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Bethel DMV office reopens after 2-month closure

Sat, 2019-07-20 09:59

BETHEL — The Bethel office of the state Division of Motor Vehicles has reopened after a two-month closure.

KYUK reports the office was closed while a new employee was found and trained.

The worker began Monday and found a line of people that stretched out the door.

The office also was closed last September following the transfer of a worker.

DMV Director Marla Thompson says the office reopened in early November after a new employee was hired and trained.

The latest closure occurred when that worker left the job.

The town, about 400 miles west of Anchorage, serves as a hub community for smaller villages.

Five myths about Chernobyl

Sat, 2019-07-20 09:29

This photo taken Wednesday, April 5, 2017, shows a central square in the deserted town of Pripyat, some 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) (Efrem Lukatsky/)

Kate Brown is a professor of history in MIT’s science, technology and society department. Her latest book is “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future.”

More than three decades ago,a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian republic of the Soviet Union exploded. A fierce fire burned for the following two weeks, sending columns of radioactive gases and particles across the European landscape and beyond. The accident is an enduring subject of fascination - HBO recently adapted the event into a hit miniseries, and the site is a popular tourist destination - leading to conjecture and misconception.


It resulted in only a few fatalities and casualties.

For the past three decades, official reports of casualties and deaths from the Chernobyl accident have been surprisingly modest. Two people died immediately. Twenty-nine died in hospitals, and much later, 15 children died of Chernobyl-induced thyroid cancers. These numbers have been repeated in recent articles in Newsweek and LiveScience. Estimates of Chernobyl's future health effects are also low: In 2006, researchers at the U.N. International Agency for Research on Cancer estimated that Chernobyl-induced cancers by 2065 will total 41,000, compared with several hundred million other cancers from other causes. Forbes even claimed that "only the fear of radiation killed anyone outside the immediate area," by elevating rates of alcoholism and depression.

The actual numbers may be far higher. Unfortunately, Belarus (where 70 percent of Chernobyl fallout landed), Russia and Ukraine have no public tallies of Chernobyl-related fatalities to update the count. But other state data gives us a rough sense of the number of people affected by the disaster over time. In January 2016, for example, the Ukrainian government said 1,961,904 people in Ukraine were officially victims of the Chernobyl disaster. Ukraine also pays compensation to 35,000 people whose spouses died from Chernobyl-related health problems. These figures do not count Russia or Belarus, where estimates of cancers and fatalities are in the hundreds of thousands.


The Chernobyl accident had only regional consequences.

A Newsweek account says only that "a cloud of radioactive material rained down on the nearby towns and villages." A United Nations report about recovery at Chernobyl, which sits on Ukraine's northern border, says simply that "the disaster affected Belarus, Ukraine and Russia." In HBO's recent miniseries fictionalizing the disaster, a physicist briefing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev says the radiation will spread as far as East Germany.

The consequences of the accident reached much farther. The fallout map shows that Chernobyl radioactivity drifted widely across Europe, usually in areas with higher altitudes and precipitation. Indeed, Swedish scientists were the first to report the Chernobyl incident, because nuclear workers in Sweden set off radiation detection devices as they were walking into a plant on the Monday morning after the accident. In 1986, 7,000 farmers in northern England and southern Scotland had to pull their sheep from sale after Chernobyl fallout hit them. Two decades later,more than 350 farmers in Britain still faced restrictions on the movement of their animals and the sale of their meat.

Consumer goods harvested in Chernobyl-affected territories continue to travel around the globe. A few years ago, France stopped a large shipment of radioactive mushrooms from Belarus. Chernobyl-contaminated berries from Ukraine regularly enter European markets, and some of those berries migrate to the United States.


Nature is thriving in the zone around Chernobyl.

Some seeking an upside to the disaster have heralded the good news that the ecosystem around Chernobyl has rebounded. One company that offers birding tours in the exclusion zone describes it as an "involuntary park" that teaches "key lessons on how wildlife doesn't need us." Scientists have found up to a sevenfold increase in some large mammals and concluded that, though radiation is not good for animals, people have an even more detrimental effect. The Guardian calls the Chernobyl zone a "wildlife haven."

Such studies tend to concentrate on data from censuses and cameras tracking large, charismatic fauna such as wolves, wild horses and wild boar. Census data tells scientists how many animals there are but little about their health. With chronic low doses of radiation, health effects are subtle and difficult to detect. Biologists studying small animals such as mice, voles and birds report finding animals with more frequent mutations, physical deformities and reduced populations. A team of scientists from Texas Tech University found higher-than-expected mutation rates in Chernobyl rodents exposed to chronic low doses. Scientists have also observed abnormalities in barn swallows that breed there, including deformed toes and beaks, and the same radiation has suppressed the growth of pine trees. Such problems might also affect large mammals, too, though they can't be detected by satellite photography.


Chernobyl was the worst nuclear disaster ever.

Chernobyl is often described as the most devastating nuclear disaster in human history.Business Insider, ranking it against other accidents at Fukushima and Three Mile Island, found Chernobyl the most damaging. The International Atomic Energy Agency rated Chernobyl a Level 7 accident, the highest rating possible.

While Chernobyl released the most radioactive fallout at one time in an accident, other nuclear events issued far more radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere. The Chernobyl accident emitted between 50 million and 200 million curies of radioactivity. The first Soviet and American plutonium plants each spread an estimated 200 million curies of radioactive waste into the surrounding environments as part of daily operations. Until the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 took effect, the nuclear powers, including the United States and the U.S.S.R., blew up 520 nuclear weapons in the atmosphere to test nuclear bombs, creating emissions of long-lasting radioactive isotopes in the billions of curies.

Examining just one radioactive isotope is illuminating. Chernobyl issued an estimated 45 million curies of radioactive iodine (among other elements) - which is absorbed by human thyroids, and can cause thyroid disease and thyroid cancer - into the atmosphere. American and Soviet nuclear bomb tests released an estimated 20 billion curies of radioactive iodine between 1945 and 1962.


Chernobyl shows that the Soviet Union was inept.

Chernobyl has come to stand for an enduring narrative that Soviet scientists and government officials were uniquely incompetent. "The Ferris wheel left in the city's decaying amusement park still stands in testament to the folly of the corrupt, paranoid and inept Soviet system,"says USA Today. Grigori Medvedev's book, "The Truth About Chernobyl," promises an account of "absurdity and incompetence galore."

In truth, the Soviet response to the disaster was impressive. The Soviets are most often criticized for waiting three days to inform the public of the accident; concealing it did mean that people in neighboring nations, such as Poland, received protective prophylactive iodine later than is advisable. Soviet leaders did, however, act to protect their own citizens. Within 36 hours, they had relocated 50,000 residents of the city of Pripyat and were making plans to evacuate a large territory around the plant. (Japanese leaders waited a full two months before they admitted that three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had melted down in March 2011.)

Then there was the medical response, as observed by a team of American doctors who joined Soviet doctors to treat the injured firemen and plant operators at Hospital No. 6 in Moscow. The Americans were impressed by how good Soviet doctors were at estimating radiation dosage by studying a patient's vital signs, and commented on the impressive range of Soviet treatments for radiation poisoning that were unknown in the West. Of the 19 patients who underwent risky transplantations of bone marrow or fetal liver, recommended by the American team, only one survived. More of the patients who had potentially fatal doses survived Soviet doctors' treatments.

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.

Five myths about the moon

Sat, 2019-07-20 09:18

A nearly full moon rises over a ridgeline in Denali National Park and Preserve on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive) (Bob Hallinen/)

Ever since humans have looked up at the night sky, there have been wild theories about the moon and its power over us. Some - like the idea that it’s made of cheese, or that it has canals and alien life - have been thoroughly debunked, while others still have a wide audience. Nearly 20 million Americans think the moon landing of July 1969 was faked by the U.S. government. Here are five myths that maintain a hold on many people’s imaginations.

Myth No. 1: The race to the moon began after Sputnik shocked America.

Consult nearly any timeline of moon exploration, including NASA’s own online guide, and you’ll see Sputnik referred to as its inciting event. A National Air and Space Museum Web page , “Racing to the Moon,” starts with the satellite’s takeoff: “The Soviet Union stunned the world with the launch of Sputnik.” also refers to it as “the space race’s opening shot.”

In large part, we have Lyndon Johnson to thank for this. Soon after the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite in October 1957, then-Sen. Johnson led a series of congressional hearings designed to publicly beat down President Dwight Eisenhower for being caught off guard on an issue of national security.

But the hearings were a master class in Capitol Hill political theater. Though the news may have stunned the general public, shaking their confidence in America's technological superiority, within the government the initial reaction wasn't fear or even surprise. A group of international scientists gathered in Washington on the evening of Sputnik's first flight, and the president of the International Council of Scientific Unions - an American, Lloyd Berkner - even raised a glass to toast the Soviets' success.

Eisenhower’s public response was similarly unfazed. “So far as the satellite itself is concerned,” he said, “that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota.” A CIA report declassified in 2017 shows that Eisenhower and the U.S. intelligence community had seen several reports that the Soviet satellite launch was imminent and of no military concern. In an interview, former NASA chief historian Roger Launius told me, “Sputnik was not a surprise — not to anybody who was paying attention.”

[Read more ‘Five myths’]

In fact, the space race was well underway by the time Sputnik went into orbit: The U.S. government had been at work on a similar satellite for several years. A National Security Council memo from 1955 explains that the United States had committed to launching a scientific satellite, because “considerable prestige and psychological benefits [would] accrue to the nation which first is successful.”

Myth No. 2: The moon missions were a source of national unity.

"Moonshot" has become a political cliche. Politicians, pundits, even professors use the word ad nauseam to describe any ambitious national effort that would require overwhelming public support to achieve. Presidential candidates Beto O'Rourke and Kirsten Gillibrand both recently pushed for one that would address climate change. The idea owes to the persistent narrative that the lunar missions had a unique power to heal national divides. A 2018 story in Quartz claimed: "In a country so polarized about so much, it seemed no one disagreed about Apollo 8. Blacks and whites, hippies and octogenarians, rich and poor, urban and rural, Democrats and Republicans, all seemed to agree: Apollo 8 had done something important."

Polling throughout the 1960s showed otherwise. During a decade marked by civil rights protests and the Vietnam War, much of the country was starkly divided over pouring time, effort and funding into a trip to the moon. "It would appear that the fathers of our nation would allow a few thousand hungry people to die for the lack of a few thousand dollars while they would contaminate the moon and its sterility for the sake of 'progress' and spend billions of dollars in the process," said a 1969 editorial in the Los Angeles Sentinel. Throughout the 1960s, the Apollo program "wasn't very popular," says NASA chief historian Bill Barry. "It never really got above a 50 percent approval rating in public opinion polls, except during the week when we landed on the moon."

