FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is being charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor in Florida, police said Friday.
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft walks on the field before the AFC Championship NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, in Kansas City, Mo. Police in Florida have charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution, saying they have videotape of him paying for a sex act inside an illicit massage parlor. Jupiter police told reporters Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, that the 77-year-old Kraft has not been arrested. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) (Charlie Neibergall/)
Jupiter police told reporters the 77-year-old Kraft hasn’t been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified. Kraft has denied wrongdoing.
Police said details about the charges against Kraft will not be released until next week.
The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking from Palm Beach to Orlando. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued in recent days as result of a six-month investigation and more are expected. Ten spas have been closed and several people charged with sex trafficking have been taken into custody.
Police said they secretly planted undercover cameras in targeted massage parlors and recorded the interactions between men and the female employees.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Kraft said they "categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."
The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier in Atlanta this month over the Los Angeles Rams, their sixth in the past 18 seasons, making them the most successful team in pro sports during that span. In four other seasons, they made the Super Bowl.
Jupiter police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn that Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was paying for sex inside a strip-mall massage parlor, the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.
"We are as equally stunned as everyone else," Kerr said.
The Palm Beach County state attorney's office, which would prosecute the case, had no comment.
Kraft lives in Massachusetts and has a home in the Palm Beach area. He is a frequent guest of President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club. Though a Democrat, he is friendly with Trump.
Kraft's wife Myra Hiatt died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.
The NFL did not immediately respond to a message Friday seeking comment. Under league policy, players, owners, coaches and other employees can be punished for "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in" the NFL.
"Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of Personal Conduct Policy occur," the policy says.
Most people charged for the first time for soliciting a prostitute in Florida are allowed to enter a diversion program, said attorney David Weinstein, a former prosecutor. Kraft would probably have to perform 100 hours of community service and pay to attend an educational program about the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking, he said.
Vero Beach police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the investigation, told reporters earlier this week that the prostitutes are victims who have been trapped into the trade.
"These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can't leave and they are performing sex acts," Currey said, according to TCPalm. "Some of them may say tell us they're OK, but they're not."
Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, was a Patriots season ticket owner when he purchased the team's previous stadium in 1988, then used his leverage to buy the team in 1994 for $172 million to keep if from moving to St. Louis.
He hired Bill Belichick to be his coach in 2000 and the team subsequently drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching their nearly two decades of success.
But there also have been issues involving team actions under Belichick.
In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming signals from New York Jets coaches; New England was suspected of doing so against other teams, as well, and that was confirmed later on. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000 and stripped them of their 2008 first-round draft pick. Belichick was fined $500,000, the most an NFL coach ever was fined.
In the 2014 AFC championship game, the team — specifically Brady — was accused by the Indianapolis Colts of doctoring footballs.
The NFL concluded that Patriots employees were involved in deflating the footballs and Brady was "at least generally aware" it was being done. After lengthy legal battles, Brady served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season and the Patriots were fined $1 million — the heftiest for a team in league history. New England was stripped of a first-round and a fourth-round draft choice.
Neither Kraft nor Belichick was implicated after the investigation.
AP sports writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.
Gluten-free baked "Idita-doughnuts" (Julia O'Malley / ADN)
This week I’m sharing an unusual but satisfying recipe for baked, gluten-free doughnuts. Like with most baked things that are supposed to be fried and gluten-free things that are trying to be flour things, you’ll be way more into them if you don’t try to compare them to actual doughnuts, but instead think of them as hot, delicious, coffee-dunking rings. (I also included notes for making the recipe with real flour.) They are perfect for carrying to a sled dog race.
I’ve got my mind on trailgating snacks for the next couple weekends, when the sprint races and the Iditarod ceremonial start send mushers through Anchorage. It is the most special of times in my mind (where else in America has dogs running through town?), and I like to haul my kids to the trail in the morning in a big sled filled with hot drinks and snacks. Aside from baked doughnuts, which I always make, I might consider Kim Sunee’s blueberry cornmeal muffins, Maya Wilson’s banana bread with cinnamon crunch topping or strawberry coffee cake muffins.
Strawberry coffee cake muffins (Maya Wilson / Alaska From Scratch)
In my trail thermos, if I’m feeling super retro Alaska, I might just dial up some Russian tea. Remember that stuff? Lots of readers wrote me when I asked for a recipe a while back. Then I found a nice one in the archives from Kirsten Dixon, dean of Alaska trail food. It’ll take you right back to the Fur Rondys of your childhood. (Speaking of nostalgic Rondy events, we should all go to the Pioneer Pancake Feed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, at the Pioneer Hall, 612 F St., above Flattop Pizza.)
Making Russian Tea. (File photo)
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Before I go, I’ll set Maya Wilson’s black bean chili to warm in the Crock-Pot and, if I’m really organized, have her jalapeño-cheddar cornbread ready to go for lunch when we get back with friends and kids and peel off all our winter gear. Got to head off the hunger meltdowns!
Black bean chili (Maya Wilson / Alaska from Scratch)
Speaking of hot Tang, I’ll be serving that and manning a pilot bread bar tonight as the Anchorage Museum opens its new food exhibit with the WHAT WHY HOW WE EAT tasting event. I’ve been helping out with the exhibit for the last year. I think it’s going to be all the things a food nerd loves.
Here at the ADN, we’re looking to tune up our food content and we need your help. Take a minute and fill out our food coverage survey. And, if you don’t already, support local cooking and local news and subscribe.
Here’s hoping your Tang is hot and your doughnuts are dunkable.
FAIRBANKS - A 34-year-old Fairbanks driver suspected of crashing his pickup into a car and firing shots at it has been arrested.
Alaska State Troopers say Tucker Holmgren was held on suspicion of weapons misconduct, assault, felony driving under the influence and refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test.
Fairbanks troopers just before midnight Thursday took a call that a man had crashed his pickup into a car carrying a family with four juveniles on a rural road east of Fairbanks.
Troopers say the suspect then fired a gun at the car.
Troopers accompanied by Fairbanks and North Pole police responded and arrested Holmgren. He was jailed at Fairbanks Correctional Center.
Expect intermittent road closures in the downtown area this weekend for Fur Rondy events (Kevin Powell/)
Fur Rondy starts Friday, giving Anchorage dwellers plenty of excuses to get out of the house for some quirky fun. There’s a packed schedule, and several events will involve intermittent downtown street closures.
Coast Guard lieutenant used work computers in alleged planning of widespread domestic terrorist attack, prosecutors say
This image provided by the U.S. District Court in Maryland shows a photo of firearms and ammunition that was in the motion for detention pending trial in the case against Christopher Paul Hasson. Prosecutors say that Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant is a "domestic terrorist" who wrote about biological attacks and had a hit list that included prominent Democrats and media figures. He is due in court on Feb. 21 in Maryland. Prosecutors say Hasson espoused extremist views for years. Court papers say Hasson described an "interesting idea" in a 2017 draft email that included "biological attacks followed by attack on food supply." (U.S. District Court via AP) (AEly/)
GREENBELT, Md. - The U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant spent hours on end planning a wide-scale domestic terrorist attack, even logging in at his work computer on the job at headquarters to study the manifestos and heinous paths of mass shooters, prosecutors say. He researched how to carry out sniper attacks, they contend, and whether rifle scopes were illegal. And all the while, investigators assert, he was amassing a cache of weapons as he ruminated about attacks on politicians and journalists.
But Christopher Hasson was not an isolated figure, according to a contractor who worked with him. The 49-year-old lieutenant with more than two decades in the Coast Guard was part of a project to replace some aging cutters in the fleet, tasks that regularly required interacting with civilians and military officials at meetings and on travel.
