room. How are you to know his medical history, or whether his claimed gender identity is "consistent and uniform," or whether his claim is "sincerely held"? Are you supposed to simply take the individual's word?

The city's amorphous definition of "gender identity" in its feel-good ordinance can — and apparently does — lead to problems. How could it not?

Take, for instance, the Downtown Hope Center, a faith-based, nonprofit shelter for abused, homeless women. It now is the target of a discrimination complaint, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The complainant, a man named Samantha A. Coyle, in his Feb. 1 complaint claims the shelter refused service twice in January because "I am female and transgender …"

For its part, the shelter contends the complainant was denied entrance because he was intoxicated and came to the facility when it was closed. It also counters it is not a "public accommodation" as claimed in the complaint, is not covered by the current ordinance and would not house a biological man under any circumstances.

Whether the Downtown Hope Center or any other refuge for abused or homeless women are exempt from the city's anti-discrimination ordinance remains unclear. That question likely will be sorted out by a judge far into the future.

The ordinance's loose language pertaining to "gender identity," and how it is established, largely was unnecessary and opened the door to conflict, confusion and misinterpretation. It makes it far too easy for the unscrupulous to weaponize the law or take advantage.

Whether voters in this election again will opt to dump the protection afforded gender identity remains to be seen. What is obvious is this: No matter your feelings on the issue, what we have now is poorly crafted, poorly understood public policy.

Only hand-wringers and those benefiting from it believe it is just.

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) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Sun Country flies Anchorage-Seattle now. Here’s what that means for your summer travel plans.

Sat, 2018-03-17 11:16

A new entrant in the Anchorage-Seattle airline market all but assures that prices will remain low all summer long.

Sun Country Airlines has flown a summer-only schedule between Anchorage and Minneapolis for decades. The carrier has gone through bankruptcy and has changed owners more than once. Last year, the carrier's CEO Jude Bricker (formerly of Allegiant Air) declared that Sun Country would become a "ULCC" or ultra-low cost carrier. According to travel blogger Brett Snyder of Cranky Flier ( that means turning into a "low fare/high fee" airline.

"This move by Sun Country fits perfectly into the professed strategy to go into markets where demand is high," writes Snyder. "It can then bring lower fares and go under the radar of the big guys who are full during that season anyway. Anchorage to Seattle during the summer is exactly that kind of market at exactly the right time of year."

Sun Country is launching its five weekly flights (no flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays) between June 7 and Aug. 20. When the airline announced the service last week, the lowest available fare was $106 one-way. Unlike its low-fare summer-only competitor JetBlue, Sun Country's flights are not red-eye, but leave Anchorage at 6:50 p.m. The return flight leaves Seattle for Anchorage at 5:50 p.m.

[You can nab some great airfares right now – but there might be a catch]

Overnight, though, Sun Country dropped its rates to match JetBlue and Delta, which offered one-way fares of $94 on select dates. Then, for a couple of days last week, JetBlue went further, dropping the one-way fare to $74 during a 48-hour sale.

Alaska Airlines has matched some, but not all, of the fare cuts. And the rates are changing all the time. I fully expect more "flash sales" resulting in deeply-discounted seats between Anchorage and Seattle.

Travelers should remember that the base price on these fares is just that: the base price. With Sun Country, you'll pay extra for a full-size carry-on and for an assigned seat. That means that you can bring a small backpack or a purse on board, but nothing else.

The add-on fees are crucial for all airlines. But if you want to fly Alaska, you'll likely avoid the bag fees if you're a "Club 49" member — it's free for Alaska residents. Pre-assigned seats are a part of your base fare with Alaska and with JetBlue (and sometimes with Delta). Also, you can haul aboard your carry-on rollerbag at no additional cost on all three airlines.

The fares between Anchorage and Seattle drop off when JetBlue starts service on May 27. Between early April and May 27, Alaska and Delta have settled on a higher fare, starting at $285 round trip. That's still a good deal. But if you can get to Seattle for less than $100 one-way — that's a great deal!