Myth No. 3: The moon missions did not have much scientific value.

Today, only 64 percent of Americans say the space program is worth the cost. That number, at least, has grown since the question was first asked in 1979, when only 41 percent said it was worthwhile to have spent billions of dollars to, among other things, get a bunch of moon rocks. “In practical terms Apollo 11 was meaningless,” writes Matthew Walther, in an essay for the Week. “ . . . It was a voyage undertaken for no meaningful scientific purpose.” And historian Gerard DeGroot told the Guardian, “The great tragedy of the effort was that the best of American technology and billions of American dollars were devoted to a project of minuscule benefit to anyone.”

Putting aside the technological advances made during the race to the moon (water purification systems, the Dustbuster, rechargeable hearing aids), those lunar rocks have told us an enormous amount about our planet’s evolution. The samples collected on the Apollo missions revealed striking similarities between the composition of moon matter and Earth matter, leading to the “giant impact hypothesis, ” which posits that the moon and Earth were once part of one larger planet before being blown apart by a cosmic collision.

This discovery opened up fascinating new scientific questions and theories about the solar system. It has the potential to teach us about the conditions that support life on Earth — and the conditions that could make life elsewhere in the universe possible.

Myth No. 4: The moon controls the tides on Earth.

Humans have long attributed behaviors on Earth to the moon's cosmic pull - lunacy and fertility among them. It's also commonly thought that the moon controls the tides, a claim that shows up everywhere from Boating magazine to a Refinery 29 article about the astrological significance of this month's solar eclipse.

This is an oversimplification. The moon’s gravitational forces are strong enough to exert a pull on the water, creating movement across Earth’s oceans. But the moon is not the only object responsible for the tides — so is the sun — nor is it their biggest influence. The Earth’s geography is a greater determinant of the size and timing of tides than any celestial bodies are. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, terrestrial factors — including the depth of oceans, the size of landmasses and the shape of shorelines — cause tides to behave very differently from location to location. Think of it like this: The moon’s gravitational pull prompts the water to move, but as that water skirts continents and flows from shallow coasts to deep trenches, it triggers ripple effects, creating high and low tides in places and at times that the moon’s position alone cannot predict.

Myth No. 5: Private companies now drive moon exploration.

Fifty years ago, the biggest space celebrities were moon mission figures like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Today, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are bigger household names than any current NASA astronauts. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine featured Musk on its cover holding a space helmet, calling him “The architect of tomorrow.” Their efforts to journey to the International Space Station, Mars and elsewhere have led some to wonder whether private companies will also lay claim to lunar exploration. “For these companies, the moon is not the nationalistic dream that it was during the Apollo era,” says the Atlantic. “It is a marketplace.” “The privatization of the moon is coming,” warns an article on

But private companies receive significant funding, support and know-how from the federal government. SpaceX and Boeing have received billions of dollars from NASA and Pentagon contracts. They, along with other players like Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post), rely on the government's launchpads at Cape Canaveral for liftoff. NASA also remains the primary training ground for astronauts, and retains the ability to pull resources or shutter private efforts if they don't conform to its standards.

While the nature of public-private partnerships has changed over time, and companies today exert more influence over how NASA operates, even moon missions were never solely a government endeavor. Numerous private companies, including Boeing, Grumman, IBM and Lockheed, had contracts with NASA for the Apollo program. Companies including Omega watches and Fisher pen provided gear for the astronauts. Private vs. public is a false dichotomy.

Lillian Cunningham is the creator and host of the “Presidential” and “Constitutional” podcasts. She was previously a feature writer for and editor of The Washington Post’s On Leadership section, for which she received two Emmy Awards for her interviews with leaders in politics, business and the arts.

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.

5 Moon-landing innovations that changed life on Earth

Sat, 2019-07-20 09:06

ADVANCE FOR USE SATURDAY, JULY 13, 2019 AND THEREAFTER-In this July 21, 1969 photo made available by NASA, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ascent stage, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, approaches the Command and Service Modules for docking in lunar orbit. Astronaut Michael Collins remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while the other two crewmen explored the moon's surface. In the background the Earth rises above the lunar horizon. (Michael Collins/NASA via AP) (Michael Collins/)

As a NASA airborne astronomy ambassador and director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Manfred Olson Planetarium, I know that the technologies behind weather forecasting, GPS and even smartphones can trace their origins to the race to the Moon.

1. Rockets

October 4, 1957 marked the dawn of the Space Age, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first human-made satellite. The Soviets were the first to make powerful launch vehicles by adapting World War II-era long-range missiles, especially the German V-2.

From there, space propulsion and satellite technology moved fast: Luna 1 escaped the Earth’s gravitational field to fly past the Moon on January 4, 1959; Vostok 1 carried the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961; and Telstar, the first commercial satellite, sent TV signals across the Atlantic Ocean on July 10, 1962.

The 1969 lunar landing also harnessed the expertise of German scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, to send massive payloads into space. The F-1 engines in Saturn V, the Apollo program’s launch vehicle, burned a total of 2,800 tons of fuel at a rate of 12.9 tons per second.

Saturn V still stands as the most powerful rocket ever built, but rockets today are far cheaper to launch. For example, whereas Saturn V cost US$185 million, which translates into over $1 billion in 2019, today’s Falcon Heavy launch costs only $90 million. Those rockets are how satellites, astronauts and other spacecraft get off the Earth’s surface, to continue bringing back information and insights from other worlds.

2. Satellites

The quest for enough thrust to land a man on the Moon led to the building of vehicles powerful enough to launch payloads to heights of 21,200 to 22,600 miles (34,100 to 36,440 km) above the Earth’s surface. At such altitudes, satellites’ orbiting speed aligns with how fast the planet spins – so satellites remain over a fixed point, in what is called geosynchronous orbit. Geosynchronous satellites are responsible for communications, providing both internet connectivity and TV programming.

At the beginning of 2019, there were 4,987 satellites orbiting Earth; in 2018 alone, there were more than 382 orbital launches worldwide. Of the currently operational satellites, approximately 40% of payloads enable communications, 36% observe the Earth, 11% demonstrate technologies, 7% improve navigation and positioning and 6% advance space and earth science.

3. Miniaturization

Space missions – back then and even today – have strict limits on how big and how heavy their equipment can be, because so much energy is required to lift off and achieve orbit. These constraints pushed the space industry to find ways to make smaller and lighter versions of almost everything: Even the walls of the lunar landing module were reduced to the thickness of two sheets of paper.

From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, the weight and energy consumption of electronics was reduced by a factor of several hundred at least – from the 30 tons and 160 kilowatts of the Electric Numerical Integrator and Computer to the 70 pounds and 70 watts of the Apollo guidance computer. This weight difference is equivalent to that between a humpback whale and an armadillo.

Manned missions required more complex systems than earlier, unmanned ones. For example, in 1951, the Universal Automatic Computer was capable of 1,905 instructions per second, whereas the Saturn V’s guidance system performed 12,190 instructions per second. The trend toward nimble electronics has continued, with modern hand-held devices routinely capable of performing instructions 120 million times faster than the guidance system that enabled the liftoff of Apollo 11. The need to miniaturize computers for space exploration in the 1960s motivated the entire industry to design smaller, faster and more energy-efficient computers, which have affected practically every facet of life today, from communications to health and from manufacturing to transportation.

4. Global network of ground stations

Communicating with vehicles and people in space was just as important as getting them up there in the first place. An important breakthrough associated with the 1969 lunar landing was the construction of a global network of ground stations, called the Deep Space Network, to let controllers on Earth communicate constantly with missions in highly elliptical Earth orbits or beyond. This continuity was possible because the ground facilities were placed strategically 120 degrees apart in longitude so that each spacecraft would be in range of one of the ground stations at all times.

Because of the spacecraft’s limited power capacity, large antennas were built on Earth to simulate “big ears” to hear weak messages and to act as “big mouths” to broadcast loud commands. In fact, the Deep Space Network was used to communicate with the astronauts on Apollo 11 and was used to relay the first dramatic TV images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the Moon. The network was also critical for the survival of the crew on Apollo 13 because they needed guidance from ground personnel without wasting their precious power on communications.

Several dozen missions use the Deep Space Network as part of the continuing exploration of our solar system and beyond. In addition, the Deep Space Network permits communications with satellites that are on highly elliptical orbits, to monitor the poles and deliver radio signals.

5. Looking back at Earth

Getting to space has allowed people to turn their research efforts toward Earth. In August 1959, the unmanned satellite Explorer VI took the first crude photos of Earth from space on a mission researching the upper atmosphere, in preparation for the Apollo program.

Almost a decade later, the crew of Apollo 8 took a famous picture of the Earth rising over the lunar landscape, aptly named “Earthrise.” This image helped people understand our planet as a unique shared world and boosted the environmental movement.

Understanding of our planet’s role in the universe deepened with Voyager 1’s “pale blue dot” photo – an image received by the Deep Space Network.

People and our machines have been taking pictures of the Earth from space ever since. Views of Earth from space guide people both globally and locally. What started in the early 1960s as a U.S. Navy satellite system to track its Polaris submarines to within 600 feet (185 meters) has blossomed into the Global Positioning System network of satellites providing location services worldwide.

Images from a series of Earth-observing satellites called Landsat are used to determine crop health, identify algae blooms and find potential oil deposits. Other uses include identifying which types of forest management are most effective in slowing the spread of wildfires or recognizing global changes such as glacier coverage and urban development.

As we learn more about our own planet and about exoplanets – planets around other stars – we become more aware of how precious our planet is. Efforts to preserve Earth itself may yet find help from fuel cells, another technology from the Apollo program. These storage systems for hydrogen and oxygen in the Apollo Service Module, which contained life-support systems and supplies for the lunar landing missions, generated power and produced potable water for the astronauts. Much cleaner energy sources than traditional combustion engines, fuel cells may play a part in transforming global energy production to fight climate change.

We can only wonder what innovations from the effort to send people to other planets will affect earthlings 50 years after the first Marswalk.

Distributed by the Associated Press

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.

To the moon, Alaska!

Sat, 2019-07-20 08:56

FILE - In this image provided by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. Television is marking the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, moon landing with a variety of specials about NASA's Apollo 11 mission. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA via AP, File) (NEIL A. ARMSTRONG/)

I met two of the Apollo 11 astronauts — Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins — on their inaugural trip to Alaska in July 2001, a thrilling and meaningful encounter.