"I don't remember him saying anything that was crazy," said Adam Stolzberg, a contractor who worked at headquarters and was in meetings with Hasson a couple of times a month. Politics never came up, Stolzberg said.
It was only after Hasson's arrest last Friday at his workplace that the chilling plans prosecutors assert he was crafting became apparent, detected by an internal Coast Guard program that watches for any "insider threat."
The program identified suspicious computer activity tied to Hasson, prompting the agency's investigative service to launch an investigation last fall, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a service spokesman.
Hasson was arrested on gun and drug charges after officials with the Coast Guard Investigative Service and agents with the FBI in Baltimore began probing activities that prosecutors said in court were linked to what they described as Hasson's white-nationalist views. Federal law enforcement officials seized a stockpile of guns and ammunition from his basement apartment in the Maryland suburbs near Washington in the far east side of Silver Spring, Maryland, in Montgomery County.
"The sheer number and force of the weapons recovered from Mr. Hasson's residence in this case, coupled with the disturbing nature of his writings, appear to reflect a very significant threat to the safety of our community, particularly given the position of trust that Mr. Hasson held with the United States government," U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert Hur said Thursday after a hearing in which Hasson was ordered detained.
Prosecutors and Hasson's federal public defender sparred over whether it was appropriate to jail him after an arrest for gun and drug charges but no terrorism-related counts.
The judge, Charles Day, said that it is unusual to detain a defendant based on the charges Hasson was facing and that the issue at hand is "all about the defendant's state of mind and intentions."
Hasson's federal public defender, Julie Stelzig, said the government's court filings are a "histrionic characterization of Mr. Hasson" and there was "no actual indication of any plan." She said that Hasson had no prior record and that the number of weapons he had were "modest at best" for average gun collectors.
"It's not a crime to think negative thoughts," Stelzig said of the writings the government points to as evidence of his extremist views. "It's not a crime to think about doomsday scenarios."
But with Hasson in court, prosecutors called him a "domestic terrorist" who intended to "murder innocent civilians."
"What drives the government's concern is what also gives the court pause," Day said before he gave the government 14 days to bring additional charges and before Hasson's lawyer could file an appeal for his possible release.
Hasson called for "focused violence" to "establish a white homeland," prosecutors said in court filings. It's unclear whether Hasson had a specific date for an attack, but the government said he had been stockpiling weapons for at least two years, spending $14,000 a year on equipment to ready for an attack.
As he built an arsenal, prosecutors contend, Hasson read manifestos by the Unabomber, the Virginia Tech shooter and the Olympic Park bomber among other domestic mass shooters, and also looked for guidance to the plot of right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who in 2011 unleashed two attacks in Norway that killed 77 people.
"I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth," Hasson said in one of his letters that contemplated creating a biological plague, according to records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.
During the raid this month, law enforcement officers seized 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition from what they called his "cramped basement apartment" that was at the line near Prince George's County.
Hasson, who had a bald head and was wearing a pink prison uniform, did not speak in court.
No one answered the door at the residential address that appeared to be associated with Hasson. Law enforcement officials in Montgomery County also said that while there were calls about loud parties in the area in recent years, there were no calls for service that would indicate anything was amiss at that residence.
Hasson joined the Coast Guard in March 1996 as an enlisted electronics technician and was promoted to chief warrant officer in 2012 and lieutenant in 2015, McBride said. He will remain on active duty until the legal case against him is adjudicated but has stopped working since his arrest.
Hasson was arrested once the FBI and Coast Guard investigators were "confident in the strength of the evidence supporting the criminal complaint and warrant," McBride said.
As recently as Jan. 17, Hasson created a list of "traitors" and targets in a spreadsheet while reviewing various broadcast news sites from his work computer, court filings show. The list included people prosecutors believe to be Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., CNN reporter Don Lemon and nearly two dozen others.
"Unlawful possession of drugs and firearms, as well as advocacy for supremacist doctrine, ideology, or causes, violates Coast Guard policy, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and our organization core values," McBride said in an email.
Hasson's access to Coast Guard headquarters has been revoked. He held a secret-level security clearance beginning in April 2005, and background checks did not find information that merited denying it, McBride said. Secret clearance typically allows access to information that can cause serious damage to U.S. national security if disclosed. It is considered more significant than confidential access and less significant than top-secret access.
Yvonne Carlock, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, said Wednesday that Hasson joined the service in December 1988, serving as an F/A-18 aircraft mechanic. His last rank in that service was corporal.
Federal authorities said he left sometime in 1993.
In June 1994, Hasson moved over to the Virginia Army National Guard, becoming an infantryman with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 183rd Infantry Regiment, said Kurt Rauschenberg, a National Guard Bureau spokesman. His unit was based south of Richmond, Virginia, near the town of Petersburg.
In September 1995, Hasson switched to the Arizona Army National Guard and left about six months later, in March 1996, exiting with the same rank as when he joined.
Property records indicate Hasson moved frequently in his varied military career, including stints in Arizona, California and Virginia. In 2007, he bought a house in Currituck, North Carolina, just across the bay from the Outer Banks. Neighbors said Hasson lived in the house for several years with a woman they identified as his wife and at least one young child.
"It was very neat," said Delena Ostrander, who owns the adjacent lot. "I never heard any complaints."
Her stepfather, Stanley Maculewich, still lives on the short, unpaved lane and remembers Hasson as a big, gun-owning Coast Guardsman who commuted to work early each morning by motorcycle.
"He was a good-sized guy, but I had no problem with him," Maculewich said. "He was shooting his gun out there one day. But when I asked him to stop because I had a daughter in the house who was sick, he said 'Fine.' And that was it, he stopped."
Stolzberg, the contractor who also worked at Coast Guard headquarters with Hasson, said Hasson never raised any alarms at the office. Tall and muscular with a shaved or bald head, Hasson sometimes drove a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to work, Stolzberg said. But his black leather jacket didn't bear any insignia, and his arm tattoos didn't appear out of the ordinary. Nor did Hasson express any radical views, Stolzberg said.
"I didn't have a hard time getting along with him," he said. "I was trying to think back: What did I miss? Was there anything there?"
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The Washington Post’s Dan Morse, Steve Hendrix, Jennifer Barrios, Julie Tate and Alice Crites contributed to this report.
"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett leaves Cook County jail following his release, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Chicago. Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct and filling a false police report when he said he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, a police official said. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski) (Kamil Krzaczynski/)
CHICAGO — Something important has been lost in the embarrassing saga of Jussie Smollett, the tuna fish sandwich-loving actor and anti-Trump activist, and those muscular Nigerian brothers.
And I suppose it's easy to lose what's important with all the panic and intersectional hatred and liberal identity politics gone bad in this Smollett story.
What's been lost is this:
I'm told that two dozen detectives were assigned to the Smollett case. Can Chicago afford that, what with all the unsolved murders and shootings in this town?
There were some 18 people killed in Chicago after Smollett began telling his story in late January, that story in which he cast himself as the hero, about having to fight off pro-Trump racists.
Now it turns out that the pro-Trump racists, who he says put a noose around his neck, may actually be his friends, two muscular Nigerian brothers who may or may not have been paid in this deal.
Either way, his story is he fought them off. Even though he had a cellphone in one hand, a tuna sandwich in the other.
Smollett must be a certified badass. His sandwich survived.
But two dozen detectives assigned to check out his story that he was a victim of a politically inspired pro-Trump hate crime, a story that is unraveling by the second?
