Attorney General William Barr leaves his home in McLean, Va., on Wednesday morning, April 17, 2019. Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 election is expected to be released publicly on Thursday and has said he is redacting four types of information from the report. Congressional Democrats are demanding to see the whole document and its evidence. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz) (Sait Serkan Gurbuz/)
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-page report Thursday, offering a granular look at the ways in which President Donald Trump was suspected of obstructing justice, people familiar with the matter said.
The report - the general outlines of which the Justice Department has briefed the White House on - will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump's intent and some of his actions could be interpreted innocently, these people said. But it will offer a detailed account of his alleged conduct - analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller's inquiry, they added.
Attorney General William Barr plans to hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference to address "process questions" and provide an "overview of the report," a senior Justice Department official said. The report will be delivered on discs to Capitol Hill between 11 a.m. and noon, the official said, and will be posted on the special counsel's website thereafter.
Those who spoke to The Washington Post for this report did so on the condition of anonymity, citing the matter's supreme sensitivity.
Thursday's rollout plan - and news of the White House's advance briefing, which was first reported by ABC News and The New York Times - led to political uproar Wednesday, with Democrats suggesting the attorney general was trying to improperly color Mueller's findings before the public could read them.
"This is wrong," Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter.
While the report's light redactions might allay some of their concerns, Democrats are likely to bristle at any material that is withheld. What the Justice Department and Trump's lawyers might view as modest, lawmakers might see as overly aggressive. The redacted version of the report is expected to reveal extensive details about Trump's actions in office that came under scrutiny, but it is unclear how much the public will learn about how the special counsel's team investigated the Kremlin's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and Russian contacts with Trump associates.
Barr also is likely to face scrutiny over the Justice Department's talks with the White House - which could help Trump and his attorneys hone their attacks on the report in advance.
Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's lawyers, has said he is preparing a counterreport to Mueller's findings, and in a recent interview said his document would explain from the president's viewpoint every episode that could be considered obstructive. Giuliani and others have long feared Mueller's findings on obstruction, viewing them as potentially more damaging than anything Mueller found on the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians.
Mueller did not find a conspiracy between Russians and Trump or his campaign, Barr said in a brief letter of the special counsel's conclusions shared with Congress late last month.
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's attorneys, told The Washington Post, "We do not discuss conversations that we may or may not have had with the president." A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to address questions about its briefings to the White House, the report's redactions or Mueller's findings on obstruction.
Trump had also apparently been briefed in advance of the planned news conference, which he revealed Wednesday during a radio appearance, which was confirmed later by a Justice Department spokeswoman. Barr will appear alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the spokeswoman said, and he planned to take questions.
Barr has faced intense scrutiny from the public and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for his handling of Mueller's report. The Thursday news conference could give him an opportunity to address his critics - and perhaps provide them fresh ammunition. It is sure to be watched closely by Trump, an avid TV viewer whose relationship with his attorney general will almost certainly be colored by Mueller's findings and what Barr says about them.
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the White House did not ask the Justice Department to hold the news conference scheduled for Thursday, but she declined to discuss White House and Justice Department interactions about the report.
"It's the Department of Justice's decision to hold the news conference," Kupec said. She said that doing so is "in the interest of transparency."
Trump told the Larry O'Connor show on WMAL that he was pondering having his own news conference.
"You'll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow. Attorney General Barr is going to be giving a news conference. Maybe I'll do one after that; we'll see," Trump said.
A spokesman for the special counsel's office declined to comment but said Mueller will not be at the news conference.
Already, Democratic lawmakers and pundits have alleged that Barr seems to be taking steps to mitigate the political damage Mueller's report might do to Trump, and some members of Mueller's team have told associates they are frustrated by the limited information he has released about their work.
A senior White House official said Trump has praised Barr privately for his handling of the report and compared him favorably with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump grew to loathe over his recusal from what would become Mueller's investigation.
Since the special counsel's office closed its investigation late last month, Barr and his team at the Justice Department have been reviewing the final report to determine how much of it can be made public. The Justice Department has said it plans to release the document with four categories of information shielded from public view: material from the grand jury, material that reveals intelligence sources and methods, material that is relevant to ongoing investigations, and material that could affect the privacy of "peripheral" third parties. Each redaction will be color-coded so readers know the reason material is being shielded, Barr has said.
Any redactions could be controversial, and Democrats have said they won't be satisfied unless they are given the entire, unfiltered document. It is likely House Democrats will attempt to subpoena it, sparking a legal battle that could last for months or even years.
Barr has so far disclosed only what the Justice Department terms Mueller's "principal conclusions." In a four-page letter to lawmakers, he declared last month that Mueller did not find that anyone on Trump's campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, and that the special counsel declined to reach a conclusion on whether Trump had sought to obstruct justice. Barr wrote that he and Rosenstein then reviewed the evidence and did not find it sufficient to make an obstruction case.
Barr offered only a few quotes from Mueller's report, leaving a curious public with many more questions than answers about what his 22-month investigation had found.
White House officials are concerned about damaging testimony from a number of senior aides, particularly former counsel Donald McGahn and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, according to current and former officials. Their testimony, according to people with knowledge of it, gave a clear, detailed breakdown of some of the most controversial incidents, from the firing of James Comey as FBI director to attempts to oust Sessions. McGahn spoke with the special counsel for dozens of hours, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The Justice Department generally avoids holding news conferences - or offering any specific information - about cases it closes without charges. In 2016, then-FBI Director Comey was criticized for bucking that principle and declaring at a televised news conference that he was recommending no charges after the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. He took no questions.
In an October 2016 piece written for The Washington Post, Barr seemed not to strenuously object, as many other legal commenters did, to what Comey had revealed.
"The two critical facts conveyed to the public in July were that the investigation was completed and that, based on that completed investigation, no prosecution was warranted. Disclosing these facts did not run afoul of the policy against commenting on investigations while they are underway," Barr wrote. "There is nothing wrong with conveying such facts; in cases of overriding public interest, it is done all the time, as for example in the House banking scandal and the so-called Iraq-gate matter during the 1992 election."
The next year, though, he wrote in another Washington Post column that Trump was right to fire Comey because Comey had "crossed a line that is fundamental to the allocation of authority in the Justice Department" with the July announcement.
"While the FBI carries out investigative work, the responsibility for supervising, directing and ultimately determining the resolution of investigations is solely the province of the Justice Department's prosecutors," he wrote. "With an investigation as sensitive as the one involving Clinton, the ultimate decision-making is reserved to the attorney general or, when the attorney general is recused, the deputy attorney general. By unilaterally announcing his conclusions regarding how the matter should be resolved, Comey arrogated the attorney general's authority to himself."
At his confirmation hearing in January, Barr publicly distanced himself from Comey's approach.
"If you're not going to indict someone, you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person," Barr said. "That's not the way the department does business."
Barr is likely to be pressed long after Thursday to answer questions on Mueller's investigation. He is expected to testify before the House and Senate Judiciary committees in early May, and he has said he is willing to discuss with lawmakers providing more information if they are left unsatisfied by Thursday's release.
The Justice Department also revealed in a court filing Thursday in the criminal case against longtime Trump friend Roger Stone that it plans to let a "limited number" of lawmakers and their staff review a Mueller's report "without certain redactions, including removing the redaction of information related to the charges set forth in the indictment in this case."
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Josh Dawsey, Felicia Sonmez, Tom Hamburger and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.
Wasilla's Deonn Richardson, aka Deonn "Iceberg" Rusman, is among the wrestlers who will appear in WrestlePro's "The North Will Remember" show Saturday night at Sullivan Arena. (Photo by Manning). (Photo by Manning/)
Deonn Richardson competed in football, basketball and track at Wasilla High, but he avoided wrestling for a simple reason.