[Here's when seasonal airlines like JetBlue and Condor will be back in Alaska for summer]

If you're flying back to Minneapolis from Anchorage, Delta offers the cheapest rates, from $346 round trip. That's a great deal on a nonstop flight. Right now, the best rates are available for travel from April 14-28. Look hard enough and you'll find seats for under $400 round trip into the first week of May. After that, the fares go up a bit, until May 19, when Sun Country spools up its nonstop flights. Then, you'll find nonstop flights around $400, which is $100 less than Delta's high-season rates.

In keeping with its high-season strategy, Sun Country is adding a second nonstop flight from Anchorage to Minneapolis on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting in June. Prices change all the time, but right now they are priced lower than Delta's corresponding nonstops. Just remember that the base price is just that: the base price. You have to do the final calculation if you want assigned seats or checked bags.

While Sun Country is disrupting the Anchorage-Seattle market, JetBlue still is making waves up and down the West Coast. From Anchorage to Portland, the airline is resuming its seasonal nonstop on May 25, with fares starting at $104 one-way.

It's always fun to get a bargain airfare. But getting a deal to either Seattle or L.A. is different because these two airports open up more possibilities for travel around the world.

Once you're in Seattle, for example, you can take advantage of Norwegian's nonstop flight to London's Gatwick Airport. The prices right now start at $160 one-way for travel through June 7 (flights from London back to Seattle are a little higher, at $246 one-way). Again, your seat assignments, checked baggage and meals are extra.

You can fly nonstop from Anchorage to Los Angeles for as little as $360 round trip on Alaska Airlines. From there, you can catch a nonstop flight to Singapore for $515 round trip on United. It's a new 787 and there's more legroom (32-inch pitch) on this 18-hour flight than on their 737 to Denver. The low fare on the LAX-Singapore nonstop is available for travel through May 24.

Remember: fares change all the time and it's best to assume that the base fare is nothing more than that. Chances are good you'll end up paying a little more —and that's what the airlines are counting on.

Lawsuit claims Anchorage neurosurgeon improperly took and shared photo of patient’s genitals

Fri, 2018-03-16 20:17

A lawsuit filed Thursday asserts that an Anchorage neurosurgeon used an iPhone to improperly photograph the genitals of a patient during spinal surgery, then sent the picture to another person for entertainment.

The patient was under general anesthesia at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Dec. 8 when Dr. Louis L. Kralick "pulled up the draping covering (the patient's) genitalia," and snapped one or more pictures, according to the complaint filed in Alaska District Court in Anchorage.

The doctor forwarded the image to his wife or another third party for their "amusement and/or titillation," according to the complaint.

"There was no valid medical reason, justification, or excuse for Kralick's actions," and the patient did not consent to the action, the complaint says.

Kralick has not been charged with a crime, but Providence Alaska Medical Center investigated the matter and informed police, a hospital spokesman said.

"We do not have any public statement to make on any open investigation wherein no one has been charged," said MJ Thim, an Anchorage police spokesman.

A complaint was also filed against Kralick with the Alaska State Medical Board, a board spokesman said.

A statement sent Friday by the office of David Shoup, Kralick's attorney in the case, said the allegations against Kralick are "completely and utterly false."

"Dr. Kralick is a well-known and highly regarded neurosurgeon," said the statement, emailed Friday. "The claims being made against him will be vigorously defended."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the patient by David Henderson, a medical malpractice and personal injury attorney in Anchorage. Henderson sent the complaint to reporters Thursday, along with a media release.

Henderson also released an apology letter he said came from Kralick. The letter, dated Jan. 5, did not provide details about the doctor's behavior.

"Please consider this a letter of apology for inappropriate conduct on my part in the operating room on Dec. 8, 2017, while you were in the hospital," it says. "While I did not intend my actions to be disrespectful, I can understand why some members of the operating room staff might have thought otherwise, and as a result I sincerely apologize."

The patient, 49, is not named in the suit to avoid embarrassment, the release said.

"Of course none of this was with the patient's knowledge or consent," Henderson said in his statement. "It's just outrageous."

The lawsuit names Kralick and Providence Alaska Medical Center as defendants. It seeks at least $100,000 in compensatory damages.