Their primary mission was to fish for king salmon on the Kenai River. But the astronauts were also here as VIP guests to commemorate the first anniversary of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, our state’s only space science education center for children. Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, himself a former World War II pilot and a tireless advocate for Alaska aviation, secured the bulk of the necessary construction funds via a special one-time federal appropriation.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of one of humankind’s most miraculous, awe-inspiring feats of history — Apollo 11. Under massive constraints of time, money and risk on every level, we developed the ingenuity, technology and teamwork to safely launch Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon and back.

The cosmic endeavor cost billions of dollars and took hundreds of thousands of people from all across the country working in sync to make the epic journey happen. And yes, it was rocket science — the best and brightest rocket scientists. And the ranks included the top engineers, computer technicians, metallurgists, test pilots, satellite inventors and MIT graduates.

But the people working behind the scenes at NASA — excellent administrators, data entry clerks, secretaries, accountants — also exemplified the kind of resolve and dedication that the star test pilots oozed in their DNA.

Scientifically informed politicians, well-trained journalists and enthusiastic classroom teachers all played a visionary part in boosting the space program.

Apollo 11 is a great example of how politics, economics and imagined realities sometimes align to reach what seems like an impossible common goal. Looking back on it now, it really is a marvel it ever happened. We didn’t always solve everything by filing lawsuit after lawsuit and pointing fingers. Or by being so rigid and inflexible that there was no willpower for compromise.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin looks back at Tranquility Base during the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission. (Nasa) (NASA/)
Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin spoke to students at UAA's ANSEP building on Friday, January 15, 2013. Students from Mat-Su middle schools, Bethel and Nome high schools and UAF in Fairbanks are in Anchorage for the program. Aldrin is the special guest at the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program celebration at the Dena'ina Center Friday evening. Aldrin was the second person to walk on the Moon. The Lepquinm Gumilgit Gagoadim Tsimshian dance group performed at the talk.

If we pause to take an evolutionary look back, our species, Homo sapiens, has survived thanks to superb capacities for cooperation between groups, as the Israeli anthropologist, Yuval Noah Harrari points out in his bestseller, “Sapiens.”

Historically, something else has bound Homo sapiens together, Harrari says, while paradoxically, also tearing us apart: our fictions. The whole array of communal beliefs, myths, stories and imagined realities we choose to believe in have also led us to undertake monumental, risky explorations into the unknown.

These astounding moments of convergence and alignment, such as the Apollo program, are something to think about as we face the most vexing and monumental issues of our day, i.e., global climate change, how to repair the Earth’s biosystems, how to save the oceans, how to feed the world’s population.

Michael Collins, who was also a member of the Gemini 10 crew, told reporters it wasn’t circling the moon that dramatically changed him, it was seeing the Earth from 239,000 miles away. “It’s not just a rock. It’s a fragile place,” he said, “and we need to do a better job of protecting it.”

What’s troubling in our current political atmosphere, though, and what can cause a sense of despair to sink in, is that due to the modern breakdown in community values, in family and in our unifying myths, we have forgotten how to bridge the gulf of differences that separate us. Alaska right now is the perfect example of rancor and splintering.

As a society, we have become more scientifically polarized and less likely to read in-depth. We resort to emotionalism, stereotyping and name-calling. Fostering real dialogue between opposing groups is an ideal often promoted by elected officials, voters and party members. In reality, however, there isn’t much evidence to prove that fostering real dialogue as a way to get from A to Z has been implemented in practice. Cooperation goes up in smoke.

In the volatile decade of the 1960s, not everyone believed America should prove its superiority against the USSR by spending astronomical amounts of taxpayer dollars on space program stunts. Many critics viewed space travel as a total waste of precious resources while important social programs languished.

Yet the naysayers at the time were a real part of authentic public dialogue. They kept NASA sharply focused on goals and objectives. NASA had to be truthful. They had to answer the controversy in the language of numbers, cost overrides, balance sheets and budgets.

But in the heyday of the U.S. space program, the bottom line wasn’t the bottom line.

NASA also spoke to the public and Congress in inspiring terms, not only in dollars and cents. They used brilliant public relations tactics, no doubt, by using various members of the astronaut corps to ignite passion and imaginations, to appeal to humanity’s sense of awe and wonder.

Instead of concentrating on whatever commercial products might result from Apollo 11, NASA appealed to a belief in something far greater to rally Americans. To probe the universe. To answer an insatiable hunger to gain more knowledge. To foster a “can-do” problem-solving spirit. To push forward into the future against insurmountable odds (which also produces uncharted consequences).

Most importantly, instead of continuously bashing and humiliating the opposition — those evil Soviets — through hateful Cold War rhetoric, NASA actually mentioned future cooperation as a possibility. After Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong traveled on a kind of diplomatic mission to the Soviet Union. Armstrong was warmly received as a hero by our “enemy.” Both superpowers extended a hand to one another through the International Space Station and other shared scientific efforts.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their indelible footprints on the moon’s bleak surface, in its “magnificent desolation,” as Aldrin described it. Col. Michael Collins, the lunar command module pilot, is the least well-known of the three elite astronauts. Humble and self-effacing, he’s the astronaut I most closely follow. Collins, age 88, has remained 100% satisfied to be, metaphorically speaking, in the moon’s shadow. A member of a distinguished military family, he has always viewed himself as an equal member of the Apollo 11 team. He hasn’t cared in the least that no action figures were ever created in his image.

Once he left NASA, Collins, a United States Military Academy graduate, became the founding director of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and later, a trustee for the National Geographic Society. He’s been inducted into many halls of fame. He still enjoys fishing and has become a visual artist.

We all know that Alaska and the country have greatly changed since Apollo 11 and joy was shared on everyone’s faces at the ticker-tape parades.

At a South Anchorage park recently, I struck up a conversation with a retired military man who was having fun flying his expensive Maverick Air drone in the skies above me. The high-tech drone supports his photography hobby. There are probably more aircraft flying around Alaska today than ever before, he said. More than 50 new F-35 fighter jets will be based at Eielson AFB in Fairbanks, as Alaska has not lost its strategic importance. We are now living in an era of unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones are here to stay. Rovers send back mind-boggling images from the surface of Mars. Nobody knows whether Homo sapiens will ever make it to Mars. I’m not sure if the Red Planet, 140 million miles away, really generates any excitement in the public’s eye.

The souvenir snapshots of Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins I took 18 years ago in Kenai will now be passed on to my four-year old grandson. One of his bedroom walls is decorated with painted renditions of the planets. Together, we often dash outside to count the numbers of airplanes we hear soaring over his house. He doesn’t yet understand who Michael Collins is, but soon enough, he will.

Kathleen Tarr serves on the board of the Alaska Humanities Forum and is the author of “We Are All Poets Here.”

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.

Alaskans line the Kenai River’s mouth to dipnet for sockeye salmon

Sat, 2019-07-20 05:32

Dipnetting poles line the south shore of the Kenai River's mouth on a busy morning. Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

KENAI — Hundreds of Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. Early-risers crowded the north shore of the river, standing nearly shoulder to shoulder by 8 a.m to fish the hours surrounding the morning high tide. Many had luck and left with full coolers by the time the tide had ebbed at midday.

The dipnet fishery is a personal-use fishery, which means it’s open to Alaska residents only. Many camped in tents and RVs while others came and went in hours. Participants must have valid sport fishing license and a personal use permit, and Alaska State Trooper Cassandra Hajicek said they need to keep the papers in easy reach. She walked along the beach Thursday requesting to see the documents from participants.

Each head of household is allowed 25 sockeye, plus 10 more fish for each additional household member. Limits are combined throughout all Alaska personal use fisheries.

The Kenai River dipnet fishery continues through July 31.


[Thousands of salmon dipnetters are crowding Kenai beaches, most from out of town. Here’s how to be a good guest.]

[Kenai River sockeye salmon returns steady but not spectacular as peak of run arrives]

A dipnetter removes a salmon from a net. Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Gulls scatter near fishermen. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Fish blood drips from a cooler as a fisherman rests. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Ronnie and Rebekah Villalon line up their catch on the Kenai River's north shore. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
The busy dipnetting scene on the north shore of the Kenai River is visible from a bluff in the city of Kenai. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Charlie See, of Kenai, walks with his dipnet. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Sylvia Reimers, 13, reads a book as she dipnets. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A dipnetter works in deep water. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Paul Becker and Tim Platt pull their dipnetting gear on a cart as they leave the Kenai River. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Josh Sasita enters the river with his dipnet. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Warren Mitchell, left, and Jeremiah Wallace fillet salmon. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Hal Gage tosses scraps to gulls as he cuts his fish. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Alaska State Trooper Cassandra Jajicek asks dipnettng participants to see their fishing licenses and personal use permits. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Mount Redoubt is visible on a hazy morning during the dipnet fishery. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Families rest at their tents while the tide is low Thursday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Dipnetters on the Kenai River's south shore are visible from a bluff in the city of Kenai. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Rada Silao cuts a recently-caught fish. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A fish is clubbed after it was removed from a dipnet. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Gulls squawk at each other as they feed on salmon scraps. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Sockeye salmon heads and bones are piled after catches by Warren Mitchell and Jeremiah Wallace filleted the fish. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A couple walks from the parking area to the shore of the Kenai River early Thursday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Lars Arneson slashes three hours from 12-peak Challenge speed record

Fri, 2019-07-19 19:31

Lars Arneson, shown here on North Suicide ridge during a July 2017 climb, slashed three hours off the 12-peaks Challenge speed record on Thursday. (Photo by Peter Mamrol)

Lars Arneson was 15 minutes late to work Friday. He had a pretty good excuse.

Arneson, 29, spent Thursday annihilating the speed record for the 12-peaks Challenge, a pursuit that includes summiting the dozen peaks higher than 5,000 feet in the front range of the Chugach Mountains.

He hiked a little less than 40 miles and climbed about 18,000 vertical feet in 14 hours, 41 minutes. His time slashed a little more than three hours off the record set last July by Adam Jensen and Matt Shryock, who made the climb in 17:43.

Arneson finished at 6:42 p.m. Thursday and logged 7.5 hours of sleep before reporting to his job as a GIS specialist at Kinney Engineering the next morning at 8:15.

“I’m happy to be walking today,” Arneson said Friday afternoon. “I’m all-around exhausted. Just getting out of the chair was a chore.”

Arneson said he set out early Thursday morning with the 12-peaks Challenge record in mind. Two years ago, he and Peter Mamrol established a speed record of 18:10, which stood until Jensen and Shyrock lowered it by 27 minutes last summer.

“I only stopped to empty my shoes out and fill my water bottle with snow,” Arneson said.

Arneson said he climbed the peaks in the same order he and Mamrol did two years ago but made some changes in the route that took him from one peak to the next. Those changes saved him a couple of miles and about 2,000 feet of climbing, and he moved at a faster pace.