“I never wanted to wear that little singlet,” he said.
These days he’s a 6-foot, 210-pound pro wrestler who goes by the name Deonn “Iceberg” Rusman and performs shirtless while wearing long tights and a weightlifting belt.
Richardson, a 2011 Wasilla High graduate, is back in Alaska for a Saturday night pro wrestling event at Sullivan Arena, where he will take on a former WWE wrestler in WrestlePro’s “The North Will Remember” show.
He is scheduled to face Chris Adonis, an Impact Wrestling star who went by the name Chris Masters during a WWE career highlighted by matches against John Cena and Ric Flair.
Richardson, 26, made his wrestling debut two years ago but Saturday will mark his first fight for WrestlePro, an independent wrestling company based in New York and New Jersey.
“It will definitely be the biggest match of my career to date,” he said Wednesday. “Just because of the building it is in, and the stature of (his opponent’s) resume.”
Richardson said there is no pre-planned storyline for his fight with Adonis, but he has an angle in mind: “Tell a story of a victory for a hometown kid,” he said.
“I have not competed in Sullivan Arena,” he added, “so that’s a huge bucket-list thing. I’ve seen the Aces play there, I’ve seen the WWE there. It’s very, very nostalgic.”
Other top names coming to town include Mick Foley, a WWE Hall of Famer who isn’t competing but will appear at a meet-and-greet before Saturday’s show. Wrestling begins at 7 p.m., with the meet-and-greet starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are still available.
Richardson, who moved to the Lower 48 a couple of years ago to attend Iowa’s Black and Brave Wrestling Academy, said he and his brother grew up watching The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and Stone Cold Steve Austin on TV.
“We just got glued to it,” he said.
Richardson competed in two shows in the Valley a few years ago while saving money to pursue wrestling more seriously. He searched online for “best wrestling academies” and picked Black and Brave because one of the trainers at the Davenport gym is former WWE champion Colby Lopez, whose competition name was Seth Rollins.
Richardson moved to nearby Moline, Illinois, with fiancee Kami Lorentz, who is also from the Valley. He works at a gym during the week and travels to weekend wrestling shows about three times a month.
“I knew nothing about independent wrestling, but I learned wrestling is everywhere, in every little town,” he said.
Richardson still trains at Black and Brave, a gym that’s big on cross-fit, and he said he’s in the best shape of his life. His goal is to make it to the WWE, the sport’s biggest stage.
“It just depends on who gets the right eyes on you,” he said. “I’m two years in, and it could be tomorrow, it could happen next year, or in a couple years or a couple months if I get seen by the right eyes.”
Pro wrestling is wildly popular even though most fans know that many of the moves are choreographed and the storylines are determined in advance of a show. But Richardson said he has no idea what will happen Saturday night.
“Wrestling isn’t really about winning and losing,” he said, something he said will be especially true Saturday night. Richardson already feels like a winner just by getting the chance to come home and perform at Sullivan Arena in front of family and friends.
“Just being in that building, I’ll be the happiest kid on the planet,” he said.
Members of the Alaska Legislature crowd around the rostrum containing Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, as they consider whether to table the nomination of Karl Johnstone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. (James Brooks / ADN)
JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature put off a confirmation vote for Karl Johnstone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Wednesday after Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, said she received messages from two women who said Johnstone made “inappropriate and unwelcome sexual comments” to them while previously serving on the board.
Spohnholz said the women “were not willing to testify on the record because of the fear of retribution.”
Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, and Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, said it was inappropriate for lawmakers to discuss those allegations without giving Johnstone a chance to respond.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, then asked to table Johnstone’s nomination.
That vote to table passed 28-27 with several members of the joint session absent.
Johnstone’s nomination has already been controversial and is fiercely opposed by the state’s commercial fishermen. He is strongly supported by sport and personal-use fishermen, and has previously served on the fisheries board.
Johnstone’s nomination was one of 104 cabinet, board and commission confirmation votes considered by the Alaska Legislature in a joint House-Senate session Wednesday. The joint session was still ongoing Wednesday evening.
An April storm dumped snow on the Anchorage Hillside on Wednesday, but the rest of town wasn’t expected to see much accumulation — yet, according to the National Weather Service.
Most areas of the Anchorage Bowl had received only a trace of snow mixed with rain as of about 4 p.m., said Louise Fode, a warning meteorologist with the Anchorage office of the NWS.
Higher elevations receive much more: Forecasters received reports of 10 inches to a foot of snow falling at the Glen Alps parking lot, according to Fode.
Despite heavier flakes beginning to fall in Anchorage in the late afternoon, little accumulation was expected overnight.
“The roads and surfaces have warmed up. So people are not seeing as much accumulation on the roads,” Fode said. “Some places people seeing it on the grass.”
More snow fell in the Matanuska Valley, Fode said. People in Chickaloon reported 6-8 inches, Fodew said.
There’s also a likelihood of snowfall on Thursday night and on Friday, Fode said.
However unwelcome, snow in April — and even May — is hardly unheard of in the Anchorage area.
In 2015, it snowed as late as April 20, according to weather service records. And in 2013, the city registered “greater than a trace” of snowfall on May 18.
Providence Horizon House resident Lucille Castro holds a 7-week-old kitten named Dandy. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Residents of Providence Horizon House, an assisted living facility, got a chance to hold kittens Wednesday as part of its first Kitten Social Hour. The event, coordinated by Anchorage Animal Care and Control, gives kittens who aren’t yet available for adoption the chance to be exposed to a new people and a new environment. AACC public relations coordinator Laura Atwood said they hope to visit once a week, as long as there are kittens.
“When we put them up for adoption, they’re better prepared to come into their new home,” Atwood said.
Kittens at AACC become available for adoption when they are 8 weeks old and 2 pounds, Atwood said. Karen Strash-Purtzer, Horizon House activity and volunteer coordinator, said holding kittens benefits the residents also.
“I think it lowers their blood pressure. I think they have just a moment of relaxation,” Strash-Purtzer said. “Maybe some of the residents, if they’re able, will end up adopting a kitten.”
Rosa Osborne cuddles a kitten named Pansy. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Kat Wickstrom holds up a 7-week old kitten named Lion. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
In this Feb. 27, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File) (Evan Vucci/)
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said it test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon” in an announcement Thursday that was possibly an attempt to register displeasure with the deadlock in nuclear talks with the United States without causing those coveted negotiations to collapse.
Leader Kim Jong Un observed the unspecified weapon being fired Wednesday by the Academy of Defense Science, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was reported to have said "the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People's Army."
The Associated Press could not independently verify North Korea's claim, and it wasn't immediately clear what had been tested.
It is likely not, however, a banned ballistic missile test, which would jeopardize the diplomatic talks meant to provide the North with concessions in return for disarmament. A South Korean analyst said the North's media report indicates it could have been a new type of cruise missile. A possible clue is that one of the lower level officials mentioned in the North's report on the test — Pak Jong Chon — is known as an artillery official.
The test comes during an apparent deadlock in nuclear disarmament talks after the failed summit in Hanoi between Kim and President Donald Trump earlier this year. Some in Seoul worry the North will turn back to actions seen as provocative by outsiders as a way to force Washington to drop its hardline negotiating stance and grant the North's demand for a removal of crushing international sanctions. A string of increasingly powerful weapons tests in 2017 and Trump's response of "fire and fury" had many fearing war before the North shifted to diplomacy.
But, as that diplomacy stalls, there have been fresh reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and long-range rocket site where Pyongyang is believed to build missiles targeting the U.S. mainland. North Korean media said Wednesday that Kim guided a flight drill of combat pilots from an air force and anti-aircraft unit tasked with defending the capital Pyongyang from an attack.
