Alaska News

Subscribe to Alaska News feed
Alaska Dispatch News News Feed
Updated: 21 min 35 sec ago

Company led by Trump NOAA nominee was rife with harassment, including groping and kissing, report says

Sat, 2019-04-13 09:36

AccuWeather chief executive Barry Myers testifies at a House Science Committeee Hearing, June 8, 2016. (House Science Committee hearing image)

A federal workplace investigation found rampant sexual harassment and retaliation at AccuWeather, a federal contractor, including groping, touching and kissing of subordinates without consent. AccuWeather’s chief executive at the time of the allegations and investigation, Barry Myers, was tapped by President Donald Trump to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The detailed results of the investigation, not previously reported, were compiled last year by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and obtained by The Washington Post. It determined that AccuWeather, under Myers, fostered a culture ripe for sexual harassment, turned a blind eye to egregious allegations and retaliated against those who complained.

According to the report, the investigation was prompted by a complaint filed Sept. 6, 2016, alleging a "hostile work environment and termination based on sexual orientation and sex," followed by myriad other complaints from AccuWeather employees.

"Over two dozen witnesses spanning many different departments and in positions ranging from administrative support to senior management described unlawful sexual harassment that occurred at the company," the detailed report says. "This sexual harassment was so severe and pervasive, that some female employees resigned."

The investigation, which began in March 2017, also found that AccuWeather was "aware" of the sexual harassment but took no action to correct it, despite the company's claims that it was not privy to any harassing activity.

Myers, tapped by Trump in 2017 to lead NOAA, became Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather's chief executive in 2007 and stepped down Jan. 1, agreeing to divest himself of any company ownership in accordance with an ethics pledge to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, according to the company. His brother, Joel Myers, is founder and president of AccuWeather.

A Senate committee fast-tracked Myers's nomination on April 3, when they voted without debate to advance him to the full Senate floor for a vote. The vote broke along party lines, 14-12, with Republicans in favor of Myers. It was the third time his nomination has advanced out of committee, yet not been scheduled for a floor vote.

A spokesman for the White House declined to comment on this report. Barry Myers did not return an email requesting comment.

The report lists numerous, alarming examples of the alleged harassing behavior.

Multiple witnesses claimed a "high-profile male employee" in the Digital Media Content and Operations department hugged, touched and kissed female employees on the mouth without their consent. The vice president of human resources at AccuWeather told the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs expressed shock at the allegations and claimed to have no knowledge, despite several witnesses telling investigators they reported the man's conduct to the vice president of human relations.

Investigators found the vice president of human resources's claims of "no knowledge" incredible, citing the volume of contradictory witness statements and documentary evidence. When one of these claims into the male employee was investigated by human resources, no action was taken, according to the report.

Moreover, "several" senior male managers, including at least one executive, participated in sexual relationships with subordinate employees. Women in these relationships received career opportunities and job perks not made available to those who did not engage in them. A woman was overheard complaining about these relationships by the vice president of human resources, then was terminated days later, according to the report.

One woman alleged an AccuWeather executive used "profane and sexually explicit name-calling" and "obscene references" to sexual orientation in communication with employees.

The investigation also found AccuWeather "did not take reasonable action to prevent and remedy harassing conduct." The report cites a policy manual that directs concerned employees to file a complaint with the company's "Ombudsman Committee" - which the investigation determined "did not exist and had not been active for over two years."

"When employees did complain to their supervisors or HR, no remedial action was taken," the report read. "Some employees . . . were subjected to retaliation based on their complaints. Multiple witnesses described being fearful that they would be terminated and blacklisted if they complained about sexual harassment."

Rhonda Seaton, director of marketing communications at AccuWeather, said the company "continues to deny the allegations and claims" detailed in the report.

"We determined it was much more productive and effective to use this opportunity to partner with the OFCCP voluntarily to further enhance our strong programs to promote workplace inclusion and diversity rather than spend time and money needlessly on protracted legal negotiations," she said.

The report indicates AccuWeather referenced its internal complaint process and harassment avoidance policy, which all staff is required to follow. Employees are also required to receive anti-harassment and discrimination training as part of the onboarding process.

The Washington Post previously reported on AccuWeather's agreement to pay $290,000 as part of a settlement, detailed in a conciliation agreement published in June. That agreement included a letter that was sent to former employees who worked at AccuWeather between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 21, 2017, who were notified they were eligible to receive at least $7,250 as part of the settlement.

At least four women had received payment by the time the agreement was signed by Joel Myers, and the agreement indicates at least 35 other women had an opportunity to receive money in the settlement. The company promised to institute a number of changes - including mandatory in-person training for managers in how to identify and prevent unlawful harassment. The company was also asked to hire a third party to "receive and investigate complaints of harassment, intimidation, threats, retaliation and coercion against employees throughout 2018."

NOAA administrators have expressed concern about Myers's nomination - two of whom said he had conflicts of interests that should disqualify him, as The Washington Post previously reported. His controversial nomination was highlighted by the fact that Myers, a businessman and lawyer, is not a scientist. The Washington Post's Jason Samenow reported in October 2017 that every past NOAA administrator but one, attorney Richard Frank, who served from 1977 to 1981, has held a science degree - though advocates argue Myers brings private-sector experience that will help advance the organization.

NOAA oversees the National Weather Service, which compiles data used by AccuWeather. Samenow reported that AccuWeather has previously supported measures to limit what the Weather Service can make public, granting private companies a chance to create their own value-added products using the same information.

His nomination stalled in the Senate in 2018. However, GOP leaders have sought to renominate him without a hearing, despite ethics concerns raised the first time he went through this process.

Barry and Joel Myers gave money to then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in 2005, for example, who introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services. Myers and his brothers also pressed the government on weather-related programs that could affect AccuWeather's finances, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

"Barry Myers defines 'conflict of interest,'" Ciaran Clayton, communications director at NOAA in the Obama administration, told The Washington Post in 2017. "He actively lobbied to privatize the National Weather Service, which works day in and day out to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, to benefit his own company's bottom line."