Even in Chicago, a city known for its unending violence and political corruption, assigning two dozen detectives seems a bit overdone.
I could go with a lower number -- say 20 detectives -- given to me by someone who knows.
But that's still high given all the homicides that are never solved.
Chicago has an abysmal homicide clearance rate of about 17 percent. Chicago's detective ranks have been decimated by attrition and idiotic shortsighted political management. There aren't enough detectives. That's an issue in the mayoral campaign.
Thousands of people have been murdered in Chicago over the past few years, and thousands and thousands more have been shot and survived.
They're alive because of the wonders of trauma center technology and the brilliance of ER doctors, and the hard work of Chicago Fire Department paramedics.
Even so, the city is numb to physical violence on the street. And numb to the emotional violence exerted by the political class.
But two dozen detectives for Smollett just doesn't seem right. Make no mistake. I'm not blaming the detectives or the Chicago Police Department.
They work for a politician. His name is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who famously announced a few years ago that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
And when Smollett told his amazing story, about being a black gay man attacked by racist Trump supporters on one of the coldest nights of the year, the media was all over it. National politicians were all over it.
They bought it without question.
"This was an attempted modern-day lynching," tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris of California. "No one should ever have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate."
Sen. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, issued a similar tweet, although it saddened me that his mythical friend, the dangerous drug dealer T-Bone, had nothing to say.
But other Democrats fell in line. And CNN and many who earn their livings in the Washington-New York liberal media echo chamber rushed to judgment. So did a few in Chicago, but Chicago reporters had more healthy skepticism than their national counterparts.
It was a perfect anti-Trump story. It fit the prevailing narrative of many in the media (who are themselves liberal Democrats) that Trump supporters are racist and just itching to find some minorities to beat up.
Just a few weeks ago, the same media and Twitter mob descended upon those Covington High School boys and blamed them for race hatred in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
It turned out the boys were innocent. But the social justice warriors of the left shrugged and moved on, looking for the next story with which to portray America as a hateful nation -- because it fits their politics -- and some found it in Smollett.
For a list of media examples, you might want to go to Mediaite and the article “Did the Media Jump the Gun on the Jussie Smollett Story?” by Caleb Howe.
Or you might consider CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin. She looked into the camera, and sighed, and her sigh was full of her politics.
"This is America in 2019," she said.
We get it, Brooke. We're terrible. Donald Trump is the president, and everything's gone to hell.
There's nothing new there. Trump is a political-lightning-rod president, inspiring irrational hate in some and irrational adoration in others and most likely both groups are tribal and wrong.
But America isn't a hateful nation. America is the least hateful nation, and the best hope of humankind on Earth.
A few weeks ago, after Smollett began telling his tale -- in which he's the hero fighting oppression and hatred -- a 1-year-old child was shot in the head.
It looked like a street gang may have been targeting his mother. She's been shot before. The child, Dejon Irving, is on life support.
I don't think there were two dozen detectives assigned to Dejon Irving's case. But he's not a star to be used by politicians in pursuit of power. He's not a symbol.
Politicians don’t tweet his name. He’s just a little boy from Chicago, shot in the head.The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
In this courtroom sketch, "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, appears in from before Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. with his attorney Jack Prior at Cook County Court, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Tom Gianni) (Tom Gianni/)
Chicago Police Department officials say that “Empire” star Jussie Smollett’s claim of being the victim of a violent racial and homophobic attack in their city was a hoax. Eddie Johnson, the department’s superintendent and an African-American man, said he was especially frustrated that another African-American man would lie about having a noose placed around his neck.
I also found this repulsive, particularly given the research and consulting my colleagues and I do at the USC Race and Equity Center. I know from our work how hard it is for people who encounter harassment and assault to come forward: They are placed at risk of being taken less seriously when anyone, let alone a famous person, makes up a highly publicized fake story. If Smollett really did this, that will significantly threaten the credibility of our work. Lying about an attack could easily weaken the believability of the terrible experiences that people with marginalized identities disclose in surveys and interviews with us.
Our center helps executives in corporations, law firms, colleges and universities and other organizations understand how people across different racial and ethnic groups differently experience those environments. Our work sometimes entails conducting several dozen racially homogeneous focus group interviews over three or four days with people of color and their white counterparts. We also interview women and LGBT people about their encounters with sexism, homophobia and transphobia. I have heard hundreds of horrifying stories from people who have experienced varying degrees of mistreatment and violence on their campuses and at their jobs. For example, being called the n-word or some other racially derogatory term by a white classmate or co-worker is a disgracefully common experience, one we hear about on just about every campus and at a surprising number of companies.
I do not believe these people were lying. I have no reason to think they made up outrageous stories to shock or entertain me, to garner attention and sympathy or to increase their salaries. They tell me they want justice and accountability, the dismantling of systems that repeatedly reproduce disadvantage and structural inequities and greater protection for their humanity. They want less violence.
Statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected civil rights organization that systematically tracks racial violence in communities across America, show a 30 percent increase in hate crimes over the past four years. Their data also show that white supremacist groups increased by 7 percent in 2018. There is no evidence that these numbers are inflated. I do not believe most people who report hate crimes are lying. Some do not live to tell the stories of violence they endured. Take, for instance, transgender people, many of whom are killed because of their gender identity and expression. A report from the Human Rights Campaign shows that transgender women of color are murdered at especially high rates. They certainly do not orchestrate their own deaths. The reality of their vulnerability is undeniable, despite any skepticism that Smollett’s allegedly false claims might engender among people looking for an excuse not to believe victims and survivors.
Shortly after Smollett's arrest, President Donald Trump mentioned him in a tweet. I fully expect that Trump and others will continue to point to this situation to discredit people who report experiences with racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Trump has already shown a pattern of attempting to discredit women who have come forth to report sexual harassment and gender violence. This latest incident will give Trump and others like him ammunition to prove their doubts of future cases are justified. According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 40 percent of sexual assaults that occurred in 2017 were reported to the police, a 30 percent increase over the prior year. An alarming number of participants in my center's campus and workplace climate studies disclose that they had not previously reported bad experiences because they feared being accused of lying. They also worried about damaging their reputations, losing their jobs and investing emotion into faulty investigations that yield no confirmation of their charges.
Despite the bizarre and disgusting mess that Smollett created for himself, we all must take seriously the data on hate crimes and other acts of racial violence, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. The Chicago Police Department says it has evidence that one outrageously selfish celebrity manufactured a hoax that wasted their resources and attracted lots of attention in the news media. But people who actually experience assault, harassment and differential treatment ought not suffer the consequences of this actor's alleged dishonesty.
Smollett recklessly put millions of Americans at risk of having their trauma disregarded. It is possible that even fewer victims who survive hate crimes and other acts of violence will feel comfortable coming forward to report these experiences to campus administrators, managers, elected officials and police officers because they will fear disbelief even more. The risk of being accused of lying is one reason lots of women remain silent about sexual harassment and sexual assault at their jobs. False reports are infrequent, but when they happen, women’s pursuits of justice and accountability are undermined. Untrue stories also place a more significant burden on people of color and LGBT people to prove that they were attacked or otherwise harmed. This was their reality long before Smollett allegedly lied. He made it worse for them.
Shaun R. Harper is a professor and executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California. His 12 books include “Scandals in College Sports.” Originally published in The Washington Post.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces Humvee stands by as a truck that is part of a convoy evacuating hundreds out of the last territory held by Islamic State militants, passes in Baghouz, eastern Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) (Felipe Dana/)
WASHINGTON - The White House said Thursday that “a small peacekeeping group of about 200” U.S. troops will stay in Syria beyond the planned withdrawal of American forces this spring.