During a speech at his rubber-stamp parliament Friday, Kim set the year's end as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage diplomacy.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea's descriptions of the test show the weapon is possibly a newly developed cruise missile. The North's report said the "tactical guided weapon" successfully tested in a "peculiar mode of guiding flight" and demonstrated the ability to deliver a "powerful warhead."
The North said Thursday that Kim mounted an observation post to learn about the test-fire of the weapon and to guide the test-fire.
This is the first known time Kim has observed the testing of a newly developed weapon system since last November, when North Korean media said he observed the successful test of an unspecified "newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon." Some observers have been expecting North Korea to orchestrate "low-level provocations," like artillery or short-range missile tests, to register its anger over the way nuclear negotiations were going.
The analyst in Seoul, Kim Dong-yub, who is a former South Korean military official, said it wasn't yet clear whether the North conducted an advanced test of the same weapon Kim Jong Un observed in November or tested something different.
The White House said it was aware of the report and had no comment. The Pentagon also said it was aware but had no information to provide at this point.
A U.S. official familiar with monitoring operations said that neither U.S. Strategic Command nor NORAD observed any weapons test. That rules out tests that go high into the atmosphere, such as a ballistic missile, but does not rule out tests at lower altitudes.
After the animosity of 2017, last year saw a stunning turn to diplomacy, culminating in the first-ever summit between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore, and then the Hanoi talks this year. North Korea has suspended nuclear and long-range rocket tests, and the North and South Korean leaders have met three times. But there are growing worries that the progress could be killed by mismatched demands between Washington and Pyongyang over sanctions relief and disarmament.
Washington says it won't allow the North's desired sanctions relief until the nation commits to verifiably relinquishing his nuclear facilities, weapons and missiles. Kim has shown no signs that he's willing to give away an arsenal he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
AP journalist Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy answers a question during a roadshow with Americans for Prosperity in 49th State Brewing Company on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
It’s not fun to face hard truths, but sometimes it’s necessary to find a solution. So when we decided to host policy town halls where Gov. Mike Dunleavy would discuss his solutions to our state’s budgetary crisis, we knew that they would ignite a passionate debate. But before we get into the details of his budget, it’s important to understand how Alaska got here.
From 1992 to 2007, state and local spending in Alaska grew at a slower pace than the average for all other states. Then, from 2008 to 2015, higher oil prices led to a gusher in state revenues. Flush with cash, our elected officials went on a spending spree.
During that time, our state budget grew at a rate more than twice the national average. We went from spending less than $3 billion in fiscal 2005 to almost $8 billion in 2013. The result is that we now spend more per capita ($13,171 in 2017) than any other state.
When oil prices began to drop around 2015, revenues fell too – but spending remained high, culminating in the downgrading of our state’s credit rating and a $2.8 billion deficit in 2017. Faced with similar situations, Alaska families tend to cut back on non-essential spending. But not Juneau. Instead, they looked for more money to spend.
The Constitutional Budget Reserve and the Statutory Budget Reserve together contained about $18 billion in 2015. Within three years, our state raided these accounts to cover annual deficits, leaving less than $3 billion by fiscal 2018.
It’s been quite a party, but like all parties someone needs to clean up the mess. Our state has a big mess, thanks to the blatant mismanagement that has marked state spending over the past dozen years. That’s where Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s budget proposal comes in. It is a hard-truth approach to an intractable problem.
Gov. Dunleavy understands that our state has a spending problem and has taken decisive action to address it. He understands the alternative is massive deficits and empty savings accounts.
His budget focuses on core services and would cut spending by $1.8 billion from the current fiscal year. Critics have characterized the cuts as “draconian” and “morally bankrupt.” These criticisms miss the point entirely.
Gov. Dunleavy is doing something that his predecessors – and most politicians everywhere – are unwilling to do: make the hard decisions that are needed now to establish priorities and ensure a fiscally sound future.
You might not like some of the individual choices. We don’t like some of them either. But he has refused to sugarcoat the situation, and for that he should be commended. “I think what people are surprised about is that we actually did what we said we were going to do,” Dunleavy said.
The governor’s budget would reduce the deficit and cut the unnecessary reliance on our rainy-day funds. Additional policies being proposed this year, including a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and a spending cap, would prevent further taxpayer raids by the politicians in the future. Although there might be short-term sacrifice and difficulties, in the long term this budget, along with curbing our overspending habit, will lay the foundation for fiscal health and a more prosperous state.
In his press conference unveiling the budget, Gov. Dunleavy said, “the government can’t continue to be everything for everyone.” And we couldn’t agree more. In Alaska, that’s the hard truth we all must face.
Ryan McKee is the Alaska state director of Americans for Prosperity.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
An archaeology organization issued a written apology Wednesday after a former Anchorage professor attended its annual meeting in New Mexico last week, days after he was banned from University of Alaska campuses over sexual misconduct allegations that a Title IX investigation found to be credible.
Former UAA professor David Yesner (Photo provided by UAA)
The apology from the Society for American Archaeology follows days of criticism and outrage from meeting attendees and others, including some who denounced the organization in social media posts for its inaction in response to ex-UAA professor David Yesner’s attendance.
The organization said in a statement that it removed Yesner from the meeting Friday, hours after it got complaints. But others are disputing that timeline and say the organization knew about Yesner’s presence the day before.
Yesner could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the Society for American Archaeology did not return calls.
The Society for American Archaeology is an international organization based in Washington, D.C., that represents professional, student and avocational archaeologists and has about 7,500 members, according to its website. Its annual meeting went from April 10, a Wednesday, to April 14.
UAA alerted students on April 8 that Yesner was banned from all UA property and events, and they should call university police if they see him. That alert implemented a sanction in a Title IX matter involving Yesner, said a UAA spokeswoman. Title IX is federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal money. Discrimination can include sexual harassment or sexual violence.
Anchorage television station KTVA first reported that Yesner was the subject of a Title IX investigation over sexual misconduct allegations that went back decades. The allegations were made by nine women, including one who said Yesner accosted her while she was using a public shower. Investigators found the allegations to be credible, according to a report obtained by KTVA and dated March 15.
Those attending the Society for American Archaeology meeting included people Yesner had targeted, said an open letter shared online. The letter called on the organization to make changes. It had more than 2,100 signatures by Wednesday.
The organization said in its statement Wednesday that it had started implementing members’ suggestions including sexual harassment training for board and staff members. It also apologized.
“SAA apologizes for the unfortunate situation which occurred at the SAA annual meeting and for the delay in issuing this apology,” the statement said. “In particular, we apologize for the impact, stress and fear the situation caused to victims of sexual harassment within our field.”
Yesner retired from UAA in August 2017. His earliest affiliation with UAA was in 1975, according to a university spokeswoman. He held temporary appointments until he became an associate professor in 1991. He later worked as an anthropology professor and served as the associate dean of the UAA Graduate School from 2011 to 2015.
The Alaska State Capitol, photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)
As one of the founders of Alaska statehood, I am appalled by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget, which drastically cuts funding for K-12 education and the university, and slashes health services for 213,000 Alaskans, half of them children. It reduces support for seniors and undermines the taxing authority of local governments across the state.
The Alaska that I helped to build is under attack. When we wrote Alaska’s Constitution in 1955-56 and achieved statehood in 1959, we established a structure of state and local government to provide essential services. Now, 60 years later, the ideals of statehood and our constitution are under assault by Gov. Dunleavy and his people.
Alaska had education programs before statehood, and Pioneer Homes since 1913. We supported the University of Alaska, which has been preparing young people to advance Alaska’s economy since 1922. The state shared income with local governments since the 1960s. These are not new services; they are foundational infrastructure.