The Washington Post’s Angela Fritz contributed to this report.

Our relationship is in the past - but it’s also all over my Facebook history

Sat, 2019-04-13 08:08

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

What’s the social media protocol after a break-up? I was with “Chris” for a couple of years. We are both in our later 40s and were new to dating again after long marriages and divorces.

Before I dated Chris, most of my social media activity was just sharing pictures of my kids. After my divorce, I did delete many photos with my husband, only because the memories were painful and I wanted to feel like I was starting fresh. I left some that were of him and the children.

This feels different. Chris and I were friends before we got together and because we work in the same field and have many coworkers and friends in common, I expect we will stay in touch. Our breakup was amicable and mutual (unlike my divorce). In two years, we amassed a lot of photos together – cute selfies, photos from trips and romantic meals, random photos of him just doing what at the time I found to be incredibly cute things.

Now that we aren’t involved anymore, it feels weird – it’s like there are more photos of him in my social media archives than of myself! Do I delete them? Do I just leave them? I could take this even further; there are several posts from over the years where I gush about what an amazing boyfriend he is. It seems weird those are there now. Should I take them down? And I guess on a related note, during the couple of years we dated, many of Chris’ friends sent me friend requests, but frankly these are folks I may never hang out with or socially speak to again. Should I just delete them?

I don’t know the protocol for any of this. Advice is appreciated.

Wanda says:

First, relax: you don’t know the protocol because there simply isn’t any! Social media creates a very peculiar predicament in the aftermath of relationships, leaving incredibly visceral digital evidence of the romance that is no more. As you’ve probably already realized, the questions you’re asking yourself will feel very different for every person based on the relationship itself and how it ended.

For instance, if Chris was a jerk, or cheated on you, or ghosted you, you might want to just rip the Band-Aid off and go full offense – unfriending him, blocking him, and deleting everything with slash-and-burn diligence. It’s the 2019 version of how we long ago dealt with mementos like love notes, movie ticket stubs and actual printed photographs; we either trashed that stuff with vengeance, or fondly tucked it away in a shoebox beneath the bed.

Because Chris is a nice guy, and it sounds like this is a “no harm, no foul" parting, you may want to hang on to things, considering these past two years a pleasant and progressive part of your life journey. So the right answer here is don’t worry about what others would expect you to do, or even what Chris would want: do what you need to do to move on in a happy and healthy way.

It’s similar to that mantra circulating now about how to deal with actual life clutter: if seeing old photos with Chris brings you joy, keep them. But if images of happier, coupled-up times leave you feeling down and out, buh-bye! A good rule of thumb: if it makes you feel defeat, delete! And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Apply that methodology as needed to pictures, posts, and even friendships. Retain relics of the past that make you happy, only because you want to keep them. And definitely don’t worry about how others will react if you feel some digital spring cleaning is in order.

Wayne says:

Wanda’s right, as always. The only perspective about your social media presence that you should concern yourself with right now is your own. Let the timelines reflect what provides peace as you move forward from the end of this relationship – whether it’s a clean sweep of deletes, some selectively hidden “friends” and photos, or leaving it all out there in cyberspace where it’s always been.

Sorry, though: this is not the last internal social media debate you’ll face about your post-relationship posts. When you start dating again, you’ll probably want to revisit your timeline selection and ask yourself how much of your love life history you’re comfortable letting new prospects see. Because any person you get to know even semi-seriously will most likely also want to get to know more about you. And an easy way to learn more about someone – and just about anyone – is online, and particularly on their social media accounts.

Some will drop a friend request on you after a chance meeting or after a date or two; most will do some level of cyber sleuthing beyond social media. Prospective employers do it all the time; prospective partners should, too. Eventually, they’ll slide into your timelines – unless you lock them out, which makes them wonder exactly what you’re hiding. Who knows how a new love interest will respond when he sees a photo of you looking lovingly at a former love interest just six months ago. How would you respond? And how far back would you scroll from there? Probably all the way. Even if you’ve both been open about past relationships, it’s still a little jarring to actually see that relationship on display, read friends’ comments about it, and count up all of those hearts, smiley faces and thumbs-ups.

Again, this doesn’t mean you should delete it all, hide certain things, or leave everything untouched. But you do have to be aware that your timelines are windows into your life, and the viewers will have impressions and reactions to it.

Here’s how these Alaskan travel agents stay in business in the age of the internet

Sat, 2019-04-13 08:08

Several times each month I get an email from a TID (traveler in distress). No broken bones are involved, but often there’s a question about using miles, a complaint about complex airfares or an urgent request for information.

Sometimes I can type out the answer quickly on my phone. But often, problems that look simple require the services of an expert. That’s where a good travel agent comes in handy.

There still are brick-and-mortar travel agents who can save you time and money. But the metrics have changed a bit. Twenty years ago, airlines, hotels and tour companies routinely paid agents a 10 percent commission. That’s no longer the case — and agents now charge travelers for issuing tickets and itinerary planning.

Bill Beck is one of the owners of Alaska Travel Source in Anchorage. He and his business partner, Sally Huntley, work mostly with business travelers in Alaska. But they also do a lot of international business, which often involves several airlines, hotels and tours.

“Our specialty is the difficult stuff you can’t do online,” said Bill. “We’re also your back-up in case things go wrong.”

In today’s busy travel world, things always are going wrong, it seems.

“There were more than 700 flights canceled in Denver this week because of weather,” said Bill. “Lots of folks were standing in line. But not our clients — we got them rebooked.”

There are tricks to every trade, including airline routings during peak-season.

“One fellow wanted to go to Australia at Christmas. He was going to fly to L.A. on miles and buy four tickets from there, about $1,700 per ticket. I told him to use miles and fly to Honolulu, then buy tickets from there. That saved him about $1,000 per ticket,” he said.