An announcement by press secretary Sarah Sanders did not specify where the troops would be based, what their responsibilities would be, or how long they would stay, beyond "a period of time."
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details not yet made public, said that the 200 would be "split down the middle" between Syrian Kurdish-controlled areas in the northeast of the country, and the Tanf garrison in southeast Syria. The official said the total might rise slightly.
The decision was a partial reversal of President Donald Trump's order, announced in December, that all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would leave, since their mission to destroy the Islamic State caliphate had been achieved. Complete withdrawal was expected by the end of April.
Defense officials, lawmakers and some White House aides have expressed concern that tens of thousands of militant fighters remained scattered throughout Syria and Iraq. France and Britain, which also have troops in Syria, rebuffed a U.S. request to leave forces there to continue operations against militant remnants and to patrol a "safe zone" along Syria's northeastern border with Turkey unless some U.S. troops remained.
Turkey initially proposed the 20-mile safe zone to prevent what it says have been cross-border attacks by fighters of the Peoples' Protection Units, the Kurdish forces that dominate the U.S.-allied Syrian ground force.
Turkey considers the Kurdish group terrorists, allied with Kurdish militants in that country, and has said it would attack them as soon as the Americans left. It has demanded their removal from the border area.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., praised the move Thursday, and said that the residual U.S. force would "ensure that ISIS does not return and that Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew." It also ensures, he said, that Turkey and the Syrian Kurds "will not go into conflict." ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State.
Iran is a primary backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who wants to send his military forces, along with Iranian-commanded militias, into the eastern third of Syria now controlled by the U.S.-led coalition and its Syrian Kurdish allies.
"With this decision," Graham said in a statement, "President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice."
Graham has been among the loudest voices demanding that some troops be left in Syria. In a confrontation late last week with acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan at the Munich Security Conference, he called the complete withdrawal "the dumbest . . . thing I have ever heard," and said that a U.S. commitment to patrol the border would provide an incentive to the Europeans to make their own commitments.
While reluctant to disagree with Trump, U.S. military officials have repeatedly flagged what they see as the hazards of a hasty pullout, even after the Islamic State's territorial presence has been eliminated.
Britain and France did not immediately respond to the U.S. announcement Thursday.
Graham's statement appeared to speak only to the safe zone, but some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, had also pressed for troops to be left at the Tanf garrison, where they are seen as a bulwark against Iranian expansion.
The U.S. official said that Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Shanahan had been in alignment on the plan for several weeks, but had wanted to enter discussions with the Europeans from a position of zero troops remaining, and "potentially go up" as they sought commitments from the allies.
Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a telephone call Thursday, "agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone," the White House said. Shanahan and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to meet in Washington Friday with their Turkish counterparts.
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The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.
Soldiers stand at the entrance of the Tienditas International bridge that connects Venezuela with Colombia, in Urena, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (Rodrigo Abd/)
SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela - Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on a group of civilians attempting to keep open a segment of the southern border with Brazil for deliveries of humanitarian aid, leading to multiple injuries and the first fatality of a massive opposition operation meant to deliver international relief into this devastated South American country, according to an eye-witnesses and community leaders.
At 6:30 a.m. on Friday, a military convoy approached a checkpoint set up by an indigenous community in the southern village of Kumarakapai, that rests on the main artery linking Venezuela to Brazil. When the volunteers sought to block the military vehicles by standing in front of them, soldiers began firing assault rifles, wounding at least 12 people, four of them seriously. One woman, Zorayda Rodriguez, 42, was killed.
"I ask the armed forces , is it constitutional for them to fire against unarmed indigenous people?" said Jorge Perez, a local councilman in Gran Sabana, the district where the town is located who said he was present when the soldiers opened fire. "Is it constitutional to kill indigenous people?"
At least 30 neighbors took to the streets following the shootings, kidnapping three soldiers, according to Carmen Elena Silva, 48, who had joined in the roadblock, and George Bello, a spokesperson for the indigenous community.
"The majority of the people support the entrance of humanitarian aid, and we want to keep our border open," Silva said. "This is help, not war. . . . Every day more children die."
A spokesmen for Venezuela's Communications Ministry said it could not yet comment on the incident.
The activists belonged to the Pemones indigenous tribe that has joined the opposition effort to haul in aid donated by the United States and other countries from bordering nations on Saturday. The aid is coming from nations - including the United States - that have demanded President Nicolas Maduro step down, and his government has ordered a full blockade the aid, and dispatched the military to reinforce Venezuela's borders.
The incident appeared to be the most violent confrontation yet in a still-unfolding operation that has seen thousands of volunteers seeking to reach bordering nations to haul in the aid. Opposition leaders feared more clashes on Saturday, when volunteers will seek to bring aid over the border.
Snapdragons are a flower that has multiple uses in the garden; they smells great, attract pollinators and comes in scads of colors. (PixHound/)
The National Garden Bureau has announced 2019 is “the year of the snapdragon.” This is important for one main reason: for the next three months your news feeds (which I couldn’t even have imagined when I started writing this column back in the ’70s!) and any magazines you read, will be punctuated with articles surrounding this announcement. These will be followed with lots of derivative articles and stories on planting, growing, using and harvesting snapdragons.
Who, you may be asking, do these folks think they are that they get to be the declarers of anything, nonetheless something as seemingly important as this? Well, I will tell you. Located in Downers Grove, Illinois, the NGB is the marketing arm of the seed and plant industry, the guys who sell to our nurseries and catalogs.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a marketing arm. I just want you to know that these press release articles are not popping up spontaneously. So, look for stories that headline: “Looking for a flower that has multiple uses in the garden, smells great, attracts pollinators and comes in scads of colors?” These marketing campaigns happen every year, but are usually not applicable to Alaska. Ah but as it turns out, all that the NGB has to say about snaps is true and true here. In fact, I would go further and add that we are a great place to grow them because of our cooler summer temperatures.
In the Lower 48, snaps stop flowering when it gets warm. And, if it is really warm, then they often don’t flower at all in the summer. Here is the big problem for Alaskans, however: there is always a dearth of all but the shortest types of snaps sold as starters. I know because I am such a huge fan of the tall snapdragon types that I lurk around nursery aisles in search of the few flats that do seem to get planted. I am hopeful that the announcement of the year of the snapdragon will be accompanied by the availability of lots and lots of taller snaps.
Snapdragons are not difficult to grow. However, they do require a bit more time indoors under great light so they don’t grow floppy and spindly. All of your favorite seed catalogs offer snapdragons as do all seed racks. In fact, starting from seed is the only way you can ensure not only tall snaps, but the fancier snapdragon varieties that produce different shaped and unusually colored flowers. One other advantage to growing your own snapdragons from seed is that you can pinch back the young plants so that they adults will be bushy and throw off more than one spike. Pinching a flat of snaps at the nursery is simply too labor intensive. By the time you find tall snaps for sale, it is almost always too late.
Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar
Alaska Botanical Garden: There is just too much going on to list it all. From summer camp to spring classes, plant sales, garden beds and guided help, all gardeners owe it to themselves to check out the ABG website.
Nurseries: Start visiting and poking around.
Lights: You need supplemental lights if you want to start seeds that require time, to grow. Go to a grow store and get something to use. Now.
With the conference championships two weeks away, the UAA men’s basketball team missed an opportunity to gain some ground in the race for a spot in the postseason tournament.
In a Thursday night game between two teams chasing Great Northwest Athletic Conference playoff berths, Western Washington beat the Seawolves 76-66 at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The loss came despite 31 points from Tyler Brimhall, who shot 11 of 24 from the field, including 6 of 13 from 3-point range.