“I knew there was a lot of time that could be shaved off,” Arneson said of his 2017 trip with Mamrol. “And having two years to focus on training has made it easier.”

Arneson was a cross-country skier and runner in high school and college — he went to high school at Soldotna’s Cook Inlet Academy and went to college at UAF — but said he was burned out on racing after he finished college.

When he got back into running a couple of years ago, he took his talents to the mountains. He has been one of Alaska’s top mountain runners the last three years, posting wins at races like the Mat Peak Challenge, the Turnagain Arm Trail Run and Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run. After a nine-year absence from Mount Marathon, he placed seventh last year and third this year.

Arneson said until Thursday he hadn’t been on most of the Chugach’s front-range peaks, known collectively as the Chugach Front Linkup, the last two years. He began his climb at 4:01 a.m. from the Rabbit Lake parking lot with a water bottle and a bunch of energy bars — spartan sustenance compared to the array of gourmet treats that fueled a linkup climb earlier this month by Julianne Dickerson, Abby Jahn and April McAnly.

“The one exciting thing I brought was Honey Stingers (waffles),” he said.

Arneson had company at the start and the finish of his trip. Chad Trammell, another top mountain runner, ran to Rabbit Lake with him at the start of the day, and at the end of the day Trammell, Jensen and Kenny Brewer ran the final 2.7 miles with him to the Stuckagain Heights parking lot.

Now that he’s done it a second time, Arneson said he doesn’t think he’ll take on the 12-peaks Challenge again.

“I don’t know. I’d need a pretty good reason to do it,” he said.

Like if someone breaks his record?

“That would be a pretty good reason,” Arneson said. “… I just hope it doesn’t get beat by three hours.”

Sen. Murkowski urges lawmakers to carefully consider cuts to protect federal support

Fri, 2019-07-19 18:08

Alaska’s senior senator on Friday recommended that state legislators meeting in a special session in Juneau keep in mind the big picture as they consider the governor’s $444 million in vetoes and consider completing a capital budget tied to nearly $1 billion in federal funds.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said lawmakers should look for ways to “soften the impacts” of any reductions and take measured steps that maximize federal matching funds for transportation, Medicaid, the University of Alaska and other programs.

“I think it is fair to say that not all cuts of state dollars are equal because of what they may be able to leverage for other federal resources (and) grants,” said Murkowski, speaking with reporters following a civic group’s luncheon in Anchorage.

She said she’s “very fearful” about what may happen to the University of Alaska system, facing an unprecedented $130 million veto, atop a $5 million cut by the Legislature.

[Legislators: Fixing budget and dividend likely requires ‘full package’ of compromise]

Alaskans and lawmakers have feuded sharply over the size of the budget and the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes last month threatened to reduce or eliminate a wide swath of services.

A bill in the House seeks to restore the funding cut by the vetoes, and would pay a smaller annual dividend to Alaskans than the $3,000 payment the governor supports. The governor has called lawmakers back into special session in Juneau, where they must complete the unfinished capital budget by the end of the month or risk losing more than $900 million in federal matching funds for road and airport construction.

Murkowski said she’s been struck by the intensity of the debate playing out in Alaska.

“It has been a challenge as an Alaskan to see how divided we have become over the amount of a dividend,” she said. “It’s probably been a conversation that has been a long, long time in coming, but it’s been very painful to see the anxiety that we feel and the concerns in families.”

Murkowski said it’s not her role to tell state lawmakers how to do their job. But it is important to explain what may be lost at the federal level. She said she stays in touch with state lawmakers on that and other topics.

She’s been focused in D.C. on looking at “those state-match issues” to help make sure everyone understands how much is at stake if federal matching funds are lost, she said.

The timing of how cuts are made is important to understand, she said.

“It may be that you are able to roll some of these state budget reductions out over longer period of time that won’t impact your ability to leverage those federal funds," she said.

“You really have to map it out,” she said.

“Budget reductions, yes, but making sure there is an implementation that is smart is important,” she said.

High-profile areas that could lose significant federal support, such as Medicaid or in transportation, are just some areas of concern, she said. The governor has vetoed $50 million in Medicaid services, which is expected to result in at least another $50 million loss in federal funds. That comes atop a $70 million cut by the Legislature.

Lawmakers should also understand overall impacts to smaller programs, too, she said.

“With early childhood education (programs), Head Start, there are also federal dollars at play there," Murkowski said.

[A partial list of Gov. Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes]

How the cuts might impact federal support for the university is something she’s wary of, she said.

“The research that is going on at the University of Alaska, when it comes to the Arctic, when it comes to climate, when it comes to better understanding some of the implications of the environment, we are doing some pretty great stuff up there,” she said.

“I want to make sure that our university system is good and sound and strong,” she said. “I want to make sure those federal dollars that are able to come to the university because of the research, because of the name we have built in the space, I don’t want to see them eroded. I don’t want to see that research go away."

“It is again, important to understand how these budget reductions will (have an) impact and is there a way to arrive at the same place, which is having tighter reins on your government spending, but allowing us as Alaskans an opportunity to have healthy people, educated people and a strong economy,” she said.

Legislators: Fixing budget and dividend likely requires ‘full package’ of compromise

Fri, 2019-07-19 17:45

From left to right: House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; House Minority Whip DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer; and Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, work at their desks Friday, July 19, 2019 in the House chambers. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature has 60 members, but when it comes to solving the state’s budget issues, the deciding votes appear to rest with the 15-member Republican minority in the Alaska House of Representatives. Unfortunately for hopes of a quick solution, members of that group say they don’t have a firm position on a necessary compromise.

“I think there’s alignment on (the dividend) and on the capital budget, but as you get beyond that, I think it’s just more of a desire to move Alaska toward a compromise,” said House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage.

“I think we’re still talking about it and trying to figure it out,” said Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, when asked for the caucus position on the capital budget.

Ordinarily, 21 votes are needed in the House and 11 votes are needed in the Senate to advance legislation to the desk of the governor. But this time, lawmakers need a three-quarters supermajority: 30 votes in the House and 15 in the Senate.

“As just an observer, I’d say they have a heck of a lot of leverage right now,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage.

LeDoux, a Republican, started the session as a member of the coalition House majority before a disagreement over the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend led to her departure.

There are four issues at stake in the ongoing special session: the state’s operating budget, the “reverse sweep,” the capital budget and the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.

In late June, Dunleavy vetoed $444 million from the state operating budget. Members of the House and Senate failed to muster the support they needed to override the governor’s decision, so they are now proposing a funding bill to fill the gaps created by the governor. That bill itself could be vetoed by the governor, so lawmakers need either the support of the governor or the support of the House minority in order to have enough votes to override a veto.

Earlier this year, the House minority refused to offer its votes on an aspect of the capital budget called the reverse sweep. With that vote’s failure, as much as $2 billion in various state savings accounts will be automatically drained into the Alaska Constitutional Budget Reserve. Draining those funds tears holes in the state budget, de-funding scholarships for college students, rural power cost subsidies and lower-cost vaccinations among other programs.

The reverse sweep requires a three-quarters supermajority, but the House minority wanted the Legislature to agree to pay a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend. That hasn’t happened.

At the same time, the House minority also refused to fund the state’s capital budget with money from the budget reserve, again making its vote conditional on a dividend decision. Now, with portions of the capital budget unfunded, the state risks losing more than $900 million in federal money for roads and airports. Unlocking that federal aid requires that the state pay about $100 million, money that was in the capital budget.

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, said the minority caucus remains steadfast in its support of a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend. (The coalition House majority has proposed lesser figures throughout the year.)

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, is an independent Republican like LeDoux. She said resolving all four issues requires “a full package” of compromises.

Pruitt said he believes that’s the correct approach.

“I think the idea is one big package, whether it’s in one piece of legislation or not,” he said.

Some lawmakers have talked about deferring discussion of the Permanent Fund dividend until a later special session, but Wilson doesn’t believe that’s a successful strategy.

“I think the trust in this building is at an all-time low,” she said. “To say you’re going to come back in October or November and not know what that new bill will look like just doesn’t work.”

Sullivan-Leonard disagreed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised for another special session at some point,” she said.

Despite the continued divide, LeDoux said there is still room for optimism.

“As dysfunctional as it all seems, and it all is, we are eventually going to hammer things out and that I think just about everybody in this building wants what they think is best for our constituents and Alaska," she said. “It’s just that different people have different views as to what’s best, and different people have different constituencies with different views of what is in their best interest.”

Anchorage man accused of shooting teen after fight charged with attempted murder

Fri, 2019-07-19 17:34

A grand jury has indicted an Anchorage man on multiple charges, including attempted murder, after he shot a teenager who stabbed him in a fight that broke out on the grounds of a local school, according to prosecutors.

On July 2, John-Rexie Lagman, 22, was among a group of teenagers and young adults who “gathered at Williwaw Elementary School to engage in a fight,” according to the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office. The victim stabbed Lagman and others while the fight was happening, the charging document states, and ran away. Lagman then shot twice at the victim, who received life-threatening injuries, according to the charges.

Lagman, currently in custody, is charged with first-degree attempted murder, three counts of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 99 years in prison for the attempted murder charge, up to 20 years for each of the first-degree assault charges and up to five years for the third-degree assault charge.

His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.

Plan to slow Western wildfires would clear strips of land

Fri, 2019-07-19 16:36

In this Sept. 15, 2018, file photo, firefighters battle a brush fire near Shaggy Mountain Road in Herriman, Utah. The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West. (Jeffrey D. Allred/The Deseret News via AP, File) (Jeffrey D. Allred/)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West.

The plan that was announced this summer and presented at public open houses, including one in Salt Lake City this week, would create strips of land known “fuel breaks” on about 1,000 square miles of land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in an area known as the Great Basin in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.

The estimated cost would be about $55 million to $192 million, a wide range that illustrates the variance in costs for the different types of fuel breaks. Some would completely clear lands, others would mow down vegetation and a third method would replant the area with more fire-resistance vegetation.

It would cost another $18 million to $107 million each year to maintain the strips and ensure vegetation doesn't regrow on the strips of land.

Wildfire experts say the program could help slow fires, but it won't help in the most extreme fires that can jump these strips of land. The breaks could also fragment wildlife habitat.

An environmental group calls it an ill-conceived and expensive plan that has no scientific backing to show it will work.

A U.S. Geological Survey report issued last year found that fuel breaks could be an important tool to reduce damage caused by wildfires, but the agency cautioned that no scientific studies have been done to prove their effectiveness and that they could alter habitat for sagebrush plants and animal communities.

The Bureau of Land Management says it has done about 1,200 assessments of fuel breaks since 2002 and found they help control fires about 80% of the time.