Most travel agents now will make your frequent flyer mileage reservations. “We’re experts in mixing miles and money,” said Bill. “That’s especially true for Alaska’s partner airlines for international travel,” he said.

Alaska Travel Source charges $35 to issue a domestic ticket—and can charge up to $150 for a complex or detailed itinerary.

Cindy Bettine started ABC Travel Time in Wasilla when she was 26. “I started working with Holiday House Travel on Capitol Hill in Seattle,” she said. “This was pre-computer, when we had stacks of reservations cards and called them into the airlines.”

A large part of ABC Travel Time’s business is cruises and tours. “We’re working on a river cruise in Europe right now with seven cabins. This type of travel is growing,” she said.

“Since we work on airline tickets and cruise arrangements all day, we’re better at it,” said Bettine. “And we charge for it. Several of my agents have been in this business for more than 30 years.”

Bettine’s clients include a mix of travelers who don’t want to book online, don’t know where to begin to plan their trip or “just want an expert to handle it.”

ABC Travel Time charges $40 for a domestic ticket — or $45 if there are frequent flyer miles involved.

Many travel agencies only handle business travel. Others only handle a specific destination. Here in Anchorage, there are several agencies that only do Alaska itineraries, including Alaska Tour and Travel and All Alaska Tours. Others work with a particular group of travelers. Alaska Skylar Travel, for example, specializes in bringing Chinese travelers to Alaska.

Do you want to travel to Russia? Call the MIR Corporation or Red Star Travel, in Seattle. It’s their specialty.

John and Christina Cooper started Willamette International Travel in Portland back in 1977. Originally from England, the couple is quite familiar with European travel. “Europe is our bread and butter,” said John Cooper. “We take care of lots of independent travelers to France, Italy and the U.K.”

But it’s Africa that has captured the Coopers’ hearts. “We’ve been traveling to Africa for 35 years,” said John. “We just returned from a 12-day safari in Tanzania and we’re going back soon to Namibia and Kenya,” said John. “This will be my fourth trip to Namibia.”

Because of their extensive experience, the Coopers spend more time designing their own itineraries and accompanying groups to different parts of Africa.

Don’t expect the Coopers to lead a group to the mountains of Rwanda or Uganda to see chimps or gorillas. “These types of trips typically are very exclusive and very spendy,” said John. “Plus, you’re only allowed a very limited time to see them.”

Rather, the Coopers spend most of their time in Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa. “Everyone wants to see the Big Five on our Africa trips — and we always do,” said John. The “Big Five” refers to seeing the lion, the leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo.

There are powerful tools available for travelers to plan and book most parts of their vacation. But the trick is to know what questions to ask to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want. Most travelers can handle booking their ticket to Seattle or Orlando. But when you’re looking to explore some lesser-known overseas destinations, it might be worth the money to hire a professional.

Tesla just made it harder to buy its cheapest $35,000 electric car

Sat, 2019-04-13 08:07

A Tesla Inc. Model 3 electric vehicle on display at the Seoul Motor Show on March 28, 2019. SeongJoon Cho, Bloomberg (SeongJoon Cho/)

Tesla Inc. is making it more difficult to buy the $35,000 version of the Model 3 sedan that used to be viewed as pivotal to its growth.

The electric-car maker announced another series of changes to its lineup and pricing late Thursday to "simplify vehicle choices." All Tesla vehicles that can be ordered online now come with the driver-assistance system Autopilot standard, the company said in a blog post. The Model 3 with Standard Plus now costs $39,500 with Autopilot included.

But along with those adjustments, Tesla is de-emphasizing the $35,000 price point promised when it first unveiled the sedan in March 2016. Deliveries of the entry-level models start this weekend - more than six weeks after the company starting taking orders. Customers who want this version from now on won't be able to get it from Tesla's online ordering menu. They'll have to call or visit a store instead, and the car won't come with Autopilot.

"Tesla is now facing a reckoning," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at car-shopping researcher Edmunds. "Between the cost cuts, waning demand for its vehicles and now making the $35,000 Model 3 much harder to buy, the company is now quietly realizing it has to play by the same rules as every other automaker."

Tesla's constantly shifting approach to its lineup and retail strategy has rattled investors and stoked confusion. Ten days after signaling an almost complete withdrawal from physical stores, the company backtracked and said more locations would stay open than planned. The carmaker is now backing away from its online-only ordering approach with the standard Model 3.

"This latest announcement is further evidence that 2019 will be a bumpy year for Tesla," said analyst Gene Munster of Loup Ventures. "They'll eventually get the formula right."

Tesla shares were little changed as of 2:30 p.m. Friday in New York. The stock is down about 19 percent this year.

Tesla is also offering a Model 3 lease in the U.S. for the first time, though with a big caveat. Customers won't have the option to buy the car at the end of the lease because the company plans to use the vehicles in a forthcoming Tesla ride-hailing network, according to the blog post.

On its ordering website, Tesla's default options are for customers to make a $3,000 down payment and spend a total of $4,199 at signing of a three-year, 10,000-mile annual lease. The monthly payment due on that basis is $504.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk first talked about his vision of a Tesla shared-vehicle fleet when he unveiled his Master Plan Part Deux in July 2016. He's started to talk about the network again as Uber Technologies Inc. follows Lyft Inc. in filing for an initial public offerings. Tesla also scheduled an event for Musk and other executives to tout Tesla's self-driving technology on April 22.

On Twitter, Musk recently confirmed that the purpose of the cameras built in above the rear-view mirror of the Model 3 is to record video when owners put their car on Tesla's future network, which he said would compete with Uber and Lyft.

On Friday, Musk, 47, was back on social media, though this time to respond to a post critical of how frequently Tesla has changed the prices of its vehicles lately.

Other criticism of Tesla and Musk surfaced Friday from more high-profile voices. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, billionaire Warren Buffett said Musk had “room for improvement” in behaving like a CEO. Hedge fund investor David Einhorn, who has been short Tesla stock for years, wrote in a letter to investors that “the wheels are falling off” the company.