Tyler Brimhall (Skip Hickey/)
UAA (13-12 overall, 8-9 GNAC) and Western Washington (13-13, 7-9) are among four teams chasing two berths in the six-team GNAC tournament.
Three teams have clinched spots and a fourth — Western Oregon — is one win away from qualifying with three regular-season games left. In a dogfight for the remaining berths are UAA, Western Washington, MSU-Billings (8-9) and Simon Fraser (8-9).
UAA’s remaining games are all at home — Saturday against Simon Fraser and next week against UAF and Billings.
Brimhall added six rebounds, two blocks and an assist in 38 minutes for the Seawolves. Brian Pearson joined him in double figures with 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting, but the rest of the team shot 7 of 33.
Brennan Rymer came close to a triple-double with nine assists, eight points and seven rebounds.
Four players scored in double figures for Western Washington, which used a 10-0 run to wipe out an early UAA lead. Trevor Jasinsky and Tyler Payne each had 14 points for the Vikings.
The UAA women’s basketball team used familiar weapons to cruise to its 17th straight victory: Defense and depth.
The Seawolves limited Seattle Pacific to four points in the first quarter and received points and rebounds from nine players to roll to a 68-53 win Thursday in Seattle.
UAA (24-1 overall, 16-1 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) stole the ball 15 times while clinching a first-round bye in next month’s GNAC tournament. The Seawolves are ranked ninth in NCAA Division II and third in the West Region.
A big first half — UAA led 15-4 after the first quarter and 42-16 at the half — allowed the Seawolves to survive a lackluster second half, when the Falcons outscored them 37-26.
“As pleased as I was with our overall play in the first half, I was equally as disappointed about our lack of focus in the second half,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said in a press release from the school. “We did just enough offensively to get the win, so we’ll have to be satisfied with that tonight and start concentrating on our upcoming opponents."
UAA’s guards had a productive night. Kian McNair had 10 points and four steals (it was her 17th straight multi-steal game), Yazmeen Goo had 11 points and three assists, Sydni Stallworth had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, Tara Thompson had eight points and three rebounds and Safiyyah Yasin had seven points, two assists, two steals and two rebounds.
Post players came through too. Although senior center Hannah Wandersee was limited to four points on 2-of-8 shooting, she grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and dished three assists. And sophomore forward Tennae Voliva contributed seven points and six rebounds in her fifth start of the season.
UAA’s defense forced the Falcons (7-17, 6-11) into 25 turnovers. Madi Hingston and Kaprice Boston each scored 10 points for the home team.
UAA plays another road game Saturday at Saint Martin’s in Lacey, Washington. The team returns to Anchorage for its final two regular-season games on Feb. 28 and March 2.
Mikaela Tommy who skis for University of Colorado exits the steep Waterfall pitch in her first run in the Seawolf Invitational FIS-U giant slalom. (Photo by Bob Eastaugh) (Photo by Bob Eastaugh/)
Two skiers whose previous races happened last week at the World Championships in Sweden ruled the slopes at Alyeska in Thursday’s UAA Invitational.
Mikaela Tommy of the University of Colorado and Simon Fournier of the University of Denver won giant slalom races on the first day of four straight days of NCAA alpine racing at Alyeska.
Both skiers raced for Canada in the recently concluded World Championships.
Tommy placed 26th in the world-championship giant slalom, where her competition included American superstar Mikaela Shiffrin. Shiffrin took the bronze medal in that race, with gold going to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhoven.
Fournier logged a pair of top-30 finishes at the world championships — he was 24th in the slalom and 30th in the giant slalom.
Thursday the pair was among more than 100 skiers from eight colleges and six ski clubs racing in Girdwood, Tommy won the women’s race by nearly seventh-tenths of a second.
Things were much closer in the men’s race, where Fournier finished less than one-tenth of a second ahead of two skiers who tied for second place — Colorado’s Filip Forejtek and Utah’s Joahim Bakken.
Two UAA skiers posted top-10 finishes in the men’s race. Liam Wallace was sixth and Sky Kelsey was eighth.
On Friday, alpine racers will return to Alyeska for another giant slalom race and nordic skiers will head to Kincaid Park for their final NCAA race in Alaska. On Saturday and Sunday, alpine skiers will compete in slalom races.
Top 10 finishers
Women’s giant slalom — 1) Mikaela Tommy, Colorado, 2:37.72; 2) Eirin Linnea Engeset, Utah, 2:38:41; 3) Tuva Norbye, Denver, 2:38.67; 4) Andrea Komsic, Denver, 2:39.63; 5) Kristine Fausa Aasberg, Utah, 2:39.88; 6) Rebecca Fiegl, New Mexico, 2:40.44; 7) Nora Grieg Christensen, Colorado, 2:41.29; 8) Stefanie Fleckenstein, Colorado, 2:41.51; 9) Katharine Irwin, New Mexico, 2:41.57; 10) Haley Cutler, New Mexico, 2:41.61.
Men’s giant slalom — 1) Simon Fournier, Denver, 2:29.24; 2) Filip Rorejtek, Colorado, 2:29.33; 2) Joachim Bakken Lien, Utah, 2:29.33, 4) Tobias Kogler, Denver, 2:29.36 5) Aage Solheim, Montana State, 2:29.94; 6) Liam Wallace, UAA, 2:29.99; 7) Joseph Young, Colorado, 2:30.18; 8) Sky Kelsey, UAA, 2:30.33; 9) Tucker Strauch, Vail Ski and Snowboard Club, 2:30.67; 10) Huston Philp, Utah, 2:30.72.
Less than 24 hours remained before Colby Evensen’s rookie run in the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship sled dog championships, and school was still in session for the 18-year-old Willow musher.
Evensen and his mentor, 60-year-old veteran dog driver Bill Kornmuller of Willow, were standing in the Tozier Track parking lot Thursday afternoon after checking out a section of the Rondy race trail. Temperatures were in the 20s and the sky was as blue as a husky’s eyes — perfect conditions for dogs and fans, Kornmuller noted.
“On Saturday we’ll go by 10,000 people if we go by one,” he mused. “That makes it real embarrassing for an old guy like me (when I try) to get up that hill.”
“That hill” is the Cordova Street hill, a popular spot for fans. Outbound teams can create excitement by gathering great speed going down the hill; inbound teams can create drama if they struggle up the hill. Inbound drivers often try to avoid a Cordova slow-down by hopping off their sled and running alongside their dogs — a move that lightens the load for the dogs.
With that in mind, Kornmuller offered Evensen some last-minute advice.
“You can’t wear bunny boots,” Kornmuller said with a glance at the heavy winter boots Evensen was wearing. “You’ve gotta run up that hill.
“If I can do it, you can.”
Veteran Fur Rondy driver Bill Kornmuller, left, and rookie Colby Evensen at Tozier Track after checking out the trail for the Open World Championship sled dog race on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Beth Bragg / ADN)
Kornmuller and Evensen are among 23 mushers entered in the three-day race that starts Friday. Kornmuller is one of 15 veteran racers and Evensen is one of eight rookies.
“I’m extremely encouraged by that,” race marshal Janet Clarke said. “To have one-third of the field be rookies is very encouraging.”
Clarke said trail conditions are “beautiful.”
“There were some places on the trail that were a little iffy or bumpier than we’d like, but these last few little snowfalls filled those in,” she said.
A snowstorm predicted to dump several inches Wednesday and Thursday failed to deliver much more than one or two inches, which was a relief for Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association race organizers.