That is how government invests in its young to strengthen our future. That is how we strove to improve the quality of life for Alaskans to be healthy, educated and able to participate in community life.
If enacted, the governor’s proposed budget, legislation and constitutional amendments would radically transform Alaska into an impoverished state. Here are just a few examples of his terrible proposals.
Public Education Article 6, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution states, “The Legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State and may provide for other public educational institutions.” Several court cases have articulated the responsibility of the state of Alaska to pay for education services throughout Alaska.
The governor’s budget reduces the per pupil appropriation for K-12 schools. This reduction would force school closures across the state and create K-12 class sizes in excess of 40 students. This proposal would make a mockery of our constitutional language and longstanding case law regarding the state’s responsibility for public education and access for all children.
Adding insult to injury, the governor’s attorney general claims that private school vouchers could potentially be used by parents to send their children to sectarian and religious schools -- a clear violation of the constitution.
The largest proposed reductions have fallen to Medicaid, which provides health coverage for seniors, children and people with disabilities. Half of the beneficiaries are children. A Medicaid cut of $714 million puts 77,000 Alaskans at risk without health insurance. Perversely, Alaska would lose $465 million of federal matching funds.
Since 1913, Alaskans have maintained Pioneer Homes because we value our elders and are willing to give them a helping hand when they near the end of their lives. The governor’s proposal shifts the cost of care for seniors to the seniors in the Pioneer Homes. The cost to individuals could increase as much as 140 percent.
Basic human decency and our longstanding Alaska values call us to defeat such proposals.
Alaska’s constitution established the University of Alaska as the state university, continuing its role as the institution of higher learning since 1922.
The governor’s budget would cut state university funding by 41 percent, effectively requiring elimination of programs and closure of multiple university campuses.
We cannot have an educated and capable workforce, or solid economic growth, without a strong university. The governor and his advisers may not value our university, but Alaskans do and always have.
The administration assertion that the constitution only establishes a state university, but does not require its funding, is simply ludicrous and not worth responding to.
Article 10 of the Alaska Constitution established the structure of local governments. The boroughs and municipalities are part of the state structure and share responsibilities with the state government.
The governor’s proposal would confiscate hundreds of millions of dollars of local revenue from both fish harvests and pipeline infrastructure, shifting the tax burden onto local homeowners.
Dunleavy also proposed to cut school bond reimbursements to local governments for school construction bonds. Local governments cannot afford this cost shift, and the result would be unprecedented cuts in funds for education, which will force drastic increases in local taxes and reduction of services.
It is unclear whether the governor understands the details of his budget proposals, whose development was outsourced to an appointee from Michigan named Donna Arduin. Neither Ms. Arduin nor the governor have demonstrated any real understanding of the constitutional, economic and social impacts of their radical proposals.
Not surprisingly, Alaskans across the political spectrum have reacted with outrage toward the budget and related proposals. It is important to note that Mr. Dunleavy did not campaign on these proposals, but sprung them on Alaskans after getting elected by promising voters a windfall Permanent Fund dividend. He was not given a charter to destroy everything we have built since statehood and before.
Our state’s future really hangs in the balance: Do we protect our state’s constitutional ideals, our economy, our social fabric and the public institutions that have grown our state for decades? Or do we allow this governor and his appointees to liquidate the wealth and undermine the foundations that Alaskans have worked so hard to establish?
The Alaska Constitution gives the power of appropriation to the legislative branch. The cuts proposed by the governor will result in economic recession. If cuts are required, I ask the Legislature to please moderate their size and their effect on the less fortunate.
Alaska has financial resources garnered from the development of the natural resources located on Alaska’s 104 million acres of land. We also have untapped capacity to raise additional revenue to pay for needed government services. We have a revenue problem. Many Alaskans are willing to help pay for our public services, as we did for many decades.
Lastly, Gov. Dunleavy’s three proposed constitutional amendments tie the hands of future Legislatures facing issues that are unknown to us. Follow the model of the constitution. Allow them to grapple with the problems of the day. Reject the proposals.
Let’s remain true to our Alaska ideals and reject the governor’s proposals. I urge you to stand up in defense of Alaska and its future!
Vic Fischer is the last living delegate of the Alaska Constitutional Convention, 1955-56. He also served in the Territorial House of Representatives, 1957-58, and the State Senate, 1981-86. He was the founding Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska. He lives 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)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
Members of the House and Senate speak Wednesday, April 17, 2019 before the start of a joint legislative session. From left to right are Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage; Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage; Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole; and Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage. (James Brooks / ADN)
JUNEAU — A joint session of the Alaska Legislature voted Wednesday to confirm every member of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s cabinet without exception.
Since statehood, lawmakers have rejected a cabinet confirmation only once, and they failed to add another exception to that tradition — though not without moments of doubt.
The House and Senate combined have 60 members. Confirmation requires a bare majority, 31 votes. Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, was absent for a medical issue.
Adam Crum, the governor’s choice to lead the Department of Health and Social Services, received 34 votes in favor, as did Amanda Price, the governor’s choice to lead the Department of Public Safety.
The governor’s first choice to lead the Department of Administration withdrew from consideration after legislators learned he had lied on his resume and in testimony. The governor’s second choice, Kelly Tshibaka, was confirmed 48-11.
Attorney General Kevin Clarkson was the only other cabinet official to receive more than two “no” votes. He was confirmed 40-19.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, supervise the joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Below the rostrum are Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, and Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage. (James Brooks / ADN)
Dunleavy administration proposes to put Medicaid expansion recipients on subsidized insurance instead
JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing to shift thousands of Alaskans covered by Medicaid expansion to subsidized private insurance plans.
The legislation, filed Monday in the House and Senate, would use Medicaid to pay for private insurance under the principle that it would then be easier for Alaskans to shift off Medicaid if their financial circumstances improve, said Donna Steward, deputy commissioner for Medicaid and health care policy in a Monday interview with reporters.
Steward said the new plan is “absolutely not" an elimination of Medicaid expansion.
“If anything, this enhances Medicaid expansion,” she said.
Enacted in September 2015 under an executive order by then-Gov. Bill Walker, Medicaid expansion provides health care benefits to Alaskans who earn more than the normal cutoff for Medicaid benefits but less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.
According to figures posted at the start of the month by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, just over 49,000 Alaskans are covered by Medicaid expansion.
As Steward explained, the idea behind the new legislation is that people who are near the cutoff for Medicaid expansion would be able to switch more easily to ordinary health insurance if they make more money and surpass the cutoff. By passing the cutoff, they would no longer be eligible for Medicaid, but they would be able to keep their existing insurance.
Steward said the legislation introduced this week is the second phase of the governor’s plan to significantly reduce Medicaid spending in Alaska, but when questioned how much money it would save, she was unable to answer.
“I’m not prepared to share that information today,” she said.
Though the new program is intended to benefit people whose incomes are rising, “it is possible that children may be some of those who could be transitioning,” Steward said.
She added that the criteria for those who remain in traditional Medicaid and those who would be covered under the new program are still being worked out. Blind and disabled Alaskans would be able to remain under traditional Medicaid, she said.
Other sections of the legislation would allow the administration to implement the first phase of its Medicaid cost savings plan with emergency regulations that bypass the public comment process.
Steward said, “It’s not necessary, but it would be helpful for us if that component moved forward.”
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage and chairwoman of the House Health and Social Services Committee, said Monday that given the time remaining in the legislative session this year, she doubts the Legislature can consider and pass the governor’s legislation this year.
“It’s a big thing, and dropping it on Day 91 … there’s no way we’ll be able to get this done in time" for fiscal year 2020, she said.