Canadian man who accidentally stole a car and took it on a Slurpee run 21 years ago wants to apologize

Sat, 2019-04-13 08:06

Kevin Freedman in his lifeguarding days, and today. MUST CREDIT: (Left) Courtesy of Kevin Freedman (Right) Kamillah El-Giadaa (Courtesy of Kevin Freedman/Kamillah El-Giadaa/)

Everyone has that one memory that still weighs on their conscience, years or even decades later. For Kevin Freedman, a 38-year-old governance consultant and member of the business faculty at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, it involves a Slurpee run and a stolen Ford Taurus.

Now, nearly 21 years later, he's launched a quest to find the woman he inadvertently wronged and tell her that he's sorry.

On a hot August day in 1998, Freedman, then 17, was working a split shift at the community pool in Winnipeg where he was a lifeguard and swimming instructor. Earlier that summer, he had totaled his car after crashing into a cow that had unexpectedly wandered onto a darkened rural road outside the city. He still had an outstanding parking ticket that he needed to pay during his break, and was about to set off on foot when a co-worker, Jocelyne McKie, told him to take her car instead and bring her back a Slurpee from 7-Eleven.

"She asked, 'You know which car is mine, right?'" Freedman told The Washington Post. "And I said, 'Oh, yeah, absolutely.'"

McKie's car was a light-colored 1990s Ford Taurus, which was "every second or third car on the road" at the time, Freedman said. He spotted it in the parking lot right away. The windows were down, and the doors were unlocked. The car wouldn't start on the first try, but he drove away without thinking much of it.

After stopping to get money from an ATM, Freedman returned to the Ford only to find that it wouldn't start. He had already been reluctant to borrow it, he told The Post, since he had never really driven anyone else's car without them being there. But McKie had told him that she trusted him, reminding Freedman that they had known each other for a long time. Now, sitting in the front of the bank, he kept nervously turning the key over and over again, waiting to hear the engine turn. Nothing happened.

After a few more minutes, Freedman remembered something: When he was leaving the pool, he had only been able to start the car after he put his seat belt on. Maybe, he reasoned with himself, there was some kind of new technology in the Taurus that he didn't know about. He buckled up and then turned the key again. It worked. Relieved, he drove to the police station where he had planned to pay his parking ticket.

The building was located in downtown Winnipeg, which has long been considered Canada's car theft capital and previously held the North American record for the most car thefts per capita. Instinctively, Freedman locked the doors when he left the Taurus in the parking lot. He returned a short time later, after being told that he needed to go to a different office to pay the ticket. But he couldn't manage to unlock the door.

For several minutes, Freedman stood there, fumbling helplessly with the keys. Then, a group of parking patrol officers showed up.

"Oh, I've got a Ford just like this at home," he recalls one of the officers telling him, after he explained the situation. "Sometimes, the keys are a little wonky. You just have to know how to do it."

The officer took the keys from him and, on his second try, managed to unlock the Ford. The technique, he informed Freedman, was "all in the wrist."

Once again, Freedman struggled to get the car started, and he began to seriously worry that he had damaged the ignition. After finishing up his errands, he returned the Ford back to its original parking spot, leaving the windows down and doors unlocked, just like he had found it. He handed McKie her Slurpee and apologized profusely, telling her that he hoped he hadn't broken her car. She had never had any problems with the key, she told him, but she was sure it was fine.

Later that night, long after McKie had left work, Freedman noticed that her car was still sitting in the parking lot. Panicked and wracked with guilt, he concluded that he must have damaged it so badly that she hadn't been able to drive home. His co-worker had just been trying to do a nice thing, and, in exchange, he had ruined her car.

"I was pretty embarrassed, pretty ashamed," he recalled. "I didn't sleep well that night."

He was in the middle of teaching a swimming lesson the next day when McKie walked in. Immediately, the apologies started pouring out. "I'm so sorry I broke your car," Freedman remembers gushing. "Did you leave it here last night because you couldn't drive it?" But McKie had no idea what he was talking about.

"She said, 'I didn't leave the car,'" Freedman recalled. "Then, it dawned on me."

McKie looked at him. A thought was dawning on her, too. The day before, while Freedman was out running errands, a young woman had reported her car stolen. But because she couldn't remember the license plate number, she had gone home to look it up. The next morning, the woman had returned to the pool with police, only to find her car exactly where she had left it.

"I had taken a stolen car to two police stations, had police help me get into the car, and, essentially, I've felt guilty ever since," Freedman told The Post.

His co-worker was equally horrified. "I remember feeling panicked and a bit spooked about that because I was quite the goody-two-shoes," McKie, who confirmed Freedman's account of the story, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Monday. "So you can imagine that I was quite freaked out about this stolen car thing."

Initially, Freedman wanted to go to the police and confess everything. The teenage lifeguard's friends talked him out of it, pointing out that he would only create more complications for everyone involved, and that there had ultimately been no harm done. In the ensuing decades, he estimates, he's told the story hundreds of times. But the guilt still hasn't gone away, and last month, Freedman began a quest to find the woman so that he could explain and apologize.

"The police probably thought she was nuts, and she probably thought she was a little nuts, and after 20 years I just want to let her know she's not," he said. "It really happened."

Egged on by his friends, who pointed out that in a tightknit city like Winnipeg, most people are connected by only two or three degrees of separation, he turned to social media for help. "Have you ever heard the other side of the story?" he asked on Facebook and Twitter last month. "Do you know this person? Help me find her!" The posts were shared hundreds of times, but so far Freedman hasn't gotten any leads, even after being featured by the CBC this week.

He has, however, been learning that he's not the only one to inadvertently take a stranger's car for a joyride.

"Since I've posted this, I've had probably 30 people send me messages personally to say they had something similar to this happen," Freedman said. "On Reddit, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people that have gone through the same thing."

One possible explanation that he's heard is that auto manufacturers at the time tended to use a standard key, and didn't change it much between vehicles. Since both of the cars involved in the mix-up were probably at least eight years old, the keys could also have been worn down, he said.