In this July 30, 2018, file photo, firefighters control the Tollgate Canyon fire as it burns near Wanship, Utah. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File) (Rick Egan/)

The strips of land that would be 500 feet or less would be created along highways, rural roads and other areas already disturbed such as right of ways for pipelines, said Marlo Draper, the Bureau of Land Management's supervisory project manager for the Idaho Great Basin team.

They won't prevent fires, but they should reduce the costs of having to battle major blazes because fuel breaks reduce the intensity, flame length and spread of fires and keep firefighters safe, Draper said.

It cost about $373 million over the last decade to fight 21 fires that were larger than 156 square miles on lands managed by the bureau in Utah, Nevada and Idaho, according to a report explaining the proposal.

"It gives us a chance to get in front of it and put fires out more quickly," Draper said.

Western wildfires have grown more lethal because of extreme drought and heat associated with climate change and by housing developments encroaching on the most fire-prone grasslands and brushy canyons. Many of the ranchers and farmers who once managed those landscapes are gone, leaving terrain thick with vegetation that can explode into flames.

The proposal is out for public comment and pending environmental review. If approved, some of the land could be cleared as soon as next year while other projects could take several years, she said.

The plan comes after President Trump last December issued an executive order last December calling on the Interior Department to prioritize reducing wildfire risks on public lands.

This proposal doesn't include U.S. National Forest Service lands. Most states have their own separate plans for fire prevention, which sometimes include thinning of forests.

These fuel breaks are a useful tool if used along with other wildfire prevention methods that can keep firefighters safer and potentially help out in broad scopes of land because they are long and thin, said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, the area fire adviser for University of California Cooperative Extension. They can especially helpful by providing perimeters for prescribed burns. But they must be in the right places and don't stop fires, she said.

David Peterson, an ecology professor at the University of Washington and former federal research scientist, said the plan will likely produce mixed success slowing down fires. But Peterson said the plan will not help with extreme fires that produce embers and flames that jump over these fire breaks. He said the risk of fragmenting important habitat and harming animals like sage grouse is real.

The U.S. government must also be committed to the chore of maintaining the areas or the plan won't help and could open the door for more cheat grass to grow in, which fuels fires.

"We are buying into a long-term commitment of funding," Peterson said.

Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity's Nevada state director, said the plan could break up habitat for sage grouse, deer and the Pygmy rabbit. He said the money would be better spent planting native seed and sagebrush to get rid of non-native plants that make fires worst.

“This seems like the Interior is trying to demonstrate they are doing something, and they want something that is impressive to people, like: ‘Look at us, we’ve bulldozed 11,000 miles of desert,’” Donnelly said. “Ultimately, this is a misguided effort.”

In reversal, Trump disavows criticism of chanting crowd

Fri, 2019-07-19 16:32

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., holds a Medicare for All town hall with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (not pictured) and other state lawmakers, Thursday, July 18, 2019, in Minneapolis. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP) (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday reversed his previous criticisms of a North Carolina campaign crowd that chanted “send her back” about a Somali-born congresswoman.

Trump defended the rally-goers as "patriots" while again questioning the loyalty of four Democratic lawmakers of color. His comments marked a return to a pattern that has become familiar during controversies of his own making: Ignite a firestorm, backtrack from it, but then double down on his original, inflammatory position.

When reporters at the White House asked if he was unhappy with the Wednesday night crowd, Trump responded: "Those are incredible people. They are incredible patriots. But I'm unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says, 'I'm going to be the president's nightmare.'"

It was another dizzying twist in a saga sparked by the president's racist tweets about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who moved from Somalia as a child, and her colleagues Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

The moment took an ugly turn at the rally when the crowd's "send her back" shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar, though the next day he claimed he did not approve of the chant and tried to stop it.

But on Friday, he made clear he was not disavowing the chant and again laced into Omar, the target of the chant.

"You can't talk that way about our country. Not when I'm president," Trump said. "These women have said horrible things about our country and the people of our country."

He also tweeted that it was "amazing how the Fake News Media became 'crazed' over the chant 'send her back' by a packed Arena (a record) crowd in the Great State of North Carolina, but is totally calm & accepting of the most vile and disgusting statements made by the three Radical Left Congresswomen."

Omar was defiant Thursday, telling reporters at the Capitol that she believes the president is a "fascist" and casting the confrontation as a fight over "what this country truly should be."

"We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies are a nightmare to us. We are not deterred. We are not frightened," she told a cheering crowd that greeted her like a local hero at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she returned from Washington.

President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

The back-and-forth captured the potential impacts of Trump's willingness to inject racist rhetoric into his reelection fight. Trump's allies distanced themselves from the chant, fretting over the voters it might turn off in next year's election and beyond. Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as a rallying cry to energize and mobilize their supporters to vote Trump out of office.

Trump's double flip-flop was reminiscent of his response to the violent clash between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

Then, he initially blamed violence on "both sides" of the altercation. After a wave of bipartisan condemnation and scathing cable news coverage, he issued a clean-up statement at the White House days later. Yet, after watching the response to his reversal, he doubled back to his original position during a wild Trump Tower news conference.

This week, Trump started the tumult by tweeting Sunday that Omar and three other freshmen congresswomen could "go back" to their native countries if they were unhappy here.

The chants at the Trump rally brought criticism from GOP lawmakers as well as from Democrats, though the Republicans did not fault Trump himself.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared that the chant has "no place in our party and no place in this country."

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that it was "ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union."

Citing Trump's rhetoric, House Democrats said they were discussing arranging security for Omar and the three other congresswomen.

Even by Trump's standards, the campaign rally offered an extraordinary tableau for American politics: a president drinking in a crowd's cries to expel a congresswoman from the country who's his critic and a woman of color.

It was also the latest demonstration of how Trump's verbal cannonades are capable of dominating the news. Democrats had hoped the spotlight Thursday would be on House passage of legislation to boost the minimum wage for the first time in a decade.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Padmananda Rama, Kathleen Hennessey, Zeke Miller, Deb Riechmann and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Internal drug company emails show indifference to opioid epidemic

Fri, 2019-07-19 16:29

In May 2008, as the opioid epidemic was raging in America, a representative of the nation's largest manufacturer of opioid pain pills sent an email to a client at a wholesale drug distributor in Ohio.

Victor Borelli, a national account manager for Mallinckrodt, told Steve Cochrane, the vice president of sales for KeySource Medical, to check his inventories and "[i]f you are low, order more. If you are okay, order a little more, Capesce?"

At Mallinckrodt, Borelli used the phrase "ship, ship, ship" to describe his job and then he joked, "destroy this email. . .Is that really possible? Oh Well. . ."

Those email excerpts are quoted in a 144-page plaintiffs' filing along with thousands of pages of documents unsealed by a judge's order on Friday in a landmark case in Cleveland against many of the largest companies in the drug industry. A Drug Enforcement Administration database released earlier in the week revealed that the companies had inundated the nation with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from 2006 through 2012. Nearly 2,000 cities, counties and towns are alleging that the companies knowingly flooded their communities with opioids, fueling an epidemic that has killed more than 200,000 since 1996.

[Opioid death rates soared in communities where pain pills flowed]

The documents filed by plaintiffs depict some drug company employees as driven by profits and undeterred by the knowledge that their products were wreaking havoc across the country. The defendants' response to the motion is due July 31.

In January 2009, Borelli told Cochrane in another email that 1,200 bottles of oxycodone 30 mg tablets had been shipped.

"Keep 'em comin'!" Cochrane responded. "Flyin' out of there. It's like people are addicted to these things or something. Oh, wait, people are. . ."

Borelli responded: "Just like Doritos, keep eating. We'll make more."

Borelli and Cochrane could not immediately be reached for comment Friday night.

The Controlled Substances Act requires drug companies to control against diversion, and to design and operate systems to identify "suspicious orders," defined as "orders of unusual size, orders deviating substantially from a normal pattern, and orders of unusual frequency." The companies are supposed to report such orders to the DEA and refrain from shipping them unless they can determine the drugs are unlikely to be diverted to the black market. The plaintiffs, in the filing, allege that the companies ignored red flags and failed at every level.

At Cardinal Health, one of the nation's largest drug distributors, then-CEO Kerry Clark in January 2008 wrote in an email to Cardinal senior officials that the company's "results-oriented culture" was perhaps "leading to ill-advised or shortsighted decisions," the filing contends.

In the previous 18 months, Cardinal had been hit with nearly $1 billion in "fines, settlements, and lost business as a result of multiple regulatory actions," the filing alleges, including the suspension of licenses at its distribution centers for failing to maintain effective controls against opioid diversion.

On Aug. 31, 2011, McKesson Corp.'s then-director of regulatory affairs, David Gustin, told his colleagues he was concerned about the "number of accounts we have that have large gaps between the amount of Oxy or Hydro they are allowed to buy (their threshold) and the amount they really need," according to the filing, which cites Gustin's statements. "This increases the 'opportunity' for diversion by exposing more product for introduction into the pipeline than may be being used for legitimate purposes."

According to the filing, he had earlier noted to his colleagues that they "need to get out visiting more customers and away from our laptops or the company is going to end up paying the price . . . big time."

Another McKesson regulatory affairs director responded: "I am overwhelmed. I feel that I am going down a river without a paddle and fighting the rapids. Sooner or later, hopefully later I feel we will be burned by a customer that did not get enough due diligence," according to the filing.

McKesson is the largest drug distributor in the United States. It distributed 14.1 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from 2006 to 2012, about 18% of the market, according to the DEA database.

Until Friday, the documents had been sealed under an unusual protective order issued by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster. The order was lifted a year after The Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, filed a lawsuit for access to the documents and a DEA database tracking opioid sales, known as the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS.

The drug companies and the DEA strenuously opposed the release of the data and the documents, and Polster agreed with them. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Ohio ordered that some of the information should be released with reasonable redactions and the database should be made public.

By consolidating cases from around the nation, the Cleveland case, for the first time, provides specific information about how and in what quantity the drugs flowed around the country, from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies. The case also brings to light internal documents and deliberations by the companies as they sought to promote their products and contend with enforcement efforts by the DEA.

The local and state government plaintiffs in the case argue that the actions of some of America's biggest and best-known companies - including Mallinckrodt, Cardinal Health, McKesson, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Purdue Pharma - amounted to a civil racketeering enterprise that had a devastating effect on the plaintiffs' communities.

[Newly released federal data unmasks epidemic that led to 76 billion opioid pills]

The case is a civil action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, making use of a law originally developed to attack organized crime.