The state’s new fiscal year starts July 1.
She also has concerns about the idea of using emergency regulations to bypass public comment on savings and efficiency proposals.
“Skipping that step or speeding up that process wouldn’t be looked upon favorably,” she said.
Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla and chairman of the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, said Wednesday that lawmakers will be meeting with the administration to better understand the new concept.
“We are going to be looking at that tomorrow. We are meeting with various members of our body and the department to get a better understanding of that,” he said.
Wilson said his primary concern is making sure Alaskans’ health services are “similar or the same” under the new proposal as the existing plan.
“That’s pretty much what I want to make sure of,” he said.
Candidate Dunleavy said he had no plans to cut ferries, schools, university. Then Gov. Dunleavy proposed deep reductions.
In this March 8, 2019 photo, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy talks to reporters during a news conference in Juneau. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer) (Becky Bohrer/)
Shayne Thompson runs the store in the Tlingit village of Angoon, on Admiralty Island south of Juneau. There’s no road link to the mainland, so Thompson relies on the Alaska state ferry system to deliver his loads of fresh groceries, at least once a week.
That’s why Thompson voted for Republican Mike Dunleavy in last year’s gubernatorial election.
On the campaign trail, Dunleavy said “he was going to do everything he could to keep the ferry system intact,” said Thompson, 53.
Two weeks before the election, Dunleavy told the Ketchikan Daily News that there was “no plan to hack, cut or destroy” the state ferry system. In another interview, with the city’s public radio station, he said: “I don’t envision at any time that there would not be a functional, robust ferry service in the Southeast, the panhandle of Alaska.”
In February, however, Dunleavy proposed a budget that would cut more than two-thirds of the state ferry budget and stop the system’s operations Oct. 1.
Now, Thompson said: “I feel like a fool, because of listening to somebody that was basically had a totally different agenda in mind when they were on the campaign trail."
Dunleavy’s plan would also make sharp reductions in government support for the state-run Pioneer Homes for elderly Alaskans, as well as to the University of Alaska system and to public schools — all of which, at various times during his gubernatorial campaign, Dunleavy said he did not plan to cut.
The reversals have left Dunleavy’s critics fuming. In interviews, they said the governor was able to make dubious claims about the budget on the campaign trail that were never debunked by a weakened mainstream media — which they said could have changed the outcome of the election.
“I think the campaign would have been different had he been more transparent about the costs of his proposals. And we didn’t have that conversation, so we can’t know how it would have come out,” said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz. “I think Alaskans deserve transparency and disclosure in terms of what people want to achieve when they come into office.”
Dunleavy declined to be interviewed, but he has said that his evolving positions stem from falling projections of oil revenue.
A month before Election Day, oil prices were $85. They fell to $60 in the two months leading up to Dunleavy’s inauguration, costing the state $1.5 billion in projected revenue.
“We thought that we might be able to do this with reductions and efficiencies within certain areas of state government,” Dunleavy said last month on Alaska Insight. “When we got into office in December, we were hit with oil prices in the fifties and some said it was going to go further south.”
Dunleavy was also clear about his priorities during the campaign, said spokesman Matt Shuckerow: He opposed taxes and supported boosting the Permanent Fund dividend. And he wanted to make government more efficient, Shuckerow added.
“He was going to take a different direction, and that was addressing the structural deficit that we have,” Shuckerow said. “Most people we’ve heard from, there’s an understanding that the governor’s following through.”
As a candidate, when Dunleavy was asked by reporters and moderators whether he would cut specific state services, Shuckerow noted, he often left a caveat in his answers.
In an August debate on TV station KTVA, for example, Dunleavy was asked whether he’d cut several different programs. His answer for public education: “Not at this time.” Pioneer Homes and the university system? “No, for now.”
Dunleavy’s February budget proposes a 40 percent cut, or $134 million, in state support for the university system — some 17 percent of the system’s total budget, when federal and other revenues are included. Dunleavy’s administration is proposing to double the fees billed to some Pioneer Home residents, so that the state can reduce subsidies for the program. Per-student spending on public schools would fall by about one-fourth.
Meanwhile, Dunleavy pointed repeatedly on the campaign trail to at least $100 million — sometimes he said it was nearly $200 million — in spending that he said he could eliminate by getting rid of vacant positions in the state budget. Dunleavy, in an appearance on Talk of Alaska, said he was referring to a budgeting technique called the “vacancy factor.”
In fact, the vacancy factor is a multiplier that state agencies were already using to reduce spending, to account for employee turnover.
The Legislature’s nonpartisan budget analysts, in a presentation last year, said it’s a “myth” and “simply untrue” that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in savings associated with the vacancy factor. And when Dunleavy released his budget in February, it did not include the savings from the vacancy factor that he referenced on the campaign trail.
Political blogger Dermot Cole has been highlighting that discrepancy, along with many of Dunleavy’s other campaign statements, since the governor unveiled his budget. In an interview, Cole described them as “impossible promises.”
“The Dunleavy campaign was more or less a fiscal fantasy from beginning to end that was able to exist because it wasn’t challenged by the press,” he said. “All of these assertions should have been treated with skepticism.”
Shuckerow said he hadn’t reviewed Dunleavy’s specific statements about the vacancy factor. But he said that the governor’s budget does reflect “significant changes to programs and operations.”
“This is all part of a broader conversation based on the information that we have about expenditures and revenues,” Shuckerow said.
Dunleavy’s political opponents have continually cited his shifting rhetoric in their criticism of his budget proposal — most recently, in a video released Monday that features labor leader Vince Beltrami.
“Dunleavy didn’t say he was going to devastate all the state services most Alaskans care about,” Beltrami said.
But one Republican leader, Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka, said he’s trying not to dwell on statements that were made months ago.
“I’m more concerned about putting an operating budget together in the Senate and working on the issues with the House than worried about particular political campaign promises,” said Stedman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Even Spohnholz, the Democratic representative, acknowledged that her constituents are more focused on Dunleavy’s current proposals than on what the governor said during the campaign.
But she also argued that the governor’s lack of detail on the campaign trail means that he has less of a mandate for his budget now that he’s in office.
“What the governor campaigned on was a full dividend,” Spohnholz said. “He didn’t campaign on the cuts that he’s proposing.”
This story originally appeared on Alaska’s Energy Desk and is republished with permission.
Marika Sila as Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak in "The Traveler," an episode of the CBS All Access series "The Twilight Zone." (Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS) (Robert Falconer/)
Trouble is brewing in the fictional town of Iglaak, Alaska: It has entered “The Twilight Zone.”
The 2019 CBS All Access series is the third revival of the original 1959 series. This time it’s narrated by actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele.
Canadian actress Marika Sila plays Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak in the series’ fourth episode, “A Traveler,” which is set in a town above the Arctic Circle (though it was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia). Like her character, Sila is Inuit. Her tribe is from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, which lies on the coast of Beaufort Sea. Sila says that hundreds of years ago, her tribe branched off from the Thule tribe in Alaska.
Sila says she’s honored to be part of such an iconic series playing an indigenous woman.
“I didn’t really connect with any Native actresses when I was younger,” said Sila. “I think if I was young and I saw indigenous actresses, I would have related to them more and believed in myself more — but it’s taken until now for everything to really happen.”
In the episode, Mongoyak is a cop who has to deal with an unexpected visitor at the police station, played by Steven Yeun. Mongoyak’s boss — portrayed by Greg Kinnear — invites the traveler to the annual holiday party, and then things get weird.
Canadian Inuit actress Marika Sila
After reading the storyline, Sila says she fell in love with her character but had no idea the story was part of “The Twilight Zone” series until she booked the role.