In response to questions about the complaint, Providence on Friday sent a media statement saying it became aware of a "potential violation of patient privacy" in December.

"We immediately launched an internal investigation and notified appropriate authorities," said the statement, emailed by Mikal Canfield, a hospital spokesman. "Ultimately, we identified that the privacy breach could be a violation of Alaska criminal statute. Providence then contacted law enforcement."

Providence named neither the doctor nor the patient in its statement. It could not provide information about the case because it is pending in court and because of patient privacy concerns, the hospital's statement said.

"Providence is fully cooperating with the appropriate authorities," the statement said.

Kralick is not an employee of Providence but has "privileging rights" at the Anchorage hospital, meaning he can treat patients there, Canfield said. Those rights are still in place, Canfield said Friday.

Messages left for Kralick, including by phone at Anchorage Neurosurgical Associates where state business records show he is part owner, were not returned.

Kralick also retains privileging rights at Alaska Regional Hospital, said Sonja Richison, medical staff manager, on Friday.

"We are currently following our bylaws and credentials policy, and we have to do that to ensure both our patients and staff are protected while the physician is getting his due process," she said.

The lawsuit claims the patient learned what the doctor had done after the surgery. A Providence employee involved in legal compliance for the hospital also learned about the incident and told Kralick to delete the unauthorized image or images, the complaint alleges.

That compliance officer is not a defendant in the case, and is not named in the complaint. But the complaint says the doctor and the compliance officer acted with "reckless indifference" and were engaged in a "civil conspiracy." Providence is named as a defendant because of the compliance officer's actions, Henderson's press release said.

Providence contacted the Anchorage Police Department to report Kralick's "criminal activity," the suit alleges.

"Although Providence's operating room staff cooperated with the (police) investigation — Dr. Kralick did not," the complaint says. "He refused to give a statement to the police or participate in an interview. The police seized his phone and placed it in evidence. Even then, Kralick refused to provide his iPhone's password. The police have not been able to access the device."

Asked in an email if the Alaska State Medical Board had received a complaint involving the allegations against Kralick, Greg Francois, chief investigator for the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing, said the division had.

"My understanding is the medical board is investigating the matter," Henderson said Friday. "I don't know who filed the complaint to the medical board."

NCAA hoops history: No. 16 Retrievers slay No. 1 Virginia

Fri, 2018-03-16 19:58

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Good dog! Very good dog!

The UMBC Retrievers pulled off the previously impossible Friday night, making NCAA Tournament history in Charlotte by upsetting Virginia, 74-54, before an absolutely shocked crowd at the Spectrum Center.

Coming into the game, No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament were 135-0 against No. 16 seeds. Now they are 135-1, as the Retrievers stunned the tournament's No. 1 overall seed with an underdog performance for the ages.

I've been watching the NCAA Tournament for more than 40 years, and I've never seen anything like this upset coached by Ryan Odom, the son of former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. I sat in my seat in the Spectrum Center marveling at everything UMBC did, repeatedly breaking the rule about not cheering in the press box because this was a story that seemed too good to be true.

There have been huge upsets in NCAA finals, absolutely — N.C. State over Houston, Villanova over Georgetown. But a team from the America East conference beating the ACC regular-season and tournament champion in Virginia, a club that came in 31-2 and was favored by many to win the 2018 NCAA championship?

You don't see that every day, or every decade. In fact, no one has seen it since 1985, when the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams and the annual "1 vs. 16" battles became a four-part symphony of predictability. Each year four No.1 seeds face off against four No.16 seeds, and each year we hope for something amazing.

And each year, until this time, it didn't happen.

UMBC – which stands for University of Maryland, Baltimore County – wasn't even supposed to make the NCAA tournament. It needed a last-second shot to get to Charlotte, beating favored Vermont.

UMBC lost 83-39 to Albany earlier this season. It lost to Colgate. It lost to Army.

But the Retrievers did something they will never forget Friday night, breaking open a 21-21 halftime tie with an incredible burst to start the second half. Virginia had never allowed 70 points all season – until now.