In statements to The Post on Tuesday in response to the release of the DEA database, the drug companies issued broad defenses of their actions during the opioid epidemic. They have said previously that they were trying to sell legal painkillers to legitimate pain patients who had prescriptions. They have blamed the epidemic on overprescribing by physicians and also on corrupt doctors and pharmacists who worked in "pill mills" that handed out drugs with few questions asked. The companies also blamed the epidemic on people who abused the drugs.

The companies said that they were diligent about reporting their sales to the DEA and that the agency should have worked with them to do more to fight the epidemic, a point former DEA agents dispute. The companies also note that the DEA set the quotas for opioid production.

"We report those suspicious orders to state boards of pharmacy and to the DEA but we do not know what those government entities do with those reports, if anything," Cardinal Health said in a statement.

The companies issued statements rejecting the plaintiffs' allegations.

McKesson said in its statement:

"The allegations made by the plaintiffs are just that - allegations. They are unproven, untrue and greatly oversimplify the evolution of this health crisis as well as the roles and responsibilities of the many players in the pharmaceutical supply chain."

Mallinckrodt said the company "has for years been at the forefront of preventing prescription drug diversion and abuse, and has invested millions of dollars in a multipronged program to address opioid abuse."

- - -

One of the biggest points of contention in the lawsuit is whether the nation's largest drug companies did enough to identify suspicious orders of opioids. What exactly constitutes a suspicious order is at the heart of the case.

The DEA has long said there should be no confusion because the agency has given frequent guidance and briefings to the industry, and repeatedly defined what constitutes a suspicious order.

The plaintiffs argue that the companies failed to "design serious suspicious order monitoring systems that would identify suspicious orders to the DEA" and shipped the drugs anyway.

"Their failure to identify suspicious orders was their business model: they turned a blind eye and called themselves mere 'deliverymen' with no responsibility for what they delivered or to whom," according to the plaintiffs' filing.

Between 1996 and 2018, the plaintiffs alleged in the filing, drug companies shipped hundreds of millions of opioid pills into Summit and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio, filling orders that were suspicious and "should never have been shipped."

"They made no effort actually to identify suspicious orders, failed to flag orders that, under any reasonable algorithm, represented between one-quarter and 90 percent of their business, and kept the flow of drugs coming into Summit and Cuyahoga Counties," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote.

In 2007, the DEA told Mallinckrodt that the numeric formula it used to monitor suspicious orders was insufficient, the filing contended. It alleges the company's suspicious order monitoring program from 2008 through 2009 consisted of solely verifying that the customer had a valid DEA registration and that the order was accurately logged into the DEA's tracking database.

From 2003 to 2011, Mallinckrodt shipped a total of 53 million orders, flagged 37,817 as suspicious but stopped only 33 orders, the plaintiffs' filing states.

A Mallinckrodt employee said in a deposition that the DEA had described the company as the "kingpin within the drug cartel" in a meeting with the agency in July 2010, according to a footnote in the filing.

In 2011, the filing cites a Justice Department document in which the DEA alleged that Mallinckrodt "sold excessive amounts of the most highly abused forms of oxycodone, 30 mg and 15 mg tablets, placing them into a stream of commerce that would result in diversion."

According to the DEA, the filing states, "even though Mallinckrodt knew of the pattern of excessive sales of its oxycodone feeding massive diversion, it continued to incentivize and supply these suspicious sales," and never notified the DEA of the suspicious orders.

In a settlement with the DEA, Mallinckrodt agreed that from Jan. 1, 2008, through Jan. 1, 2012, "certain aspects of Mallinckrodt's system to monitor and detect suspicious orders did not meet the standards" outlined in letters from the DEA deputy administrator for diversion control.

Mallinckrodt was the nation's leading manufacturer of oxycodone and hydrocodone, with 28.8 billion pills from 2006 to 2012, 37.7% of the market, according to the DEA database. It has since created a subsidiary for its generic opioids called SpecGx.

The Post reported in 2017 that federal prosecutors said 500 million of the company's 30 mg oxycodone pills wound up in Florida between 2008 and 2012 - 66% of all oxycodone sold in the state. Pills at that dosage are among the most widely abused.

Prosecutors said the company failed to report suspicious orders, and Mallinckrodt that year settled the case by paying a $35 million fine.

"Mallinckrodt's actions and omissions formed a link in the chain of supply that resulted in millions of oxycodone pills being sold on the street," then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the time.

- - -

The same year that Mallinckrodt paid its fine, McKesson, the nation's largest opioid distributor, was fined a record $150 million by the Justice Department.

According to allegations in the new court filings, McKesson frequently increased the amount of opioid pills it sent to its pharmacy customers.

"McKesson has a long history of absolute deference to retail national account customers when it comes to [opioid] threshold increases," the plaintiffs argue in their filing, citing a deposition of McKesson's senior director of distribution operations.

McKesson had set limits on the amount of opioids its customers could order, the filing contends, but those limits were often lifted.

"In August 2014, DOJ noted that McKesson appeared to be willing to approve threshold increases for opioids for the flimsiest of reasons," the filing contends.

For shipments to pharmacies in Summit and Cuyahoga counties, McKesson did not report a single suspicious order between May 2008 and July 2013, the filing says. During that time, McKesson filled 366,000 opioid orders in those two counties.

McKesson reached its settlement with the government in January 2017 for allegations of failing to report suspicious orders. It was the second time the company was fined over suspicious orders. Nine years earlier, it paid $13 million.

The government said in 2017 that McKesson "failed to design and implement an effective system to detect and report 'suspicious orders.' " The company shipped more than 1.6 million orders of opioid pills between 2008 and 2013 but reported just 16 as suspicious, according to the Justice Department.

However, "before the ink of the settlement agreement was even dry," the new filing argues, McKesson was already reassuring customers who were concerned that the flow of opioids would be curtailed that it would remain "business as usual" at the company. McKesson sent more than 68 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to those counties between 2006 and 2012, according to DEA tracking data analyzed by The Post.

Gustin, McKesson's former director of regulatory affairs, was recently indicted in federal court in Kentucky on a charge of illegally distributing opioids. His attorney wrote in a court filing that the allegations against his client stem from his job at McKesson and "seem to focus on the manner by which he performed his former position as Director of Regulatory Affairs."

Gustin's lawyer and the prosecutor in the case did not return calls for comment.

- - -

The plaintiffs in the Cleveland case alleged that CVS, the nation's largest pharmacy chain, did not implement required controls to identify suspicious orders from 2006 until early to mid-2009.

The CVS compliance coordinator said that her title "was only for reference and not her real job position and that the only thing she ever did related to suspicious order monitoring was to update the [Standard Operating Procedures Manual]," the filing said.

A system that CVS used to monitor suspicious orders was known as "Pickers and Packers," according to the filing.

The CVS pharmacy in downtown Norton, Virginia., received 1.3 million opioids from 2006 through 2012. (Photo for The Washington Post by Charles Mostoller) (Charles Mostoller/)

The pickers and packers were workers in the distribution centers who would pick and pack opioid orders. A CVS official testified that the company did not have any written policies, guidance or training programs to teach the pickers and packers how to detect suspicious orders, according to the filing.

"Instead, the Pickers and Packers would identify orders based on a gut feeling or a crude rule of thumb that essentially can be summarized that they believed the order was simply too large," the filing states. "One of the Pickers and Packers . . . testified that she was trained by another Picker and Packer in 1996 and that as a rule a Picker and Packer should not send out more than 12 of the small bottles, six of the larger bottles and two or three of the largest bottles. She used this rule of thumb for her entire career."

CVS's system flagged few orders, the filing contends: A CVS distribution center in Indianapolis flagged two orders per year from 2006 through 2014.

CVS rejected the plaintiffs' arguments.

"The plaintiffs' allegations about CVS in this matter have no merit and we are aggressively defending against them," the company said in a statement.

- - -

Walgreens used a formula to identify thousands of pharmacy orders as suspicious but shipped them anyway, the filing alleges. The orders were reported to the DEA after they had been shipped, according to agency documents quoted in the filing.

"Suspicious orders are to be reported as discovered, not in a collection of monthly completed transactions," the DEA wrote in an immediate suspension order issued against Walgreens in 2012. "Notwithstanding the ample guidance available, Walgreens has failed to maintain an adequate suspicious order reporting system and as a result, has ignored readily identifiable orders and ordering patterns that, based on the information available throughout the Walgreens Corporation, should have been obvious signs of diversion."

In one case, Walgreens's suspicious order report to the DEA was 1,712 pages long and contained six months' worth of orders, including reports on 836 pharmacies in more than a dozen states and Puerto Rico, the filing alleges.

The filing also alleges that Walgreens stores could "place ad hoc 'PDQ' ("pretty darn quick") orders to controlled substances outside of their normal order days and outside of the [suspicious order monitoring] analysis and limits."

The Post has previously reported that Kristine Atwell, who managed distribution of controlled substances for the company's warehouse in Jupiter, Florida, sent an email on Jan. 10, 2011, to corporate headquarters urging that some of the stores be required to justify their large quantity of orders.

"I ran a query to see how many bottles we have sent to store #3836 and we have shipped them 3271 bottles between 12/1/10 and 1/10/11," Atwell wrote. "I don't know how they can even house this many bottle[s] to be honest. How do we go about checking the validity of these orders?"

A bottle sent by a wholesaler generally contains 100 pills.

Walgreens never checked, the DEA said. Between April 2010 and February 2012, the Jupiter distribution center sent 13.7 million oxycodone doses to six Florida stores, records show, many times the norm, the DEA said.

Walgreens ranked second among distributors in the nation, with 13 billion pills and 16.5% of the market for oxycodone and hydrocodone from 2006 through 2012, the DEA database shows. It stopped distributing opioids to its stores in 2014, but continues to dispense controlled substances.

As part of a settlement with the DEA in June 2013, Walgreens said that its "suspicious order reporting for distribution to certain pharmacies did not meet the standards identified by DEA." The company paid an $80 million fine to the government.

In a statement to The Post earlier in the week, Walgreens defended its operations, saying, "Walgreens has been an industry leader in combating this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work."

- - -

The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis, Jenn Abelson, Amy Brittain, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Shawn Boburg, Jennifer Jenkins, Andrew Ba Tran, Aaron Williams and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.

University of Alaska governing board moves up date to consider financial emergency

Fri, 2019-07-19 16:08

The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Monday will bring forward the question of whether to declare financial exigency, rather than postponing that consideration until July 30 as the body previously decided to do, UA said in a written statement Friday afternoon.

News that officials will consider the question on July 22 instead of July 30 comes two days after credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service downgraded UA’s rating by multiple notches. In its report, Moody’s called the 41% state funding cut the UA system faces “unprecedented.”

It also comes as lawmakers in Juneau have yet to reach a budget compromise.