“It was very empowering to play Sgt. Yuka Mongoyak,” said Sila. “Just her as a character — she’s really strong and confident and she has everything together — or she feels she does at least. Playing a strong role like that has really given me a sense of empowerment in my own life.”
Sila says she feels the responsibility to make her family and people proud.
“My mom grew up on ‘The Twilight Zone,’ and my dad and my uncles,” said Sila. “When they heard, they were so excited. … I think it’s a good beginning for indigenous actresses and indigenous artists in general.”
“A Traveler” was written by Glen Morgan from “The X-Files” and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour from “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.”
The episode will be available on streaming service CBS All Access on Thursday, April 18.
Imagine it's 1985.
The "Super Bowl Shuffle" rap is all the rage. Hulk Hogan and his World Wrestling Federation friends and foes are heroes. Pat Benatar and Patty Smyth are all over the airwaves. And political correctness isn't a priority.
It was this Me-Decade moment that spawned the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the real-life basis for the new Netflix show "GLOW." The female version of professional wrestling was a bawdy blend of cringey stereotypical characters, cheesy rap-style cheers, over-the-top story lines and plenty of choreographed punching, kicking and hair-pulling.
Betty Gilpin, left, Chugiak High School alum Britney Young, center, and Jacki Tohn watch a wrestling match in the Netflix series “GLOW.” (Erica Parise / Netflix)
“It’s not paying homage to the ’80s, it’s trying to be the ’80s,” said “GLOW” star and former Chugiak High School cheerleader Britney Young, 29. “Even though I wasn’t conscious enough to know what was happening, I feel very nostalgic for the ’80s. My movie and music influences are very much ’80s.”
Young, whose family moved to Eagle River when she was 9, more than holds her own with the likes of Alison Brie of “Mad Men” and comedy veteran Marc Maron.
She is kicking backside as Carmen Wade, the chubby-cheeked innocent with a smile that lights up the whole ring.
"Carmen is a very sweet, shy and introverted woman who starts to really come into herself and find out who she is with the help of the women in GLOW," Young said. "Carmen and I both have a sweet nature and want everyone around us to succeed as much as we want to succeed ourselves."
Behind Carmen's winning grin is some serious power. She is part of the "Lumberjackson" wrestling dynasty. Her brothers are both famous wrestlers and her father is the legendary fighter Goliath Jackson. Goliath doesn't want his little girl busting into the family business, and that's the set-up for Carmen's story arc.
Unlike Goliath, Young's own father isn't interested in controlling his daughter's career.
"We told our kids, 'Just make sure you make the right decisions in life. Period.' Then it's on them," said Fred Young, a longtime Anchorage high school football and basketball coach who currently coaches football at East High School. "If they come to us for advice, we might give them a little bit, but ultimately, if (Britney) wants to bang her head on the ropes, she can. I have a feeling she's going to steal the show."
Chugiak High School alum Britney Young, left, plays Carmen Wade and Gayle Rankin plays Sheila the She-Wolf in the Netflix series “GLOW.” (Erica Parise / Netflix)
The politics of wrestling
Like all the ladies, Carmen has to assume a rather offensive wrestling identity. Sleazy director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) christens her Machu Picchu, the Gentle Giant from Peru. No matter that neither Carmen nor Britney is of South American descent.
"A couple times on Twitter people have asked, 'Are you really Peruvian?'" Young said. "And I'm like, 'No, I'm just tan.'"
Machu Picchu is actually one of the less odious "GLOW" alter egos. There's also Beirut the Mad Bomber, Fortune Cookie and the food-stamp-flaunting, fur-coat-clad Welfare Queen.
Dealing with the provocative identity politics of the show is an important part of the whole "GLOW" experience for the actresses and the audience.
"When we read the script we really did feel uncomfortable seeing Welfare Queen and Fortune Cookie and Beirut the Mad Bomber. Then we started talking about it. We're trying to show that you should never let anyone label you," Young said. "It's unfortunate, but we're still having to battle these (stereotypes) 30 years later."
The sensitive material is in the deft hands of writers with a flair for dealing with touchy subjects.
The new "GLOW" is the brainchild of Jenji Kohan, Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, women well-versed in writing cool, complex female characters, from Nancy Botwin, the fearless suburban drug czarina of "Weeds," to the part-saint, part-junkie "Nurse Jackie" to all the locked-up ladies of "Orange is the New Black."
"I'm so proud and so excited about this show," Young said. "I have watched it three times and I see something new every single time I watch it. It just kind of sneaks up on you and you're hooked, you're inspired, you're empowered."
I am the warrior
In the world of "GLOW," acting and wrestling become one, and mastering the moves is a requirement.
"We wanted to be as authentic as possible, so all the wrestling is done by us girls, no stunt doubles," Young said.
Britney Young plays Carmen Wade (Machu Picchu) in the Netflix show “GLOW.” (Bobby Quillard)
Before shooting, she and her co-stars trained every day for a month with stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins and wrestling coordinator Chavo Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero added an extra dose of authenticity to the project. He is a member of a real-life wrestling dynasty and the nephew of Mando Guerrero, who trained the ladies of the original "GLOW" in the '80s.
"Training Britney was great; she was up for anything. Her former cheerleading training really helped in her wrestling training, because, in cheer, there are the 'flyers' and there are 'bases,' and it's the same in wrestling," Guerrero said.
"The flyers can't fly without a good base, and Britney was a great base. She was able to pick up the other actresses and make them feel safe in the moves they were executing."
Guerrero and Duggins transformed the women into wrestling warriors in stages.
"We started training very basic," Young said. "On the first day, Chavo taught us how to get into the ring, and we acted all cocky like 'We know how to do it' and sure enough we didn't know.
"We started small: getting in, learning how to walk around the ring working on footwork with our partners, and then graduated to learning moves like lockups, headlocks, hammer locks, forward rolls, etc."
The next steps were putting the moves together in choreographed sequences and learning how to run the ropes and take bumps, Young said.
"Training was so much fun, but my body has never experienced that much soreness. I was a cheerleader in high school so I was used to girls falling on me, but now this was my body doing all these stunts and I was using muscles and body parts in ways I never had before," Young said.
"I'd go home every night and take Epsom salt baths, but I was so excited to wake up and go train again the next day."
Young's plum role on "GLOW" came after years of hard work behind the scenes.
She graduated from the University of Southern California in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in film and television studies and then briefly returned to her Eagle River home. She got her first break the same year as production secretary for the movie "Big Miracle," which was filmed in Anchorage.
"After that, I moved back down to L.A. and started working in production," she said. "I just went from project to project."
Young was working as a showrunner's assistant on "The Mentalist" when she decided to bring her talent into the spotlight. In 2013, she got a role on a web series called "Ana Mead." One of the "Ana Mead" producers was also a manager who was interested in working with Young. He helped land her a part on the truTV series "Those Who Can't" in 2015.
The opportunity to try out for "GLOW" fell into Young's lap soon after that. Shortly before her audition, she was sent footage of the original "GLOW" and she binged on it.
"I really understood why these actresses were drawn to the (original) show," Young said. "Originally it was supposed to be this 'Saturday Night Live' thing where they did sketches and raps and their own commercials, and then there was the wrestling built in."
Young said she was particularly drawn to the character Mt. Fiji, the wrestler on whom Machu Picchu is based.
“I’m a huge, a huge fan of Mt. Fiji,” Young said. “She’s the kindest, sweetest soul. She’ll also tear you apart.”
A blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. Non-native ticks, including some with significant veterinary and medical importance, are showing up in Alaska and health officials fear a warmer climate may allow them to become established. (CDC via AP, File) (James Gathany/)
Health and wildlife officials are taking steps to prepare for potentially dangerous parasites that could gain a foothold because of Alaska’s warming climate.