Freedman has been told plenty of times that his hunt for the mildly inconvenienced Ford owner is the most Canadian thing ever - one well-known stereotype about his countrymen is that they really love to apologize. But on a more serious note, he said, he's also had a lot of conversations with people over the years about how the story might not have been so funny if he were a person of color.

Though Winnipeg has the largest indigenous population of any city in Canada, systemic racism and discrimination are a persistent problem, Freedman said. (At one point, it was labeled "Canada's most racist city.") A 17-year-old indigenous man likely would have gotten pulled over, not helped back into a stolen car by police, he suspects.

“Certainly, for someone who wasn’t white, it would have been much different,” he said.

Open & Shut: A second location for Kava’s Pancake House, plus a new Sears store

Sat, 2019-04-13 08:06

A Sears Home & Life store will open in May 2019 at 901 E. Dimond Blvd. (Annie Zak / ADN)

This is an installment of an occasional series in the Anchorage Daily News taking a quick look at the comings and goings of businesses in Southcentral Alaska. If you know of a business opening or closing in the area, send a note to reporter Annie Zak at, with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.

Sears Home & Life: Retailer Sears has had waves of store closures around the country in recent years. But now, three new Sears stores are opening in the U.S., and one of them is in Anchorage.

The Sears Home & Life store at 901 E. Dimond Blvd. is full of gleaming major appliances: washers, dryers, fridges, stoves and more. Its grand opening will be May 24, a store manager said, but there will be a soft opening a couple weeks before that.

Two other Sears Home & Life stores will also open in May, in Kansas and Louisiana, the Illinois-based company announced this month. As the name suggests, the stores will focus on home goods — you won’t find clothes or jewelry counters inside.

The news comes about six months after Sears Holdings Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The new stores will focus on “power categories where Sears has a real strength,” Peter Boutros, chief brand officer for Sears, said in a statement.

The Home & Life stores are “part of our strategy to maintain a presence in markets where we have right-sized our footprint," he said. “Sears Home & Life supports our strategic plan to become a stronger, more profitable business and these test stores will enable us to learn and improve as we move forward.”

Kava’s Pancake House: Drive past the old location of Romano’s Italian restaurant at the corner of C Street and Fireweed Lane and you’ll see a banner announcing that Kava’s Pancake House is coming soon.

The Muldoon restaurant business aims to open its second location by June 1, said owner Robert Tofaeono. The plan is for the Midtown spot to be open 24 hours a day Sundays through Thursdays, and also open late Fridays and Saturdays. Tofaeono hopes the busy traffic in the area will make it a viable all-hours spot.

“I know it would do well here, and having the opportunity to come inside Romano’s — it’s beautiful,” he said. “That’s why I decided to try and take a chance on it.”

Romano’s used to have a bar, but the new space won’t serve alcohol, Tofaeono said. Instead, he plans to convert it to an ice cream and espresso bar.

Kava’s also used to have a spot by the corner of Airport Heights Drive and the Glenn Highway, but that location is no longer open.

Matanuska Brewing Downtown: Matanuska Brewing Co. is opening a second Anchorage location at 535 W. Third Ave. where Brown Bag Sandwich Co. used to be.

The space will offer the brewery’s beer, as well as cocktails and food. But the menu will be different than the company’s other locations, said owner Matthew Tomter, because the kitchen space is small.

Opening a location downtown is something Tomter has been interested in for a long time, he said. He aims to open it the second week of May.

Wings 'N Things: This wing restaurant in Midtown has moved just a few storefronts down its block.

Wings 'N Things relocated about three weeks ago to 601 W. 36th Ave., where Crazy Hook Pub & Restaurant used to be. For years, Wings 'N Things was at 701 W. 36th Ave., in a strip mall that’s also home to Uncle Leroy’s Coffee, a yoga studio and other businesses.

The new spot is nicer and has more parking for customers, said manager Eric Smith.

As cashless stores grow, so does the backlash

Sat, 2019-04-13 06:04

FILE- In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo a shopper scans an Amazon Go app on a cellphone while entering an Amazon Go store in Seattle. A small number of restaurants and stores are going cash-free in the U.S., looking to cater to customers who increasingly pay with a card or smartphone. But a backlash is growing against the practice that some say discriminates against those who lack back accounts or rely on cash for most of their daily transactions. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) (Elaine Thompson/)

NEW YORK — Hembert Figueroa just wanted a taco.

So he was surprised to learn the dollar bills in his pocket were no good at Dos Toros Taqueria in Manhattan, one of a small but growing number of establishments across the U.S. where customers can only pay by card or smartphone.

Cash-free stores are generating a backlash among some activists and liberal-leaning policymakers who say the practice discriminates against people like Figueroa, who either lack bank accounts or rely on cash for many transactions.

Figueroa, an ironworker, had to stand to the side, holding his taco, until a sympathetic cashier helped him find another customer willing to pay for his meal with a card in exchange for cash.

"I had money and I couldn't pay," he said.

The issue got some high-profile attention this week when retail giant Amazon bowed to pressure from activists and agreed to accept cash at more than 30 cashless stores, including its Amazon Go convenience stores, which have no cashiers, and its book shops. Amazon declined to say when the change would happen.

There is no federal law that requires stores to accept cash, so lawmakers are working on the issue at the state and city level.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first city to ban cashless stores, despite efforts by Amazon to dissuade it. New Jersey passed a statewide ban soon after, and a similar ban is working its way through the New York City Council. Before this year there was only one jurisdiction that required businesses to accept cash: Massachusetts, which passed a law nearly 40 years ago.

"The potential societal cost of a cashless economy I think outweighs the potential benefits for businesses," said Ritchie Torres, a New York City councilman for the South Bronx who introduced the bill.

Policymakers argue that while cashless enterprises aren't widespread now, the practice could expand to more services, including some that cater to lower-income people.