“There’s no way we wanted to be working with eight inches of new snow,” Clarke said.
Dogs will race 25 miles each day, with heats beginning at noon at Fourth Avenue and D Street. Mushers will leave downtown in two-minute intervals; on Friday, veteran Nikki Seo of Salcha will leave first and rookie Matt Paveglio of Eagle River will leave last.
Two past champions are among those competing for a $65,000 purse — defending champion Blayne “Buddy” Streeper of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, and 2012 winner Ken Chezik of Fife, Michigan. Streeper is a six-time champion who is chasing George Attla’s revered record of 10 Rondy championships.
Evensen, who started mushing dogs with Kornmuller about three years ago, doesn’t harbor dreams of winning as a rookie.
“I just want to make it to the end and have a good time,” he said.
He’ll drive a team of 14 dogs from Kornmuller’s kennel, including a lead dog named Linda.
“We didn’t think she’d make the team a few years ago and now she’s running lead,” Evensen said.
Kornmuller said he named Linda after a sister who lives in Boston. He also named a dog after his other sister, Elsa, who lives in South Carolina.
“That dog wasn’t that good,” he said of Elsa. “She’s a pet now.”
Among the dogs Kornmuller will drive is one named Biter, who earned his name for obvious reasons. Biter is a good sled dog, but “he’s gotta be with the right guy every time,” Kornmuller said — otherwise he will constantly nip at the dog running next to him.
Kornmuller said he found a suitable teammate for Biter in a dog named Henry.
“They’ve reached a little bit of a consensus of how it’s gonna be done,” he said. “They don’t monkey with each other.”
Expect intermittent road closures in the downtown area this weekend for Fur Rondy events (Kevin Powell/)
Man recklessly driving stolen SUV tried ‘to bait officers into several pursuits,' Anchorage police say
A 22-year-old man tried “to bait officers into several pursuits” while recklessly driving a stolen security vehicle early Tuesday morning, Anchorage police said.
Jasten K. Fujishiro was remanded at the Anchorage jail and faces 15 charges, including first-degree vehicle theft, second-degree theft, three counts of third-degree assault, two counts of failure to stop, four counts of leaving the scene of a crash, violation of conditions of release, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, according to the Anchorage Police Department.
It started around 1 a.m. Tuesday, when a security guard at the Holiday gas station near 36th Avenue and C Street was in the process of removing Fujishiro from the property for trespassing, according to a police alert Thursday. Fujishiro stole the guard’s security vehicle, a 2014 Nissan Xterra, and drove away, police said.
About an hour later, someone reported to police dispatch that a security vehicle had hit his car after running a red light at Tudor Road and the Seward Highway, APD said. The caller said the security vehicle was being driven erratically before the wreck, didn’t stop afterward and then sped through another red light while leaving the scene, according to police.
At 2:39 a.m., police said, they located the stolen Xterra at the Old Seward Highway and Dowling Road. As officers headed that way, the Xterra wound up between two patrol cars approaching the intersection of Dimond Boulevard and Old Seward, according to police. The Xterra accelerated, wove around the police car ahead of it and ran a red light, APD said. Officers did not pursue the vehicle.
Shortly afterward, police said, Fujishiro repeatedly drove past officers conducting a traffic stop farther north on the Old Seward, at 69th Avenue. He “would slow down, flip off the officers, and swerve like he was trying to hit either the officers and/or their patrol vehicles,” according to police. Again, officers did not engage.
Then at 3:25 a.m., Fujishiro started following an officer driving in Midtown, accelerating rapidly through the intersection of A Street and 36th Avenue until the officer — “who thought he was about to get hit” — started speeding up too, police said. Fujishiro backed off, but then rear-ended the patrol car after it had stopped at a red light, according to police.
He backed off again, then started speeding up toward the officer’s damaged patrol car, police said. The officer accelerated, along with Fujishiro, and police tried to block the stolen security vehicle once they arrived in the area, according to APD.
Fujishiro refused to stop, APD said, and police called off the pursuit when he sped through downtown, “where snow removal workers were operating and pedestrians were walking.” When police regrouped in the area, officers found that Fujishiro had actually hit another two patrol cars, in addition to the one he rear-ended, according to APD. No one was injured.
Finally, at 3:46 a.m., officers were able to block in and stop the stolen Xterra near West Benson Boulevard and Cheechako Street, according to police.
APD said Fujishiro was taken into custody after complying with officers’ demands.
JUNEAU — Railbelt lawmakers are leaving Juneau this weekend for a series of meetings with constituents and the funeral of an Alaska political icon.
On Saturday, former lieutenant governor (and state constitution signatory) Jack Coghill will be laid to rest in Nenana. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, U.S. Rep. Don Young and numerous state lawmakers are expected to attend the service.
“I’m sure we’re all going to miss him,” said Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, who worked for Coghill as a young man and occasionally relied on his advice as a politician.
Also on Saturday, lawmakers in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Fairbanks will meet with their constituents in a series of meetings.
Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Spenard, said she expects “massive crowds” when Anchorage lawmakers hold a town hall meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Anchorage School District Education Center, 5530 E. Northern Lights Blvd.
The town hall meeting will run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., then the crowd will be split up by senate district, with meetings continuing until 12:30 p.m..
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, are expected to continue to meet with East Anchorage constituents until 1 p.m.
Reps. Matt Claman, Rep. Andy Josephson and Drummond, and Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, all Anchorage Democrats, will hold a second meeting for their constituents from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, 1500 W. Benson Blvd.
Because of former Lt. Gov. Coghill’s funeral and other prior commitments, not every Anchorage lawmaker is able to attend this weekend’s town hall meetings. A second town hall will take place on Saturday, March 2 from 2-4:30 p.m. at East High School, 4025 E. Northern Lights Blvd.
The Chugiak/Eagle River legislative delegation will hold its town hall meeting 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Chugiak Senior Center. Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River; Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River; and Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer/Chugiak, are scheduled to attend. Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, was also scheduled but is unable to attend, her office said.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough legislative town hall will take place from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday at Fronteras Spanish Immersion Charter School, 2315 N. Seward Meridian Parkway, in Wasilla.
Scheduled attendees include Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla; Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake; Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla; and Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer. Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, is ill and unable to attend, he said. Tilton also was scheduled and is unable to attend.
In Fairbanks, Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, and Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, are scheduled to host a town hall meeting 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Loon, according to a newsletter from Wool.
In Ketchikan, Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, is scheduled to attend a noon Friday meeting of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and will host a coffee meeting with constituents between 10 a.m. and noon at The Landing Board Room, according to a message from his office.
Delegation wins $655 million for polar icebreaker, plus other funds for new cutters coming to Alaska
The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker, cruises on the ice edge of the Chukchi Sea north of Wainwright, Alaska, in July 2013. (Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Mooers / U.S. Coast Guard)
The spending package Congress passed last week to avoid another government shutdown provides $655 million for construction of the first polar icebreaker in decades and additional money for new Coast Guard cutters in Alaska, Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office said.
It’s the first time in 40 years the nation is building a new icebreaker, and more will be built in the future, Sullivan, R-Alaska, said Thursday. The appropriations bill also includes $20 million to begin acquiring materials for a second icebreaker.
“It’s a big deal,” Sullivan told reporters after giving an address to the Alaska Legislature.
The bill also provides money for new cutters, including four, 154-foot fast-response cutters for Alaska, his office said. Two will be stationed in Kodiak, and one each in Seward and Sitka.
Local government officials in Alaska said the new boats will increase marine safety and fishery enforcement off Alaska’s massive coasts while helping grow the economy.