Non-native ticks represent a threat to wildlife and people because they can carry and transmit pathogens, said Micah Hahn, an assistant professor of environmental health with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"Things are changing really rapidly in Alaska," she said. "It's really important for us to establish a baseline. We need to know what ticks are already here, what ticks are established and reproducing, and where they are, so that we can monitor these changes as the environment changes in the future."
A $125,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health will help sample ticks and prepare a model to forecast where ticks could thrive, she said Tuesday in a presentation to the Local Environmental Observer network, whose members report unusual animal, environment and weather events.
Researchers will look for ticks in the field. Researchers, wildlife officials and the state veterinary office also are encouraging biologists and the public to participate in a "Submit-a-Tick" program, in which they pluck blood-sucking arachnids from people and pets, drop them off at Department of Fish and Game offices and fill out a form with details of their capture.
Alaska is largely free of many pests that bedevil people elsewhere, from snakes to creepy-crawly insects. Alaska’s handful of native ticks attach themselves to squirrels, snowshoe hares and wild birds and sometimes moose, dogs or cats, but no one buys bug repellent or tick collars to keep them at bay.
However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game nearly a decade ago began to collect tick samples out of concern that moose ticks, which can kill moose, especially calves, could establish themselves in Alaska.
Moose ticks have been found within Alaska's neighbor, Canada's Yukon Territory.
“We are nervous that it’s very close to our border,” Hahn said.
The search for moose ticks led to the recovery of a variety of non-native ticks, she said. Most were associated with travel outside the state. Researchers believe they hitch rides on people and pets but also migratory birds.
In some cases, non-native brown dog ticks and American dog ticks were found by people who had not left the state in months, Hahn said. "The question is, where did that tick come from?"
Officials have created an online Alaska tick information page with instructions on how to collect ticks, at dec.alaska.gov/eh/vet/ticks. Researchers will use data collected to create a model focused on two nonnative ticks of concern, blacklegged ticks and western blacklegged ticks. Both can transmit Lyme disease. Ten Alaskans reported Lyme disease in 2017 but all were exposed in other states.
Just because non-native ticks reach Alaska doesn’t mean they will survive, Hahn said. Some ticks are vulnerable to dry conditions or harsh winters. The models will coordinate tick sampling information with environmental conditions in Alaska, such as humidity, temperature and rainfall, to project where non-native ticks might thrive in future decades as climate conditions change.
Alaska doctors and veterinarians don't now automatically consider a connection to ticks if a person or pet shows up for treatment and has not traveled, Hahn said.
“If we know what species are here, and where they are in the state, it can help us develop control measures to make sure we stay on top of the problem,” Hahn said.
Christy NaMee Eriksen and Ryan Cortes have created the best response to the issue of the state budget. Clearly, their concern for the people of Alaska is rich in both words and images. They are providing real hope for the future by showing that this younger generation really does have a vision.
— John M Kennish
Have something on your mind? Send to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.
It’s refreshing to find a politician who follows through on his campaign promises. It’s even more rare to find one who says what he means and means what he says. Even in the face of intense opposition, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has stood tall in his road shows to clearly explain our fiscal crisis and how we can fix it. I’m the kind of person who likes to do research before reacting and to get the story straight from the source. The Americans for Prosperity event at Everett’s in Wasilla gave me an opportunity to hear the governor speak for himself. Here’s my take-away.
The meeting was open, transparent, inclusive and straightforward. Gov. Dunleavy spoke clearly about our fiscal situation. He gave us the facts about where we’ve been with our budget, where we are now and where we are heading if we don’t do things differently. The governor’s approach is to find the inefficiencies, duplication and wasteful areas that can be reduced. He wants us to right-size our state government and make it more efficient.
Regardless of how you feel about the governor’s proposed budget, the numbers cannot be disputed. Since 2006, we have grown our state government by more than twice the rate of population and inflation. We have a $1.6 billion deficit and we have spent $14 billion from of our savings. If we continue to spend at this rate, we will run out of savings in 14 months.
Some of the questions asked were related to taxes and why we cannot just raise revenue to fill the gap, but Gov. Dunleavy did a great job explaining that our problem is not just a revenue issue. To make up the difference, he said we would need a 16% sales tax. If we established an income tax, he said every working person in Alaska would pay more than $5,000 dollars a year. He also made the great point that taxing the oil companies will drive them out of the state because they can extract oil from anywhere in the world. Most importantly, he explained that every time we get more revenue, we just grow the budget at an unsustainable rate.
It was clear to me after listening to Gov. Dunleavy speak and his administration answer questions that we need to balance our revenues with expenditures, like most households do, without taking money from the private sector. I am thankful that we have a governor who has a plan and the courage to act on it.
— John Miller
Have something on your mind? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.
Mushing may be a thousand-year-old sport, but a Massachusetts-based robotics company may have hit on its future — robot sled dogs.
A video posted Tuesday to YouTube by Boston Dynamics, a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showcases a team of 10 Spotpower robots hauling a box truck across the company’s parking lot.
The four-legged electric robots are designed to navigate rough terrain, using on-board sensors to detect their surroundings and maintain their balance, according to the company’s website.
The truck was in neutral gear, and the parking lot had roughly a 1-inch uphill incline, the company wrote in the video description — so the question of whether the futuristic canines could take on the mountains and tundra of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail remains to be seen.
At their speed, though, it would take a while to reach Nome.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the APEC 2018 Economic Leaders Meeting at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on Nov. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) (Aaron Favila/)
CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. - There’s no wall or checkpoint or regular guard at the end of Roxham Road, just a footpath to the border. In recent years, this trail has been the busiest unauthorized crossing into Canada, a well-known back door for tens of thousands of people seeking asylum in a country that projects itself as a haven for refugees.
Canada has largely tolerated their arrival. But with an increasingly close election on the horizon, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - a global figure of welcome for refugees - is signaling plans to crack down. And they're asking the United States to help.
The irony is not lost on those who track immigration: The Trudeau government wants the United States to help tighten enforcement on Canada's southern border, just as the Trump administration is pressing Mexico to tighten enforcement on the U.S. Southern border.
It's not clear the United States will agree. The Trump administration has sharply reduced U.S. refugee admissions and has tried to keep asylum seekers from entering from Mexico.
"I suspect that President [Donald] Trump will be inclined to make Trudeau sweat over this," said Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
Canada has made a formal request to the United States to amend a 15-year-old border treaty between the countries. A spokeswoman for the State Department declined to provide details, saying the department does not "discuss internal and interagency deliberations."
The idea behind the treaty, known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, is that Canada and the United States are equally open to refugees.
Under the terms of the deal, which took effect in 2004, asylum seekers who try to enter Canada at an official border crossing are sent back to the United States. But there's a loophole: Those who cross the border at an unauthorized point of entry can proceed into Canada and file their claim.
One Canadian proposal would close that loophole: An asylum seeker who entered at an unofficial crossing would be escorted to an official port of entry and bounced back to the United States.
A spokeswoman for Bill Blair, Canada's minister of border security and organized crime reduction, said he hopes a renegotiated treaty will "encourage people to cross at regular points of entry to maintain the security and the integrity of our borders."
Spokeswoman Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux declined to outline what other proposals might be on the table.
"It would not be appropriate to negotiate the terms of a bilateral treaty through the media," she said.
Separately, the treaty is being challenged in Canadian federal court. Three immigrant rights groups argue the United States should not be considered a "safe" country for refugees.
The Trudeau government, meanwhile, is proposing changes that would prevent individuals who have filed asylum claims in other countries from filing a claim in Canada.
The United States and Canada share the world's longest undefended border. Most of its 5,500 miles run through rural farmland or forest.