FILE - In this April 10, 2018, file photo, a customers uses a credit card machine to pay for food at Peli Peli Kitchen in Houston. Owner Thomas Nguyen had a change of heart after transitioning one of his three Peli Peli South African fine dining restaurants and his Peli Peli Kitchen fast casual location to a no-cash policy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) (David J. Phillip/)

Walmart-owned Sam’s Club opened its first cashier-less store in Dallas last year, using technology that allows customers to scan and pay for items with their smartphones. Kroger has installed similar technology in about 400 stores nationwide.

Stadiums in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Atlanta have started to go cashless, or nearly cashless, and the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets play, is now effectively cashless as well.

Advocates for cashless bans worry technology is moving too fast for the 6.5% of American households — 8.4 million — who do not have a bank account, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Figueroa is among the much larger group considered "underbanked," meaning they have a primary bank account but regularly rely on alternative financial services like check cashers. More than 24 million U.S. households are underbanked, according to the FDIC.

The issue disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic communities. About 17% of African-American and 14% of Hispanic households have no bank accounts, compared to just 3% of white households, according to the FDIC.

Figueroa, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, only opened a credit union account two years ago. It took another year to build up enough funds to use his debit card regularly.

He still occasionally relies on a check casher if he needs money quickly, and much of his income comes in cash from his weekend job as a busboy. He has no credit card and no apps on his phone and has only shopped online three times.

Business owners who go cashless say they are following the lead of the majority of customers who are abandoning cash payments. Retailers are under pressure to cater to customers with heightened expectations for fast and seamless service, driven by companies like Amazon, Uber and Grubhub.

FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, a customer looks overhead in an Amazon Go store, where sensors and cameras are part of a system used to tell what people have purchased and charge their Amazon account in Seattle. A small number of restaurants and stores are going cash-free in the U.S., looking to cater to customers who increasingly pay with a card or smartphone. But a backlash is growing against the practice that some say discriminates against those who lack back accounts or rely on cash for most of their daily transactions. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) (Elaine Thompson/)

Leo Kremer, co-owner of Dos Toros, said the volume of cash transactions at his stores fell from about 50% a decade ago to 15% last year. That made the cost and logistics of handling cash especially onerous. Before going cashless, Dos Toros locations were robbed twice.

Still, Kremer said the company would adjust if legally required to accept cash.

"There are no bad guys on this issue. Everyone is trying to do the right thing and make sure there are no unintended consequences," he said.

Critics say banning cash-free stores is an over-reaction.

There are no overall estimates on how many U.S. stores have gone cashless, but it remains a rarity. In New York City, the trend appears to be gaining traction mostly with "fast casual" dining establishments like Dos Toros. Far more common are stores that require a minimum purchase for non-cash payments.

"To call this a trend is a bit of an exaggeration," said J. Craig Shearman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation in Washington. "It's not something the average customer would expect to see at every store at the mall any time soon."

In testimony to a New York City Council committee, Kremer argued that businesses that "consistently serve the unbanked and underbanked population aren't going to go cashless. It wouldn't make sense for them."

But financial experts who work with low-income people caution against making assumptions about the shopping preferences or buying power of those who rely on cash.

“I’m uncomfortable with the idea that certain people don’t shop here so it’s fine to exclude them,” said Justine Zinkin, CEO of Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, a financial counseling nonprofit affiliated with the credit union where Figueroa banks.

Shock at arrest of deputy’s son in black church fires

Sat, 2019-04-13 05:59

This booking image released by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, 21, who was arrested Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana. (Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal via AP)

OPELOUSAS, La. — Authorities said he had no known criminal record. A friend described him as an introverted animal lover who showed no animosity toward any race, and a talented, if frustrated heavy metal guitar player and singer. A fellow musician called him “a really sweet guy.”

But Holden Matthews, the white, 21-year-old son of a Louisiana sheriff's deputy, was behind bars Thursday, accused of torching three century-old African American churches during a 10-day period in and around Opelousas. The city of 16,000 people was set on edge by blazes, which evoked memories of terrorist acts during the civil rights movement.

A fragment of a charred gasoline can, surveillance video that captured what appeared to be his parents' truck in key locations, debit card records and cellphone tracking techniques led authorities to arrest Matthews on Wednesday evening. But though the arrest affidavit showed how they linked Matthews to the crime, federal, state and local authorities who gathered for a Thursday news conference at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office weren't ready to discuss motive.

Eric Rommal, the agent in charge of the New Orleans FBI office, said investigators were still looking into whether the fires were "bias motivated."

Matthews, who is scheduled for a Monday morning bond hearing, had a defender in Nygyl Bryyn Blackwolf, listed as Nygyl Bryyn among Matthews' Facebook friends. Blackwolf identified himself as a south Louisiana native, musician, entrepreneur and owner of the independent record label Power Back Productions. In a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Thursday, he described Matthews as a talented, sometimes frustrated musician — upset in recent months after he was told he needed to improve the quality of his recordings — but not a racist or violent person.

"If he's making a statement, it's against religion and establishment only, not against race," he said, later adding, "I don't think he did it, but if he did, it would not be because the churches are black."

Blackwolf, 36, a native of Opelousas, said he met Matthews after moving out of state when Matthews, who played guitar and sang, answered an online ad while seeking a recording deal with Power Back Productions. They worked together and met face-to-face over the years. Matthews was at odds with his parents over his music aspirations, Blackwolf said, but never showed signs of violence or racism.

Matthews had shown interest in "black metal," an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, state Fire Marshall Butch Browning said. The music has been linked, in some instances, to fires at Christian churches in Norway in the 1990s.

A Facebook page that appeared to belong to Matthews showed him with the words "black metal" spray-painted on a wall behind him. He also posted a comment on a movie's portrayal of black metal musician Varg Vikernes, a far-right figure convicted of manslaughter and arson at three churches.

Black metal lyrics often espouse Satanism and paganism, and a few bands feature neo-Nazi beliefs.