“In light of the Moody’s announcement this week downgrading the university’s credit rating by three notches, the unresolved budget discussions in Juneau and the uncertainty of a final budget number for UA,” the statement said, Board of Regents Chair John Davies “will bring forward the question of a Declaration of Financial Exigency at the BOR meeting on Monday, July 22.”

Such a declaration would allow for expedited cuts at UA, such as speeding up the process of ending academic programs and removing tenured faculty. Also Monday, regents are set to discuss options for restructuring the university system.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed an unprecedented $130 million in funding for UA, on top of the $5 million cut approved by the Legislature. That amounts to a 41% cut to the university system’s state funding compared to last year, and roughly 17% of its overall budget.

The regents decided at their July 15 meeting to hold an emergency board meeting on July 22. The July 15 meeting is also where they originally postponed a vote on financial exigency until July 30.

A letter to our Alaska community

Fri, 2019-07-19 16:02

Beans Cafe, photographed early Wednesday morning, Aug. 31, 2016, and neighboring Brother Francis Shelter together provide services for many of Anchorage’s homeless population. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News) (Loren Holmes/)

We are reaching out to you in faith and solidarity, because the values we share as a community, and as Alaskans, bond us together. Only together can we find a solution to the situation we are all in now.

There is a budget approved by the governor that disregards the budget of the Legislature and seems to have forgotten the actual people affected by these decisions. The vetoes made by the governor disregard the health and safety of the most vulnerable people in our state. The vetoes also do not consider the heavy-lifting of figuring out how to do the actual on-the-ground work of implementing drastic cuts. The cuts feel haphazard and disconnected from the vulnerable people we serve every day and the real-life consequences on the lives the people of this state.

Our last chance is our legislators. The budget they put forward did make many cuts, but it was clearer how the cuts could be made, and consideration of some of the basic needs of our state and our people was taken. Now, it’s up to them again. I ask all of you to please call all our legislators and tell them to put aside their small differences, talk about this budget and restore funding cut by the vetoes. Talk about the real people and the consequences it will have. They are not inconsequential changes and it represents far more than a “tough month to get through.” This is the willful dismantling of necessary services, and people will suffer, and lives will be lost. That is not a burden I wish for anyone, and it is also not a burden our legislators have to carry, if they can come together and make the right decision for Alaskans.

The budget will cause lasting harm, and most of the cuts are built on the backs of Alaska’s vulnerable people — seniors, children and young people, the sick, and those in extreme poverty. It will also result in the state paying more of its limited resources to address the impacts these cuts will have on the other departments that will ultimately have to pick up the slack.

At Catholic Social Services, the cuts to homeless service funds will require us to cut by more than half the number of people who we can shelter at Brother Francis Shelter. That means that 140 additional people will be sleeping outside in Anchorage, and surrounding communities, because they have nowhere else to go. They will cause an increase in emergency services and use of corrections, and it will not just affect Anchorage. It will affect the whole state, because Brother Francis Shelter is the largest shelter in the state and serves people from all over Alaska — from the farthest reaches of the Arctic coast, to the tip of the Aleutian chain, to our neighbors in the Mat-Su region and the Kenai Peninsula. People will not have a place to go in Anchorage anymore.

That is the same for Clare House — the shelter for women and children here in Anchorage. These cuts will force us to reduce services, and we are looking at having to close during the day. This will have many implications for families in our state. Clare House is their safe space while they get back on their feet, and it will have to change to just being a place to lay their head, leaving these mothers to search for safety for themselves and their children on their own during the day.

Nonprofits and the faith community are doing their part. Our faith has us here working, and our community pays for these shelters at more than 80% already. This leaves us doing the government’s job. We should receive support from the government — both because government should pay for emergency services, which is what we are providing, and because nonprofit groups do it so much more efficiently and effectively than government can, and that partnership should be encouraged and leveraged. We are saving our state and our community millions of dollars. However, this new state budget will make non-profits like CSS, which has been here more than 50 years, seriously consider not providing parts of this work because it is simply no longer sustainable. We cannot do any more with any less. We already operate on the margin.

Whatever comes of the discussions about the state budget, at this point, we hope that our legislators put their differences aside for the people they represent. Please urge your legislator to talk about this budget in the special session and restore the funding cut by the governor’s vetoes. The legislators already did the tough work and made a comprehensive budget that had significant cuts. Please do not let all that difficult and important work go to waste.

This is our state and this is our community, I pray that our Alaska legislators and Gov. Mike Dunleavy can come together for the people who live and die here and make reasonable, economic and compassionate decisions based on how all of this will actually work practically on the ground, not how a few people in an office with some papers and a calculator think it looks on a spreadsheet.

I will keep you, and all the most vulnerable in our state who are devastated by this budget, in my prayers.

Lisa DH Aquino, MHS, serves as executive director of Catholic Social Services in Anchorage.

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.

Is it time to fight or compromise?

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:50

From left to right, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau; Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage; and Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, watch as Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, delivers a speech Thursday, July 11, 2019 in a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. (James Brooks / ADN)

I am so determined to make a difference for my community and my state that I am ready to fight. I don’t mean physically; I mean politically. I want to take to the barricades to oppose what I see as the wholesale destruction of Alaska. I envision myself as a political fighter, armed with facts and righteous indignation. That vision of myself may be somewhat rewarding in a romantic idealism sort of way, but during my brief time in real politics in the Alaska Legislature, I have come to the realization that’s not how the system works best. To get things done in Juneau, and I assume the same holds true for Washington, D.C., one must resist the urge to fight first and instead listen and work. Fighting comes after work, not before.

That leads me to our current political catastrophe in Alaska. I don’t understand how a proud graduate from the University of Alaska can climb the political ladder all the way to the governorship only to decimate the institution that gave him the skills and knowledge to make the climb in the first place. I don’t understand it, but that’s exactly what is happening. I can’t fathom how a governor who, I have no doubt, loves Alaska, can treat its people so poorly that he’s trying to balance the budget on the backs of children in school and the seniors and elders who scratched out a living in this beautiful but challenging place. It may be hard for me to understand, but it’s happening. Why?

The answer can be summed up in three words; ideology, politics and winning. Let’s begin with ideology. What we have brewing in Alaska is a microcosm of the larger national battle pitting Americans against each other and the democratic ideal that government is there to help the people. Gov. Mike Dunleavy embodies this anti-government agenda more than most other governors, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that in his first seven months in office, he broke out the sledgehammer to threaten treasured institutions and programs like the University of Alaska, public broadcasting, the Alaska State Council on the Arts and senior benefits. His first whack at these and other Alaska institutions occurred when his budget proposal was unveiled in February. The governor’s budget was so anti-government and anti-Alaskan that lawmakers with some big political differences came together to form the Alaska House Majority, even though Republicans make up a majority of the House members. The Republicans and independents who broke ranks deserve thanks, because if they had not stood up, things could be much worse. That leads me to politics.

Consider for a moment how we came to this place. In last year’s election the Democrats, independents and moderates battled and sniped back and forth about whether to support the incumbent governor or a Democrat whom the Republicans love to loathe. All the while the Republicans were steady and disciplined. In short order, they lined up behind Mike Dunleavy and carried him to victory, despite the blue wave that crested over the rest of country. The Republicans may have liked the politics of candidate Mike Dunleavy, but the politics of Gov. Dunleavy have proven so anti-Alaskan that many of them are now ready to join me on the ramparts.

That brings me to winning. Far too many people look at politics as a game with winners and losers. That’s how some politicians look at the world and apparently how Gov. Dunleavy looks at Alaska. The need to win at all costs is how I believe they justify their actions. That’s how a man who worked in public schools in Alaska, whose family is Alaska Native, and who graduated from the University of Alaska can make decisions that will harm public education, make villages less safe, and throw away our decades-long investment in higher education.

As I noted at the beginning, I am ready to fight, but that’s not what I am going to do, at least for now. Instead, I am going to spend the next several days listening to my colleagues while making reasoned and factual arguments to support my contention that Alaska is worth fighting for. I hope a meaningful compromise is reached in the next few days that protects the institutions and services that were created solely for the benefit of the people of Alaska. If that doesn’t work, then we fight.

Rep. Sara Hannan represents House District 33 in the Alaska Legislature. She lives in Juneau.

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.

Suspect in fatal Togiak shooting charged with murder

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:47

A 34-year-old Togiak man has been charged with first-degree murder in a fatal shooting in the village last week.

Richard Sears, who was shot and wounded by an Alaska State Trooper, was charged Friday in the death of 61-year-old Samuel Brito.

Sears is jailed in Anchorage, where he had been flown for treatment. Online court records do not list his attorney.

Togiak State Trooper Daniel Sadloske after hearing shots on July 11 saw Sears with a gun standing over Brito's body.

Troopers say Sadloske ordered Sears to drop the gun, and when he refused, fired at least one round from his service weapon, striking Sears.

Sadloske is an 18-year-veteran trooper.

Open & Shut: Another Raising Cane’s on its way, a thrift store reopens, plus Froth & Forage set to close

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:37

Kava’s Pancake House recently opened a Midtown location at C Street and Fireweed Lane. (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.


Raising Cane’s: Louisiana-based company Raising Cane’s debuted in Alaska in March with an Anchorage location. Now, the chicken finger restaurant brand is planning to open another here, this time in Wasilla.

The second Alaska location is set to open at 1491 E. Parks Highway next to Panda Express in mid-fall, a spokesman for the company said. Construction is underway for the restaurant, which, like the one in East Anchorage, will have a drive-through.

Saint Coyote: This restaurant at 135 W. Dimond Blvd. opened in May. Its eclectic menu has dishes that range from chicharrones made with halibut and octopus to eggplant Parmesan and ribs.

Co-owner Jesse Gallo has worked at Mexican restaurants around Anchorage for decades. He and his uncle wanted to open their own place, but they wanted to branch out beyond Mexican food.

Before the business opened, they used the name Santo Coyote, which Gallo intended to change later. But then it caught on.

“We were gonna change the name to something flashy like Club New York,” he said, “but people were already talking about the name because they had heard about it.” So he and his uncle kept the name but changed “santo” to “saint,” so as not to confuse people into thinking it’s a Mexican restaurant.

Saint Coyote, a restaurant on Dimond Boulevard, opened in May. (Annie Zak / ADN)

Kava’s Pancake House: A second location of this East Anchorage pancake house is now up and running in Midtown.

Kava’s opened in late June at C Street and Fireweed Lane, where Romano’s Italian restaurant used to be. Earlier this year, owner Robert Tofaeono said he’d like the new restaurant to be open 24 hours a day for most of the week. The Midtown location is currently open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to a post on its Facebook page.