Alaska has more coastline than any other state but relatively few Coast Guard personnel and resources, said Derrik Magnuson, the former chief of port services for the Coast Guard base in Kodiak.
“The more Coast Guard the better, especially because of the distances and the weather in Alaska,” said Magnuson, now the city of Kodiak’s harbormaster. “It can be pretty gnarly out there.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation announced last year that new cutters were coming to Alaska.
The Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick, a fast-response cutter, and crew make way to their home port at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan in Ketchikan in March 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
As for the icebreaker, Sullivan said it’s sorely needed.
Sullivan pointed out that U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer plans to send one or two large Navy ships “up and over the pole” to defend U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic, in what’s called a “freedom of navigation operation."
That effort will happen in the coming months, and will be a first for the region, The Wall Street Journal reported in January, interviewing Spencer.
Such missions can benefit from the presence of icebreakers, Sullivan said. The U.S. icebreaker fleet is vastly outnumbered by its Russian counterparts.
“Russia has 40, and they’re building 13 more, some of which are nuclear-powered, some of which are weaponized,” Sullivan said. “And we have two, and one of those is broken. It’s time to get on it.”
The new icebreaker’s home port hasn’t been determined yet, said Mike Anderson, a spokesman for Sullivan. The Coast Guard wants to start building it this year and launch it in 2023, Anderson said.
Sullivan said in a statement Wednesday that the appropriation shows an important commitment from the nation’s leadership in D.C.
“With this appropriation, Congress and the Trump administration are acknowledging that Alaska is America’s Arctic, a fact that is important to our broader national security interests," Sullivan said.
The spending bill also includes $53 million to support construction of facilities, with $31 million for Coast Guard facilities in Seward and $22 million for Kodiak.
Magnuson, from Kodiak, said local contractors and the shipyard where boats are maintained will benefit from more work after the two new boats arrive.
Seward Mayor David Squires said Thursday that the Coast Guard will decide how to spend the money to support the new cutter for Seward. He said it could lead to a new building and dock across Resurrection Bay near the Seward Marine Industrial Center, where vessels are repaired and maintained.
“We’re very excited about increasing the amount of Coast Guard presence in our community,” Squires said. “Personally, I’d like to see two new ones here, but I’m not the one who makes those decisions."
Anderson said the state’s delegation worked together to secure the money, with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, a key partner in the House.
Sullivan, in a statement, said: “I was glad to have the opportunity to use my leadership role on the Commerce and Armed Services Committees, in conjunction with Senator Murkowski’s work on the Appropriations Committee, to secure America’s first new polar icebreaker in a generation and the needs of the Coast Guard in Alaska.”
South High senior Zanden McMullen crosses the finish line as a state champion Thursday at Birch Hill Recreation Area in Fairbanks. (Danny Martin / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
Kendall Kramer and Zanden McMullen registered no-doubt-about-it victories on the first day of the Alaska high school ski championships Thursday in Fairbanks.
And little wonder — they are two of the best teen-aged skiers in the nation, having represented the United States at the World Junior Championships earlier this year.
Kramer, a West Valley junior, put on the most impressive show of the day at Birch Hill Recreation Area. She won the 5-kilometer classic race by 83 seconds over West High’s Aubrey Leclair, who edged Service’s Garvee Tobin by two seconds to claim second place.
McMullen, a South High senior, won the boys 7.5K classic race by 27 seconds over West’s Everett Cason, who took second place by a 33-second margin over Service’s Alexander Maurer.
Though Leclair and Cason were runner-ups in the individual results, their teams are in the lead after the first of three days of racing at Birch Hill.
The West girls landed five skiers in the top 11 to carve a 71-second lead over West Valley, which in turn is 25 seconds ahead of third-place Service. Ivy Eski was fifth, Quincy Donley sixth, Annie Gonzales 10th and Ellie Mitchell 11th for the Eagles.
It’s much closer among the boys, where West leads South by four-tenths of a second. Service and West Valley are also close behind the Eagles, with Service trailing by 14.9 seconds and West Valley trailing by 15.7 seconds.
Cason was the only West boy to ski into the top 10, while South, Service and West Valley all boasted a pair of top-10 finishers.
The race was the first of three days of competition at Birch Hill. Skimeisters will be crowned Friday after the individual freestyle races, but team titles won’t be decided until Saturday’s relay races are finished.
ASAA/First National Bank state skiing championships
Top 30 finishers
Girls 5K classic — 1) Kendall Kramer, West Valley, 15:28.4; 2) Aubrey Leclair, West, 16:51.0; 3) Garvee Tobin, Service, 16:53.0; 4) Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak, 17:01.3; 5) Ivy Eski, West, 17:10.2; 6) Quincy Donley, West, 17:46.1; 7) Annika Hanestad, Colony, 17:59.7; 8) Emma Jerome, West Valley, 18:07.3; 9) Marit Flora, Service, 18:08.0; 10) Annie Gonzales, West, 18:13.3; 11) Ellie Mitchell, West, 18:15.3; 12) Emily Walsh, Eagle River, 18:16.9; 13) Neena Brubaker, Service, 18:17.4; 14) Tatum Witter, Service, 18:18.2; 15) Helen Wilson, Eagle River, 18:21.5; 16) Katey Houser , Palmer, 18:26.6; 17) Morgan Coniglio, West, 18:46.1; 18) Maggie Druckenmiller, West Valley, 18:47.7; 19) Maggie Whitaker, West Valley, 18:48.3; 20) Abigail Haas, Lathrop, 18:51.2; 21) Hjelle Personius, West Valley, 18:56.2; 22) Ava Earl, South, 19:02.6; 23) Tjarn Bross, Lathrop, 19:05.0; 24) Alison Ulrich, South, 19:15.1; 25) Hannah Delamere, West Valley, 19:31.3; 26) Lucy Young, SANC 19:33.5; 27) Elizabeth Kilby, South, 19:36.5; 28) Mazzy Jackson, Grace Christian, 19:37.9; 29) Maria Salzetti, Kenai, 19:43.6; 30) Claire Nelson, Eagle River, 19:44.1.
Boys 7.5K classic — Zanden McMullen, South, 22:14.0; 2) Everett Cason, West, 22:41.0; 3) Alexander Maurer, Service, 23:14.0; 4) Kai Meyers, South, 23:45.7; 5) Michael Earnhart, Chugiak, 23:47.3; 6) Joel Power, Service, 24:12.0; 7) Dale Baurick, West Valley, 24:16.4; 8) Eric Difolco, West Valley, 24:34.8; 9) Jonathan Burrell, Lathrop, 24:58.9; 10) Joseph Walling, Palmer, 25:02.9; 11) Ari Endestad, West Valley, 25:05.4; 12) Matthew Reiger, West, 25:07.0; 13) Miles Dennis, Chugiak, 25:08.6; 14) Josh Baurick, West Valley, 25:15.0; 15) Max Beiergrohslein, Chugiak. 25:16.1; 16) Sam Delemare, West Valley, 25:16.7; 17) Hayden Ulbrich, Service, 25:17.5; 18) Kelly Martin, West, 25:29.9; 19) Sean Clapp, South, 25:33.2; 20) Bryce Pintner, Dimond, 25:36.5; 21) Aaron Maves, West, 25:38.0; 22) George Cvancara, Dimond, 25:38.1; 23) Jordan Laker-Morris, West Valley, 25:43.2; 24) Jeremy Kupferschmid, Soldotna, 26:18.6; 25) Noah Hanestad, Colony, 26:23.9; 26) Michael Connelly, Chugiak, 26:26.2; 27) Kai Caldwell, Service, 26:27.3; 28) Konrad Renner, Chugiak, 26:27.9; 29) Kaj Taylor, Palmer, 26:29.1; 30) Cole Fritzel, Grace Christian, 26:34.9.