Blackwolf, however, insisted that the black metal genre is not characterized by racism. He acknowledged that some, but not all, involved in black-metal music may have expressed racism, but he said it's not typical of the genre.

"We've got friends of all races," he said.

Josh Cook, 27, a musician from Hammond, Louisiana, said he heard about the church burnings before Matthews' arrest and had wondered if they could have been inspired by the church fires in Norway. He said there is an "elitist" element of the black metal music scene that is fascinated with those church burnings.

But he echoed Blackwolf's description of Matthews, saying the suspect was friends with a very diverse group of people and a "good dude" who never displayed signs of racism.

"He is actually a really sweet guy, which is why I was so surprised to hear what happened," Cook said. "He was not a jerk. He was very tolerant. He was very loving and very encouraging."

Matthews' father, Roy Matthews, "broke down" when told his son was the suspect, said Sheriff Bobby Guidroz.

Guidroz said the father aided authorities by arranging for the son to leave the house and go to a place where he could be arrested without incident. He did not elaborate.

The younger Matthews was arrested on three counts of arson of a religious building. A conviction could bring up to 15 years in prison on each count, Browning said.

The fires set many people on edge in and around Opelousas, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the fires were "especially painful" because they were a reminder "of a very dark past of intimidation and fear."

"This is a reflection of one depraved individual," he added. "It is not a reflection on the state of Louisiana."

An Associated Press reporter was turned away Thursday from what was believed to be the home the suspect shared with his parents.

Matthews' arrest came a little more than two weeks after the first blaze at the St. Mary Baptist Church on March 26 in Port Barre, a town just outside of Opelousas. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old.

The churches were empty at the time, and no one was injured.

The Rev. Harry Richard, pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church, which was destroyed, said the arrest put him at ease and let him sleep at night.

"I felt relieved my congregation didn't have to worry anymore," said Richard, who was told of the arrest late Wednesday. "I was reassured that law enforcement was on our side, that things were finally coming to an end."

McGill reported from New Orleans and Opelousas. Associated Press writers Stacey Plaisance in Opelousas, and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.

President Trump’s plan to send migrant detainees to sanctuary cities draws concerns about cost, legality

Sat, 2019-04-13 05:51

Central American migrants, part of a caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, walk on the shoulder of a road in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico, Friday, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Isabel Mateos) (Isabel Mateos/)

Should President Trump follow through on a proposal to release migrants in U.S. “sanctuary cities,” it would be a major departure from the way federal agencies are handling detainees. It could also be prohibitively costly and make it more difficult to deport migrants once they reach those cities.

The plan - which Trump tweeted Friday is under "strong consideration" - would have the Department of Homeland Security moving migrants from immigration jails to cities scattered across the country in vans, buses and airplanes. It would require a massive investment in transportation infrastructure, something that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told the White House would be "an unnecessary operational burden."

It also would mean placing those detainees in cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, meaning it could be very difficult to arrest them again.

During the recent surge of Central American families crossing into the United States, most were apprehended at or near the southern border with Mexico. With a deficit of detention beds, the U.S. government mainly releases the families to shelters or bus depots. Detainees are sometimes released directly to the streets of border towns, allowing immigration authorities to focus staffing and funding on deportations and criminal operations.

Trump's proposal, which government officials said is aimed at punishing Democratic strongholds for their positions on immigration policy, calls for sending the detainees to sanctuary cities, where they can live without fear of local authorities reporting them to federal immigration officials. There are hundreds of sanctuary jurisdictions nationwide, ranging from tiny rural counties to New York City and the entire state of California.

The idea, DHS officials said, seemed predicated on the belief that an influx of migrants would be a burden to sanctuary cities. Trump has long maintained that killers, rapists and drug dealers are streaming across the border and that releasing migrants into U.S. society is a security risk. In fact, studies show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.

Mayors of such cities condemned the White House plan on Friday, with most dismissing it as an unrealistic political stunt. Some already have waged successful legal battles against the Trump administration's threat two years ago to slash federal funding to sanctuary cities.

Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California, called the plan "an outrageous abuse of power - using human beings to settle political scores." San Francisco Mayor London Breed said it "is just another in a long line of scare tactics and half-baked ideas."

Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts,which has a population of 81,000, said he would welcome any immigrants the government wants to send his way.

"Fine by me," he said on Twitter, firing back at Trump. "But does he realize that the moment after people get 'placed' they'll start moving to wherever they want to go? Every city has an open border."

Homeland Security prefers to jail immigrants until they are eligible for deportation, but officials are releasing tens of thousands every year because of mass migration from Central America, rising numbers of families, limited detention space and legal restrictions on how long the government can detain children.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended 103,000 migrants last month - double the number in March 2018 - including nearly 60,000 family members.

CBP typically transfers migrants to ICE for detention, though this year holding cells grew so crowded that border agents started releasing some families at the border. ICE can also release migrants on bond or ankle-monitoring devices after verifying their future address and handing them a notice to appear in immigration court. Unaccompanied migrants are sent to Health and Human Services shelters, where case workers find a parent or guardian for them to live with in the United States.

Congress has allocated billions of dollars for this system, and none of it involves transporting immigrants to sanctuary cities - which some say makes the president's plan illegal.

"It makes no sense," said John Sandweg, an acting ICE director in 2013 and 2014 in the Obama administration, adding that it would violate federal law by diverting money "for political purposes."

"At a time like this, when ICE is just overwhelmed by the number of Central Americans arriving, having to divert further resources to send a political message is outrageous," he said.

Sandweg said the government "would pay big money" for the White House's plan to deliver migrants to sanctuary cities. In addition to transportation costs, officials would have to assign immigration agents to escort them to their destinations. Currently, migrants usually buy their own bus or airline tickets.

"It's ludicrous," Sandweg said. "It's meddling in operations at an extreme level."

Matthew Albence, ICE's acting deputy director, questioned the proposal in an email to the White House in November after it was first raised as a possibility, saying that arranging for transportation would strain the department and weaken its enforcement efforts.