Advocates for asylum seekers say changing the policy won't stop them from walking across the long, mostly empty, frontier. It will simply encourage them to find more remote, more dangerous places to enter - possibly with the help of criminal networks.
"The main beneficiaries would be the smugglers," said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, one of the groups challenging the agreement.
"We put our hope in the United States refusing to come to the table," she said.
Trudeau has been an outspoken advocate for refugees. Shortly after his election in 2015, he went to Toronto Pearson International Airport to welcome the first of some 40,000 Syrian refugees admitted to Canada.
"Irregular" entries, as Canada calls them, have also increased. About 40,000 people have entered at Roxham Road and other unauthorized crossings in the last two years.
They are Haitians, Nigerians and, increasingly, Venezuelans and Colombians. Many enter the United States on tourist visas with plans to come to Roxham Road and cross into Canada.
If stopped by a police officer, they need only say that they intend to claim asylum, and they are allowed to pass. Asylum seekers who enter at an unauthorized crossing aren't penalized for it.
But there has been a backlash. Critics have taken to calling irregular crossers "illegal" - echoing language used by immigration critics in the United States and Europe.
Opposition leader Andrew Scheer blames Trudeau for the increase in such crossings. The Conservative Party leader says those who enter at Roxham Road and similar crossings are hurting "legitimate refugees and immigrants."
Canada holds its federal election in October. Trudeau and his Liberal Party, once considered favorites, have seen their approval ratings fall amid a leadership scandal.
Naomi Alboim, a former Ontario deputy minister for immigration, sees asylum seekers becoming a wedge issue in Canada.
"Immigration has become a highly politicized issue where it wasn't really a partisan issue at all," said Alboim, who teaches at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
Advocates for immigrants have opposed renegotiating the treaty - especially now, while the Trump administration is tightening refugee rules, and the legal challenge remains undecided.
In the lawsuit, a woman from El Salvador says she and her daughters received rape and extortion threats from gang members back home but were turned away from Canada under the terms of the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Their lawyers argue that they would not, in fact, be safe in the United States. The case, which is still making its way through Canadian courts, includes filings from the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches.
Sean Rehaag, who teaches law at York University in Toronto, says the argument has merit.
"The reality is that there are some people who meet the refugee definition . . . in Canada, who would not meet the refugee definition as it's understood in the United States," he said.
Canada is much more likely than the United States to accept claims based on sexual and domestic violence or gang persecution, Rehaag said. Asylum seekers are aware of these differences and plan accordingly.
Neighbors in this borderland say closing the trail won't keep asylum seekers out. Instead, some warned, it will send them to more dangerous crossings.
Concern for their safety is largely why the Roxham Road crossing came to be in the first place.
A Ghanaian woman died of hypothermia in 2017 attempting to cross the border from remote Noyes, Minnesota, to Emerson, Manitoba, and two men lost fingers to frostbite crossing into the same province. The incidents raised public awareness of the risks of crossing.
Migrants used to take those risks in Upstate New York. Curtis Seymour, a taxi driver in Plattsburgh, said he would drop would-be migrants at small roads or along railway tracks, often under the cover of darkness, so they could move north undetected.
"They knew there was railroad tracks up there that goes into Canada," he said. "They'd get off at one of the little bars there or restaurant or whatever, and wait until dark.
"It's crazy, you know. Some of them are scared right to death."
Then Roxham Road became known as a safe crossing, and migrants mostly stopped sneaking through fields or dense woods.
"It seemed like the Canadians realized that they had to organize something to make there be a safe process," Janet McFetridge said. The American woman drives to Roxham Road most days to help out.
If the unauthorized crossing is closed again, locals say, there are plenty of other places migrants could try - but they'd likely be more dangerous.
Martin Bechard lives on a small road outside Champlain that's similar to Roxham Road: It nearly reaches the border, but there's no official checkpoint.
Still, it's under heavy surveillance. To cross undetected, he said, people would have to venture off paths - in winter, through deep snow.
Some of the land was recently clear-cut and is hard to navigate.
"You'd have broken legs in there," he said. "It's very rough terrain."
Erica stepped out of a taxi at the end of Roxham Road and glanced up the slushy trail.
The Colombian woman, who declined to give her full name, said her 17-year-old daughter was raped in their home country, and they could not go back. She researched the refugee policies of different countries, and then journeyed north to the border.
"I chose Canada," she said in Spanish.
She brought her 17-year-old and 5-year-old daughters and a plastic folder full of the documents they hope to use to build their asylum case. She said people back home were looking for them.
"We cannot go back to Colombia," she said.
They dragged their suitcases north.
Approximately 4,200 people participated in the Heart Run on April 22, 2017, in Anchorage's university district. (Rugile Kaladyte / ADN) (Rugile Kaladyte/)
The way I approach being outside has changed drastically over the years. Recently, I’ve noticed that it’s changing again.
It’s subtle and unintentional. It feels kind of like the temperature slowly changing with the seasons, or something as elemental as the ground moving underneath my feet. I can’t really change how I feel. I can only notice and adapt.
When I first really started making an effort to go outside it was just that -- a concerted effort. I made the decision as a teenager that I would try this “running” thing.
I can articulate now in a way I couldn’t then that my decision to start running was rooted in two things. One, I wanted to catch up to others in my life who were more capable, it seemed, at everything. I had chronic asthma as a kid that vanished when I turned 13, thanks to a change of schools. For a long time as I adjusted to life without the asthma that had defined me, I was a spectator of other lives more than I was invested in forming my own. People I admired were runners, so maybe that was a way to jump start this whole finding-myself thing. Running was something for me to try on to see if I, too, could be capable in my own skin.
And, my decision was rooted in shame. I was overweight and uncomfortable in my body. I wanted to be thin. I thought that if only I weighed less, I would have everything I needed to fully be myself.
So with these two aims in mind, I started running.
I make it sound so simple. It was terrifying.
I distinctly remember the very first run. I was secretive about it. I actually waited until it was dark, and I mumbled some excuse to my parents about going on a walk. I was wearing a bathing suit top because it was the only thing I owned that resembled a sports bra. I wore a baggy T-shirt and shorts.
As I started running, I was horrified that my skin jiggled. My lower back felt like it was leaping up and down in a horrible rhythm opposite my footfalls. Disgust, the cousin of shame, set in. I wondered if anyone could see me (in the dark, in a quiet suburban neighborhood).
That night I ran for about 10 minutes down my entire street, then walked back to the house. I felt a mixture of embarrassment that I hadn’t gone farther, but also this quiet elation. Running was mine.
Over the years, running became something that was fully mine to inhabit. It never quite defined me the same way my asthma did, although some people have come to know me as a “runner.” My approach has always been that I am less like what I imagine an actual runner is and more like a grateful tourist. I spend entire runs marveling at my legs and lungs working. I’ve long gotten over the jiggling. And while running is good for weight management and weight loss when I need it, being thin is not longer my focus.
Running remains a fabulous practice in capability. Pushing through difficult spots or having a training plan to set me on course to reach an ambitious goal sets the stage for the rest of my life.
And now I know I can run. I know I can do races that seem impossible. I’m good with my body. I know who I am.
I’ve lost the drive that pushed me to take on ambitious racing goals and motivated me to stay focused and enthusiastic about training. I’ve trained for a few races over the past couple of years that my heart wasn’t really into. Yes, it was good for my physical health, but I didn’t feel like the volume of running supported my life the same way it once did. Instead, training often felt like a time suck.
What do I do with this? While I’m not quite sure yet, it seems I’m in a phase that mirrors where I was when I first decided to start running at age 13. I need something new, ambitious and a little scary and outside of myself. And I don’t know what that something is yet.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.