Service's Joshua Bierma approaches the finish line of the boys race. (Danny Martin / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
‘We’re asking for adequate funding’: Anchorage School Board passes proposed 2019-20 budget that includes more state money
Anchorage School Board members are advocating for increased education funding after they approved a proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year on Tuesday that includes more state money than the district got this year, and that doesn’t take into account the significant cuts proposed by the governor.
“We have to be advocates for our students here in Anchorage," said School Board president Starr Marsett during Tuesday night’s meeting. "I think it’s time for us to speak up and say, ‘This is what Anchorage needs to educate their students in an equitable and adequate fashion.’”
As the Alaska Legislature debates the budget, the Anchorage School Board faces a local deadline: It must get next school year’s budget to the Anchorage Assembly by the first Monday in March.
Without firm funding numbers from Juneau, district officials said they crafted next year’s proposed budget based on what’s currently in law: The same level of per-student funding as the current year, plus a one-time payout of $30 million to be split between Alaska’s public schools.
The state Legislature agreed to that funding last year, though Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy — who was elected in November — has proposed significant spending cuts, including slashing hundreds of millions of dollars for K-12 education in the upcoming budget year, which starts July 1.
Under Dunleavy’s proposal, the Anchorage School District has estimated it would lose roughly $105 million in operating funds, or receive nearly 20 percent less than what it anticipated based on current law. That doesn’t take into account other proposals from the governor such as the elimination of the state program that reimburses school districts for bond debt and the elimination of pre-K grant funding.
The proposed 2019-20 budget approved by the school board Tuesday totals about $885.9 million, roughly 13 percent more than the current school year’s budget. That total doesn’t include retirement plan payments. It does includes budget requests for additional money from the state such as $13 million for half-day pre-K and $68 million to reduce class sizes.
It’s not typical for the school board — at least recently — to ask the Legislature for additional chunks of money to fund specific items, but this year the board decided to ask the state for what the district needs, Marsett said in an interview Thursday from Juneau where she was advocating for education funding.
“We’re asking for adequate funding, which we haven’t had in the past five years,” she said.
The proposed budget passed in a 5-2 vote Tuesday night. Board members Elisa Snelling and Dave Donley, who also works as a deputy commissioner in the Dunleavy administration, voted against it. Donley said near the end of the meeting that he’d tried all evening to reduce the budget. All of his budget amendments failed to earn a majority of votes, except for one that reduced school board operations’ funding by $3,000.
The proposed budget is just the first iteration of next school year’s spending plan, Marsett said. The board will make changes after state lawmakers approve a budget.
“It’s going to be very interesting for the next few months,” Marsett said.
The school district’s proposed budget includes:
• No increases to the student-to-teacher ratio, which helps determine staffing and class sizes. It’s the first time in three years that the budget hasn’t included an increase, according to Jim Anderson, district chief financial officer. In a 4-3 vote, the board also approved a $68 million legislative budget request to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio to 15 in kindergarten through third grade and 25 in grades 4 to 12. Currently, the ratio ranges from 21 students per teacher in kindergarten to 30 students per teacher in grades 9 through 12.
• The elimination of about 76 full-time teaching jobs due to decreased student enrollment. It’s expected those position cuts would be absorbed through attrition, Anderson said. The budget also includes funding for about 26 additional special education pre-K teachers and teaching assistants.
• The school board added $200,000 to “support the middle school model" in a 4-3 vote Tuesday. This was one of the more contentious issues during contract negotiations between the district and local teachers union.
Over the next few months, district officials will closely monitor the work in Juneau and come up with contingency plans for the “best-case, worst-case and most-likely” budget scenarios, Anderson said.
Radio reporter Sophie Evan broadcasts Yup'ik News on KYUK in Bethel in 2012. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive 2012) (Bob Hallinen/)
JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed permanently eliminating state support for public broadcasting in Alaska, including the program that broadcasts legislative hearings to Alaskans for free.
The governor proposed no state support for public broadcasting in his budget released last week, and on Wednesday, Dunleavy introduced legislation to eliminate the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, which distributes state grants to TV and radio stations across Alaska.
In total, eliminating the commission would save about $3.6 million per year, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget. The commission does not have any staff, but it distributes grants each year.
“This function can be accomplished utilizing non-governmental entities that can be attuned to and more responsive to the local broadcasting needs of communities,” the governor wrote in a letter accompanying his bill.
Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, said the proposed cut is not based on the merits of the public broadcasting aid but is simply part of the governor’s effort to cut costs statewide amid a $1.6 billion budget deficit.
“This isn’t programmatic. The fact is that we are out of money,” Shuckerow said.
While there are commercial broadcasters in the state’s urban centers, public broadcasting offers the only terrestrial radio and TV service in many portions of rural Alaska.
“The impact is much greater in the smaller communities outside Anchorage and Juneau,” said Bill Legere, general manager of KTOO public broadcasting in Juneau, where state funding amounts to 7 percent of the budget.
“It’s going to hurt us, and we probably won’t last long,” said Hans James, program manager at KZPA-AM in Fort Yukon.
The station has been broadcasting since 1993 and needs new equipment. Without state money, it probably can’t replace that equipment and the station’s survival will be in jeopardy, said Vicky Thomas, the station’s office manager.
KZPA is the only radio station in Fort Yukon, and in an emergency, the radio station’s messages are used for search and rescue and police response. Already, the station is preparing to cover spring breakup, when the Yukon River ice fractures and causes flooding. On calmer days, the station broadcasts local basketball games.
“Everybody’s shocked about Dunleavy’s budget proposal,” Thomas said. “We’re going to get hit hard if that goes through.”
The public broadcasting cuts would be felt in the halls of the Capitol as well as in distant communities.
About 10 percent of the $750,000 budget for “Gavel Alaska,” which broadcasts legislative hearings, is paid by the state, Legere said. The remainder comes from sponsors, including the City and Borough of Juneau, which pays roughly half that total.
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Dunleavy consistently sought to eliminate state funding for public broadcasting. From 2015 through 2017, he served as subcommittee chair for the budget of the Department of Administration, and eliminated funding for public broadcasting every year. Every year, funding was restored before the budget process ended.
In his 2018 primary campaign for governor, Dunleavy told Ketchikan public radio station KRBD-FM, “We all listen to and all watch public radio and public TV. But some would say that with additional television stations and radio stations, it may not be as vital as it once was to the health and safety of Alaskans.”
The commission itself costs about $47,000 per year, according to a fiscal analysis provided by the state, but it administers several million dollars in grants annually and supervises a satellite communications system used by public media in Alaska.
The satellite service costs about $880,000 per year to operate, public TV grants amount to $633,000 per year, and public radio grants amount to $2 million per year, according to fiscal notes provided by the state.
Legere, in Juneau, said that in order to receive federal support, public broadcasters must show they have a certain amount of local funding. In Alaska, state aid accounts for a significant amount of that local funding for rural stations, he said.
“If this cut pushes them off that cliff, then they lose all their federal funding,” Legere said. “So the impact would be a double whammy for them.”
In the Senate, the governor’s legislation will go first to the State Affairs Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, said he has not yet examined the bill and cannot comment.
In the House, the governor’s legislation will first go to the Community and Regional Affairs Committee.
“We want to hear the bill, but I have strong concerns,” said Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau and co-chair of the committee. “It’s devastating to rural Alaska to take away the only communication system that’s available to take weather warnings and emergency alerts.”