"As a result of the influx at the border and the record number of aliens in detention, we have already had to decrease our interior operational footprint to manage these cases, resulting in less officers out on the streets making arrests of criminal aliens, public safety threats, fugitives, and other immigration violators," Albence wrote in an email reviewed by The Washington Post. "Not sure how paying to transport aliens to another location to release them - when they can be released on the spot - is a justified expenditure."

After heeding Albence's advice not to pursue the idea, the White House went back to DHS in February to try again. Legal advisers rejected it.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors less immigration, said the plan would give migrants a free ride to their destinations. Because sanctuary cities often refuse to turn over migrants arrested for crimes to ICE, sending them there could make it more difficult to apprehend for deportation later, she said.

Vaughan said White House officials who are new to immigration policy have likely overstepped in this case.

"There are a lot of immigration policy amateurs in senior positions at the White House, and some of them should stay in their lane - which is not immigration," she said.

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said blocking funding for sanctuary cities would be a top priority, saying at the time: "Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities."

But Congress has not passed any such legislation, and Trump's other efforts to stem migration have faced legal challenges. At least seven federal courts have blocked the Trump administration from broadly cutting off funds to sanctuary jurisdictions.

Vaughan said the Trump administration has conditioned some Justice Department crime-fighting grants on local cooperation with immigration enforcement. But generally that is limited to a provision in federal law that says local governments cannot prohibit communication between police and federal immigration agents.

The law does not require localities to detain immigrants after police have arrested them for an unrelated crime, but ICE can pick them up when a judge releases them from their criminal cases.

After Trump took office, sanctuary jurisdictions were initially fearful that he would restrict their federal funding for school lunches, fuel aid and other essential programs. But those fears faded as they prevailed in court.

Hundreds of localities have since strengthened their sanctuary policies, according to the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center. California passed a slate of new laws and the highest court in Massachusetts said local law enforcement cannot detain someone based solely on an immigration detainer.

Curtatone, Somerville's mayor, said the city is "always going to be a sanctuary and welcoming city for all" and that an influx of immigrants wouldn't change much for cities such as his.

“Somerville has experienced a continuous wave of immigration now for well over a century of Europeans and those from the Caribbean and Central and South America,” he said in a telephone interview. “We speak more than 52 languages in our neighborhoods and our schools. We embrace it.”

Here in Seattle, we’re not afraid of immigrants

Sat, 2019-04-13 04:04

The view of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park on December 24, 2018. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times/TNS) (Bettina Hansen/)

Durkan, a Democrat, is mayor of Seattle.

Here’s a message to President Donald Trump: Seattle is not afraid of immigrants and refugees. In fact, we have always welcomed people who have faced tremendous hardships around the world. Immigrants and refugees are part of Seattle’s heritage, and they will continue to make us the city of the future.

What does scare us? A president and federal government that would seek to weaponize a law enforcement agency to punish perceived political enemies. A would-be despot who thinks the rule of law does not apply to him.

On Friday, Trump took to Twitter to confirm a Post report that the White House wants to place detained immigrants in so-called sanctuary cities represented by Democrats.

In doing so, he trotted out his favorite playbook: He is demonizing immigrants and refugees to incite fear and to distract the American public from his own failures. Despite his party having control of the whole federal government for two years, Trump has utterly failed to fix our immigration system, to provide real opportunity for middle America or to improve the lives of the Americans in the places that supported him.

It's clear he hates the fact that the very cities he scorns are engines of innovation, opportunity and economic power. But we will not be deterred. The president's threats won't intimidate me as a mayor of a city with an open door, as a former federal prosecutor or as the granddaughter of a teenager who fled a war-torn, starving and impoverished country only to be welcomed in America.

This president believes that immigrants and refugees burden our country and burden cities like ours. But he could not be more wrong.

In Seattle, we know that our immigrant and refugee communities make our city a stronger, more vibrant place. Our immigrant neighbors make up more than 18 percent of our population, and 21 percent of our population speaks a language other than English at home. They create businesses and jobs. They create art and culture. They help teach our kids, serve in law enforcement and the military, and lead our places of faith.

Our immigrant and refugee neighbors have helped Seattle become the fastest-growing big city in the country and become home to some of the world's most iconic companies. And we know that today's immigrants are tomorrow's U.S. citizens who should have the chance to contribute to the economic, cultural and civic life of Seattle - and our nation.

Contrary to what this president thinks, in Seattle, we have strong American values of inclusiveness and opportunity. Instead of threatening immigrant families and the cities that welcome them, this president should spend a little bit more time trying to learn from us.

In Seattle, we have started to provide tuition-free college for our public high school graduates, regardless of a young person's immigration status. We're expanding internship and apprenticeships opportunities to connect all our young people with the jobs and opportunities of the future. We're working to help tens of thousands of legal permanent residents become U.S. citizens as part of the New Citizen Campaign and our other citizenship programs. Our Ready to Work program connects people with case managers and English language education to help our immigrant and refugee neighbors gain the skills necessary to enter our booming jobs market.

We will not allow a president who continues to threaten our shared values of inclusion, opportunity and diversity to jeopardize the health and safety of our communities. That's why, shortly after taking office, I issued a mayoral directive strengthening Seattle's "Welcoming City" laws that make clear that our city will not ask about - or improperly divulge information about - a resident's immigration status. And our police officers will continue to focus on local law enforcement - not serve as federal immigration enforcement officials. This is what the president means when he uses the term"sanctuary city."

Our city has already taken on this president and won. When Trump and the Justice Department threatened to withhold federal funding over our policies, we beat him in court. When he announced his cruel plan to separate children and families, Democratic mayors stood up to say we are better than this as a country.

So if this president wants to send immigrants and refugees to Seattle and other welcoming cities, let me be clear: We will do what we have always done, and we will be stronger for it. And it will only strengthen our commitment to fighting for the dignity of every person. We will not allow any administration to use the power of America to destroy the promise of America.

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. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.