The other Kava’s spot at 100 Muldoon Road is also still open.

Salvation Army: After being closed for months to repair damage from the big Nov. 30 Southcentral Alaska earthquake, the Salvation Army thrift store on Dimond Boulevard reopened in mid-July. It’s also accepting donations again.

The store had to demolish and rebuild a damaged wall and remove a drop-ceiling that was coming down after the quake. There’s also new lighting, and the interior has been rearranged.

“It looks like a totally different store,” said Oscar Shaw IV, Salvation Army’s regional retail manager.

Spenard Art Studio: A new art studio at 2263 Spenard Road offers classes in encaustic painting, a type of painting that uses beeswax.

The business opened in late June, offering classes and open studio space. Jeff Ranf bought the property, which used to house a law office, in late 2017. His wife, Gayla Ranf, and Cheryl Lyon teach at the studio, which also has a gallery space.


Froth & Forage: This restaurant and coffeehouse just down the Seward Highway from the Anchorage Bowl will have its last day of business on Sunday.

The lease is up and the business can’t come to an agreement with the landlord on a new one, said Froth & Forage owner Zachary Reid. He cited planned construction projects in the area that will impact the parking lot there.

“We’ve just outgrown our location and with the construction going on the next few years, we need a bigger space,” Reid said. He’s been looking for a new property to relocate to but said he hasn’t found one yet.

The business hopes to keep its food truck open through the summer, according to a post on its Facebook page. Froth & Forage has been open at its location in Indian since 2017.

Schlotzsky’s: The Schlotzsky’s at 321 E. Dimond Blvd. has closed its doors.

The deli has “gone out of business,” according to a sign on the door dated June 24. The signs had been removed from the building and the doors were locked Thursday.

The phone number for the restaurant didn’t appear to be working when a reporter called.

An Anchorage man paid $1,600 for a Mount Marathon bib, and things went downhill fast after that

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:14

Runners in the first wave of the Mount Marathon men's race leave the starting line. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Suffice it to say the people who donated to Taylor Turney’s quest to enter Mount Marathon got a solid return on their investment.

After paying $1,600 for a race bib at the prerace auction, Turney cashed in by registering the second-fastest known downhill time in the history of the treacherous Fourth of July race in Seward.

A civil engineer who graduated from Service High and UAA, Turney made it from the top of the mountain to the downtown finish line in 10 minutes and 1 second. He missed Eric Strabel’s much-respected record of 10-minutes-flat by an eyelash.

Turney, 24, passed 15 people after making the turn at the top of the mountain, which rises 3,022 feet from the race’s nearly sea-level start line.

He was the 33rd man to the top and 18th to the finish line to claim a top-20 result in his Mount Marathon debut. He finished seven minutes behind race winner Max King, but he was 91 seconds faster than King on the downhill.

Turney’s swift descent came on a hot, dry day when nearly every racer stirred up clouds of dust as they charged down the steep slopes.

“It didn’t really matter how fast you were going, there was a trail of dust behind every racer,” Turney said. “A little past the halfway mark in the scree where it narrows up and it’s green on both sides, there were a couple guys in front of me and I was almost running blind for a few seconds there.

“I think everyone was getting into that.”

Runners kick up dust on Mount Marathon. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Despite the dust, it was a day for game-changing downhills.

In the women’s race, Seward’s Hannah Lafleur was third to the top of the mountain but first to the finish line, thanks to a descent that ranks eighth on the list of fastest-known women’s downhills.

Lafleur rocketed down in 12:17. As fast as she was, she was 50 seconds off the record of 11:27 set in 2018 by Denali Foldager-Strabel.

Mount Marathon was first contested in 1915, but the list of downhill times dates back just 30 years. Mount Marathon officials started keeping track of uphill and downhill split-times in 2005, but research by Alaska Mountain Runners goes back to the 1989 race.

Brad Precosky, one of the group’s board members and a six-time Mount Marathon champion, hopes split-times from races before 1989 may materialize so the list can be more inclusive. Right now it includes 52 men who have made the descent in 11 minutes or less and 20 women who have made it in 13 minutes or less.

Precosky is on the list a record seven times and Strabel is there six times. Appearing once is Bill Spencer for his 1991 descent of 10:44, which is almost certainly not his fastest downhill. When Spencer won the 1981 race, his record time of 43:21 included what one newspaper account called a 10-minute descent, Precosky said.

“But that's completely anecdotal and doesn't give anything precise between 10:00 or 10:59,” Precosky said by email. “I know that when I first starting running this race, the cliffs were considerably smoother than today, so it may be possible that there were more sub-11 (minute) downhills, but around 25 years ago I scoured and read every paper/article dating back through the history of the race and never came across mention of (downhill) times.”

For Turney, his 10-minute descent followed four years of futile efforts to get into Mount Marathon.

The race has a limited field of 350 men, 350 women and 300 juniors, and it is so popular that first-time runners need to win a lottery or successfully petition the race organizers. If that doesn’t work, they can shell out big bucks at the annual auction the night before the race.

“I’ve been trying the lottery, and this was my fourth year,” Turney said. “When I got the news I didn’t get in again, I was obviously really bummed, but I hadn’t seriously considered the auction option.”

Turney is a serious athlete — he ran track and cross country at UAA and currently competes in Spartan races, a world-wide series of obstacle-course races. One of his sponsors is chiropractor Trevor Tew, who urged Turney to try winning a race bib at the auction.

“He said, ‘I would match whatever you put in.’ I knew the auction would be incredibly expensive, but that put it in my head,” Turney said.

Then his parents and his wife’s parents chipped in some money. And then fellow Service High graduate Max Romey said he would donate three of his limited-edition Mount Marathon watercolors for Turney to put into a drawing for his donors.

“When he did that, I said OK, I’m going for it,” he said.

Max Romey donated three of his Mount Marathon watercolors to help Taylor Turney raise money for the Mount Marathon bib auction. Turney paid $1,600 for his spot in the race. (Photo courtesy Taylor Turney)

Seven men’s bibs were auctioned off. Turney won the third one with a bid of $1,600. The next three all went for more than $2,000, he said.

“My chest was beating during the auction,” he said. “I was more nervous for the auction than I was for the race.”

Come race day, he was ready to attack the downhill.

“I love running downhill so much it’s gotten to the point where I’m actually comfortable with it,” Turney said. “It almost feels safer to let yourself go, because when you’re trying to hold back and control all of your movements, it sets you up for more falls and trips. So I really try to relax and let the mountain take me down.”

Turney finished the race in 50:41. That’s about $31 per minute, based on what he paid for his bib. For the downhill alone, that’s a cool $160 per minute.

“It was worth it,” he said.

Fastest known Mount Marathon downhill times

Men under 11 minutes (From 1989-2019)

1. Eric Strabel 0:10:00 2013

2. Taylor Turney 0:10:01 2019

3. Jacob Kirk 0:10:06 2018

4. Eric Strabel 0:10:08 2012

5. Jacob Kirk 0:10:12 2017

6. Brad Precosky 0:10:15 2001

7. Trond Flagstad 0:10:18 2008

8. Killian Jornet 0:10:21 2015

9. Brad Precosky 0:10:24 1999

10. Eric Strabel 0:10:25 2011

11. Ryan Cox 0:10:28 2018

12. Max King 0:10:29 2018

13. Ryan Cox 0:10:33 2012

14. Trond Flagstad 0:10:33 2012

15. Trond Flagstad 0:10:34 2010

16. Ryan Cox 0:10:35 2017

17. Benjamin Marvin 0:10:37 2016

18. Braun Kopsack 0:10:38 1991

19. Brad Precosky 0:10:39 2005

20. Ryan Cox 0:10:39 2016

21. Ricky Gates 0:10:40 2013

22. Lyon Kopsack 0:10:40 2016

23. Brad Precosky0:10:41 2000

24. David Norris 0:10:41 2018

25. Brad Precosky 0:10:42 2008

26. Bill Spencer 0:10:44 1991

27. Eric Strabel 0:10:44 2016

28. Lyon Kopsack 0:10:44 2018

29. Matias Saari 0:10:45 2012

30. Benjamin Marvin 0:10:45 2018

31. Brad Precosky 0:10:46 1998

32. Braun Kopsack 0:10:47 1996

33. Eric Strabel 0:10:47 2010

34. Lyon Kopsack 0:10:47 2015

35. Nick Elson 0:10:47 2016

36. Brad Precosky 0:10:49 2002

37. Braun Kopsack 0:10:50 1999

38. Brad Benter 0:10:50 2012

39. Ryan Cox 0:10:50 2019

40. Brian Stoecker 0:10:51 2002

41. Eric Strabel 0:10:52 2015

42. Jacob Kirk 0:10:52 2016

43. David Norris 0:10:52 2016

44. Lance Kopsack 0:10:53 1999

45. Darin Markwardt 0:10:53 2001

46. Rory Egelus 0:10:54 2012

47. Lyon Kopsack 0:10:56 2017

48. Lyon Kopsack 0:10:56 2019

49. Matias Saari 0:10:57 2013

50. Braun Kopsack 0:10:58 1997

51. Rory Egelus 0:10:59 2006

52. Lance Kopsack 0:11:00 1997

Women under 13 minutes (1989-2019)

1. Denali Foldager-Strabel 0:11:27 2018

2. Emelie Forsberg 0:11:31 2015

3. Cedar Bourgeois 0:11:48 2010

4. Denali Foldager-Strabel 0:11:51 2016

5. Christy Marvin 0:12:04 2014

6. Christy Marvin 0:12:08 2018

7. Cedar Bourgeois 0:12:14 2008

8. Hannah Lafleur 0:12:17 2019

9. Laura Brosius 0:12:18 2012

10. Allison Ostrander 0:12:21 2017

11. Cedar Bourgeois 0:12:28 2005

12. Cedar Bourgeois 0:12:28 2007

13. Allison Barnwell 0:12:45 2012

14. Cedar Bourgeois 0:12:46 2006

15. Lindsey Flagstad 0:12:51 2005

16. Lauren Fritz 0:12:53 2012

17. Christy Marvin 0:12:55 2017

18. Kikkan Randall 0:12:56 2011

19. Kikkan Randall 0:12:58 2005

20. Christy Marvin 0:12:58 2016

Alaska Stalker

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:12

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Alaska Stalker, a lighthearted roundup of the best and worst of Alaska’s social media landscape and political gossip. Published in partnership with The Alaska Landmine.

Happy Friday, y’all! Is state Rep. Sharon Jackson channeling Democratic candidate for President, Marianne Williamson.


While we wish we could just post photos of staffers making themselves old with Facebook’s newest craze, the Face App, we have a job to do. Okay, I’ll post a couple. I’M SCREAMING!