Jairus Lyles, who hit the buzzer-beater to get UMBC to the NCAA tourney in the first place, kept driving and scoring. Joe Sherburne knocked down 3s. And a 5-foot-8, 140-pound point guard named K.J. Maura started doing a Harlem Globetrotter dribbling routine and basically a bunch of players you never heard of started blasting a Virginia team that went 20-1 against ACC opponents this season.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett called a timeout, and then another, and it didn't matter. UMBC stretched its lead to an incredible 16 points with 11 minutes, 44 seconds left in the game. Virginia started trying to climb back in it, but UMBC showed the sort of poise that the Wahoos have shown all season.

It's a devastating loss for Virginia – one that will rank with Chaminade's upset of a Ralph Sampson-led Wahoos team in 1982 as one of the biggest upsets ever.

But for UMBC, this is a game-changer.

For their players, it is a life-changer.

Charlotte witnessed history Friday night in a game that will be remembered decades from now as one of the most famous to ever be played in the Queen City.

And while Virginia never saw it coming, it was no fluke. UMBC outplayed the No.1 team in the country – and outplayed it by a lot – and the NCAA Tournament will never be exactly the same again.

Scott Fowler covers sports for the Charlotte Observer.

Former FBI deputy director McCabe is fired just before retiring

Fri, 2018-03-16 18:17

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday night fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire.

Sessions announced the decision in a statement just before 10 p.m., noting that both the Justice Department Inspector General and the FBI office that handles discipline had found "that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor – including under oath – on multiple occasions."

He said based on those findings and the recommendation of the department's senior career official, "I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately."

The move will likely cost McCabe a significant portion of his retirement benefits, though it is possible he could bring a legal challenge. McCabe has been fighting vigorously to keep his job, and on Thursday, he spent nearly four hours inside the Justice Department pleading his case.

['There will always be change,' Trump says as more personnel shake-ups loom]

McCabe has become a lightning rod in the political battles over the FBI's most high-profile cases, including the Russia investigation and the probe of Hillary Clinton's email practices. He has been a frequent target of criticism from President Donald Trump.

His firing – which was recommended by the FBI office that handles discipline – stems from a Justice Department inspector general investigation that found McCabe authorized the disclosure of sensitive information to the media about a Clinton-related case, then misled investigators about his actions in the matter, people familiar with the matter have said. He stepped down earlier this year from the No. 2 job in the bureau after FBI Director Christopher Wray was briefed on the inspector general's findings, though he technically was still an employee.

McCabe disputes that he misled anyone.

Some in the bureau might view McCabe's termination so close to retirement as an unnecessarily harsh and politically influenced punishment for a man who spent more than 20 years at the FBI. The White House had seemed to support such an outcome, though a spokeswoman said the decision was up to Sessions.

"We do think that it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.

Trump and McCabe's relationship has long been fraught. The president has previously suggested that McCabe was biased in favor of Clinton, his political opponent, pointing out that McCabe's wife, who ran as a Democrat for a seat in the Virginia legislature, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the political action committee of Terry McAuliffe, then the state's governor and a noted Clinton ally. During an Oval Office meeting in May, Trump is said to have asked McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential election and vented about the donations.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz put McCabe in his crosshairs during a broad look at alleged improprieties in the handling of the Clinton email case. In the course of that review, Horowitz found that McCabe had authorized two FBI officials to talk to then-Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett for a story about the case and another investigation into Clinton's family foundation. Barrett now works for The Washington Post.

Background conversations with reporters are commonplace in Washington, though McCabe's authorizing such a talk was viewed as inappropriate because the matter being discussed was an ongoing criminal investigation. The story ultimately presented McCabe as a somewhat complicated figure – one who some FBI officials thought was standing in the way of the Clinton Foundation investigation, but who also seemed to be pushing back against Justice Department officials who did not believe there was a case to be made.

McCabe, who turns 50 on Sunday and would have then been eligible for his full retirement benefits, had quickly ascended through senior roles to the No. 2 leadership post. He briefly served in an interim capacity as the FBI director, in the months between when Trump fired James Comey from the post and Wray was confirmed by the Senate.